Verging on the ridiculous
‘It is one thing to watch a lion bringing down a wildebeest on the telly, and quite another to bump into a hungry wolf on a country walk’
I’m disappointed with the Cotswolds. Our hills, which as a general rule are host to the most fashionconscious in rural society, have fallen behind in cutting edge rusticity. The Gloucestershire gentry may boast the new Suzuki Jimny, if you can get one, monochromatic country kitchens and Schoffel tweed jackets, but where are they when it comes to flora and fauna? Stuck in suburbia, that’s where.
The current bucolic fad, for example, is re-wilding. Its aim is to turn the countryside back to its natural state, which includes letting the land lie uncultivated and re-populating it with, among other beasts, wolves, wild cats and bison. The idea is all the rage among left-wing urban backwoodsmen, environmentalists, ramblers, trustafarians and television stars like Bear Grylls and Springwatch’s Chris Packham who have all taken up the cudgels. So too have wealthy land owners such as Zac Goldsmith, Sir Charles Burrell and his appropriately named wife Isabella Tree. They believe great swathes of Britain should be returned to a mediaeval Disneyland.
This Utopian dream has been fed by a diet of politically correct nature programmes and David Attenborough box sets – even dentists now run the wildlife DVDS while they drill – depicting the glories of life red in tooth and claw without human intervention. However, it is one thing to enjoy watching a lion bringing down a wildebeest on the telly and quite another to bump into a hungry wolf on a country walk.
It is probably the reason why the Cotswolds has tended to model itself on Surrey rather than the Serengeti. Walls, fences, box hedge, herbaceous borders, mown lawns, electric gates and in particular trimmed verges dominate our landscape. It would be a very cunning bison indeed that thrived in Upper Slaughter.
Still, I for one don’t want to be considered an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy stuck in the last century. And so I decided to re-wild my estate. Well, to call it an estate might be a bit of an exaggeration. Excluding my small paved yard I have a ten-foot by three-foot skirt of grass in front of my house that is strimmed weekly by Gareth, my neighbour’s gardener. Some might even ungenerously call it a verge or, heaven forbid, a border.
In the early days of lockdown I fronted Gareth. “Kill the strimming,” I said. “Not even once a month?” he said hopefully. “Never again” I said as I scattered a handful of Highgrove Wildflower Meadow Seed mixture upon the land. My belief in returning my plot to Mother Nature was encouraged by the National Trust website. It claimed ‘rare sightings and uncharacteristic behaviours have been noted by staff during lockdown who say the absence of visitors appear to have emboldened wildlife, with birds and mammals spotted venturing out of their usual territories and wild flowers appearing in the un-mown lawns.’
It is now August and I have to say I am dismayed by the results. The National Trust reported that in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, for example, a number of species of orchids started to appear in grasslands that would typically get mown on a weekly basis. Not on my land they didn’t. And then there were the reported badger families supposedly emerging from their setts earlier in the daytime ‘to forage for food or simply enjoy some playtime in daylight’. Well, if they are mucking about on swings and roundabouts on my plot, I haven’t seen them. In fact, my re-wilding has so far only produced a swathe of nettles, dockleaves and thistles.
It is true that unlike Zac Goldsmith’s brother Ben, a Department for Environment board member and cofounder of the Re-wilding Britain charity, I didn’t release red deer or wild boar on my ‘estate’ and so I wasn’t expecting a menagerie to magically appear in the weeks that followed the furloughing of my land. But I did think I would do better than a solitary wood pigeon, a dead rat and a couple of feral moggies that are now enjoying my scrubland as cat litter.
Still, I have no intention of allowing my ‘estate’ to return to suburban neatness. It may look like a bed of weeds but what I have lost in presentation I have gained in the inverted snobbery that comes with re-wilding. And so not only am I now up there with the well-to-do left wing eco-warriors and the landed toffs, but as Sir Charles Burrell is receiving £400,000 a year in government subsidies for doing bugger all to his land I am thinking of applying for just such a grant too.