9th November 2022

Rewild The Spirit: Nature Recovery at Broughton Sanctuary

6 Minute Read

The rewilding of Britain is an initiative dear to our hearts here at Broughton Sanctuary. In December 2020 we undertook what was, at the time, the biggest rewilding project in the UK when we planted 15 different species of indigenous tree, including Ash, Hawthorne and Sycamore in over 1000 acres of land; 230,000 trees in total. The project was carried out by a group that included both specialists and local community volunteers.

With the new trees covering a third of the Estate, this was not a decision that we took lightly. For many years, Broughton Sanctuary has been extensively used for sheep grazing and the impact on tenant farmers was an important consideration for us, as was the impact on the wider local community.

Ultimately, there were two important factors in our decision to rewild such a large piece of land. Firstly, there was the importance of rewilding in terms of tackling the climate and nature crisis. The second factor was our own deeply-held philosophy that to rewild the land is to rewild the self. The Broughton Sanctuary nature recovery program is an equal commitment to both.

Professor Alistair Driver, a rewilding specialist and our consultant on the project, describes rewilding as “the large scale restoration of ecosystems to the point where nature is allowed to take care of itself.” If we leave nature to its own devices, it would take 100 years to get to the point where we ideally need it within the next decade: Clearly, we need to move fast if we want to achieve this goal.

Since the industrial age, man’s exploitation of the natural world has caused large-scale losses of natural habitat and the extinction of many species. It has also taken away many of the land’s natural flood defences; we’ve seen the devastating effects of this in recent years in places like Doncaster and Sheffield. In addition to this, the overproduction-and subsequent waste- of food has contributed greatly to the environmental crisis.

Rewilding, therefore, is a process whereby humans give nature a helping hand in returning to its original balanced state. Methods include the creation of wetland, the planting of trees, the removal of intensive land grazing and the re-introduction of missing species, among others.

Although Broughton Sanctuary has been extensively used for sheep grazing for many years, it’s actually not the kind of land that lends itself easily to farming. Farming in upland areas such as ours often requires interventions such as fertilisers and pesticides that can have a detrimental effect on the environment; clearly not an ideal choice.

A Local Perspective

We believe, therefore, that our land is best suited to nature recovery and low-intensity, high-quality meat production. Although this raises the issue of national food security, we believe that addressing the wider problem of the 40% of food that the UK wastes would be far more significant in tackling this challenge.

That said, we’ve still left two-thirds of the land for sheep grazing and our tenant farmers use other land in addition to ours. We wanted to ensure that local farmers were as unaffected as possible by the rewilding project, in keeping with our community ethos.

As the saplings take hold, the area will help provide natural local flood defences and provide a place where funghi, nuts, berries and honey will be eventually found. In time, it will also be grazed by the rare breed cattle, pigs and ponies that are the closest substitute to the extinct animals, such as aurochs, that would once have grazed the land.

This reforestation of 1,000 acres of land is also our contribution to the government’s goal to protect 30% of the country for nature by 2030.

“Economy without ecology means managing the human nature relationship without knowing the delicate balance between humankind and the natural world.” Satish Kumar

Tree planting at Broughton Sanctuary

Rewilding our Outer Nature is Rewilding our Inner Nature

It isn’t just the land that has suffered from human neglect; we too have suffered greatly from the severance of our intrinsic connection to nature. It’s no coincidence that as the climate and nature crisis worsens, so too do the crises in physical and mental health.

In centuries past, humans lived in sync with the changing seasons and revered nature for its healing properties. In the modern age, we’ve found ways to override seasonally-aligned living in our quest for more productivity, more wealth and more ‘stuff’.

This disconnection comes at a high price. Even before the pandemic, depression and loneliness were at record highs. We have lost our sense of connection to our inner selves and lost our sense of community in the process. Running alongside these figures are lifestyle-related illnesses such as Type II diabetes and heart disease.

At Broughton Sanctuary, we believe that to rewild the land is to rewild the self. We have a deeply-held belief that to make peace with the nature around us we must first make peace with the nature inside ourselves. This belief is at the core of what we do and it’s why we encourage anyone who visits us to experience the simple joys of forest bathing, wild swimming or woodland dining as well as enjoying a country getaway.

In addition to being essential for the environment, trees are also a crucial element in the health and wellbeing of humans. Liz Dawes, Broughton’s resident Forest Therapy Guide, explains “phytoncides are essential oils emitted by trees as a natural defence mechanism… Studies have found that when humans inhale these phytoncides there is a corresponding increase in our natural killer cells [that ward off disease].”

Plant Medicine

In other words, forests aren’t just beautiful places for a tranquil stroll; they also produce plant compounds in abundance that give our immune systems a vital boost. Until modern times, forests were the places in which we evolved as a species. We depended on the trees as much as they depended on us.

We should therefore be asking not just what nature can do for us, but what we can do for nature- to live in ‘compassionate reciprocity’ with it, as we once did.

The benefits of community are widely known, and an important part of our own philosophy. That’s why part of our project included community planting days. Our participants spanned many generations, with some as young as three turning out to dig the trail. It was a joy for us to see locals from all walks of life coming together for such a good cause.

It’s a Family Affair

Rewilding our outer nature is rewilding our inner nature. This philosophy is at the heart of everything we do at Broughton Sanctuary, including our nature recovery program. We’re proud of our contribution, and excited to see it grow.

A family affair