SIGNS OF HOPE

SIGNS OF HOPE ACROSS WILDER DODDINGTON

As we celebrate World Rewilding Day 2024, we're taking a look back at the moments that have brought us hope and joy at Wilder Doddington over the last 12 months.

Here are some of our highlights including a few words on hope and joy from our wonderful team of volunteers.

ECOSYSTEM ENGINEERS

These ‘keystone species’ are vital animals, creating habitats that are missing from so many farm landscapes. They are essential as creators of a multitude of niche habitats for specialist creatures.

  • First up, are our herd of rare breed Lincoln Red cattle. They graze extensively across our previously cropped fields creating tussocky grass – important architecture for spiders to make their webs and insects to make their homes in.
  • Our native Roe deer graze in different ways and nibble on trees and bushes, making space for a different suite of specialist insects.
  • The Mangalitza pigs arrived early 2023, they disrupt the vegetation by digging for roots and other tasty morsels. We watch robins following the rooting pigs searching for worms that the pigs miss!
  • Looking ahead, we’ll be introducing more keystone species including wild ponies.

 

Photo Credits: Roe Deer, Claudia Coggan / Mangalitza Pig, Lexy Foxley-Johnson

 

BIRDS

In the bird world, we have had some wonderful surprise visitors.

  • A Great Grey Shrike, a rare winter visitor and one of only 11 reported in the UK this winter, stayed with us for 6 weeks, finding plenty of rodents and insects in the long, tussocky grasses of our fields.
  • A pair of Great White Egret were seen for several days stalking through the wet grasses searching for food.
  • A pair of Cranes were spotted checking out the shallow water scrapes for a few hours last spring before moving on. We hope they will choose to breed here as we expand our wet areas.
  • Last week a local ornithologist spotted a flock of 60 Yellowhammers and 650 Starlings, the largest reported flocks we’ve seen here.

 

INSECTS

Not to be outdone, our beautiful insect friends are making a strong comeback.

  • We are noticing a lot more small holes in cow pats out in the fields since we no longer routinely worm our cattle. These holes are made by dung beetles, a very important insect when it comes to naturally fertilising the soils, and now that we winter some of our cattle outdoors, the dung beetles have a steady supply to breed on and feed their young. One of our university students found 17 species of dung beetle at Wilder Doddington, including one of the Geotrupidae, which are the earth-tunnelling beetles.

 

  •  Grasshoppers and crickets filled the air with the sounds of summer in 2023. If you stood in some of our long grasses, with the sun shining on your face, you could have been mistaken about which country you were in. The soundscape provided by these fascinating insects was reminiscent of the Mediterranean.  

 

  • After many hours of determined and careful searching by our volunteers, we located a surviving patch of Glow-worms, and we are hoping they will be able to slowly expand their habitat across our rewilding fields. Very slowly! About 5 metres a year! 
David Bird took this wonderful photo of one of our Geotroupe beetles

SOIL

The joyous news from our soils is giving us real hope for the future.

It has been a very wet winter, which gave us a good chance to see how our soils were changing. Drone footage showed us that our soil infiltration rate has improved, with surface water soaking into the ground more quickly in these extreme weather events. 

Enjoying those soils, are our trees and scrub. 

  • We are noticing plenty of self-seeded saplings such as, oak, ash, birch and willow appearing in our ex-arable fields amongst the other vegetation.  
  • We are also thrilled to be spotting patches of brambles appearing in some fields. Scrubby patches like these are loved by songbirds for the protection they offer, and often act as natural tree cages, protecting young saplings that grow from acorns hidden under them by Jays and squirrels.  
  • We were quite surprised to find a metre high gorse bush establishing itself in one of our fields with dry sandy soils and we hope this will be followed by other sand loving plants.  

 

HELPING HOGS

We are thrilled to have been assessed as suitable for releasing rehabilitated hedgehogs from a local hedgehog rescue hospital. So far, we have given a home to over 30 of these charismatic creatures and hope to hear (or capture on our trail cameras) the patter of tiny hog feet as they become established in our woodlands and hedgerows.

WETLAND

The water world of Wilder Doddington has been expanding. 

  • We have five new Great Crested Newt ponds, excavated by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, each with hibernacula for over-wintering amphibians built by our wonderful volunteers. 
  • We have found evidence of all three native species of newt at Wilder Doddington: palmate, smooth and great crested. We now hope their numbers grow and they expand to these new ponds. 
  • We also have plans for a further 25 ponds and rewetting some of our fields to create more wetland habitat. 

 

PEOPLE

Last, but of course not least, the wonderful people who we have been able to share our hope and joy with.  

  • We have welcomed groups of students from schools, colleges and universities to Wilder Doddington to share what we are doing and support their learning and projects. 
  • We have taken groups and visitors on guided walks around our rewilding area and shared our hopes and dreams of a wilder future with them. 
  • Last but not least, we are lucky enough to have a fantastic group of volunteers who bring enthusiasm, fun, joy, and hope with them every time we see them. We asked them to write a few words about hope and rewilding in celebration of World Rewilding Day #HopeIntoAction

 

A few words on hope and joy from our fabulous volunteers

“Being part of Wilder Doddington brings me hope that the world can be healed, and we can hand over a healthier planet to future generations. Our initial activities are revealing steady and consistent results, enabling even more ambitious plans to be put in place, which is so exciting to be a part of. Our growing community, full of enthusiasm, commitment, and can-do attitude, gives me a very special sense of belonging, and the personal growth I have gained from spending time with these full-hearted and widely experienced people has been immeasurable. All in all, I know that the future is in good hands at Wilder Doddington.”

“One of the reasons I volunteer for Wilder Doddington is that I believe farming for nature is fundamental in combating climate change, and for our health. It gives me hope that others will follow in their footsteps.”

“I see rewilding as a way of future proofing the joy of the outdoors for my grandchildren.”

“Hope comes through job satisfaction. This job was under a very prickly, deep thorn hedge several hundred yards long, perhaps 30 years old. The original shrubs had been planted a foot apart. Some had died. Many had developed additional shoots. And most were still embraced by the original square, tough, plastic tree guards often going six inches into the soil and tightly held inside and out. This posed a completely different challenge to the thinner, more modern and brittle spiral guards which can be unwound, or prised/sliced off if they haven’t already splintered. 

A short-handled daisy root grubber, a Stanley knife, a very old coat, gloves and hat, and a kneeling mat were the necessary tools. Crawling ability was also handy. The root grubber then created some wriggle room inside and outside  the guard box . The knife, low cunning and brute force did the rest. Over a few two hour sessions I achieved about half of the length. The bags of hard-won tree guards show I’d made a difference. Other volunteers did the rest of the hedge soon after. And thus plastic had been removed from another part of the Doddington Estate. That in itself brings hope.

And that hope is strengthened when walking along the track by this hedge with a class of pupils from a local primary school knowing that this particular area is now free of non-biodegradable material and won’t be part of their legacy!”