As part of the Great Big Green Week, some Rothbury Climate and Nature members were invited by Walter Riddell to see the rewilding/managed wilding work being done at Hepple Whitefield.
This is an upland estate of 4000 acres. Its history lies in managing sheep, cattle, forestry, and game birds. But the future of this land looks very different, and very relevant and necessary as our world rapidly, and frighteningly, changes. It was so refreshing and exciting to learn about this work, right on our doorstep.
Mary Gough, the ecologist at Hepple Wilds, along with Walter, took a group of us on a tour of the estate. We learned such a lot, and are all in awe at the amazing differences being made here. Walter told us:
"Our Managed Wilding started in 2021 and requires a lot of people with a lot of skills: skilled managers of cattle, those with deep knowledge of wild animals like deer, curlew, grouse, and fox, experienced ecologists, expert wallers, fencers, track-makers, those who can guide and explain the natural world to our visitors. We choose to allocate a lot of additional resources behind our monitoring, which we believe is leading edge, to calibrate change with scientific rigour."
We were very lucky that it was such a beautiful, sunny, day and the views were truly awe-inspiring.
We asked Mary what they were mostly hoping to achieve. She told us:
"Success would be the spontaneous reemergence of species. We have seen some of this already with orange-tipped butterflies and dragonflies in our new wetlands".
"Water, very obviously, is a prerequisite for life. We have completed our first phase of blocking the ditches and repairing areas of peat fissures on the moorland and are establishing a series of leaky dams and ponds in the pastures to hold back water. The increase in insect and bird life in the year after this work is already very striking, notably in the lower pastures that are beginning to take on the look of water meadows".
Mary explaining and describing some of the plans.
A range of different grasses and flowers for cattle to graze.
We learned that:
"Traditional estate management divides land into areas that suit different economic activities. This leads to higher productivity in the short term, but also dissects the networks on which the natural world relies. We believe that dynamic edges between different habitats are critical for creating resilient ecosystems".
Organic Longhorn Cattle
The farming part of the project is now fully organic: "The Hepple Estate has been registered as organic from January 2023 after a two-year conversion". Walter added that "It is crucial that we stick to the ethos rather than just the letter of the organic system. This is really important to us".
We were also interested in how the managed wilding is being monitored. Amanda explained: "We are working with the Northumbrian National Parks, Newcastle University and Natural England to develop one of the most comprehensive ecological monitoring system in the UK. Part of this is to include volunteer and amateur work". You can see more about the monitoring here: Monitoring – Hepple Wilds
Juniper - which is made into the award-winning Hepple Gin
On the website it says:
"Located within the eastern edge of Northumberland National Park, our estate and distillery are where England’s cleanest waters, most ancient juniper, and wildest winds meet. Hepple’s rugged beauty reaches up along its hills through vast moors of heather and grasslands, down alongside old stone walls to babbling brooks and towering pine forests, ending at an old, small stone farmhouse that we’ve turned into our distillery.
Wild ponies, Highland cows, and famed black-haired pigs roam the estate, churning up hardened soil so that wild seeds can take hold. Introduced as part of our Wilding Programme – a natural regeneration aiming to bring back and conserve the wild plants that were once so distinctive to this place – we are committed to preserving the unique character of our home, both within the landscape and our liquids, through our environmental and sustainability goals."
Rothbury CAN would like to give a very enthusiastic vote of thanks to Hepple Wilds for taking the time to explain to us this most amazing, and important, project. We really enjoyed our visit. We learned a great deal. We also appreciated the tour of the distillery! Thank you so much, Mary and Walter
Visit Hepple Whitefield's website here: Hepple Wilds – A Managed Wilding Programme, for overall ecosystem health
Visit Hepple Spirits website here: Home - Hepple Spirits