top of page
  • Writer's pictureKate Morley

Devon Rewilding Network visit to Rewilding Hill Crest...

On the 22nd of June we welcomed the Devon Rewilding Network to Rewilding Hill Crest, to discuss the social history of the site and how this has influenced land use, the move towards nature recovery and the importance of connectivity and the Devon Wildland initiative. We also invited the parliamentary candidates for Central Devon to come and learn about rewilding and share their ideas for nature recovery.

I have written before about the history of the land and how my Great-Grandmother and Great-Uncle managed to keep the dairy herd, by farming our 16 acres and adding to the holding by becoming tenant farmers of the local estate and neighbouring land. Granny Jilbert was widowed when her youngest boy, Joe was just three, when my great-grandfather died from tuberculosis which he contracted whilst working as a tin miner. Being a woman on her own with three boys and keeping the dairy herd going was a particular challenge in the face of two world wars. Each son was encouraged to go and learn a trade as Granny Jilbert felt there was no future in small-scale farming. My grandfather (the middle son) went and trained as a hairdresser but the declaration of the Second World War pulled him into the 49th (West Riding) Reconnaissance Regiment, taking him into the conflict where unspeakable horrors awaited him and his involvement in the liberation of the Netherlands greatly shaped his outlook on life. The oldest son, Uncle Bill (who trained as a watch and clock repairer with the Exeter jeweller, Brufords) the farmer, was a member of the home guard but his main focus was also on food production where every inch of land was used (and exploited) to help 'feed the nation'.

After the war, the precarious food security situation and the ongoing rationing until 1954 meant that farmers were highly respected and encouraged to maximise yields. The end of rationing didn't let up the pressure on the land, with many farmers looking to diversify. When the M5 and later the A30 were built Uncle Bill allowed spoil from the build to be dumped on the fields (as well as asbestos sheets) to supplement his watch-repairing income, in order to pay the two mortgages to keep the land in the family.

Why does any of this matter? What relevance is this to rewilding? Well in my opinion knowing the origin of the land is crucial to understanding the social pressures that have shaped its use. Sunaura Taylor writes about this in her wonderful new book; Disabled Ecologies. In her book, she discusses the concept of 'sacrifice zones' and why some land is subject to environmental harm and is deemed an 'expected loss'. The idea of taking land out of agricultural (capital) food production is often seen by many as a radical move, and socially unacceptable. But as I have said before the land here at Hill Crest is still involved in food production but for nonhuman species that inhabit it, rather than putting human needs above all others.

So when the Devon Rewilding Network visited we were able to take them onto the land and tell the story of the land, what Sunaura Taylor calls its 'Origin Story,' and how this now influences the changes which are happening. We also reflected on 'shifting baseline syndrome' and how the land would have looked to my Great-Grandmother... would she have seen the electricity pylons that marched across the skyline in the 1950s as progress for society, enabling people to use the new modern technologies such as washing machines and televisions, or would she have viewed them as eyesores and worried about their impact on birds. Feeding the nation, technological changes and the increased traffic on the main road from Exeter to Dartmoor may well have caused her concerns but now as I view the landscape and the rapid changes that are needed to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises, social justice and issues of land use come to the fore.

We touched on so much of this during the Devon Rewilding Network visit, and whilst we talked about a huge variety of subjects; from mycorrhizal networks, sheep and wool to thinking about local impact to landscape scale nature recovery, the huge variety of attendees also shared their perspectives.

The 'walk and talk' was followed by tea and cake and a talk from my husband, Richard Morley, Charity Director of The Wolves and Humans Foundation discussing global and European perspectives of co-existence with large carnivores.

I have shared some photographs of the day below:

The weekend was also momentous as the first barn owl chick fledged from the barn owl box we put up last year and the Glow worms started glowing that weekend...

A huge thanks to Simon Roper and Molly Turner at Ambios for continuing to facilitate the Devon Rewilding Network and creating valued connections. The day felt like a really positive impactful day.

Green glow of glow worms amongst the grass

7 views0 comments


bottom of page