One Year On For WildEast

SMALL BEGINNINGS LEAD TO LARGE CHANGE: WildEast Celebrates A Year Of Nature Recovery

Over the past year, nature has provided a sense of calm during the crisis. The importance of protecting and restoring our natural world - and addressing the climate emergency - has never felt so urgent, particularly in the run up to COP26. Indeed, the enthusiasm for nature recovery has never been stronger.

“Everyone is complicit in the destruction of the natural world. We must all become climate warriors now to avert climate catastrophe. This is our final chance to reset our relationship with planet Earth. Covid19 is Nature’s red card, it’s now or never to come together to ‘save nature’.”
Hugh Somerleyton, owner of Somerleyton Estate & founder of WildEast

As well as Government legislation, an individual and collective energy has been building too and this is epitomized by WildEast – a movement initiated by three East Anglian farmers last July and which aims to return 250,000 hectares of the region back to nature over 50 years, creating one of Europe’s biggest and most biodiverse nature reserves. This is being done through the pledging, backyard by schoolyard, by churchyard by farmyard, from tiny to enormous scale, of up to 20% of their land towards nature recovery. It's Britain’s first regional scale multi-sector nature recovery alliance.

"Science is united in the view that nature needs to cover 20% of our hardworking landscapes  in order to thrive and recover its regenerative capacity. This 20% would also support carbon sequestration on a huge scale.. Our vision is for a wilder, wetter, woodier east.”
Argus Hardy, peer at Great Glemham & co-founder of WildEast

Excitingly, WildEast is firmly on track with its long-term mission. Illustrating how beauty and biodiversity can be found in surprising places, from a thicket of invasive bramble to multi-acre farms, more than 1000 pledges of land have already been added to the WildEast Map of Dreams, charting progress and including schools, industrial estates, railways stations, churchyards, farms and private gardens across East Anglia.

Whilst scale is certainly key to success, WildEast is also about democratising nature recovery and encouraging a commitment of any size. Take Reverend Alison Ball who’s pledged part of her churchyard and introduced hedgehog houses, log piles, bee banks and seasonal mowing; or the couple who relocated from London to rural Suffolk with three small children and are rewilding a 45-acre plot. Creating wildlife friendly habitats is crucial and even the smallest gardens can be transformed into a nature reserve.

“It’s largely about a mindset shift and behaviour change. Small changes of mindset can feed major benefits for nature recovery. With a small shift of the regional mindset for both farmer and consumer, we could make huge gains for nature by adding a few stitches to its torn fabric.”
Olly Birkbeck, director of The Little Massingham & co-founder of WildEast


The domino effect of thinking differently, and consciously, is fundamental to change and whilst rewilding is a cornerstone to recovery, responsible farming and consumption are also key to reversing ecological decline. Progress is being witnessed through various trends and initiatives spurred on by WildEast or evident in East Anglia in the following ways :–

+REIMAGINING LAND USE: Many are embracing new ways of farming or rewilding land.  The three WildEast founding members are moving their farming operations to a regenerative model, and farmers are encouraged to consider neglected hedges as nature-rich 'wild edges' – arteries of nature pulsating with life across the hard working farmed landscape. Additionally, Hugh Somerleyton has committed 1,000 acres to rewilding, including grassland, heathland, and wooded pasture, grazed by free-roaming Dartmoor ponies, rare-breed cows, large black pigs, and water buffalo. At Dingley Dell Pork, pig farmers Mark & Paul Hayward are embracing nature friendly farming by linking sustainability with habitat creation. The brothers planted an extra 49 acres of nectar-rich flowers to feed a million bumblebees and rotate their pigs with nutrient enhancing plants. These drastic measures have vastly improved the quality of the meat they produce.

+THE RISE OF SMALLHOLDINGS & FARM STORES: The pandemic has driven consumers from supermarkets to local farm shops and independent producers. Step up, for example, small scale, regenerative grower Anna Greenland in Suffolk, whose organic veg supplies the likes of Raymond Blanc, Tom Aikens and Jamie Oliver.

+BUSINESS, COMMUNITIES & ECO-TOURISM: In May, Greater Anglia became the first transport operator to join the movement, pledging 56 railway station gardens to nature. In Massingham, WildEast co-founder and farmer Olly Birkbeck has restored 500 acres of heathland. At the village school, children tend the school garden, cook vegetables they grow and learn about the importance of biodiversity through their wildflower beds. In partnership with the village hall, the school is planting over 400 trees around the playing field.  Meanwhile, Hugh Somerleyton‘s Fritton Lake offers staycation accommodation and activities immersed in nature - open to members, owners and holidaymakers.

+EDUCATION: Inspiring the next generation is central to the WildEast mission.  Testament to this is their collaboration with the Papillon Project - a charity promoting sustainable living and environmental awareness to young people across Norfolk. Other schools who have pledged include Lowestoft’s Warren School where children with learning difficulties enjoy pond dipping, apple bobbing and habitat creation at the onsite wild plot.

+COLLABORATIONS Amongst others, WildEast collaborates with like-minded institutions including Rewilding Britain, Natural England, UCL, University of Essex, RSPB, Natural Cambridgeshire, Greater Anglia, Savills, Cultivo, Groundswell, CoExistence and the National Trust. Meanwhile, another summer collaboration includes - ‘Human Swan’ - next month. WildEast’s anniversary coincides with Sacha Dench flying into the wild East in her motorised paraglider. Sacha will visit a number of the WildEast projects while attempting a world-first circumnavigation of mainland Britain to mark COP26.


The progress WildEast has made, and the enthusiasm with which the movement has been greeted, provides proof that not only do people care, they are relieved to be shown a clear way to help and participate. They are willing to give of both their time, money or indeed the earth herself in a huge collective effort to salvage nature and regenerate the planet. Could there be a better time for positive news? WildEast is a potential franchise which other UK regions can work to replicate, so let's hope the domino effect continues. The more we can share this story and the positive changes it instigates – the greater the chances are for a more widespread effort.


Every pledge is logged on the Map of Dreams to mark the collective effort, demonstrate success and incentivise others. Those without land to pledge can still support the initiative with a financial contribution or through volunteering time and expertise. WildEast welcomes more pledgees in the region to come and help make a difference.

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Thursday, July 1, 2021