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Our Vision

Dr Sam Rose

Background

Mapperton lies within the Dorset Area of Outstanding beauty, with magnificent views over the hills and combes towards Bridport and the Jurassic Coast.

Mapperton’s landscape had been shaped over hundreds of years by traditional management for food, fuel and timber. This included ancient land management practices such as pollarding, coppicing, hedge laying, extensive grazing by cattle and sheep, fruit harvesting and low input arable farming.

The intensification of farming and forestry in the 20th century led to recent large scale changes in the landscape with corresponding losses of wood pasture, scrub, deciduous woodland and flower-rich grassland. Intensive arable farming has led to soil degradation and the loss of field habits.

A new approach

In response, Mapperton has decided to change our approach to land management.  We have also been inspired by the success of the Knepp Estate in Sussex, who have pioneered rewilding in the UK.  Following some consultancy provided by Knepp in 2020, we will now employ a combination of rewilding, traditional conservation and regenerative agriculture in order to deliver significant ecological benefits over the coming years.

We will restore species-rich wood pasture by letting large herbivores shape a more wooded and natural landscape, alongside more traditional conservation interventions such as targeted grazing, tree planting and pond creation.

In addition, we will increase access to our countryside for visitors and the local community, and provide opportunities for people to improve their wellbeing by connecting with nature and through social prescribing.

Rewilding at Mapperton

Dr Sam Rose

Rewilding

Rewilding can be defined as the ‘long-term regeneration of an area using minimum intervention and natural processes’. By introducing a careful mix of herbivores which replicate the intensity of grazing and browsing last seen during the Mesolithic Period, we will restore the degraded landscape and create a flourishing ecosystem.

Mapperton has already started its rewilding journey at Coltleigh, a 200 acre farm on the east of the estate. In 2023, we will add 190 acres in the west of the estate to the project, to include areas known as the Gallops, Home Park, Home Wood and Mythe. In addition, 67 acres at Wytherston will become part of Mapperton Wildlands, comprising its marshy woodlands and wildflower meadows.

Our plan

The key elements of the plan are as follows:

Undertake ecological surveys to establish a baseline understanding of existing vegetation and wildlife.
Introduce large grazing herbivores, specifically cattle, ponies and pigs.
Manage the cattle using virtual fence technology to target grazing in species-rich grassland areas.
Remove all internal fencing and gates in the rewilded area, and install a new perimeter stock fence.
Plant broadleaf tree species in targeted areas and create new ponds to support a wetland ecology.
Release a pair of beavers into an enclosure alongside a project to assess ecological impact, including potential for flood alleviation.
Develop additional glamping and holiday let accommodation for visitors to Mapperton Wildlands.
Launch programme of Wildlands Tours with expert guides, as well as self-guided Mapperton Walks.
Develop social prescribing programme and form links with local primary care networks and GP surgeries.
End driven pheasant shooting, remove pens and develop sustainable rough shooting and deer stalking.
Create a visitor centre where tours can assemble and school groups can meet.

Timeline

Large herbivores - picture of White Park Cattle by Dr Sam Rose

Dr Sam Rose

Large herbivores

Long before the introduction of farming and the domestication of animals, much of the UK is believed to have been characterised by open wood-pasture and grazing animals. These animals, such as the aurochs (wild ox), the European bison, the elk, the boar and the tarpan (wild horse), performed a critical role in the creation of habitats by dispersing seeds and nutrients through their grazing, browsing, rubbing, trampling and rootling.

This would have supported a landscape of scrub, thickets, grasslands and open wood pasture, where animal disturbance and vegetation succession combine to create a dynamic, shifting environment full of complexity and biodiversity.

In order to support a similar ecology, Mapperton is introducing proxies in the place of the original animals (many of which are now extinct):

  • White Park cattle, Britain’s most ancient breed of cattle
  • Exmoor ponies, a moorland pony breed native to the UK
  • Iron Age pigs, a cross between a Tamworth pig and a wild boar
European beaver

Beavers

Mapperton Wildlands welcomed a pair of beavers back into our landscape in 2022. Beavers are native to the UK but were hunted to extinction in this country in the 1600s. Beavers are a keystone species and are known as ‘ecosystem engineers’. This is due to the changes they make to their habitat, with benefits for other wildlife, vegetation and indeed humans. These include:

  • Flood alleviation. By creating dams, channels and wetland habitats, water is held back during heavy rainfall and released slowly, leading to reduced flooding downstream.
  • Increased biodiversity. Beavers create wetland habitats that support a wide array of other wildlife, including invertebrates, amphibians, birds and plants.
  • Improved water quality. Beaver dams act as sediment traps and help to capture pollutants as they are transported downstream.

At Mapperton, the beavers were released under licence from Natural England into a specially designed enclosure to ensure they do not escape into the open countryside. We carefully monitor their impact on the local ecology and have set up a project with West Dorset Wilding to monitor their effect on flood alleviation in the Brit catchment.

White Park Cattle aerial photograph by Dr Sam Rose

Dr Sam Rose

Science and evidence

We believe that land management activity should be based on sound scientific evidence in order to ensure good ecological outcomes. To that end we have carried out extensive ecological surveys in 2021, including a wide scale habitat survey, bird surveys, selected insect and mammal surveys. We also collated available biological and land use data from a wide range of sources.

These studies, which were overseen by Dr Tom Brereton, have helped us identify what key habitats we have, what management actions are needed to maintain them and how a rewilding approach will enhance ecosystem recovery. During 2021 we will establish an ecological baseline for selected indicator groups that will enable us to measure, evaluate and communicate the level of recovery through time.

Regenerative farming

Regenerative farming

Regenerative Farming (known simply as ‘regen’) is an exciting new method of sustainable farming which places soil health at the centre of farming practice. This approach leads to various benefits, including low or no use of fertilisers and pesticides, improved biodiversity, better recycling of farm waste, high levels of carbon sequestration and more nutritious food.

At Mapperton, farmers Tom & Sophie Gregory have begun the transition to regen at Marsh Farm, a 300 acre farm in the north of the estate.

Using direct drilling, Tom and Sophie have sown multispecies leys in several fields, to provide fodder for their organic dairy herd. In addition, they are practising mob grazing, where cattle intensively graze a small area of a field for a shorter period before it is left to recover. In this way, the grazed areas are trampled and churned, which has lots of benefits for grass regeneration and soil health.

Social prescribing

Dr Tom Brereton

Social wilding & volunteering

We know that all of us will experience improved wellbeing when given the opportunity to connect with the natural world.

At Mapperton, we have developed a volunteering programme which we call Social Wilding. Social Wilding gives our visitors & volunteers the opportunity to meet regularly and help out with various projects on Mapperton Wildlands.

This includes ride clearing, tree planting, habitat surveying and numerous other important tasks. Social Wilders come to Mapperton at a fixed time each week, enjoy a cup of tea and conversation before heading off into the estate to complete the activity.

The wellbeing of our volunteers is improved by the social connections formed, the exercise undertaken and the completion of a meaningful activity. The wellbeing of the planet is supported by the important contribution made by Social Wilders to the Mapperton Wildlands nature restoration project.

If you are interested in joining our Social Wilding programme please go to this page.

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