2024 is Wild Ken Hill’s 5 year anniversary!
It was back in January 2019 that the idea to transform our coastal farm started to take shape, supported by our wonderful local Natural England team.
We had been thinking for a while about re-wetting the grazing freshwater marshes, down by the sea. But in addition, we also decide to “rewild” 500 acres of poor, marginal farmland and a similar amount of mixed woodland. And finally, we also changed the direction of the farm, embarking on the switch from conventional arable farming (albeit very nature-friendly) to a regenerative farm system which focused on soil health.
These decisions early on in the project gave us what we call our three-prong approach to land management: traditional conservation (of the wetland areas), rewilding, and regenerative farming. It was this approach, and the flourishing wildlife at Wild Ken Hill, that persuaded the BBC to film 12 weeks of The Watches with us over 3 years.
It has been the most phenomenal journey ever since, full of learning, mistakes, and a few achievements along the way that we’re very proud of. Below we try to share some of what we have been up to in that time!
At the heart of our project is a determination to reverse the ongoing decline in nature in the UK. This is a monumental challenge, but we have made some important strides forward here at Wild Ken Hill.
In the rewilding area, for example, we established last year that the plant life was benefiting massively from the rewilding approach. Specifically, the average number of plants per plot in open parts of the rewilding area roughly doubled from 16.8 to 33.2. This was highly significant in a statistical sense, and also makes us very excited about what can be achieved in the future. The results themselves are largely a result of the brilliant job that the free-roaming Red Poll cattle, Exmoor ponies, and Tamworth pigs have been doing.
Complementing this, the higher levels of water on the marshes has provided the potential for greater numbers of breeding waders and overwintering birds, albeit there have been challenges managing the water levels during times of very dry or wet weather. And the regenerative practices on the farm have been benefiting wildlife too, reflected in an award that we were very pleased to win in 2022.
And most importantly we know that the work we are doing is working. Not only is everything we do science- and expert-led, we also undertake regular surveys (thanks to enormous efforts from our Conservation Manager, Hetty, and the very knowledgeable naturalist, Graeme Lyons).
As part of our commitment to restoring nature, we have translocated (moved!) three species to Wild Ken Hill. Back in 2020, we were the first site in Norfolk to reintroduce the Eurasian Beaver. The beavers – named Ebb & Flow, Blue & Orange – have been doing a brilliant job ever since.
They have been busy building dams, wetting and opening up an area of woodland in the rewilding project, (so much so, that recently our guided tours to that area have become a challenge due to the standing water!). They have also bred in the last two springs, so there is a growing population in the 50-acre enclosure too.
We have also worked with partners to bring other species to Wild Ken Hill. A project with Citizen Zoo has supported the release of the regionally-extinct Large Marsh Grasshopper. And a nationally-significant project with Natural England, the BTO, WWT, Pensthorpe, and Sandringham has released “headstarted” Eurasian Curlew onto the marshes in each of the last three summers too.
In 2022, for the first time we looked at the overall carbon position of Wild Ken Hill. We were pleased to learn that across the project, we had gone beyond “Net Zero”, in fact sequestering many more Greenhouse Gases each year than we emit.
The big driver here has been the change of practice on the farm, implemented by our Estate Director Nick. By farming regeneratively, Nick has been able to increase the amount of carbon in the soil itself, a realm we often forget is capable of storing large amounts of carbon. The study suggested Wild Ken Hill is at the very forefront of UK farms in this regard.
Unfortunately, in July 2022, during a period of unprecedented hot weather, a fire broke out at Wild Ken Hill which ravaged. We have been working with the fire services since on a plan to improve fire safety in that area. We’re aiming to discuss the plan with local residents in 2024.
Wild Ken Hill is more engaged than ever in the local area. Since the start of the project, we’ve been able to add around 4 full-time jobs, set up a volunteering programme, host multiple local artists, and welcome 5 students for placements.
We’ve also run numerous open days for local residents, and provided access to clients of our local mental health charity so that they can benefit from the positive impact of nature on mental wellbeing. In the woods, our friends at Wildlings run a Forest School and welcome school groups through the year.
We have run a programme of Guided Tours for three years now, experiences focused on exploring the landscape at Wild Ken Hill and building an understanding of our work, led by local, expert guides. Along the way, we hope people encounter wildlife or the resident livestock. These have generally been a great success, with thousands of folks from around the country coming to visit.
We also ran a wonderful nature festival in 2022 called Gathering, and welcomed a number of writers and artists to Wild Ken Hill, which included the likes of Tony Juniper, Mary Colwell, Dr. Amy-Jane Beer, Nick Acheson, Ajay Tegala , Lucy Lapwing, Jake Fiennes and international singer-songwriter (and a big Curlew fan), David Gray.
We continued these events on a smaller scale in 2023 when we welcomed Mercury Prize nominated singer and conservationist Sam Lee.
For a long time though, we have been very facility constrained, which has hindered our ability to welcome visitors. In June 2023, we were grateful to receive (unanimously!) planning permission from our local council to create better facilities for education and engagement.
These include lots of plans, including walking paths, cycling trails, landscape-led play and a café, but the first thing that we will get to opening is a mixed camping and touring site, which we are hoping to do in Spring 2025. This will mean for the first time folks from further afield can stay at Wild Ken Hill.
In its first five years, Wild Ken Hill has never stood still. We are sure that will continue to be the case for the next five years!
We’re doing some really innovative work making thousands of tonnes of compost on the farm, and also working with our neighbours on a Landscape Recovery project. There will also be some exciting work on bat roosts and organic farming in 2025. We’ll be sure to fill you in on all of this over the course of the year.
For now, we wanted to thank you for your support and engagement. We hoped you enjoyed our reflections on Wild Ken Hill’s 5 year anniversary. It means the world to us that people are interested to learn about our story, to visit us, and to chat. We hope to see some more of you in 2024. With best wishes from the Wild Ken Hill team!
If you are keen to hear more from us, you can sign up to our newsletter and find our social media pages in the footer of our website.