Rache Gravett and Keith Harrison on Their Wilding Project the Field, Strelley

Words: Rose Mason
Photos: Rose Mason
Sunday 28 January 2024
reading time: min, words

The Field, Strelley is a wilding project run by Rache Gravett and Keith Harrison, environmental advocates and the previous owners of Nottingham Climbing Centre. A journey that began with tree planting, is now evolving into a fully fledged community organisation, creating spaces for both the wildlife and the humans of Nottinghamshire…

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How did The Field begin?
Rache: We had a vision of having a bit of land that we could ‘rewild’ (although it's technically impossible to ‘rewild’ anything that small). We always thought it would be good to have an eco centre for children to come to learn a bit about the environment. We were telling somebody this, and they said “ooh there's a bit of land for sale.” I’m a biologist and an ecologist. I've been a teacher, but otherwise I’ve never really put it to practical use before. We've been amazed how people are moved by being outdoors and that includes us. It has a rejuvenating effect.

How long have you been doing the project?
Rache: Since spring 2021, that's when we first started planting trees.
Keith: We bought the field in December 2020. They forgot to tell us the purchase had gone through. We enquired, why the delay? And they said no no, it all happened three months ago!

What was the field used for before?
Rache: It was a hay field for horses. It sometimes had horses in it, but they also used to harvest the grass to make hay.
Keith: In order to make sure the hay was exactly right, they used to put pesticides and herbicides on the field every year so that the only thing that grew was the type of grass that horses eat. It was agricultural, as if they were growing wheat.
Rache: Obviously agriculture has its uses, like feeding us, but it'd be good if it was a bit less intensive.
Keith: Or more was done to encourage carbon capture and wildlife, because eighty percent of the insect population of Britain has disappeared over the last fifty years. When I started driving I remember having to stop to wash the windscreen to get all the insects off.

What’s been happening with The Field so far?
Rache: Our initial advice from the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust was to plant a row of trees from the top to the bottom to create a wildlife corridor. Also to make a pond, because there used to be a lot more ponds around, but then they were all drained for agricultural land use, and also to sow wildflowers. That was their advice and that's what we've been building up over the three years. We've planted over 600 trees so far and we’ve also just won a Woodland Trust tree grant for 400 saplings to plant next spring. 

Have you had a favourite part?
Rache: Getting people involved, really!
Keith: Our first school children visit was absolutely wonderful. The kids adored it and our son Matty gave an inspiring talk at the church across the way from our field and then did a very theatrical fall into a large puddle. The kids were all very interested. They were ten year olds from a primary school in Derbyshire and they just loved the talk and they loved planting trees. They all planted a tree in groups and they were invited to name and label their tree so they could watch them grow. They can come and see how they're doing in 300 years when the tree is mature!

He said “watch this” and switched all the lights off. We sat still, put the lights back on and we counted the number of foxes we could see and it was six

Has anything surprised you along the way?
Rache: We need to mow the whole field annually. Because wildflower meadow management is very difficult, you have to get it right. And in fact wildflower meadows are meant to be rarer now than woodlands so that's become more of a priority than we thought it would be.
Keith: I'm not a biologist so I assumed if you planted a great load of wildflower seeds, then they’d sprout up and you’d have a wildflower meadow. Like in books about the countryside like Laurie Lee. Anyway it turns out if you just leave your field in two years it'll be completely covered with brambles, nettles and thistles. So we have to do weeding all the time, over the whole nine acres.
Rache: It's a balancing act because there's no such thing as a weed, is there?
Keith: No, it's just a plant that's in the wrong place.

What have you got planned for the future?
Rache: I think our focus has changed a bit over the years of wanting more community involvement because we see how beneficial it is to people. If we can get local schools and people to come and take part, we realise it has a good effect on them, as well as making them realise they can do their bit in helping the planet.
Keith: We’re hoping to be able to build an eco centre so that people of all ages can learn about nature and the difference between agricultural farming and natural habitats. Encouraging places where small mammals, amphibians and insects can be nurtured rather than killed off to stop them interfering with food growth. We also hope that our eco centre would provide opportunities for community activities like crafts and gardening, growing your own vegetables, healthier eating, hobbies like woodworking and sewing and providing a place where people can come and meet others and gain personal satisfaction from what they’re doing.

What kind of wildlife have you found in the field?
Keith: When we mowed the field, the farmer said I'll be along at 9.30, and he meant 9.30 at night. So we got on the tractor and he mowed the whole field. He said “watch this” and switched all the lights off. We sat still, put the lights back on and we counted the number of foxes we could see and it was six. They had noticed that the land was being cleared and thought “I'll be able to find some rabbits.” We've also seen deer, a wide variety of insects, butterflies and moths and stuff. The Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust put some little mats down near the ponds and under those mats they have found grass snakes, and a great crested newt!
Rache: We've seen a lot of interesting birds. Lots of insects, lots of grasshoppers, dragonflies, damselflies, lots of pond life; water boatman, pond skaters.
Keith: The amount of pond life that's spontaneously turned up is amazing.
Rache: We haven't seen any hedgehogs, or badgers.
Keith: Other creatures that we haven’t seen include elephants, we haven't seen moose. But we've seen a dog, our dog, he loves the field.

It all sounds wonderful. Would you like to share anything else?
Rache: We are very privileged to have got the land. It's a small project, we don’t want to over-whatsit it, do we? But it's inspired us and we hope it will inspire others.
Keith: If it teaches young people about the importance of sustainability, conservation and nature and they can teach their parents about the importance of recycling, the relevance of carbon capture and reducing global warming then it will have served a purpose. Greta Thunberg says nobody is too small to make a difference, and that encourages us. 

If you want to get involved, visit The Field, Strelley for their next volunteering session


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