Meet The Regenerative Farming Trio Rewilding On The Isle Of Wight

It’s a misty winter morning in the middle of the Isle of Wight, and nestled in the historic Nunwell Estate, some small, saddleback pigs are doing their bit for the climate crisis. Padding around on ex-arable land, these mini ecosystem engineers are turning the soil over as they walk and feed, disturbing wildflower seed banks and allowing them to grow up and over the crop that was dominant before the pigs arrived.

- Francesca wears our women’s organic cotton shacket in khaki and our women’s plain tee in white

“In the autumn it was incredible because there were pretty much no birds in any of the fields that had just been harvested,” says Francesca Cooper, one of the three young regenerative farmers working this land. “And then you’d look out this way and it would be swarming with birds because there were so many seed heads. You could see clouds of them. The amount of diversity on this land in just two years is so exciting to see.”

- “We’ve seen linnets here, loads of linnets. There’s just so much seed.”

Francesca (33), along with her brother Christy Morely (25) and their childhood friend Hollie Fallick (30), run Nunwell Home Farm, a groundbreaking project that is in the process of regenerating and rewilding former arable land. With the support of landowner Rob Oglander, whose family has been resident in neighbouring Nunwell House for centuries, and the Wildlife Trust, the collective is using regenerative farming practices - methods that enhance the entire ecosystem of the land, with a particular focus on soil health, and improve the resources it uses rather than depleting them.

These aren’t your average farmers (“Two of us are women for god’s sake!”, exclaims Francesca), having all been vegan at various points in their lives and coming from non-farming backgrounds; Francesca was a rural surveyor of country estates, Christy trained horses and Hollie has a background in nutrition. But their passion for flipping industrial farming on its head is clear as they speak enthusiastically about their cause.

- Christy wears our men’s flannel shirt in yellow check

“In the last 50 years, farmers have been told to produce as much food as possible for as cheap as possible,” says Hollie. “But now we’re realising that was a really terrible idea. It’s not that farmers have done anything wrong, it’s that they were told to do the wrong thing.” Nunwell Home Farm instead focuses on keeping slow-growing heritage breeds, staying hyper-local, and using a circular farming system.

“Lots of farmers say that they farm on a certain acreage but they’re buying in so much [feed] it’s like ghost acres because someone else is growing it,” says Francesca, as she explains that they use a mix of local Isle of Wight maize, grains and field beans to feed the pigs, rather than buying in soya. Both the pigs and belted Galloway cows that are also kept on the farm are hardy heritage breeds that can live outdoors year-round and are ideally suited to regenerative farming. And when it comes to the cows, it’s all about mob grazing the grasslands.

- Hollie wears our women’s organic cotton shacket in black and plain women’s tee in sand

“Cows can provide most of the ecological benefits you need on grassland,” Francesca continues. “In the summer, we put them in small mobs to emulate the natural movement of a herd across grassland. Grasses have a three-day growth cycle, so if you leave them on for longer than three days they end up eating the grass which is growing from the roots rather than naturally regenerating. They call it avoiding the second bite.”

When cattle graze for more than three days in the same location the grass is not regenerated, so it stops growing from the roots and is constantly depleted. Moving the herd to graze on a different area every two to three days, however, as is done at Nunwell, allows the grass to keep regenerating, which in turn produces longer root growth and much more resilient grass. “That also means you’re capturing more carbon in the ground because you’ve got more organic matter being captured underneath the ground,” she adds.

These regenerative farming methods use less machinery, which the process of rewilding or regenerating arable land would also require without the animals. “We want the animals on the land for as long as possible, because they do the job of regenerating the land for us,” says Christy, who also explains that they keep these native pigs for up to twelve months and the cows until they are thirty months old - much longer than industrial breeds. It’s a method that appeals to the Wildlife Trust, too. “If we didn’t have pigs on the land they’d be using mechanical means and fossil fuels to do the same thing,” continues Hollie. “This is a much more ecologically friendly way of us producing food and doing the same job that they would be doing using a tractor. It works for both of us.”

- Yellowhammers have been spotted in the areas that are being rewilded

Even the animals’ dung is an integral part of returning the land to a more biodiverse state. “We obviously don’t use any fertilisers, and we don’t use any routine wormers or antibiotics,” says Francesca. “The Wildlife Trust have told us that where they’ve seen us grazing, all the dung disappears within a couple of weeks, whereas where they’ve had conventional cows, it stays there because it’s completely sterile.” By not keeping the animals indoors, they don’t need to waste time mucking out either, and the goodness of the dung goes straight back into the land.

And that kind of time efficiency really appeals to the trio, who learnt much about what they do via the Internet. “Being able to listen to a podcast whilst you’re out in nature is a really good use of time; learning while you do a lot of hands-on, fairly monotonous tasks,” says Hollie. Francesca agrees. “Being able to connect with farmers has been invaluable, especially in America where there are a lot of small-scale and regenerative farmers. I think unless we’d had the Internet, trying to develop a dream and a vision just being surrounded by the conventional farmers we have here would have been almost impossible.”

We see similarities between what they do and what we do - while Rapanui is a circular, online brand inspired by nature, Nunwell Home Farm is a circular nature-based project, inspired by the Internet. Got a question as a young farmer just starting out? Just ask Google, says Francesca. “The first time we were farrowing pigs I was like, ‘Hollie, does this look right?’ And she said ‘I’m just going to Google it!’”

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