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In a 16-year labour of love, Sir Robert and his wife, Rosemary, have transformed a barren corner of County Tyrone into a wildlife haven.
“When we acquired the first five acres, it was a rural desert, neglected and devoid of birdsong. It was nothing like the landscape Rosemary recalled from her childhood here, when there were skylarks, curlews and many small birds. We decided to try to turn the clock back.
“Neither of us were experts in biodiversity, we knew nothing of garden design, had little spare cash but we had a dream. We played it by ear and started planting trees under our own steam – over 1,000 whips of alder, oak, maple, ash, hazel and pine. We excavated three large ponds, thickened up existing hedgerows to form small woods and sowed a wildflower meadow. Then we waited with bated breath.
“Before long, the new ponds were visited by hundreds of frogs and newts, as well as heron, buzzard and otters. Mallard, teal, moorhen and water rail began breeding, the occasional dabchick, cormorant or merganser dropped in, and great diving beetles, ram-shorn water snails and water boatmen appeared. Fieldfares, house martins and swallows came in droves, charms of goldfinches swirled around the thistles and sparrow hawks hunted. Irish hares and barn owls appeared, the first seen in the area for over thirty years. Results of what seemed at times, a crazy scheme, exceeded our wildest dreams.
“When another nine acres came up for sale on our boundary, I applied for a forestry grant with the guidance of the Woodland Trust and put in another 4,500 native trees, creating 12 acres of woodland in total. A neighbour had already planted 38 acres of woodland and the farmer opposite is set to plant a further 22 acres so with our planting and the mature woodland in Seskinore Forest we now have a very sizeable woodland area.
“To date, we’ve spotted 64 bird species, many of them nesting, and 12 mammals – this morning we were watching hares on our lawn. When I look at photos of how it used to look, I wonder how on earth we got started in the first place. But we’ve managed to create what we’ve come to call the Fod, short for ‘Field of dreams’.”
Over the years we have come to realize that wildlife gardens are different. They look different, sound different and are magical and alive. In creating them we can feel we have made some small contribution towards preserving what we have. We now have our own ‘bee-loud glade’ with a dawn chorus which in the spring and summer is truly spectacular. If two total amateurs can achieve this turnaround then anyone can. It is a question of changing the way we think about gardening and wildlife and taking action rather than wringing our hands and sitting back. We set out fifteen years ago with an improbable dream but, in our small way, now feel we have managed to make a difference. In order to sustain our country’s wildlife the bottom line is that we must try to plant our meadows, build our ponds, plant our woodlands and rethink our gardening practices. Committed people can change the world. We must be prepared to put in more than we take out. In our view it is well worth the effort!
The book ‘Field of Dreams’ was published in May 2018 and has received excellent reviews.
Bob will talk to us about his wonderful wildlife garden in what is sure to be a truly inspiring and uplifting lecture.
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