Looking back to 2023, looking forward to 2024

What an incredible year we had in 2023. The turn of the new year has seen us reflecting on how far we’ve come. And hopefully we can expect more of the same in 2024.

2023 started with a landmark moment. In January, we released two beavers into an enclosure on the estate – they were subsequently named Chompy and Hazel in a schools’ competition. We installed a ‘beaver cam’ and we’ve been following their adventures all year. They’ve been felling trees and are currently constructing their second dam, thus proving their reputation as ‘nature’s architects’. Though it’s still early days, the changes they are making in the environment will bring numerous benefits, not least encouraging biodiversity.

We are a working farm. Part of our ethos is to show that food production and restoring nature can go hand in hand. We’ve had a bumper crop of vegetables, including pumpkins, squashes and courgettes. We’ve been developing our own product range using home-grown ingredients, including jams, apple juice and gin, all of which are proving delicious and popular!

These are Tamworth/Iron Age cross-striped piglets. We welcomed 21 of them during 2023.

Our animals have looked very content as they roam the grounds. We have Longhorn cattle, Tamworth sows and Iron Age boars. One of our boars didn’t undergo castration and it’s been amazing to see his hair grow wildly and his tusks grow out. We had a litter of 21 gorgeous piglets that I can’t stop photographing whenever I see them! In fact, wherever I look, as the land slowly turns from the barren landscape it was into a more natural state, every month we are seeing signs of new animal, bird, insect and plant life.

Looking ahead, we can expect some exciting developments as we are joined by Helen, our resident herbologist. Helen has a specialist interest in medieval herbal medicine, so she’ll be guiding us to create various oils, teas and lotions. This is about reclaiming some of the traditional wisdom we have lost. It reminds me of my childhood, when, after a day in the hot sun, we’d take shoots from naturally growing aloe vera, break them up and roll them on our skin to soothe it.

Another key focus in 2023 was to encourage learning and networking among those who, like us, want to see people living in closer harmony with the environment. We held a schools education day at which we were joined by the Malaysian High Commission. We hosted an event for the Beaver Trust, organised wild food foraging days, and participated in the North Wessex Downs Walking Festival. We also hosted our first Harvest and Christmas Fairs, and we were included in the Hampshire & Isle of Wight’s Wilder Annual Awards, being highly commended in the ‘Nature Recovery (Land and Sea)’ category.

For me, personally, 2023 was a busy and rewarding year, and I was delighted to be asked to share my experiences of our nature restoration and food production project at different events and festivals.

Throughout the year, we have been welcoming to Ewhurst, or going to visit, a steady stream of fellow rewilders, farmers and biodiversity experts. It has been truly inspirational to share our experiences and learn from each other.

As we move into 2024, we will continue to inspire people to join us on a journey to reconnect with nature. Modern life has disconnected us from nature – we may occasionally escape to the country for a weekend or a holiday – but we want to see people connecting with nature in their everyday lives. I think there is a growing hunger for this, and we want to play our part in that journey.

To this end, we can expect a lot more of the same at Ewhurst Park in 2024, with more events in the pipeline – more chances to learn about foraging, rewilding and the health benefits of nature. Watch this space!