A Future for Beavers at Ballyconnelly Farm?
Working in conservation, experiencing the real time consequences of our consumptive behaviours on land and at sea, Ruby explains the motivation behind her desire to facilitate social and environmental empowerment for local communities. For even the hardiest of metropolitans out there, the sporadic twists and shifts of 2020, have uncovered a deep-rooted draw to the natural world and the communities of wildlife dependent on it. While the British and Irish public stay inside, the disruption to daily routines practiced by most, gifted us time to slow down, allowing nature to take our imagination and captivation once again.
Meeting on the Isle of Cumbrae on the west coast of Scotland, Ruby Free and Craig Holmes are environmentalists with a plan to restore biodiversity across an old dairy farm nestled in rural county Antrim.
Launching a food and nature inspired Instagram account @regeneplate, they are passionate about showcasing deliciously planet-friendly recipes and sharing moments along their journey to rewild Ballyconnelly Farm.
As the fifth generation fortunate enough to take on the farm, Craig is determined to diversify the land, moving away from resource-intensive agriculture, with a focus on championing biodiversity and the people of Northern Ireland.
By giving nature time to rebuild rich ecosystems, Craig explains the inspiration behind their vision for Ballyconnelly Farm –
“Growing up surrounded by increasingly silent hedgerows and grass fields shaped a passion to begin a new, restoration-driven era for the land.
As a child, between jumping on cow dung and tripping over brambles, long before the word ‘sustainability’ meant anything to me, I often wondered why so much was taken from the land, and very little seemed to be given back.”
Across the water, in a childhood spent exploring the Jurassic coastline, Ruby moulded a passion for guarding and restoring wildlife. Taking inspiration from local projects that aimed to conserve species unique to Dorset, Ruby saw the potential of environmental collaboration and education.
Combining their motivation for change, Ruby and Craig want to showcase wild solutions and aspire to reintroducing beavers at Ballyconnelly Farm in the coming years. There is currently no fossil evidence of beavers in Ireland, despite the similarity of suitable habitat that exists across mainland Britain. Ruby and Craig hope that, by increasing access to nature and wild spaces, they can influence environmental policy in the North of Ireland and return the landscape to a wilder state.
A national re-think across the agriculture, energy and transport industries is within reach. The pair want to utilise this window of opportunity for nature to make a comeback. Nature as a topic of conversation, is a staple for the ‘Gen Z’, ‘Millennial’ and ‘Activist’ generations. What’s more promising is that topics such as climate change, food security, and rewilding are becoming regular kitchen table discussions.
When you think of the North of Ireland, you’d be forgiven for being swooned by the beauty of the rolling hills that slope down to freshwater loughs or slow, mysterious bogs. Still, when we look closer at the changing ecological landscape of Northern Ireland, we see unique species and their habitats in decline. Ruby explains where their desire for change comes from,
“We are at a turning point and see this decade as a vital opportunity to address the pressures we place on native flora and fauna here in the UK.
The homogenisation of our globalised diet is inherently linked to the degradation of the natural world.”
Here in the UK alone, 15% of key species are threatened with extinction and 41% have declined in abundance in the last 50 years. Northern Ireland, with the lowest woodland cover in the UK, has experienced similar ecological pressures, while agricultural productivity has increased 150% since 1973.
Ruby and Craig plan to use, what they believe is a unique perspective, on their mission to shift consumer demand towards local, resilient food systems that celebrate community and cohesion.
As such, they are passionate about allowing nature to thrive, celebrating diversity, education and empowerment.
Thinking long-term, they plan to roll out biodiversity-enhancing projects across Northern Ireland. Through creating diverse habitats, they aim to support local species in decline and restore fragmented ecosystem services. Alongside the creation of wetland and pollinator-friendly habitats, they aim to establish a thriving circular community underpinned by an abundant ecosystem.
Looking at successful restoration projects and the ecological payback from re-introducing species, Craig explains,
“We want to exemplify the benefits beavers and other species have in their ability to engineer resilient ecosystems, if we give them the space to do so.”
Kicking things off, they have launched ’Project 30×30’ which seeks to rewild 30% of 30 acres at Ballyconnelly Farm by 2030. They aim to create a space to grow local, organic food through adopting regenerative agricultural practices.
Taking huge inspiration from the tireless work of dedicated groups like the Beaver Trust, Ruby and Craig are inspired to restore a community that puts nature at its heart.*
(*This blog is written by an independent writer. Beaver Trust welcomes a breadth of opinions, and those expressed within this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the Beaver Trust.)
Craig Holmes & Ruby Free
Craig and Ruby, biologist and wildlife guide, are two ecology enthusiasts keen to reconnect society with sustainability through the power of your plate. In diversifying Ballyconnelly Farm, they aim to create a space for the people of Northern Ireland to access natural spaces and environmental education. Follow as they share their journey at Ballyconnelly Farm: @regeneplate .
#beavers #beaverbelievers #beavolution
© Craig Holmes & Ruby Free 2020.