Application to create an “edible landscape” for people and nature on a former hunting ground

A former hunting estate will be transformed into an “edible landscape” that will restore nature while producing food, the new owner said.

Malaysian-born model, actress and entrepreneur Mandy Lieu bought the 925-acre Ewhurst Park, once owned by the Duke of Wellington, near Basingstoke in Hampshire two years ago.

After largely leaving the land alone for the first year to establish basics of what was there, she now sets about transforming it into a mosaic of habitats that simultaneously provide food for humans and wildlife.

Fields of spring barley, a good cover crop for the wild birds previously hunted on the estate, have been replaced with mixed cover crops such as chicory and clover to improve the soil.

Grasslands are being restored, with some grazed by organic Longhorn and Belted Galloway cattle, Iron Age wild boar and Tamworth pig sows have been placed in moveable pens in the woodland to replicate natural processes, and drains are being plugged to restore former wetland areas .

Beavers will soon be established in an enclosure on the property, trees will be planted in appropriate locations, work has begun on a nursery and there are plans for ‘forest gardens’ along the edges of the forest, with productive trees, shrubs and perennials along with grazing animals.

Ms Lieu said the country also provides wild food that can be fed, including mint, blackberries, raspberries, basil, hazelnuts and mushrooms and even Jerusalem artichokes, which grow there.

She hopes to use food from the estate for her west London restaurant, The Good Plot, and to hold regular public collection days in Ewhurst, as well as community, school and training activities.

The aim is also to bring together farmers and landowners involved in rewilding.

Ms Lieu said she was inspired to buy the property and restore it through closure to nature and organic food production, as she said: “We all had this massive desire to be reconnected with nature.

“Everyone had a wake-up call about how much we’ve lost touch, myself included.”

She believes it was always with her subconsciously, saying: “I left Malaysia when I was quite young and I was very fortunate to have a career in media and film and as a model and I was able to do that Traveling the world, but whenever I had downtime, I found myself sneaking off to go hiking.

We are trying to create an edible mosaic habitat that produces food for humans and flora and fauna, trying to find that balance of coexistence between humans and nature

“I miss how connected I once was growing up as a kid in rural Southeast Asia, where the backyard of your home is the forest and we never really appreciate it or even see it that way because it was so normal,” Ms. Lieu said, and added she wanted that for her four children.

She says taking on the historic property was daunting at first, but she didn’t have the burden of inheriting the land from a long line of landowners, so she didn’t have to manage it as it had in the past.

The vision for the estate is to encourage people to reconnect with nature, restore natural processes and regenerate the land, Ms. Lieu said, adding that she sees herself as a facilitator to share different expertise and ideas bringing together the restoration of nature.

Rewilding projects – which focus on allowing natural processes to be restored to the point where nature can take care of itself – have come under fire from some quarters for taking land away from food production.

But Ewhurst hasn’t been very productive before, and Ms Lieu said the estate will continue to produce food under the new scheme.

She said: “What we do at Ewhurst is we are a land and nature restoration project.

“We’re trying to create an edible mosaic habitat that produces food for humans, flora and fauna, trying to find that balance of coexistence between humans and nature.”

Ms. Lieu added: “It is important that we learn to live easily and productively in the countryside.”

She said the trip was a “jump in the deep end” as she knew nothing about farming or land management, so she reached out to neighbors as well as nature and ecosystem experts.

Ms Lieu also had to learn about British wildlife, which is very different from what she knew from her childhood.

Red kites, goshawks, nesting herons and kingfishers are among the wildlife to be seen at Ewhurst, while summer meadows that Ms Lieu said were still two years ago are now teeming with insects such as crickets and a key target of hers fulfill the sounds of nature back into the country.

But a less than pleasant encounter with another faithful of British nature while foraging for wild mint led her to duck away from a crowd of leeches – only to learn they were harmless snails.

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