Restoring ruined ecosystems: Wilding

Simon Smart reflects on the joy it was to watch the feature documentary, Wilding at the Sydney Film Festival.

It was a treat to see the documentary, “Wilding” at the Sydney Film Festival. It’s about a farming couple in England and the story of their exhausted land becoming a rich ecosystem again. The name of the woman in the story who wrote the book that became the film, is, fittingly, Isabella Tree! 

She described their farm as depleted and polluted from centuries of being overworked. The soil had been stripped of nutrients which had a host of knock-on effects on root systems of trees, and the loss of many species of birds and plants. This is a serious problem in the UK (as it is elsewhere), where intensive farming has ravaged the landscape. 

In 2003 the couple decided to radically change what they were doing, adopting a technique called Wilding. This involved stripping out fences, removing the use of pesticides and fertilizer, letting the pigs roam and dig where they wanted and horses to run around freely. It was returning the land to nature.  

A few years down the track things start to change. Over 10 years – astonishingly so. By the time of the filming the place is teeming with life both under the ground and above it. The soil is replenished with the help of various insects, worms and bugs. Rare species such as turtle doves and peregrine falcons and emperor butterflies have made their home on the estate.    

It’s a story of undeniable goodness, restoration and healing that feels miraculous.  

To me it felt like a metaphor for the Christian story, which is ultimately about the restoration of ruined things, new life where there is desolation, hope when all seems lost. The footage, exquisitely shot, evoked an Edenic vision of abundance; tapping into the deep human longing for broken things to be put right. 

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