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Building Relationships with Neighbours

Maintaining good relationships with neighbours is part of being a good rewilder.

On the way home from the field yesterday, I bumped into my neighbour. She’s one of the ‘goat people’ – the smallholders who manage a rapidly-growing flock of goats on the land next to mine…

Getting Outdoors

We spoke about how lucky we were to spend so much time in the outdoors – how owning land has brought us closer to nature – had made this blustery, rainy day feel somehow warm and familiar.

It can be hard to get out of the house sometimes when the outdoors is all browns and greys, but I never regret it when I do. There’s a magic to this time of year that in some ways far exceeds the warmth and haze of summer. The land is stripped to its raw elements and your body is fully exposed to the full force of their power.

Fencing Obligations

I spent all Sunday working on a boundary fence – the goats keep jumping over it and escaping into a neighbouring field, so I was installing a line of barbed wire. It’s not rewilding work – far from it, but the kind of labour you’ll often find yourself doing if you own land. Hard, honest work that leaves you tired and sore, but satisfied with a job well-done.

I spoke with the Grange Project on Friday for their ‘Wilder Podcast‘ – a series which I highly recommend. This couple from Wales are doing what I’m doing, just on a much larger scale – rewilding 80 acres rather than 3.5. They’re working it out as they go, just as I have been, and speaking to those in the know, including experts like Prof Alastair Driver – Director of Rewilding Britain. You can hear these conversations on their regular podcast, and I was delighted to be invited on as a future guest.

But while we were chatting, something about fencing came up – ‘when we moved in, the first thing we did was put up new fencing, to stop the animals getting off our land; it was the opposite of what we thought rewilding would be’. This was the same experience that I had – when I bought my small plot,┬álegal obligations meant I had to put up new boundary fences and repair old ones to a better condition.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbours

But it isn’t just legal obligations which force a landowner into mending fences. There’s the obvious saying ‘good fences make good neighbours’ and that’s equally true in rewilding and nature recovery. Here, a stray sheep can wreak havoc in ancient woodland, or an escaped goat can destroy dozens of newly-planted trees.

But beyond the implications for your own land, there’s also the benefits for neighbourly relations. A happy rural community is more receptive to working together on landscape-scale nature positive solutions. And keeping that community happy means keeping up your end of the bargain – controlling the population of toxic weeds like Ragwort and Marestail near boundaries, keeping shared access tracks in good condition, and repairing or replacing fences when they’re broken.

Wooden post and rail fencing
Cheaper wooden post and rail fencing may last only a few years in boggy or waterlogged ground.

Using TripleX Fencing

On my land, I’ve been using TripleX metal fencing as it’s so much easier to install by hand (especially on your own) and lasts decades longer than wood posts in our soggy landscape. I walk through neighbouring fields and see posts installed within the past few years which are already tipping over and rotting at the base. In contrast, my own fence is rated for 30 years of life.

Sure, TripleX is not perfect, and I’ve had one or two issues with the system. The gateposts are a little shorter than I’d like, so I’ve had to concrete them in to prevent them tipping; the fencepost tops tend to crumple a bit if hammered in. But it’s 5x better than installing 5 lots of wood fencing in the same time period that this TripleX will last. And the wire just clips in, which is perfect for solo projects, except when I have a huge wire roll that keeps jumping in to the wrong clip before I’m ready!

TripleX Fencing
On this boggy patch, where the old wooden fence was rotting away and collapsing, I installed a replacement TripleX system inside the old fence line.

Replacing Fences with Hedges

But rewilding is about removing fences, not adding them in, so over time, I’m trying to replace TripleX with hedgerows. In fact, one of these new fences is designed specifically to protect a newly-planted hedge from goats. It’s a native hedgerow that the goat people have created along the edge of their land. They’re part of the happy community around me, and they’ve also been receptive to nature-positive ideas. This new hedge not only provides a long-term boundary, but also forage and shelter for their animals.

Elsewhere, where individual Hawthorn or Blackthorn shrubs have been growing along a fence line, I’ve laid them, which extends their reach and encourages them to grow back more vigorously. By ‘laying them’ I mean cutting 2/3 into the trunk at its base, then laying the plant almost flat along the fenceline. Not quite flat, as this stops the sap from flowing – it likes to flow against gravity. Shoots along the sunlit side of the trunk will turn into new shrubs, forming a hedgerow. Over time, these new shrubs can also be laid.

A Lasting Legacy

Land ownership is something that changes you – it confronts you with uncomfortable realities – the logistical and financial challenges of restoring biodiversity. But it also enables you to work creatively within those constraints to achieve something better for both nature and people.