Rewilding Vision for Castle Leslie Estate

Overview

Castle Leslie is an historic estate situated on the Irish border, famed for its equestrian centre and premium hospitality offerings. The 400ha estate also features a pinetum, established in 1690 and a Victorian model farm. Its location meant that the estate was affected by The Troubles, with some areas of woodland falling out of management for several decades.

Ecosulis was commissioned to create a rewilding vision and start up plan for the estate, with support from RBST and WIld Business by the Innovation & Projects team. The strategy had account for the patchwork of land uses, which currently includes equestrian, hospitality, gardens, pasture and forestry.

Our proposal called for a three-phase approach: Phase 1 involves low impact interventions that demonstrate the value of rewilding to investors and the community. Functional herbivores will be introduced, with thickets and groves of trees planted. Learnings from this phase will inform future plans.

Phase 2 is focused on securing further investment, creating a larger connected rewilding area and establishing a free-roaming guild of large mammals.

Phase 3 is pioneering and more challenging, with further species introductions and the restoration of natural hydrology to recover flows and wetlands.

Project brief

Our strategy for restoring the grounds at Castle Leslie builds upon the principles of rewilding – a modern approach to conservation.

The basic idea of rewilding science is to restore natural processes and diversity in the landscape. As ecosystems return to a more natural state, they begin to take care of themselves, reducing maintenance costs and starting a self-willed process in which systems return to balance. This is often associated with improved carbon capture and storage, greater biodiversity and an enhanced aesthetic appearance.

However, there are many facets to the philosophy of rewilding, and one key principle is ‘acting in context’ – each site has a unique history, culture and setting. People are at the heart of our rewilding strategy work, as we believe that it is essential to get buy-in from local stakeholders and [often] to generate financial returns, if a project is to be declared a success.

Our approach to Castle Leslie involved working closely with land managers and staff in the hospitality and equestrian centres. This enabled us to design a rewilding solution which builds on the strengths of the site and its enterprises, while also delivering value to the business at every turn. The aim is for Castle Leslie to become Ireland’s premier ‘rewilding destination’.

“The Ecosulis team take a pragmatic approach that involves communities, when we create a rewilding vision. This helps deliver long-term benefits to local people and nature.”

Cain Blythe, Ecosulis CEO

YEAR

2021 - 2022

Impact

manage Biodiversity

Our proposed interventions focus on restoring natural diversity through species reintroductions and altering land management techniques.

Protect Habitats

The existing dense, high woodland will shift towards mosaic wood pasture. Existing intensively-grazed pastures will revert to a more natural state and wetland ecosystems will be restored. The lake may return to an earlier, higher water level.

empower-us-to-act People

The vision is designed around the history and culture of the site, and takes into account the potential of businesses like the equestrian centre and lodge to integrate with the rewilded land. Guests will ride or walk through beautiful mosaic landscapes and eat rewilded food.

How we added value

A Model for Ireland

As a premium centre for hospitality and equestrian sports, Castle Leslie already has a reputation as a jewel in the crown of Ireland’s tourism sector. Our vision is to cement that reputation by working to help them become a model rewilding site for Ireland. 

Ireland does not have an ‘Oostvaardersplassen’ or ‘Knepp’ to inspire rewilders. This creates an opportunity for Castle Leslie to use its 400 hectares, and acquire new land, to demonstrate its environmental credentials, connect with policymakers and conservation groups, and showcase the potential of rewilding. The benefits to Ireland are clear, but this also opens up potential revenue streams; rewilding tours, holidays, weddings, events and produce.

Degraded fields at Castle Leslie
Rewilding vision at Castle Leslie
A Plan of Action…

Our 35 page vision document and associated advice provided Castle Leslie with a detailed strategy for rewilding their property; in it, we…

  • Described the climatic, ecological and historic influences which created the estate’s ecosystem.
  • Collaborated with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and Wild Business to identify appropriate breeds. 
  • Detailed the management techniques required to rewild individual habitats.
  • Researched the history and culture of the site and designed interventions that integrate into and enhance the legacy of the site.
  • Detailed the integration possibilities of rewilding for each estate business.
  • Provided a step-by-step plan of action.
  • Suggested potential species reintroductions which could benefit the site.
  • Described a cutting-edge monitoring framework.

Want to learn more about rewilding and nature recovery?

Read more insights or explore our previous work.