‘Given a chance, nature can and will recover.’ This is the motto of a Dublin couple who over the past five years have spent their savings to donate 17.5 acres of farmland in Co Wicklow to Wildacres Nature convert reserve.
rian O’Toole (56) and Gilly Taylor (54) co-founded Wildacres to share their love for nature and conservation because they believe that “together we can all help turn the climate and biodiversity crisis into an opportunity to make the world a better place for animals and people”.
The couple, who live in Stillorgan, Dublin, bought the land in 2017, by which time it was almost entirely stripped of vegetation.
The land itself is surrounded by pastures and farmland, giving visitors a glimpse of what it looked like before the couple took it over.
“What prompted us to buy this land to re-wild and share was our passion for wildlife and the environment and our desire to help with Ireland’s environmental crisis,” said Mr O’Toole.
The thriving area now features a honey farm, bird hide, 12 ponds and the Redcross River – a water source that supports many local species.
Your wildlife camera has captured mammals such as pine martens, deer, foxes, badgers and more recently otters. This, Mr O’Toole said, is because Ireland is one of the last strongholds for otters in the EU.
Their bat monitoring equipment has also spotted around nine different species of bats on their reserve.
They have recorded more than 70 native bird species, including great spotted woodpecker, yellowhammer, red kite and little grebe, breeding on their largest pond. “The habitats we have created are thriving and wildlife is responding so positively,” added Mr O’Toole.
Nearly 11,000 native trees have also been planted on the property in the last five years, 7,000 of which were created as part of Teagasc’s Native Woodland Establishment Scheme. The diverse flora at Wildacres benefits pollinators such as the 79 species of solitary bee, 21 species of bumblebee, 35 species of butterfly and the wide variety of moths and hoverflies.
There are two apiaries at Wildacres, one producing honey and the other in the visitor center where guests can get a closer look at the live hive through a glass screen.
The honey farm consists of thousands of native honey bees. These bees forage on the wildflowers and keep the nectar flowing, which helps produce the natural honey that the couple sells to the public.
Wildacres demonstrates that you can produce food while caring for the environment, proving that green strategies can be profitable.
“A lot is about the scale of things. We could fit hundreds of hives on the 17.5 hectares and produce tons of honey,” Mr O’Toole said, “but that wouldn’t be the right thing to do to help restore biodiversity.”
All proceeds from the sale of the delicious raw honey, produce, tours and workshops go back into the conservation and longevity of Wildacres, with Ms Taylor estimating they will be financially self-sustaining by 2026.
Wildacres is a social enterprise, and since they have chosen to leave the land to a trust, it “will remain a conservation area forever,” she said.
The couple, who opened for guided events in March, are also excited to share their knowledge and experience to help others protect and restore biodiversity on this island.
Visitors to Wildacres are treated to varied yet themed activities, including highlights such as Gardening for Biodiversity, the Redcross River Walk, and the Honey Tour, which consists of a close-up view of a honey bee colony and honey tastings.
As part of their efforts to combat the environmental crisis, the couple is not only naturalizing their land, but educating guests on how to naturalize their own plots, no matter how small.
“People have land they want to naturalize, so they come to see what we’ve done, how we’ve done it and what they can achieve in their own space,” Ms Taylor said.
This can be done in the smallest of ways, as evidenced by Wildacres by showcasing a small pond near its greenhouse built from a recycled guinea pig cage and sand. “You could get life in it within hours,” said Mr. O’Toole, “You don’t need tomorrows.”
His partner added that “in Ireland we have over two million gardens and over 137,000 farms, so there is a huge opportunity for people, both urban and rural, to revitalize this beautiful country”.
The couple have already witnessed the effects of climate change in Wildacres and have noticed that every summer is getting drier. “That’s why the Redcross River is the lowest we’ve ever seen,” Mr. O’Toole said.
Wildacres serves as a model for sustainability and carbon footprint reduction, as rainwater is collected from the barn roof, a well is used to supply water and its paths are created with an electric mower that runs on 100 percent green energy.
Solar panels are also to be installed on the roof of the visitor center in the coming years. Most of what cannot be grown or produced is purchased from local suppliers giving back to the Wicklow community.
They print as little material as possible, but when they do, they use an eco-printer based in Co Offaly. Their web design and hosting is also done by an Irish owned company in Newtownmountkennedy and the oatmeal biscuits served at events come from an organic family owned farm in Kilbeggan.
Dedicated to Wildacres, the couple both work full-time to maintain it and hope, with the continued support of the community and well-wishers, to be able to offer volunteer and part-time opportunities.
“This is our legacy,” said Ms. Taylor.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/the-habitats-we-have-created-are-thriving-couple-spend-their-life-savings-turning-land-into-a-top-eco-nature-reserve-41895790.html ‘The habitats we’ve created are thriving’: A couple spends their life savings to transform land into a world-class eco-conservation area