Randal Plunkett, Lord Dunsany, on the estate which he is part establishing as a nature reserve. Photo: Barry Cronin

Dunsany estate ‘rewilding’ as a nature reserve

The Dunsany Castle Estate has been named as a member of the Rewilding Europe Network, a group of 61 members across 27 countries that brings together nature reserves and similar projects. Randal Plunkett’s Dunsany estate is the first Irish member of the network.

The Dunsany Estate covers some 1,600 acres, stretching from Kileen to Tara and Glane, and about 750 acres of this is now being rewilded as the Dunsany Reserve.

There are 550 acres of forest, and several springs and streams flowing through marshy areas. The land not forested or being rewilded is used to grow crops.

The soil is very fertile, so the income from agriculture is enough to support the estate, along with the income from the film production facilities based there.

Randal Plunkett, who inherited the Dunsany estate in 2011, began rewilding much of his land in 2014.

He explains: "I inherited the Dunsany Estate in 2011 when the land supported a mixture of crop growing and cattle. I didn’t have any experience of farming – I was a filmmaker.

"At first, I collaborated with a neighbour with the idea of creating an organic farm, but after witnessing the destructive impact of modern farming and the mistreatment of animals, I decided to create the reserve in an attempt to balance out the intensive agriculture that typifies this area.

" In 2014, all animal agriculture was abandoned and all fields and forests that once contained farm animals were left to rewild, although I didn’t know it was called rewilding at the time."

Photo by Barry Cronin

He explained to the Rewilding Europe website that the reserve is pretty much left untouched, with natural processes left to reshape the landscape.

"There’s no drainage, and areas of grassland are left to be grazed by wild animals, such as deer. At Dunsany we never mass cut anything, but will sometimes trim some of the weaker trees in new plantations to allow room for some of the stronger ones to grow better.

"Every time a company uses our film production facilities, the contract stipulates that they donate a tree to the reserve, and I’m planning to plant five new areas of native forestry over the next five years.

"The vision is wilderness! A mix of habitats with flourishing wild nature. I want the reserve to be a true oasis for wildlife in Ireland and to contribute to the maintenance of the country’s natural heritage.”

He says that having greatly reduced illegal poaching, Dunsany has become a safe haven for a wide range of species, many of which are in decline across Ireland.

.Photo:Barry Cronin/www.barrycronin.com

"Otters have returned – the first time the species has been seen on the estate in my lifetime. We have pine martens, stoats, hedgehogs, foxes, badgers and barn owls. Red kite and snipe have returned.

"We have seen a big increase in insects – with a massive surge in butterflies – and we now see many different bat species. Even endangered Irish species such as corncrakes have come back. Nature really is flourishing.

On joining the European Rewilding Network, he says that the network can make European rewilding stronger as a whole, while also helping individual initiatives such as Dunsany to thrive.

"I feel privileged to be able to join a movement of like-minded individuals who are committed to restoring Europe’s natural heritage. The ERN brings together a wide range of people, many of whom are far more expert and established in terms of rewilding than myself. I’m looking forward to finding friends, to healthy debate, and to exchanging ideas and information.

“There are members rewilding land that is similar to mine – especially in Belgium and the Netherlands – and I hope to learn from them especially."

ABOVE: Randal Plunkett, Lord Dunsany, on the estate which he is part establishing as a nature reserve. Photo: Barry Cronin