Appeal to save 'magical' rewilding haven

A nightingale at Strawberry Hill
Threatened birds such as nightingales are thriving at Strawberry Hill in Bedfordshire [Holly Wilkinson]

An accidental conservation project that has provided homes for threatened species such as nightingales "must be protected", according to a local wildlife trust.

Before the term "rewilding" became widespread, Strawberry Hill farm in north Bedfordshire was turned over to nature, resulting in a haven for birds and animals.

The Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust said the site had one of the highest concentrations of turtle doves, warblers and nightingales in the country.

"Strawberry Hill is a magical place. When I first stepped foot there, I knew we had to save it," said chief executive Brian Eversham, as the trust started an appeal to raise money to buy the land.

Ariel view of Strawberry Hill nature reserve
The site was turned over to nature after being used as farmland [Fisher German]

The trust has leased the reserve since 2022 and raised £1m to buy the southern part. It now wants to raise a further £1.5m to secure the rest of the site.

At 150 hectares (371 acres), it said Strawberry Hill was the largest area of shrubland and young woodland in central England, but had no "official designations or protections".

"There is so much potential for wildlife to spread out from this site and recolonise the surrounding countryside," said Mr Eversham.

Agriculture, housing and infrastructure have dramatically affected species across the UK, with a 97% drop in the number of turtle doves and a 90% decline in nightingales.

Fox in the grass
Foxes are a common sight at the nature reserve [Simon Wantling]
A badger on night camera
Mammals such as badgers and foxes have also been spotted at Strawberry Hill [BCN Wildlife Trust]

After the farm retreated and nature took its course, a "unique area" of meadow and shrubland emerged in a county where only 1.2% of land is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

"Strawberry Hill is an oasis in an otherwise nature-depleted area," the trust said.

"Bedfordshire is one of the most intensively farmed counties in the UK."

It makes much more sense to preserve the site than create a new one from scratch, it said.

"Strawberry Hill is the kind of place you cannot reproduce in a short space of time. It has taken 35 years to become what it is today.

"It truly is a beacon of hope in one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world."

Volunteers putting up tracking devices on a tree
Wildlife trust members help to monitor animal activity at the reserve [BCN Wildlife Trust]

Follow Beds, Herts and Bucks news on Facebook, Instagram and X. Got a story? Email or WhatsApp us on 0800 169 1830

You may also be interested in

Related internet links