Keystone species at Moor Barton Wilding
Our management strategy
In years gone by Britain was home to many keystone species such as the wolf and the beaver and functional species such as the horse or tarpan and the boar. Thousands of years ago woolly mammoths would have coppiced small trees as they moved through the landscape allowing light in to let all kinds of plants grow. Bear would have both planted and fertilised trees with their berry and salmon filled scat. More recently beavers and wolves determined the course and the speed of our rivers and streams.
Together, these creatures created, shaped and maintained an ecology that provided numerous niche habitats for every kind for life to flourish. The majority of these keystone and functional creatures have now gone - and with them much of the shifting, broken mosaic of habitats which supported so much diversity of life.
At Moor Barton Wilding, our overarching management strategy is to - where possible - reintroduce keystone and functional species or ‘modern equivalents’. And, in some cases, it is possible to reintroduce these creatures and stand back and watch the biodiversity flourish......
In December 2022 a mother beaver arrived at Moor Barton with her older daughter and two young kits and several weeks later the older brother joined them. In just a few short months the five beavers transformed their area of the Trenchford from a canalised stream, flowing as swiftly as possible towards its destination, into an ecologically rich wetland of still and slow moving pools. The area continues to evolve as the beavers create more and more dams. Through slowing the water, the beavers have effectively reunited the stream with its floodplain creating a haven for insects and amphibians who in turn attract birds and mammals to the area. Following the successful reintroduction of beavers at Moor Barton Wilding, we plan to introduce water voles and pine martens.
In some cases it is possible to bring in equivalent creatures who will do a similar job to the original keystone creatures. For example, Tamworth pigs can take the place of wild boar and, at Moor Barton Wilding, we have just introduced two small herds of Dartmoor ponies to take the place of the now extinct Tarpan.
However, in many cases, these creatures are gone forever. Often it is not possible to reintroduce a species or their equivalent (or the process is too lengthy and complex to be viable). In their absence it becomes crucial for us humans to take up our role as a keystone species and put into action techniques for ecological restoration that are currently being researched and developed. At Moor Barton Wilding, we are taking up the mantle of being a keystone species ourselves, often mimicking those animals whose ecological impacts were (and in some cases still are) so beneficial. For example boar-like patches of earth can be cleared to let seeds blow in and provide places for nightjars to nest and, in the absence of woolly mammoths or short tusk elephants wandering through, we coppice hazel with a chainsaw.
In the midst of ecological collapse it is easy to feel that the best thing for us humans to do is to leave well alone. However, we believe that humans are part of nature and can play a reciprocal role, working in harmony with the rest of the natural world, enabling all to thrive. At Moor Barton Wilding we actively manage the land, not to tame it, but to support and increase diversity.
Without this active management, many of our specialised and diverse habitats would be lost. Transitional edge environments - rich in insects, butterflies and bees - need to be kept open. Self seeded larch needs to be removed before it reclaims vast swathes of the land. Gorse covered hillsides need to be cleared to prevent the swamping of young oaks. Hazel needs to be coppiced to let in the light. In ‘tending the wild’ we are taking responsibility not to leave the wild places as we find them but to improve biodiversity for all of nature including the generations to come. Read more in our habitats section.