Our farm & our story
a sanctuary for animals and humans
Seven years ago, almost to the day that I write this, Ian and I drove for nine hours through torrential rain to our new home in Pembrokeshire. It was cold when we arrived. The cottage had not been occupied for several years and the wallpaper hung from the bedroom ceilings like sails on an abandoned wherry. There was a puddle of water on the kitchen floor, the rain dripped from the bedroom ceiling and a one eyed cat call ginger was the only living thing there to greet us. The previous owners had kindly left us some flowers and apples from the garden that smelled sweet. There was an electric heater that bravely tried to achieve the impossible.
This is our story
Everybody needs a sanctuary at some point in their lives, maybe just for a day, maybe for much longer. It was after Brexit that I wanted just to run away to somewhere I felt safe. It's an odd thing to wake up one morning to find you are a foreigner in the country you have called home for 60 years. It feels like rejection. Coupled to this, the first person I got to know in Suffolk, where I used to live, who I thought was a friend, had looked me straight in the eye one day and said 'I never knew you were a foreigner' The tone of her voice, delivering these words, was sneering. It made my blood run cold. It reminded me of the bullying I'd experienced at school for having a foreign surname. She never spoke to me again and my feelings about her, and our twenty-one year friendship, changed for ever that day. I was surrounded by neighbours who thought voting for Brexit was a good thing, and I'm sure many of them still do. For my husband, who was a farm vet for a Danish company, it made his incredibly difficult job much harder. For Ireland it was going to be extremely complicated. For those of us with European families, we were going to be divided. For the natural environment it was going to be a disaster. By the time we arrived in West Wales both Ian and I were shaken, tired and confused. He had taken early retirement and I had walked away from everything familiar and from my beautiful 'forever' home on the Suffolk beach that I had worked so hard to achieve and restore.
As the first year in Pembrokeshire rushed by in a blur of builders, lime-dust, broken slates, dysfunctional chimneys and helpful ecologists, the plan for our future gradually took shape, from an amorphous impulse to a tangible vision. I had known the moment I set foot on this land that it was an unique opportunity to save something that was seriously endangered by commerce and industrial farming. Here there were plants, insects, mammals and habitats that were now incredibly rare to be discovered and protected. This gave me something to strive for, something to inspire me, something to nurture and fundamentally something to cling to in a time of deep sadness. I can't imagine that there can be a human life without some periods of intense anxiety or sadness and whether it's rescuing a dog or sixty acres of farmland, one thing I have learned is that by saving something else one often finds that one is saving oneself into the bargain.
This is a complicated story, full of amazing people and events and it will take me a long time to tell it in a way that truly does it justice. As I sit and write today there are fourteen volunteers working in the woods right now on woodland glade improvements. They all have their own stories to tell of PTSD, autism, depression or loneliness and I wonder where they would be today if our woods were not there for them.
My husband walks down to the woods with a tray of cake for them as a way of saying thank you. He hears their laughter rising up our valley with the smoke from their bonfire and it lifts his heart. He has had another night tormented by nightmares. This is the legacy he inherits from a lifetime of being in charge of the killing teams for foot and mouth epidemics, swine flu
outbreaks. The cruelty he has witnessed as he watched the 'business' of farming break out of its body like a parasite leaving the host. Farming, that was once a vocation and not an industry, now left for dead and discarded on the proverbial floor. I watch Ian struggling on bravely with PTSD as his other companion in his retirement. Sometimes there are three of us in this marriage.
Now at last, we both know that what we are doing here is most likely to be the biggest achievement of our lives. We've created a sanctuary for nature and for the people whose lives need that conection. People like us, who can find that when we reconnect with our environment, we find comfort, purpose, relief and joy.