This historic country estate has been in the same family since the 1800s. Today’s inhabitants moved in with their young family five years ago and have slowly introduced a form of traditional, sustainable grazing management that is transforming the once intensively farmed fields into a species-rich landscape. Guests can stay in one of three cottages that surround a central courtyard that’s alive with bees and butterflies. There’s an honesty shop on site, featuring fruit and veg from the walled garden, locally made bread and vintage bits and pieces from “the big house’s attics”. The owner – the ninth Sam Bosanquet – is an ecologist offering guided nature tours of the estate. There’s also a weekend forest school for kids, a treasure hunt, and the option to preorder a fridge-full of homemade meals on arrival. • From £300 for three nights, old-lands.co.uk
Sartfell Rural Retreat, Isle of Man
In 2016, the Isle of Man was awarded Biosphere Reserve status by Unesco. Dolphins, minke whales and basking sharks swim in the waters here, while bats, wild polecats, mountain hares and hedgehogs roam the land. From the summer, visitors will be able to stay on Cloud Nine – a sparsely populated area in the west of the island. Here, a retired couple are working with the Manx Wildlife Trust to return three hectares of denuded farmland into a haven for frogs, rare orchids, hen harriers, buzzards and butterflies. (Pygmy shrews are the latest newcomers.) Accommodation is in a newly converted, 19th-century Manx cottage that overlooks the rolling hills of Sartfell. A visitor centre is also under construction, which aims to educate young people in the importance of sustainable living.
• From £300 for three nights, facebook.com/SartfellNatureReserve
Dodgson Wood, Cumbria
Nibthwaite Grange Farm is an upland farm in the Lake District National Park that has been farmed by the same family for six generations. Today, it is managed by John Atkinson and his partner, Maria Benjamin, who have “reversed the clock” by keeping rare breeds of cattle and sheep in the meadows and fields that surround the river Crake and Coniston Water. These are rotated throughout the year, which has led to a huge increase in biodiversity. Similarly, by cutting hay meadows later in the year, they are allowing plants to flower and seed, which encourages insects and the birds that feed on them. The farm borders Dodgson Wood – a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Guests can stay in a range of eco-accommodation, including an off-grid, 16th-century farmhouse, a secluded, lakeside campsite, or a newly renovated former cowshed. Stock up on soap made from the farm’s Jersey cow’s milk, and wool products woven from the fleeces of their flock of rare sheep.
• From £300 for three nights, dodgsonwood.co.uk
Fritton Lake, Suffolk
Fritton Lake is a luxurious holiday resort set within the majestic Somerleyton estate that stretches across 2,000 hectares of East Anglia. Two years ago, Hugh Somerleyton began working with Rewilding Britain in order to give a fifth of his estate back to nature. Guests can enjoy the wood-fired hot tubs on the deck of their lakeside own lodge, while the patchwork of heath, woodland, wetland and former arable land around them slowly returns to its natural, uncultivated state. This is part of a wider ambition – The Wild East Project – which is described as a “super-regional nature recovery plan”. Landowners and conservation organisations have joined forces with the aim of creating momentum for landscape-scale nature recovery across the whole of the county of East Anglia.
• From £90 a night, fritton-lake.co.uk
Elmley Nature Reserve, Kent
The Elmley National Nature Reserve is a 1,300-hectare family-run estate tucked away on the Isle of Sheppey in northern Kent. It is home to a huge number of rare and endangered species, including breeding wading birds, hares, owls, marsh harriers, water voles, avocets and dragonflies, which hover over and hop between the shallow ponds that riddle this low-lying rural landscape. Elmley is the only nature reserve in the UK where you can actually spend the night. Visitors can choose from one of several overnight options: shepherd’s huts, a calm, contemporary cottage or a luxurious 18th-century farmhouse. This isn’t rewilding per se (the manmade landscape is carefully controlled), but a visit to Elmley offers total immersion in a landscape that, 40 years ago, was given over to intensive farming.
• From £85 a night, elmleynaturereserve.co.uk
Knepp Safaris, West Sussex
At 1,400 hectares, Knepp is the biggest rewilding project in lowland Britain. As such, it is well-equipped for visitors eager to discover what’s happened to the land since the owners, Charlie Burrell and Isabella Tree, halted decades of intensive farming and returned it to nature in 2001. The estate offers a range of guided nature safaris (by vehicle or on foot), which show the profusion of animals, birds, bats, plants and insects that have flourished here since the disappearance of herbicides and pesticides. There are bell tents, yurts, tree houses and shepherd’s huts to stay in, or you can pitch your own tent in a wildflower meadow on the edge of an ancient woodland. Tree has written a book, Wilding, about her experience at Knepp that makes perfect fireside reading.
• From £20pppn for a pitch, kneppsafaris.co.uk
At 4,000 hectares, Dundreggan is Scotland’s flagship rewilding estate. It was purchased by the Trees for Life charity in 2008 who set about replanting the overgrazed land, creating a new wild forest that is now home to more than 4,000 plant and animal species. Rewilding holidays are organised throughout the year and involve three or four days of tree planting followed by a couple of days spent working in the onsite tree nursery. Volunteers can book individually or as a group and will stay in Dundreggan Lodge, which sleeps 12 and overlooks the river Moriston. The charity has recently announced plans to create the world’s first rewilding centre in Dundreggan, which is scheduled to open in 2022 alongside new accommodation for up to 40 people. The centre is aimed to encourage longer, more immersive experiences for volunteers, students and researchers keen to explore this ancient landscape.
• £435 a week, treesforlife.org.uk/dundreggan
Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire
In 1899, Wicken Fen – one of Europe’s most important wetlands – was a two-acre nature reserve. Today, it is in its 21st year of a 100-year plan to expand the reserve to 53km² of wild landscape. The site, which comprises wet grassland, reed beds and open water, is now home to herds of konik ponies and highland cattle, which graze at low density, which helps increase biodiversity. Already home to more than 9,000 species of plants, animals, birds and insects, the reserve has seen overwintering birds, short-eared owls and lapwing return since it started rewilding. Visitors can immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of this changing landscape by staying in one of four raised, open-fronted shelters, each sleeping about six. Access is by foot or bike only. (Booking is essential and is for the whole site only.)
• From £40 a night, [email protected]
Killiehuntly Farmhouse, Kingussie, Highlands
This luxury lodge is one of 12 properties that sit on the estate belonging to Wildland, an ambitious project dedicated to the conservation and restoration of 90,000 hectares of northern Scotland. Killiehuntly is a working farm and a sturdy, historic lodge that has been reimagined with natural materials and local, hand-crafted furniture. (The aesthetic is described as “Scandi-Scot” – the owners are Danish.) After a day spent hiking the heather-clad hills, guests can brave the outdoor plunge pool and wood-fired sauna yurt before a communal meal of freshly picked produce.
• From £360 for dinner, bed and breakfast, killiehuntly.scot/killiehuntly
Cambrian Wildwood, West Wales
The Cambrian Wildwood is a community project in the early stages of habitat restoration. The 140-hectare site – which is in the Cambrian mountains, with far-reaching views towards the sea – is an area of open moorland and ancient woodland. Internal fencing is slowly being dismantled, and a herd of wild horses has been introduced to the landscape (their grazing should allow a greater variety of plant species to establish themselves). An ambitious tree-planting project will eventually allow the native woodland to colonise the landscape naturally. There is an annual open day at the nearby historic house, Y Plas, on 18 April, which includes a small exhibition, talks and activities for children, followed by a guided walk of Wildwood. For a longer exploration, visitors to this can stay in the nearby cottage or barn at Cefn Coch Farm. The owner, Joe Hope, is a farmer and ecologist who runs guided nature walks of this unique “Celtic rainforest”.
• From £210 for three nights, cambrianwildwood.org
Wilder side: retreats and courses to book
Embercombe offers a range of rewilding retreats, from equinox experience weekends and unplugged week-long yurt stays, to year-long wilding courses that promise an “immersive journey” with stopovers at some of Britain’s flagship rewilding projects.
• From £125 for a weekend, embercombe.org
The Old Way, Devon
Less of a holiday, more of a series of survival courses, The Old Way aims to teach participants forgotten “hunter-gatherer lifeways”. The course takes place between April and December across different habitats for five days at a time, and explores the lost arts of hunting, fishing, foraging, tracking, primitive craft and mindfulness in the landscape.
• £2,500 for a year-long course, theoldway.info/devon
The Nature Sessions, Kent
The Nature Sessions runs a seasonal programme of day and/or weekend retreats in rural Kent. The gentle itinerary is designed to instil complete calm and connectedness to nature. There is outdoor yoga and meditation, wild swimming, a craft workshop, nature safaris and communal dining in small groups under the stars. The next weekend retreat will be held at Elmley Nature Reserve 15-17 May.
• From £100, naturesessions.co.uk
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