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Rewilding the estate

How sustainability and biodiversity initiatives are core to the mandate of the Bader International Study Centre.

[The Bader International Study Centre (BISC) in East Sussex, England encompasses more than 600 acres of land]
The Bader International Study Centre (BISC) in East Sussex, England encompasses more than 600 acres of land. (Supplied Photo)

This spring, the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings revealed that Queen’s University had placed first in Canada and fifth in the world in its global ranking of universities that are advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Queen’s earned its Impact Ranking after successfully implementing programs to improve sustainability within and outside of the local Kingston community. But these efforts also extend “across the pond.” On the grounds of Queen’s UK campus, the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) at Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex, England, sustainability and biodiversity are combined to help nurture and preserve the natural environment, while providing a living lab for students, staff, and members of the public. 

The BISC estate encompasses more than 600 acres of land containing medieval parklands, ancient woodlands, meadows, ponds, marshlands, and formal gardens. Over the centuries, numerous changes, both inside and outside the castle walls, have resulted in a loss of biodiversity and preservation of these lands. In order to improve and restore the estate’s surrounding environment, Grounds and Gardens Manager Guy Lucas and his team of gardeners and grounds staff are implementing sustainable ecological practices such as rewilding to repair damaged ecosystems and restore the grounds to their original state through natural processes. 

  • [Photo of the bluebells among the ancient woodland]
    The ancient bluebell woodland set within the BISC's historic parkland.
  • [Photo of a woodland path on the estate]
    The woodlands form part of the castle's historic parkland supporting over three hundred acres of diverse wildlife and plants including ancient oaks and sweet chestnut trees.
  • [Photo of the wildflower meadow]
    Explore the winding paths among the five-acre native wildflower meadow dedicated to conservation at the BISC.
  • [Photo of Temple Field]
    Temple Field is enclosed by woodland and leads to the Folly with its own walled cottage garden within the castle grounds.

Supporting biodiversity

Lucas and his team’s efforts to rewild large areas of the estate are at the forefront of BISC’s biodiversity initiatives. A major part of this process will include the removal of non-native and invasive species and the planting of native varieties to provide a mixed species and age structure within the woodland. Also integral to the rewilding project is monitoring the species within the woodland and the management of trails to ensure they have adequate light, and the correct woodland edge flora, as these act as highways for wildlife.

In efforts to restore the lands to their original state, the estate team has adopted the ancient practice of 'coppicing' which has been practiced in the United Kingdom since the Neolithic period. 'Coppicing' involves cutting an acre of broadleaved trees down during the winter, on a rotation of 20-30 years, and allowing them to regenerate. Opening these areas of woodland mimics the actions of Neolithic ancestors and the auroch (an extinct wild cow) who carried out this process for centuries, allowing woodland flora and fauna to thrive.

Lastly, as 98 per cent of wildflower meadows in the UK have been lost, the team has dedicated 20 acres of the estate to create and protect an environment where wildflowers can thrive, acting as a vital food source for bees and butterflies and as a habitat for invertebrates and small mammals. In the winter, the sheep on the estate graze the dense thatch of grasses, which enables fresh seeds to come in contact with the earth and grow the next year’s wildflowers. 

[The estate’s sheep grazing grasses and encouraging the natural sowing of wildflowers.]
The estate’s sheep grazing grasses and encouraging the natural sowing of wildflowers. (Supplied Photo)

Advancing sustainability

The BISC’s commitment to sustainability extends inside the castle walls where numerous waste reduction efforts have been implemented.

Recently, a Sustainability Working Group was formed to bring together employees from across the institution to drive sustainability initiatives. These include working with the Aramark food services team to ensure that 100 per cent of in-house green waste is composted, enhancing recycling facilities within the castle, removing disposable food packaging, and increasing availability of electric travel methods.

On a larger scale, the estate team maintains sustainable reed beds that address sewage waste through natural filtration, making the water safe and clean. To generate renewable energy, a heat recovery pump system located in the castle moat is estimated to generate up to 35 per cent of the castle’s heating requirements, and a proportion of the electricity needed for the estate is generated via the use of around 200 solar panels.

[Aerial photo of the estate]
The Estate’s renewable energy initiatives leverage the existing historical features and natural environment to support modern technology for sustainability. (Supplied Photo)

The environment as an education tool

Allowing students and the public to interact with and learn from the estate team’s sustainability and biodiversity agenda is an integral part of the BISC’s mandate. The BISC Skills Award (BSA), which encourages students to participate in university events and programs for personal development, presents an excellent opportunity for student engagement. Recently, this program has incorporated the estate team’s sustainability and biodiversity initiatives into the curriculum by allowing students to partake in projects including invasive species removal, pond maintenance, rare species seed planting, and the designing of a new student services cottage garden.

The BISC is also dedicated to sharing the estate’s biodiversity and sustainability efforts with the public. One program that showcases this relationship is the Herstmonceux Castle Forest School. The Forest School allows members of the public to engage with the natural environment in the estate’s ancient woodlands, offering all learners opportunities to achieve and develop confidence through hands-on experiences in a woodland environment. This program allows the environment itself to serve as an educational tool. 

Improving biodiversity and the adoption of a sustainable mindset at the BISC is reflective of Queen’s steadfast dedication to advancing sustainable development through pursuing the UN’s SDGs. By way of its community and student outreach programs, the BISC has consistently shared its advancements and knowledge in sustainability and biodiversity with the public, providing education and enjoyment to the larger community.

For more information, visit the BISC and Herstmonceux Castle websites.

Learn more about Queen's University's Climate Action Plan.