Randal Plunkett crosses the the tall hip grass of Dunsany, a 650 hectare (1,600 acre) estate in the middle of Ireland, dragged by an invisible swarm of midges and its four Jack Russell burrows: Tiny, Lumpy, Chow and Beavis & Butt -Head. Cattle and sheep are long gone, as are lawns and many crops. In their place are a multitude of shrubs, flowers and trees, as well as the insects and creatures that have made their home in this burgeoning wilderness. This is possibly Ireland’s most ambitious attempt at rewilding on private land, an attempt to recreate a vanished landscape in a strip of County Meath, 20 miles northwest of Dublin.
According to the UN, the world needs to reinvent itself and restore an area the size of China to meet nature and climate commitments, but not everyone applauds Ireland’s pioneering effort. “You would be surprised when you live in a castle how often people think you are an idiot,” says Lord Plunkett, the 21st Baron of Dunsany. The 38-year-old, who was once a steak-eating and bodybuilding death metal fan with no interest in the earth, is now a vegan and on an environmental mission. He still loves death metal and wears a ponytail and a (fake) leather jacket, but he decided seven years ago to turn 300 hectares of his estate into nature – no breeding, planting, sowing. or weeding.
Some people saw it as shameful to overlook an area associated with agricultural innovation, he said. “They just thought I was a complete waster. Decadent, a fool. A farmer said I should be ashamed of destroying the farm.
Plunkett says the justification has taken many forms. The estate used to only have three types of grass, now it has 23. “I didn’t, the birds did.” Regenerated and multiplied trees: oak, ash, beech, Scots pine and black poplar. “I see a lot of young trees growing that I haven’t planted. “
Lush and diverse vegetation has attracted butterflies and other insects – “it’s like a buffet for them” – which has attracted more birds, including woodpeckers, barn owls, red kites and rarely hawks seen.
“I heard the call of a corncrake. I had to google it to find out what it was. There have also been sightings of snipe and ermine, and an unconfirmed report of red squirrels.
Botanists from Trinity College Dublin have started visiting to study the transformation. Last year Plunkett became the first Irish member of the European rewilding network, a wilderness advocacy group across Europe. In striking success, the wild cats have returned to the Dutch forests after centuries of absence.
Ireland has a poor environmental record, despite its green image. In the 1980s, there were more than 500 crystal-clear rivers and lakes, now there are only 20, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. About 250,000 hectares of wetlands have been lost over the past two decades. Pollution from agriculture is widely blamed. The state has an ambitious tree-planting program, but critics say too many new forests are made up of Sitka spruce, which lines the soil with acid needles and suffocates wildlife.
“We are a fantastic country for remembering our history and culture, but absolutely terrible for taking care of our environment,” Plunkett says.
The Plunkett’s are one of Ireland’s most famous families. Settled in Dunsany since 1402, their fortunes came and went over the centuries. Oliver Plunkett, Catholic Archbishop, was executed in England in 1681 on suspicion of “papist conspiracy”; he was canonized in 1975. Horace Plunkett championed rural development and agricultural innovations at the turn of the 20th century. Other Plunkett’s were leading figures in politics and the arts.
Randal became the 21st Baron after the death of his father, Edward, in 2011. Educated in the United States, England, and the Netherlands, he wanted to make films, not run a high-maintenance farm and castle. “I have never been a country bumpkin. I saw it as a burden, a life of bondage.
Worried about the climate crisis, Plunkett first attempted to convert the estate to organic farming. When concern for the planet turned into alarm, he went vegan and decided to let part of the estate get back to nature.
He also resolved to block the poachers and hunters on horseback: “I have decided to go to war.
Plunkett patrolled the forests and meadows of the estate, confronted intruders, filmed them, summoned police and threatened legal action. “I was threatened in the face and on social media to be beaten, to have my tires flat, you name it.”
He is preparing for the resumption of the hunting season: “Come in September, all hell is breaking loose. “
Plunkett directs Dunsany on the income from the remaining farmland, which is mainly tillage, and filmmaking. His first independent feature film, The green sea, which he wrote and directed, was released last month. A dark mystery set in Dunsany, it tells the story of an American writer who moves to a remote Irish setting and is haunted by the characters in his novel. The title comes from the landscape around the castle. “It’s an ocean of greenery.”
Plunkett, who recently had a baby girl with his fiancee, allows small groups to tour the estate but doesn’t want large crowds. “Trails, signs, a cafe?” No.”
He intends to continue making films – the next one is a horror film – and take care of the estate in the hopes that his daughter will eventually take over. In keeping with family tradition, the vegan baron won’t purge the heirloom furniture – not even the tiger skin rug with head – but adds his own twist to it. “I might be the first generation here to bring in Ikea,” he says.