The Decade to Diversify by Ruby Free

Ruby Free, Conservationist, and Campaigner educates us on the importance of biodiversity on the farm.

The Decade to Diversify by Ruby Free

Taking inspiration from our rich biodiversity and heritage we’re so fortunate to have on Ballyconnelly Farm, we reflect on our history whilst looking ahead to our vision of a wild future.

Over the last 200+ years the farm has operated in many different ways but now, nature is our commodity.

Nature needs our cumulative creativity to design nature-based solutions now more than ever.

Showcasing some of the native species we have here on the farm, we love sharing our journey with our audiences via Instagram @ballyconnellyfarm and our website. We hope that after reading this blog, you ‘re just as excited about the future of Ballyconnelly Farm as we are.

So what do we do?

• By campaigning and growing, we strive to educate and enable access to local, sustainably produced food for all members of society.

• We aim to protect and re-wild British and Irish ecosystems for the conservation of biodiversity.

• We want to catalyse a shift in consumer demand to support a growing green economy whilst restoring biodiversity for future generations.

Our Conservation work

By trade, Ruby Free and Craig work in the conservation charity sector; so, giving the farm back to nature, turning their faming system into an ecosystem, is only natural for them.

Some of our best ideas for the future of the farm come when we allow time for simply just sitting down to chat about what's beneficial for both the planet and people. Environmentalism often has a stigma of 'unrealism' about it, making tangible action seem far-fetched or out of reach for the normal person, but guess what, saving nature is realistic and – has to happen.

We're more motivated than ever to bridge the gap between farmers, consumers and the growing number of environmentalists.

We believe, with Craig, growing up in a conventional farming family and myself coming into the picture as a naturalist and conservationist, we have a unique perspective that allows us to understand the needs and priorities of each group. It's our mission to connect each integral party through a desire to heal the damage we have caused to local landscaped historically, and what impact intensive agriculture has today. Access to wild landscapes is such an important factor in our lives. We believe, when you are immersed in rich and abundant habitats, you are more likely to have a connection with, and desire to protect the world around you.

The Landscapes of Ballyconnelly Farm

Perched at over 500 ft on Long Mountain Ridge that splits Mid and East Antrim, we are fortunate to have a view of a handful of iconic areas bursting with biodiversity. Some of these are designated Special Conservation Areas including the Antrim Coast & Glens AONB, Lough Neagh and Beg and The Sperrins AONB. Antrim's natural landscape is defined by geological features and rolling grass pastures, making the area globally renowned as one of the most beautiful corners of the island of Ireland, however, nature is under threat.

Ecosystem health and biodiversity are in decline across Northern Ireland with 11% of our species at risk of extinction. On the farm, we are diversifying to restore an abundance of native species and provide access to wild habitats. We are developing conservation strategies to protect and preserve Priority Species in Northern Ireland. Collaborating with farmers, activists and local communities, we are on a mission to restore ecosystem services at Ballyconnelly Farm.

In line with the UN Decade of Ecological Restoration, Nature Positive framework, one of the main pilot project we’ve kickstarted is called ’30 X 30’, or thirty by thirty. What we’re aiming to do here is re-wild or restore 30 percent of 30 acres by the year 2030. So that’s a lot! We wanted something to stick with it and an ambitious framework to work towards. We’ve already planted many native wildflower and Irish hardwood tree species like Oak and horse chestnut, and we’re looking at widening and developing wildlife corridors around field margins and creating mixed aquatic areas that include graduated-edge wetlands and shallow ponds to incorporate more wildlife friendly areas on the farm.

Just in three years of diversifying and rewilding certain areas of the farm, we’ve seen red and amber listed species appear that we had never seen before. Some of these species include linnets, snipe, siskins, swallows. We’ve also seen a huge increase in the general biodiversity with higher and varying populations of flora and fauna such as orchids, bees, wasps, and moths as well as invertebrate and amphibian species. Our camera traps have given us an insight into our increasing mammal populations, such as bats, badgers, mice and foxes! Give space for nature, and it will take it.

By Ruby Free, Co-owner of Ballyconnelly Farm, Conservationist and Campaigner.

August 31, 2022

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