WHEN the owners of a 90-acre farm just outside of Perth decided to rewild their property, they hadn’t realised it would soon become enveloped by the city itself.

Denmarkfield, on the fringes of the small Perthshire town of Luncarty, is all but surrounded by large development projects.

The realignment of two kilometres of the A9 is already underway on the property’s western boundary (part of the biggest infrastructure project ever undertaken by Perth and Kinross Council).

Meanwhile, to the north, the South Luncarty Development is set to bring 650 new houses to the area and more than double the existing population of the town.

Then, just across the A9, yet more houses are set to appear as part of the Bertha Park project, which in totality will add around 3000 properties to an ever-expanding Perth.

“I didn’t understand the context when I got involved, either,” said Ellie Corsie (below), lead ecologist and project manager at Rewilding Denmarkfield.

The National: Lead ecologist Ellie Corsie teaches children about rewilding at DenmarkfieldLead ecologist Ellie Corsie teaches children about rewilding at Denmarkfield (Image: Rewilding Denmarkfield)

“It was initially just a habitat creation project. The aim was to try and address the climate and ecological crisis by restoring natural processes as much as possible in order to store water, capture carbon and increase biodiversity. That was the script.

“Then, over time, we started understanding just how much development and urbanization is happening all around us.

“We realised that this project is actually going to turn into an island of green. We’re going to be engulfed into the city of Perth within the next 20 years.”

With an impending influx of houses, people, and pollution, Corsie and the landowners decided that in order to make the project a success she would have to factor in the messiness inherent in human interactions with nature.

This would not be a shuttered-off refuge. If it was going to work, Denmarkfield would have to do something seemingly at odds with the goal of restoring the health of the natural environment: invite people in.

“What we're trying to do is find a compromise where we can design areas that will be protected from disturbance, dogs and noise and then have other areas that in terms of wildlife are slightly more sacrificial,” she said.

“But those areas are equally important because they'll be providing green space for people and opportunities for nature connection.

The National: Volunteers get to work preparing the ground for tree plantingVolunteers get to work preparing the ground for tree planting (Image: Rewilding Denmarkfield)

“If we're just separating humans from nature all the time then they're not going to have the inclination or the desire to protect it.”

Denmarkfield is allegedly the site of the Battle of Luncarty – a historically murky chronicle which bestowed Scotland with the thistle as its national flower.

The legend goes that sometime in the late tenth century an army of Danish invaders was marching towards Perth.

One night, while attempting to sneak up upon an awaiting army of Scots, the Danish king stepped on a thistle, screamed out in a pain, alerted the Scots and was then defeated in a bloody battle.

The King’s Stone, which still stands next to one of the project’s fields, is said to be where the Danish king is buried.

However, while this tall tale is much disputed, the site’s rewilding project could very well make history of its own.

“A lot of other rewilding projects are criticized because it’s usually very wealthy people buying up land, doing whatever they want with it and not taking the surrounding community much into account.

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“But I think the owners here have been really pioneering with their openness to local people.

“Because of everything that’s happening it’s actually in our interest to engage with the community because they’re literally going to be all around us.”

This engagement has taken the form of a community group: the Friends of Denmarkfield.

Corsie and her colleague, Izzy Jones, run events and workshops for the group, engaging them in the details of the project and getting their input.

On the day I interview Ellie a few hundred fruit trees arrive – apples, plums, pears – ready to be planted into a community orchard the next day.

There’s also plans for 49 organic allotments and even an educational space to enable schools to visit and learn about rewilding.

Because even though most of the fields have only been free from agricultural activity for less than two years, the rewilding of the land is already visible.

While one field is filled with rust-coloured dock – the result of simply leaving the field to the wiles of nature – in others considerable tree planting hints at the woodland soon to emerge (with all of it made up of native species like oak, birch, hazel, rowan and wild cherry).

“We're focusing on underrepresented or absent species that are missing in the landscape so that we can boost their seed source and encourage them to naturally regenerate elsewhere in the project,” said Corsie.

“As well as planting we've also done these seed islands in little blobs throughout some fields, which should also lead to natural regeneration of native species.”

One such species is aspen, one of the rarest of Scotland’s native trees.

“It's a really rare species because it's very palatable and much of Scotland has a huge issue with unsustainable herbivore pressures” said Corsie.

“But aspen is a wetland species, so hopefully they will establish into big stands in our lowlands, which are right next to the Tay and would have flooded occasionally before this became farmland.

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“Another reason why we wanted to plant aspen is because we've got beavers here on the Tay.

“They don't yet come into our project because there's nothing to eat here yet, but in the future they might venture in and it would be great if we can supply them with food.”

The closeness of Denmarkfield to a city means that it is, perhaps, one of the most accessible rewilding projects in the country.

And therein lies its potential as a template for others across the country.

Rewilding doesn’t have to mean not building more houses or expanding our cities; it just means carving out a space within those projects to ensure that our growth doesn’t come at the consequence of nature’s shrinkage.