One thing about the lock down is the impact it had on figuring out what day of the week it was! I have a lifetime friend who recites a monologue that goes like this;
"John, I wake in the morning and I first have to figure out where am I, who I am, the time (that’s the easy bit), what day is it and do I have work? And having worked through all that I might have figured out that its Saturday or Sunday and am laying there quite restful until the wife nudges and asks am I not going to work. Well John, where do you go from there".
Yes it sounds a wee bit over the top but at times in recent weeks I could relate to some of those questions and yet I was one of those that have a garden to work in and an ability to walk on country roads around me and benefit from that connection with nature in terms of my mental and physical wellbeing!!
The natural path
Over the weeks of the lockdown those of us with gardens or who had the ability to walk country roads or lanes and be at one with nature probably now appreciate more than ever the importance of the connection between nature and our mental & physical wellbeing and for our ability to cope with global change, health threats and disasters and the need for populations as a whole to be able to easily access such environments. Garden’s and country roads have been an escape for many particularly during this time. There is a wealth of evidence on the positive effect that spending time in the natural environment has on the health and emotional wellbeing of people, especially children.
The quality of our local natural environment is one of the factors that shape our health over a lifetime. A good-quality environment is associated with a decrease in problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It is also linked with better mental health, reduced stress, and more physical activity.
Planning the route ahead
Before the Covid 19 outbreak & following some 18 months of research we applied to Donegal County Council for planning permission for a Biodiversity Centre on the lands at Rockhill Estate.
Comprising of some 100 acres of woodland and pasture filled with birds, wildlife, streams and ponds the Rockhill House Estate site is steeped in history dating back to the Plantation of Ulster circa 1610. A site occupied until 1936 by only four families in over 400 years one of which John Vandeleur Stewart was a renowned Ornithologist.
Rockhill is a place where history, nature, wellbeing and learning come together and the planned Biodiversity Centre is a response to the growing worldwide interest in matters relating to our food systems, wellness and wellbeing arising from a connection with nature, the environment, conservation and wildlife.
Since purchasing Rockhill we have attempted to adopt two core principles: ‘net gain’ (put more in than you take out) and ‘do no harm’. It is not always an easy journey but as our learning improves hopefully our outcomes will likewise.
The new Letterkenny based Biodiversity Centre at Rockhill House Estate will in time act as a gateway for visitors keen to explore the natural wonders throughout the Donegal region and immerse themselves wellness in the environment that they find themselves.
The “lost” Rockhill Walled Garden has been found and cleared of all invasive self-seeded laurel and scrub. It now exists as a blank canvas of some 2 Scottish Acres within the original garden walls many of which were unfortunately destroyed by the removal of stone for past state forestry activities. Damage, that given the loss of the original stone and high cost of replacing and building same will take some further innovative solutions like the trialled “Bug Wall Hotel”.
The objective of phase one is to develop the garden into a series of interconnecting garden spaces that provide a place of peace & reflection that engage the senses and create a real connection with nature as we move through the different seasons.
We will in time seek to use the space to educate visitors young and old on not only the importance of “giving nature a home” but also the ways, one garden and window sill at a time, we can all do this in our own lives.
Our Biodiversity Centre philosophy can be summed up as ‘Conservation and Wellness through Learning’ and in the Rockhill Walled Garden and throughout the initial nature trails we will strive to teach the importance of biodiversity including the role of farmland birds, insects particularly pollinators and decomposers, natural pest regulators, forests and soil.
The Good News:
Donegal County Council have now approved our application and we are pleased to say that all going to plan work will start next month.
The timing is ideal as we will be creating much needed work opportunities and prospects for local suppliers in the months to come. We will report on our progress on a regular basis and as we progress invite the help, input, and support by way of The Friends of Rockhill programme we are developing.
If you’d like to be the first to know, subscribe to our mailing list.
Take care, be Kind.