- To create a sanctuary for the conservation of native, endangered wildlife species and the reintroduction of lost species.
- To create a technology hub that celebrates our motoring heritage but which also focuses on the future of sustainable transport and encourages young people to get involved with engineering their future.
- To create an education centre that encourages people to play a part, however small, on nature conservation projects and that spreads information about green technology.
- To create a ‘green gym’ and ‘Green Therapy’ centre to promote the healing potential of engaging with nature, especially for young people.
Caroline and I have just been confirmed as the new managers of the part of the Bentley estate that was known as Bentley Wildfowl and Motor Museum and, in partnership with Ingrid Christophersen MBE, we will be relaunching as ‘Wild Bentley’. The aims listed above are ideas that we have been passionate about all our adult lives and we feel so privileged to be able to work with the owner and Trustees of Bentley to achieve these goals.
Many of you will be familiar with Bentley and almost everybody I speak to has fond memories about the beauty and magic of this place. The estate closed to the public in October 2018. The exotic birds were distributed to other sanctuaries and the cars in the museum were returned to their owners. As we walked round the grounds in early summer this year, Caroline and I were shocked by the degree of decay. But we could also see that the outlines and structure of the formal gardens were still there beneath the overgrowth and that the reserve was still stunningly beautiful if you looked beyond the empty bird enclosures. We realised that the reserve, with its 32 acres of woodland and lakes within a fox-proof fence, and the adjoining Glyndbourne wood would be the perfect location for a wilding project. We had been inspired by our recent visit to the truly extraordinary Knepp Estate and reading the book ‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree who is part of the team who have pioneered the project at Knepp. Their initiatives to reintroduce lost species such as purple Emperor butterflies and White Storks have been hugely successful. It is their work to inspire others to create their own green oasis that has such great potential to have a positive impact on the chances of survival for many of our native species, one quarter of which is in immediate danger of extinction. The more we researched the current situation the more we became convinced that Bentley could play a significant part in conservation, at the very least it would be another green stepping stone for the spread of Knepp’s reintroduced species, but we could also concentrate on other endangered species such as hedgehogs, water voles, smooth snakes, turtle doves and numerous invertebrates. We also want to reintroduce Great Bustards and explore the possibility of having red squirrels.
The Motor Museum was run by a small, dedicated team with a real passion for old cars and motorbikes. The cars were all privately owned and many of the owners have already promised to bring them back to be on display in the refurbished museum. The team and I are very excited about rebuilding a collection that illustrates the history of motoring progress and also deals with the future of transport as we strive for a carbon neutral world. As someone with a background in education for the last 30 years, I am passionate about getting young people, especially girls, into engineering and the Motor Museum will play a big part in this. We are exploring some very exciting partnerships with some key players in new technology and I will post information as soon as these are confirmed.
The wildlife reserve, the formal gardens and Glyndbourne wood offer a fantastic opportunity for green therapy. 93% of GPs say they have prescribed antidepressants against NICE guidelines owing to a lack of alternatives. Green therapy is now becoming recognised as a clinically valid option that can play a vital part in patients’ recovery. Anybody who has been involved with a young person with a mental health need will know just how hard it is to get any timely help; the services are simply overwhelmed. Our young people are under more pressure in their daily lives than any other generation and Green Therapy has proven benefits. In partnership with local health practitioners, we aim to offer a range of therapeutic activities that can help with a variety of mental health problems and also help with everyday challenges, such as beating exam stress and ‘phone addiction.
Achieving all of this will take time. We need your help. We plan to run Bentley as a charity and much of what we do in this not-for-profit venture will be supported by an army of volunteers. Please do get in contact if you would like to join us on the journey.