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Chris Skinner's wildlife haven
Chris Skinner
Chris Skinner provides a natural wildlife haven on High Ash Farm

Chris Skinner, a nature enthusiast from High Ash Farm in Caistor St Edmund, loves wildlife so much he has opened the gates of his farm to the public.

The public can explore around 3.1 miles (5km) of footpaths featuring farmland and woodland.

After years of taking nature for granted, Chris changed his tune and embraced the beauty of his unique natural surroundings.

"The farm is now a thriving sanctuary for wildlife," said Chris.

Chris told us about the pivotal moment when he switched from shooting to safeguarding wildlife.

I was born at High Ash Farm and as a baby was put out in the garden.

Those early days were very important in forming my interest in wildlife.

I used to hear the birds and see the farmyard chickens and all the creatures around me before I even knew what their names were.

As the years went by - brought up on a traditional Norfolk farm in the 1950s - I learned that all the crops were to be eaten and all the animals would go away to be killed.

Birth and death were equal partners through my childhood and part of that was the shoots that were held at the farm.

In the early days I'd have a catapult and be encouraged to shoot the sparrows. In my teenage years I had a small air rifle, later a larger air rifle and then I graduated through to a shotgun.

Many happy Saturdays were spent shooting at the farm and that formed the Sunday roast.

It wasn't until I was in my late 20s that things changed quite dramatically.

Life-changing moment

We'd had a very successful shoot at the farm - a number of friends and relatives were there and somebody in the background said, "That was a terrific afternoon's fun, thank you, Chris," and it was the word 'fun' that started me thinking.

From that moment on it became immoral to me to shoot anything for sport or fun.

It took a little while to gel with me, but the end result was to never have another shoot at the farm.

It's a wonderful farm - about a square mile of Norfolk countryside, with many areas of woodland all laid out in the 1800s especially for shooting - so it's quite a dramatic change.

I realised what I was looking at was around 35 pheasants, a dozen or so partridges, four or five hares, a number of wood pigeons and some rabbits.

Embracing wildlife

The Norfolk motto has come true for me - the old Norfolk saying is 'do different' - so instead of shooting everything I'm now trying to encourage things back.

When I stopped shooting, all the gamekeepers at the time wagged their fingers at me and said, "The farm will go to rack and ruin and you'll be overtaken by vermin."

In fact, completely the opposite has happened.

The farm is now a thriving sanctuary for wildlife and is a place where food production takes place on a very large and intensive scale.

The government has now encouraged farmers to look after the countryside more and I've taken up that challenge.

The farm houses around 3.1 miles (5km) of public access - I'm sharing the wildlife here at the farm with the people.

Fox
Chris welcomes all wildlife to his farm, including traditionally resented animals

I've learned a hard and difficult lesson considering the childhood environment that I was brought up in - not to discriminate against any plant or creature.

Now the stoats and weasels are just as exciting as the lions on the Serengeti - they are our native carnivorous mammals.

Stoats and weasels are as welcome as nightingales and robins; crows and rooks are as welcome as blackbirds and thrushes.

I've learned that the farm is a living place.

If you go out from Earth up into space, you see our entire planet is a living organism - be it in the sea with all the fish, on the land with all the reptiles and mammals and insects, but the way man is behaving at the moment needs attention.

I think we have to go back to how we were centuries ago and live in harmony with our environment and that's what I'm trying to do at the farm.

Although man-made items may be fascinating and captivating for people - like St Paul's Cathedral, The Forum, Norwich Cathedral or even the Pyramids - to me they have little relevance because the real heritage, the living heritage, is the one that's most important to me.




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