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Conservationist fulfils his dream of letting nature take its course

African grey parrot sitting outside at Eden Place

EDEN Place, near Kirkby Stephen, is aptly named as its land, along with that of neighbouring Hartley Fold, has become a 900-acre “garden of Eden” devoted entirely to nature.

Every year it attracts an increasing number of wild animals, birds and butterflies and the wild flowers and wetland plants, which flourish in different areas, attract a variety of insects.

John Strutt, now in his 60s, is the man responsible for this “paradise”, above which colourful parrots and other exotic birds grace the skies as they fly free, writes HELENE PHILLIPS.

In 1994, the area became a nature conservation area, named the John Strutt Conservation Foundation in recognition of the generosity of its “creator” and his long-standing concern for conservation.

However, it was in 1974 that Mr. Strutt started laying the foundations to ensure his dream of letting nature take its own course on his land would become a reality.

Although he initially arrived in the area from Derbyshire to farm at Hartley Fold in 1968, it was six years later, when he bought Eden Place, that he started to practise what he preached.

“Changes started occurring at Eden Place when I said that nobody had to use fertiliser,” he said. “Although the old farming methods were still being used at Hartley Fold, gradually they changed as the fields of the two properties adjoin.”

Over the years, these changes have resulted in most of the area becoming grassland with some woodland, along with hedges and open water with wetland.

The wetland has been created in a very large area called the “lake field” (named so because it contains four lakes) by doing scrapes, which involves scraping away the top soil.

Mr. Strutt said: “It’s a good place for an ornithologist as there are oyster catchers, lapwings, curlews, pewits, redshanks, herons, snipe, tufted and mallard duck, wild geese and reed buntings.”

In the future, Mr. Strutt hopes that supervised groups of young people will visit the area to enjoy seeing at close quarters species and habitats which are normally inaccessible to most youngsters.

Providing educational and recreational opportunities is one of the aims of the foundation, which is a charity and a member of a stewardship scheme. Through this scheme a grant can be obtained if a member complies with certain specifications and this often requires careful management of the land.

The foundation also aims to promote the conservation and study of wildlife in its natural environment, to conserve that environment, and promote the knowledge of any interest in such wildlife.

Other objectives are to maintain the Kirkby Stephen establishment and such wet areas, as the trustees think fit, which provide facilities for the conservation and scientific study of wildlife and its habitat and the dissemination of knowledge and understanding of wildlife, its habitat, and conservation.

The foundation now also owns 100 acres at Bishops Allotment, near Newby Bridge, and 300 acres of woodland at Low Hay Bridge, near Booth, in south Cumbria, where a project to raise the water level is due to start in the near future. The trustees are Simon Elliot, Sir Martin Holdgate and Thomas Cooper.

The Eden Place/Hartley Fold land is managed by Richard de Robeck. Maintenance of stone walls and the planting of trees and hedges to encourage nesting are just some of the many tasks he undertakes.

“I have seen tremendous changes on the land at Eden Place and Hartley Fold and some of the work we are doing will be of benefit in the future,” Mr. Strutt explained. “For example, we are planting many acres of trees to help the endangered red squirrel, which likes the cones of the conifer.

“We now have roe deer, an increasing number of voles, crows, a tawny owl and a barn owl, which is quite rare. The meadowsweet provides a mass of white flowers and every year new flowers appear in the ‘lakes field’ and I often have to check to see what they are. A special place has also been created to encourage damsel and dragon flies.

“Many people have the wrong idea about conservation. Mention the word and they think of brambles and the like!”


Mr. Strutt has also noticed a remarkable increase in the number of butterflies in the area since, with help from his gardener, he created a butterfly garden near to his house.

“I have had a lifelong interest in butterflies and when I first came to Kirkby Stephen I noticed a scarcity,” he said. “So I made the garden outside Eden Place into a butterfly garden.

“If you plant wild flowers they may not grow, but if you help the land to find its own balance it produces plants of its own accord which attract butterflies.”

The different varieties now seen around Eden Place and along the old railway line at Hartley Fold include peacocks, red admirals, painted ladies, common blues, orange tips, cabbage whites, fritillary, and the occasional wall butterfly.

Mr. Strutt has also had a lifelong interest in birds and loves to see his parrots and other tropical birds flying free in the skies above Eden Place as he hates to see them in “awful cages”. Although he is currently looking after the birds himself, a full-time birdkeeper is due to come for a three-month trial in the near future.

At present, Mr. Strutt has no idea how many birds he has, but varieties include macaws, African Greys, Amazons, a Jardine, numerous cockatiels, Derbyan parakeets and Rosellas from Australia. He calls the place where he keeps his canaries the “song house” as he thinks the noise they make is so “tuneful”.

He said: “Some of these birds are being hit quite badly as they are losing their natural habitat because a huge proportion of the Amazon rainforest is disappearing and also because many people have realised that they can make money by selling them.”

Mr. Strutt’s interest in birds dates back to his childhood when he and his sister were given budgies by their mother, which they kept in the attic. When one flew away and later returned to its companion, it gave Mr. Strutt and idea to build an aviary and he started his collection of budgerigars.

When he moved to Kirkby Stephen, he was unable to allow the budgies to fly free as they were prey to the numerous sparrow hawks in the area. He then started to collect larger birds, such as parrots, which he got from various sources, as these are only occasionally bothered by a peregrine falcon, which visits the area rarely as it does not like the large number of trees in the vicinity.


Although they have the freedom of the air, the birds never fly away as they have learned that the food is in the aviaries. They all have names and many of them speak.

However, one African Grey, called Peanuts, is especially fond of Mr. Strutt and recently caused quite a commotion when he decided to pay his owner a visit to deliver a surprise present.

Mr. Strutt said: “Peanuts got into the house and went and under a chest of drawers in the bedroom of my friend Richard, who lives here, and laid an egg.

“She made such a noise scratching around that I had to put the wireless on to try and drown the noise. When she left the egg I tried to make sure I kept the door closed!”

Mr. Strutt said: “When my mother died she left money for conservation, so thanks to her the foundation is well endowed.”

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