Ewhurst Park is steeped in history. Once home to a prime minister and the commander-in-chief of the British Army, it was owned by the Dukes of Wellington for more than 120 years.
But now the shooting estate is starting a new life as an “edible landscape” created by a Malaysian model and entrepreneur who has previously talked of her struggle getting her head around “quaint” British traditions.
Until she bought the estate two years ago, Mandy Lieu was more likely to be seen in a Dior advert than a pair of muddy boots. But she believes it is her distance from the history that allows her to reimagine and rewild the 925-acre Hampshire Estate.
"Because I didn’t have the burden of inheriting the Estate from a long line of landowners I have much more freedom in my approach to land management, Ms Lieu told the Daily Telegraph.
"That approach reflects our ever increasing need to live lightly and productively on the land. I also grew up in a very different environment in Malaysia, which feeds into everything we are building at Ewhurst."
The 37-year-old is the sole owner of the estate, which she bought for £24.5 million in October 2020, Land Registry documents show.
The purchase came a year after it was reported that she received a £29.7 million “break-up fee” when her relationship with married Macau tycoon Alvin Chau, who has an estimated $2 billion fortune, came to an end. The couple have four children together.
Unlike the aristocracy that went before her, Ms Lieu does not see herself as a “landowner” but as “a steward” working to leave the land in a better state than she found it.
After leaving the estate largely alone for the first year to establish baselines of what was there, she is now setting about turning it into a mosaic of habitats that provides food for humans and wildlife at the same time.
Fields of spring barley, a good cover crop for the gamebirds previously hunted on the estate, have been replaced with mixed plant cover crops including chicory and clover to start improving the soil.
Grassland is being restored, with some grazed by organic long horn and belted Galloway cattle, iron age boars and Tamworth pig sows have been introduced to movable enclosures in the woodland to recreate natural processes, and drains are being blocked up to restore areas that were once wetland.
Beavers will soon be introduced into an enclosure on the estate, trees will be planted in suitable places, work on a market garden has begun and there are plans for pockets of "forest gardens" on woodland edges, with productive trees, shrubs and perennials along with grazing animals.
The Domesday book records Ewhurst as part of Earl Godwin’s estates, held by Walter of Hugh de Port in 1086. More recently the estate was owned by the Dukes of Wellington, having been acquired by Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, in 1817.
The Duke, one of the leading military and political figures of his time, served twice as a Tory prime minister. He commanded the allied army during the Hundred Days in 1815 which led to the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo and was Commander in Chief of the British Army in 1852.
Though it was not the family seat, it was owned by his family until 1943 when it was sold at auction and used by the Canadian military during the Second World War.
Whilst breaking with many traditions of Ewhurst Park, Ms Lieu is perhaps unwittingly conforming to a new one. According to Tatler magazine, a rewilded estate is the “ultimate status symbol” for 2022.
'Jumping in at the deep end'
She said the journey has been "jumping in at the deep end", as she did not know anything about farming or land management, so she has been reaching out to neighbours, as well as experts on nature and ecosystems.
In the last two years she has had to learn to navigate the realities of red tape and “so much history” and has discovered that there are “rules for everything” including whether she can fix a bridge when there are bats nesting nearby.
The deer park once used for shooting has begun to fill with endangered species, including the rare sambar deer from her native Malaysia.
But she has found that the land has provided wild food that could be foraged, including mint, blackberries, raspberries, basil, hazelnuts and mushrooms and even Jerusalem artichokes that are growing there.
She hopes to use food from the estate for her west London restaurant, The Good Plot, and host regular public foraging days at Ewhurst, as well as community, school and training activities.
Rewilding projects - which focus on allowing natural processes to be restored to the point that nature can take care of itself - have come under fire from some quarters for taking land away from food production.
But Ewhurst was not previously highly productive, and Ms Lieu said the estate will still be producing food under the new scheme.
She said: "What we're doing at Ewhurst is a land and nature restoration project.
"We're trying to create an edible mosaic habitat that produces food for humans and flora and fauna and to try to find that balance of co-existence between men and nature."