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Soldier turned eco-warrior

27 Jun 2024 4 minute read
Pigs at The Grange Farm, Llantilio

Twm Owen Local Democracy Reporter

A former British army officer turned eco-warrior and his wife are behind a project to restore a Monmouthshire farm to nature. 

Tom Constable and wife Chloe have lived with their young children at a grade II listed farmhouse at Llantilio Crossenny since April last year where they will offer glamping accommodation alongside education projects. 

They also plan to host corporate “away days” along with office space in a converted, modern steel agricultural barn for clients and local businesses to fund restoring the biodiversity of the 80-acre grassland farm. 

“Chloe and I, five years ago, were very much not in tune with nature and I don’t come from an eco-warrior background, I’ve been in the military for a long period, and then into business, and my wife worked in the NHS, but having had a child you think what sort of world are you handing over to your child?” said Mr Constable of their motivation to set up the Grange Project which takes its name from the farm. 

“You dig into climate change, and biodiversity loss and your’re not so sure you’re comfortable with your child inheriting that without feeling you’ve done something to try and address it.”

Documenting efforts

The couple, who previously lived in the Forest of Dean, are documenting their efforts to restore the farm to nature on the project website. The site also explains how after the birth of their first child they took practical steps to reduce their carbon footprint including leasing an electric car, refraining from air travel and reducing meat consumption. 

A view of The Grange Farm, Llantilio

Monmouthshire council has granted planning permission for three wooden glamping cabins, to be used from April to October, and for the conversion of the redundant modern, agricultural barn. 

As well as providing a small shower block and toilet facilities for glampers the barn will be used as a large open educational area for local schools and groups as well as office space and a podcast recording studio. 

The couple will create podcasts to promote biodiversity and the studio will also be used for Mr Constable’s already established Warfighter podcast that examines the convergence of new technologies and defence training. 

Restoring biodiversity is the “different side of the same coin” to defence for the former officer who served in the Army Air Corps in Afghanistan who described restoring nature as a similar form of service to the nation. 

Mr Constable is cautious of what might be understood by the term rewilding however: “We’re not trying to reintroduce bears or wolves. We might get some insects back and I would love to get the curlew back, that has been pushed out of this area, but it’s not what people are fearing.” 

The farm has most recently been rented out for hay crops but with restoring it to nature, which hasn’t required planning permission, it will still be used for food production, including meat, and the couple already have some pigs and could introduce a small herd of cows as well. 

Wider benefits

Mrs Constable, a trained clinical psychologist, who works with young people and families intends the project to benefit more than just nature.

She said: “It can be a really important part in addressing what is described as a crisis in young people’s mental health with one in five young people diagnosed with a mental health condition. I think a lot of this can be addressed by having a more positive relationship with nature and being outdoors.” 

Permission has also been given for a small hardcore car park while the planning application form stated four part time jobs could be created. The couple intend employing staff directly and providing opportunities to work with local firms, from office space, to partnerships such as a walk developed with the Halfway pub in Tal y Coed. 

A report by the council planing department stated: “Rewilding projects are shown to increase employment by 78 per cent in comparison to traditional agricultural businesses.” 

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