Retired teacher's wildlife mural inspires North York Moors farmers to rewild their land - and calls for return of struggling species

A retired teacher is celebrating the return of insect and bird life to her North York Moors home by painting a mural on her barn to promote the benefits of rewilding.

Nicky Johnson beside the mural, which overlooks a public footpath and bridleway

Nicky Johnson, her husband Simon and their artist friend Peter Reynolds worked together to paint species such as owls, deer, fox, beaver, pine marten, red squirrel, otter and lapwing on their outbuilding in the village of Hartoft, near Pickering.

They first debuted the mural last year to raise awareness of the disappearance of protected hen harriers on nearby grouse moors, but this summer have adjusted their message to promote rewilding and call for the return of struggling species.

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Mrs Johnson, who taught at Rosedale Abbey Primary School, has inspired a neighbouring farmer to review his spraying and cutting practices to preserve foliage and verges, and has also seen the benefits of using fewer pesticides in her own garden.

A range of new species have been added to the hen harrier-themed design painted in 2020

"The new design reflects the species we could and should have in this area," said Mrs Johnson.

The scene incorporates beavers to mark their successful reintroduction to nearby Cropton Forest, while the inclusion of pine marten and red squirrels alludes to unconfirmed local rumours that these rare species may have returned to live in Forestry England sites within the National Park. Wildflower meadows are also featured.

Ironically, the mural is partially obscured by nettle growth, which the Johnsons will not cut down due to the high numbers of butterflies the plants have encouraged.

"You can't see as much this year because of the nettles, but there are plenty of flowers, caterpillars and bees.

Local artist Peter Reynolds, who is currently exhibiting at Danby Lodge, advised on the project

"People walking past always ask us about the mural, and they have learned a lot from it. The locals smile at it - we are delivering a message. The gamekeeper likes it too.

"Our neighbour is now much more careful with his spraying, he does it later in the year to allow nesting birds to leave. The butterflies have been phenomenol this year, and we are trying to tell people that cutting everything down doesn't have to be habitual - verges don't have to be tidy like formal gardens. I think that attitude is starting to change now and farmers are thinking about it more rather than working on autopilot.

"This year we have had more sparrows and blue tits in the garden feeding on the caterpillars, and we saw a rare butterfly we hadn't had here for about 30 years. We suspect pine martens are back, and I don't mind losing the odd chicken to them as it's all about tolerance. If pine marten and goshawk numbers increase then that opens the door for red squirrels, as these species have all evolved to live alongside each other.

"Rewilding is a wonderful opportunity. It's not about planting lots of trees on the moors, it's about leaving the moors and the peat to regenerate. If people met halfway on the issue it would have great benefits for everybody."

Retired teachers Nicky and Simon live in Hartoft in the North York Moors