Victoria Bruce-Winkler is a biologist by trade but has taken on her family’s 700-year-old estate in Scotland to re-wild and regenerate it for future generations and guests. There’s a 10-year wildlife plan in place and bothies (cottages) will be launching later this year.
1. What has been your Best Life Project to date?
Well, it can only be getting enveloped into everything here at Brucefield Estate. When I started I had no idea of the intricacy of the environment at this small Estate in Clackmannanshire, the smallest county of Scotland. The last couple of years have been a whirlwind of discovery of not only pine martens and tawny owls but 130 types of beetle on the estate! And several plants and butterflies on the Scottish Biodiversity List. We have started pollinator surveys, using readily available citizen-science materials and working with ecologists we now have a 10-year Wildlife Plan for the Estate. This is a true life project in addition to telling the story of the Estate for visitors through its buildings, its previous owners and the history of Scotland as seen from the point of view of this small Estate. Soon we’ll be welcoming our first rural tourism visitors to stay on the estate too.
2. The unknown … what challenges did you have to overcome?
Gosh, where to start? Challenges there are a many in managing land ranging from semi ancient Scots Pine to arable fields with drystone dykes in between. From cottages to farmhouses all in need of radical renovation to ensure they live on for the next 300 years to proudly tell their heritage story. Everyone will have a different opinion on how this is done – and distinguishing the wood from the trees is a daily challenge!
3. In hindsight…..what would you do differently?
Can I have arranged to meet some of the key people who have helped me 12 years ago instead of more recently? No, I thought you might say that. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have comprehended what they said anyway. Sometimes you have to go the long way round . . . On the other hand, there are certainly some people I should have listened more to 12 years ago.
4. Next steps?
Taking Brucefield Estate to the next stages: in the autumn we’re launching our own luxury eco timber bothies, individually nestled in the woodlands, a place to have that long weekend away unplugged from everyday life. With extensive views into nature’s meadows, built sustainably from timber, and super insulated for all-year round use they will be a haven for relaxation. We plan to have badger hides and guests will be able to participate in the Wildlife Plan if they wish to, or simply enjoy the walks to the Pine Ridge or the Witch’s Stone.
5. What lifestyle changes has lockdown made you consider?
I was so good in the beginning: couch to 5K, and even doing my back exercises. The weather was great and I was never more fit. Then the dream was over however, I’ve recently started back up again . . . we’ll see!
6. Kissing frogs …. is there an unexpected person who has helped you and, if so, how did they do it?
I once went to a course up in Morayshire advertised as “How to Look After your Estate Buildings”. How could I not go, with that title, although having toddlers at the time meant a few days away from home. I met Andrew PK Wright, an astounding conservation architect who, amongst his giggles at watching the window cleaner trying to clean a very difficult to reach turret window, has transformed our understanding of the heritage at Brucefield Estate, and even discovered a tower: Hartshaw Tower, that I’d never come across before. The course was organised by quite a character who was quite flamboyant when it came to name-dropping, which could be a little disorientating: “Bob” could be a reference to the local doctor in Turriff or Dylan or Marley. But Andrew encouraged us to ‘read’ a building to understand its history, and amongst other things to look out for veteran trees, and we indeed uncovered a 300-year old avenue of lime trees.
7. My inspiration ….who or what inspires you?
Hmm well I think I’ve answered one person above. But there are a great deal of inspirational people, mind blowingly so when you take a little time out to observe: from intricately crafted joinery to building a drystone dyke to people that have transformed a way of thinking to establish something new, and have the courage to do that, that’s what inspires me. As well as my family.
8. How do you relax or do you struggle to relax?
I wish I was one of those people that say “Well, going on that run cleared my head”. Maybe one day! Nothing can beat a hot bath though.
9. Guilty secret pleasure?
It would have to be Danish design. Don’t get me started on Poul Henningsen lamps . . .
10. Words of wisdom
Crikey, I could do with those myself. Be open-minded and do what you want to do, rather than what makes it easier for others.
Photography by Brendan MacNeill.