Farmers Field is a 0.8 hectare/2 acre triangular former grazing field bequeathed by Ernie Pottenger to the people of Urchfont in 2000, a long time resident and farmer of the village. Ernie requested that the field be used as a semi-natural woodland for the benefit of the village residents.
The field is located on the right just past the cemetery and allotments wedged between the main Easterly road out of the village (the B3098), Bridlepath No. 32, and a footpath along the Southern boundary
The field was initially tree planted by Green Link Forestry, at the request of the Urchfont Parish Council, acting for the Forestry Commission under their woodland grant scheme. Since then a small band of villagers (the Friends) ably led by Phil Milanes have continued on with the further planting of trees, bushes and mixed flora. They also carry out the management function of trimming, clearing, thinning, and general maintenance as an ongoing community project for the betterment of the wildlife.
Following on from Ernie’s wishes, the general policy and overall intent of Farmer’s Field is as a wildlife refuge and community project where humans come second. Diversity of flora and fauna is one of the most important aspects, and it is hoped that Farmer’s Field can be used by the village school, and others, for educational purposes.
The Trees & Shrubs
The field was initially planted with about 800 mixed-type trees to augment the few existing trees along the Southern boundary. Amongst many others these trees included ash, birch, beech, crab apple, dog rose, maple, and rowan.
The trees were planted closely together to encourage straightness and speed of growth: they will be thinned out as and when necessary. There are no plans to do anything much with the under-storey beneath the trees (e.g. planting bluebells), it is planned to let it go wild. The Friends are conscious of not over-doing the Field and not tinkering with the flora too much.
Hedgerows, planted by the Friends, define all three sides of the triangular site and comprise, amongst others, blackthorn, hawthorn, wayfaring (viburnum), dogwood, alder buckthorn, and gelder rose.
In 2007 a scrape was dug out by machinery and lined with a membrane to form a shallow wetland area to increase fauna and flora diversity. This scrape takes advantage of the small intermittent stream that runs alongside a track just outside the Eastern boundary of the site, and the natural spring-fed bogginess of the area. In the Spring of 2008 the margins of the scrape were planted with bog plants such as Flowering Rush, Bog Bean and Bur-reed actually in the water; Brooklyme, Marsh Marigold and Water Mint on the water’s edge; Water Aven and Purple Loosestrife close to the water; and Yellow Flag Iris and Figwort dotted around anywhere. Early indications are encouraging and as the scrape and surrounding flora mature it should end up being a prominent and valuable feature of the site. Wild ducks have already visited.
Birds and Other Fauna
Birds are well catered for with plenty of cover and water. A number of nesting boxes have been erected - some designed specifically for Tawny Owl, Tit (Great and Blue), Nuthatch, Woodpecker, and Tree Creeper. A box or two have also been erected for dormice (bird nesting material found in one so the mice have been usurped for the time being). Most of the boxes were erected in early 2008 so it is too soon to determine occupancy rates.
Needless to say additional fauna is present – butterflies, deer, rabbits, and no doubt many we do not see. Michael Drage, a local botanist, will hopefully be conducting a full flora and fauna survey in due course so we have on record exactly what species of plant, animal and bird are resident on site or that pass through.
There are no particular future projects; to a large degree all is done now, although over the next few years a 2m wide swathe of wild flowers is planned in a long narrow border alongside the Eastern boundary hedge.
There is a danger of forcing too much into the Field and trying to do too much - there comes a time when the flora and fauna has to be left alone to settle down and live its life. Now it is a matter of regular maintenance: trimming trees and raising their canopy where necessary, keeping hedges under control, keeping nettles in check if they get too invasive, the regular cutting of the mown path that winds its way around the site and, at the behest of the local farmers, keeping the thistles down.
Farmer’s Field has received generous funding over the last eight years: from the Urchfont Scarecrow Festival, Kennett District Council under their landscape conservation grant, the Woodland Trust, Wiltshire County Council, the Urchfont Paris Council Amenities Group, and the Wessex Watermark Award prize - and a special donation from Barbara and Audrey Brent in memory of their brother Clifford who regularly helped with the project. Valuable advice has also been received from the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. Many thanks to them all.
The project has also received a few wildlife conservation awards – the Wiltshire Times Environmental Award in 2004 and 2006 (with thanks to Peter Newell for putting our name forward) and the Wessex Water Watermark Award.
The Friends working group meets up regularly, usually on the second Saturday of each month for an hour or two (with a well-earned refreshment break halfway through), depending on the time of year and the work needed. Volunteers or permanent additions to the Friends would be gratefully welcomed (please contact Phil Milanes at Breach Farm, Cuckoo Corner, tel: 01380-840402, email: email@example.com).
M C McDonald