David Beeson, 1st July 2021
North-west Hampshire’s non-urban areas are dominated by three land uses. 1) Forest on the alkaline, chalky clay caps, 2) Damp riverine meadows, some of which were proper water meadows until the mid-1900s and 3) Traditional farmland, which is mostly arable, growing grass crops – wheat, barley and blue ryegrass for the biogas plant. Yes, we do have some cattle and sheep, but you must look hard to find them these days. Diversification occurs, and we have the occasional farm shop, and many would-be meadows are now horse paddocks. It is a landscape, from the air, as these features are frequently hidden from us riffraff, of new multi-million-pound houses and their estates. I know of a million-pound kitchen in one, and a 12 million-pound new mansion. Some people are not short of cash.
Yet between all this are a few chunks of ‘waste’ ground. The left-overs, the junk. I have two near me. One is a field where the farming estate gave up and left it to nature. The other is composed of dumped clay over a refuse tip. Both are now biologically diverse and worth exploring. To me, not waste ground.
The first is just a fifteen-minute walk, along the Harewood Forest’s most northerly footpath southwards. The field chunk is just a few acres and was arable farmland until about fifteen years ago. I suspect more money was thrown into the seeds, fertilizer and diesel than came out in crop. Now it is cut in the autumn and ignored. Nature has slowly diversified it. Winds blow in light seeds, birds carry more in their guts and the mammals bring adhesive seeds on their fur. Now, in early July it is beautiful. Soft grasses wave in the breeze at the bottom of the slope where the soil is marginally deeper, and on the thinner soils are masses of orchids, dandelion-relatives and a myriad of smaller plants. Butterflies have move in too, with meadow browns, marbled whites and orange skippers newly hatched. Young grasshoppers and crickets are growing rapidly and will soon sing their high-summer song. Mammals are sparse, although a female roe deer wearily kept me company for an hour.
Given a choice, ground diversifies and then slowly reverts to scrub … and eventually woodland – biological succession. Here that is stopped by that yearly mowing, probably to encourage pheasants to feed here and more easily to shoot them in autumn.
From here (SU 406 453) I headed towards Longparish, along a hazel dominated field edge that fringed a huge barley field that offered only one singing skylark. Here is the second site (SU 410 440) – landfill from the 1970s, 80’s and 90s, I guess. It was capped with more waste – grotty soil and left. The plants grow more strongly here when compared to the chalky field, although some chunks are short turf. Pyramidal orchids are in their tens of thousands, with other gems hiding away. Apart from the orchids, the vegetation is a contrast to the other site. This is moving through succession with hawthorn, privet, dogwood and other shrubs now reaching two metres. The grasses are higher – a metre when compared to 20cm and bindweed climbs the stalks. There are deer here too, and the twin black, long ears of hares can be spotted as they trot away. Soon the nests of harvest mice can be found by the determined wildlife enthusiast, as I have found the cute rodent on the edge of the site. Birds are here in good diversity – yellowhammers still calling today.
Between those two sites there is interest as well. Acres of medicinal opium poppies are flowering near the Buck Filling Station on the A303, adjacent to the landfill. A dead hazel dormouse on the path through Harewood, and the late-breeding calls of chiffchaffs keeping me company. And, eventually, the first hatching of silver-washed fritillary butterflies, and was that a purple emperor or a white admiral butterfly? Too much a glancing view to decide.
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