Making Space for Nature on the Marlborough Downs
Welcome to the Marlborough Downs, the original Space for Nature!
As farmers we know that everything we do in our working lives has an impact on the environment. On the Marlborough Downs, we have for many years responded with enthusiasm to the chance to support biodiversity and landscape features on our farms through the various Stewardship Schemes. In spite of this we continued to see our wild plants and mammals, birds and insects dwindle and become more and more restricted to isolated areas.
Then in 2012 a group of Marlborough Downs farmers started to work together, inspired by a Government initiative to improve nature conservation in the countryside on a big scale. Of the 12 pilot Nature Improvement Areas created at the time, ours was the only one led by farmers.
Over the following three years we relished the opportunity to develop our own ideas about how to make space for nature in our downland landscape. And when the pilot ended in 2015, such was our commitment to the concept and practice of collaborative, bottom-up, landscape scale conservation that we decided to continue our work as the Marlborough Downs Nature Enhancement Partnership with a new project: Space for Nature.
Past, Present and Future - an enduring landscape
The Marlborough Downs lie to the south of Swindon towards Marlborough on one side and Avebury on the other. The area is mainly farmland and has a rich agricultural history.
Since Neolithic times farmers have shaped this downland landscape, carving small fields out of wildwood, clearing larger areas for grazing animals, planting hedges to enclose them on the lower slopes, and cultivating large tracts for a variety of crops.
Steeper slopes were used for common grazing, mainly sheep which has created the short, springy, herb-rich turf which still survives in patches as an important habitat.
The Downs may have been one of the earliest areas to be farmed because of the ease of clearing and cultivating the thin, dry soils. Our arable land still supports a diversity of wildlife, rare arable plants survive in field margins and stone curlews, skylark, grey partridge, lapwing and corn bunting populate our vast skies.
The downland landscape; its flora and fauna; the muted brown and grey of the chalk and flint ploughed up in the autumn fields; the fresh greens of the emerging crops in winter and spring; and the sweeping yellows and golds of summer - all these are part of the Downs because of this long history of farming. Our aim is to ensure that the landscape of the future is as rich in biodiversity as that of the past.