Top Stories from the Marlborough Downs
Achievements of Marlborough's nature project hailed 'outstanding'
'An outstanding footprint for Nature Improvement Areas'; were the words of BBC Countryfile's Adam Henson as he recognised the achievements over the past three years of the Marlborough Downs project.
Since it was founded in 2012, the Marlborough Downs group has implemented numerous wildlife and conservation projects across 10,370 hectares of chalk down land on 35 farms between Avebury, Marlborough and Swindon. Outlined objectives for the Space for Nature initiative include: development of best practice in management of grassland, woodland and ponds; creation of wildlife corridors; provision of food and safe nesting habitat for farmland birds and other farm wildlife; development of a volunteer scheme delivering practical conservation management.
Adam Henson commented: "As well as facing some challenges, I believe these are exciting times for British farming. We have a responsibility to persuade consumers to support British production across all aspects of farming and continue to educate at all levels on best practices and where our food comes from. As well as the MDNIA being the only farmer led NIA in the country, its outstanding results is a showcase of excellent farming practice and how it can impact on conservation and wildlife projects".
Jemma Batten, of Black Sheep Countryside Management, who designed and co-ordinated the project, reported on the highlights of the past three years, including:
Over 60 hectares (150 acres) chalk grassland now undergoing restoration
7 new wildlife sites
Over 250 hectares (625 acres) of rough grassland management for owls and raptors
16 new or restored ponds
Increased and more widespread populations of tree sparrows, corn bunting and short-eared owls
Improved public access on 47 miles of footpaths and bridleways
Over 4,300 people have attended a range of talks, 25 farm walks, 2 Open Farm Sunday events, 24 volunteer workdays, 13 best practice workshops and 10 celebration events
Teresa Dent (right), Chair of the MDNIA Partnership and Chief Executive of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, hailed the work of the project. "This farmer led NIA is itself a 'rare breed'. It has a generated a tremendous legacy for conservation in the area and inspired new landscape scale conservation projects nationally. With support from Natural England as well as the government mapping the MDNIA's work into new countryside stewardship schemes, we are looking forward to the future and delivering further wildlife and conservation milestones".
The achievements of the MDNIA Community Outreach group, which has organised a programme of events throughout the year, including Open Farm Sunday, was also recognised, with Laura Corbett and Suzie Swanton receiving the 2015 Wildlife Champion trophy from Adam Henson. The next MDNIA Open Farm Sunday will be held on 7 June 2015 at Overtown Farm, Wroughton. Guests were also treated to an insight into the history of hawking and falconry and its role in conservation by Mark Upton. The sport can be traced back in Wiltshire since the 1800's, where Salisbury Plain was a popular hawking area due to the wide expanse of its countryside.