The first Wildlife Trust cows and sheep are making themselves at home at Hockley Meadows Farm, after the local charity successfully completed on the purchase of the Twyford land.
A fundraising appeal to help meet the purchase price exceeded its target, with days to go before the deadline. Now on site, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust is using the land to support the traditional wildlife-friendly farming methods that have shaped the Itchen Valley’s water meadows.
Key to this is the use of traditional breeds of cattle to lightly graze the land - a widely-used land management practice for maintaining water meadow habitats and ensuring the greatest diversity of plants and other wildlife. The livestock based at Hockley Meadows Farm will also graze other Wildlife Trust nature reserves, and public and private land, to keep them in top condition.
As well as running a working wildlife-friendly farm, the Wildlife Trust will also manage the surrounding floodplain meadows as a vital wildlife habitat. This includes the northern-most meadow at the farm, which is designated as part of the Itchen Valley SSSI for its wildlife value.
Debbie Tann, Chief Executive at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, said: “Being able to move onto the site is a momentous occasion for us and I would just like to again thank the 1600 people whose kind donations made this happen.
"Some of our British White cattle will be making the meadows their home this week, and later in the spring we will be using the farm for lambing. It’s a really exciting opportunity for the Wildlife Trust to consolidate and expand our conservation work in the Itchen Valley.”
About Hockley Meadows Farm
• The 31 acre farm was put up for sale by the farmer who owns the site, as he is retiring. To ensure that the land is protected from future development or intensive farming, he kindly offered to sell the site to the Wildlife Trust at market value of £400,000 rather than putting it onto the open market.
• The farm’s central location makes it a key piece in the jigsaw of wildlife-friendly sites the Wildlife Trust manages in the Itchen Valley, including St Faiths and St Cross Meadows, and St Catherine’s Hill.
• Species set to benefit include birds like kingfisher, swallow and barn owls, mammals like water vole and otter, and other species like marsh marigold and the rare southern damselfly.
• Additional funds raised over and above the purchase price will be used to support the ongoing maintenance and management of Hockley Meadows Farm and the Wildlife Trust’s other nature reserves.
• Generous contributions to the appeal included charitable donations from organisations including Banister Charitable Trust, The Southern Co-operative, and The Calleva Foundation. The Southern Co-operative donated £10, 000 as part of their wider commitment to the Wildlife Trusts in the region.
About ‘conservation grazing’
• In the past, land would have been grazed by wild animals, or through traditional farming and commoning practices. Nowadays, conservation grazing animals are used to replicate this traditional method of land management because mixed farming has become less frequent and much of our land has been broken up by human development
• When livestock are allowed to graze freely they select different plants, and even different parts of the plant, to nibble or browse. Over time, this selective eating by the animals creates a varied structure within the plants and the habitat. It is this variety to the plants and structure that creates lots of different suitable conditions for a wide range of insects, birds, reptiles, mammals and plants to exist.
• Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust employs specialist staff to ensure livestock are healthy and happy as well as delivering the conservation grazing that our nature reserves require to keep them special places for wildlife. The Wildlife Trust’s grazing team is highly knowledgeable about the welfare needs of our animals as well as the outcomes we want for nature and wildlife.