A CHILTERNS farm has been designated as a local wildlife site, reflecting one family’s 20-year battle to turn their land into a haven for wildlife.
Andrew Stubbings has spent two decades turning the National Trust’s Manor Farm at Bradenham into a stronghold for nature and the new designation of more than 550 acres of land as being among the most exceptional and valuable wildlife areas in the UK is unprecedented.
Mr Stubbings said: “It’s so great to know that I am doing my bit to help our wildlife to thrive and has given me an extra buzz as I am out and about on the tractor.”
A tenant on the Bradenham Estate, Andrew first began working with his father on the process of reverting a good deal of their arable land back to a species-rich chalk grassland, a habitat which has suffered a 97% loss in the last century.
In summer 2020, the Chilterns Conservation Board and Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Environmental Records Centre carried out botanical surveys across the farm – made possible by the Chalk, Cherries and Chairs Landscape Partnership bankrolled by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The survey findings were submitted to a panel of local ecologists and other experts on the Local Wildlife Site Panel who awarded the designation set against strict criteria.
They found no fewer than 280 species of plant, with four different species of orchids and a large population of the increasingly uncommon Chiltern Gentian.
As well as various threatened plants found in the arable field margins, reseachers were impressed by the sheer diversity of plants, birds, butterflies and even reptiles to be found on a commercially viable working farm.
Mr Stubbings said: “I’m so proud to think that I started this with my Dad 20 years ago. Before the surveys I didn’t really know what I had living on the farm and have been blown away by the results.
Wildlife on the farm also includes breeding barn owls, common lizards, and breeding corn buntings – a locally scarce and endangered farmland bird. 35 species of butterfly have been recorded, including the Duke of Burgundy, chalk hill blue, Adonis blue, dingy skipper, grizzled skipper and the silver-washed fritillary.
Nick Marriner, landowner engagement officer at the Chilterns Conservation Board, said: “Andrew is leading the charge in supporting Nature’s Recovery in the Chilterns and has shown that commercial farming and wildlife can work together. He is an inspiration.”
Andrew is one of 18 farmers in the Central Chilterns farmer cluster (supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund), all of which are committed to do more to support wildlife on their farms too.
Julia Carey from the Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Environmental Records Centre added: “We couldn’t believe the scale of what Andrew has achieved. Field after field of our surveys throwing up so many important rare arable flora and chalk grassland species. Manor farm is a powerful example of how species and habitat conservation can be built into a working landscape, and a great example of how diverse land uses can support rare, threatened and unusual species.”