Wight Conservation - Monthly Diary


This month

Woodland Pond Restoration

There is a small woodland pond on the edge of Mottistone Common. In draught years it has been a welcome watering hole for badgers and foxes, but unfortunately it became badly silted up with leaves, fallen trees and other debris. Until this autumn’s rain, it had been dry for about two years. With the assistance of a Countryside Stewardship Grant, we asked Barry King to take a small excavator, clean it out, clear back over-hanging trees and branches, and clear the feed ditches.

The effect has been immediate. It is bigger, full of water, and obviously used by badgers and the New Forest ponies which graze the National Trust’s neighbouring Common. The ponies are now foraging over a wider area, to the benefit of the whole Common. When the vegetation round the pond re-establishes itself, it will be a near perfect job.








Tennyson Down from Mottistone Common

Woodland Management

In the beginning of December, I had a long walk in Rowlands Wood and Chillingwood. It was beautiful. Mild in temperature, with the last of the autumn colouring, it gave a warm, welcome feeling. 

In South Rowlands, our forestry consultant, Keith Lea, had himself cleared back and widened an old ride leading up to the railway gates. He has made a good job. All it needs now is some minor mowing of low scrub. It will be interesting to see it in the spring.

The woodland pond, which we had cleared last winter and has since caused problems, has now filled with water again. It still, however, needs much further thought to see how we can rectify the poor results of our previous work.

RSPB Farmland Bird Survey

The RSPB has sent a full report of their summer bird survey at Wroxall Manor Farm.
They gave us a map showing the sightings and a batch of leaflets making habitat recommendations. Very useful.
The survey results were disappointing. Despite identifying six Red List bird species, the overall diversity and numbers were low. The exercise, however, has been useful. I am sure that with a change in our hedge management and with some minor adjustments to our grazing patterns, 2006 will show an improvement.

Highland Cattle

Weanlings in Barn

The calves were weaned at the end of November, and this year  we had the space to take them further away from their dams, out of sight, earshot and smell. As a result, they settled down quicker.

Lovely Grub!


We are using a barn on Rew Farm kindly lent to us by David Harvey prior to purchase completion. For a few days there were some runny noses, but Barry Isaacson improved the ventilation and now they are fine. Everyday Barry spends time walking amongst them, getting them quieter and used to humans.

With the frosty mornings, some of the goodness has naturally gone out of the grass. We are now feeding hay to all our cattle – earlier than usual, which gives them the necessary roughage to keep them fit and well before calving starts in February. It has been popular on St Martin’s Down where they graze on unimproved grassland, but in other areas, however, they hardly touch the hay because they are content with the existing natural grazing.

This year, we were able to get the cattle off the summer grazing on time and two months earlier than last. The effect has been dramatic. The cattle were able to graze the downland grass whilst the goodness was still in it, and, by foraging wider, they have improved their conservation value. Meanwhile, having left the summer grazing in early September, the fields have had ample time to recover and benefit from the late growth. 

The last of our Angus/Highland crosses have now left the farm, thank goodness. They do not have the character of pure Highlanders and are nowhere near hardy or tough enough to graze our downlands in adverse weather. Four went to Frome Market where they averaged slightly higher weights and prices than those sent two months earlier. 

Purchase of Rew Farm and Farmhouse

The highlight of the month, indeed of the whole year, has been the purchase of Rew Farm and Rew Farmhouse. Rew Farm is a 135-acre grassland farm owned by the highly successful farmer, David Harvey. Until recently, it was one of the IW’s leading dairy farms. The pastures are in good condition and especially suitable for summer grazing. The buildings are of traditional stone but many have not been used for some time. 

Coincidentally, Rew Farmhouse came on the market. Once the house for the farm, it became separate about 45 years ago. It was an ideal opportunity to merge them back again. The house is prestigious with an attractive garden. The earliest part of it dates back from the 16th century. The sale included 15 acres of old meadows, and Rew Copse, a 19-acre ancient woodland.

Rew Farmhouse

It will be a challenge to transfer our conservation farming ethos to the new properties. The intensive and highly fertilized grazing will now need to be “unimproved” and, with luck, some wild flowers might reappear over a number of years. It will be a long process.

The hedges potentially provide a superb habitat for birdlife but now need careful management and maintenance to keep them at their best. Rew Copse has some good ancient woodland features but has been unmanaged for many decades. 

We know bats are present and believe that the farm buildings, the ancient woodland, the veteran trees, and cliff faces make ideal habitats for several species. It will be scheduled for a bat survey in 2007 or 2008.

CRoW Act - 1st Anniversary

December marked the first anniversary of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act on the IW. Wight Conservation has three parcels of land open to Access, i.e. the "right to roam". How has it affected us? 
Our three Access land parcels are all on West Wight. We do not monitor visitor levels but suspect that they have not greatly increased. Most visitors are responsible but it only takes a rogue or one regular visitor who abuses the facilities to destroy an environment.

"Uncontrolled dogs are proving to be the biggest potential source of disruption to wildlife ... especially birds." (English Nature) The Act’s requirement for the control of dogs during the nesting season, officially from the 1st March to 31st July, is not known to most visitors and difficult to remember. Consequently, roaming dogs are threatening the population of rare nightjars on Mottistone Common, and skylarks elsewhere. Both are Red List species - of "high conservation concern".

The temporary closure restriction orders are easy for the landowner to implement but their publicity only appears on the internet. How many people will search the website every time they use Access land? Very few! It is not satisfactory, either for the public or the landowner.

The signs could be better. While there might be signs advertising Access at some entrance points, there are no leaving Access signs. Consequently, the public does not know when it leaves Access land and it can continue to roam freely. Unfortunately, at Wroxall Down, St Martin’s Down, and Mottistone Down, when leaving the National Trust’s Access land, people continue to roam on ours, with their dogs disturbing all the ground nesting birds, especially skylarks, and hares. Furthermore, they trample down the abundance of wild flowers. A reduction in wildlife is inevitable, thus negating much of what we are trying to achieve with positive wildlife habitat management. 

Although it did not directly concern the CRoW Act, Barry Isaacson was called out to Mottistone Down on Christmas Eve afternoon to replace two gates which had been destroyed beyond repair by a 4x4 vehicle the previous night.  It later transpired that the vehicle(s) had driven in an orgy of destruction over a 7 ½ mile stretch of the Tennyson Trail, a Byway Open to All Traffic. On the Brownrigg’s farm, they deliberately ran over and killed six sheep. From start to finish on four separate farms they damaged eight gates beyond repair. 

TB Badger Cull

Ben Bradshaw, the Government’s animal welfare minister, has announced a 12-week consultation period before implementing a badger cull to prevent the alleged spread of TB amongst cattle.

I am not qualified to give a view on the TB debate, nor as to the most effective cull methods. All I can do is give a few factual observations. 

Neither I, nor my parents before me, have ever consented to killing badgers, even prior to the Badgers Act 1952. A problem of numbers, however, is arising and will sooner or later require action.

Since the Act, the badger population has mushroomed. In many areas, they now outnumber foxes – as is the case at Wroxall Manor Farm and Rew. The pressures badgers place on the countryside are, accordingly, increasing.

Badgers disturb and take eggs from ground nesting birds’ nests. This could be a serious threat for both the Nightjar and Skylark which nest on our land. There are more badger setts, and as their families grow, of a larger size. There are no problems with setts in woodlands, but there are if in fields or banks. In fields, with deep, straight shafts, they are a danger to grazing cattle or horses which are at risk from breaking their legs. In banks, extensive earthworks can undermine the whole structure, causing collapse.

The badger has no natural predator. Historically, man was its only enemy. Now it is the most protected of all mammals, even though it has never been an endangered species. Sometime, there will have to be a change, even if just to maintain the balance of the countryside.

From my knowledge of fox culls, where there are high badger densities, a cull would not be effective unless carried out over a large area. To prevent badgers moving in and possibly spreading TB further, a large additional buffer zone cull would be needed.


Hounds met at Wroxall Cross Farm twice during the month. The Isle of Wight Foot Beagles had a successful day’s rabbit hunting, killing four and a half brace. A week later the foxhounds met for trail hunting – i.e. after an artificial scent. 

Since we were absent in Ireland, Barry Isaacson and Sharon Peach kindly hosted the beagle meet on our behalf. I was there for the foxhounds, but oh how empty, frustrating and meaningless it all seemed! No uncertainty, no art of venery, no thrill of the chase, and no utilitarian value for the farmer to compensate for any disturbance. Foxes are not now controlled on our properties. Although the noise of hounds disturbed several foxes during the day and they were seen running across the fields, at no point did hounds hunt them. From the number of foxes we saw, it is obvious that their numbers have increased since the ban. This is bad for birds and hares.

Monthly Photo Galleries

Every month we update the website photo gallery with photographs taken on the farm, illustrating the changes to the landscapes and cattle over the year. Please CLICK onto it. The standard is improving each month, and there are some good cattle and landscape photographs.

Previous Months: September October November

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