Our aim for Lower Hampen Farm is to provide an environment where nature is allowed to flourish and thereby help to support a sustainable, diverse system of agriculture. In this holistic, regenerative approach we wish to benefit all life, building soil health, contributing to cleaner air and improving water quality. We operate a low input, low output farming system and constantly strive to reduce our energy requirements and aim to become carbon negative.
Another goal is to help create a Community Assisted Agricultural scheme on the farm to provide home grown fresh fruit and veg to the local villages and to encourage enterprises that give young people a route into farming. This is in the very early stages so we hope you will enjoy reading of our progress in this new venture.
We are very fortunate to work alongside many expert organisations who are helping us in our endeavours. Following are brief outlines of the projects we are undertaking on the farm, most of which are ongoing. From time to time there will be more in depth descriptions of the projects in the Blog section which we hope you will find interesting and perhaps inspire you to create your own schemes
Over the past 50 years there has been a dramatic decline in farmland birds across the UK. We joined the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme in 2013 to help our beleaguered farmland birds. The scheme encourages farming practices that create habitats to support different bird species. Diverse cropping, good management of meadows, hedges and trees all contribute to abundant food sources and shelter for nesting birds. We plant additional plots of winter bird food mixes and feed supplementary seeds during the hungry gap from mid December to mid April.
We are fortunate to have a range of habitats on the farm that benefit some of our endangered birds such as the skylarks who prefer our open arable fields, while yellowhammers like the shelter of hedges and marsh tits make a home in the broadleaved woodland areas. We have barn owls, little owls and tawny owls all nesting on the farm as well as buzzards and red kites. All bird life on the farm has increased in number and diversity as a result of the changes we have made and continue to make. Birds not only give us so much pleasure but also help us in return by eating crop pests.
In 2013/14 we planted over 11,000 mixed indigenous hardwood trees and shrubs in new plantations under a joint scheme between the Woodlands Trust and the Forestry Commission. The plantations were in five separate locations around the farm strategically placed to link with existing hedgerow and copses to create wildlife corridors so animals can migrate with security of cover from predators. The primary purpose of the woodland was for wildlife but with the added benefit of thinnings providing wood for fuel, fencing or possibly charcoal production or biochar. The under story of the planted areas has created a vibrant diversity of habitats. Within three years on past arable land there were carpets of Star of Bethlehem in the spring followed by pyramidal orchids in the summer suggesting that the seeds were lying dormant in the soil just waiting for the right conditions.
We are fortunate to have an elevated stretch of disused railway running across the farm with south and north facing embankments. In the fifty years since the railway was closed, nature has taken over the embankments with a diverse mix of trees, shrubs and under story, while the open track area on top provides an excellent route for farm vehicles. Many of the more mature trees are ash which are sadly suffering from ash dieback and have had to be felled. With the opening up of the embankments it was noticed that there was an increase in the numbers of butterflies. The south facing slopes with the underlying shingle and ballast from the railway were thought to be an excellent site to create a butterfly bank.
With the help of volunteers organised by Cotswold AONB (now known as Cotswold National Landscapes) sections of the embankments are being cleared of brambles and scrub before being planted with a wild seed mix suitable for encouraging both butterflies and moths. By planting cowslips on the north side we hoping to see the return of the Duke of Burgundy to Hampen.
In 2018 we purchased Lawrence’s Gorse, 11 acres of mixed woodland adjoining the farm. The woodland had been planted on wet agricultural land over a number of decades. The trees vary in age between 30 years and 120 years old and have suffered little or no management.
With the help of FWAG SW we compiled a full survey of the impenetrable wood and actioned a management plan for the following 10 years. Approximately 4-acres of ash were diseased with ash dieback and we were granted a Tree Health Grant to clear fell this area and to replant with a diverse mixture of hardwoods and additional Scots Pine. We also were given permission to thin other areas and to create rides and glades for greater diversity of habitat as well as restoring hazel coppice. We are hoping to encourage bat population and will be enlisting the help of the Bat Conservation Trust.
Lower Hampen Farm is a patchwork of small fields bounded by a mixture of hedges and dry stone walls. With the help of Cotswold Conservation Board we have made a survey of all our hedges and have created a management plan to improve and/or replant many of the neglected sections. The replanted hedges include mixed species of hedging plants and hedgerow trees that will be allowed to mature. The hedges will provide food and shelter for many birds and mammals as well as a safe route along which to travel. Rural Skills Courses for hedge laying will be offered on the farm organised by the Cotswold Conservation Board.
We have been fortunate to receive a Tree & Hedge Planting Grant from The Environment Agency and The Woodland Trust and organised by FWAG SW to plant 500m of new hedges in January 2021.
We have been granted permission to plant two new shelterbelts which will be part of a trial to evaluate the benefits for both livestock and cropping by reducing wind. The design of the shelterbelts follows many years of research by John Davis at Oxford University and Lindsay Whistance from the Organic Research Centre. The shelterbelts will be planted in Jan/Feb 2021 and will be funded by Ecologi and Protect Earth.
Our soils are principally stoney limestone Cotswold brash with odd pockets of overlying clay and Fullers earth. The wetter and steeper fields are permanent pasture which surround the central farm buildings where there is also much evidence of medieval settlements. On the flat higher ground (900ft) and the level lower ground (600ft) we grow arable crops. On all our arable soils we operate an eight year rotation, no till and direct drill system.
Four years of the rotation are in herb ley. The broad diversity of plants in the herb leys (there are a minimum of 17 different species) include grasses, legumes and herbs which bring a range of benefits to forage, livestock health and soil fertility. Legumes fix nitrogen and deep rooting plants such as chicory and sainfoin mine the soil for important minerals and nutrient which are made available to grazing stock and several plants namely sainfoin, birdsfoot trefoil and chicory have anthelmintic qualities. All these benefits help to reduce the need for artificial fertilizers and bought in concentrates and wormers for livestock. In addition, many of the herbs and legumes provide nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinating insects. Over the four years the soil structure improves significantly together with its water retention qualities. The four year break in the arable rotation reduces the build up of arable pests and diseases and thereby reducing the need for chemical controls.
Our soils are being studied by Reading University who are running trials to see how effective land-based natural flood management measures may be at reducing flood risk.
Almost a third of the farm is old permanent pasture which has had no artificial fertilizer or sprays. It is an ongoing project to try to increase the biodiversity of these grassland through trialling different methods of management. A system of mob grazing is planned for 2021 as well as the introduction of yellow rattle to reduce the dominance of some grasses.
In 2019, as part of the ‘Glorious Cotswold Grassland’ project run by the Cotswold Conservation Board we have overseeded one field with seed donated from a neighbouring farm with a very diverse mix of wildflowers and grasses. Despite the wettest winter on record followed by the driest spring we had a reasonable germination and the hope is with sympathetic management the diversity of plants will encourage and support a wider range of butterflies, bees, birds, bats and other animals. In the future our hope is to harvest our own seed from this field to overseed other fields.
The only water above ground on the farm are from springs in the clay areas. The water then filters down through the limestone substrate into aquifers that ultimately drain either into the Thames or the Coln rivers. Temporary ponds appear during wet weather but soon disappear. In 2020 the Freshwater Habitats Trust and Newt Conservation Partnership carried out a survey of the wet areas of the farm with a view to creating some permanent ponds primarily for the Greater Crested Newt but for other native amphibians too. Other areas will be fenced from livestock to allow wetland plants to thrive and encourage greater diversity. This is an exciting project that we hope will start in 2021.