Chilterns based farmer, Andrew Stubbings, has been turning his farm into a stronghold for nature and wildlife for more than 20 years. His farm has recently been designated a ‘Local Wildlife Site’ – a recognition given to the most exceptional and valuable wildlife areas in the UK. Manor Farm is now one of the biggest Local Wildlife Sites in Buckinghamshire, with an impressive 225 hectares of land achieving designation.
It is very unusual for farmland on such a large scale to be designated – it’s more common for specific fields or smaller areas on farms to gain designation so the scale of this award in Buckinghamshire is unprecedented.
A tenant of the National Trust 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 chalk grassland. More than 20 years on, the farm has become one of the biggest and best sites for species rich grassland, a habitat that has suffered a 97% loss in the last century. It also supports a fine assemblage of arable plants, including the diminutive Venus’s-looking-glass, just one of several threatened plants found in the arable field margins at Manor Farm. What’s especially impressive is that Andrew has achieved such a high level of diversity of plants, birds, butterflies and even reptiles whilst running a commercially viable working farm.
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 National Lottery Heritage Funded, Chalk, Cherries and Chairs Landscape Partnership. They found no less than 280 species of plant. The farm has four different species of orchids and a very large population of the increasingly uncommon Chiltern Gentian.
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 at Manor Farm including Duke of Burgundy, Chalk Hill Blue, Adonis Blue, Dingy Skipper, Grizzled Skipper and the Silver-washed Fritillary. The impressive Great Green Bush Cricket has also been found on the farm!
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.
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 and it’s great that we have been able to help him along the way and hopefully inspire other farmers to follow his lead.’
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. Helping wildlife at a landscape scale is vital and farmers are leading the way in the Chilterns. Andrew is also grateful for support he has received from Countryside Stewardship funding.
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. Our Panel were extremely impressed by the wildlife recorded on the farm.’
Image credit: Nick Middleton