Whilst the masses might pour through the main gates and out into the spectacular panorama of the Trelissick parkland, there are some intrepid explorers who make it their business to seek out the quieter corners of the estate. These inquisitive pilgrims might well know the hushed, wildlife-friendly fields to be found at Tregew, with their picturesque views over Cowlands Creek and the village of Coombe on one side, and oak-fringed Lamouth Creek on the other.
If you aren’t familiar, this article can serve as an introduction and maybe even tempt you to come and take a look at a different side of Trelissick….
The countryside team receive a fair degree of questioning about our management – or perceived lack of it – by visitors who are possibly not accustomed to walking in fields managed to enhance their benefit to wildlife rather than for productivity and profit. We’ve weathered such questions as, ‘why have you abandoned Tregew?’ or ‘can you explain why the National Trust have let the land around Roundwood go to rack and ruin?’
Hopefully this blog can perform a second (though not secondary) function by alleviating a few of those concerns and demonstrating why Tregew offers a unique opportunity for us, as a conservation charity, to put the needs of our native wildlife before more commercial concerns.
It was only in 2008 that the National Trust purchased the land at Tregew. Prior to our involvement, the area was privately owned, with no public access, and intensively farmed for wheat and broccoli; both ‘greedy’ crops that often require a large amount of inputs. The land was ploughed vertically (or up and down the slope, if you prefer), resulting in highly detrimental soil and nutrient run-off into Lamouth Creek below.
- Farming tenancies
There are six fields in total at Tregew, encompassing an area of 65 acres. The first step in addressing how we wished to manage the newly gained site was to carry out what is known as a Land Capability Assessment. The two ‘top’ fields, known as ‘Top Kestle’ and ‘New Close’ were chosen to remain as arable land, owing to the fact that they do not directly bound onto a creek or body of water. Along with the other grassland dominated areas (more on that in a moment) and the respectful practice of traditional crop rotations, this creates what is known as a ‘patchwork quilt’ type of landscape. This term refers to a balanced, yet diverse mosaic of habitat where field dwelling animals can find food, cover and nesting sites throughout the year.
These two fields are lightly ploughed to avoid damaging possible Iron Age archaeology associated with Roundwood Fort. Subsequently, they are planted with spring-sown barley that, as the name would suggest, is planted during that fine season when winter has begrudgingly beaten its retreat. Historically speaking, this is the traditional time to sow and convenes to a greater extent with the life cycles of birds, insects and wildflowers. In comparison, modern arable farming methods usually focus on a winter crop (such as wheat or oilseed rape) and land is cultivated immediately after harvest, leaving a landscape that is little more than bare, ploughed soil.
Our barley is not harvested but left, purely as a source of food and habitat. No fertilisers or pesticides are used to increase the yield and arable weeds are encouraged around the main crop. These weeds are usually sprayed off on a modern working farm, depriving an enormous array of our native wildlife of essential support, and have become some of our rarest wildflowers that have all but disappeared from the landscape, owing to the intensification of arable farming.
The barley that remains after summer is left throughout the winter to provide a substantial feeding ground for over-wintering birds – such as bullfinches, greenfinches and linnets (all of which are on the decline).
Another consideration, when we are working this land, is the inclusion of a six metre wide, uncut margin around the edge of each field. This is known as a ‘beetle bank’ and provides critical habitat for farmland wildlife, including the rare harvest mouse to remain somewhat undisturbed.
- Managing for wildlife
More really good stuff (in our completely unbiased opinion) takes place in the fields above Lamouth Creek that can be accessed via the woodland walk to Roundwood. This scruffy, creek-side pair is kept as permanent grassland, or meadow, in order to reduce soil erosion and provide a haven of stability for local wildlife. The results have been hugely encouraging and the meadows now support a wonderful range of species from elusive harvest mice to colourful, day-flying burnet moths and wasp spiders displaying their warning of yellow and black. A fence has been erected in recent years to mark the site of our community orchard, with some of posts left tall to function as roosts for owls and buzzards.
The grassland plants in these meadows are allowed to grow and seed (a sight to see in itself, during the summer months), providing an excellent food source for the local bird population. Avian victuals are supplemented greatly by the rich abundance of insects that make home among towering marsh thistles, tangles of brambles and a veritable tapestry of wildflowers. This is never more in evidence than on warm summer days, when the fabulous chorus of grasshoppers and crickets will likely accompany your walk at Tregew.
When it does come to cutting, the fields are never mown all at once, but cut on rotation. This practice ensures that there is a wide range of habitats at all times, including excellent nesting ground for the increasingly rare and very musical skylark.
The busy hedgerows that border roads, field boundaries and footpaths are cut back on a three-year rotation. This time frame allows for thick, dense vegetation and retains a rich store of fruit and seeds. Large hedgerow trees are spared the flail to stand sentry over gateways and field boundaries, adorned with lichens and hollowed by their seniority. Dark crevices within are a sanctum to be colonised by woodpeckers, tawny owls and rare, tree dwelling bats like the barbastelle.
Tregew has been further enhanced in recent years by the addition of our newly begun community orchard that you can find more information on here: The importance of orchards
The fields at Tregew are an essential resource for wildlife in the Trelissick area, but also provide great access opportunities for members of the public. However it is crucial that this access does not conflict with the wildlife interests of the site – our visitors are asked to respect the wildlife and our crops by keeping to the mown paths.
During the bird-nesting season, between March and July, it is essential to keep your dog on a lead to avoid disturbing ground-nesting species such as the Skylark for which this is a vital habitat.
Many thanks for reading and, when spring finally comes around, why not head on over to Tregew and take a look for yourself!
-The National Trust ranger team, Trelissick and North Helford
All illustrations by Sonia Hensler