How can a working farm balance producing food with protecting wildlife?

A visit to Ranscombe today is like stepping back in time.  Little has changed: the pattern of woods, fields and tracks being much the same as in the Medieval period. Many of the farming methods are the same too, so that wildflowers and grasses, once a common sight growing naturally among the crops, are encouraged, not weeded out.

Wartime poster encouraging ploughing fields for food production

Changes to make farming practices more efficient, particularly during and after the Second World War, caused a huge decline in wild plants and a knock on effect on wildlife. More land was ploughed up to maximise food production, arable fields became bigger as farming was increasingly mechanised, hedgerows and woodland were lost to the tractor, destroying wildlife habitats in the process. Fields were regularly sprayed to kill weeds - including wildflowers and rare grasses.

Carved bench overlooking the Medway Valley © Caroline Millar

At Ranscombe, however, the farm is deliberately managed to encourage wildlife. Wide strips left around the perimeter of the fields are full of native wildflowers. Whole fields have deliberately been uncultivated and left to revert to naturally back to chalk grassland – one of our most threatened natural habitats.  

The woodland is actively managed too. Sweet chestnut trees are planted, and every 10 years, or so, are cut down (coppiced) to create long, straight poles used for fencing and broom handles. As a result of this thinning out, bluebells and other spring flowers flourish on the woodland floor. Species once thought to be extinct, like Corncrockle, flourish here and the rare Broadleaved cudweed.

 

A visit to Ranscombe Reserve is a rare, and much needed, glimpse of man and nature working in harmony and a model for more sustainable farming methods.

 

Caroline Millar - Discovering Britain.

The birds and the bees

Ranscombe Farm and Cuxton Woods © Caroline Millar, RGS-IBG

Medway Gap - Ranscombe Farm viewpoint

Just past the M2 motorway, where a bridge carries speeding traffic over the River Medway, and a hair’s breadth from the Eurostar line to Europe, is some of the most stunning countryside in North Kent.

Ranscombe Farm Reserve is a working farm, growing wheat, barley and oilseed rape and grazing sheep and cows. But it’s also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI); a wildlife oasis, famed for its orchids, wild poppies, bluebells and populations of dormice, birds, mammals, butterflies and insects.

This viewpoint is one of 12 created in partnership with Kent Downs AONB to celebrate their 50 year anniversary in 2018. 

  

How can a working farm balance producing food with protecting wildlife? Click to reveal the answer

Location:

Ranscombe Farm Reserve, Cuxton, Kent, ME2 1LA

Grid reference:

TQ 71727 67387

Keep an eye out for:

Views of the Medway Gap - a valley carved by the snaking river Medway carving its way through the chalk downs. 

Getting there:

There is a small car-park at the main entrance on the A228 Sundridge Hill, very close to junction 2 of the M2 motorway

Find out more:

Plantlife

 

Kent Downs AONB Anniversary Year:

Ranscombe Farm Reserve is in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

This year the AONB celebrates its 50th anniversary. Find out more and Head for the Hills

Medway Gap - Ranscombe Farm viewpoint credits

This viewpoint is one of 12 new views created in partnership with Kent Downs AONB to celebrate their 50 year anniversary in 2018. The events and activities throughout the Anniversary Year of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty are supported by Heritage Lottery Fund.  

Thanks to National Lottery players, The Heritage Lottery Fund invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk   

 

 

The Medway divides Kent in half. Born south of the river you’re a maid of Kent, north of the river, a Kentish maid!