Ex­plore the wild side of Bucks, and have some fun

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE -

you know that farm­ers at Col­lege Farm (now Col­lege Lake) once grew spe­cial long straw wheat, which was used by the Lu­ton straw hat in­dus­try? Or that many of the vil­lagers from nearby Mar­sworth once worked as plaiters, turn­ing the wheat into straw plaits used in the hats?

Thanks to a gen­er­ous grant from the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund you can dis­cover more about the na­ture re­serve’s fas­ci­nat­ing farm­ing his­tory at the ex­panded and re­freshed farm­ing and wildlife ex­hi­bi­tion.

Col­lege Lake vol­un­teer Ken Thomp­son is a farm­ing his­tory ex­pert and helped put the ex­hi­bi­tion to­gether.

He says: “The ex­hi­bi­tion tells the story of how the land at Col­lege Lake was used through the cen­turies. From ar­chae­o­log­i­cal finds about farm­ing in Ro­man times, to a hun­dred years of farm­ing by the same fam­ily, more than 20 years of chalk quar­ry­ing, and fi­nally its de­vel­op­ment as a na­ture re­serve and en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion cen­tre by Gra­ham Atkins MBE and the Wildlife Trust.

“The ex­hi­bi­tion fo­cuses on the time when Col­lege Farm was in its hey­day em­ploy­ing 12 men and eight horses to farm an area ap­prox­i­mately equal to to­day’s re­serve.

In front of a back­drop of vin­tage farm ma­chin­ery, the ex­hi­bi­tion con­trasts Vic­to­rian and mod­ern meth­ods of farm­ing and the ef­fect of both on wildlife and the en­vi­ron­ment.”

For ex­am­ple, head­lands were left where the horse ploughs turned at the field edges, leav­ing ar­eas rich in wild flow­ers, in­sects and birdlife. As farm ma­chin­ery be­came larger and mech­a­nised the head­lands dis­ap­peared along with the hedges and wildlife.

To­day, farm­land wildlife is in trou­ble. More than 60 species of wild flow­ers that used to edge the corn­fields are en­dan­gered be­cause of the use of chem­i­cals.

The farm­land bird pop­u­la­tion has halved since the 1970s be­cause of a loss of nest­ing and feed­ing habi­tat.

BBOWT is work­ing with lo­cal farm­ers to create a coun­try­side for the fu­ture where farm­ing and wildlife are in bal­ance.

One of the spe­cial projects at Col­lege Lake is the growing of arable weeds.

These are ac­tu­ally rather spe­cial weeds as Ken ex­plains: “The Col­lege Lake Arable Weed project con­serves very rare corn­field wild flow­ers such as poppy, field cow-wheat, corn pars­ley, corn­cockle to name a few of the 35 species we grow. The project was started in 1987 and, some 30 years later, is still go­ing strong, help­ing to bring some of these wild flow­ers back from the brink of ex­tinc­tion.”

In 1987, dur­ing Euro­pean Year of the En­vi­ron­ment, Col­lege Lake Na­ture Re­serve won a pres­ti­gious award – in part for growing these weeds!

Join the staff and vol­un­teers at Col­lege Lake on Wed­nes­day May 31 and ‘Go Wild on the Farm’. Kate Sheard, Com­mu­nity Wildlife Of­fi­cer, ex­plains: “We’re cel­e­brat­ing the re­vamped ex­hi­bi­tion with a day of activities for the whole fam­ily. There will be crafts and hands-on activities, walks and talks about our unique farm­ing her­itage. You can even build a scare­crow! Learn more about Col­lege Lake’s farm­ing his­tory, and the won­der­ful wildlife that comes along with it.”

Find out more about Go Wild on the Farm at www. bbowt.org.uk/whats-on

En­joy the rare sight of corn­field wild flow­ers thanks to the Col­lege Lake’s Arable Weeds project WENDY TOBITT PHOTO:

Learn all about farm­ing and wildlife at the re­freshed ex­hi­bi­tion KATE TITFORD PHOTO:

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