Explore the wild side of Bucks, and have some fun
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: