Farmers get into nature on the Marlborough Downs

Posted: 15th Feb 2013

Officially designated on 1 April 2012, the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area (MDNIA) covers 225,625 acres between Swindon, Marlborough and Avebury.  It’s a special place for wildlife but despite decades of conservation effort many of the habitats and species found on the downs are at best stable and in some cases in decline.

The MDNIA Partnership was formed in response to a Defra challenge to come up with new ways to deliver wildlife conservation.  One of 12 successful bids (out of 76 originally submitted nationwide) this project is unique in that it has been designed by farmers rather than conservation charities, agencies or other organisations.  So rather than having someone else’s aspirations for the area imposed upon us we made our own decisions about what we’d most like to see on our farms, and believe that this farmer-led, bottom up approach will lead to more sustainable gains for the wildlife, landscape and people of the downs. 

While the origins of the project are unique, its ambitions are widely shared.  We’re stringing a necklace of ponds on a ribbon of wildflower-rich habitat, linking them to one another and to grassland and woodland wildlife sites.  We’ve been busy surveying and preparing plans to restore chalk grassland and we’ve put in gates, waymarks and information points to improve people’s experience on the network of public Rights of Way that allows people access to this very special area.  We’ve chosen tree sparrow and corn bunting as our flagship species and have started to plant up bird mix plots to provide year-round food, and we’re supplementing this by feeding grain, by hand, through the ‘hungry gap’.  We’ve also created five tree sparrow ‘villages’ – scrubby habitat with nest box starter homes. 

The Partnership, which includes the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and Wiltshire Council as well as the farmers, is working closely with others such as the Wildlife Sites Project, Wiltshire Ornithological Society, Wiltshire Botanical Society and the University of the Third Age to achieve common goals.  Lots of people are involved and we’re welcoming volunteers from all walks of life to a range of workshops and events, to carry out surveys and practical conservation work.  For more information, visit our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/MarlboroughDownsNIA, or come along and get involved!

Jemma Batten, Project Manager, and the farmers of the Marlborough Downs

The Marlborough Downs NIA Project has been supported by Defra, DCLG, Environment Agency, Forestry Commission & Natural England