History and Habitat



Historical

The 8000 acres that lie within the parish boundary are hilly and on a variety of soil types overlying chalk, chert, upper greensand and various Jurassic sands and clays. The state of the wildlife has mirrored the fortunes and state of farming over the years. Best suited to livestock farming with small fields - fewer larger than twenty acres - each surrounded by earthen high banked hedges topped with hazel, hawthorn, and up to ten other species. It being the policy that these hedges were cut and layered, ideally, every seven years and that single leaders of tree species be left, these hedges had trees sprinkled along their lengths. These were chiefly of beech, oak, ash, sycamore, fir and holly. There also were numerous cider apple orchards.

In 1919 the six outlying farms of the Cricket St Thomas Estate in Winsham Parish were sold off - just before the farming recession of the 1930's began. This signalled the rapid proliferation of wild life - both fauna and flora - over the largely agricultural parish. The Winsham village housing , farmsteads and the five hamlets (Purtington, Whatley, Bridge, Ammerham, Chalkway) were mostly of local stone - many with lime mortar bonding - and thatched roofs. Ideal wildlife habitats


Habitats

The inter-war years undoubtedly saw the apex of wildlife. The trees were often ancient with hollow branches and trunks. The hedges were often overgrown with wide verges with honeysuckle and climbers. The meadows and field corners were often left to flower. Hay was the main crop. The arable land was weedy and the water courses were left to their natural development. With a vertical fall of some 600ft and a rainfall variation said to be from about 29 to 35 inches per annum there were numerous eco-climates and mini-habitats in sheltered spots. A limiting factor was, however, the alkaline nature of the soils due to the chalk topping and the flash flooding of the water courses from higher up.

During World War 2 much of the area was ploughed up to grow corn crops or sugar beet. Farmers were paid grants to destroy rabbits with cyanide gas or shooting. Land girls were brought in to replace men in the forces.

After 1945 there was a real effort to vastly increase all branches of farming. The scientific development in all aspects was rapid. With new fertilisers, insecticides and herbicides, more vigorous plant varieties were developed. It was the making of silage - to largely replace hay that, with three cuttings in one season, turned our meadows into almost wildlife deserts. Large herds of cattle compacted the meadows. Heavily sprayed winter wheat or barley did the same for our arable land. The flail hedge cutter, with the clearing of so many hedgerow trees, limited a useful habitat. Very many hedges were totally removed. This, and myxamotosis, decimated the rabbit population. Finally, some old woodland was reclaimed as pasture or replanted with softwoods. New farm buildings of steel, asbestos and concrete lacked wildlife habitats.

Despite all this, much remains and there is generally now a better understanding of wildlife. For example, in 1974 a long strip of 2000 mixed trees were planted under the 'New Landscapes' scheme on Windwhistle farm. Winsham had also gained a Wild Tree and Plant Nursery, with two lakes. Some gardens also encourage birds and butterflies.


Wildlife 2001

So, today, the best way to examine our Wildlife is to look at the different main habitats - watercourses, road and lane verges, woodland, buildings and undeveloped farmland. Here we shall meet mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, plants and fungi .

 

       











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This page revised 18 November 2016