We bought Newsons Farm (which has been in the ownership of the Simpson family for nearly 80 years) in 1995 at auction – a nail-biting experience – and then moved in in August 1996 having refurbished the barn as the first stage of developing the property. It came with just over 9 acres of land. It might sound strange but we bought it primarily for the land – our lovely house (a late Mediaeval/early Tudor gem) was a bonus! For many years, we had the dream of developing land for wildlife and conservation. Now over 20 years later we hope we are well on the way to achieving this.
The land at that time consisted of two large fields which had been used for arable production for a large number of years and a small meadow. In 2005 we bought an additional piece of land adjoining our land – about 1.5 acres, which had been untouched for many years and had mainly gone to scrub.
In winter 1997 we planted 1500 trees – mostly native deciduous broadleaf trees. These were mostly concentrated in one large field which we designed with rides and glades. The second area was planted at the end of the second field and also included small areas of trees (willows and hazel) intended for short-rotation coppicing. Our trees have done very well – growing from small slips into large trees over the 20 years. We lost very few as luckily we has some very wet winters in the early years.
In 1998 we made our first attempt at planting a wildflower meadow. This was not a success but we learned a lot about what not to do! In 2005 we had another go – this time we tackled a third of the area turning over the soil so sub-soil was at the top (thank you Keith and Michael for your help on this) and planted a native wild flower meadow mix for clay soils. This worked very well and we have continuous flowering from April to end August. It starts with Cowslips, and then Oxeye Daisies, Yellow Rattle and Birdsfoot Trefoil turn the meadow yellow and white. Finally, the Knapweed, Hedge Vetch, Ladies Bedstraw and Musk Mallow flowers give the meadow a purple and pink hue.
The wildflower part we cut once year in early September with a high cut to preserve the insects, small mammals, lizards, etc, and we take off the grass cuttings. The remaining meadow area we cut in thirds, so every third year, to encourage tussocky grass for the small mammals and owls, kestrels, etc.
There was already large pond – at the front. We desilted this in 1996 and have just done it again! It is fed by the ditches so is affected by the run off from the surrounding agricultural fields. It also had sticklebacks which are great for the Kingfishers (probably visitors from Thorpe Hall) but not for amphibians. So we dug another pond in 2002 specifically to attract great crested newts. We were delighted when they duly arrived in 2008 – Thorpe Morieux is in fact quite a hotspot for great crested newts. The dragonflies also particularly like the new pond which is in a very sunny spot.
The additional area of land we have a largely left as natural scrub, just putting in some paths for monitoring the wildlife and wildflowers and glades for the butterflies. This is an excellent area for birds
We have a wide range of birds, wildflowers and butterflies. We are particularly pleased that we have Turtle Doves which are sadly in severe decline (90% lost in the last 20 years). As we write this article (on 7 May) we have just heard the lovely sound of our first Turtle Doves this year. They returned on exactly the same date last year – amazing birds, travelling over 2000 miles and back on time!
Appropriately, we have quite a few Bee Orchids and also occasional Common, Pyramidal and Southern Marsh Orchids. We are very proud of our one and only Early Purple Orchid which is probably an escapee from Bulls Wood where they thrive.
We have been a rehoming site for Common Lizards and Slow-worms (coming from development sites in Sudbury and Ipswich) and now have thriving colonies of both of these. We also have our own indigenous Grass Snakes. Sadly we have very few Frogs or Toads – we are not sure why.
In the last few years, Hedgehogs have become our passion. Again, sadly, these are in serious decline. We had noticed that we had stopped seeing signs of hedgehogs several years ago but only realised at a talk given by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust that there was a real problem. Since then, we have been a rehoming site for Hedgehogs which have been taken to Hedgehog Rescue Centres and nursed back to health. Wherever possible they are returned to the area they came from but sometimes it is not possible and this is where we can help. We have rehomed about 10 Hedgehogs so far with our latest, Olive, just released in April this year having spent the winter hibernating in our summer house. We are hoping that they are all roaming far and wide over Thorpe Morieux! We would love to know if you are seeing Hedgehogs ….
Perhaps our greatest success and sur prise was that we found a Dormouse in 2015. It is very likely that our population come from Bulls Wood which is just half a mile away. We now have 50+ Dormouse boxes and our site is monitored by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust.
For us, developing Newsons Farm as a nature reserve has been a joy as well as a journey of discovery. We have learned so much and met so many wonderful people in the wildlife and conservation world.
Frances and Roland Bee