This footpath goes through two fields. First is Jewel House which apparently once belonged to the estate of Archbishop John Jewel (Bishop of Salisbury from 1559 to 1571) – but we can’t be sure. The second, Cockle Pond, hosts the Millennium Avenue; it got its name from the corncockles that grew in it before chemical weedkillers were introduced.
Jewel House field has a crop grown to supply birds with seed through the winter. It includes quinoa, millet, wheat and linseed. It will be supplemented with additional seed put out from January to March. Without it, many birds succumb to starvation because natural food has run out by then. As well as yellowhammers, linnets, reed buntings, chaffinches and (from Scandinavia in a hard winter) bramblings will be seen here in large flocks during cold weather. It is important, though, to keep disturbance to a minimum by staying on the footpath, with your dog close by you. If their feeding is interrupted, birds may not survive long winter nights.
Some of the oaks in the surrounding hedge are now in their second century of life. As well providing nest cavities for owls, woodpeckers, and other hole-nesting birds like nuthatch, they are also home to several thousand species of small animals and fungi. Their acorns are a food source for a variety of animals – even humans!
There is a pond in the corner of Jewel House field (please approach it from the public footpath that runs outside the field’s surrounding hedge so the crop in the field and the grass around its margin isn’t trampled). It probably started as an old marl pit, where the lime-rich marl had been dug out for spreading on the fields to improve the clay soil. Dragonflies in warm weather and kingfishers are easily seen. If you stand quietly to watch on a hot day, as well as fish you may a see a grass snake swimming across on the hunt for fish and amphibians such as frogs.
Although the grass around the Millennium Avenue is a crop, mown once a year for hay, the fields is managed to encourage wildlife. The long grass and wildflowers attract insects and produce seed to benefit birds, reptiles, and small mammals – including bats. At early morning and dusk a barn owl often quarters the field, listening for the sound of the voles and mice on which it feeds. If you see it and stand absolutely still and silent it may fly very close to you!
The hedges are maintained to encouraged nesting birds, especially yellowhammers. Like many species, yellowhammers nest close to the ground in lush vegetation at the base of the hedge. It is important to keep dogs close to you on the footpath during summer (ideally on a lead), and away from the hedges so nesting birds are not disturbed.
The Avenue was planted to follow the public footpath in early January 2000 to celebrate and leave a lasting natural memorial to The Millennium. It originally comprised Red Twigged Limes, most of which have survived both natural and human interference; some have been naturally replaced by self-seeded oaks or thorns. Almost all the trees were ‘adopted’ at the time by one of more than forty active Marden clubs and societies; odd ones were named in memory of notable Mardonians, a small number remain unadopted.
During the summer meadow brown and other butterflies can be found in profusion, and dragonflies from nearby ponds hunt their insect prey just above the grass.