Mill Farm Conservation Farming (walking East)

Sep 2, 2021

Here you are crossing the Lesser Teise on to Mill Farm, named after the water mill, demolished in c1915, that stood by the bend in Hunton Road, opposite the medieval Mill Farm House.

Pause to look up and down the stream at the steep banks. These are being overwhelmed by the attractive and insect-friendly, but invasive Himalayan Balsam which is forcing out smaller native plants. Nettles abound too as they flourish with the nitrogen run-off from artificial fertilisers. But animal life is thriving. Kingfishers nest in the banks and most years grey wagtails raise broods in nests that are safely hidden in the sluice machinery further upstream. Pied wagtails, herons, little egrets, green sandpipers and Mandarin ducks are frequently seen if you remain quiet. They feed on  everything from plants to insects, frogs and fish – the latter including brown trout. Unfortunately, the native water vole has been driven out by American Mink. However, the eighteenth-century name of an adjacent field (effectively enclosed by streams) was Otter Cape Mead. With otters returning to Kent again – who knows, you might just be lucky enough to see one – they will help to reduce mink numbers.

The footpath links two bridges and takes you round the field once known as Chalkmead. Here you can see how modern farming is catering for wildlife as well as growing food. There are wide margins around the field that are left to grow wild throughout the summer, providing the varied vegetation, flowers and seeds necessary to support insects for pollination and food for other animals, especially birds. The commercial crop – cereals, oilseed rape or beans – has an additional margin tilled around its edge to allow farmland ‘weeds’ to germinate In the summer look out for fumitory, birds foot trefoil and fat hen (so-called because it used to be fed to hens!). These wild plants and the untidy vegetation are essential to help reverse the declines in farmland species like turtle doves, yellowhammers and linnets.

The field margins and scrubby areas surrounding the fields are ideal for butterflies and moths. At dusk, the path alongside the trees is a favourite hunting area for several species of bats – including the noctule, our largest species with a wingspan of 35cm. They will happily pass within a metre or two as they patrol up and down. The same applies to barn owls; they hunt the straggly vegetation for voles at dawn and dusk and will fly very close if you remain motionless.

It is not cost-effective to cultivate the odd-shaped corner of the field (too small to manoeuvre a combined harvester) so this is deliberately left to grow wild or sown with a crop that will be left to feed birds through the winter.

As you walk the path, the thick scrubby boundary alongside the stream has much hazel growing in it and is home to rare dormice. You may see boxes installed for them to nest in. It is a criminal offence to interfere with nesting dormice so please keep away from the boxes.

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