Lark Rise Farm

400+ acres
Mosaic arable farm

Tim Scott and IvyThe 400 acres that makes up Lark Rise Farm all began with the purchase of one small field thanks to donations following an article in The Telegraph in 1993 by CRT founder Robin Page. It has grown considerably over the years and has been given a Redlist Revival Award for  'Highest Density of Grey Partridge’. In addition, we have many other Redlist species of conservation concern including song thrush, yellowhammer, linnet and – as the farm's name would suggest – an abundance of skylarks.

In the summer months, the fields are awash with colour. High numbers of butterfly species feed on the wealth of wildflowers and it is hard to believe how close we are to the city of Cambridge and the busy M11 motorway.

Together with volunteers and wildlife monitors, tenant farmer Tim Scott has used a wide variety of sensitive farming methods to transform the fields from an intensively farmed wildlife desert into a productive farm that teems with wildlife. Tim Scott also works with Syngenta, trialling innovative sprays to produce high crop yields without affecting the flora and fauna.

Keep your eyes open for breeding birds that are considered rare, such as barn owls, farmland flowers including bee orchids, brown hares – they’re everywhere – and signs of water voles in the brook. 

All these species are here as a result of wildlife-friendly farming methods such as smaller field sizes, crop rotation, leaving over-wintering stubble, beetle banks, wildlife strips, waterway maintenance and the planting of over 4.5 miles of new hedgerows, with the aid of numerous volunteers.

Looking to buy willow for your project? 

Some years we manage to sell all of the willow to individuals for particular projects and this year is one of those years! 

Typically we sell the binders for the bargain price of 50p per stem, usually bundled up in 20s and delivered, although some people cut their own and transport them away for less.

While this is a small amount each, there’s enough willow to make a few hundred pounds per year, and of course maintaining the coppice means that it produces good quality rods in the future. 

If you are interested in buying willow from Lark Rise Farm contact Dr Vince Lea

History of osiers at Lark Rise Farm

Vince Lea and harvesting willow
Much of Lark Rise Farm was devoid of trees when it was first bought, and there was a lot of effort made to plant areas up. Along the Bourn Brook, quite a few tall-growing crack willows were planted to create specimen trees. In areas where the brook floods from time to time, closer planting of small shrub willows k
nown as osiers was undertaken. As well as being appropriate for waterside habitats, these trees represent a link with the past management of farmed land, where a diverse range of products had to be harvested locally. Tall willows were periodically pollarded (cut above the height at which cattle can browse them), and small willows were coppiced at ground level. In both cases, the trees would regrow from these operations, creating a new crop of poles. The pollard willows would have been used for firewood and the leaf material was often fed to livestock, sometimes the leaves were dried on the branch and fed as a winter fodder to supplement hay. The coppice willow was an important source of material for basket making, in a time when all sorts of agricultural produce was transported in wicker baskets.  

Today, although these trees were planted as wildlife features, we have been continuing to manage them in the traditional ways, mainly because this creates better habitat, for example pollarded willows don’t shade out the brook as much as full grown trees, and the trunks become larger and more ‘interesting’ with rot holes, hollow centres and cracks where insects can get in. The coppice willow forms a denser habitat than unmanaged straggly shrubs, with areas where birds can nest out of sight – we have found several different species nesting on the stumps with the ring of fresh growth of new stems around them. A lot of this work is done by the volunteers, of course.  

The osiers are cut on a 2-year rotation, meaning that they are cut in one winter, and allowed to grow for 2 summers before cut again. This creates very long new stems, about 5m or 15 foot long, very straight and flexible. These are too large for basket making (that requires 1 year growth) but are ideal for weaving to create structures. They are perfect as ‘hedge binders’ which are the twisted length of stems used along a line of stakes on certain hedge laying styles, such as the Midland and Southern style.  

These osiers were unmanaged for the first 10 years or so before they were coppiced. The product of these first couple of years was mostly useless – too thick or crooked – but there were enough straight and long enough to sell to the few people that I knew of locally who were still doing a bit of hedge laying or wanted to build a garden structure. Once the patch of osier all came good and were producing the ideal binders, it became harder to find enough outlets for the total crop, but fortunately about this time Tim Radford was setting up a business in Barton making garden structures, and we had enough material to get him up and running. Within a couple of years, however, his business had grown so quickly that our half an acre or so was not enough, and he now has his own patch of land planted up with osiers which he manages for his own supplies. His willow weaving is absolutely beautiful, and his skills were amply demonstrated when he entered the National Hedge-laying Championship last year and won supreme champion! From a small start he has developed a thriving business. And talking of the hedge laying championship, we were able to supply the majority of the binders for the competition last year, which saved the two charities on running costs and reduced road transport impact. 

Dr Vince Lea
Head of Wildlife Monitoring