Client: Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust
Ownership is usually the best way to ensure that land is successfully managed for nature conservation. St. Faith's Meadow is owned by Winchester City Council, and St. Cross Meadows by St. Cross Hospital. In this case, the Trust are keen to manage all the areas and make a difference, but have no intention of declaring any of them as a nature reserve.
St. Cross, Winchester
Five Bridges Road, Grid Ref SU475272
St. Cross Hospital dates from the early 12th century, making
it England's oldest charitable institution and longest running
almshouse giving food and shelter to the needy. The tradition of
providing the Wayfarer's Dole on request continues. It consists
of a horn of beer and morsel of bread.
In April 2011 the Wildlife Trust took on a 5-year tenancy of the historic meadows around the medieval hospital. Grazing with cattle and sheep will be brought back to maintain the wildflowers and other wildlife characteristics of the meadows. The Trust's herd of British White cattle, one of England's oldest native breeds, are already at work.
Four adjoining meadows, called The Meadow, The Park, Mill Field and Dairy Field, almost surround the hospital and the cricket grounds to the south, while the River Itchen forms their eastern boundary. Although these meadows have been here for centuries you get the feeling that there is nothing particularly ancient aboout their names.
Not surprisingly, the meadows play an important part in the health and wildlife value of the river and its many tributaries. There are no restrictions on public access here. The Meadow, which lies to the north and east of the Hospital, is very popular to the point where growth is significantly controlled by trampling. Heavy visitor pressure and dogs jumping in and out of the river have resulted in eroded banks and an excessively wide channel. Characteristic features of a chalk river, such as clean gravel and a range of aquatic plants, are replaced with a build-up of silt. It is hoped to repair the banks and regain some riverside plants such as Purple Loosestrife and Flag Iris. To some extent this popularity is an advantage, making it easier to increase awareness of the area and even get some work done!
South of the hospital, down between Dairy Field and Mill Field, is the old milking shed. Fields used for dairy cattle generally need fertilisers, which give an advantage to some grasses at the expense of a diverse range of flowering plants. It is hoped to restore some of the variety by introducing seed from fields nearby.
Just about the whole length of the Itchen, 42km, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Large parts of the floodplain were once maintained as water meadows, a labour-intensive method of maximising the yield from grassland. A fifth meadow in the management package is part of the SSSI and lies south of Five Bridges Road. It is called, wait for it, Five Bridges Road meadow.
On the eastern side of the Itchen opposite the hospital is a narrow strip, just one hectare in area, of wet willow woodland. It contains a good amount of standing dead and fallen timber, and is most likely to be kept as a non-intervention area. This is also designated within the River Itchen SSSI, and forms part of the Trust's tenancy.
2013 When major repairs were underway to the tower of St. Cross the local archaeologists, WARG took the opportunity to have a dig around in the Bowling Green, possibly the site of the original hospital residences.
British White cattle are a common site in the meadows around the hospital.
2017 The old crossing over a side-channel needed replacing. This happened quite fast once we had worked out what to do. A kissing-gate was built in place of a rickety stile, and seemed to be appreciated right away.
Garnier Road entrance, Grid Ref. SU479282
To the north of the St. Cross Meadows, and extending up to
Garnier Road, is another wet area called St. Faith's Meadow which
has suffered from the planting of non-native poplars, presumably
as a timber crop. These have now been felled, but native
riverside alder and willow trees have been retained.
On our first task here in May 2012 we removed a large amount of derelict fencing and upgraded some of the barbed wire fencing with stock netting. When completed, the Trust will be able to start mixed grazing with sheep and cattle. The netting also stops calves from escaping.
14th July 2012. Here was a short dry moment in what was otherwise a very wet day. We dug loads of small holes in the turf. A dozen or so small hay bales from Winnall Moors were then spread out so that seeds will germinate in the bare patches. Fears that the cattle would eat the hay were apparently unfounded, as they are more likely to tread it in.
2014 A major part of a task here was to clear timber from a tree that had fallen across the path and on to the meadow. It could have been very expensive if it had fallen in a different direction. Logs were stacked up with the knowledge that fairies would take them away in the night. We also put in a Hampshire gate and electric fencing.
The present parish of St. Faith has used the Church of St. Cross as its parish church since 1507. The name of St. Faith is still used by the Church School and its road, and now by the Wildlife Trust for the northernmost meadow in this area.
In April we will be doing a real variety of work around the site. Rachel says "After a dryish start, the corner of the field where I wanted to fence has now gone under water so I've had to change the task!
Instead we'll be replacing a footbridge, replacing a stile with a box kissing gate, installing a footpath finger post and numerous smaller tasks of fence repairs, tree staking, stream channel clearing, stream bank repair, hedge plant nettle removal".
Meet at 10am at the top of Five Bridges Road, a turning off the B3335 St Cross Road before the cricket grounds on the right as you approach Winchester. Look out for the yellow HCV flags.