In 2013, I spent the summer at Helen Browning’s Organic Eastbrook Farm on the North Wiltshire Downs, part of the Wessex Downs AONB. I was commissioned to simply observe the wildlife and photograph what I could from my 4×4 and the odd pop-up hide. In a short space of time, I’d discovered an incredible richness in the mosaic of habitats: Huge and highly active badger setts, red foxes, roe deer, muntjac, fallow deer, brown hare, water vole, stoats, barn owls, tawny owls, little owls, kingfisher, buzzards, red kites, sparrowhawks, woodpeckers, grey partridge, big numbers of skylarks and corn buntings, starling murmurations, golden plovers, lapwings, a valley full of orchids and wildflowers and marbled white butterflies…. the list goes on and on!
So, the thought occurred to me… “There is so much potential, I know others would want to photograph here at the farm.” But there was only limited public access and no hides. So I approached Helen Browning herself and put forward my observations and ideas. The response was incredible. A new joint venture was created and ProHides at Eastbrook was launched.
Since that winter, I have been continuing my observations and narrowing down the best locations for wildlife photography hides. Locations that are out of the way from the regular activities of the farm, enclosed and protected from the inquisitive cattle, but also accessible and close enough to the key animal dens, nests and roosts.
Helen Browning’s Organic Eastbrook Farm is set in 1,400 acres of classic rolling green British countryside on the North Wiltshire Downs near the Oxfordshire and Berkshire borders. The traditional land rotation and nature-friendly farming methods have created a wonderful environment, rich with resident and migrant wildlife, including many species that are in national decline elsewhere.
A network of mature hedgerows, grazing pens, Millennium woodland, ponds, wildflower downland meadows, arable crops and green pastures are all working together to build a mosaic of essential habitats. Badgers have made the farm their own, establishing vast setts along the pastures and downland ‘set asides’. Foxes make a good living from the rabbits, rodents and flocks of corvids that help themselves to the livestock’s food troughs. Hares are abundant in the larger fields and pastures in the west, sharing the hedgerows with rabbits, roe deer and muntjac.
Barn owls are regularly sighted, quartering the fields and little owls swooping between fence posts. Several derelict barns and woodsheds provide the perfect roosting sites for these wonderful birds. Soaring above the fields, buzzards and red kites are very common with several pairs of buzzards nesting within the farm boundaries. The hedgerows are noisy with the chatter of birds with flocks of passerines including tits, finches and buntings flitting across the crops during harvest. This farm supports a reassuringly high number of skylarks and corn buntings in the summer. In winter, large flocks of lapwings, golden plovers and fieldfares take up lodgings and murmurations of starlings fill the skies.
In the downland valley, which has remained ‘unimproved’ for decades, swathes of common spotted and delicate fragrant orchids bloom among the striking pyramidal orchids, bee orchids, sainfoin, clustered bellflowers and other downland favourites. This stunning wildflower site supports high numbers of bumblebees, day-flying burnet months, marbled whites, ringlets, tortoiseshells, chalk-hill blue butterflies and more.
- In partnership with the Badger Trust, Helen Browning’s Organic and Eastbrook Farm initiated their Bovine TB badger vaccination program in November 2013 and this will continue.
- At the turn of the Millennium, several thousand mixed broadleaf trees were planted to create a new wildlife habitat, with the aim of increasing wildlife diversity even further. The woodland is still young, but the ecology will be given a boost with the creation of ponds, clearings, woodpiles and an array of nest boxes. Once the birdlife has reached a consistent level, a new hide will be installed with a reflection pool.
- A couple of years ago, a large pond was excavated and is already flourishing with bullrushes, damselflies, water beetles, frogs and even a resident sandpiper and grey heron. Other margin vegetation and water plants will be added to enrich the ecology and promote further wildlife diversity. A water-level hide is planned for this site.
- Most recently, several strips have been ploughed and sown with seed mixes for wild bird seed and nectar rich flowers for bees.
Helen Browning’s Organic
The Calf House