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Leavenheath: Suffolk Wildlife Trust launches £110,000 ‘lost landscape’ appeal

PUBLISHED: 05:00 26 July 2014

Suffolk Wildlife Trust Arger Fen Assistant Warden Giles Cawston, Arger Fen warden Will Cranstoun and education officer Joanne Atkins are on Fords Heath, which will be added to their Arger Fen and Spouse's Vale Nature Reserve near Assington in Suffolk.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust Arger Fen Assistant Warden Giles Cawston, Arger Fen warden Will Cranstoun and education officer Joanne Atkins are on Fords Heath, which will be added to their Arger Fen and Spouse's Vale Nature Reserve near Assington in Suffolk.

One of East Anglia’s leading wildlife charities today launches a major cash appeal in a bid to bring back a glimpse of a centuries-old south Suffolk landscape that has been virtually lost under a welter of modern changes.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust Arger Fen warden Will Cranstoun, assistant Giles Cawston and education officer Joanne Atkins are on Fords Heath, which will be added to their Arger Fen and Spouse's Vale Nature Reserve near Assington in Suffolk. Suffolk Wildlife Trust Arger Fen warden Will Cranstoun, assistant Giles Cawston and education officer Joanne Atkins are on Fords Heath, which will be added to their Arger Fen and Spouse's Vale Nature Reserve near Assington in Suffolk.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust needs to raise £110,000 to buy 76 acres of mainly arable farmland near its highly acclaimed cluster of landholdings known as Arger Fen and Spouse’s Vale nature reserve close to Leavenheath.

The public appeal for the funds is being launched following a legacy left to the trust in the will of passionate nature lover Gerald Ford.

Although Mr Ford lived near Chelmsford, he was a member of a family that was originally from Tunstall, near Woodbridge. The family had a strong affection for Suffolk and its wildlife, with Mr Ford’s brother Geoff being involved with the trust for many years and a previous Ford family legacy helping the charity to purchase Captain’s Wood at Sudbourne, near Orford, and Snape Marshes alongside the River Alde.

Now Mr Ford’s legacy is being used as the catalyst for the new appeal, which is being referred to as the Ford’s Heath Appeal, with a plea to the public being made for the extra £110,000 required for the purchase.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust Arger Fen warden Will Cranstoun, education officer Joanne Atkins and assistant warden Giles Cawston are on Fords Heath, which will be added to their Arger Fen and Spouse's Vale Nature Reserve near Assington in Suffolk. Suffolk Wildlife Trust Arger Fen warden Will Cranstoun, education officer Joanne Atkins and assistant warden Giles Cawston are on Fords Heath, which will be added to their Arger Fen and Spouse's Vale Nature Reserve near Assington in Suffolk.

Trust chief executive Julian Roughton said historic maps showed there was once a scattering of rough, “furzy” commons dotted around the Sudbury and Nayland area, on outcrops of glacial sands and gravels. Over the centuries they had all but disappeared and were now mostly marked only by isolated clumps of bracken and gorse on roadside verges and field edges, and by place names such as Polstead Heath, Hadleigh Heath and Leavenheath.

Much of the area the trust hoped to buy was rolling farmland with poor, stoney soil. The trust planned to manage it with “a light touch, letting nature take the lead, helped along by some light cattle grazing” to enable a “lost landscape” of grassy, “furzy” commons to develop over time, said Mr Roughton.

The acquisition would increase the area of the trust’s existing Arger Fen and Spouse’s Vale reserve – itself purchased in part through legacies left to the charity – to a sizeable 270 acres. Importantly, said Mr Roughton, it would lead to even greater connectivity of habitats for vulnerable species such as the dormouse, for which the trust and local landowners were working hard in a pocket stronghold in the Leavenheath area.

Mr Roughton said legacies such as Mr Ford’s had become increasingly important to the charity and had, for example, in the past helped the trust purchase parts of the reserve to which it would hopefully be added.

“There is no doubt that only through legacies can we increase our land holdings,” he said. “Although we are given very generous support by our members it is legacies that make such a great difference for us.

“They put us in a position of strength when we talk about pieces of land we are interested in – they have changed the landscape for the trust in that they have enabled us to be more forward-looking as to the land we are interested in.

“We are very grateful to Gerald Ford for remembering Suffolk Wildlife Trust in his will,” said Mr Roughton. “This lovely patch of wildlife-filled countryside will be his legacy to Suffolk. As the habitats mature it will become a haven for wildlife and a place for people to cherish – for generations to come.

“Bigger sites are undoubtedly better for wildlife and so seizing opportunities to acquire land alongside our nature reserves is always a priority. Mr Ford’s generosity made it possible for us to think big and act quickly when the farmland was put up for sale. Without his support, the opportunity would have been lost.”

An area of about 15 acres had retained its historic character and included dry grassland, woodland, fen and meadow that were rich in wildlife, including bee orchids, skylarks, grass snakes and common lizards.

One of the key species that would benefit from the trust’s acquisition of the land would be dormouse. The Leavenheath area was one of the tiny, rare mammal’s few Suffolk strongholds and the trust had already carried out a great deal of work in co-operation with local landowners on behalf of the species. Ford’s Heath would provide increased connectivity between dormouse habitats in the area, which was a vitally important aspect of the species’ conservation, said Mr Roughton.

The potential acquisition of Ford’s Heath fitted in well with the trust’s wider philosophy.

“During the trust’s first 50 years, our efforts have necessarily focused on saving Suffolk’s pristine habitats as nature reserves. Looking to the future, we will increasingly need to think more creatively to seek new opportunities for wildlife on marginal farmland like this,” he said.

Walking around the trust’s existing Arger Fen and Spouse’s Vale reserve gave “a wonderful sense of being part of the landscape,” said Mr Roughton. “It feels like a substantial piece of countryside – and indeed it is. With the addition of Ford’s Heath, the nature reserve will stretch across 270 acres of ancient woodland, fen meadow, wet woodland and the rich mix of new habitats developing through natural regeneration.

“We plan to create a new circular walk to link Ford’s Heath with the rest of the reserve and Leavenheath village. Large as it will be, the extended reserve is still but a piece in the jigsaw of the wider landscape. Our conservation advisers are working with neighbouring landowners to ensure the reserve is part of a well connected landscape, linked to surrounding ancient woods, hedges and grassland used by dormice and reptiles. Transforming isolated nature reserves into joined-up ‘Living Landscapes’ means forward-looking land purchases like this will do even more for wildlife.

“Perhaps more than any other nature reserve, the growth of Arger Fen and Spouse’s Vale demonstrates Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s vision to create large areas for wildlife – and the impact of legacies in making this happen.”

• Donations to the Ford’s Heath appeal can be made to the trust at suffolkwildlifetrust.org, or the trust can be contacted on 01473 890089.

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