A couple creates a wildflower meadow in a rented field

A WILDFLOWER meadow has been created near Gallowstree Common for the enjoyment of residents.

Clive Leeke, an agricultural contractor, and his wife Veronica, from Emmer Green, are responsible for the natural attraction in a field near Horsepond Road.

They lease the land from the Eye & Dunsden Poor’s Land Charity, which also owns the adjoining paddock and Sonning Common Parish Council housing estates.

Mr Leeke, who runs Hedgecraft at Kidmore End offering field skills courses, took over the lease of the land in November 2020 to improve biodiversity.

He used the land to graze sheep and in April planted 65 types of wildflowers along the path that crosses one end of the field. The project was funded by the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment.

Mr Leeke said: ‘It’s quite difficult to graze sheep there with a footpath so we’ve dedicated it to the people of Sonning Common.

“The pitch was really sold out, so when I saw it was ready to be let, it was an opportunity I couldn’t resist.

“I am an entrepreneur and consultant for other people’s farms, but I have never had the chance to have my own.

“I feel it’s mine even though we don’t own it because we make all the decisions. We won’t make any money out of it, but it’s worth it, it’s one of my passions.

The meadow was sown with grasses which encouraged the sheep to graze, thus helping to enrich the soil.

Mr Leeke said the nutrients in the herbs were medicinal for the sheep, meaning they did not need treatment like dewormers.

“It’s good for the health of the animals and the soil,” he says. “And now there are larks and butterflies where there were none before.”

Mr Leeke’s business is based in the old farmhouse at Kidmore End. He started it in 1988 after spending his formative years as an agricultural contractor tearing down hedges and filling in ditches and ponds before realizing the practice was unsustainable. He has always been interested in rural craftsmanship and therefore began to seek out old craftsmen who still knew how to lay hedges, make hedges and clay ponds in the traditional way.

Today, he trains dozens of students each year in these long-forgotten skills.

Last month, he organized a mowing course for seven field students to teach them how to manage the new grassland.

He taught them a traditional Austrian form of mowing which is done once a year to allow the wildflowers to continue to set seed and regenerate.

Another course will take place on August 6th. For more information visit www.theoldfarmyard.co.uk

Chris B. Hall