We live on Swallowtail Hill, in East Sussex, about five miles north of the medieval walled coastal town of Rye. Maps of the 17th century show Swallowtail Hill as it is now, unchanged. Our best guess is that the reason for its name is that migrating swallows gathered at its top before departure for South Africa, and made their first landfall here too, since it is among the highest points of land in this part of south east England.
Swallowtail Hill Farm is now a mix of wild flower meadows burgeoning with hundreds of species of grass and flower, new and old hedgerow, green lanes, ponds, wet meadows, bogs and reed beds, and woods, one a traditional oak and chestnut coppice, and the other an ecologically unusual boggy shaw with alder and willow.
The farm is managed for biodiversity. It has qualified for the Higher Level Environmental Stewardship Scheme overseen by Natural England, which is an accolade in itself, especially for a farm this small. It is also accredited as a site of unusual interest by Plantlife International, the conservation charity. It has therefore become a beacon for bio-diversity and is used as a demonstration site to show exactly what a landscape can become if it is managed for conservation.
Conservation is about working with nature, not against it. It is not true that the sort of landscape that is perfect for biodiversity is ‘natural’ and unmanaged. Our image of the picture perfect postcard meadow awash with colour and butterflies, hedgerows brimming with berries and fruits, ponds dizzy with dragonflies, and woodlands dappled with light and shade is the result of man’s intervention. But it is intervention with a light touch and one that works to create endlessly diverse habitats. Swallowtail Hill Farm has most of the above, yet still produces fine meat, fruit, vegetables, hay packed with natural herbal medicines, and copious quantities of timber for building, fuel and fencing.
An important part of the conservation work done on the farm is its education programme. Schools and special interest groups regularly visit to discover how a landscape managed in this way encourages flora and fauna. The Forest School at Swallowtail Hill is something we’re very proud of – some schools have already benefitted from this unique experience and more are set to follow. Our Wild Woodland Club is also hugely popular with young Wild Things wanting to spend time outdoors and learn some skills and crafts. Swallowtail Hill is part of the Countryside and Education Visits Accreditation Scheme (CEVAS).