Braunton Great Field

Braunton Great Field- protecting and managing a medieval open field through a Countryside Stewardship Scheme Special project.
©DEFRA/Bob Middleton

Region: South West

Owner Type: Private

Funding Body: Countryside Stewardship Scheme

Year of Intervention: 2000

Summary: Braunton Great Field- protecting and managing a medieval open field through a Countryside Stewardship Scheme Special project.

Description: The Great Field at Braunton is a rare survival of an intact medieval open field in North Devon that covers 142 ha of Grade II arable land. It was never enclosed and is still divided into strips, which average 0.2 hectares, separated by thin strips of grass, known locally as 'landsherds', vulnerable to loss through ploughing. The only physical boundaries that separate the furlongs are additional ridges, many of which have survived as tracks, and stone markers, or 'bondstones', most of which have been lost. There has been strips from 228 with 62 owners in 1842 to 86 strips with 20 owners in 1994, reflecting the agglomeration of holdings that has accelerated in recent years.
Issue: The loss of the strips and the consequent detrimental effect on the historic character of the Great Field has been of concern for some time, largely because management options are not straightforward. The arable character of the field, which was never in a rotation system, needs to be retained while protecting and reinstating the non-structural landsherds. These archaeological concerns also need to be balanced against the requirements of the farmers of the field who need to farm in a practical manner using modern machinery, usually incompatible with narrow strips.
Strategy: In 2000 a scheme was introduced for the Great Field under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme Special Project provision whereby work outside the scope of Countryside Stewardship Scheme guidelines and standard payments could be undertaken. The aims of the Braunton scheme are to:
1) Retain the historic character of the Great Field
2) Protect existing landsherds and furlong boundaries
3) Encourage restoration of landsherd and furlong boundaries
4) Ensure the ecological diversity of the landsherds
The scheme achieves these aims by ensuring that landsherd are not ploughed but cut every year, that no fertiliser is applied and that furlong boundaries are managed.
Outcome: Given the value of the land for cropping and its quality, it has taken time to persuade farmers that the scheme is of value and will not detrimentally affect their farming systems. Due to the newness of the scheme, it is too early to demonstrate its future success, although the fact that one of the four farmers with the largest holdings on the field has applied augers well for the future. It is also hoped that elements of the scheme can be used in other areas with similar problems, notably the strip fields of the Isle of Axholme where a Special Project is under consideration.

Keywords: Funding, Management Plans, Preservation and Maintenance

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