While most of us are already involved in environmental schemes, we believe that this farmer-led, bottom up approach will lead to far greater and more wide-reaching benefits as a result of our ownership of the project, its targets and its achievements. We are also confident that the potential for the longer term legacy of this project is far higher than for others that rely upon financial incentives rather than personal commitment.
The project supports and supplements existing effort by delivering more, on a bigger scale with better management of more joined up habitat.
NIAs are a Government initiative and have been designed to try out different ways of delivering nature conservation. The first 12 NIAs were set up in 2012 as a 3 year pilot project.
The Marlborough Downs NIA covers just over 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) south of Swindon down towards Marlborough on one side and Avebury to the other.
It is mainly farmland and has a rich agricultural history. Since Neolithic times farmers have shaped this downland landscape, carving small fields out of wildwood, clearing larger areas for grazing animals, planting hedges to enclose them on the lower slopes, and cultivating large tracts for a variety of crops. These Downs may have been one of the first areas to be farmed because of the ease of clearing and cultivating the thin, dry soils. Steeper slopes were used for common grazing, mainly sheep which has created the short, springy, herb-rich turf which still survives in patches as an important habitat. Our arable land still supports a diversity of wildlife, rare arable plants survive in field margins and stone curlews, skylark, grey partridge, lapwing and corn bunting populate our vast skies. The downland landscape, its flora and fauna, the muted brown and grey of the chalk and flint ploughed up in the autumn fields, the fresh greens of the emerging crops in winter and spring and the sweeping yellows and golds of summer - all these are part of the Downs because of this long history of farming.
With this project we hope that we can ensure that the landscape of the future is as rich in biodiversity as that of the past.