Top Field

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Between the roundabout and the Type 45 look-alike is a five hectare triangular field with fine views to the south and north. This was put under the care of Portsdown Hill Countryside Service in 2010 because the tenant farmer no longer wanted to use it. Barley and other crops have been grown here since it was first ploughed in the 1960s, but it is now being returned it to chalk grassland with support from Natural England's Higher Level Stewardship Scheme. For want of a better name, Top Field seems appropriate.

As the picture on the right shows, an impressive array of plants appeared in summer 2011 when the field was left fallow. Nodding heads of Musk Thistle tower over Common Poppy and Mayweed. Much nearer ground level and far less obvious is Field Pansy. An abundance of barley and some oats give clues to previous crops. There are the less welcome characters such as Creeping Thistle and Common Ragwort. Restoring the field to good quality chalk grassland is likely to be a lengthy process, with grazing by sheep or cattle playing a key role. The signs are looking good though, since a few common-spotted and pyramidal orchids appeared in 2016, presumably from seed in the soil.


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After a lot of work by Richard Jones, staff from Queen Elizabeth Country Park and a team of volunteers, most of the field is now fenced and has a large holding pen to facilitate animal movements.
Wild-flower seeds have been collected from nearby areas on the hill and sown as a long strip. These will hopefully grow and gradually spread out. Other areas have been cut and cleared with the tractor and collector unit as a first step in the restoration process, the objective being to remove plant material and its nutrients so that desirable species are not out-competed by stronger-growing ones. Large flints have caused some problems for the machinery and surprises for the operator, as they probably did in the past. The cut material has been heaped up in one corner and allowed to rot down somewhat before being removed. Richard was lucky to catch a Harvest Mouse escaping from one of the heaps in early 2012.
The field should be good for sky-larks, as long as there is not excessive disturbance during the summer months. Scrub species such as Hawthorn usually need to be kept in check on grasslands, and Portsdown Hill is no exception. Hawthorn plants dug up from elsewhere on the hill in winter 2011/12 were replanted to create hedges along the roadsides, and two circular area in the middle of the field. These areas are protected by dead hedging made from material cut elsewhere on the hill. The roadside hedges should eventually grow up enough to persuade hunting birds such as Barn Owls to fly up and over the roads, avoiding casualties.

Arable plants

An area near the car park will be kept as arable land for the benefit of plants which thrive on annual disturbance. This has been achieved by using a second-hand harrow, bought in March 2013. Some of the plants that have appeared, such as Venus's Looking Glass, are very small and quite challenging to spot.

The return of sheep

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A day to remember was 23rd November 2012, when a dozen sheep were let loose in the Top Field. We are not sure when sheep were last grazed on the hill, but it was probably more than 70 years ago, before WWII. The fencing has been arranged so that there are wide areas to walk in all around the perimeter, so it is really not necessary to enter the area when sheep are present. Eleven ewes and a ram were there until March 2013.

picture Autumn 2013 saw the arrival of seven Aberdeen Angus cattle and the start of cutting and clearing operations with the tractor and collector. This is a mammoth task, even though some of the dead flower stems will be left as winter feeding areas for birds. The cattle do a good job when they are not playing peekaboo.

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Top Field is marked as TF.