Friends of Juniper Hill Field was formed to combat a serious threat to a wildflower meadow between Juniper Hill and Frith Wood, an area of outstanding natural beauty in England's Cotswolds.
We are pursuing multiple avenues to keep this unique site intact in order to protect its rich biodiversity and to ensure the continuity of the long history of local interaction. Awareness is critical - please help us spread the word.
New Development on Juniper Hill Field is an Urgent Issue
Juniper Hill and Frith Wood are both Sites of Special Scientific Interest. At the top of Juniper Hill, between these two SSSIs, lies a 20-acre piece of limestone grassland for which the Cotswolds Commons and Beechwoods AONB is famous. This particular wildflower meadow is rich in flora - a product of the geology together with many years of low intensity grazing. It provides an ecological transition to Juniper Hill, a rich unimproved limestone grassland, to the woodlands immediately bordering it, and a link to Bull’s Cross, Painswick Beacon, Rudge Hill and Swifts Hill, all special wildlife-rich grasslands. It is also a vital wildlife corridor between the two SSSIs.
Only 1.5% of the Cotswold wildflower meadows remain, and are a priority for conservation, as most ecosystems of this type have now been lost; they are valuable carbon stores, are scarce, and can only be maintained by carefully controlled grazing.
Juniper Hill Field is rich in wildflowers, including five species of orchid, together with many species of pollinating insects and a breeding population of skylarks. Representatives of public bodies and wildlife organisations with knowledge of this site consider it to be an extremely valuable and environmentally sensitive area. It is, however, unprotected at the moment.
The land was purchased by Woodland Investment Management Ltd about 2 years ago, and they have begun dividing it into 5-acre plots. This has involved quarrying on the site to obtain stone and building a 500m track across the field. Contractors have installed fences to mark off the separate plots. Not only does this restrict public access to a narrow wire-mesh lined path, but also makes effective conservation management difficult, if not impossible. This is typical business practice for Woodland Investment Management as discussed in this article, in a comment in our Forum from a Friend in Devon, and in an email from a Friend in Cornwall posted in Voices in the Field.
and counting. . .
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SIGN the Open Letter to Angus Hanton.
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Honorary Patrons of Friends of Juniper Hill Field
As a resident of Slad I have come to love the Cotswold grasslands. They are a unique and precious habitat and we must do all we can to save these last fragments.
This field is a beautiful upland grassland and every effort must be made to protect such a rare habitat. Splitting it up into small plots makes no sense in terms of conservation. All the current thinking about how to ensure our wildlife can adapt to climate change is focussed on linking up reserves and this field is key to that.
Oliver Heywood was a landscape painter who lived in the area and created many wonderful paintings of Juniper Hill Field. His son, Pip Heywood has written a reminiscence of his time with his father walking on the field. His words perfectly distill what this place means to so many. You can read it here.
The local community, local and national conservation groups, and nature lovers from far and near have voiced their support for our campaign to preserve Juniper Hill Field. Read some of their expressions of support in Voices in the Field.
Woodlands.co.uk aka Woodland Investment Management is wrong when it asserts that ‘[Juniper Meadow] has unfortunately been on the decline since WWII due to increasingly intensive farming methods utilised in the rural economy’. The conservation grazing practiced by the previous owners has been proven to improve biodiversity. The practice increases the diversity of plant communities, recycles nutrients back into the soil, provides modes of seed dispersal, eliminates the use of herbicides, and can sequestrate as much carbon as a forest system, among other ecological benefits.
In fact, the UK Department of Food & Rural Affairs recommends conservation grazing as it “creates vegetation at different heights, and small areas of bare ground. This makes it suitable for a wide range of wildlife in different habitats. It allows wildflowers to grow, flower and set seed each year. This provides pollen and nectar for invertebrates and increases invertebrate food available for birds.”
In countries around the world, semi-natural grasslands (those helped by traditional grazing) are recognized for their high biodiversity and their social and cultural values. Research has also shown that the decreasing quantity and quality of semi-natural grasslands are linked to declines in biodiversity and related ecosystem services. Furthermore, fragmentation of grassland as Woodland Investment Management is attempting on Juniper Hill Field, creates areas that will generally be encroached by shrubs and trees. Just as the biodiversity that has been encouraged over recent decades is beginning to be undermined so too are the social and cultural benefits to the local community being lost.
Photograph by Deborah Roberts, Landscape & Conservation Photographer, & Friend of Juniper Hill Field. This panorama shot from Juniper Hill Field shows its proximity to the Painswick Valley, and the link to a wildlife corridor and important sites for rare species such as SSSI Rudge Hill Common at Edge, Painswick Beacon etc.
We have heard from hundreds of people and also received lots of questions. Here we answer some that we are asked most often.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who now owns the field?Woodlands.co.uk is owned by Woodlands Investment Management, a registered company with two employees, assets of £30 million and a turnover of £16million. The main owner is Angus Hanton, an entrepreneur based in Herne Hill South London.
Why does Angus Hanton want this site?We don't understand his plan. His business model is usually to buy woodland and split it into small plots for individual owners to learn about woodland management and have a nice spot to camp in. He has been told by Natural England that Juniper Hill Field is not suitable for planting and in the sales details he includes a covenant forbidding planting other than 'round the edges'. It is now marketed as an opportunity for owners to conserve grassland.
Maybe that's a nice idea?No. It is not. This is the crux of our campaign - it may sound like conservation but it isn't. This grassland has benefited over the last twenty years from a regime of light grazing and light human use, the result has been a wonderful re-emergence of biodiversity - insects, flora and birds. Because the neighbouring SSSIs are so species rich they have been able to quickly re-establish themselves. It has been a precious example of nature recovery with high hopes of the richness that could build up there in the next decade. All of this is now being destroyed.
Why?With the site criss-crossed by fences, it is no longer feasible to graze it with livestock whose dung is vital to insect life and thus bird populations. The alternative of cutting the grass (which Angus Hanton has suggested but so far has not happened) will damage plants and insects. Over time the field will lose its biodiversity, flowers and insects and thus birds will decline. Already the lack of grazing is leading to bramble encroaching and too many hawthorn saplings emerging.
What do we know about Angus Hanton?He is a major philanthropist and bought a Georgian house in Dulwich to found an innovative centre for creativity and dyslexia https://www.bellhouse.co.uk. He has also set up a thinktank, the Intergenerational Foundation, which has made a passionate statement on climate change /https://www.if.org.uk/campaign/a-climate-plea-for-future-generations/. It includes statements such as: 'There can be nothing more vital and pressing than preserving the health and sustainability of our planet. We have a collective responsibility to pass on a healthy planet to the generations who inherit the world after we are gone. We are in serious danger now of failing to fulfil that responsibility.....There is too much short-term thinking. Too often governments are looking at tomorrow’s headlines or the next election while corporations are looking to maximise profits in the next quarter, and continued inaction or half-hearted measures will have huge implications for millions of people’s lives in the future.' We have highlighted the phrase above which we think is in total contradiction to the actions of Woodlands.co.uk on Juniper Hill Field.
Why not just talk to him - he seems like his heart is in the right place.He doesn't seem to be listening. Natural England believe this field is vital to conservation in this part of the Cotswolds and they put in a bid to buy the site earlier this summer. He rejected the bid. In a direct conversation earlier this summer he said he was prepared to sell the whole site so we think it comes down to the money. We have asked him twice how much he wants but have had no answer. Meanwhile the first of the five plots is up for sale for £85,000. He originally bought the 20 acre site for just under £200,000; that would be a hefty profit on his investment.
How worried should we be?We are seriously concerned that Woodlands.co.uk's management of the field has already compromised the biodiversity of the area. The quarrying, building of a heavy duty track and hard standing and the extensive fencing during the breeding season affected the skylarks as several locals observed. Disturbance of nesting birds is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. The fencing is intrusive in what was formerly a wide open hilltop space. Walkers are now forced into a narrow corridor pathway between two fences and then squeezed into the hawthorn hedge where the permissive path skirts the woodland. Gates are padlocked and chained making it clear that the locals who have walked this area for decades are not welcome. Two remarkable women in their late eighties still walk the area daily as they have done for over 40 years; they live in the neighbouring valleys of Slad and Painswick and their friendship has been shaped by their encounters on the hill. Both have developed a deep knowledge of the flora and fauna. They have lost their favourite paths. Looking ahead, we are deeply concerned that the sales pitch to prospective customers is effectively a form of private glamping. The sales agent has said that it would be possible to bring a caravan or camperhome onto the field; at other Woodlands.co.uk sites owners have built huts and cabins allegedly for tools but in reality for accommodation. There have been complaints in other areas where Woodlands.co.uk have bought sites and parcelled them up in Wales and Kent. There is a limit of a maximum of 28 nights on such sites but enforcement is non-existent. Woodlands.co.uk is presumably aiming its pitch to take advantage of a fashion for off-grid 'back to nature' type leisure experiences. They could plant hedges (of non-native species) and the result would be an end to the grassland conservation in addition to the worry about increased vehicle disturbance through the magnificent beechwoods of Frith Wood which is an SSSI. This is the only access route to the field and is part of the land title of the field (for agricultural use in past times).
Isn't this just a bit of nimbyism - a few locals want to walk their dogs type stuff?No. It's not just the locals who think its a remarkable place. Natural England ( the government's primary nature conservation organisation) views the acquisition of Juniper Hill as a major strategic priority according to their management plans of reserves in the area 2023-28. They believe the field is the crucial link between the surrounding SSSIs and is vital to enable species to move and adapt to climate crisis. One of the key concerns of environmentalism policy now. As one of the last remaining fragments of grassland, (only 1.2% left of a habitat which used to cover 40% of the Cotswolds) it is vital to the survival of several species including the beautiful skylarks. Neighbouring populations of the Duke of Burgundy butterfly and the Bee Orchid would benefit if the field was saved for conservation.
What do the Friends of Juniper Hill Field want?The goal is that the field passes into long term secure management by an organisation or charity dedicated to nature conservation. That would pave the way for a hugely exciting initiative whereby the remarkable patchwork of upland grassland and beechwoods from Cranham in the north to Juniper Hill in the south (about 10 miles) would form a continuous corridor for wildlife and conservation. This would join up several sites managed by the National Trust, Natural England and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. This is the kind of 'landscape conservation' which is essential to future bio-diversity.
So what are the Friends of Juniper Hill Field going to do about it?In the last four months, a number of local residents have formed a group to research how we might best protect this remarkable field. We are pursuing a number of planning issues including arguing in a submission to Stroud District Council that there has been a Change of Land Use on the field from agricultural to leisure. We await a reply. We have contacted all the relevant organisations including Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and CPRE. The former have expressed concern about the increased use of the track through Frith Wood SSSI which they own and manage, and the impact of Woodlands.co.uk's plans on the SSSI. CPRE has been very supportive. Green party councillor Gary Luff has been very helpful and took the chief executive and several directors of Stroud District Council on a site visit. We are exploring a number of planning issues. We have contacted national media and Patrick Barkham has written a piece for The Guardian which you can read here. A local film maker Peter Moseley is making a short film which will appear on our site. We have printed leaflets and are distributing them around the surrounding villages and in Stroud to raise awareness.
Can I do anything?Yes, there are five things you can do. 1. Sign up to our newsletter so we can keep you informed and let us know of any relevant expertise you can offer - ecology, planning, media, finance. 2. Email email@example.com to express your concern and urge them to name a reasonable price and sell to Natural England. 3. Email Stroud District Council to insist that it prioritises bio-diversity and tranquility on this rare piece of Cotswold grassland and enforces the appropriate planning regulations. Rebecca.firstname.lastname@example.org 4. Follow us on Instagram and upload any images or sightings of flora and fauna of interest. 5. Email Angus Hanton via the Intergenerational Foundation pointing out that his statements on the climate crisis and our children's future are best served by his selling the land to Natural England to help create remarkable landscape conservation reserve. The chief executive of the Foundation is email@example.com. Perhaps quote the Intergenerational Foundation paragraph used above to make your point. Will our children and grandchildren hear the sound of skylarks?
What can Angus Hanton do?In a telephone call, he claimed that he is 'democratising access' to the land and insists that conservation shouldn't be left to 'the professionals' and that 'ordinary people' can do conservation. But depriving local people of much loved paths in favour of those with deep enough pockets for a £85,000 camping site is not democracy. Grasslands around here such as Painswick Beacon and Edge Common are managed with lots of volunteer and community involvement guided by professional expertise; they welcome many visitors from further afield. Hanton lives in Herne Hill London and has little knowledge of this area or its community. He has said he welcomes constructive comment and we would welcome a dialogue. We have invited him to visit the site and meet us. We are asking him to sell to Natural England. He could even donate the field and give something back: this would secure this grassland for future generations.
Get in Touch
Please register your support for our campaign in the form below, and we would greatly appreciate it if you would also SIGN the Open Letter to Angus Hanton.
You can join the conversation, share your thoughts on our Forum Page. Your personal information will not be shared and will only be used to keep you updated with what is happening to Juniper Hill Field.
For decades we have been recording the plants found in the field and have started to catalogue its wildlife. If you see species other than those listed in the Plant & Wildlife Survey section, please send us their names and where possible pictures. We'd love to post them to our instagram site.