Little Gate Farm is a rich resource and we aim to tread with care and nurture the ecological needs of the farm and woodlands.
The clay soil in our quarry field is home to a variety of ancient wildflowers due to the low nutrient values of the soil, which is great for our bumblebees, and provides a superb habitat for our wildlife.
Some of the notable ancient wildflowers present on the farm are: Eye bright, Birch trefoil, Common centaury, Violet leaves, Primrose, St. John’s Wort, Darren strawberries, Musk mallow, Common agrimony, Enchanter’s nightshade, Common cow wheat (on verges entering farm).
The birds that live on and visit the farm and woodland include: Buzzards, Nightingales, Bluebirds, March tits, Green Woodpeckers, Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, Coal Tits, Long Tail Tits, Greenfinches, Treecreepers, Green Warblers, Tawny Owls and Night Warblers.
The 24 acres of woodland at Little Gate Farm is classified as Ancient Semi-Natural woodland, which means it has been wooded since trees recolonised Britain after the last ice age, 20,000 years ago. Ecologically valuable Ancient Woodland of this kind makes up just 1% of Britain’s land area. The woodland is home to a variety of native tree species, rare ground flora, and a wide range invertebrates, mammals, birds and reptiles including nationally scarce species.
The High Weald Area of Natural Beauty is a medieval landscape, shaped largely by iron production in the period, which was used to make tools and cannon balls. Around a third of the area is covered by woodlands – connected by an extensive hedge network – making it one of the most wooded areas in England. Historic features include wood banks, saw pits, hammer ponds, sunken routeways and traditional farm buildings. Little Gate Farm is in keeping with the landscape of the area, particularly with its variety of wetland, grassland and woodland habitats.
The 4 ponds we have on site – which shelter a number of protected species, including Greater Crested Newts – are likely to be iron extraction pits from the medieval period. We therefore aim to conserve them as archaeological features as well as important habitats.
We have a very large old iron ore quarry pit in our conservation field. Sheltered by the quarry, the wildflowers in the conservation field provide an extremely diverse source of food for pollinators such as bumblebees and rare butterflies, the rough grassland makes an excellent hunting territory for barn owls, and the scrubby clumps of trees are an attractive nesting area for birds.
Bumblebees and honey bees are on the decline in the UK – Honeybees are declining mainly due to diseases such as varroa mite, whereas the declines in our solitary and bumblebees are mainly due to loss of foraging habitat.
Over the past 70 years, the UK has lost over 97% of its wildflower meadows due to agricultural intensification and increasing urbanisation which has reduced the foraging habitats and nesting sites for bees. This has resulted in a decline of approximately 32% of our UK bee species. Two bumblebee species have become extinct during this time and seven are priority species on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP).
At Little Gate Farm we actively support the work that Dr Nikki Gammons from Natural England is doing around reintroducing extinct bumblebees to the UK, particularly the High Weald area.
Economics of Bumblebees – Bees are important pollinators of many of our wildflowers (80%) and high-value agricultural crops (84%). This free service the bees provide is estimated to be worth £560 million per year to the UK economy and €14.2 billion to the European economy per year.
Buzz pollination and sonication – It is important to conserve all bee species; solitary, honeybee and bumblebee because of their differing tongue lengths. This allows pollination of different crops and wildflowers due to their different corolla lengths. Bumblebees in particular are important pollinators due to buzz pollination or sonication. Crops such as tomatoes hold the pollen very tightly onto their anthers. When a bumblebee lands on the flower it can vibrate its body causing the anther to vibrate releasing its pollen. In the UK only bumblebees can perform this action.
To find out more about this important piece of work, please visit http://www.bumblebeereintroduction.org/