Farmland acquired on the south west coast of the Isle of Wight is the largest coastal acquisition by the National Trust in England since 1993.
The 165 hectare Dunsbury Farm is the third major coastal acquisition of the year as the Trust celebrates 50 years of its Neptune Coastline Campaign.
Neighbouring the farm is the wildlife rich chalk downland of Compton, home to 33 species of butterflies including the Adonis blue, Common blue and Chalkhill blue, and an oasis of wildflowers such as the internationally rare early gentian and at least seven species of orchid.
The 15-mile Tennyson Trail, named after Alfred Lord Tennyson, skirts the northern edge of the farm. Tennyson loved striding out over the open downland, with its dramatic sea views. Whilst living on the Isle of Wight, as Poet Laureate, he was inspired to write many of his classic poems. To the south lies the picturesque Trust-owned Brook and Compton Bays.
A key vision for the farm is to help create the right farmland habitat for wildlife to flourish. The Isle of Wight is home to the UK’s only endemic population of the rare Glanville Fritillary butterfly, and Compton Bay is the traditional stronghold of that population.
The Trust will work in partnership with Butterfly Conservation to create the right conditions to safeguard the habitat of this beautiful insect. It relies on crumbling cliffs, and the downs behind the coast provide additional breeding habitat. The acquisition of Dunsbury is crucial to the future of the Glanville fritillary as the Isle of Wight coast continues to change.
Plans will also be developed to help farmlands birds, once a common sight, return to the land. These include the linnet, Dartford warbler, stonechat, meadow pipit, skylark, gold finch, bullfinch, hedge sparrow, grey partridge and yellow hammer.
Mixed farming, with livestock such as cattle and sheep, together with growing cereals such as wheat, will be important to provide diversity for wildlife. Farming will be un-intensive, with light grazing, wide field margins and stubble fields left to provide winter food for birds. The Trust hopes to achieve this by combining it with their farm at Compton, working with the farm tenant to produce a viable unit. Walkers will then be able to experience more wildlife as they use the network of footpaths across the farm.
Funding to buy the farm has come from a mixture of legacies and from the thousands of supporters who have generously given to the Neptune Campaign.
Tony Tutton, National Trust Isle of Wight General Manager, said: “This farm is a crucial piece of the coastal jigsaw for the National Trust on the Isle of Wight. It allows us to plan for the future of a coast which is eroding at a rate of 1.5 metres per year, allowing us to maintain access to this much loved part of the island, and to re-wild this landscape, making it healthy and beautiful for the future.
“Our plan is to introduce the sort of farming that will be an exemplar, by being both productive, and good for wildlife.
“Given time and lots of hard work the farm will also become a vital place where we can combine people’s enjoyment of butterflies and farmland birds with the stunning views along the chalk cliffs towards the Needles.”
The Farm sits within the Isle of Wight’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and ensures the future protection of an unbroken stretch of coastline that is one of the most significant in the UK to combine wildlife, geology and recreation.