Despite being no great distance from London, Highclere remains a calm green breathing space not just for visitors but for a diverse wildlife as well. I love the spectacular Castle but I love the landscape just as much: the trees, hills and valleys that are so particularly English. It is humbling to realise that we are simply a small part of a long line of people who have made this area home. There may well have been a greater variety of plants, birds and insects in the past but our predecessors would still recognise the sheep, horses, arable fields, woodland and wind belts that you can see today.
In recent years, however, we are all once again beginning to recognise the importance of diversity. At Highclere the population of threatened bird species such as lapwings is increasing. Stone curlews nest on the stubble plots, beetle banks are left to develop and wildflowers are being planted alongside arable farmland. There are gentians underneath the Temple of Diana and rare fungi along the slopes of the hillside in the autumn. If trees fall down we are now allowed in some areas of the park to leave them so that they can become a haven for wildlife. In one field an old Sequoia lies on its side, yet continues to regenerate.
This week my husband was out on the farm near Crux Easton putting out extra feed for the farmland birds, like the finches and larks, who do well at Highclere but appreciate a little help at this time of year. There are some Barn Owl boxes in the old farm buildings there and he managed to get a wonderful photo of one of them.
Despite our efforts though the keepers and tractor drivers tell us that, when they were young, the trailers bringing in the harvests used to be so full of beetles and insects that it all had to be sifted. It’s nothing like that now. For all our watchfulness, it is a complex relationship between tranquility and the needs of visitors, the requirements of modern farming and the need to treasure and preserve the ancient trees and unimproved grassland areas.