Have you ever explored the Skylark Trail, part of RSPB’s The Lodge nature reserve?

The land to the north of the B1042Potton Road running from the RSPB gatehouse all the way to the TV aerial at Deepdale is known to us as Sandy Heath. There, RSPB manages farmland, woodlands, grassland and heathland for wildlife, and there’s an active sand quarry run by Tarmac that supplies most of the local area with sand for house building and roads.

The farmland sits on top of deep sand deposits, so it is very free draining and is challenging to farm. One of the fields was even named ‘soldier’s ruin’ – ruinous to anyone who bought it! There was even a joke – that if you took your jacket off and came back later the ground would have eaten it, so hungry was the soil!

But land that is poorer for farming often provides the best conditions for wildlife.

Going back into our past, the land was heathland for thousands of years – grass and heather – grazed by a few sheep or ponies, perhaps, and rabbits. By the early 1900s it had been ploughed up and farmed, thanks to the invention of artificial fertilisers, and the use of ‘night soil’ before that (household sewage).

Today there is a permissive path that runs west to east through the middle of our fields and along the edge of our woodlands overlooking a deep valley left by earlier quarrying.

This ‘Skylark trail’ runs through fields managed by RSPB to provide wild birds with winter food, and colourful, flowery strips that feed insects like bees and butterflies. In a cold winter, acres of bird food (mustard, millet, wheat and barley) act like a huge bird table, attracting yellow hammer, linnet, corn bunting, chaffinch and brambling, sparrows and partridges – we have counted as many as a thousand flocking into the forest of stalks for food and rest. Wild bird food on this scale can make a big difference to their survival and means that the countryside around about will have many more breeding birds come the arrival of Spring.

It is well worth a look on a cold winter’s day! Park at RSPB The Lodge gatehouse and cross with care at the crossing. Signs and interpretation explain things along the trail. Parking £6 per car, free for RSPB members.

1563.5315.Map of paths etc at SH - PB 25-09-2020.pdf

Map showing paths around Sandy Heath © RSPB