The grants we make are made possible by the assets put into the Trusts by its founder Sir David Wills (1917 – 1999) and his son Martin Wills (1953 - 1992)
The assets include farming and property interests and a portfolio of listed investments.
The farming operations are carried out on estates at Ditchley in Oxfordshire and Ousden in Suffolk. On both estates the highest standards of environmental and wildlife stewardship and conservation are sought.
The Ditchley arable fields are ploughed every winter or Spring, disked (to break up the big lumps), harrowed (to create an even bed for the new seeds) and then rolled (to give firm roots). They are also sprayed or spread with different treatments where necessary to ward off disease and help their crops grow. New varieties of wheat, barley, beans, peas or rapeseed are bred with improved resistance to diseases, so the use of chemicals and fertilisers has significantly declined over the last twenty years. We are proud that an estate like Ditchley is a showcase for ecological estate management, which helps its ability to make a sustainable annual contribution to the grant-giving funds and underpins its long term value.
Ditchley is on the northern edge of the Wych Wood, a stag hunting area of forests and woodland villages owned by the Kings of England in mediaeval times. The vast majority of today’s woods at Ditchley were planted by Sir David Wills between the 1950’s and 1970s. Of the 770 acres of woodland, approx. 500 acres are of beech, which spreads its branches in an all-encompassing cloak of green or brown, according to the season. The remainder are mainly hedgerow trees or ancient oaks and lime around the main house. In some woods are found the rare Wild Service trees (Sorbus torminalis), from which seedlings are being nurtured to provide new generations of these trees for Ditchley's – or neighbouring - woods. Numerous owl boxes are positioned across the estate and these are monitored every year and recoded. Grey squirrels are also monitored, as they kill young trees by eating them. These have to be kept firmly under control if trees are to prosper.
Hedges are also important to Ditchley, and some old fashioned ‘laying’ of hedges has recently taken place. This hedging method, formerly used to keep stock in fields before the arrival of barbed wire, is now used to fatten out hedges as a playground for wildlife. Small birds are fed grain here in these areas in wintertime to help them through cold weather.
Over the last ten years, there has been a programme to dig out and resuscitate Ditchley’s ponds. Ponds play an important part in the ecology of an estate, and for the rounded beauty of the estate as well.
The whole of Ditchley is registered under both the Entry Level Scheme and the Higher Level Scheme of DEFRA’s Environmental Stewardship programme. These schemes help support initiatives like the flower-rich grassland field margins, which act as a home and a food provider for animals, invertebrates and birds.
The estate has recently commissioned an Oxford University Wildlife Audit to look at wildlife on the estate and its relationship to soils, woodlands and farming methods. Fortunately, there are excellent records of flora and fauna already collected. These will form part of the review.
Visits to the estate from local schools at different seasons are encouraged. A local organisation, Little Wild Things, has established a base for children on the estate to help their understanding of flowers (the bluebells are very special), woods, animal-life and ponds. There are numerous footpaths through Ditchley. These allow local people to see the beauty of this very special estate.
Lidgate Hall Farm
Lidgate Hall Farm includes 1800 acres of arable, woodland and pasture land located 7 miles from Newmarket. The main enterprise being 1650 acres of Hanslope series clay arable land growing wheat, oilseed rape and sugar beet with 2 full time employees.
The farm is in both Entry Level (ELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) schemes. ELS has provided around 40 km of 6 m buffer strips around the fields protecting water courses and providing natural food and habitat for a number of species. HLS is more targeted to specific areas and aims. There are 12 acres of pollen and nectar mixtures planted, over 20 acres of wild bird seed plots to provide food for birds during January and February and an area sown with a wild flower mixture to protect archaeological features around a Norman castle site.
6 metre Dale Ecodrill – planting Oilseed Rape
Over the past 5 years of being in the HLS scheme we have completed a number of pond restorations and hedge planting projects.
Church End Pond after de silting and scrub clearance.
Phaecilia, fodder radish and kale in HLS wild life areas.