Hogchester Farm: A return to the land and nature

HOGCHESTER is either a very large smallholding or a very small farm but 75 acres of rough grazing is, sadly, not an economically functional farm in these times. It is nestled on the north side of a small valley overlooking Charmouth, bordering The Tunnel and sandwiched between the A35 and Westover Hill. It is so secluded that many local people do not even know it is there. The A35 can be clearly heard as a distant hum but, surprisingly, this does not seem to penetrate the tangible peacefulness that cloaks Hogchester.

“AS I turn into the drive I always slow my vehicle to an unnecessarily cautious speed, not just the let the rabbits and squirrels scatter but simply to drink it all in.

“By the time I have driven reluctantly past the nature reserve, the first meadow, the lily pond and the newly-seeded wildflower verges, I am in another world entirely. The lorries and life and hustle are far further behind me than the 300 yards I have travelled to escape them.

“The grazing meadows on Hogchester have been in low input, low intensity for many years now. But what man has abandoned, nature has taken up with full zeal. The margins now deeply encroach with thickets of bramble, bracken and gorse leading the way.

“The wildlife ponds have an exquisite aged beauty – an ‘Enid Blyton’ feel – as one guest put it. Deprived of fish they are replete with dragonfly, damsel and many a winged wonder, the names of which, as yet, I know not. These prehistoric creatures imbue a timelessness completely in keeping with our local Jurassic heritage.

“Yes, it feels quite extraordinary to have ‘landed’ at Hogchester. I want to say ‘crash landed’ as moving a family with kids into two schools and taking up a farm has felt like complete chaos these first two years – mostly due to my complete lack of experience on the land.

“I guess this is also the moment to say thank you to everybody who has welcomed us into the community and especially all the Johns (Calder, White, Snook) and to Brian Lugg, who has kindly returned my escapee sheep to me on more than one occasion. The welcome has been warm and we are very grateful for that.

“I imagine that in an article like this one would expect the writer to lay out a project in full swing with aims and ambitions in full flight but we are taking this slowly. There are plans afoot but we are anchoring them in the land and in the idea of giving Hogchester more completely over to nature.

“We are looking to see what will emerge and unfold over time and nature never seems to be in a hurry. That is the foundation of all that could happen here – an authentic conservation project with nature and its preservation at the heart of it.

“In keeping with that aim we have already worked closely with Nick Gray of Dorset Wildlife Trust to reseed ten acres of wildflower meadows with seed kindly donated by the National Trust’s Stonebarrow site and seed from the beautiful SSSI meadows at Thorn Farm. On top of that layer we hope to find uses within Hogchester for people that will be edifying and uplifting.

“Those people currently include our holiday cottage guests and visiting contemporary artists responding to the land during short residencies. That is Chantal’s initiative as part of her contemporary art practice. The old dairy barn in now an art studio!

“There is one plan for Hogchester that is not only of local interest but will require extensive local involvement to be in any way successful. We are interested in supporting local growers on a six acre field by Charmouth Cemetery to grow organic vegetables for local consumption. We could also, perhaps, host a community orchard on the same site if there was interest in returning to the land.

“Small-scale market gardens teeter on the edge of commercial viability so every running it as a not-for-profit venture will require a small army of local volunteers!

“We are planning to model this on the community-supported agricultural approach (CSA) which is good for people and the environment. This has the flexibility to produce anything that we might want to do together, including vegetables, chickens and meat. It could end up as a kind of community smallholding.

“We would be pleased to hear from anybody who would be interested in co-creating our own local food story in Charmouth and who would welcome a return to the land and to nature.”

Rob Powell, Hogchester Farm
(courtesy of Shoreline Magazine)

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