How best to manage Totternhoe Knolls?

Last Thursday I visited Totternhoe Knolls Common in Bedfordshire, at the request of the National Trust countryside manager, Jon Powell.  The common is close to Dunstable Downs which is the highest point in the east of England region (as was).

Totternhoe Knolls is a regulated pasture, under an inclosure award of 1886 (Totternhoe was the last parish in Bedfordshire to be inclosed).  A regulated pasture is a common for which the inclosure commissioners directed that the land could be stocked and depastured in common, by those with an interest in it, in proportion to their respective rights.  It was controlled by the Totternhoe Board of Conservators but is now owned by Central Bedfordshire Council and leased to the National Trust.  The northern end is managed by Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust.

Wildlife trust's chalk grassland

Wildlife trust’s chalk grassland

As well as being registered common land, it is a site of special scientific interest and local nature reserve, and the medieval motte and bailey is a scheduled ancient monument.  Jon was considering management options for the site and wanted the Open Spaces Society’s advice.

We started from the small car-park, with its realistic wooden sofa.

Sofa in Totternhoe Knolls car-park

Sofa in Totternhoe Knolls car-park

Here there is a mini-chalk grassland which can be enjoyed by those who cannot walk far.

The track to the common

The track to the common

We followed the old chalk track (a byway open to all traffic with a traffic-regulation order on it) up onto the ridge, across a meadow to the summit of the castle.

Medieval motte

Medieval motte

This is the largest motte and bailey castle in Bedfordshire and is unusual in having three baileys.  The view from the top is spectacular.

View from the motte

View from the motte

Then we walked onto the wildlife trust’s section, which has been grazed and is an archetypal chalk grassland.  It was a mass of twayblade and heath spotted orchids.

Twayblades

Twayblades

Heath spotted orchids

Heath spotted orchids

We searched in vain for a man orchid.

Looking for a man orchid

Looking for a man orchid

Issues for the trust include opening up the castle so that it can be seen and enjoyed by the public, and so that it is not damaged by tree roots, but at the same time preventing motorcyclists and mountain bikers from damaging the defences.

Damage to the bailey

Damage to the bailey

The meadows on the way up to the castle should be grazed, and some trees removed from the steep slopes to open up the views and protect the ancient monument, while ensuring there is sufficient shelter for the butterflies.  There are rights to walk over the whole common.

In addition the trust would like to clear some of the trees on the south-western slope to reveal the medieval lynchets.

The solution is likely to involve fencing, to enclose the stock and restrict motorbikes and mountain bikes.  It’s important that the fence is unobstrusive with many access points.  It seems that the gains will be worthwhile, making this splendid monument visible once again, increasing the biodiversity of the meadows, and opening up the striking views along the Chiltern escarpment and beyond.

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About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in Access, butterflies, Chilterns, common land, common rights, National Trust, Open Spaces Society and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to How best to manage Totternhoe Knolls?

  1. There is a Defra & Welsh Assembly booklet “Regulating the use of motor vehicles on public rights of way and off road A guide for Local Authorities, Police and Community Safety Partnerships”
    December 2005 downloadable which has case studies on managing this problem. It would be a shame to restrict users, and design of access (if fencing is necessary) has improved.

  2. Hugh says:

    The order establishing a board of conservators for Totternhoe is still in force, so perhaps consideration should be given to reappointing it. There is in any case a risk that anything done now will be in breach of the terms of the order, since it will provide that all of the powers exercisable over the common under that order are exercisable solely by the conservators.

  3. David Hodd says:

    …and presumably that would apply to Dunstable Downs too? It would be great to have a board of conservators like Ashdown Forest has, and working in partnership with the National Trust in making sure the site is grazed and kept open. I last properly visited Totternhoe Knolls 15 years ago. At that time, if ever a site needed effective grazing, this was it. The downland pasture was becoming invaded with privet, traveller’s joy, sycamore and Brachypodium – as well as the more regular downland scrub invasives.
    I’m not sure Jay Kinch’s comments apply at Totternhoe, unless the BOAT at the edge is part of the Regulated Pasture. There has long been a real challenge in preventing damaging and illegal use of the Motte and Bailey as a motocross site.

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