Heath Farm now consists of 70 acres but from 1963 until 1990 was part of a 370 acre arable farm with pigs and sheep. In 1989 with farm incomes in rapid decline and the outlook bleak the decision was taken to sell the pig herd (the sheep had been sold previously) and most of the arable land, and re-invest the money in diversification projects. However we do still keep some livestock, namely sheep, chickens, and sometimes pigs, to keep our larder stocked up!
We decided to turn the traditional stone buildings into high quality holiday cottages. We wanted to use natural materials as far as possible and invest in local craftsmanship. To this end we commissioned a local blacksmith to make iron ware for the doors and windows and set up a small joinery to produce the hardwood furniture and fittings for the cottages. Two local builders worked with us for 3-4 years and their skilled stonemasonry is evident. We also set challenges with our particular designs with each cottage having its own character and specifically designed interiors. We wanted to create a beautiful environment for ourselves as well as for our guests and enjoyed creating the courtyard that we all share. It is lovely that so many of our guests appreciate the attention to detail and quality of workmanship and that they tell us how relaxed they feel here.
The joinery shop was kept on and continues today making bespoke furniture for the local market and also helps in maintaining and upgrading the holiday cottages.
David and Nena had always been interested in improving the ecology and environment of the farm and in the late 70’s began a long term programme to improve wild life habitats. Several ponds were created and every year trees were planted to fill in odd field corners and on unproductive land. After the decision to sell off most of the land had been taken a rapid expansion of environmental work was undertaken on the remaining 70 acres. A major tree planting programme was started which has resulted in nearly all the land having some sort of tree cover.
Since nuts had always been a consuming interest for David, in 1990 an acre of hazelnuts was planted along with about 200 walnut and chestnut trees. These trees are now beginning to crop well and David enjoys selling the produce at Farmers Markets in the autumn. He has even gone as far as to take walnut and hazelnut kernels to France to get them pressed for oil, which he also sells. A further 80 hazels and some walnuts were planted in 2008 to extend the nut orchard. A millennium nut collection was also planted in 2000 which contains all the species which might possibly produce nuts in our climate. Included are unlikely species such as Ginko Biloba and Monkey puzzle. Also planted in 2000 was 5 acres of hazel for coppicing, that is to produce long straight sticks for a variety of uses such as hurdle making and hedge laying. This is probably the first planting of hazel coppice on any scale in Oxfordshire for at least 100 years. The objective here is to try and preserve and protect local coppicing skills, to provide some rural employment, and also to evolve habitats for wildlife.
Around 50,000 trees and shrubs have been planted of about 60 different species most of them native. The objective in managing most of the forestry is to produce quality sawlogs. The principal species being Ash, Oak, Beech, Sweet Chestnut, Hornbeam and Cherry. We endeavour to high prune the best specimens to achieve a tall knot free trunk. Along with this we aim to provide as wide a diversity as possible of wildlife habitats by planting shrubs and low growing trees around the plantation margins as this is where most animals like to live. We also try to leave wide rides around the plantations. Along with the tree planting two wildflower meadows have been created. A small area of woodland beside the entrance drive has been underplanted with woodland species of wildflowers. These are all now well established, produce an abundance of colour during the season, and attract large numbers of butterflies.
All the work that has been done certainly seems to suit the wildlife as we regularly see around 50 bird species, and have even had nightingales. The conservation work has definitely provided habitats for species that we never saw in the past, such as buzzards which are now commonplace. As well as all the birds you will also see signs of many mammals resident here such as Roe Deer, Muntjac, Badger, Fox, possibly Mink, many Rabbits, Stoats and Weasels. There are quantities of Field Voles, Moles and of course Squirrels.
Please make the most of your holiday at Heath Farm by exploring all that we have here and enjoy finding and watching everything that nature has to offer. Do tell us if you see anything exciting or unusual and whether there is anything you think we should do to improve your enjoyment of our piece of rural Oxfordshire.