Town & Manor of Hungerford News: May/June 2020

Hungerford Town & Manor

May was another busy month at the Town and Manor – as every month is in its own fashion – though, aside from the weekly market (see below), for obvious reasons not a great deal of this has been public-facing. The most obvious casualty of Covid-19, as mentioned last month, was Hocktide.

There are tentative plans for holding the Hocktide events in the autumn – Hocktober is the obvious name – but of course no one knows if this will be possible. However, there’s always next year’s Tutti-Day to look forward to, on Tuesday 13th April 2021.

The cycle of the seasons continues despite Covid: indeed, many aspects of the environment appear to be flourishing due to the reduced human impact. This therefore seemed like a good moment to look at some of the animals for which the Town and Manor is either responsible or which it welcomes onto its land each year.

The return of the cows

We’ve now got 27 cattle on Freeman’s Marsh, with more expected to arrive in early June. They are excited to be there and so will be a little frisky for a couple of weeks until they settle in, so please do take extra care around them. We would ask you to keep dogs under close control and to close all gates behind you. 

 

Fish Fry

The Environment Agency fish farm at Calverton recently released approximately 3,500 grayling fry into our section of the river Kennet, part of a conservation project between the T&M and the Environment Agency. 20 males and 20 females from our river have produced about 16,000 two-inch offspring in total. About 10% of the Town and Manor’s quota will grow into adults while the rest will provide food for kingfishers, pike and trout. All part of the circle of life…

Coots

A coot’s nest on Eddington Island. A Coot spends more of its time on the water than does its relative, the moorhen, and will dive to catch small invertebrates. Unlike ducks, coots will bring their catch to the surface before eating it, leading to squabbles over food. Coots breed in spring, laying between six and nine eggs in nests made among emergent vegetation. Coot chicks are black with orange fluff around the face and body; they are independent within two months of hatching. The coot can be distinguished from the similar moorhen by its white beak and ‘shield’, and its entirely black body.

Other Birdlife

The Town and Manor looks after Harveys Meadow where there has been an amazing build up of birds, 112 different species at the last count. Among those who are back here this year are the chiffchaff, blackcap, willow warbler, eeed warbler and sedge warbler. In addition we’ve heard the “reeling” call of the grasshopper warbler and also Whitethroat.

The first cuckoo was heard on 10 April followed shortly afterwards by house martins, swallows and now the swifts.

One of the birds on Town and Manor land is a male reed warbler (number Z731357, to be precise). He was first monitored in 2016 and 2017 and now he’s here again in 2020. Each year he returns from Sub-Saharan Africa where he’s been for the winter and now back in Hungerford to find a female with whom to breed. He was born in Hungerford and returns each year a term known as ‘site loyalty’, so this is his fifth year here.

Treehives

Some more welcome visitors to Hungerford Town and Manor in our new orchard and on our new Hungerford Marsh, in one of our many tree hives. Over the last few years there’s been an increasing appreciation of the enormous importance of bees to our ecosystem:  the United Nations estimates that, worldwide, three out of four crops producing fruit or seeds for human use depend, at least in part, on pollinators such as bees.  And, of course, they produce honey and beeswax. All in all, Town and Manor is glad to be doing its bit to encourage these particularly beneficial creatures, the more so given the recent reports of their declining numbers, possibly as a result of pesticides.

The Wednesday market continues

Every Wednesday from 8am until about 1pm, our regular stallholders provide fruit, vegetables, bread, cakes, cheese, eggs, apple juice, cooking oil, meat (including goat), olives and (before 11.30am) fish. (Note that on some occasions not all stallholders will be present but in general they’re all there every week.) May also saw the long-awaited return of the plant and flower stand. There is a strict control on numbers and queuing is enforced. Be prepared for a short wait (generally not more than 10 minutes).

This has proved to be a popular and practical way of buying fresh food and we hope that it will continue to run. The weather has also been very kind with only one wet Wednesday since the start of social-distancing. Even that, however, did little to reduce the attendance. 

Government regulations permitting, it’s hoped that the indoor market will also be able to return soon. Further updates on this as soon as we know more.

Parking on in the High Street

Please observe the ‘No Parking after midnight’ signs put up on Tuesday afternoons in some bays on the Town Hall side of the High Street.

Some traders set up very early in the morning but can’t do this if vehicles are parked there. 

The Town Hall

The non-use of the Town Hall complex in the current circumstances is obviously frustrating. If anyone has any suggestions as to how this superb local resource can be used to benefit the community and in a way consistent with the government regulations, please get in touch with the Constable, Nick Lumley, on nicholas.lumley@townandmanor.onmicrosoft.com or 07734 837 921.

Who needs friends?

The Town and Manor of Hungerford is a local charity. It owns the lands to the east and west of the town and looks after them at entirely at its own expense for the use of the people of Hungerford and visitors to the area. It also looks after the trees in the High Street, runs the weekly market and takes care of The Croft village green and the chestnut trees there. It is also responsible for the running of the Town Hall and the upkeep of the rivers.

All of this is done at no expense to the residents. Not one penny comes to the organisation from council tax to provide these fabulous open spaces and facilities which are of particular importance in these unusual times as a place to walk, exercise dogs and get out.

We pay for this by getting farming grants, grazing fees, renting out the fishing rights, fees from the Town Hall and rents from properties.

As a result of Covid-19, however, the income to the charity has seriously depleted. The only event in the Town Hall for over a month was the Blood Donors on 1 May. Most of the staff have been furloughed. All educational walks, Hocktide, antiques fairs and use by various clubs and organisations have been cancelled. This is  why we need friends…

We started Friends of The Town and Manor last year and several people have joined, including a regular visitor from America – but we need more..

Membership is £25  for individuals or £40 for a family.

For this, we will hold special friends events when all this is over, there is a regular newsletter, and you will be invited to all our social gatherings with the chance to see some of the beautiful areas not open to the public, with expert guidance and informed educational tours of the estate. You will also be given a priority booking for events held by the organisation.

If you want to support a charity that provides Hungerford with outstanding environmentally friendly spaces that are preserved against development, for all to use, please contact admin@townandmanor.co.uk or phone 01488 686555 for an application form to join.

Just in case you needed further reminding of just how special the land that we own and manage for the public benefit is, here’s a recent photo of the Dun winding its way through Freeman’s Marsh.

Cycling on the Common

We’ve posted notices on the Common asking people not to cycle (this applies only to the footpaths on the grassed areas – the roads are normal public highways open to all traffic). We’ve done this for several main reasons:

• To protect the cattle from disturbance (from groups and faster cyclists);
• To apply the legal requirements of the Countryside & Rights of Way Act (which forbids cycling, amongst many other activities, on Common land). 

We can appreciate the strong feeling that this post has generated, as we love and enjoy being on the Common as much as everyone else in Hungerford. We’re not looking to prevent families from taking toddlers out on their bikes during family trips. The problem is caused by those who use the footpaths as if they are roads (which as with most problems, are a very small minority of users). The paths across the Common are only footpaths, not cycleways: we are just asking people to behave with common sense and respect the Common.

You can see a summary of the guidance we have to work to here.

The responsibilities of the Town and Manor

The Town and Manor of Hungerford is a unique institution, the only such body in England to have survived (in other places, the functions and assets of these organisations have been assumed by local councils). Some reflections on its past, and its present, role can be found here.

Many aspects of the Town and Manor, including its ownership of the Town Hall, make it look like another tier of local government (which it is not) and as a result many people are unsure of what aspects of local life it is responsible for. These are some of the main things that the Town and Manor does, all at no cost to the local residents:

• Hungerford Common (including maintenance, the cows,  the paths, the trees and event licences).
• Freeman’s Marsh (including maintenance, the cows, the paths and the trees).
• The trees in the High Street from the Canal Bridge to junction of Atherton Road (maintenance).
• The Croft (including grass cutting, trees, posts and event licences).
• The Town Hall (including bookings and maintenance).
• River Kennet and River Dun (including weed cutting, debris clearance and bank maintenance).
• Hocktide (all aspects of the festival).

For any problems, issues or enquiries relating to any of these matters, please contact Jed Ramsay on admin@townandmanor.co.uk.

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