Town & Manor of Hungerford News: February/March 2022

Hungerford Town & Manor

For some reason, many of the items this month start with the letter “C”. This wasn’t intentional: just the way things worked out. I’m glad to report that “Covid” is not one of them.

In no particular order, we look at parking at The Croft, the clock at the town hall (which briefly went crazy but has since been fixed), the imminent return of the cattle, a clean-up the Common and repairs and redecoration in the Corn Exchange and Town Hall. You can find out more on these in the various sections below. 

Other letters also are available. “A” this month is for ash trees which, on our land and elsewhere, continue to suffer the ravages of dieback. “B” is for birds, over 800 of which (spanning 34 different species) have been ringed in order to track their behaviour and migration patters and thus help ensure their protection and survival. Thanks to Darren Prestoe for the wonderful photos that illustrate this section below.

The main other initial letters this month are “H” for Hocktide (which should be returning in its full glory this year) and M for the ever-excellent Wednesday market, which continues to offer produce ranging from pastries to pumpkins, from cheddar to chops and from begonias to bric-a-brac. 

Finally, and on a more sombre note, we have recently bought some Ukranian flags. You’ll be seeing them flying from our buildings in the near future to show our support for its people in this terrible time.

After the storms

We have had a busy month clearing up after storms Dudley and Eunice. We have had a number of trees, along with boughs and branches to make safe and cut down. Every year we meet with our consultant arborist and we visit all the trees we are responsible for. Following on from his advice, we maintain the trees according to his recommendations, We have trimmed the trees in the Croft during the February half term, as this is the right time of year to do this work, and there are fewer cars around.

Parking in the Croft

Talking of parking in the Croft, the residents are concerned that their parking spaces are being taken by those not wishing to pay car parking charges. Many of the residents pay for a permit, yet many are struggling to find a space. If you are not a resident of the Croft, please do not park there when there are plenty of public car parking spaces available within a short distance.

Keeping an eye on the trees

We are also removing ash trees with ash die back from around the Common and the Marshes to keep the area safe for your enjoyment. Our Waterkeepers Rob and Jimmy regularly survey the trees – however should you think a tree (and ash or anything else) is looking dangerous, or has heavy broken branches, please do let us know by emailing ellie@townandmanor.co.uk and we will investigate.

And speaking of trees, you may have seen the timber at the Kintbury gate from earlier felling. This has not been abandoned or forgotten about but is waiting to be removed.

However due to the very wet weather we have been having, the ground is too wet for a heavy vehicle  (tractor) to come and take it away. We will wait until the ground dries out and firms up before moving the wood. Decades of carbon catchment and environment improvement will be ruined by churning up grassland on the Common.

Bird life

One of the really important schemes we undertake at least once a month during the year is monitoring bird life through bird ringing. Ringing birds is essential if we are to learn about how long they live and when and where they move’ questions that are vital for bird conservation. Placing a lightweight, uniquely numbered, metal ring arounds a bird’s leg provides a reliable and harmless method of identifying birds as individuals.

This encompases migrating birds, as well as those indigenous to this area. The figure in brackets is the number of birds of that species that were ringed in 2021: the first figure in the total number that were identified in 2021 that are now ringed – this includes those that were already ringed, by the Town and Manor or by others.

Barn Owl 6 (6) • Blackbird 45 (26) • Blackcap 42 (31) • Blue Tit. 140 (72) • Bullfinch 4 (3) • Cetti’s Warbler. 10 (2) • Chaffinch. 18 (17) • Chiffchaff 56 (38) • Coal Tit 4 (4) • Dunnock. 43 (7) •Garden Warbler. 2 (0) • Goldcrest. 3 (0) • Goldfinch. 22 (22) • Grasshopper Warbler. 4 (4) • Great Spotted Woodpecker 6 (6) • Great Tit. 71 (17) • Grey Wagtail. 1 (1) • Kingfisher. 7 (6) • Lesser Whitethroat. 1 (1) • Long Tailed Tit. 38 (10) • Marsh Tit. 3 (2) • Nuthatch. 3 (0) • Redwing. 3 (3) • Reed Bunting. 2 (1) • Reed Warbler. 25 (11) • Robin 30 (15) • Sedge Warbler. 60 (34) • Siskin 37 (36) • Song Thrush 6 (5) • Spotted Flycatcher 1 (1) • Treecreeper. 19 (4) • Whitethroat. 1 (1) • Willow Warbler. 4 (3) • Wren. 87 (36).

Many thanks to Darren Prestoe for these photographs of some of these handsome creatures.

Ding, dong

Many of you will have noticed that the Town Clock stopped chiming last month. The likely cause of this was workmen who were in the clocktower on the mobile phone mast. Ten days ago, the Clock was serviced and it is now chiming every fifteen minutes as usual.

Preparing the Common

With Spring now upon us, it won’t be long until the cattle will be grazing on the Common. We expect to have about 120 bovine residents on the Common from mid April until the autumn. 

You will do doubt have seen the reduced speed limit signs on the Common. The Trustees would like to thank all of those who are complying with the notification and slowing down, The slower speeds of traffic benefits all of the users on the Common as well as reducing carbon emissions in an AONB.

In anticipation of the cattle returning, we are organising a Commons clear-up on Sunday 10 April. Should you wish to come along and help out, we will be meeting outside the Downgate pub at 10.00am. Bin liners and litter picking sticks will be provided. Please make sure that you wear gloves to prevent any cross contamination.

Thereafter – indeed at all times – please ensure that you do not leave any rubbish on this beautiful tract of land. If there doesn’t happen to be a bin nearby or if (as sometimes happens) it’s full, please take your rubbish home with you and deal with it there.

Fencing the cattle

And still on cattle-related matters, we have sent letters to all the residents whose properties adjoin The Common and Freemans’ Marsh reminding them of their duty to ensure that their fencing is cattle-proof. It is commonly accepted that the farmer is responsible for fencing and boundaries but in the case of common land such as The Common and Freemans’ Marsh, the law is somewhat different.

Here, the responsibility for fencing on land with common rights lies with the neighbouring properties. I’m sure you’d agree that it is everyone’s interest to ensure that the cattle stay in the areas of The Common or Marsh where they are meant to be and don’t escape on to adjoining land.

Freeman’s Marsh

We also have areas of scrub that our environmental consultant wishes us to address on Freemans’ Marsh. To ensure that we maintain our Countryside Stewardship grants, scrub needs to be cleared regularly. This is to allow natural vegetation and fauna to grow without being overcome by more aggressive species. Clearing the land also helps to redistribute the soil evenly, making it healthier and reducing both erosion and the risk of fire.

We have an event planned to help accomplish this on Thursday 17 March. Should you wish to come and help volunteer with these or future projects please contact admin@townandmanor.co.uk or call 01488 686555.

The Town Hall back in action

We have finally finished the redecoration of the Town Hall following the flooding. All the rooms have been painted, with new floors in the Magistrates room and the Town Hall upstairs (see photo below). The Corn Exchange floor will be finished at the end of March.

The building is available to hire for events –whether it be for family parties, christenings, wakes, weddings, events of any size we can accommodate your needs. The rates of hire are competitively priced for a venue of this size and all local residents with a Hungerford postcode qualify for a 25% discount.

Please contact Tara via email admin@townandmanor.co.uk or call 07880 311731 to arrange a viewing and to talk through your requirements. We can also provide a list of suppliers to help in the organisation of your occasion.

Hocktide

Our annual tradition of Hocktide is planned to go ahead this year, after not being able to hold these events in the way we traditionally have done during the last two years due to Covid. It is important to uphold our traditions to ensure they are continued for many more years to come. These festivities have been celebrated for over 700 years, and it is believed that Hungerford is the only town in the country that still upholds the traditions of Hocktide.

In 2021, we did manage to hold a much curtailed version of of the Hocktide Court and Court Leet and you can read a report of that here. Hopefully, 2022’s events will be back to normal – and with a re-furbished Town Hall and Corn Exchange (see above) as the venue.

The Wednesday market

The Town and Manor continues to support the weekly Wednesday market. We would like to remind all visitors that the road outside the Town Hall is officially closed to all traffic every Wednesday to ensure the safety of all pedestrians. I politely ask for drivers picking up goods not to use this road as we have had several near misses last year.

Please also observe the no-parking signs in parts of the High Street which apply from midnight on Tuesday.

Note that there will be no market on Wednesday 30 March to allow for the final renovation works in the Town Hall (see above).

Hungerford's wednesday market continues during the january lockdown - with a few changes (12th january up to date)

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 cattle, the trees and event licences).
• Freeman’s Marsh (including maintenance, the cattle and the trees).
• The trees in the High Street from the Canal Bridge to the 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 email admin@townandmanor.co.uk or call 01488 686555.

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