Blakehill Farm and Stoke Common Meadows, Cricklade, Wiltshire
Updated: Nov 14, 2020
Please note that this is an important wildlife site and big parts of it are not accessible to the public. If you want to fly a drone on site you will need to get permission from Wiltshire Wildlife Trust beforehand.
At face value, this site is a flat, open grassland with a few meadows in the south west corner. It is quiet, peaceful and large but as a farm it is unremarkable. But dig a little into its history and stick a drone in the air and this site comes alive. It is not unremarkable at all, it is absolutely fascinating.
In Word War Two this farm would have been full of Dakota's flying people and supplies to the front lines. It used to be an airfield and when you look at the grass from above you can clearly see the runway markings even though the site was decommissioned in 1952.
The other thing you can see from above is a strange circle in the middle of the old airfield. Apparently GCHQ set up a secret research facility on the site after the war and there was a huge communications mast set up which was still active until the mid 1990s. The foundations of this are clearly visible from the air, but hidden at ground level. This is one site where it is of great benefit to view the aerial video to get a real sense of scale so click play below to see more.
Today, this Wiltshire Wildlife Trust site is an important farm base for their northern reserves (Coombe Bissett Down is the farm base for the southern reserves) and there is a set of farm buildings in the middle of the site. When I visited in July 2017 the whole site had been been given over to pasture and there were quite a few contented cows roaming the old airfield, as well as the the deer - one of whom ran straight up to me, stopped a few metres away and then scarpered. The hay does get cut in mid to late July, and apparently this one reserve meets more than 45% of the government's medium term target for restoring hay meadow in England.
The site itself is huge. It took me 90 minutes to walk across it and find a vantage point from which to film with the drone and the total size of the complex is 264 hectares or 653 acres. On a Sunday afternoon in the height of summer I saw two people over 3 hours so it is also quite remote and peaceful and worthy of a good stomp.
Stoke Common Meadows
The meadows are part of a connected habitat to Blakehill Farm and are worth exploring with a camera as the wildlife is abundant in spring and early summer. The first encounter I had was with a deer that bounded off into the distance and the buzz of bees was apparent straight away as they were working their way through the colourful wild flowers.
I discovered a copse in the far south west corner which brought welcome shade from the sun and emerged out onto Jordan's Meadow which is a fine example of an English wild meadow. Full of wild flowers and dragonflies and damselflies constantly fly around your head. I had some company from a curious herd of cows but was able to traverse the meadows safely and arrive at the farm buildings from which I could explore RAF Blakehill Farm.
There are five meadows in all and two of them have been designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) - Jordans Field and Upper Field. I really recommend a visit in summer and bring your camera.
The small gallery below gives a glimpse into the type of wildlife you might encounter. As always with me, I missed the opportunity to photograph the deer - they move too fast !
There are two entrances to the reserve. I accessed the site from Stoke Common, so came through the meadows although there is also an entrance at the north side of Blakehill Farm.
To get to the meadows entrance, go all the away to the end of Stoke Common Lane where there is a small car park.
More information and a reserve leaflet with a map of the site can be found here: Blakehill Farm