Land purchases one man’s bid to protect green spaces

A LANDOWNER is on a mission to save as much of his neighbourhood from development as possible.

Mike Brown in one of the fields he has bought in a one-man campaign to protect biodiversity. (Picture by Simon De La Rue, 29592301)
Mike Brown in one of the fields he has bought in a one-man campaign to protect biodiversity. (Picture by Simon De La Rue, 29592301)

After 40 years of buying up parcels of land in the Vale, Mike Brown is now looking to have them designated as an Area of Biodiversity Importance.

The fields adjoin each other, but have been acquired from various owners through several separate purchases.

The resulting area backs onto his house and garden – which are, in fact, over the parish border in St Sampson’s.

The closest and largest field to his house has, as far as he knows, never been cultivated. He had first refusal on it for 32 years, eventually acquiring it in the early 1980s.

A recent survey by members of the botany section of La Societe Guernesiaise found 116 species – a few dozen more than had been found in an earlier one in 2019.

This included one plant – the many-stalked spike rush – the identity of which had to be confirmed by a specialist in the UK, such is its rarity.

By contrast, an adjoining field which he bought just last year was ploughed and reseeded recently and is visibly less diverse.

Mr Brown hopes his accumulation of land will prevent, for as long as possible, any buildings being erected in the 5.5 acre, or 13.5 vergee, area.

On obtaining the deeds to one of the fields, he found he had the right to bring water, gas and electricity onto the site. ‘So somebody, historically, has thought about it,’ he said.

‘I believe it’s important we maintain green spaces in Guernsey and if I can be selfish and maintain green spaces, I will be.’

Mr Brown said he was very conscious of his good fortune in being in a position to afford to buy the fields, which all lie between Les Tracheries and Houmet Lane. He also indicated that he was not done yet.

‘I’ve written to all the adjacent landowners, saying “if you want to sell, I’m interested”. Having a big area is much more important for biodiversity than having lots of very small patches that are surrounded by houses.’

Asked how he hoped to ensure the area’s continued preservation, Mr Brown said: ‘I hope my children take over the property when I go and I hope that I have brought them up to have the same ethos, but you can’t guarantee the future. I might donate it to the National Trust, you never know.’

Mr Brown is a council member of the National Trust of Guernsey, which manages parcels of land bequeathed to it.

It looks after areas in every parish apart from St Andrew’s but does not have a budget for land acquisition.

Mr Brown said he was ensuring that no pesticide, herbicide or fertiliser would be used on the fields.

He arranges for them to be cut once a year in August, with the cuttings being removed for hay.

What is an Area of Biodiversity Importance?

The ABI designation is one step down from being a Site of Special Scientific Interest in terms of its degree of protection.

Establishing land as an ABI requires careful analysis using quadrant sampling, whereby a frame is placed directly onto the field and every species within the frame is logged.

Helen Litchfield, who conducted the initial survey on Mr Brown’s land, is interested in carrying out ABI research on other islanders’ properties.

‘Through this kind of survey, we’ve been able to establish that species that were previously thought extinct were not,’ she said.

Ms Litchfield can be contacted by email at botany@societe.org.gg.

Among the species found during this spring’s survey of Mr Brown’s fields, which were not detected in June 2019, were bluebells, Canadian fleabane and creeping buttercup.

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