The Bateman’s estate consists of 300 acres of beautiful High Weald Countryside. Set within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this landscape is classically medieval; full of small fields, hedgerows, old trees, abandoned iron ore pits, hidden ponds and magical deserted trackways. The River Dudwell runs through the valley and there are seemingly endless magnificent views, making the Bateman’s estate the prefect place for a daily walk.
A writer’s inspiration
Some of Rudyard Kipling’s writing is very obviously set in the Dudwell valley countryside. Poems such as Alnaschar & the Oxen describe the landscape here, and in The Land, Kipling talks about the understanding of the countryside that is only truly held by those who have lived and worked it over generations. Perhaps most famously, many of the stories in Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards & Fairies are based on, or situated in, the countryside around Bateman’s.
There’s a pasture in a valley where the hanging woods divide,
And a Herd lies down and ruminates in peace;
Where the pheasant rules the nooning, and the owl the twilight-tide
And the war-cries of our world die out and cease.
Here I case aside the burden that each weary week-day brings
And, delivered from the shadows I pursue,
On peaceful, postless Sabbaths I consider weighty things –
Such as Sussex Cattle feeding in the dew!
(An excerpt from Alnashar and the Oxen by Rudyard Kipling)
The Bateman’s estate is, at its core, a working landscape and the biggest influence on it over the centuries has been agriculture. Dudwell Farm, which makes up the bulk of the estate, has had the same family as tenants for almost fifty years. Fine Aberdeen Angus/Limousin beef is produced here from an entirely closed herd and the land is farmed in a way that supports the National Trust’s environmental aims.
The River Dudwell
The River Dudwell flows through the estate. It is a healthy, unspoiled river where trout are caught and kingfishers regularly nest and hunt. A footbridge crosses the river on a public footpath just south-west of Bateman’s and is an excellent spot for a game of Pooh sticks.
The Bateman’s estate is home to many different wildlife species. Butterflies flit along the hedgerows feeding on nectar from wild flowers, dormice live in the coppiced woodland, great-crested newts breed in the ponds; buzzards, owls and kingfishers hunt in the fields, woods and on the River Dudwell.
Explore the estate during spring and summer and you will see a host of butterflies, wild flowers such as green-winged orchids and bee orchids and bluebells, birdlife from wrens to buzzards and damselflies and dragonflies flitting around ponds and rivers. During autumn and winter you will be treated to atmospheric mists, the golden hues of trees changing colour as they prepare to drop their leaves and the architectural elegance of the Weald’s mighty oaks during winter.
During winter Kevan Gibbons, the National Trust Ranger for Bateman’s, is involved in woodland management; coppicing, thinning and hedging. In summertime the traditionally managed hay meadows, full of native grasses, wildflowers, bees, butterflies, grasshoppers and crickets, take over. Once Summer is over the hay is harvested and our local rare breed sheep, Max Laughton’s move in to feed on what is left and maintain the grass at a short nibble over the winter months. At the end of February they leave us and the grass and flowers grow again…
Great Crested Newts
Great Crested Newts (GCN) have European Protected Species status. It's difficult and time-consuming to attempt monitoring of numbers so we're really just looking for presence/absence in our ponds.
From mid-April to mid-May the males (females aren't crested) move out into to open water during the evening displaying their crests as they try to attract females (the crest is temporary and is absorbed back into the body after the mating period). The male's keenness to be seen by females makes it much easier for us to spot them as well.
We use two survey methods - using powerful lamps to spot the newts in the water, and bottle traps that are put out overnight and checked in the morning. A licence is required to carry out these surveys.
We’re hoping the surveys will show the newts expanding their territories and numbers. The restored ponds will provide a home for other wildlife, such as dragon and damselflies, too.
The National Trust aims to create 25,000 hectares of new habitats such as these across the country by 2025 National Trust’s work to help reverse the UK’s decline in wildlife
Dormice also have European Protected Species status. Once a month, from April to October, Kevan Gibbons, the National Trust Ranger at Bateman’s, is a licensed dormouse handler and monitors the dormouse populations on the estate by checking fifty wooden nest boxes around the site.
Any dormice found are recorded, weighed, sexed and put back into the box. Any young found are separately recorded, as are any other mammals or birds using the boxes. So far only one dormouse has been found here since 2015 (they're elusive creatures) but unoccupied nests are found each year, which is less interesting but equally valuable when establishing presence on the site. Again, a licence is required to handle dormice.
Kipling's countryside - one estate, three walks
The estate is the ‘hidden gem’ of Bateman’s and as well as the network of footpaths that crosses it there are now three waymarked walks to guide you around the area’s beauty, history and landscape.
The countryside around Bateman’s has changed little since the Kipling’s lived here and a view back down to the house is beautiful to behold. You can understand why Kipling described this as a 'good and peaceable place' and provided the inspiration for many of Rudyard Kipling's famous characters.
There are a number of different walking routes that you can follow to take in some of the best features of this inspiring landscape.
Be a ranger in your own back garden
There are some really simple steps you can take to help wildlife thrive in your own back garden:
- Introduce a water feature – an old kitchen sink will do. Water is the source of so much wildlife.
- Keep some ‘untidier’ areas. Long grasses and wildflowers attract butterflies and bees.
- Build a log pile. Insects love decaying wood, providing food for songbirds.
To find out more about how the National Trust is looking after wildlife, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/nature-and-wildlife.