The Vile, an ancient landscape, rich in culture

An aerial view of the medieval strip field farming system on the Vile, Gower

One glance out towards the Vile at Rhosili and you’d notice something different about this landscape; strips of small fields stretching out to sea. These are the last remnants of an ancient style of farming, today, only found in a handful of places around the UK.

The Vile is a complex agricultural landscape divided into strips and separated by boundaries. For hundreds of years, the landscape on the Vile remained unchanged.

Following the end of the Second World War farming techniques changed significantly, becoming more sophisticated. Modern agricultural practices favoured larger parcels of land; boundaries were removed, leading to visual changes within the landscape. 

Restoring this landscape
Since 1948 it’s calculated that we have lost 5500 meters of boundaries on the land that we look after on the Vile. It was our ambition to restore this landscape.

Over the next five years we will embark on a restoration project to create over 4500 meters of new banks on the lines of those historic boundaries and change the way that we farm the land so that it is productive and of value to wildlife.  

In 2017 we restored the first series of boundaries which transformed six of today’s fields into seventeen parcels of land that once formed part of this delicate network of fields. 

Why are we re-creating historic boundaries?
As one of the UK’s few surviving medieval strip field farming systems, it’s crucial that we look after this landscape. By preserving and repairing historic boundaries, we will protect the Vile from being lost like many other similar strip field systems.

Field boundaries themselves play a crucial role for wildlife, they act as corridors across farmland and are important areas for invertebrates and nesting birds, creating a haven for wildlife is an equally important part of the project. 

Learning about the Vile’s social history
Creating these banks provides a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the social history of farming on the Vile. 

We held a series of events to train volunteers in ‘field walking’ to look for traces of previous existences still lying in the soil. Finds ranged from prehistoric flint flakes to medieval lead pot mends, perhaps the most emotive find being a silver love token. We’ll continue this archaeological investigation by taking pollen cores to understand which crops were grown and learn more about the historic natural environment.