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Our work at Newtown National Nature Reserve

View across the wildflower meadow, studded with purple flowers and yacht masts visible on water near the horizon, at Newtown National Nature Reserve, Isle of Wight
View across the wildflower meadow at Newtown National Nature Reserve, Isle of Wight | © National Trust Images/Rebecca Bevan

Near Newtown Harbour on the Isle of Wight you will find wildflower meadows, filled with lofty grasses and blooms that turn the fields into a haze of pinks and purples in the summer. Learn about the work we’re doing to keep Newtown’s meadows a special habitat for butterflies and insects.

Traditional management

If you’re lucky enough to visit Newtown in just the right light, sometimes you can make out the humps and bumps of ridge and furrow in the fields that surround the sleepy hamlet. This tells us that the land has been used for farming for hundreds of years. For the last 500 years or so, it’s thought the meadows have been grazed with sheep and cattle. Today, we carry on this grazing tradition with our tenant's Belted Galloway cattle and our own Hebridean sheep.

Encouraging wildflower diversity

To ensure that the meadows remain healthy, we never use artificial fertiliser. This means that nettles and modern rye grass don’t have the nutrient-rich soil to support them, allowing for more diverse grasses and flowers to grow. As there are lots of different types of plants growing in the soil, there are fewer nutrients available, which helps to continue the cycle.

Avoiding artificial fertiliser also helps to protect the health of the estuary. Artificial fertiliser can run into the water and cause algal bloom, which would be damaging to the creatures that live here.

Ranger laying hedge, pushing twiggy branches down between upright posts, at Newtown National Nature Reserve and Old Town Hall, Isle of Wight
Ranger laying hedge at Newtown National Nature Reserve and Old Town Hall, Isle of Wight | © National Trust Images/Rebecca Bevan

How sheep and cattle look after the meadows

Sheep and cows are wonderful at recycling. Seeds are spread back into the soil through their dung, meaning the goodness is returned to the land rather than being stripped out as it would be if it was cut for hay. Their dung is even a home for beetles.

Hebridean sheep at Newtown

Hebridean sheep were introduced at Newtown back in the 1990s. They are excellent at scrub control, preferring to browse coarse vegetation rather than flowers such as orchids and cowslips. They'll happily eat docks, thistle flowers and nettles.

In addition, they can tolerate harsh weather and survive well on a mixed diet of plants that certain modern breeds of sheep would struggle with.

Hebridean sheep help to restore and maintain the meadows at Newtown, where we want to encourage delicate wildflowers.

We're looking at ways to focus sheep grazing in areas we need to control woody growth, rather than cutting it with a tractor, and this will help to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Belted Galloway cattle at Newtown

The cattle at Newtown belong to our farm tenant but the breed originated in Scotland. They are hardy and also good at eating the coarser vegetation. As they use their tongues to pluck grass, they complement the sheep grazing by keeping areas of longer grass short, allowing areas of finer grass to flourish.

How you can look after the meadows

  • As tempting as it may be to wander through the long grass before the meadows are cut, it’s best to enjoy them from the sides. As the wildflowers are delicate, walking on them can cause damage.
  • Our sheep and cattle are doing an important job, so please keep dogs on leads and under close control – see below.
  • Please pick up after your dog and use the bins provided.
Family at Newtown National Nature Reserve, Isle of Wight
Visitors at Newtown National Nature Reserve | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Woodland management

At the edge of Water's Copse is an ancient woodland of oak, ash and hazel. These trees are rarely touched by the team at Newtown. Most of Walter's Copse is a wood that has grown up on former Medieval strip fields. When ploughing ceased, they were probably grazed, and many of the flowers you'll see in the woods are meadow species.

The parts of the wood that have grown on what was once meadowland now include a network of rides. The edges of these rides are cut in a varied pattern to let in light, which allows flowers and the many insects and butterflies that come with them to flourish.

Hazel coppicing

Part of the wood called Town Copse is managed on a traditional fourteen year coppice rotation. The cut hazel is used in hedge laying and to make bundles of faggots, which help protect some path edges around the harbour from wave erosion. Red squirrels and dormice benefit from a good supply of hazel nuts too.

Keeping control of your dog

Our definition of close or effective control is: ​

  • Being able to recall your dogs in any situation at the first call
  • Being able to clearly see your dog at all times (not just knowing they have gone into the undergrowth or over the crest of the hill). In practice, this means keeping them on a footpath if the surrounding vegetation is too dense for your dog to be visible
  • Not allowing them to approach other visitors without their consent
  • Having a lead with you to use if you encounter livestock or wildlife, or if you are asked to use one
Boardwalk across the saltmarsh at Newtown National Nature Reserve, Isle of Wight


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