The chairman of Aysgarth and District Parish Council, John Dinsdale, was delighted in October 2017 when Thornton Rust ’s Kennel Field Trust was highly commended at the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust awards ceremony. The award included £4,000 which, he said, would cover the cost of more environmental work at the Kennel Field. My article (below) about the Kennel Field which was published in The Dalesman in 2014.
The Kennel Field
Above Thornton Rust there is a very special place to sit and enjoy the beauty of Wensleydale – and thanks to the hard work of many of the villagers there are no ugly blemishes on that landscape. Instead the Kennel Field is bedecked with wild flowers in Spring. (Above: Looking down from the top of the Kennel Field with the restored barn on the right, the mash house below it, and Thornton Rust in the distance. Click on this picture to see more photos)
Deborah Millward was so excited in November 2014 that she had to tell everyone connected with that field: “Hurray! Today a black grouse was feeding on one of the old hawthorn trees.” Deborah, who had just retired as chair of the Yorkshire Dales Biodiversity Forum, had a very different view of the Kennel Field when she first saw it in 1983. She and her husband, Ian, had walked up to field next to the lime kiln on the south side of the village. Looking back towards Carperby Moor she thought: “Wow – this is a beautiful place”.
But then she glanced downwards and saw the kennels which had been built as the summer retreat for the Wensleydale Hounds in the 19th century. “They were a real blot on the landscape,” she said. The other two buildings in the field – the mash house and a traditional barn – were also semi derelict.
When she studied the field more closely, however, as part of her moving from being a microbiologist in the food and water industries to a botanist, she realised that it was home to over 120 species of plants. “That is quite impressive. A lot of pastures are not as nearly as diverse,” she explained. “The field had never been improved and there is a wet bit with marsh marigold and meadow sweet. Probably the rarest thing in there is the flat sedge. That has declined nationally and the Kennel Field is a hot spot in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.”
She began dreaming of protecting the field and discussed her ideas with some of the villagers, including Aysgarth and District parish councillor and local farmer, John Dinsdale. As a child he had played there with his friends and so the idea of the field being special was a novel one.
What did concern him was that the old kennels were becoming so unsafe. “They were a danger to kids – because they used to play on the roof and that could have fallen through.” And they might then have been impaled on the old railings.
He added:“The barn and the mash house were going to fall down if they didn’t have something done to them. It’s a lovely spot now and it’s canny you can go up there and sit on the seat and enjoy it.”
That transformation came about because Deborah realised that funds might be available through the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT) after it was set up in 1996. But first she needed the landowner’s permission to demolish the kennels. To her surprise the owner, Arthur Metcalfe, suggested they should buy the field. And so the Kennel Field Trust was born with John as its chairman. The many hours he, Deborah and other members of the management group spent working in that field counted as match funding.
Deborah put the project forward to the YDMT to be included in its application to the Millennium Commission. “The Kennel Field ticked all the boxes for the Millennium Commission,” explained David Sharrod, the YDMT director. “It came from the community, it was wild life and it was restoring historical sites. It was one of the first we managed to fund and certainly one of the first that we made work.”
The YDMT not only allocated some of the Lottery funds to the Kennel Field Trust but also obtained some European funding for the project. In addition to a small grant from the Yorkshire Agricultural Society the Kennel Field Trust also received a grant from the ESA Conservation Plan and that was used to purchase the field.
But back in Thornton Rust it wasn’t all plain sailing. There were some who were very suspicious and were worried that the Kennel Field would become a financial burden on the small community. One who expressed his doubts was Colin Day. “Afterwards I felt I had done wrong and I thought I would chip in and do a bit,” he said.
He certainly did chip in for he set himself the task of cleaning the lime mortar off of 100 bricks a day. “I chipped away at many, many thousands. It was snowing at times and it was jolly cold.” John would regularly drive a tractor to the field to knock down more of the roofing and Colin helped to demolish the walls. Others did help with cleaning the bricks and slowly they accumulated 8,800 which were sold to the builder who was restoring the barn.
That bit of extra money helped as Deborah hadn’t budgeted for buying good quality Northerly calcareous mix of seeds to restore the land where the kennels had been. The verges along the lane to the village were also reseeded as so much had been swept away by flooding before the new culvert was installed. The breeze blocks from the kennel runs were crushed and used to create the bridge over that culvert.
The rich mix of wild flowers in the Kennel Field had come about because Arthur Metcalfe had only grazed cattle there. Sheep would have damaged many of those plants explained John. Now a local farmer grazes her cattle there just twice a year the first period being for six weeks from June 1 – after that glorious display of wood anemones, marsh marigolds, cowslips and early purple orchids.
The cattle return after the summer flowering of plants like scabious and ox-eye daisies. “They graze it again in the autumn just to take all the growth off. It would just form a mass of dead material and the little seedlings wouldn’t be able to get through,” Deborah explained.
With so little grazing the field could easily become overgrown with hawthorn bushes if Deborah didn’t regularly weed out newcomers. Ragwort has no place there for the members of the management group pulled so many out in the first few years after the Kennel Field was officially opened in 2000. These were stored in the mash house until they were dry enough to burn.
The management group organises a maintenance day each Spring when woodwork is treated, injurious weeds like dock are pulled out and there is a general tidy up. Other jobs have included putting up a fence to stop calves going into the lime kiln and damaging it.
There wasn’t that much to do until someone realised a few years ago that a corner of the barn was sinking. John explained that the marshy area was increasing in size as it was being fed by a stream flowing down the field near the barn. So some of the villagers installed a drainage pipe.
“We do need a small steady income to maintain the two buildings, the gates and some fencing,” Deborah commented. That income has come from the ESA scheme since the field was bought but that ended in 2014. So now those on the management committee are looking for ways to cover this shortfall. For they are determined that many others in the future will be able to sit on that seat and share in that Wow factor.
Deborah reported in November 2017 that sadly the black grouse was no longer using the field’s hawthorn tree.