Rising to over 700 feet, the Bromyard Downs dominate the local area and form an impressive backdrop to the market town of Bromyard.
Bromyard Downs Common is a 114ha registered common. It has long been common land, manorial waste of the ancient Manor of Bromyard, and has for generations provided an agricultural resource for the local farming community, as well as a place of recreation, both formal and informal, for the local community and visitors alike. Indeed, the unimproved nature of the Downs attracts walkers from near and far who come to enjoy its peace and wildlife.
The Bromyard Downs are a dominating feature of the landscape, a long s-shaped hill, rising to over 700 feet, with a westerly/south westerly aspect. From its dramatic summit the whole of the ancient manor unfolds on all sides. It forms a key part of an important historic and ecological landscape being linked to the Brockhampton Estate (Registered Parkland) through Warren Wood, and to the nearby extensive Bringsty Common. As such it is part of an important living landscape that links into the nearby Suckley Hills and on to the Malverns. The Downs provide a stunning backdrop to Bromyard town, and have been an intrinsic, and inextricable, part of its history and development.
Flora and fauna
Ecologically Bromyard Downs is one of Herefordshire’s jewels. Its size alone is important – but it is the mosaic and diversity of habitats that makes it special nowadays. This means that the Downs support a rich insect fauna, including the increasingly rare glow worm, as well as strong colonies of several butterfly species, such as the marbled white, and green hairstreak. Its habitats and topography mean that it also acts as an important stopping-off point for migrating birds such as stone chat, wheatear and meadow pipit. Declining and rarer bird species including cuckoo, bullfinch, marsh tit, lesser spotted and green woodpecker, woodcock, and stock dove are all present. It also supports good breeding populations of farmland birds including yellowhammer and linnet.
Although some of the Downs has been invaded by scrub, the flora still includes some traditional grassland species such as harebell, yellow rattle, timothy grass, and thousands of common spotted and early purple orchid (amongst others), in extensive flower-meadows; gorse and heather also make up relict heathland patches with rarities like adders tongue fern persisting in wet pockets on clay; other slopes are covered in bracken. The adjoining woodland is predominantly oak. Springs and a couple of ponds provide wetland interest – although these were once more extensive. This, plus the presence of pockets of heathland, means that the Downs hold breeding populations of frogs, toads and all three species of newt; as well as a strong population of common lizard, grass snake and a small population of the fast disappearing adder.
History of the Downs
Historically, the Downs have had a complex and chequered past, its heyday probably being in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Very little is known about the ancient history of the Downs but it has long been common land, manorial waste used by local farmers for grazing their animals and, to a lesser extent, growing their crops in times of need. The open aspect of the Downs has been preserved because it is a Registered Common, but despite that there are over 100 properties around the hill, mostly built in the 1800s. A Scheme for the Regulation and Management for the common was approved in 1951 under s1 of the Commons Act 1899. The Scheme covers two other commons: Bringsty and Badley Wood. The common is owned by Herefordshire Council, but managed by a local committee.
The Common has 88 registered Commoners who hold a range of rights: 86 rights of pasture – grazing rights – include sheep, cattle, horses, donkeys, goats, pigs, geese, hens and ducks! Other rights held include 26 of estovers – to collect underwood and small branches, bracken and gorse; and nine of turbary – to dig turf or peat to use as fuel! All the registered Commoners are by de facto members of Bromyard Downs Common Association.
But the Downs haven’t only been grazing land for local’s livestock! Over the years there has been quarrying, tile and brick making, drovers stopping points, rifle butts, a golf course, a Mercian Maquis resistance organisation operational bunker, a school and many pubs and cider houses! It has provided income, employment, education, refreshment and recreation for locals and visitors from near and afar. Perhaps the best known sporting feature was the racecourse which, during Victorian times, had annual meetings that attracted people from as far as Birmingham. It is thought that the racecourse was built by soldiers returning from the Napoleonic Wars in 1815-16, and had nearly a century of action.
Though much is known about the history of the area, there are still many unanswered questions that need investigation and exploration, for example who remembers the elephants that gave the local kids rides in the town, and where exactly is the World War II secret resistance organisations bunker and what remains of it?
Today the Downs are still a draw for thousands of people, and the local community value the Downs for the quality of life they bring. However, Bromyard Downs Common is slowly declining as a wildlife resource. Grazing, the traditional management has all but ceased and the hay/bracken cutting that is undertaken is done in a relatively haphazard way.
Managing the Common today
In 2012, after a major review of the management of the Common by the Council, a Commons Association in line with national good practice was established. This was formalised, through its publically-available Constitution, as a transparent, independent, democratic group – “balancing the rights and needs of members – the Commoners and residents of the Downs, as well as the interests of the many users of the Common from Bromyard and beyond; and the parallel need to manage the area for wildlife – recognising how important it is for animals and plants that are declining in the wider countryside.” The Bromyard Downs Common Management Association (BDCA) was formed.
(Taken from the Herefordshire Nature Trust website: www.herefordshirewt.org)