Looking across the Vale from the top of Berkhampstead Field
Berkhampstead Field Community Meadow is located next to Nashleigh Hill Recreation Ground off Vale Road and is just over 2 ha in size. The meadow is managed as a chalk grassland habitat in partnership with Chesham and District Natural History Society (CDNHS) and is a designated Local Wildlife Site. The field has been recorded as containing 38 wildflowers species and 12 grasses, including some key chalk grassland species. Seven butterfly species have been found there, including the dinghy skipper, which is declining in range in the UK.
In the 19th Century, the field was part of Vale Farm owned by James Gurney of Chalfont St. Giles. In 1890, he sold three parcels of land including what is now Berkhampstead Field and Nashleigh Hill recreation ground to Sir Edward Watkin MP and Henry Pochin. Watkin and Pochin purchased the land on behalf of the Metropolitan Railway Company, as part of a planned extension to the railway from Chesham.
The proposed railway extension never happened, and in 1922 Chesham Urban District Council leased the land as a recreation ground. An attempt by the Council to purchase the land in 1939 was refused, but they finally bought the 9.7 acres of land comprising Berkhampstead Field and Nashleigh Hill recreation ground in 1950 for £1000. The Council dedicated the land as a Public Open Space in 1955, which was passed to Chesham Town Council in 1974 during local government reorganisation.
The field was grazed by cattle belonging to a local farmer through an informal agreement between the 1940s and 2008. When the farmer retired, the field initially underwent amenity grass cutting to keep the field "looking tidy". A member of the public alerted the Council to the potential of the field as a chalk grassland habitat. 80% of naturally managed chalk grassland has been lost from this country since World War Two, making the site potentially very important for wildlife. The Town Council teamed up with CDNHS in 2010 to trial a more natural approach to the site's management. The grass is now cut once a year and the cuttings are taken away to ensure that the soil nutrient levels are poor; a key ingredient for a diverse grassland. The new management system has enabled the wildflowers and grasses to flourish, culminating in the designation of the field as a Local Wildlife Site.
Left: a bee orchid found in the field