THESE LANDSCAPE ARTICLES

These landscape articles come from the Fyfield and West Overton Parish landscape group. We are an informal group made up of anyone who is interested and always keen to hear your comments. If you would like to join us you would be very welcome. Meetings take place round the kitchen table with a glass of wine! Some years ago we were the first parish in Kennet district to get up a village design statement. That project opened our eyes to the history we see every day in the buildings around us and made us think " why only the buildings ?" Here we have a landscape etched over and over with the patterns of previous lives. We live in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but we hardly ever think how it got that way. Most of us see it through a windscreen, unlike our forefathers who worked the land, but we all love it and want to protect it. These magazine articles are a way of thinking aloud about what we value.

A countryside management scheme
Over the last few months landowners and farmers have been busy form filling to comply with and sign up to the new Common Agricultural Policy rules. To put it simply, in the past support payments were linked to production and to livestock headage plus additional payments under schemes such as Countryside Stewardship. In the future matters will be very different.
Byways and minor roads
As well as hosting a roman road, during the Saxon and Medieval periods the present network of lanes evolved. These wound from settlement to settlement, often along river valleys. The King's Special Peace was granted to the main crossing streets in villages and market towns during the 11th Century.
Dark Skies. A study in light pollution in the Upper Kennet Valley
Light is enshrined deep in our consciousness and our language as a thing to be sought. It stands in metaphor for safety, knowledge and spiritual salvation. No wonder it is such a latecomer to the list of statutory nuisances. Meanwhile moonlight fades in landscapes of permanant half light.
Farming in Fyfield and West Overton
During World War II everything was sacrificed: money, men and materials. At the end the country was bankrupt and exhausted. The euphoria following the General Election of 1945 faded into five years of austerity. Bread, unrationed during the war, became rationed. As late as 1951 coupons were still required for animal feed.
Landscape Setting, Environment and Wildlife
The parish of West Overton with Fyfield is pear shaped with the pointed end to the North. Bisecting the pear centrally is the River Kennet valley running West to East. Dry valleys cut into the chalk on either side of the river lead north west up to West Overton and Fyfield Downs and south west towards West Woods. Somewhat protected within the river valley folds, where there was also a reliable water source, lie the three villages West Overton, Lockeridge and Fyfield.
Pre-history of the Valley
Following the end of the last glaciation, some ten thousand years ago, forests spread across southern Britain. The people who inhabited them were hunter-gatherers whose presence is indicated by the flint tools they left behind: in the immediate area the naturally occurring flint of the West Woods seems to have been especially important for tool-making.
Re-alignment of the river Kennet at West Overton
 During the 1970s the river was artificially straightened at the same time as a livestock bridge was constucted. A deep pool was also lost. This pool was important because it provided a temporary refuge for fish when the river ran dry. ARK has been supporting the case to realign this stretch of river to its natural course.
Memories of the River Kennet
All the young ‘uns used to learn to swim in the six foot deep pools by the hatches of the water meadow and we’d all build dams to make them even deeper. The stream was full of fish, Sticklebacks, crested newts, frogspawn and once even a 10lb trout! Kingfishers too were a familiar sight.
The formation of the dry valleys in the Upper Kennet region
Sarsens are scattered widely over the downs but they are most dramatic seen lying along the dry valleys leading to the river Kennet. The name sarsen may come from Anglo Saxon ’sar sten“ a troublesome stone, or from ’saracen “meaning foreign or alien. Locally they are called grey wethers because, in the half-light, they are said to look like sheep.
The Great West Road
The highways in our Parishes do not in themselves visually affect the landscape in any major way, but roads are as intrinsic a part of our landscape as rivers and trees.  It is while travelling along them most people view their surroundings on a day to day basis and as a consequence they affect our perception of the landscape.
The history and beauty of west woods
The Woods are set high (600ft) above the valley. Looking down to the North, we can see the villages nestling below; the A4 traffic is a moving strip in mid-horizon, and Fyfield Down stretches out almost bare in its patchwork of large open fields beyond. Natural folds in the Downs give a wonderful feeling of space without appearing as bleak, say, as the larger Downs to our West (towards Devizes) or further South in the County.
The stone masons of the Upper Kennet Valley 
In the mid 19th century stonemasons working in the High Wycombe area heard of the plentiful supply of sarsens in our valleys, and moved to Fyfield. Unlike the stones near High Wycombe, which had to be dug up from the clay, ours lay conveniently on the surface.
Wildlife in the Valley

 I and my family came to the valley in late 1970, after one of the big factors that caused a very rapid decline in the wild bird population had already occurred. I refer to the severe winter of 1963-64 snow, freezing and icy winds lasted over two months and icy snow was still in some places until June. I think the worst hit wild bird was the Grey Partridge, thousands froze to death from starvation and until this day it is quite a rare sight to see a covey of Partridge. For many years, shooting and game syndicates refrained from shooting them.
The Water Meadows
The river has been managed as a resource since at least the 10th century when there is a reference in the East Overton charter to a series of offtakes at Uferan Tun. These could have been for drainage but may have been an early form of irrigation.
The most intensive management of the river came with the construction of the water meadows, a feature of chalk streams all over Wiltshire. West Overton is one of the few places where they have not been destroyed and although fallen into decay they still bear witness to an agricultural innovation that enriched the county for several centuries.