GWT coronavirus update: during this difficult time, we know how important it is to get outdoors for fresh air, exercise and to immerse yourself in nature. Please visit with sensitivity and care, and adhere to government guidelines.
The cafe and discovery barn are shut between October half term and Easter, but there are still plenty of reasons to visit this fantastic site.
About Greystones Farm
Greystones Farm is home to Salmonsbury Meadows Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). These ancient meadows are home to an incredible diversity of wildflowers and provide a habitat for many insects, butterflies, birds and mammals. In the spring and summer you will see great burnet, southern marsh orchids, early marsh orchids, ragged robin, devil’s-bit scabious, meadowsweet, knapweed and yellow rattle. These flowers support butterflies including orange-tip, meadowbrown, brimstone, small copper and ringlet. We are also working to restore the hay meadows which were damaged from the 1940s onwards, with the aim to bring local wildflowers back to these areas of Greystones.
The rivers that run through Greystones are full of wildlife. Alongside the River Eye you can listen for water voles rustling among dense vegetation, as well as the distinctively ‘plop’ when they enter the water. This species is severely endangered, through loss of habitat and predation by mink, but thanks to Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, Greystones now has one of the largest populations in the Cotswolds. Stretches of riverbank have been fenced off to encourage vegetation, for them and the otters that regularly travel the river. In this wonderful habitat tiny fish can be seen all year, but invertebrates like freshwater shrimps and mayfly nymphs hide away under pebbles and banks. Watch in early summer for flamboyant banded and beautiful demoiselles and for other species later. A glimpse of a kingfisher is possible!
We’ve also created habitats and homes for bats, owls and other birds around the farm and visitor centre. Common and soprano pipistrelles, Natterer’s bats, long-eared bats and lesser horseshoe bats roost above the Discovery Barn and barn owls roost in the office building. Around the farm, swallows and house martens nest in the barn eaves and pied wagtails stalk the rooves looking for insects.
Greystones has long been known as important archaeological site and is protected as a Scheduled Monument
Since the end of the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago, the River Eye and River Dickler have run through this valley. Underlying clays kept the water table high and marshland soon formed. Layers of decaying marsh plants accumulated over millennia, gradually forming peaty black alluvial soils.
Around 6,000 years ago our Neolithic ancestors arrived in the area, clearing the dense woodland to farm. Recent geophysical surveys have discovered fragmented concentric ditches which are characteristic of a Neolithic causewayed enclosure. From 6,000 to 5,500 years ago these early meeting places served several important functions, from corralling cattle to seasonal feasts and rituals associated with the dead.
3,000 years ago, in the late Iron Age, this area was well populated and farmed, with a community close by. Around 100BC an impressive new hillfort was built here – 23ha (57 acres), spacious and square, with huge double banks and ditches and large ‘annexe’ adjoining the marsh. The hillfort included the Neolithic monument – perhaps of ‘ancestral’ importance. Construction of this community (perhaps more for status than defence) required massive resources.
Shortly after 43AD the Romans secured an apparently peaceful takeover and constructed the Fosse Way. The hillfort became obsolete, but much Romano-British evidence survives on the western side. Now levelled after 2,000 years, it is hard to visualise this formidable hillfort. Yet Anglo-Saxon place-names and later descriptions suggest it was an outstanding feature for many centuries.
When preparing for the foundations of the new farm and visitor structures, several Iron Age burial pits were discovered. The skeletons and several other finds are stored in The Corinium museum in Cirencester.
The land around Greystones has been used for the past 6000 years to produce food. However, farming as we understand it today, could have started here in Anglo-Saxon times when an area, known as ‘The Moors’, is thought to have been cultivated.
The Anglo-Saxon name ‘The Moors’ implies an area of little value, too wet to make good meadows. However, an Anglo-Saxon first mentioned Sulmonnesburg – the ploughman’s ‘burh’, a fortified enclosure, in 779AD. Is it possible that early attempts, perhaps by wealthy Evesham Abbey (the landowners), were made to drain The Moors as early at 700AD.
It is thought most likely that the meadow was drained when it was enclosed as fields, between 1620 and 1774. Prior to this, The Berryfields (one of Bourton’s three Open Fields) were farmed in unfenced strips. On the shallow hill-fort soils, these fields would not have needed draining. The 1774 Enclosures Award Map shows the River Eye as arrow-straight and tight-angled, probably diverted at that time to accelerate drainage from new field-boundary ditches.
Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust bought the farm in 3 stages between the years 1999 and 2001 with the aim of demonstrating that farming practices and wildlife enhancement need not be exclusive endeavours.
Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust joined forces with Simon Weaver Organic to establish a working dairy cattle herd at Greystones. Simon Weaver created a new organis single Gloucester cheese using the milk from the rare breed Gloucester cattle, which is available to buy in the café.
Through the installation of the ‘Freedom Milking Parlour’, with its’ robotic milker, the cows have the choice to graze freely in the meadows, or return to the parlour for milking and feed. The milk is transported to Simon Weaver’s Creamery, where it is then used to make this heritage cheese. The herd are essential in the day to day management of the farm and the safeguarding of its wild-flower meadows and wildlife.