Wildlife memories from World War I

Remembrance Day this year is particularly poignant because 2014 marks the centenary of the beginning of World War I. The team here at Folly have been looking back at recollections of Folly Farm during the world war periods, which gives an insight into the lives of the people who stayed at home to work the land.

The Masters family were tenant farmers just before the start of World War I. Their daughters Mabel and Lucy were born at the farm and when war broke out they swiftly went to work milking the cows, due to the shortage of men to work on the farm. Mabel married a local farmer after obtaining her Butter Certificate from the Somerset County Butter School!

During World War II, farmers were encouraged to plough up as much land as possible and many acres of Folly Wood were felled, to be replanted later by Italian prisoners of war. The last tenant farmers were the Stevens family, who moved in after the Battle of Britain and remained until the Sutton Court Estate was sold in 1986. The late Ken Stevens recalled those days for us several years ago.

“It was September 1940. The first time I went to Folly Farm, it was raining like mad. I was nine years old and all I could see was water gushing down the gullies, a cart road with great ruts in it.  My father and brothers had come down to repair the fences so myself and another lad went into the outhouses and played conkers! I didn’t think much of the place that day but I lived there for 47 years and I wandered around the farm day and night, in all wind and weathers and I certainly changed my mind! For a child, it was a great place to grow up”.

Folly Farm has come a long way since those days but many elements stay the same, as the land hasn’t been sprayed or intensively ploughed, meaning the landscape is virtually untouched, allowing wildlife to thrive. The 250-acre nature reserve has changed little, meaning wildflower meadows (now rare in the UK) are awash with colour in summer and wildlife such as barn owls, woodpeckers, buzzards and badgers thrive. Folly Farm is now Folly Farm Centre, a busy wildlife education centre and event venue but one thing remains the same, both now and during World War I – the wildlife at Folly Farm still delights all the people that visit! And with the help of Avon Wildlife Trust and the support of members, it will continue to do so for future generations.

Garrick Webster