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Tony Cook at the new Wildlife Garden (©AAH/Alan Wright)

Chesworth Farm is a popular, scenic escape for many Horsham residents. Although only a 10-minute walk from the town centre, the Council-owned site offers unspoilt rural views and an abundance of flora and fauna, making it a wonderful place for families to explore. Last month, a new wildlife garden and viewing platform were opened, improving the experience for visitors and encouraging more animals to the 90-acre farm. AAH visited to find out more…



The proposal for the wildlife garden was mooted to the Friends of Chesworth Farm – a group of volunteers who help maintain the site – back in 2022. Tony Cook’s idea was to transform an area around the Volunteer Centre, which had been largely neglected and was overrun by brambles. As well as volunteering at Chesworth, Tony is involved in several other groups that help improve or create natural habitats, including Horsham Green Gym and Gatwick Greenspace Partnership. However, it was a home project that he looked to replicate on the farm. ‘During lockdown, I devoted my garden entirely to encouraging wildlife,’ said Tony. That is essentially what we’ve done at Chesworth. We have increased plant diversity and re-used or recycled materials to help attract animals. Our hope is that people will walk around the garden and see features they could replicate at home.’


The garden was officially declared opened on Saturday 13 May, with Baroness Kate Parminter on ribbon-cutting duties. Friends and guests, including Jane Eaton, Chief Executive of Horsham District Council, explored the garden’s features, which represent about 600 hours of the volunteers’ time. Tony said: ‘There is nothing flashy about the garden. We have created a small, raised pond out of an old bath that we rescued from the River Arun, and a bog marsh that is already attracting amphibians. We’ve made log piles for creepy crawlies and used deadwood to attract stag beetles. The bug hotel is the one that used to be at Warnham Local Nature Reserve, and we have also made a compost heap out of old pallets. Hidden under a mound is a hibernaculum, an underground chamber that provides a habitat for amphibians and reptiles in the colder months. For this, we have used concrete benches that were previously in The Forum, filling spaces in-between with hardcore and wood to give wildlife the ideal spot in which to hunker down. Another feature is a ‘rocket beehive’, which mimics a hollow to attract bees and hornets.’


New plants have been introduced with the same aim of encouraging wildlife, including two planters made from park benches with rotten legs. Five fruit trees have been planted, all growing Sussex varieties including Green Custard (an apple tree originally grown at J. Cheal & Sons of Crawley), Doctor Hogg, an apple tree dating back to the Victorian era at Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens, and Crawley Beauty, another variety from Cheal’s. Brambles have been cut back (although some has been kept to attract certain species) while plant specimens growing elsewhere on the site have been added to the garden to maintain a native theme. Tony said: ‘Several of the Friends’ group have hedge laying experience, so we built a dead hedge that’s good for invertebrates, birds, frogs and small mammals. Already, we have already seen an abundance of species, including slow worms, grass snakes and newts. We keep a record of the flora and fauna sighted, and the signs are very encouraging. It might not be the prettiest garden, but it’s an example of how we can all do small things to help wildlife.’ 

'David Attenborough’s Wild Isles not only highlighted the diversity of the UK’s wildlife, but also how depleted our habitats have become. It also showed how we can engage with wildlife on a local level, which is what we’re doing here. There is no guarantee that any one pile of logs or small pond will attract a hedgehog, a newt, a snake, or anything at all, but if we make 100 of them, it’ll certainly make a difference. If we’re able to work with neighbours to create wildlife corridors between gardens, then that’s even better, as connectivity is hugely important.’


In addition to the garden, improvements have been made to part of Chesworth Farm that links with the Horsham Riverside Walk. The Riverside Walk is a 13-mile loop that goes around the town (generally following the Arun). A boggy section at Parlour Mead has been undergoing improvements, funded by developer contributions to the Council and also donations from the Friends. This project includes a new viewing platform, offering views of Parlour Mead and Tip Field, as well as three new ponds created by The Environment Agency. 

 Tim Thomas, a member of the Friends and local ornithologist, said: ‘These ponds are all different and attract a variety of species. One utilises drainage water from surrounding fields, another is fed by streams and ditches, and the third will be filled by rain water, as there’s evidence to suggest newts do particularly well in such an environment. They’re not going to be beautifully landscaped, as we’re allowing nature to take course. However, we have planted two black poplar trees, donated by Wakehurst. I hope that we will eventually see newts and birds such as herons, egrets and woodcocks at these ponds. Horsham District Council has livestock animals that roam parts of the farm too. They will help shape the landscape by grazing and disturbing soil around the water’s edge, which aids regeneration and promotes biodiversity.’ 


One of the challenges faced by HDC’s Parks and Countryside Rangers, and indeed the Friends of Chesworth Farm, is balancing public access against the need to protect wildlife. The new path and viewing platform are an improvement on what came before, with people previously having to walk through a wet and boggy part of the site. On the flip side, consideration must be given to the potential impact on wildlife and birds, including the common whitethroat, which nests nearby. 

Tim Thomas said: ‘Chesworth is a wonderful place, as it’s a free space that the public can explore and enjoy. However, more people and more dogs cause more disruption, so we’re mindful of that. We have a good balance at the moment, and species are thriving here. We’ve seen barn owls nesting on the site and the new viewing platform gives people a chance to catch a glimpse of them in flight, without imposing on their nest. As long as visitors continue to be respectful, we hope we will see even more species flourishing here.’ 

Words: Ben Morris / Photos: Alan Wright 

Further information: www. horsham.gov.uk/parks-and-countryside/chesworth-farm