Scratchy Bottom returns to state of natural space: A farmer is being paid to return arable land to primitive meadow. Oliver Gillie reports

PAUL SIMPSON was a baby when his father first ploughed Scratchy Bottom, a field on their farm in south Dorset, to provide food for post-war Britain. Now Scratchy Bottom is being returned to its primitive state of meadowland decorated with blossom.

Each year thousands of visitors trail across the farm near Lulworth Cove to visit Durdle Door - a strange outcrop of Portland stone which forms a natural arch joining the cliffs to the sea. And thousands more walk the coastal path that runs from Weymouth to Poole harbour, along 300ft cliffs overlooking Durdle Door.

Mr Simpson's farm is 750 acres of mostly arable land on which he grows wheat, rape and peas, and keeps some sheep. Scratchy Bottom and another small field, comprising in all 25 acres, form part of a valley overlooking the sea, most of the land too steep to cultivate. The valley has been farmed since at least the Bronze Age and the shape of the ancient fields and burial mounds can still be seen when the light is right.

The fields are registered as an ancient monument, as well as being a site of special scientific interest, and an area of outstanding natural beauty. The Countryside Commission, under its stewardship scheme, is paying Mr Simpson to return the fields to meadowland and give the public full access. 'In one generation we have gone full circle,' Mr Simpson said. 'My father was paid incentives to plough the fields up and I am now being paid incentives to manage the land in an environmentally sensitive way.' The commission is paying him pounds 5,315 for what he will lose by not growing cereals.

Scratchy Bottom will be re-seeded with meadow grasses and flowers while the other cultivated field will be allowed to regenerate naturally. Mr Simpson will have to stop using fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides to allow the old downland flora to re-establish itself.

The land will have to be grazed at the right times, cattle in spring followed by sheep, so that the grasses can seed themselves naturally and the sward is kept in the right condition. 'When I stop using fertilisers the rye grass which we seeded there will be replaced by the meadow grasses and flowers,' Mr Simpson said.

The ancient fields will return to prime sward - the condition they were in 100 years ago. It is not their natural state, which is much rougher. But there will be patches of rough grass at the cliff edge where cows and sheep are prevented from grazing lest they fall over the edge. And there a rare butterfly, the Lulworth skipper, can be expected to flourish, free of any insecticides.

(Photograph omitted)

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