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Battlemead Common: 'The whole place is a total escape'

Battlemead Common has been in the news a lot recently for several disputes over land access. Despite disagreements, each person connected with the council-owned piece of land, off Lower Cookham Road, shares a love for the place. Reporter Kieran Bell spoke to a few of these people for their thoughts on what Battlemead means to them.

“Even if you don't see anything, just to sit and be out there with the wildlife, is unbelievable.”

On furlough with a camera and a keen eye for wildlife, Cookham-based photographer Mick Vogel has been making the most of his frequent visits to the delicate piece of countryside located just off the Lower Cookham Road, known as Battlemead Common.

“I have been there every single day during lockdown, getting there for 3.30am, 4am,” Mick said.

“I think I would have gone crazy without it.”

Much has been made of the recent disagreements over public access on the council-owned land in between Maidenhead and Cookham.

A masterplan produced by the council was heavily criticised last month, forcing the Royal Borough to press pause on its plans and consult relevant wildlife groups first.

Despite clear differences of opinion, each person concerned with Battlemead share one ‘common’ ground – a love for beautiful places.

Speaking to the Advertiser while filming red kites at the top of Winter Hill near Cookham, Mick adds: “The place itself, and the wildlife side of it, is absolutely stunning. The whole place is a total escape.”

A Mandarin duck in the Battlemead grass (Mick Vogel Photography).

Wildlife is a key component of Battlemead. Nearly 70 bird species have been recorded there recently, including eight on the Red List of Conservation Concern birds – in other words, bird species at serious risk.

A further 16 are on the lower risk amber list.

Battlemead is partly water meadow and provides a winter site for visiting ducks and geese, while in the summer it homes visiting and resident birds.

Insects and mammals also frequent the land – like the dragonfly, roe deer and otters – as well as a mix of trees, grasses and wildflowers.

Mike Copland, of the nature group WildCookham, has been a key supporter of preserving precious habitats at Battlemead.

“We are losing species at a frightening rate,” he said.

“It is going, and it is down to us, as a result of our wishes and demands.

“When I look at Battlemead, it seems to me as though it has come to us at a time when we are all looking at this and getting worried about it.

“It just seems to be screaming out to us saying: ‘here I am, I am here to help you readdress the balance’.”

A roe deer with its fawn (Mick Vogel Photography).

He added: “People will look at it and say: ‘it is just a bit of grass’, but what we have to understand is what goes on below that level.

“What we have got there is a mixture of habitats – you have grassland, wetland, the stream and the ecology that goes with that.

“The floodplain area which is mainly in the East Field is a habitat that is becoming increasingly rare across Britain as a whole.”

Battlemead was, until its acquisition in 2018 by the Royal Borough, part of White Place Farm.

Such is the enthusiasm around the future of the space, a group called the ‘Friends of Battlemead Common’ was formed to provide a forum for those interested in its management.

It had been farmed by the Edwards family and was previously part of the Cliveden estate, owned by the Astor family until the 1940s.

In earlier times, it was partly common land and had also supposedly been a site of battles in the English Civil War in the mid 17th century and between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings in the ninth century.

Lord Astor gave Cliveden House to the National Trust in 1943 and at the same time placed covenants on the White Place Farm land, protecting the views from the house across the river. These covenants are still in place.

Mike said: “We have to move away from the assumption that nature is an amenity to do with it as we see fit.

“We have moved from being a part of nature, to being apart from it.”

Steve Gillions, from the walking group East Berkshire Ramblers, enjoys the scenery at Battlemead and the fact it provides a ‘link in the chain’ for both the annual Boundary Walk and Millennium Walk, a joint project with the Maidenhead Civic Society.

Battlemad affords him an opportunity to enjoy views across to Cliveden on the other side of the River Thames, and watch birds as they fly overhead.

He shares the view that wildlife should be protected, and hopes a fair conclusion can be reached soon.

“The linkage is important, as are the views, particularly to Cliveden. It is a link in the chain,” he said.

“You appreciate what you are walking through and past, as well as just walking, and I think that is where the common ground is.

“It is about getting a sensible plan for it and working on it together so we make sure it stays attractive and sustainable. It is about finding the common ground and focusing on that.

“The fact is, Battlemead is evolving as time goes on, and we need to work together to make sure that it heads overall in the right direction.

“I think there is less difference between us than sometimes we think.”

However the council intends to go about formulating its next plan for Battlemead, the area will continue to be special for all of those using it, either for 3.30am wake-up calls, or a gentle stroll.

A red fox exploring Battlemead (Mick Vogel Photography)

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