Cow Common

Aerial Photo of the common

The Common was formed as a once mightier River Test cut its way to the sea. The hills to the North and South of the valley would have marked the banks of the Test. In medieval times the Common was part of the Wherwell Priory and subsequently given to the Dean and Chapter of Winchester by Mary Tudor to assist in defraying the cost of her wedding in Winchester cathedral.These meadow lands were changed in the 17th and 18th centuries by the creation of what were called floating water meadows. The river waters were encouraged to flood the meadows via wide, shallow ditches, assisted by dams and sluces, so that the grass was nourished by river waters and protected from frosts. This made possible earlier lambing and increased sheep stocking, ensured a supply of hay in dry times, and where the land was ploughed, promoted the increased yield of corn. The two springs in the Northern part of the Common were dug out to improve the flooding of the adjacent land. In later times the Common was grazed by up to 50 head of cattle during the summer.So the natural formation of the valley land which forms the Common laid the basis, the soil types’ But the land was changed by man and these changes can be seen today in the wild life which has made its home here.The soil is a mixture of chalk and peat which can be found in different part of the Common and at differing depths. A very wide range of common and rare flowers and orchids are to be found, if you know where to look. As the moisture content changes so quickly the ground can become a patchwork of colours as different plants show their preferred place to live. Vivid Yellow Iris’s flower in the bottom of ditches and Cowslips flower in the chalk sides.

A large number of British birds are resident or visitors to the Common. However the increased use of the Common has resulted in the loss of ground nesting birds such as the Snipe and the Red Shank. The last Snipe probably nested in 1993 as it was seen “drumming” in the spring of that year. Skylarks, Sparrows, Lapwings have gone but Kestrels, Egret’s and now Red Kites can be seen and a Kingfisher breeds successfully in a garden adjoining the Common. The open nature of the Common attracts hawks, owls and buzzards have been seen eating rabbits. The many winter bird visitors seem to be more tolerant to the increasing use of the Common as they just take the food they need, rest and continue on their way.

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