The site is a series of three fields, much of it designated as a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) especially for its wide variety of plants.
The two biggest fields on the site comprising the SSSI are called Big Pilch and Little Pilch. The former has a variety of habitats – ridge and furrow grassland (the first to be seen on leaving the entrance field), a limestone bank, spring-fed wetland, a fen, scrub and a stream at its western boundary. This stream continues into Little Pilch where there is a larger, spring-fed fen, and a larger area of limestone grassland as well as wet and dry neutral grassland. Overall, this wide variety of habitats favours a large number of flowering plant species, several of which are rare or scarce within Buckinghamshire – well over 200 have been recorded.
The smallest field, adjacent to the road, is not part of the SSSI and is only used for the addition of supplementary feeding for livestock. Cattle graze the whole site from June to September, after which the rough growth is ‘topped’ (mown high). Fencing of the boundary and maintenance of its fine hedgerows are carried out by The Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) which owns the site.
For many years these fields were owned by Buckinghamshire County Council and farmed from Coombs Farm, north of Adstock. They were bought by what is now BBOWT in 1984 and are managed by them using grazing cattle from nearby farms. The Trust also carries out the ‘topping’ and hedge maintenance.
What to look for
The fields are at their most spectacular in May when the Cowslips on the tops of the ridge and furrow grassland are at their best. At the same time, Green-winged Orchids are present on the furrow slopes. The wetter areas flower a bit later, as do the most interesting limestone species.
Look for Meadowsweet, Marsh Marigold, Marsh Valerian and also Dropwort, Saw-wort and Pignut.
In the past, Turtle Doves were heard and there have also been sightings of other rarities like Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammer.
Pignut is the food plant for the caterpillars of the day-flying Chimney Sweeper Mothand occasionally the adults of this moth may be seen.
A variety of butterflies, such as Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper, is often abundant and sometimes Dragonflies or Damselflies are seen in late summer.
Yellow Meadow-ants have produced many hills in the drier areas.
Pilch Fields species glossary
The scientific names of all the species mentioned for Pilch Fields can be found in order of appearance in this species glossary.
How to get there
The entrance to the site is through a kissing gate near the sharp, right-angle bend in Pilch Lane at SP749321 – (see OS Explorer map 192 or OS Landranger map 152). From the north, Pilch Lane can be accessed from the A421 approximately 5 km (three miles) east of Buckingham or from the south-east via Great Horwood. There is no specific car park but plenty of space is available for vehicles on the road (but be sure to avoid parking close to the bend itself). There are no designated paths on the site so the whole area may be explored. The ground is sloping and uneven so is unsuitable for wheelchairs and the like. The wide variety of habitats means that some are permanently wet, whilst others are dry; good footwear is required. When the cattle are grazing, many of the colourful wild flowers are past their best so if you wish to see the best of the flowers or avoid cattle, choose an alternative time.
Unfortunately, public transport offers no convenient means of getting to the site.
Places of interest nearby
There aren’t really any other sites of great wildlife interest in the immediatearea although Thornborough Community Woodland is suitable for a walk, with a car park at Coombs (SP734320). Close by at SP733327, is Coombs Quarry, a geological SSSI, with good exposures of Blisworth Limestone. The limestone was formerly extracted as stone for building and rock for lime burning. Thornborough Mounds (tumuli) and a Medieval bridge over Claydon Brook (The Twins), are adjacent to the car park on the A421 at SP730332.