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Upcoming projects

We have so much enthusiasm for the future of St Francis Fields which, with the involvement and support of our fellow parishioners, is full of potential.

Next steps include:

  • ‘change of use’ applications

  • increasing biodiversity

  • natural burial ground

The Parish Council has decided that with the help of St Francis Fields Community Interest Company, it needs to prepare a medium to longer-term strategy for the whole of St Francis Fields and, if necessary, to consult the Village on any significant projects particularly if they depart from the proposed use of the property at the time of its purchase in 2019 following the previous public consultations.


The vacation of the stables by the previous tenant means that consideration needs to be given to the part that the stables should or could play in that strategy. So, for the time being applications for the stables and the repurposing of the Hub are on hold because both parts of the site use the same access. However, the Council has asked the us to push ahead with the planning application for the Natural Burial Ground on one of the top fields.


In the meantime, it is likely that the Council will seek independent advice from a firm of land agents experienced in equestrian operations on the current and prospective demand for stables in the area and for these stables in particular, given highways and planning restrictions relating to this site.


At the same time, the Parish Council will be encouraging people and organisations to submit proposals for the use of the property. If proposals will involve planning applications for change of use from the Blue Cross use of the site as an animal sanctuary, they must be accompanied by pre-application advice from Rother District Council Planning and East Sussex County Council Highways Departments.

We are still planning to open The Yard of Ale, our pop-up pub, over the summer months again, and we have plans to improve bio-diversity at St Francis Fields. Here’s some background to this interesting project…


The UK is one of the world’s  most nature-depleted countries, set in the bottom 10% globally for biodiversity loss.  St Francis Fields offers our village the opportunity to help play a part in protecting and restoring this deficit, and the St Francis Fields Community Interest Company has this as a key objective. 

The St Francis Fields estate includes a part of Harlots Wood, a species-rich Ancient Woodland, and we aim to look after this gem, with its shaded woodland stream, colourful spring flowers, some mainly restricted to such old woodland, and veteran boundary trees.

Surrounding many of the fields and linking some of the woods are a network of hedges, which are in variable condition.  A project has started this spring to assess their quality and make recommendations for restoring any hedgerows that are derelict, and where beneficial, planting new lengths of hedge to link isolated habitats with these wildlife corridors.  This will help the CIC deliver the 10% (or more) net biodiversity gain which may be required when it applies for change of use on the land.

In addition, we aim to restore and recreate three threatened habitats on the estate: 

  • In this country, we have lost almost all of our old wildflower meadows, and this habitat occupies less than 1% of the Parish.  One of our fields has fragments of old flower-rich grassland with three species of orchid, and typical old meadow wildflowers such as adder’s-tongue fern, lesser knapweed and bird’s-foot trefoil.  We aim to restore this field to a vibrant hay meadow full of wildflowers, buzzing with insects and scuttling lizards.

  • Although Northiam has over 150 ponds, more than 50% of them are derelict, unmanaged, heavily shaded by trees and full of leaf-litter.  They are poor habitats for many species of pondlife, with all three St Francis Fields ponds in this state.  We will create two new ponds and manage the margins of some of the existing ones to let more light onto them.

  • The Parish has lost its traditional orchards, but Northiam Conservation Society has started to restore one around its last old tree, planting young heritage fruit and nut trees.  The next stage will be to restore more species-rich grassland on the land surrounding them.

We hope these projects will benefit the great crested newt (for which substantial funding from the Newt Conservation Partnership is available for 25 years to create and manage the habitats), the numerous bats that forage over the site, our existing small lizard and grass snake populations and help increase numbers of the butterflies that will eventually make their way into Northiam gardens.  But this project is also about you, the residents of the village.

We want to involve you in working groups to help plan the management of these habitats, and participate in surveys, led by Brian Banks, an ecologist living in the village. Brian will be offering group visits to look at habitats at St Francis Fields, and he runs a Facebook group “Northiam, naturally!“ that promotes nature conservation in the Parish which anyone can join.

Hopefully enhancing what we have will have a lasting benefit to the people that live here.

Natural burial ground

The Northiam cemetery, between Ewhurst Lane and the playing fields, has no room left. The Parish Council, in conjunction with Rother District Council, negotiated with the developers of the Donsmead estate to set aside a contribution of £50,000 which was originally specifically intended to extend the existing cemetery. It was not possible to encroach into the playing fields for legal and environmental reasons. Rother accepted that the fund could instead be used to improve burial facilities in the parish of Northiam and St Francis Fields would seem an ideal location for a natural burial ground. 

Field 7 has been suggested as the best place with a view over the church and the Weald. It lies outside the designated archeological notification area for Northiam. It would be accessed from Orchard Gate and a stone all-weather surface access road, turning circle and parking area would be provided from Main Street to the top of the access way. Two disabled parking spaces would be provided in addition to those for the undertaker and celebrant. Any other visitors will have to make use of the public car park next to the surgery, 50 metres away from the Orchard Gate entrance.

A new hedge/tree belt will be planted alongside Field 6 to screen funeral vehicles from the houses backing on to St Francis Fields.

Guidance will be produced and issued to the families of all those to be interred in the NBG and the undertakers relating to access for vehicles at the time of the burial and will also cover any subsequent visits by friends and relatives including those with mobility issues. This is likely to be by appointment with a member of whoever is managing the NBG on a day-to-day basis, to be agreed. That person will oversee the opening up of the Orchard entrance gate to vehicles and then lock it on completion of the visit. For pedestrians, cyclists and those with mobility issues, the question of whether the existing kissing gate needs to be removed and a simple self-closing access gate provided needs to be considered. Suitable cycle parking will be provided adjacent to the vehicular parking area.

It’s possible that some kind of open-sided timber shelter or place of contemplation could be provided at the top of the burial ground, overlooking the countryside, for people to have time to themselves.The existing barn close to footpath near Orchard Gate could be renovated to provide another resting place for visitors and perhaps a composting WC installed.

Before any further progress can be made, a change of use application has to be made to Rother District Council. In order to do this, a traffic consultant’s survey will be required to cover all matters to do with road widths, turning circles and specification details for road surface and substructure from gate up to and including the turning circle. There’s also the question of water run-off on to the highway.

Five potential traffic consultants were identified because of their involvement with Rother and ESCC on local projects. They all submitted tenders, were ranked and two were interviewed by the CIC to carry out the surveys needed for all the changes of use on site. The ranking document can be provided to anyone interested. The Parish Council needs to give the go-ahead for one of them to be appointed to do the work.

A geo-environmental survey will be required as part of the submission for change of use. Three companies able to do this were identified and provided quotes. Council has accepted our proposal to appoint one of them.

When and if planning permission is granted, the CIC and the Parish Council will discuss the detail of who is responsible for managing the site and how the income derived from the site is shared. Until planning permission has been granted, there is no point in costing the scheme. It is highly likely that more than £50,000 will be needed. Whilst much of the work could be carried out by the volunteers, works associated with the junction to the highway have to be done by an ESCC-approved contractor.

 Issues to be further considered include:

  • Whether all or part of the cemetery is to be consecrated

  • Which direction burials would take

  • The disposal of surplus soil

  • A good access way surface will be needed for the hearse and limousines, which must be 2.4m wide

  • Access before the interment for the grave digger would be by arrangement with whoever was managing the cemetery

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