Andy Russell has been Chester Farm’s operational site manager since November 2014. Formerly a maintenance manager at a Care Home, Andy says that when he first came to Chester Farm the whole site was completely overgrown and it has taken at least a year to bring it under control.
"Brush and nettles were the main problem but there was abandoned farm junk everywhere, particularly on the North Ramparts of the Roman town, fencing, bits of a combine harvester, rolls of barbed wire, you name it, I found it!”
By late 2015, Chester Farm looked immaculate and a testament to Andy’s hard work.
He now has a tractor and that has made the maintenance tasks easier, although he has deliberately left some areas wild to provide nesting habitat for field birds.
Andy has been developing a relationship with Moulton College whose students have already planted 100m of native hedgerow, and are carrying out a woodland survey to support the development of a maintenance strategy that will be good for Chester Farm and its wildlife.
Andy now oversees the up keep of the Scheduled Monument and is responsible for site operations in the lead up to when construction on the Heritage Centre is complete in summer 2018.
Andy is walking the Chester Farm acres looking at potential walking trails for when limited openings start in May 2016. Thanks to a grant from the Nene Valley Improvement Agency, the water-side meadow has been sown with a meadow mix of grasses and wildflowers suitable for this damp habitat.
“I flail mowed it several times and then it was scarified – scraping it to create gaps for the flower seeds to grow in. The Wildlife Trust used the ‘fiddle method’ to sow the seeds, an old fashioned, traditional method but very effective."
It will take over five years before the meadow reaches its full potential. Today two Canada geese are grazing the meadow and it suits them very well. The meadow is bounded on the south side by eight immense Crack Willows, clearly very old and they are providing great cover for an extensive badger sett.
Chester Farm is 84 acres, but within this relatively small space offers a variety of developing habitats. Under Andy’s careful eye they look to be in safe hands. From May 2016 we plan to partially open some areas of Chester Farm – try one of the new trails and let us know what you think about our plans for this extraordinary site and its hidden heritage.