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A group of eight concerned and interested individuals from Long Marston and Gubblecote determined in November 1997 to acquire the site known locally as ‘Millhoppers’ to preserve its current character in perpetuity. The individuals concerned were prepared to make a significant and irrevocable financial commitment, as a last resort, not only to secure the site but also to fund its ongoing management.   

This group subsequently agreed that Butterfly Conservation should become the owners of the site but maintained their momentum to complete the purchase and contribute directly to the creation of a management fund. Now that the site has been secured, the group’s role has become one of direct participation in the management decisions and actions proposed for the site by Butterfly Conservation.

The original aims of the group were to:

1. preserve and manage with expert help/advice one of the very few remaining tracts of ancient countryside for the benefit of wildlife 

2. maintain and encourage the development of natural flora and fauna

3. create a permanent amenity on behalf of the locality, seeking active community involvement in its future.

Millhoppers is a rare example of remnant ancient countryside encircled by arable land. Some of its hedges are thought to date back to Tudor times. It possesses a pond fed by the stream known as Ashen Brook and a public footpath provides access through part of the north-eastern boundary.  The site supports a wide variety of birds and mammals, both enjoying protection from the dense cover.

As the site has not been farmed within living memory, it is likely to contain a rich diversity of native plants, supporting many species of butterfly. In addition, a recent pilot survey revealed 16 old black poplars and possibly three saplings, a species rare in the rest of the county.   

Some say that the strange name of Millhoppers originates from a stream crossing to an old mill – the remains of which are no longer traceable. Others contend that it derives from mill-stones laid in times past (when the entire neighbourhood was much wetter) to enable people to cross the stream more easily.

Over the years, people of all age groups from the surrounding villages of Long Marston, Puttenham, Wilstone, and Gubblecote have visited Millhoppers as a special place in which to enjoy unspoilt countryside – a secluded oasis within a fairly intensively farmed landscape. Their continued access to the site will now be assured.    In addition, the group were delighted to have the enthusiastic endorsement of the project from the eminent naturalists Brian Sawford, and indirectly from the late and sadly missed Gordon Beningfield. 

This local initiative fell within the spirit of Agenda 21, sponsored by the Government, which encourages community involvement in locally significant environmental projects. Support from Dacorum, who generously provided 75% of the purchase price with the remainder coming from Butterfly Conservation, ultimately enabled the site to be acquired consistent with the original objectives. Hemel Hempstead Solicitors Picton Smeathmans were also much appreciated for their economic support. 

We hope that a visit to Millhoppers will be one that remains in your memory for many years to come, and that this wonderful habitat will come to welcome you as a regular visitor, and friend.

Article by the 8 interested individuals.