Palace Leas originated in 1896 as one of a group of long-term experiments at Newcastle University's Cockle Park experimental farm. The management of Palace Leas has continued to the present with only minor modifications. The large unreplicated plots are variously manured each year and the hay cut. Livestock then grazes the aftermath regrowth. A large number of research papers have been published and many other results exist in manuscript form.
The original objectives were to improve old grassland (Palace Leas was probably last ploughed during the Napoleonic Wars ending in 1815) at low cost and without resowing. This was to be achieved by the efficient use of combinations of liming materials, fertilisers and animal manures. Both increased yield of hay and aftermath regrowth were primary targets, though the latter has received little quantitative assessment, but the botanical composition of the sward was also of interest to the originators. Allied to this was testing of the digestibility and feeding value of the hay.
Subsequent research has ranged widely over the fauna, microbial population and soil properties. Changes to the soil organic matter content, form and distribution, as well as the effect of climate change (there is also a weather station at Cockle Park with a continuous record extending back into the 19th century) on hay yield, through to changes in objects buried in the soil on differently treated plots has also received detailed reserach. The last has been part of a range of assessment of diagenesis of archaeological material in different soil conditions; a use that the originators could never have envisaged.
The plots are in continuous use for research and are available to researchers from outside The School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development by arrangement with Dr Shiel.
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The Library holds data collected at the University's weather station at Cockle Park. Newcastle University staff and students can view the digitised data. Historic daily data is available until 2011, then monthly to present.
Older material is kept at the Research Reserve and material up to October 2013 in a lever arch file in the Reference Collection on Level 4 at 630.2515 COC. Search Library Search for Cockle Park Weather Station to see the relevant records.