The sound of machine-gun fire, shells exploding and tanks driving through crops are part of everyday life at Compton Farm on Salisbury Plain.

With troop carriers, self-propelled howitzers and battle tanks driving through his crops and over grassland, Wiltshire farmer Bruce Waight faces some unique challenges.

The British Army began operating on Salisbury Plain in 1898, and the MOD now owns 390 km2, making it the UK’s largest military training area. Some 100 km2 are permanently off-limits to the public while other areas have greatly restricted access, which make it a wildlife haven.

Encompassing areas of ancient ridge-and-furrow meadowland dating back to medieval times, and one of the country’s largest round barrow burial sites which links with the world-famous ancient monument at nearby Stonehenge, Compton Farm is unique for numerous geographical and historical reasons.

South West Farmer:

One of the round barrow burial sites at Compton Farm

Mr Waight's grandfather started farming there in 1872 and today the business encompasses over 10,000 acres, some of it licenced from the MOD. Much of the land is Schedule 3, so the MOD can drive across it whenever they want and do whatever they want.

Mr Waight and his team are not allowed onto some areas when they ‘live-fire’ - over 200 days a year - or for two weeks every month when they do parachute jumps.

While most of the flinty, chalk soils support extensive grazing, there are 1,700 acres of arable crops, organic leys for 450 organic suckler cows and followers, plus 800 outdoor sows. Certain areas are farmed to benefit wildlife, some to preserve the area’s archaeology, while others are ideal for military training.

South West Farmer:

Tracked military vehicles tear up grassland and arable crops

”The scale and geography of this area make our farming system very extensive and labour intensive,” Mr Waight said. “Because of the dangers, we attend regular firing range safety courses and must contact Westdown Camp before entering or leaving controlled zones. To graze cattle in certain areas we have to apply for permission 10 weeks in advance and can only go there before 8am or after 5pm.

“Cattle often escape because tanks or other vehicles have taken out electric fences, so I sleep with the phone beside the bed.”

South West Farmer:

Compton Farm’s Puma 160 spreading manure on barley stubble

His own choice of machinery has included a 10-20 Titan, a model built by International Harvester from 1915 to 1921. The connection with Case continued with his parents as his mother driving a 31hp Case D model in a War Office film ‘The Great Harvest’ made on the farm in the 1940s. Today Mr Waight operates a Case IH Magnum MX340, Puma 215 and a Puma 160.