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Heathland restoration project

Heathland Restoration work includes the following site; Rifle Range Site of Special Scientific Interest, Burlish Top Local Nature Reserve, Vicarage Farm Heath Local Nature Reserve and Habberley Valley Local Nature Reserve

The heathlands and acid grasslands of our district are an excellent resource. They support many rare and unusual species, and also offer local people the opportunity to escape their usual environment and experience what are now rare and threatened habitats.

Unfortunately it is a fact that these sites cannot manage themselves. Left to their own devices the open areas of heath and grassland would soon become swamped by silver birch, broom and young oak. In days gone by, these scrub species where harvested, utilised and thus kept in-check by local people to provide fire wood, besom brooms, animal fodder and so on. However this is no longer the case so these species soon take hold.

The prevention of this succession from heath to woodland is a mammoth task, and one which requires many approaches. Over the last ten years or so on the Rifle range SSSI, and Burlish Top Local nature reserve a great deal of work has taken place, not only maintaining what heath we have, but also restoring areas that had been lost to woodland.

The restoration process starts with the removal of young woodland, in areas that show good potential for heathland restoration. These newly felled areas, are quite barren to begin with, but soon begin to show signs of new life. To prevent the grasses becoming too dense, to control bramble and other woody plants, where possible we employ our favoured method of using our rare breed cattle or sheep to do this but where this is not a viable option we use our cut/collect mowing machine or indeed, a combination of both. This has shown to be a very successful approach, and has led to some excellent quality acid grassland/heathland being restored.

What we are trying to create is often referred to as a mosaic, a thriving heathland made up of dense mats of common heather, interspersed with areas of broom, gorse, birch scrub and patches of bare ground.

The bare ground and low shrub layer is essential to many of the Districts rarest species such as solitary bees and wasps, and as feeding areas for the Green Woodpeckers, basking and hunting areas for Lizard and Grass snake. The areas of mature, scrub such as Hawthorne and Gorse allow birds to perch in safety while the open areas provide an ideal hunting and foraging ground.

Lowland heath such as the Rifle Range has been described by Natural England as ‘more threatened than Tropical Rainforest’, and thus must be restored and maintained, to prevent the birds, reptiles and invertebrates that rely on it being lost forever.

These works are essential for the survival of many of the species that rely on the habitat provided by these wonderful nature reserves.

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