Saturday, 14 February 2015

A flurry of new year activity

January has been a very busy month on the reserve as we have been undertaking different conservation management projects to restore areas of breck heathland, and reconnect the various habitats.

Contractors have been focusing on a 7 acre block of commercial conifer plantation that borders the biodiversity rich heathland at the side of Peddars Way. This block has been clear felled; the timber harvested and the remaining brash and organic litter mulched and removed from the area by scraping the ground.

This has exposed the underling sandy soils which should retain a seed bank of breckland plant communities. This area should also retain the periglacial feature of 'Brecks stripes' and it is hoped the chalk and acid soils that have now been exposed, will in time, become as rich in plant and insect communities as the Peddars way heath it is now connected to.

Contractors scraping off the organic litter to expose the breck soils underneath
Some of the scraped material has been formed into a south facing bund, or windrow, which will be ideal habitat for basking reptiles and insects.

It is hoped that this area will be as successful as the smaller trial plots of turf stripping and rotervation on the reserve. These were created last year and the year before to try and mimic the vital role of ground disturbance that rabbits would normally do, and are now developing interesting communities of plants and lichens. The plots, along with the grazing of the Exmoor ponies, are creating and maintaining habitat for breckland species that might otherwise have been lost with the decline in rabbit numbers in recent years. Research is currently being undertaken in the brecks in an attempt to get to the bottom of this decline.

Pioneering plant, lichen and moss species thriving

Volunteers and woodland contractors have also been working hard to reconnect the areas of heathland that remain on the reserve. Throughout the winter they have been working on relatively small blocks of young woodland on the heathland edges, mainly removing young pine and birch that are out competing the heath.

Young pines are being removed from around these mature trees to allow light to reach the heathland flora below

By removing these young trees where they have grown up relatively recently, we are able to both expand the heath blocks and create corridors and networks to link their species up. The project focuses on working on lots of small areas to create a mosaic of habitats and maintain the mature woodland habitat on site as well.

Volunteer teams clearing young trees; leaving space for the mature Scots Pines to thrive
 Volunteer teams run every Thursday all year round and are vital in carrying out the reserve management on a weekly basis. They are great fun and a good chance to meet new people, learn skills and get some fresh air. We meet in the main car park at 9.30am - why not come along!

To find out more contact the ranger at:

Volunteers clearing dense young trees off from the heathland edge. Patches of gorse and mature trees are left to create a mosaic of different habitats.

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