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SUN Campaign History - Sep 1997

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At a liaison meeting in September '97 we offered space in our newsletter to both the National Trust and English Nature. Here's English Nature's contribution:

English Natures
Information - Studland Heath National Nature Reserve

VITAL conservation work is being carried out at Studland Heath National Nature Reserve to ensure the survival of its heathland and unique wildlife.

A staggering 82% of the heathland area that existed in 1800 has now gone and only about 36,000 hectares of heathland remain in England. Today the loss of heathland to other land uses has largely stopped and the biggest threat to our remaining heathland heritage is lack of management. The National Trust, the landowners of Studland Heath and English Nature, the organisation which cares for the 633 hectares of land, work hard to ensure a living part of our nation's history is not lost forever.

At Studland, the heath has been a National Nature Reserve since 1962. It is one of the most important sites for nature conservation in England and is also of international importance for its dune, dry and wet heath and mire habitats and for several bird species. All six British reptiles occur on the reserve.

Ancient Landscapes

Until this century heathland such as that at Studland played a key part in the rural economy. In Dorset we know that it has sustained the lives of local people for more than 2,000 years - providing grazing for livestock and fuel from turf cutting, wood and furze.

These activities shaped and maintained the great heath over the centuries with its distinctive open landscape and very special wildlife. Now that the need to live off the heath has gone, the traditional uses have stopped. At the same time huge plantations of conifers and ornamental rhododendrons have been introduced and both can spread quickly from seed onto open heathland, forming dense thickets and killing the heather and its wildlife.

The present

To replace the lost traditional uses that kept the heath open and to tackle invasive pine and scrub, conservation management must tackle a backlog of tree and scrub removal. The aim is to strike a balance more in favour of the internationally rare open heathland. Blocks of gorse are burned on a rotation as the dense thickets it forms are a fire hazard whilst the young compact bushes that re-grow are most valued by the Dartford Warbler and Stonechat as nest sites.

Controlled burning can be a useful management aid when carefully used in winter but the very damaging and intense fires of summer cause long term harm both to the heathland and to species such as sand lizards. A fire prevention strategy is part of the management of all heathland sites and this includes fire breaks, emergency water supplies and good liaison with the fire brigade.

Studland is an especially vulnerable site because the heath has more than one million visitors a year. There have been very serious big summer fires which have devastated heathland and its wildlife. In 1976 over 90% of Hartland Moor was burnt by one fire.

A place for people too

Encouraging visitors to experience their natural heritage is an important part of managing a reserve. English Nature and the National Trust provide and care for paths and nature trails. These help visitors and minimise damage and disturbance to wildlife.

More information:

For more detailed information please contact English Nature for a leaflet.

English Nature is the statutory adviser to the Government on nature conservation in England and promotes the conservation of England's wildlife and natural features. Its Dorset office is at Slepe Farm, Arne, Wareham BH20 5BN (tel. 01929 556688)

Howard Avery, Site Manager

And there you have it. Your comments will be more than welcome - if you write direct to English Nature or the National Trust please send a copy of your letter, and any reply, to the Secretary; a selection will appear in the June '98 edition of The Bare Essentials (TBE6).

For our part, we feel that, given the population explosion since 1800 and the shift from an agrarian economy to an industrial system and most recently to a service industry dominated economy, the loss of 82% of the 1800 heathland is hardly surprising.

We note with interest English Nature's condemnation of rhododendrons: we heartily agree that they are a flaming nuisance, and trust that EN will enthusiastically embrace our proposed alternative route for Heather Walk involving, as it does, the removal of a large swathe of these invasive and destructive weeds.

Whilst we understand perfectly the value of rotational burning of gorse, we are at a loss to understand the conservation value of piling gorse in a clear, clean sandy hollow, setting fire to it there, and then throwing glass bottles into the fire. The only effect of this is to make the hollow uninhabitable, although the molten glass does produce some interesting light effects from the sunlight (After taking some photographs of this particular act of vandalism, SUN members cleared all the broken and melted glass, although we were unable to separate all the ash from the sand and will have to rely on the winter rains to wash it out and leave the hollow once again secluded and habitable. That should please the permanent night shift worker, not a SUN member - yet - who until last year used the hollow to sleep and sunbathe in during the summer.)


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