Alongside the development of our recreation facilities at Haldon we have also been working to assure the future of our SSSI areas, which need sensitive management, and sometimes restoration.
In one of these areas around 100 acres of conifer plantation have been felled and cleared along the Haldon ridge in preparation for the next phase - restoration to heathland by grazing. Thanks to a grant of over £130,000 from DEFRA we have now fenced off an area of open ground, and cattle were introduced at the beginning of October 2006.
We are using Black Galloway cattle, chosen because they are very robust and will eat the tough invasive vegetation that is currently competing with heathland plant species, preventing them from flourishing.
The descendants of cattle originally bred by Iron Age people over 2,000 years ago, you may spot them from the Adventure Cycle Trail, which runs through their new grazing enclosure. But don’t worry! Black Galloway are known for their docile nature. However, dogs are not permitted inside the grazing enclosure.
The cattle will graze the site between October 2006 and March 2008, although they will be moved off for short periods in adverse conditions, or if it appears areas are being over-browsed. Once the cattle have done their initial job, the site will need continuous management to maintain the heathland landscape. This may be done by reducing the number of cattle, or introducing ponies, or by ‘mechanical’ management – much will depend on securing further funds and support.
The heathland we hope to create will consist of species such as bristle bent grasses, western gorse, bilberry, cross-leaved heath and bell heather. Many of these are already present, but need help to spread. We’ll also be encouraging a few Scots pine, dotted across the landscape.
The restoration work will significantly improve the biodiversity of the area. It should attract more birds of prey, including buzzards, hobbies and goshawks. The nightjar will also benefit, as will turtle doves, which have seen their numbers decline sharply across Britain in recent decades, although the population at Haldon Forest Park remains healthy. Reptiles, such as the adder, should also increase in number, as they like the sunny basking spots provided by open heathland. The restored habitat will also benefit a host of butterflies, including the rare pearl-bordered fritillary and wood white.
During spring 2007 we undertook further clearance work on the opposite side of the road from the main car park as part of our heathland restoration work. An enclosure in the Kings Road area wasfenced off, and the Galloway cattle put out to graze in the Autumn. Another area, where the surface has been mechanically scraped, has not been fenced or grazed. This is to allow the establishment of heather by natural seeding, free of competitive vegetation.