Managing our heathland at Bickerton Hill

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In winter, Bickerton Hill can seem a bleak place. When bitter winds bluster over the hillside, you’ll want to shelter from the chilly air. It’s no wonder the heathers grow low to the ground.

In summer, it’s transformed. A carpet of heather forms and the sweet smell is carried on the breeze, mixed with the coconut scent of the gorse it really is quite special.

Protecting the heathland

Each year however, millions of birch seeds flutter down onto the heathland from the thousands of trees that have self seeded since the 1940s. Many of the seeds then germinate.

The heathland is a distinctive and diverse habitat that would be extinguished by a canopy of birch. To protect the heath, we need to stop the birch seedlings from becoming established. The traditional and most practical way of doing this is by grazing animals on the land.  We’ve had much success over the last decade with cattle, but we have also introduced ponies as well.

Carneddau Ponies

Thanks to the support of the Habitats and Hillforts project, we have brought in a number of Welsh mountain ponies from Carneddau in Snowdonia. They are very agile and are able to graze in areas the cattle don’t visit. They’re also well adapted to suit any harsh weather out on the Hill.

Ponies can chew more fibrous plants and need fewer nutrients than cattle - they are able to eat older saplings and need less additional feed to supplement their diets.

We’ll be monitoring the impact the ponies have on the habitat, and hope we’ll be able to keep the heathland landscape open.  We want you to be able to enjoy the spectacular views from Bickerton Hill and experience a remnant of a once widespread landscape type, for many years to come.