Managing the heathland at Bickerton

A view of Bickerton Hill, Cheshire

Over the last two decades we've been rejuvenating the rare lowland heath at Bickerton.

Since 1992 we've been working with partner organisations to manage Bickerton Hill in a way that promotes heathland regeneration. This has included the clearing of self seeding birch trees and bracken – whose shade prevents heather and other heathland shrub species from regenerating.
 
Under two, ten year Countryside Stewardship Schemes (CSS) the first of which started in 1992, a phased removal of birch trees was undertaken from specified areas, though even here, many were left in situ. Elsewhere, much of the site remained covered in developing birch trees. Such trees have continued to set seed and the threat that they pose by seeding the areas of the hill which we have already been restored to lowland heath remains.
 
In July 2011 Natural England undertook a site assessment at Bickerton Hill. Their ecologists, reported that the site, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for heathland flora and fauna, remained in ‘unfavourable’ condition, indicating that there was too little restored open heathland and still large amounts of birch, which continued to threaten the restoration of the heath. The existing areas of heath created under the first two schemes were also fragmented, restricting viability of heathland species to move, feed and breed. 
 
In 2013, a third, ten year Higher Level Stewardship scheme was commenced which was designed to address these matters. This scheme has seen further opening up of the canopy and much greater connectivity between areas of heath. Some of the spectacular views from the hill have also been restored or enhanced.
 
Other strategies we have used to help heathland regenerate have included bracken rolling, clearing birch scrub, grazing with hardy, traditional breed livestock and removing trees from specific heathland areas. Usually, this is sufficient to allow heather and bilberry seed, long dormant under the dark birch canopy, to germinate and spread. This work has been carried out under the auspices of Natural England (previously English Nature), which is the government’s advisory agency in the care and management of notified SSSIs.