We're working to protect and restore the precious heathland habitat at Bickerton Hill.
Working towards ‘favourable status'
In order to fulfil the requirements of Natural England, the government’s advisory agency in the care of Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) sites, Bickerton Hill needs to obtain ‘favourable’ site status. Favourable status means the site has achieved a sustainable condition and the threat from loss is reduced to a minimum. To achieve this, at least 50% of the site must be returned to lowland heath.
Though much had been done to gradually reduce the shading and the threat to the heath by the seeding of birch trees, much of the hill remained encroached by birch, and in order to move towards achieving ‘favourable status’, Natural England directed that a further tree felling programme take place on the hill during the winter of 2014.
Opening up the heathland
The felling programme encompassed trees which had self-seeded between the end of the Second World War and the present day. This work opened up areas and reduced shading further. It also enabled open areas of heath to be linked together, thus reducing fragmentation of habitat and promoting opportunity for wildlife and plant species to spread more easily - and wildlife to migrate, feed and breed across more of the site. The greater the connections between areas of heath, the greater the opportunity for wildlife, flora and fauna to be successful in colonising the heathland landscape.
There are no ancient trees on Bickerton, but occasionally, good specimens will be retained to enable them to develop. Elsewhere, blocks of woodland are also retained, as well as a scattering of trees in open areas; typically, oaks, rowans and holly - which will provide landscape diversity and interest, but which set seed less vigorously than birch. Much of the of the SSSI (around 50%) remains as woodland.
All felling work is licensed by the Forestry Commission under its Open Habitats Policy. Grazing of the hill will continue as it did for centuries until the Second World War. Hardy, traditional breed cattle, such as Galloways, ensure birch seeding risk is reduced. Rangers and volunteers also continue to work to ensure the best conditions for heathland vegetation to develop and colonise areas where trees have been removed.
Safeguarding for future generations
Heathland is a fundamental element of our cultural and agricultural heritage which is often misunderstood and is perhaps in more danger than any other landscape type of being lost altogether. A mature heathland is arguably one of the most magnificent of all our landscape types. At Bickerton, we have the opportunity to ensure that future generations will be able to experience this special landscape and environment type and glimpse a little of our history, which without this work would certainly be lost – along with countless threatened specialist heathland species.