Looking after rare lowland heath
Once widespread, heathland such as Kinver Edge is now an increasingly rare habitat in Europe. Important for reptiles, many birds, bats and moths, heathland has great ecological value. Our outdoors team work year-round to maintain this habitat, here's an explanation of how it’s done:
Why we need to manage the heath
The heathland of Kinver Edge is the product of years of human presence and management. Generations of people have grazed their animals here and felled the trees for firewood and tools such as besom brooms. This clearance has allowed heather to flourish, so we continue to clear the trees each year and make room for heathland plants.
How it's done: clearance and cows
The best way to manage the heath sensitively is to graze it with cattle. We use a herd of English Longhorn cows who chomp on the bracken, bramble and tree leaves and help to release the heather seeds with their trampling. By moving around they naturally create a ‘mosaic’ of different habitats across the landscape, which is ideal for wildlife.
We also fell encroaching trees each year from October to March, stopping in spring so as not to disturb nesting birds. Some of the felled wood is sold to raise money for our conservation work, some is used for events such as making bug hotels, and the rest is burnt to ensure we don’t add nutrients to this low-nutrient habitat.
As well as protecting and improving the heathland we've got, we are also carrying out an ambitious restoration project on the former site of an aging conifer plantation. We hope this newly cleared area may provided nesting opportunities for rarities such as nightjars that have been absent from Kinver Edge for many years and it will certainly provide increased habitat for all reptile species on site.
As well as clearing native species, we now also have to contend with Himalayan Balsam. This invasive plant has found its way into the British countryside, including Kinver Edge. We've been removing it from the heath with brushcutting, mowing and pulling by hand throughout the spring and summer. We even have a dedicated team of families who take their children out balsam bashing - they love ripping out the massive blooms in the name of conservation! We hope to eventually eliminate this weed from the Edge.
Under the guidance of our ecologists we regularly monitor the heathland, the restoration area and acid grassland to check the condition of the habitats and the success of our management plan. We are already seeing the return of key species such as heath bedstraw and wood sage to the restoration area.