Restoring Heathland on Ludshott Common
In partnership with Natural England and the South Downs National Park, we are restoring native heathland to Ludshott Common. Lowland heath is an endangered yet ecologically vital habitat. Read on to find out more about this project and things to look out for whilst you are enjoying the common.
History of Ludshott Common
In medieval times the common was part of the Royal Forest of Woolmer, a large area of heath and wood pasture grazed by commoners' animals, similar to the New Forest today.
In 1980 a huge fire raged across the site. While it was a disaster at the time, it allowed us to take the opportunity to restore the site to the original historic and increasingly rare heathland.
The five-year heathland restoration plan
At Ludshott Common, we’re gradually restoring heathland. Lowland heath once cloaked vast stretches of England including this part of Hampshire, but these days it is a rarity – less than one sixth survives in the whole of Europe.
In 2018, we began a five-year forestry agreement with Natural England, a government organisation that monitors and funds habitat management for nature and public access.
Over the course of the five-year plan, blocks of invasive trees and scrub including scots pine, silver birch, rowan and gorse were removed in targeted
areas of the common to allow heathland to regenerate.
The trees that were cleared had developed since the decline of traditional management techniques of Ludshott Common in the early 1900’s. Historically, the common would have been managed and utilised by commoners, who would have grazed their livestock, harvested heather turf and gorse and coppiced trees for fuel. These activities would have maintained the heathland, a system that would have been in place since the Dark Ages.
Why is it important to preserve heathland?
Heathlands are made up of an incredible mosaic of habitats and the result is a landscape rich in wildlife. They are a haven for over half of the UK’s dragonfly species and all six of our native reptiles. The older gorse provides perches for birds like the dartford warbler, and butterflies such as the silver studded blue love young gorse and heather flowers. Heathland also provides essential cover for ground nesting birds such as the nightjar. Studies suggest that the UK is home to 60 – 75% of the world’s heath types.
Winter forestry and heathland work
Because of the relative rarity of heathland and the specialised species it supports, the emphasis for us as habitat managers is to continue to mechanically manage the heathland with a suite of management techniques that aim to replicate rural economic activities that traditionally kept the heath open. These will include cutting scrub and gorse by hand, forestry work, bracken control, foraging heather, and creating bare ground by scraping. All these features help make up a complex mosaic of heath which includes mature pine, emerging scrub and structurally diverse heather, providing habitats for all the specialist species on the common.
The majority of our heathland management work will take place annually, beginning in September and finishing at the end of March to avoid ground nesting bird season.
The methods used to restore and manage heathland can look dramatic, and seemingly at odds with access and the current emphasis on tree planting and environmental concerns, however the long-term plan for the expansion of heathland on Ludshott Common will be extremely beneficial for many endangered UK species such as Woodlark, Dartford Warbler and Nightjars and many types of reptiles such as slow worm and rare butterfly breeds.
Trees, although important for offsetting carbon, are not a panacea and many other natural processes including open heathland, mud flats, peat bogs, algae and seaweeds sequest carbon far more effectively. Large areas of the common will remain as woodland to provide important habitats in their own right, which will be managed as it they have been done for hundreds of years, to allow the trees to remain healthy and allow light and warmth onto the woodland floor which also support important eco-systems.
As Ludshott Common is a site of archaeological interest due to it being used as an army camp and training base during both world wars, we work closely with the Liss Archaeological Society to mark out sites of archaeological and historical interest and ensure they are protected.
The return of conservation grazing to Ludshott Common
As part of a two-year project to introduce cattle onto the heathland, as of summer 2023 we will begin fencing the perimeter of the common. Ultimately the entire common will be fenced with uninterrupted access for the public through pedestrian and bridle gates.
The aim of this project is to encourage the restoration of lowland heathland using grazing animals. Cattle will help to control grasses, scrub and bracken and increase biodiversity through browsing, dung and poaching of the ground with their hooves.
Successful heathland management cannot be achieved by mechanical and human endeavours alone and grazing is a fundamental part of our future management plans to protect this SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest.)
As the heathland regenerates, a beautiful, open vista of ancient heathland will be re- established on Ludshott Common for users of the common to enjoy.
If you have any questions about Ludshott Common or would like further information, please get in touch with our ranger team on email@example.com
The heathland at Ludshott Common dates back 5,000 years and contains some of the few remaining areas of lowland heath in Europe. Discover some of the birdlife and wildlife you can see here, as well as similar heathlands and woodlands you can visit nearby.
Under-control dogs are welcome at Ludshott Common. Find out more about visiting with your four-legged friend, including details of the Canine Code.