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Our work on the estate at Mottisfont

Volunteers making charcoal at Mottisfont, Hampshire
Volunteers making charcoal at Mottisfont | © National Trust Images/Catherine Hadler

Mottisfont’s woodlands, along with the River Test which flows through the estate, can provide habitats for a large variety of wildlife. The work we do on the estate aims to make these environments as wildlife-rich as possible.

Looking after the River Test at Mottisfont

We care for 5 miles of the world-renowned River Test and its tributaries. It has shaped the Mottisfont estate for centuries, binding the history of the house and its people to the landscape. Mottisfont even has a celebrated past as the birthplace of modern dry fly fishing.

The River Test is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Only 200 chalk stream rivers are known globally - and 85% of them are found in southern and eastern England. Yet many are currently in poor condition. Climate change, pollution and intensive management place our river habitats under severe threat. It’s currently predicted that salmon may be extinct in the UK within the next 50 years.

We're changing our approach in the way we look after this vital habitat, taking preventative action against further decline. We're focused on improving habitat quality and diversity by restoring river banks to a more natural profile and improving water flow. This will create more favourable habitats for wild fish, birds, and mammals, including the iconic kingfisher.

We're transitioning to a wild fishery model which will honour our cultural heritage while giving priority to the global importance of this unique habitat.

How we're helping wildlife in Mottisfont's woods

We manage Mottisfont's woodlands to make them as wildlife-rich as possible. Most of this conservation work is carried out by rangers in autumn and winter. And it's not just the woodland, but the edges, open spaces and network of ‘rides’ too – the grassy paths you’ll find in and around woods.

Barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus)
Barbastelle bat | © National Trust Images/Bat Conservation Trust/Hugh Clark

The vegetation in these areas are often the most ecologically diverse and they attract a huge variety of wildlife. In fact, the first 10 metres of any woodland edge can be home to more species than the rest of the woodland in its entirety. These rides also act as vital ‘wildlife corridors’ for animals – in particular bats.

'The scrubby woodland fringes here provide sanctuary for butterflies like the white admiral and silver-wash fritillary, which feed on honeysuckle and violets. The central grassland areas on the rides are just as important – they attract invertebrates such as weevils and click beetles and I'll often see treecreepers, blackcaps and nuthatches here too.’
– Ranger Ryan Scott

Giving bats a home

The Mottisfont estate is part of the Bat Conservation Trust’s national monitoring programme (NBMP). In 2003 the woodlands here were designated a Special Area of Conservation for rare barbastelle bat maternity roosts – one of only six known UK breeding sites at the time.

We carry out barbastelle bat surveys between July and September, along three known wildlife corridors on the estate. We're also working to protect eight other species that have been recorded at Mottisfont, including noctules and brown long-eared bats.

Individual trees are also surveyed, for features that indicate their potential as a bat roost. This could be woodpecker holes, branch splits, a hollow section, or dense ivy cover. We sometimes use aerial surveys, too, and an endoscope to look for cavities invisible from the outside.

Managing trees

Trees with no bat activity but which are favourable in other ways may be considered for monolithing (cut back to the trunk) or a crown reduction. This is done by an experienced arborist, who creates cuts that imitate natural damage, providing favourable conditions for all sorts of wildlife.

Felled trees in Great Copse at Mottisfont, Hampshire
Felled trees in Great Copse at Mottisfont | © National Trust Images/Nick Dougan

Other trees may be ring-barked to encourage dead wood – an important part of a woodland’s ecological process. A small number of low conservation value trees might be felled to help maintain the wildlife corridors.

These techniques don’t just provide more wildlife habitats, they break up the canopy cover and introduce more light along the ride edge. This encourages ground flora, which in turn attracts invertebrates like bees, hoverflies and butterflies.

Encouraging dormice

Ranger Ryan Scott says: 'It’s really important that the various landscapes within woodlands support each other. For example, we need to make sure that tree-dwelling mammals like dormice have connectivity between the different woodland ‘compartments’ and don’t become isolated.

'We aim to create a mix of habitats; grassy swards and ‘herby’ edges, scrub and coppice areas. One of the ways we do this is by cutting on rotation. This is carried out in winter when the trees are dormant, so that we cause the least disturbance to wildlife.'

Visitors walking by the River Test at Mottisfont, Hampshire. In the distance the house at Mottisfont can be seen, with bare trees overhanging the river on this early spring day and the scene is reflected into the river.


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