In the absence of management heathland generally reverts to scrub, with birch being one species that can quickly dominate. Although grazing can help reduce the speed of scrub incursion, there is usually the need for additional active clearance using chainsaws or tractor-powered mulching machines. The benefits of such management are the maintenance of open heath communities and open views. However, sensitivity is required when undertaking such operations. Small woodland copses within the heathland, and those following watercourses can also provide important wildlife habitats. The heathland landscape does ideally include woodland. Care is therefore undertaken during operations to ensure that woodland habitats are maintained in appropriate places, and that scattered trees and scrub are left to provide shade, foraging and nesting sites for heathland birds, mammals and invertebrates.
Where the species being cut are conifers, then there is no regeneration from cut stumps. However, with deciduous broad leaved trees such as birch, cut stumps will readily regenerate and further treatment is required, usually with the herbicide glyphosate. The removal of a canopy of mature trees also increases light levels at the ground level and this can lead to an explosion of seedlings of species such as birch which then need subsequent management.
One of the downsides of scrub management is that large-scale clearance of scrub can be visually intrusive in the short-term, with some members of the public preferring a wooded landscape. As part of the planning for woodland and scrub clearance programmes, the impacts of scrub clearance on landscapes are assessed and the likely response of visitors and the local community gauged. The Conservation Trust endeavours to minimise the impact by only undertaking scrub clearance of small areas at any one time, and by communicating what we are doing in advance and the wildlife benefits of the management.
Western gorse (Ulex gallii) and European gorse (U. europaeus) are important components of heathland providing valuable habitat for a range of species including the Dartford warbler. Gorse stands are also important for general foraging and breeding cover in summer and for foraging of many bird species in winter. Thick gorse is particularly important as shelter in hard weather. Western gorse is generally of lower stature than European gorse and is typically more abundant across the drier heaths occurring as a mixed stand with other sub-shrubs such as heather. European gorse tends to be found in disturbed areas of greater fertility, and across the Pebblebed heaths management attempts to keep this species at about 10% cover. European gorse which is often evident along roadsides has a natural lifecycle of several decades, after which it tends to become ‘leggy’ (known as ‘mophead gorse’) and less suitable for providing shelter. To ensure that there is always younger thick gorse to provide shelter and food for species such as the Dartford warbler, a 15 year coppice cycle is followed with the gorse flailed with machinery, after which it regenerates.
All scrub clearance is only undertaken outside the bird breeding season (between 1st March and 31st July).
< View all events