Heathland Countryside Management


Encouragement of access to heathland by humans is one of the modern ways of causing most damage to its' fauna.

Lowland heathland supports ground nesting birds vulnerable to disturbance by loose dogs because the UK fails to have restrictions placed on dog-owners. The natural bare soil of bridleways, tracks and footpaths if walked by too many people or used by too many horse riders or mountain bike riders ends up churned up and disturbed, no longer able to support the many invertebrates that prefer ground conditions of minimal disturbance for them to construct their nest holes in. Even the wildlife trusts, who should know better and county councils are encouraging ever more access by people, no doubt with the support of the Government's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The results of this can readily be seen on Chobham Common in Surrey, which is supposed to be a National Nature Reserve but presumably as a result of the 2013 DEFRA Toolkit is now being used to "build the visitor economy" and "improve recreational opportunities and public access, and promote the use of National Nature Reserves (NNRs)" as mentioned in the descriptive note that appeared on the Government website. I despair of these organisations and their modern and destructive approaches to the management of our National Nature Reserves, now just another part of the human leisure business!

Because many of such areas of common land have also been designated as component parts of European Special Protection Areas (SPA) for birds, as is Chobham Common, the conservation element is often now over dominated by bird interests, as is reflected in the current Chobham Common NNR Management Plan 2010-2020. Equally because of the need to minimise the access by people to the areas where birds have a sensitive presence, the bridleway system, in which many of the bare ground species of insects used to nest in have now been entombed by covering these tracks with hard surfacing, in order, I understand, for these routes to be the preferred routes for access by people. This also facilitates access by fire vehicles, as one of the risks of access by people is that of fire, not the so-called wild fire caused by lightning strike but an actual arson event as pictured below.

ABOVE: The aftermath of a fire that destroyed heathland on Broxhead Common Local Nature Reserve, Bordon, Hampshire in 2009. © Copyright SMiles.

Consequentially one of the important but virtually unrecognised habitats for insects is the natural creation of drainage erosion areas and yet the anonymous web version of the management plan for Chobham Common does not acknowledge the contribution that erosion of hill slopes makes in the creation of early-successional bare ground sites. At least it does promote the provision of bare ground but then makes the mistake, as considered by this website promoter, of stating that all the excavated soil and turves should be removed from the site, instead of using them to create a large bare ground bank that will be exploited by both insects and reptiles. The current provision of bare ground, turf-stripped patches will not suffice to create the required habitat. This is particularly because the method used is incorrect, it is not creating the bare ground banks or extensive bare patches of soil so needed for nesting in by many species of solitary bees and wasps and their parasites and parasitoids. The bare areas created are too linear and narrow as can be seen below.

ABOVE: A turf-stripped patch that has been poorly executed on Chobham Common (S), thus it offers very little bare ground and the chances of the "heather" to regrow back are poor, both within the patch and on the poorly produced bank which lacks a covering of bare soil for the "heather" to grow back through it successfully. With high summer temperatures, as experienced in summer 2015 this patch and the Erica cinerea and Calluna vulgaris plants have been burnt by the sun and the drought has done more damage. © Copyright SMiles.




A Commentary on the Management of Lowland Heathland sites in southern England with regard to the continued maintenance of biodiversity and their characteristic populations of heathland insects.

Heathlands in southern England

In southern England the great bulk of rich southern lowland heathland occurs because the most favourable sandy soils and warm climatic conditions frequently occur. Because of the high human population now, it is much threatened by the location of unsuitable housing developments, as currently is occurring within the Thames Basin Heaths' areas mainly in Surrey. Also in the vicinity of Aldershot and by an ecologically disastrous so-called "green town" in the Bordon area of Hampshire, as well as by the continued urban expansion in Bournemouth and Poole in Dorset. The New Forest also has a rich selection of heaths, though many of these are considered by people like me to be overgrazed by the commoner's animals and are over visited by people because of the holiday use of this area. Arguably these heathlands having a favourable climate, hold the greatest variety and numbers of species, especially of birds, plants and insects and invertebrates.

Site Name Habitats Present Status Examples of Insects that use bare ground on dry heathland
Chobham Common (N), Surrey Bog; Wet heathland; Dry heathland; Bare ground (declining) SSSI, NNR and SPA (pt) Mottled Bee-fly - Thyridanthrax fenestratus; The Potter Wasp, Eumenes coarctatus; Odynerus melanocephalus - a solitary wasp; Ammophila pubescens - a solitary wasp;
Thursley Common, Surrey Bog; Wet heathland; Dry heathland; scrubland; Deciduous and Coniferous Woodland; Bare ground; SSSI, NNR and SPA (pt) Mottled Bee-fly - Thyridanthrax fenestratus; Wood Tiger Beetle - Cicindela sylvatica;
Hogmoor Inclosure, Hampshire Dry heathland; scrubland; Deciduous and Coniferous Woodland; Bare ground; Ponds and wet heathland Site of Interest to Nature Conservation (SINC) Ammophila sabulosa - a solitary wasp; Auplopus carbonarius - a pompilid wasp; Silver-studded Blue - a butterfly; Grayling - a butterfly.
Broxhead Common (MOD), Hampshire Dry heathland; Bare ground; Pond SSSI; SPA (pt) Mottled Bee-fly - Thyridanthrax fenestratus; Silver-studded Blue - a butterfly
Weavers Down, Hampshire Dry heathland; Bare ground (being damaged by access) SSSI; SPA (pt) Mottled Bee-fly - Thyridanthrax fenestratus
New Forest Heaths, Hampshire:

Beaulieu Road Heathland:

Hinchelsea Moor
Bog; Wet heathland; Dry heathland; scrubland; Deciduous and Coniferous Woodland; Bare ground (damaged by surfacing and infilling of erosion to assist cycling access); National Park; SSSI Eumenes coarctatus - The Potter Wasp, Ammophila pubescens; - a solitary wasp, Mottled Bee-fly - Thyridanthrax fenestratus;
Canford Heath, Dorset Dry heathland; Bare ground (being damaged by access) SSSI; SPA (pt) Heath Bee-fly - Bombylius minor;
Upton Heath, Dorset Dry heathland; Bare ground (being damaged by access) SSSI; SPA (pt) Heath Bee-fly - Bombylius minor; Anthophora bimaculata - a solitary bee;
Wareham Forest, Dorset Bog; Wet heathland; Dry heathland;scrubland; Deciduous and Coniferous Woodland; Bare ground; Parts are designated as SSSI Mottled Bee-fly - Thyridanthrax fenestratus; Heath Bee-fly - Bombylius minor; Anthophora bimaculata - a solitary bee;

Some of the above named insects are common species, others are more localised but most are typical species that will be found on well-managed lowland heathland. This website is not especially concerned about what is rare or what is common, for this visitors should visit the website of the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS) and those of other relevant recording schemes and natural history interest groups. The concern of this website is that all lowland heathland sites should have their characteristic habitats well-managed so that they support the breeding of the maximum number of insect and invertebrate species and all other wildlife species that they should support, as well as supporting good numbers of the characteristic heathland species. It is also a concern of this website that lowland heathland and other habitats are managed in a naturalistic manner so that ecological food-chains are fully supported.



ABOVE: A bare, natural soil track like this on Canford Heath, Dorset supports the southern heathland invertebrate fauna. © Copyright SMiles.




Commentary on the structure of lowland heathland and its' management in southern England and derivation of a scoring system for determining whether a heathland site is well managed for the invertebrate species that live there in the opinion of this website author. Scoring criteria:

DRY HEATHLAND COMPONENT

  • (H1A) A site with bare ground contained in most (<90%) of footpaths, tracks and bridleways passing through open, sun-exposed heathland composed of robust and healthy plants of Calluna vulgaris, Erica cinerea & Erica tetralix = 10 points
  • (H2A) A site that also has a bare patch excavation plan (i.e. not just shallow turf strips piled up into heat-roasted banks of turves, as currently in 2015 occur on Chobham Common NNR) but with large banks of turves covered in plenty of soil allowing the turves to successfully re-grow through the bank, with new bare patches being added at least every five to seven years to replace the effects of vegetation succession and with bare patches where most of them are not rotovated (this is often done to help the sand lizard) = 10 points
  • (H3A) A site where no footpaths in the vicinity of the heather are heavily used by cyclists, large numbers of walkers or horse riders’ galloping when more than two abreast for their leisure. This will provide a bare ground habitat which still has large numbers of the nests of many solitary bee and wasp species in it because they do not have to suffer the creation of loose sand caused by many inconsiderate human leisure users (a very few species e.g. Andrena argentata and Philanthus triangulum can withstand this treatment) = 10 points
  • (H4A) A site containing heathland edge plants such as many yellow composite flowers in their appropriate season of growth, such as Hawkbits (Leontodon sp.), Hawk's-beards (Crepis sp.) and Hawkweeds (Hieracium sp.), as well as some Ragwort, Wood-sage and Tormentil = 10 points
  • (H5A) A site containing some scrub such as dwarf sallows and ordinary sallows but with coniferous species occurring very sparingly if at all, perhaps with gaps between clumps of at least 500m. A site with some blackberry plants (Rubus sp.) which provides nesting sites for some bird species as well a nectaring sites for many insects plus occasional shrubs of gorse and broom = 10 points
  • (H6A) A site where the management organisation provides the required micro-habitats for insects and invertebrates because their management team are knowledgeable about the species they have responsibility for and they are focused on management for all wildlife and the maintenance of food-chains and biodiversity = 10 points.

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  • (H1B) A site with at most (<50%) of footpaths, tracks and bridleways having bare ground as the surface where they pass through open, sun-exposed heathland. Those routes that are hard surfaced with hoggin or with granite chips have this covering only in the centre 2 meters of the routes so that the track edges are still composed of the natural sands occurring at the site, or where up to 50% of the original bare ground tracks still remain. = 5 points
  • (H2B) A site that also has a bare patch excavation plan (i.e. but only with shallow turf strips just piled up into a heat-roasted banks of turves as currently in 2015, occur on Chobham Common NNR) with new bare patches being added at least every five to seven years to replace the effects of vegetation succession and with bare patches that are only rotovated (to help the sand lizard) = 5 points
  • (H3B) A site where a few of the footpaths, tracks or bridleways in the vicinity of the heather are heavily used by cyclists, or horse riders’ galloping when more than two abreast or large numbers of walkers for their leisure. This is occurring at the expense of the bare ground habitat which is starting to lead to the loss of many solitary bee and wasp species which cannot stand the creation of loose sand caused by many inconsiderate human leisure users and managers who do not appreciate the wildlife issues (a very few species e.g. Andrena argentata and Philanthus triangulum can withstand this treatment) = 5 points
  • (H4B) A site containing heathland edge plants such as many yellow composite flowers in their appropriate season of growth such as Hawkbits (Leontodon sp.), Hawk's-beards (Crepis sp.) and Hawkweeds (Hieracium sp.), but showing signs of them having been eaten by numbers of grazing animals. Where Ragwort occurs, there is evidence that it is mostly removed inappropriately, where Wood-sage and Tormentil still occur but appear to be grazed = 5 points
  • (H5B) A site containing some scrub such as dwarf sallows but where it appears to be grazed and where ordinary sallows occur but are often sawn down, denying spring emerging bees an important nectar source. With coniferous species occurring too frequently, perhaps with gaps between clumps of less than 200m, and where the blackberry plants (Rubus sp.) are frequently removed or heavily pruned (this is often done to favour some amphibian species) = 5 points.
  • (H6B) A site where they have some knowledge and concern for all species and do provide some nesting sites in the form of bare ground, or dead wood or other cavity sources for insects and invertebrates. However, these actions are frequently compromised by their primary focus on management of their heathland for people. These sites have managers who provide a positive response when they receive a complaint about the management of their sites and they respond well in providing replacement bare ground or dead wood situations etc. = 5 points.

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  • (H1C) A site with virtually all footpaths, tracks and bridleways having no bare sandy ground on them but instead they are surfaced with hoggin, limestone chips or granite or woodchips or other types of artificial surface, where they pass through open, sun-exposed heathland. The usual reason for such bad management is that such sites are managed for people at the expense of biodiversity or to steer people away from sites frequented by ground nesting birds. Or, where the bare sand of various routes that does remain is heavily trampled, because just too many people and people's pet animals are using these routes and the whole area is full of dog's faeces = 0 points
  • (H2C) A site that does not have a bare patch excavation plan and with a management that is opposed to or just does not want to introduce a bare patch creation programme at all = 0 points
  • (H3C) A site where most of the footpaths, tracks or bridleways in the vicinity of the heather are either heavily used by many walkers, cyclists or horse riders', the latter galloping when more than three abreast for their leisure. This is carried out at the expense of the habitat which is leading to the loss of nesting opportunities for many solitary bee and wasp species who cannot stand the creation of loose and heavily trampled sand caused by so many ignorant and inconsiderate people and site managers who fail to understand the issues (a very few species e.g. Andrena argentata and Philanthus triangulum can withstand this treatment) = 0 points
  • (H4C) A site containing hardly any heathland edge plants such as many yellow composite flowers in their appropriate season of growth such as Hawkbits (Leontodon sp.), Hawk's-beards (Crepis sp.) and Hawkweeds (Hieracium sp.), but showing signs of them having been eaten by large numbers of grazing animals. Where Ragwort occurs, there is evidence that it is all removed inappropriately and where Wood-sage and Tormentil appear to be absent because of heavy grazing or the area is used by just too many people = 0 points
  • (H5C) A site containing no scrub such as dwarf sallows, which appear to be heavily grazed and where ordinary sallows occur but are sawn down without thought as to the species that might utilise its blossoms. Where coniferous species occur too frequently and where there are areas where these are planted for a new crop to be produced on existing heathland. A site where any blackberry plants (Rubus sp.) are removed completely for no particular reason (sometimes to help certain amphibians it is advisable for blackberry plants to be removed) = 0 points.
  • (H6C) A site which is predominantly managed now for human leisure purposes and has a management plan and managing organisation which disregards the needs of insects and invertebrates to have bare ground in which to nest in. The organisations involved in this site are mainly unresponsive when complaints are made to them, preferring to concentrate on managing sites to encourage access by people in a way that damages food-chains and the biodiversity of the site = 0 points.

ABOVE: An overused and thus heavily disturbed natural soil track like this on Canford Heath, Dorset can still provide nesting situations for invertebrate species that live on the heaths because a few species can cope with such disturbance but many cannot. © Copyright SMiles.




Commentary on Heathland management in central southern England and scoring of these sites

Only sites scoring 30 points or more are well managed for providing micro-habitats for their insect and invertebrate species and for retaining the ecological food chain for other species of wildlife.

Site Name Heathland Management Score Comments on Score - Justification Visit & Assessment Date
Chobham Common (N), Surrey H4A, H5A, H3B, H2C & H6C - 25 points This site has too many surfaced path, track and bridleway routes. No new bare patches have been created recently as mitigation. 31st July 2015
Thursley Common, Surrey H1A, H2B, H3C, H4A & H6A - 35 points This site has suffered for many years from horseriders' galloping when two or more abreast on its' central E-W track. 25th July 2015
Hogmoor Inclosure, Bordon, Hampshire H3A, H4A & H5B - 25 points - 25 points At the time of the assessment this was a military tracked vehicle exercise area in Bordon threatened by plans to convert it into a SANG, with additional heathland but also with new surfaced paths for people and cyclists and also threatened by a new road on its' east edge. 22nd August 2013
Broxhead Common (MOD), Hampshire H1A, H3A, H5A & H6A - 40 points This is currently a well-managed site. Provided the access by people from the future housing developments of the Bordon regeneration go only to the Bordon Inclosure SANG this will continue to hold all the bare ground inhabiting insects that occur here. The SAMM proposals may be a future threat. 22nd July 2012
Weavers Down, Hampshire H2B, H3C, H5A & H6B - 20 points only This site area is suffering because of the increased mountain bike and general cycling access as promoted by the Shipwright's Way which is leading to more disturbance and churning of the bare sand habitats on all the tracks and bridleways. 13th April 2014
New Forest Heaths Hampshire:

Beaulieu Road Heathland

Hinchelsea Moor
H5A, H3B, H6B & H1B - 25 points Many sites in this area are suffering because of the increased mountain bike and general cycling access, which is sometimes occurring in excessive proportions. 1st September 2015
Canford Heath, Dorset H1B, H3B & H6B - 15 points only This site suffers from the urban effects of too many human visitors whose leisure comes at the expense of the habitat causing excessive bare ground disturbance from walkers and cyclists. 14th August 2009
Upton Heath, Dorset H1A, H3C & H6B - 15 points only This site suffers from the urban effects of too many human visitors, which frequently results in fire setting and disturbance by trampling of the bare ground. 15th July 2005
Wareham Forest, Dorset H2A, H4A, H3C & H6B - 25 points A site where mistakes were made by the management in the past when they failed to consider the need for bare ground for insect species and just promoted the use of tracks etc., for human leisure. More recently the managers have been positive on the need for bare ground patches and these have been created on site in a very positive and successful manner. 31st July 2015

SAMM = Strategic Access Management and Monitoring

In many of these sites the managers are keen and enthusiastic and are of course heathland experts in their own right, as I know from personal experience in dealing with a few of them. Many of the problems result from the historic ones of the siting of large populations of people adjacent to these sites. In many cases these populations do not care about the requirements of heathland wildlife, perhaps just like our modern Government, who only now seem to see heathlands as just leisure sites for people. Fire Brigades' staff are equally sympathetic to these sites but are having to still deal with their volatility in relation to people and the consequences of too many people with fire-setting habits near to them, when their own staff numbers and equipment are being cut! It is overdue that more people are educated about the Countryside Code and that those who would set fires are also educated about the consequences to our wildlife of their actions.

Further reading and references, some of which are referred to in the text above.

1 - Chobham Common NNR Management Plan 2010-2020, anonymous website downloadable version.

2 - DEFRA Network Offer to LEPs and City Deals, The DEFRA toolkit trial of Summer 2013.

3 - Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service - Planning for a Safer Hampshire, 2015 Consultation Document [Dealing with a £16Million Government funding gap].

4 - The Countryside Code, published by Natural England in 2012 and produced jointly with the Countryside Council for Wales (available from the UK Government website).

NOTE: LEPs = Local Enterprise Partnerships


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