Heathland

Heathlands

what are they and why are they so important to certain species of wildlife ?

As one of our most 'at risk' habitats, the origins of today’s remaining heathlands can be traced back to the earliest farming communities of the bronze age, some 3,000 years ago. Heathland13Areas of woodland were cleared of timber for construction of early settlements and then these areas used to graze domestic livestock. 

Grazing halted the natural colonization of these open areas by ‘pioneer’ tree species like Silver Birch and Alder.  As a result, nutrients were washed from the exposed top-soil – only the hardiest shrubs such as gorse broom (see right), heather and some grasses survived and flourished. Gorse

Man then harvested the surviving plants and managed these areas well into the first half of 20th Century. Heathlands are only found in North Western Europe with around 30% of these being found in the UK.

Unfortunately due to changes in land use, population growth and neglect there’s been a huge decline in these habitats. If Heathlands were lost forever it would be a conservation disaster as these areas are now home to many rare species that simply cannot live anywhere else. 

These range from birds like the Dartford Warbler, and the Woodcock, (there are more details about this sighting on our Woodland Bird page).  Heathlands are also home to insects such as the Blue Studdied Butterfly and amphibians like the Natterjack Toad and reptiles like the Common Lizard, Slow Worms, Adders and grass snakes are all species that rely on heathlands in order to survive.  Although we've yet to spot a Dartford Warbler or hear a Natterjack Toad all of the other creatures listed here have been spotted in  Monkmead Wood.

Monkmead Wood Volunteer Group are now working on the Heathland area for longer periods of time - we're calling it our Heathland Restoration Project and each year the group work on the site from September through to November when ground nesting birds like the Woodcock have finished raising any young.  We're trying to clear small birch saplings and bracken which can change the soil acidity - so essential the the heathland.

The heathland in Monkmead Wood is also home to a rare species of fungi 'Scarlet Bonnet' not to mention many species of wild flower and two species of heather' Even plants like the Sundew with its sticky hairs that trap insects only live here. Trees on heathland7

 What are the strange fenced off areas on the heathland? 

These are known as 'scrapes'.Scrape

Horsham District Council have recently fenced off several areas - these are to create seasonal ponds to give local biodiversity a helping hand by supporting some of the more rare species that have called the woodland their home.

We'll be updating you on which species  have been spotted in and around these scrapes in due course. 

 

Heathland Restoration Project now underway!

On the first page of this website you could see the volunteers raking back the ground within the fenced off area in the heathland.  But what were they doing and why?  They were infact raking back the moss which had simply over grown the area - this was also prevent ingany young heather seedlings germinating. 

Heathland 4As you can see they were all really hard at work clearing the ground of moss which took a good 2 hours hard graft!  (Once cleared the moss was collected and stacked in a corner of the heathland as this would provide a great habitat for invertebrates searcing for shelter).

The next stage in the process is to collect some seeds from the more mature heather plants growing in the same area and to scatter these on the exposed soil which has been cleared.  Heather has a very interesting life cycle itself and we'll be updating the site with more information about that in the coming months so please keep a look out for that.

Here's a photo of the finished area which is now ready for seed gathering and scattering  - the volunteers will be busy with that task in October. (Even Harry the labrador couldn't resist checking our workmanship!).  If this task proves to be a successful one then the volunteer group will dedicate more time to clearing the remainder of the heathland in the same way.  We'll let you know how things go.  

 Pond Project begins!

Ponds are an incredibly valuable resource for all kinds of wildlife and although our pond project will take some time to complete it will provide a home for many species of invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians and birds - we may even see Roe Deer taking advantage of this new resource in Monkmead Wood.  As our project develops we will update this page with all of the species that have been spotted in and around the area so that you can see who's calling our new pond home!  Even as we were digging the first part of the pond a large gold ringed dragonfly became very inquisitive about us and continuously flew backwards and forwards across the area.  We're aiming to dig out the whole of the grass covered area that you can see within the frame of the picture below left and this will connect to a natural gulley which runs along the border of the heathland - so the pond will be quite a reasonable size and should stay wet all year.  Even though there's a little bit of work to be done over the next couple of years the pond can be used by all species of wildlife at all stages of its development.  Please do send us any photographs or notify us if you spot anything visiting our new pond and we'll feature it on this page!

Pond Building 6Pond building 1

 

 

Monkmead Wood's historical past
Monkmead Wood is a site rich in history.  From a Roman Road which disects the site, to its connections with World War 2, it's a fascinating place and home to many species of wildlife too.
 
At just under 28.5 acres it can boast both wet and dry heathlands, a SSSI and varied broadleaf deciduous tree species (some of which are featured on this site). 
 
Some clues as to the woodland's past ownership are still visible today.  Ornamental tree planting of huge pines are thought to have been planted by the owners of Monkmead Place, a large residential house opposite the woodland, back in 18th or 19th Century.

Remains of the Candian Army camp from World War 2 are visible throughout the woodland even today, these range from ceramic telephone lines to brick foundations from administration buildings.  

The woodland itself is owned by Horsham District Council and it has been working closely with MWVG for the past 7 years to continue to preserve this site for many generations to come. 
 
One of the tasts that the volunteer group are involved in every year is heathland preservation.  Although the group spend many hours removing birch saplings which had colonised the area, some mature trees are a vital component of the heathland as song posts for birds and homes for insects.  If the encroachment of birch was not kept under control their coverage of the heathland would reduce the light reaching the woodland floor and seriously affect the conditions required for heathland species making it difficult for them to re-establish in the area.
 
The next time you're walking in the woodland see if you can spot those ceramic phone lines from World War 2!