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. Areas 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.
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.
What are the strange fenced off areas on the heathland?
These are known as 'scrapes'.
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.
As 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.