Heathland Management with the RSPB

Wiggonholt and Rackham Woods are sites involved in our heathlands reunited project

During the early autumn the RSPB Pulborough Brooks team will be undertaking essential habitat management work on their wooded heathland sites at Wiggonholt Heath & Rackham Woods. Anna Allum, Visitor Experience Manager at RSPB Pulborough Brooks explains more:

Heathland requires regular management to help get it into tip top shape. This autumn we’ll be working on these two wooded heathland sites to create and maintain heathland habitat and also improve the management of the wooded areas to encourage native broadleaved tree species and create a better diversity of ground flora.

Whilst the work is taking place there will be some disruption with some permissive paths closed whilst forestry work is being undertaken. With forest machinery in operation, the site will be rather churned up and there will be bare areas, stumps and brash. We understand that this can look rather brutal in the short term but in the longer-term, habitat improvements will make the site better for wildlife and for our nature-loving visitors.

Rackham Woods

One of the primary aims at Rackham Woods is to maintain the area around five or six Bronze Age Round Barrows (also known as tumuli); restoring them to their

landscape context, maintaining their structure and encouraging the re-generation of heather in the open area. In the Bronze Age the barrows would have been visible from miles around. We’ll be thinning some of the plantation conifers that surround them and controlling some of the bracken and birch seedlings that are quick to colonise open ground.

Surrounding the barrows is an area of mixed woodland including plantation conifers, mixed broadleaf trees with Amelanchier and some areas of fantastic mature broadleaf trees such as beech, oak and sweet chestnut. The work we’re doing will encourage the native broadleaf species and improve the structure of the wooded areas.

Thinning the Scots pine and Cypress plantations, which have little wildlife value, will create ‘rides’ which allow more light through the canopy and encourage the development of ground flora. Bird surveys have been completed regularly on the site and the area checked for potential bat roosts.

In the areas of mixed broadleaf trees and Amelanchier we’ll be removing the latter (a naturalised garden escapee) to allow the native trees to flourish. Again the work will give the native trees more light and space to grow to maturity (our veteran trees of the future) and encourage the natural regeneration of ground flora.

Please take note of signage around the site and cooperate with the RSPB team and contractors on site to ensure your own and their safety. Public rights of way will remain open throughout, other permissive paths and the small RSPB car park will be shut whilst forestry work takes place.

Wiggonholt Heath

On the wooded heath at Wiggonholt next to the RSPB Pulborough Brooks Visitor Centre, we’ll be completing work to aid both heathland and woodland regeneration. This will include some further tree thinning on various parts of the heath including the western hemlocks & Corsican pine plantations and in areas of mixed woodland – mainly on the outer edges of the heath; alongside the public footpath and along the southern edge of the heath.

The thinning of some of the skinny birches and plantation pines will allow more light to penetrate the canopy and encourage greater growth and diversity in the ground flora, allowing the bluebells, honeysuckle, stitchwort and others to flourish. We’ll be retaining more of the native broadleaved trees – the oaks, beeches, and rowans – and by giving them more space to grow we’ll be encouraging some to develop into veteran trees whilst safeguarding the fabulous existing veteran trees on site.

Following this summer’s hot and dry weather we’re becoming ever more conscious of fire risk – heathland is particularly vulnerable to wildfires. Removing some of the conifers at the top of the slope, adjacent to the Visitor Centre and car park will create an important fire break.

Within the central part of the heath, work will continue to control the bracken and manage the re-growth of birch seedlings. This will help to maintain the areas of bare sandy ground that are essential for many of the special invertebrates that live on the heath and will also help the heather to continue to establish itself.

Within Black Wood we’ll be removing some of the fast-growing sycamores. Hail’s View will remain open but the loop within Black Wood will be closed whilst work is underway. The pathway around the southern and eastern edges of the heath will be shut whilst work takes place. We may divert people through the central part of the heath during these closures. No closures to the public footpath or bridleway will be necessary and banksmen will be in place. Signage will be in place so please take note of any closures or diversions to ensure your own safety and that of our team and contractors.

In future years we plan to close the central area of the heath each year during the breeding season, re-opening it in late summer and autumn. The results of breeding bird surveys this spring have suggested that closing the heath and reducing the disturbance to breeding birds has been beneficial with regular sightings of woodlark and tree pipit in the early part of the year and two nightjars in late spring and summer. We also believe that both hobby and kestrel pairs bred on (or adjacent to) this area of heathland this year.

Later on in the year and into 2019 we’ll be constructing a fire access track and a new water main to supply water troughs for grazing livestock. We’ll also be continuing with the removal of birch seedlings and stumps.

If you have any questions about the work we’re doing please do get in touch with us at the RSPB Pulborough Brooks Visitor Centre. Tel: 01798 875851 or email: pulborough.brooks@rspb.org.uk