Purple is the new Black…

I have recently been privy to a conversation about whether or not we (people) actually NEED to manage habitats.  Surely nature can just take care of itself, and we have no need for, as it was so deftly put:  ‘wellie-wearing evangelists”.  As we are now approaching the season in which most habitat management work (especially tree work) is undertaken, I thought it timely to reply to this misconception, and explore what I suppose, to those who don’t know any better, could appear to be a negative act taking place on nature reserves… brace yourselves… we are going to be cutting down some trees.

Here in Walsall, we are blessed with the remnants of an area called the Midland Heaths, which once stretched from Sutton Park to Cannock Chase.  These sites (Barr Beacon, Shire Oak Park, Pelsall North Common and Brownhills Common, along with a few smaller patches in places like Rough Wood Chase and Clayhanger) form a chain of lowland heaths in the north east corner of our Borough.  *They are all LOWLAND heaths, even Barr Beacon, as they all come in at under 300m above sea level.

I explain a little bit about the history of heathland and why we manage it in the 2011 video ‘Raising the Barr’:

Basically, the name of the game is Biodiversity, which in a nutshell, means getting as many types of animals and plants to thrive in a habitat as possible.  Because birch and pine grow really well in acidic soils (which all heathlands have) they can soon encroach on open heathland if left to their own devices.  This will lead to shading out heather and other plants, making the area unsuitable for many of the heathland species that depend on the open habitat.   Plantations and woods that have grown on former heaths (like those at Barr Beacon) become dominated by a few species of trees, directly reducing biodiversity.  Fortunately, the remedy is simple – we remove the majority of the trees, increasing sunlight and biodiversity comes flooding back!   Amazingly, heather seeds can survive for over 75 years, in the soil, and will germinate readily when the conditions are right again.

Our management of heathlands has resulted in the presence of some amazing species on our sites, including the rare Tormentil Mining Bee (pictured above), Green Tiger Beetles, Common Lizards, Slow Worms, Heathland butterflies, and many species of heathland specialist insects.  We are working with the Wildlife Trust under the Nature Improvement Area programme, to extend and where possible, connect areas of heathland to enable movement of species between sites and reduce genetic isolation of insect populations.  So if you see a few windswept Countryside Rangers taking down trees on Barr Beacon or other heathland sites this winter, you’ll know what we’re up to.

So, as far as I’m concerned – All hail the Welly-wearing Evangelist!

4 Replies to “Purple is the new Black…”

  1. Exactly. Some people still manage heathlands by grazing animals, but its not possible for our sites at the moment, as grazed areas have to be enclosed completely because of the livestock, so it would mean securing perimeters, installing numerous stiles, and miles of fencing. So we simulate grazing with management. 🙂

  2. I understand why cutting down trees is important, but it does seem counter to our usual assumption that if you leave nature to itself, you’ll have biodiversity. I live in the south of France, and areas left to themselves here will just get covered in oaks and pines eventually, with little light for anything else. Before cultivation, shrubs and annuals probably only got a foothold here after forest fires.
    PS – I grew up in Stourbridge – keep up the good work greening the Midlands.

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