Designation as a Local Nature Reserve
This meant that this area of Holtspur Bank was eligible for a grant from MAFF/Defra under their Countryside Stewardship scheme and with the help of a County Council Conservation officer Beaconsfield Town Council obtained a grant of £1000 per year for ten years towards the financial costs of reserve management.
A management committee was formed by the Town Council to oversee all the finances and work that needed to be done. This committee meets regularly throughout the year and consists of two councillors (one of whom is the chairman), the reserve coordinator, a representative each from Butterfly Conservation, BBOWT, and the Friends of Holtspur Bank, plus, if possible, one of the Chiltern Rangers who have helped in so many ways over the years. A further update of the management plan for the chalk bank was made in 2000 and a new one for Cut-throat wood was commissioned recently.
Management Aims - Grassland and Scrub
The site is small and so there is often a conflict of interest between the needs of the flora and fauna present on the reserve, therefore it is very necessary to have expert guidance. Over the twenty five years or more since the site was designated as a reserve much work, e.g. scrub clearance, has been done on the chalk bank and more recently in the wood.
The main aim on the chalk bank was to reduce the amount of invasive dogwood and hawthorn as well as the dense growth of grass which can shade out the flowering plants typical of the chalk grassland habitat. These are very important because they attract butterflies and other insects which contribute to the diversity of the site. Over the years the scrub has been cut down and burnt by the Friends during their winter work parties but the quality of the grass remained a problem. Cutting by machine was arduous because of the steepness of the bank and because the resultant cuttings have to be gathered up by hand and removed to maintain the unimproved condition.
Romney sheep grazing on chalk bank
The management plan stated that grazing was the best option, preferably by cattle. This necessitated stock proof fencing, which was facilitated with the help of a grant from Countryside Stewardship. The neighbouring farmer was very helpful in putting some cattle onto the chalk bank, but in a few days it was obvious that the steepness of the site was a problem and that sheep would be more able to cope
Therefore, in the winter of 2003 some sheep were grazed on the bank for a few weeks. This solved the problems of cutting and gathering up of unwanted grass at a stroke. Subsequently the reserve had the benefit of The National Trust flock each winter for two years and then, when they sold their flock, the services of 40 Romney sheep owned by shepherd Penny Roote. Joe Hope now supplies the sheep for grazing on the reserve.
Management Aims - Wooded Area
As for the wooded area, the main thrust of work parties has been the construction and erection of nesting/resting boxes for dormice, the construction of brushwood stockades to prevent deer from eating the early purple orchids, boundary hedge planting and some coppicing of hazel. It is hoped that progressive coppicing of selected areas in Cut-throat Wood will, over the years, see the return of ground flora advantageous to butterflies and the spread of rare species such as coral root, which prefer the shelter that the woodland provides, as well as the restoration of the hazel coppice.
Hazel Coppicing in the woodland
There is obviously much to be done in the future if the diversity of the reserve is to be maintained and hopefully increased. Defra continues to give financial support to the Beaconsfield Town Council as laid out in the Management Plan for the Reserve.
Of course, the Friends continue to help with work parties on the reserve, aimed at collecting management information, achieving management objectives and spending their modest sums as appropriate.
The significant event of the summer of 2014 was the arrival of two British White cattle on loan from Burnham Beeches. Owing to all sorts of administrative and logistic details such as TB testing they could not be moved until the middle of August.
They had to be checked every day and Ian organised a rota of stalwart ”Lookers” who volunteered to come in every day and report on the condition of Verity and Icarus to the warden in Burnham Beeches.
British white cattle grazing on chalk bank
At the end of October the cows came again from Burnham Beeches. There were three this time (Verity, Icarus and Adelaide) who did a good job poaching the chalk bank – this gives more surface area for flower seeds to germinate - as well as eating the grass.
The next time the cows came Adelaide was replaced by a new cow, Heather.
Management on the reserve continues with path widening in Cut Throat Wood by the removal of some of the overpowering holly and laurel there and also path widening and scrub clearance on the chalk bank.