New Management Plans
The committee have been working with the council to develop new management plans for both Old Down and Beggarwood. These are complete and should be published on the council website. They include detailed mowing plans plus some of our ideas about how to ensure the new woodland planting should be managed.
An Opportunity For Nature
When taken into public ownership half of these former arable farmlands was sown with grasses and half with trees and shrubs. An area around the Tumulus on Old Down was sown with wild flowers and beside the A30 on Beggarwood. The woodland and grassland are now recognised as sites important for nature conservation (SINCs)
The group is working to increase the spread of wild flowers. This will increase interest and colour for people, and food, nesting, roosting and hiding places for insects (including butterflies and bees), birds and small mammals. To have a healthy wildlife we need healthy populations of wild flowers.
Birdsfoot Trefoil, for example, is food for over 50 species of insect. A large proportion of our insects have evolved to feed on the wild flowers, trees and shrubs with which they are familiar. Some species will only lay eggs or feed on a single plant that commonly has now gone from the landscape.
Woods and Shrubs
New wood and shrub areas are being managed to create sheltered glades for butterflies and hazel coppiced on a cycle to create a more open structure that lets in light. This will, in time, encourage woodland wild flowers to colonise. Most of these are in scallops along the scrub edges so they should be easily visible as you walk round.
Coppiced hazel will benefit birds by creating thickets as they grow back, and the coppicing prolongs the life of the hazel too.
Scrub, while valuable for wildlife, is kept in check and managed to discourage rabbits.
Rabbits kill young trees by eating the bark and overgrazing of wild flowers prevents plants from producing flowers and nectar for insects, or seed for new plants or food for birds and small mammals. We also have some trees which have been damaged by deer
The Old Wood on both sites is being managed for sustainability. Sometime this means older trees have to be cut to allow younger ones to become established.
The central wood on Beggarwood and the East wood and Triangular wood on Old down will all become proper woodland over a period of about 30 years
There was some significant cutting back of the scrub edges in 2014 which have been encroaching more and more onto the grassland. You may have noticed that the bottom bin had disappeared under the blackthorn making it almost unusable. This is now visible again.
Please be reassured that although these edges will looked fairly horrible initially they have regrown and we have left them uncut for 2015 We have left sufficient scrub for overwintering roosts by leaving some bits of hedge much thicker than others.
Dogwood is proving to be a particular problem as it spreads very readily and is difficult to eradicate
New Butterfly glade on Old Down
Our major project for 2014 was the establishment of a large butterfly glade in the play area wood on Old Down. This involved cutting out large amounts of blackthorn and dogwood and it has needed continuous attention. In subsequent years we have cut them back again as these are both very vigorous shrubs which keep trying to re establish. We have been pleased to see how many wildflowers have established there already and it is a favourite spot for butterflies.
Osmia bicolor has been found nesting in the butterfly glade. This rare bee lays its eggs in empty snail shells
Grassland needs to be cut and cleared annually as an alternative to grazing so that wild flowers can compete with grasses. Removing seasonal growth allows new seed to make soil contact and receive light and warmth to germinate.
If grass is left and not cut at all the grass predominates at first and then the area turns to scrub. Butterflies and other insects hibernate in long grass so we make sure we leave some longer grass over winter.
The trials in fenced and unfenced areas tested different approaches to reseeding and to see which plants do well. Wild flowers are mostly perennials and can take several years to flower.The fences have now been removed as the flowers now seem to be well established.
The time to cut and the height is key and has to take account of the species of grasses and plants that grow in an area. Some benefit from early cutting and some do better with a late cut.
In 2014 we left mowing until early September with the option to cut some more in early October.
Since then most of the meadow areas are cut biannually with some woodland edges on a four year rotation. This is a trial to see how it works and we may need to revert to more frequent cutting.
In 2014 we planted some native bluebells in a variety of places on the Down where we hope they will thrive.
We have a few along the path through the Old Wood Belt which have been there for some time but don't seem to be spreading.
In subsequent year we have planted more bluebells and added some snowdrops, wild garlic, wood anemones and Soloman's Seal.