Heathland restoration at Thursley Common, Surrey

Heathland restoration at Thursley Common, Surrey

This project is led by Plantlife and supported by SITANatural England and Surrey Wildlife Trust who provided the survey information highlighting the need for this plant conservation work.

Heathland plant species have severely declined over the last century, notable species associated with damp open conditions. Such a decline was observed on Thursley Common, an area of heathland in Guildford, Surrey, a National Nature Reserve noted for a range of species as well as rare invertebrates and interesting birds not often seen.

What’s the problem?

Even though the area was well managed, marsh clubmoss and brown beaked sedge were struggling and reducing in number. One possible reason for the decline is a lack of grazing to keep areas open and increased pollution which impacts on nutrient levels, indicated by the build-up of nutrient loving plants, such as Purple Moor-grass recorded at this site. This project has been set up to reverse the trend of rare species decline building on successful conservation techniques tested on other heathland sites.

How are we going about it?

There are a range of techniques being utilised at this site which combine to mimic past land management practices and even hark back to times when large creatures such as aurochs trampled the earth.

Areas of scrub have been cleared using bull dozers to create areas of open scrapes suited to the rare species. Cattle have also been brought onto certain areas and contained by new fencing ensuring they break up the surface and open up bare ground for the new growth to take hold in.

What do we want the outcome to be?

We are hoping to see signs of new growth of both marsh clubmoss and brown beaked sedge in the cleared areas in 2012, a year after the land is cleared.

Key activity dates

The project is running from 2011 through to 2012. The scrapes have been dug in the autumn and winter months which will be followed by surveys to establish the impact on species populations.

How can you help?

We ask that the public understand that the primary purpose of our work is to conserve the threatened wild plants. The fencing and somewhat dramatic land clearance have been designed to protect the plants we’re trying to conserve so whilst we appreciate they can be a temporary nuisance we hope the longer term conservation goals are appreciated and supported. The cleared land will colonise, hopefully including our specific species, and will once again blend into the surrounding landscape.