Livestock on the Hills and Holes Sept 2018

Pyramid OrchidBy the time you are reading this article there will be livestock present on the Hills and Holes again. If all goes to plan this will include ponies as well as sheep this year. The mix of different types of livestock should help to improve the grassland quality and increase biodiversity.  The impact of grazing, on the number and spread of rare plant species, is illustrated by the fact that we continue to see an increase in Pasque flower numbers in the monitored plots. These flowers have also now spread right across the reserve. Without annual grazing the coarser grasses and plant species will quickly take over followed by scrub and eventually trees. 

Some of you will have seen the aerial picture of the reserve taken in the 1940’s showing it completely clear of all scrub and trees. Many of you will remember the time when most of the South-East compartment, nearest to the Cricket club and the adjacent area of the North-East compartment closest to Millstone Lane was thick with scrub and trees. Expensive and time consuming effort has been put in to open these up and allow a more diverse and interesting flora to develop. 

Hills and Holes

This year has seen Pyramidal, Bee, Fragrant and Early purple orchids  plus Pasque flowers getting established in these previously inhospitable areas. More immediate evidence of the different grassland types can be seen by comparing the area straight ahead of the gate by Millstone Lane as you walk to the centre of the reserve or the areas of grassland adjacent to the woodland and field boundary in the furthest compartment  (South -west) from the village. Here due to the increased fertility of the soil the ranker grasses and stronger species (e.g. Hogweed and Wild Parsnip) prevent the more delicate flora from getting established. Grazing by livestock will help contain these areas and prevent the areas with less vigorous grass species and more diverse flora becoming overgrown.

This year due to the reluctance of graziers to put their sheep at risk, on land so heavily visited by people and dogs, Natural England have had to invest in their own small flock of Shetland sheep and the intention is to supplement these with ponies. These bring a different grazing style that will open up the grassland in a different way encouraging more biodiversity in the future. Please take extra care when visiting the site and obey any instructions placed on the notice boards or gates. Also be aware that despite efforts to make the fencing and gates secure sheep may stray from the designated compartment at times so please keep dogs under very close control (preferably on leads) at all times. A very big thank you to the many responsible dog owners who do this every year and avoid entering the compartment where livestock is present. This is a great help to ensure the animals are not stressed and can continue their important work undisturbed.

Also through the autumn and winter the usual scrub clearing activities by volunteers and staff of Natural England will re-commence  please feel free to join any of the advertised working parties and contribute a little to ensure we maintain and can even enhance the reputation of this special site.

Following the work of contractors on the site in August improving the main car park and replacing the field boundary fence this fresh wave of “contract labour” will continue to improve the reserve for us all to enjoy in 2019. Feel free to thank the animals and even the humans, for the work they are doing for your benefit and if you want and are able to support the work financially notices at all the gates provide simple instructions on how you can do this.