Volunteers making a difference on Chobham Common

Bell heather {Erica tetralix}, among pine trees, at Arne (RSPB) Nature Reserve, Dorset, UK. September 2011. - Ross Hoddinott/2020VISION

Volunteers have made a tremendous effort improving the rare heathland for the benefit of wildlife

This winter volunteers cleared just over a hectare of scrub, predominantly pine saplings, from the south west corner of Chobham Common off Gracious Pond Road. This work was completed with the help of our Thursday group and monthly weekend volunteers. Asides from our regulars, we had a wide range of people helping, including families and young people completing voluntary hours for their Duke of Edinburgh, students from Royal Holloway and local residents from the Chobham Preservation Society.

Scrub clearance is beneficial for rare species such as the marsh gentian, which requires areas of wet, open heathland, as removing small trees prevents the heathland from succeeding into woodland and reduces the absorption of ground water through transpiration.

Thanks to everyone’s hard work we not only completed our set target but were able to undertake further clearance to link up two of the open areas, improving connectivity so that wildlife can move more easily through particular habitats across the site.

Another management technique that will help us to create and improve habitat for the marsh gentian is the implementation of conservation grazing regimes. The Trust has its own herd of belted galloway cattle, a hardy yet docile breed, which are ideal for use on rough, unimproved grasslands and areas with high levels of public access.

In July we will be working with teams of volunteers to set up temporary electric fencing in an area of Chobham Common; we'll be cutting the vegetation along the fence-line, installing the fence posts and electric wire, along with putting up signage and notifications to inform the public about the benefits of grazing.

Once the cattle go onsite they will reduce the amount of dominant vegetation such as purple moor grass, as well as “poaching” the ground with their hooves. This creates patches of open ground and reduces competition for ground flora, which should increase the botanical diversity and abundance of species like the marsh gentian.

Thank you everyone for all your hard work, you really help us to make a difference to this important National Nature Reserve!