Habitat Management

Wolstonbury Hill is of national importance for its rare and unusual types of wildlife. The Hill was made a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) because of its vulnerable habitat – chalk grassland. In the words of David Bellamy, “Chalk Grasslands are Britain’s Tropical Rainforests”. By this he meant that vast amounts of habitat have been destroyed (80% of Britain’s chalk grasslands have been destroyed since 1940). This habitat is particularly diverse supporting as many as 50 separate plant species in 1 square metre of grassland. It is the richest plant habitat in Europe and subsequently supports a wide variety of beetles butterflies and snails many of which only live on the chalk downs of southern England.

Friends of Wolstonbury at work
Invasive scrub poses a threat to calcareous grassland communities

Friends of Wolstonbury at work
Friends of Wolstonbury at work Friends of Wolstonbury play an important role in scrub reduction

Friends of Wolstonbury at work
Invasive scrub being cleared allows calareous grassland communities to regenerate

To maintain its appearance and species diversity chalk grassland needs to be carefully managed and the easiest way to achieve this is by the use of grazing animals. Failure to manage would result in areas of grassland becoming rank course textured and species-poor with broadleaf herbs only at low frequency. Also scrub invasion poses a threat to calcareous grassland communities ultimately shading out low lying plants and reverting areas to species poor woodland.

Wolstonbury Hill has a number of different areas which require different management requirements:

• On the top of the hill to the south are areas of grassland reverting from previous arable use. These areas have been left to tumbledown reversion rather than deliberate re-seeding, allowing seed spread from surrounding areas low intensity grazing is used to maintain these areas.

• On areas of existing grassland heavy stock such as cattle are used to diversify the sward structure and species composition. This is interspersed with sheep grazing to maintain the structure. The welsh black cattle were introduced to reduce the dominance of tor-grass which if left unchecked would out compete other species and reduce the diversity of the grassland. The sheep which graze the hill are Southdown crosses. Southdown sheep would traditionally have grazed the downs but fell out of favour because they are considered too fatty for modern tastes.

• Where scrub invasion has become significant, such as on the slopes above Wellcombe Bottom, manual removal is required which is where Friends of Wolstonbury have been heavily involved. Following removal large stumps are treated with herbicide to prevent plant re-growth. Subsequently these areas are mown mechanically before grazing is reintroduced using cattle and then ultimately sheep.

Both summer and winter grazing of the grassland is managed to ensure flora and fauna diversity are maintained.

We are lucky enough to have local graziers who allow their animals roam the slopes of Wolstonbury Hill; Richard Burrows from Danny House whose flock of 300 + Southdown/Suffolk cross sheep and Brian Osbourne of Nutley's herd of pure bred Welsh Black cattle.

Mike Botterill
Chairman. And National Trust

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