Lowland heathland is rare across the world, with the UK having about 20% of the global total. Only one sixth of the UK habitat that was present in 1800 remains today, therefore it is a priority habitat for nature conservation. The 'Restoring the Lichfield Link' project, worked to restore areas of lowland heathland across the district, and was completed in 2007. The project formed one of the national Tomorrow's Heathland Heritage projects, which was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and managed by English Nature/Natural England.
Whilst this project has been completed, the work to restore the Lichfield Heathland Link continues. The countryside team and its partners are working to restore and expand this nationally important habitat across the Lichfield district and beyond.
Heathland restoration and management work is currently ongoing at Gentleshaw Common SSSI, Chasewater Heaths SSSI, Muckley Corner Common, Pipe Hill Common SBI and Iron Stone Heaths. This work is funded through grants obtained by the Countryside team.
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Heathlands are home to many rare plants and animals that are not found anywhere else. Without appropriate management, species such as the Woodlark and Nightjar will quickly become extinct. It is valuable for the wildlife it supports and we in the Lichfield District are lucky enough to have this wonderful asset right on our doorstep. Heathlands are not just precious for nature, but for us too! We use them for recreational activities such as walking, cycling and horse riding. The openness of the habitat can provide us with a sense of security too. The sound of the Skylark singing high above brings a smile to many peoples faces, even on a gloomy day! We often take these areas for granted, without management these areas will revert to poor quality scrub and all that we cherish about our heaths will be lost.
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Why is the project important?
Heathland restoration works have been focussed on four sites in the District, these being:
- Chasewater Heaths SSSI at Chasewater Country Park
- Pipehill Crossroads (Pipe Hill Heathlands or Pipe Marsh Common)
- Muckley Corner (Wall Butts) Common
- Ironstone Road Heathland (area of heath off Stables Way in Chase Terrace).
The works were vital, as a number of threats were identified, including:
- A lack of management/neglect
- Encroachment of birch and bracken
- A lack of grazing
- Fragmentation of sites caused by recent road building schemes. This limits the natural movement of animals.
Only one sixth of heathland habitat present in 1800 remains today, it is therefore a priority habitat for nature conservation. At Muckley Corner Common, a population of common lizards are literally hanging on by the skin of their teeth. As heathlands are home to many rare plants and animals, we have a duty to ensure that they are managed appropriately. Heathland restoration work is also being completed at Gentleshaw Common SSSI, funded under the Countryside Stewardship scheme from Natural England.
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How are they managed?
Present management includes heather cutting and scrub clearance, which initially looks like a scene of devastation, but is very beneficial to the plants and animals that live there. Animals need different heights and ages of heather so we annually cut areas of heather at Chasewater to cater for their needs. It is essential that trees are removed to prevent the heathland turning into woodland. Non-native plantations of little conservation value are being removed as part of the heathland restoration scheme and to prevent them regenerating onto the heath.
There are currently four areas on Chasewater Heaths which are in a sustainable grazing regime. This covers over 40 hectares of rare and endangered habitat. Grazing is beneficial in many ways. Animals graze off seedling trees reducing scrub. Reducing dominant grasses would encourage a wider range of plants and animals. Grazing is also the cheapest and best way of managing heathlands over an extended period ensuring the rare habitats for the future.
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Grazing would also encourage different heights and ages of heather, which looks more natural than cutting, and benefits invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals. Insects would benefit from the dung that animals provide.
Project Achievements 2002 - 2007
Heathland is recognised as being an important heritage asset. The Restoring the Lichfield Link project has enabled critical restoration works to be completed on heathlands located within the Lichfield District. The project aimed to halt the decline of the heathland habitat in Lichfield District, and to prevent further loss and fragmentation of the heathland sites between Cannock Chase and Sutton Park . The restoration of these heathland sites, which are made up of important mosaics of habitats, specifically dry, wet and humid heath, mire and acid grassland, has made a significant contribution to the achievement of the local Biodiversity Action Plan targets through restoration of a significant amount of the County resource of lowland heathland.
As a satellite to the Saving Cannock Chase project (managed by Staffordshire County Council), supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund through the Tomorrow's Heathland Heritage programme and English Nature/Natural England, Lichfield District Council has been supported in its heathland restoration work over a 5 year period. The Council has worked to restore the District's heathlands by:
- Clearing 30.5 hectares of scrub and trees
- Treating 12.5 hectares of Bracken
- Reducing the encroachment of Japanese knotweed by treating an area of 2 hectares 4 times over the life of the project
- Completing 9 hectares of Heather cutting
- Re-creating 3 hectares of heathland through Bracken litter clearance and Heather seeding
- Constructing approximately 1400m of fencing and successfully introducing nature conservation grazing to an 8 hectare area, and preparing a further 2 hectares for grazing
- Restoring 40m of permissive footpath to reduce encroachment
As well as protecting the landscape interest, the project has worked towards the conservation of specific heathland wildlife through the creation and improved management of habitat, and to increase local awareness, understanding and involvement in the heathland conservation programme across the District. This has been carried out through community activities, direct local involvement such as setting up volunteer groups and carrying out environmental education, a nature conservation grazing public consultation, and through interpretation including newsletters, leaflets, interpretation boards and media articles.
In addition to species- and habitat-specific site management, the Restoring the Lichfield Link project has had a number of additional benefits. The following list summarises the added value achieved as a result of this project:
- the Countryside Events Programme and heathland-specific events encouraged outdoor education and the development of practical nature conservation skills
- promotion of healthy lifestyles, i.e. countryside walks and practical outdoor work, and the social benefits as a result of volunteering
- improved access to, and views across, heathland sites
- promotion of the heritage value of heathlands
- utilisation of local contractors and grazier, and associated benefits to the local economy
- within Lichfield District Council, the project raised the profile of heathland habitats and species, biodiversity issues, and the Countryside Team.
The project has cost £90,270 over 5 years with funding from the following sources:
- Heritage Lottery Fund - £63,000
- English Nature/Natural England contribution through Wildlife Enhancement Scheme - £20,000
- Lichfield District Council Nature Conservation Fund - £7,270
The project was developed and co-ordinated by Lichfield District Council, with input from the Lichfield District Council Biodiversity Steering Group, which was comprised of representatives from partner organisations. Key partner organisations included the Forest of Mercia , Staffordshire & West Midlands Heathland Partnership, English Nature/Natural England, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, and the Chasewater Wildlife Group. This project has assisted in strengthening the heathland conservation initiative and delivery of the West Midlands and Staffordshire Biodiversity Action Plans.