Birch Bashing LR (1 of 15)

Kitted out in waterproofs and wellies and ready to face the cold and foggy day ahead, a group of volunteers headed up to the heathland on The Lodge reserve in Sandy.

Birch Bashing LR (2 of 15)

Lowland heathland had previously covered The Lodge for about 5000 years, but much of it was lost due to agriculture and forestry in the 1800’s, and has been declining in many other areas for similar reasons. The survival of heathland habitat is critical for the survival of the many species that depend on it and the RSPB undertook the task of restoring the heathland in 2005. A big part of the job is clearing the birch year on year, as birch is a pioneer species and readily establishes on heathland. With no intervention it would quickly take over the heathland and turn the area back to woodland.

Birch Bashing LR (3 of 15)

Birch Bashing LR (4 of 15)

Birch Bashing LR (5 of 15)

Once the birch has been cut, volunteers head out to collect it all by hand, piling it up ready for burning. Previously, traditional practices such as grazing animals or collecting firewood would have kept the birch and other forest trees under control. Without as much requirement for these techniques in modern life, careful management strategies such as this are required.

Birch Bashing LR (6 of 15)

Birch Bashing LR (7 of 15)

Birch Bashing LR (8 of 15)

The Lodge warden miraculously got the fire going, despite the damp and gloomy weather conditions!

Birch Bashing LR (9 of 15)

Lowland heath supports a number of species, many of who’s decline correlates to the decline in heathland.  The hope is that the restoration of the heathland will encourage bird species such as tree pipits, nightjars, breeding woodlarks and skylarks. Also, all 6 species of reptile native to the UK can be found on heathland, it supports the rare natterjack toad and hundreds of invertebrate species. Thankfully many of these have been seen on the reserve since the restoration began.

Birch Bashing LR (10 of 15)

Time for a quick cuppa!

Birch Bashing LR (11 of 15)

It’s soon back to work though and the amount of birch to be cleared calls for a second fire.

Birch Bashing LR (12 of 15)

Birch Bashing LR (13 of 15)

The fog persisted throughout the day, good thing we had a handy bonfire to keep us warm!

Birch Bashing LR (15 of 15)

Job done for the day. Despite the fog we could see the fruits of our labours, the clumps of heather that now have the freedom to grow. Lowland heath still faces significant threats but I’m looking forward to seeing purple heather filling this space in the summer.