Habitat Restoration at Rushmere
Written by: The Greensand Trust Team
The project delivered significant heathland restoration within the Oak Wood part of Rushmere Country Park. While in a core area for heathland restoration within Greensand Country, the area is also valued for its wooded landscapes, and therefore the restoration was sensitive to this, leaving some areas of woodland and bringing others into positive management. More of a ‘woody heath’ feel was created, with heather establishing quickly due to its presence in the seed bank (this part of the site was not seeded).
Engaging the public was another important element of this project, to help build support for heathland restoration and to introduce people to new parts of the Country Park – the Oak Wood area is furthest from the visitor facilities. An extension to the hugely popular sculpture trail was created, taking people on a 1.5k tour of the heathland restoration areas, complete with interpretation, waymarking and benches. Local chainsaw artists created the sculptures and benches, which were all wildlife themed and included a gigantic Green Tiger Beeetle, a stunning woodpecker sculpture using rhododendron branches (which would otherwise be burnt), a prehistorically proportioned damselfly and an enormous lizard. One interpretation piece included an ‘empty’ frame, allowing visitors to look through at the landscape in front of them, and observe changes over time as first trees were cleared, then heathland began to establish.
A guided walk was held around the new trail as part of the Rushmere Summer Fair in 2019, but the pandemic put a stop to such events in the following year. We therefore created a downloadable ‘heathland trail’, based on an existing circular route, for all users to enjoy. The trail also takes in the Shire Oak Heath site, where GCLP has supported heathland restoration, and Rammamere Heath SSSI, and therefore highlights the importance of heathland habitats at a landscape scale.
We also held a photography exhibition and an art exhibition at the Herons View Visitor Centre, the latter following a painting event open to the public and resulting in a high standard of entries.
The project restored significant areas of heathland, and brought woodland into positive management, helping further increase the area of rare heathland habitats at Rushmere Country Park. This was achieved whilst retaining the overall wooded landscape. Volunteers were a huge part of the restoration activity, and will continue to be involved in its management.
The sculpture trail extension really enriches the experience of people using the site, and encourages them to explore more and learn more about heathland wildlife.
A ‘Play Trail’ leaflet was also created to engage young people with the sculpture trail, creating fun games to play along the trail.
The art event and exhibition engaged a new audience and resulted in some high quality paintings, enabling people to view the site in a different way.
Benefits to People
Visitors to Rushmere Country Park benefited from having new trails, events and activities and more information on heathland habitats and species. The project ‘opened up’ part of the site to visitors that they may not have previously explored.
This part of the site, although distant from the visitor facilities, is close to the community of Great Brickhill, so gave them a much better ‘introduction’ to it.
Volunteers learnt new skills in terms of habitat creation and management, and the project also included a Fixed Point Photography workshop and instigated ongoing FPP at the site.
Benefits to Heritage & Landscape
The small patches of heathland that already existed in this part of the site are now part of a more viable and sustainable patchwork of heathland habitat, ensuring it is more robust and widespread. It is being managed by Greensand Trust staff and volunteers as part of wider site management at Rushmere.
The inclusion of trails, sculptures, art and other activities has really engaged users, giving them new activities on site and raising awareness of heathland habitats and wildlife. The trails and sculptures have also encouraged visitors to explore more of the site, helping spread the load in terms of visitor pressure in a sustainable way. Many of the areas of heathland are some distance from the main visitor facilities, further than a lot of visitors tend to walk without encouragement.
Habitats are also in better condition and better connected, and there has been an increase in the area of heathland. While it is still early days for many species, heather is much more prevalent across the landscape.
The area is also much more accessible in an intellectual sense. No new access routes have been created, but sculptures, interpretation and trails have engaged people and encouraged them to explore parts of the site previously overlooked.
“The project has resulted in significant improvements to the diversity of the landscape and biodiversity of Oak Wood within Rushmere Park”
Phil Irving, Senior Ecologist, The Greensand Trust
Challenges & Lessons Learnt
We initially wished to introduce grazing as a management technique, with ‘invisible’ fencing to be used to allow free-range grazing. Disappointingly this proved not to be feasible.
We had aimed to engage new volunteers, but with high numbers of existing volunteers and a lack of additional capacity this proved challenging. Then the pandemic struck. Fortunately a significant amount of the practical work had been completed by this stage.
The pandemic also affected our guided walks, so we created the downloadable heathland trail.