How Nature Reserves are managed

Nature reserves are managed in a variety of different ways, depending on what species are present in and around the site that are regarded as being significant to the habitat and local area.

Chalk grasslands e.g. The Ridgeway, North Berkshire

Chalk grasslands occur on thin, dry calcareous soils and often include a great range of wild flowers and insects. Such grasslands have been traditionally managed by the grazing of sheep. BBONT has a flock of sheep that are moved around their various grassland reserves, acting as living lawn mowers.

Hay Meadows e.g. Around Lambourn and Wantage, West Berkshire

Unimproved hay meadows support a wide variety of plant and associated insect species. When such meadows are "improved" by ploughing, draining, fertilising or reseeding, their interest is lost because the resulting increase n fertility encourages the tougher species to dominate and overshadow the less aggressive wild flowers and grasses. Hay meadows are traditionally managed by cutting for hay between July and August. The hay is removed to reduce fertility and to prevent an accumulating blanket of rotting vegetation. Livestock are often put on afterwards as they help to maintain plant diversity and provide exposed earth for annual plants to germinate readily. Learn more about Grassland management.

Deciduous Woodlands e.g. Moor copse, Reading, Berkshire

The variety of woodlands today have arisen from various style of management. The most valuable woods in terms of wildlife are ancient ones that have existed for several centuries and possibly since the last ice age. They have trees of different species and ages and tend to have larger numbers of plants and animals associated with them. Most ancient woods were managed as "coppice with standards" which produced a wide range of sizes of timber suitable for various uses e.g. furniture making.

For coppicing, trees are chopped down almost to ground level. Their stumps (known as "coppice stools") regenerate, producing new shoots. Coppiced trees are often multi-stemmed and bushier than normal. Trees left uncut are known as "standards". Learn more about Woodland management.

Woodland management tasks include:

  • Coppicing - Clearance and maintenance of footpaths
  • Pollarding - Creation of grassland "rides", along wood edges
  • Harvesting coniferous trees - Maintenance of trees of a variety of ages
  • Removal of introduced species, e.g. sycamore, rhododendron - Non-intervention, to develop into "wildwood"

Ponds, e.g. Englemere pond, Bracknell, Berkshire

Most ponds have been created to provide water for livestock or through extraction of gravel, stone or clay. A pond is a temporary landscape feature and naturally becomes filled with dead plant matter and silt. Left for long enough it will become a marsh and eventually dry out completely. Ponds provide valuable habitat for amphibians and many invertebrates and birds. Managing ponds entails occasional dredging, limiting excessive plant growth and cutting back overhanging trees.

Heathland, e.g. Snelsmore common, Newbury, West Berkshire

Heathland is the type of vegetation usually found on poor, acidic soils. It is dominated by heathers, with a variety of fine grasses and wild flowers. Natural succession leads to invasion by birch followed by other tree species. Traditionally many heathland areas were managed as common land and local people had common rights to graze livestock, cut wood and peat for fuel. Livestock maintained the heathland because the grazing animals kept shrubs and trees from invading. Management of these areas involves removing birch and bracken. Some areas of scrub are left to provide cover and perches for birds.

Bogs, e.g. Owlsmoor bog and heath, Broadmoor, Berkshire

Bogs are wet areas that develop on poorly drained soils and are dominated by sphagnum mosses. Some interesting insectivorous plants may grow among them e.g. sundew's. There are now very few bogs in Berkshire. Management involves removal of invading scrub (often birch) and maintaining high water levels to prevent bogs from drying out.

Hedgerows, field boundaries throughout Berkshire

Hedgerows have become even more important as woodlands disappear from the countryside. Hedgerows provide valuable nesting sites for birds, mammals and insects. They act as corridors for wildlife between patches of woodland and as refuges for some species that forage in open fields.

Traditional management involved laying hedges about every fifteen years. This activity promotes new growth and in the long term provides a thick, stockproof hedge that is very valuable to wildlife.

>> Learn more about Hedgerow management

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