Ashdown Forest is the largest area of lowland heath in the South East and home to a bird living on the edge of extinction.
Your East Sussex talks to Steve Alton, Conservation Officer at The Ashdown Forest Centre about why the forest is so special.
Only five per cent of Britain has heathland, as most of it has been destroyed.
“It’s important, as it supports a unique species, such as heather, invertebrates and reptiles unique to the habitat. It also supports the Nightjar, which only lives in heathland and the Dartford Warbler which is so rare they are hanging on the edge of extinction.”
What also makes the forest unique is how wet it is. Being a wet forest means there are lovely streams, pools with dragon fly and boggy areas which are great for nesting and interesting species. For a lowland heathland, it is at a high altitude which is rare, as most heathland is based around the coast.
During spring, the work at the forest focuses on preparing for summer, which is the busiest time for visitors. “It’s an exciting time as we see the forest coming out of hibernation. There are lots of new shoots, birds emerging and starting to nest, adders basking in the sun to keep warm and bluebells spilling out onto the forest.”
Controlled burning is carried out during the season to stop the heathland turning into scrub, which works to reset the clock as the heather is able to regrow. Steve explains controlled burning only happens once a year, before there are ground nesting birds.
“The management we do is essential to maintaining the forest; every time we cut trees or carry out any burning we get complaints. But if we don’t cut trees, they seed themselves into the heathland and the forest would quite easily become woodland and then you wouldn’t have any heathland left.
“It’s a constant battle against trees trying to invade. As it’s a man-made habitat created by humans, to keep it we have to maintain it,” Steve says.
So what is next for Ashdown Forest?
Plans are underway to redevelop the visitor centre to bring it up to date and trials are being carried out to use invisible fencing. Wires are buried in the ground and the cows are trained to keep away from the fence, as a collar beeps as they get closer to the fence. If the cows get too close, they get a small electric shock. If the trials go well, the fences will be rolled out so that visitors can explore larger areas of Ashdown Forest in future. YC East Sussex County Council owns Ashdown Forest through a charitable trust and is the Trustee, and, through the trust, funds the Conservators of the Forest. For more information, visit ashdownforest.org or call 01342 823583.