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Heathlands and their Managment

How we restore heathland by removing trees
The Remnant Midland Heaths
Here in the West Midlands we have areas of a unique and nationally important habitat that is in decline:  Lowland Heath.  We are the custodians of some of the remnants of the former Staffordshire Heaths, an area of heathland that once stretched from Sutton Park to Cannock Chase!  Our heathland sites (Barr Beacon, Shire Oak Park, Btrnhills Common, Clayhanger Common and Pelsall North Common) are managed in a ‘Higher Level Environmental Stewardship Agreement’ – a 10-year plan agreed with Natural England to manage the sites for biodiversity.  
Succession & Biodiversity
Biodiversity means getting as many types of animals and plants to thrive in a habitat as possible.  Birch and pine gtr really well in acidic soils and can soon encroach on open heathland in a process called ‘succession’.  Succession leads to shading out heather and other flowers, making the area unsuitable for many of the specialist heathland species that depend on the open habitat directly reducing biodiversity.  Fortunately, the remedy is simple – we remove some of the trees, increasing sunlight and biodiversity comes flooding back!   Heather seeds can survive for over 75 years, in the soil, and will germinate readily when the conditions are right again.
Heathland Specialist Wildlife
There are many species of heathland specialist wildlife that depend on the open habitat, including insects, birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and of course flowering plants!  Here are just a few of them:
Slow Worm
Common Lizard
Actually not a worm at all, nor is it a snake – but actually a type of legless lizard.  In 2012, the species was recorded on Barr Beacon, which was the first record of the species in Walsall for over 35 years!
Lizards are absolutely dependant on heathland habitat, and because the heathlands are rare (and getting rarer!), so are reptiles.  Managing the habitat can help these elusive and enigmatic creatures to thrive.
Great Crested Newt
Green Tiger Beetle
Many people don’t realise that although newts are amphibians, it is mostly a land-dwelling animal which still breeds in water. The terrain that heathlands provide is just as important to this animal’s success and wellbeing as ponds.  
This stunning green beetle was recorded in Walsall for the first time in 2012!  It is important that this species is allowed to establish itself and so the management of heathland this and other heathland specialist insects.
Tormentil Mining Bee
Red Deer
This tiny bee is a priority for Walsall, as ours may be the only population left in the area.  It depends on the flower Tormentil, one of the many plants that will disappear with succession, taking the bees with it.
Deer are an iconic part of the heathland landscape, and they depend on the heathland plants for their food.  By removing the conifers, we encourage the food plants to gtr, so our deer populations can flourish in their natural environment
Case Study:  Restoration of Btrnhills Common
Restoring the heathland areas is a legal requirement where the sites have special designations as is the case with Btrnhills Common, which has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  Natural England not only designate the site, but they keep track of the condition of the land.  Btrnhills Common has been classified as ‘Unfavourable’ because of the succession that has taken place, but since the agreement of the stewardship plan, this has been changed to “Unfavourable: Recovering” in recognition of the work we are preparing to do.  
All restoration work has to be undertaken with the utmost consideration for plant and animal species, for example checking all trees for the presence of bats before we remove them. The heathland is restored by removing scrub and trees from open areas of heathland and trees/scrub/bramble in identified areas (pictured below are the identified areas on Btrnhills Common).  We leave ALL mature native broadleaved trees, removing only non-native species like conifers (evergreen trees) in the areas identified above.  The work will not have any detrimental effect on the wildlife of the commons – from the resident deer to the myriad of stunning butterflies, all of our native wildlife stands to benefit from the active management of one of our most iconic British landscapes, Lowland Heath.
Contact us
Environmental Improvement Team
Clean and Green Environmental Depot
200 Pelsall Lane
Telephone 01922 653344
Email eit@walsall.gov.uk