Wildlife charities are calling for a new vision after Forestry England replanted conifers in precious heathland.
RSPB, Dorset Wildlife Trust, Plant, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and Butterfly Conservation have raised concerns today following the decision by Forestry England (FE) to replant pine trees on precious heathland in Wareham Forest. In the current ecological emergency, they urge FE to work with them on a new heather vision for the FE property in Purbeck.
In May 2020, 192 acres of Wareham Forest were accidentally burned, much of it an inferior conifer crop for wood.
Previously, local charities had pressured FE to recognize Wareham Forest as a priority for large-scale heathland restoration. They also urged FE to suspend automatic replanting of the burned area pending a root and branch review of FE’s Wareham Forest Plan and discussing with charities how best to restore the area’s outstanding heather potential. Last week, however, Forestry England did tree planting in much of the fire area, much to the concern of wildlife charities.
Dartford Warbler, Copyright Glyn Sellors, from the Surfbirds Galleries
Speaking for RSPB, Dante Munns said, “This was an excellent opportunity to expand the heather in Wareham Forest and connect it to Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve as part of a comprehensive nature restoration network. It was a great opportunity to increase the populations of rare birds like Dartford warblers, night owls, and reptiles like sand lizards and smooth snakes.
“The RSPB and its partners have decades of experience in managing and restoring heathland in places like Arne and Winfrith. Having worked well with FE to restore large areas of former heather in Rempstone Forest, we don’t understand why FE pushed ahead with replanting. We have already lost so much valuable heathland and such opportunities don’t come very often. It’s very, very disappointing. “
Imogen Davenport, Director of Conservation for the Dorset Wildlife Trust, said: “All of our charities are passionate about the need for more trees and forests, but there is growing concern that bad decisions will be made to get this done quickly. It is critical that we plant the right species of tree in the right location in Dorset by using deciduous trees such as oak, willow and birch which are superstars in wildlife and avoiding planting on valuable habitats like heather. The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew recently issued a ten-point guide to ensuring that planting trees does no more harm than good. Sad to say that this planting fails on all ten points. “
The replenishment of Wareham Forest comes at a time when concerns about poor tree planting decisions in the UK are growing.
Tony Gent, Chief Executive Officer of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, said: “The fragmentation of our Dorset heathland is putting enormous pressure on the rare wildlife that depends on it. We, along with many other charities, have protected the remaining heather in Dorset for decades and people love to visit them. But we have to work really hard to create more, bigger, better connected websites, new networks to restore nature. And places like Wareham Forest are important pieces of the puzzle. FE plays a big role in restoring nature, but fundamentally changes the direction that is currently very harmful. “
Jenny Hawley, Plantlife Policy Manager, said, “The Wareham forest fire is both a disaster and a once in a lifetime opportunity. Great Britain is rare in the world and is home to a fifth of the world’s remaining lowland heather. The unique character of Dorset’s once vast heathland and its rare and beautiful wildlife such as pale dog violet and yellow centauria, slick snake and night owls could rise like a phoenix from the flames of the blackened earth. With the combined experience of the national conservation organizations for birds, butterflies, reptiles and wild plants in collaboration with Forestry England, the restoration in Wareham Forest could be a shining example of a differentiated approach to regenerating great, open, biodiverse landscapes. It could be very exciting indeed. We have to ask ourselves: is this really the best location for a conifer plantation? “
RSPB’s Dante Munns added, “We would like to help FE redefine its vision and focus on these valuable heathland locations. We have the knowledge and practical experience to cultivate large open heath areas. We are ready to help; We only need them to talk to us. “