Not many people can claim to have had such a long term view of the remarkable landscape between Culpepper’s Dish and Briantspuddle Village than Mrs. Eileen Riglar. In the early 1960s Eileen was a member of a mainly female team employed by Sir Piers Debenham to plant conifers on the undulating plateau behind the Dish (the best known of Dorset’s swallet-holes) and down the slopes towards the village. On the plateau these conifers were planted on what Eilieen recalls as open purple heathland, and on the slopes they were planted under oak and bluebell woodland.
The photograph shows Culpepper’s Dish as it was just after planting took place – in a wide open landscape with just one majestic oak in its base. (Photograph by Geoffrey Poole 1968).
Thereafter Eileen was then able to view the impact of the conifers on the landscape over the years merely by looking from the back garden of her own home in Briantspuddle – where she has lived for over 60 years. The woodland of course became much darker as the conifers grew through and overtopped the oaks. The heathland on the plateau retreated to isolated pockets and rides.
In the last two years the conifers have fulfilled the purpose for which they were planted, and have been extensively removed and sent to the timber market. But times have changed with regard to the importance of the original landscape. The huge value to wildlife of the former heathland and old woodland is now widely appreciated. Following purchase of the land by The Erica Trust and the conifer cropping, tree regeneration will be largely discouraged on the newly-released heathland, while native broadleaved trees only will be encouraged in the newly-released old woodland. The heath will not be as starkly open as it was in the 1960s photograph, but open and sunny enough for sand lizards to return – to join the nightjars who have been very quick to take up summer residence. The woodland will again have enough light for the bluebells to flourish.
The photographs show Eileen Riglar in front of the wood where she planted conifers during her early years in Briantspuddle, and in her garden with some of the locally grown oak saplings to be planted in the gaps in the woodland now that many of those conifers have been removed.
The Erica Trust is a small conservation charity formed in 2010 to undertake proactive wildlife projects in east Dorset. The charity currently owns approx 600 acres spread between Verwood, Ferndown, Wimborne and Briantspuddle. The managing Trustee is Dr. Lesley Haskins.
Swallet holes, or dolines, are circular depressions formed when the underlying chalk is dissolved by the overlying acid sands and gravels which eventually collapse to form an inverted cone.
Lesley Haskins November 2020
Lesley Haskins writes: When we started our heathland and woodland restoration project at Briantspuddle we got off to a flying start. Indeed much of the heathland restoration was achieved in just January and February 2019 before stopping for the bird nesting season.
It was very frustrating then that no sooner had we started operations again in September to progress the woodland restoration than it started to rain – and basically never stopped. Whilst some reduction of the alien conifers was achieved, by Christmas it was quite evident that the ground conditions were just too bad to continue and so we reluctantly shut up shop, leaving the job very obviously unfinished. The slope above The Hollow has understandably raised a few eyebrows!
The contractors will get back to the task in the later summer, sorting the effects of the several back to back storms, extracting timber perforce left on the ground, and then continuing the remaining reduction of the standing exotic conifers. And of course dealing with the old and new brash – not by any further burning as we had to do on the heath, but by placement along the contour lines to provide habitat for wildlife with also open ground for tree seedlings to establish.
But even at this unfinished stage of project, the rewards are becoming evident. Right on cue, nightjars and woodlark have already come to breed on the newly restored heathland. More essential light already shines down the slopes through the woods to the old oaks, hazels and bluebells below – where dormouse has been recorded waiting to benefit from the coppicing cycle which has just been restarted after many years absence.
And in the autumn of 2021, with the main changes surely achieved, we can really look forward to more heathland plants and animals moving in, and to positively nurturing the remaining and new native trees which will return the old broadleaved woodland to its former natural glory.
The Erica Trust is a small charity started in 2010 to complement work done by the other voluntary wildlife groups in south-east Dorset. The Trust already owns 400 acres, mostly heathland and grassland, around Verwood, Ferndown, and Merley, and it was thrilled to be able to secure the 100 or so acres which formed Lot 3 in the sale of the Neill’s estate coloured in on the map below.
As its founder and one of three trustees, I can be found most weekends at Little Thatch on the Briantspuddle cross-roads. The charity’s plan is to restore and enhance the amenity and wildlife interest of the land, putting it back to the form in which some of our long standing residents can still remember it – a combination of old broad leaved woodland along the lower ground leading up to sunny heathland above.
To achieve this the northern third of the site will have the majority of the tall ‘alien’ conifers taken out, so the old oak and the beech woodland through which the public footpath runs, can be seen again in its full glory. The hazel understorey will be encouraged by coppicing, and holly controlled. With the shading conifers reduced and light getting through, the broadleaves should start to regenerate themselves again and the bluebells, primroses, wood anemomes and wood sorrel that we all enjoy so much will thrive.
The southern two thirds of the site will have the majority of the Scots pines taken off, so that the former heathland will come again into its own. Any characterful pines, birches and hollies will be left to break up the landscape. Culpeppers Dish will be come obvious again. Work will not start until 2019, and trees will be mostly, if not entirely, taken out southwards over temporary brash based tracks. The plan is also to provide better access by permissive paths linking the existing footpaths and bridleways so we can properly enjoy seeing our local and heathland wildlife flourish.
The ‘allotments plantation’ and surrounds remain in private ownership, however our different but complementary management programmes will ensure maximum variety of habitats and landscape types. If you have any information to pass on or comments you would like to make do please contact Lesley on email email@example.com or call in at Little Thatch at Briantspuddle Crossroads at weekends.