The Erica Trust

Update 27 June 2020

Leslie 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.

Dormouse held by Mark Warn of Forestry England (licenced handler).
Photograph Lesley Haskins.
Dormouse held by Mark Warn of Forestry England (licenced handler).
Photograph Lesley Haskins.

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. 

Background

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.

Erica Trust Map
Map of the area covered by the Erica Trust

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 lesleyhaskins@hotmail.co.uk or call in at Little Thatch at Briantspuddle Crossroads at weekends.