The tasks the conservation group undertakes under the supervision of the Rangers include cutting down scrub to prevent it over growing and forcing out the heather, repairing paths and steps, and helping to keep the ponds clear of invasive weed. Some larger trees and shrubs are left, and no cutting is done during the bird nesting season.
But why is the conservation work important for Yateley Common?
Most lowland heathland developed during or after the Stone Age (some 3,500 years ago) in areas with poor acidic soils, where trees were removed and grazing or burning prevented their re-growth. Lowland heathlands are mostly man-made and therefore tend to revert to woodland and scrub without active management. All the plants and animals that have specialised and adapted to the open heathland over thousands of years are threatened if their habitats become shaded and overgrown. Examples are
- marsh gentian
- southern damselfly
- sand lizard
which often live only in these areas. These are the reasons why most lowland heathlands are designated Sites or Areas of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs/ASSIs) under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Open lowland heathland is rarer than rain forest!
In the UK it is estimated that only about one sixth (16%) of the heathland present in 1800 remains today. That is similar to an area the size of Cornwall shrinking to the equivalent of the Isle of Wight. The loss has speeded up in recent decades.
However, the UK still holds 20% (more than 60,000 hectares) of the world’s lowland heathland!
The ecology and natural history of Yateley is nationally important. To the south we have the National Nature Reserve at Castle Bottom and the scarce lowland heath of Yateley Common, which is a Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Protection Area (SPA). It is also home to protected species such as the Woodlark, Nightjar, Dartford warbler, Nightingale, Stonechat as well as rare plants and insects. To the north we have the Moor Green Nature Reserve created from gravel workings in the Blackwater Valley. This has diverse habitats for its resident breeding population and is especially important for winter visiting water birds – widgeon, gadwall, shoveller, egret, goosander, pochard. There are also nationally recognised sports fishing lakes.
The Yateley Society is represented on the Commons Management Committee and helps practically, through promoting and contributing to regular voluntary conservation work supporting the Hampshire and Blackwater Valley Rangers. Our Conservation Group meets on the last Sunday of every month in Wyndhams Pool car park (off Cricket Hill) at 10am. Everybody is welcome to join in, but under 16s must be accompanied by an adult.
The group works closely with the Yateley Rangers and is typically involved in restoring heathland by clearing scrub from the Common but when opportunities arise it has undertaken projects, for example, haymaking by hand in a privately owned wet meadow rich with orchids and other rare plants, and boardwalk assembly and a Big Lottery grant application to build a pond-dipping platform.