Heathland restoration and woodland management works at Rushmere Country Park

Visitors may have noticed that a number of trees have been felled within Rushmere Country Park as part of our ongoing conservation work in line with the site’s conservation management plan. 

The Rushmere site was previously managed as a commercial woodland, which is why much of the planting is dense and relatively uniform - woodland of this type makes relatively poor wildlife habitat unless it is managed appropriately. 

As a conservation charity The Greensand Trust is seeking to develop and restore more species rich habitats at the park which we manage as an important conservation site, protecting the natural environment that makes the site such a special space to those who visit it. 

Shire Oak Heath and Lords Hill were once thriving heathland habitats - we are seeking to restore this area into a mosaic of heathland and acid grassland with a scattering of mature trees, woodland and bare ground.  Heathland is a priority habitat for nature conservation due to its increasingly rare and threatened status, with much of this habitat lost through conversion to conifer plantations, as occurred here at Rushmere.  Remnants of the heathland still remain (it is in fact one of only three large heathland sites which remain in Bedfordshire) - our works seek to expose these and give them the opportunity to thrive once more. The work we are carrying out at Rushmere is playing its part in conserving biodiversity and is approved by Natural England and The Forestry Commission.

The Trust was recently praised by government conservation body Natural England for our conservation work at Shire Oak Heath – which is part of the Kings and Bakers Woods and Heaths Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – which has now been re-classified from “unfavourable declining” to “unfavourable recovering SSSI condition” thanks to the heathland restoration work that has been carried out there. The site is now progressing well towards a return to favourable condition - this is a great achievement following years of neglect under the previous owner.

Conifer plantations support very little wildlife, apart from a few common species, in comparison to the heathland that we are attempting to restore, which supports a wide variety of uncommon wildlife of significant biodiversity interest such as bees and other species which require the open, sandy conditions that heathland provides and would not be present in heavily shaded conifer plantations.  

Works also include thinning some of the surrounding pine plantations, providing space and light to improve these woodland habitats as part of our woodland management.  Commercial plantations tend to overstock to encourage competing trees to grow straight for enhanced timber values, but even commercial plantations would normally thin these on rotation to maximise growth - our priority here is habitat value rather than timber, so the level of thinning reflects this.

We are also carrying out some essential tree safety works, involving the felling of a number of poplars near the park’s main entrance which were reaching the end of their expected lifespan, making them increasingly unstable - one fell earlier this year.  Whilst some tree species can have lifespans of thousands of years, the Poplar, particularly hybrids often used in commercial plantations, may only reach 30 to 50 years of age, a relatively short life span it’s thought due to their rapid growth. These have now been felled to prevent the risk of them falling and the potential harm this could cause in their location adjacent to a main road.  There will be localised replanting with native trees that better suit the location.