Shire Oak Heath Appeal - Frequently Asked Questions Doesn’t The Greensand Trust already own the site? No – the site has always been in private ownership. We have agreed the principle of the purchase of the site with the current owners, dependent upon us raising the funds to cover the purchase costs. Once the site is secured it will be managed as part of Rushmere Country Park. This will also help manage some of the anti-social behaviour that takes place on the site. How long will the appeal run for? The appeal will run until at least Christmas, and maybe longer, to allow us to reach our appeal target. What is the appeal target? The target is £50,000. Combined with money already raised, this will allow us to reach our target to purchase the site, carry out initial habitat restoration and create the new cycle link. Why is heathland and acid grassland so important? Lowland heath is one of the most threatened habitats in the UK and is internationally important. Over 20% of the world resource occurs within Great Britain. Heathland is highly valued, both as an important wildlife habitat and as a culturally beautiful and distinctive landscape, with purple heather, yellow gorse and containing distinctive birds, reptiles and invertebrates. It is much valued by humans for its history, landscape and wildlife, and as places of ‘wildness’ and unique beauty. In England only 16% of the heathland present in 1800 remains, with losses due to conifer afforestation and agricultural change. All of Bedfordshire’s current heathland sites (37.5 ha) occur along the Greensand Ridge. Lowland acid grassland is becoming increasingly scarce in Britain. It is important to recognise that, whilst occurring as a habitat in its own right, acid grassland frequently occurs as an integral part of a mosaic habitat with lowland heathland, where it can form diverse and distinct communities. Acid grasslands occur along the Greensand Ridge. In Bedfordshire, acid grassland is regarded as a rare and threatened resource and the county total has declined from several hundred hectares to approximately 130 ha. What is so special about Shire Oak Heath? It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which was designated because of the heathland habitats that occurred there until relatively recently (late 1990s). Tree, scrub and bracken growth has smothered much of this interest and Natural England consider it to be in “unfavourable, declining” condition. However, it is possible to bring it back to its former glory with the right actions. We have restored heathland habitats in the adjacent SSSI area within the Country Park. Why do we have to chop trees down to restore these habitats? Where conifers have been planted, the plants that grow at ground level are shaded out and disappear (as do the animals that depend on them), leaving a bare carpet of pine needles. Similarly, if birch or scrub is allowed to take hold, this has a similar effect. We therefore have to remove these trees to allow heathland and acid grassland to survive and thrive. We will need to manage these areas through grazing to maintain their interest in the long term. We always try and keep interesting or older trees as part of new habitats, as they add more variety, and provide some shade. We will retain the woodland around the edge of Shire Oak Heath, and bring this into positive management, improving its value for wildlife. How will the project improve cycle access to Rushmere? A new off-road cycle link will be created through the woodland edge, linking into our existing internal network, helping people access the site more safely by bicycle. When will the project be completed? This will depend upon reaching our appeal target, but we hope to have secured the site and carried out some habitat restoration activities by the end of March 2018. How can people help? All help in reaching our target is very much appreciated, including making a donation (either via The Greensand Trust website or collection boxes at Rushmere Country Park), spreading the word, holding your own fundraising event, encouraging your employer to make a donation or encouraging your local school to get involved. If you are interested in volunteering with the Trust, please contact Sarah Preston: [email protected] / 01525 234260.