Saving England's most threatened species from extinction

Horse – Logging Habitat Restoration

The Dorset’s Heathland Heart team have been working with land managers to provide funding and support for targeted habitat management works across a variety of sites, to enhance their suitability for some of our heathland’s rarest species.

A wetland site on Hartland Moor National Nature Reserve (NNR) in Purbeck was identified as having potential to be restored as suitable habitat for the scarce Southern Damselfly.


Southern Damselfly Coenagrion mercuriale. Credit: D. Liley & S. Lake

Nearby similar habitat supports a good size population of this otherwise vulnerable creature. It is hoped that the creation of this new sites will provide the damselfly’s the opportunity to expand its range, population size and stability.

The identified area crucially remains wet all year round with slow-running water and boasts lush vegetation, ideal for the Southern Damselfly which is a weak flyer and needs this environment to breed successfully. However, a significant amount of Alder trees had encroached onto the site causing it to become enclosed, shaded, and dryer, thereby reducing the wetland environment. The trees also made the area difficult for grazing animals to access, limiting the benefits which large herbivores provide in maintaining more open habitats.

Read more about the Southern Damselflies habitat requirements and life cycle here


Hartland Moor and views of Corfe Castle. Credit: S. Lake & D. Liley.

Hartland Moor is an excellent example of Dorset’s heathland landscape and is cared for by the National Trust as part of their Purbeck estate. It is also a key element of the recently designated Purbeck Heaths NNR which sees local landowners forming a significant partnership to work collectively towards conservation goals.

The wetland restoration works here involved clearing some of the over-crowded Alder trees, which were felled during the winter season. The felled Alder was initially left on site as removing it over the winter could have caused too much disturbance to the ground especially as access was tricky.


Area partially cleared of Alder, here seen in the wet winter conditions. Credit: S. Lake

In addition, some of the timber was used to construct small dams to further slow-down the flow of water in the deeper channels and create shallow pools in the more open areas.


Dams and pools, image taken in early Spring. Credit: S. Lake

The remaining timber extraction was planned for the drier summer conditions and a local specialist contracted to complete the works. Dorset Horse Logging, which is based in Corfe Castle, specialise in felling and low impact timber extraction using heavy horses, negating the need for any disruptive machinery. This is especially useful on sensitive sites, in areas of soft or wet ground, or those which are hard to reach by vehicle. Toby Hoad who owns and runs the business is a local resident and is well connected with local conservation organisations. He has worked for many years as a woodsman and greenwood-worker producing sustainable woodland products from firewood and charcoal, to hand-crafted furniture. Find out more about Toby and his Dorset Horse Logging business here

We went to see Toby in action at the site in July. He was working with one of his four working horses Celine. Celine is a special breed of horse called a Comtois, which is a draft horse originating from the Jura Mountains on the border between France and Switzerland.


Comtois Horse; Celine. Credit: A. Roe

Celine is a very impressive and strong animal; she was impeccably behaved responding to Toby’s commands and moving heavy timber with ease. Despite the heavy work she was very relaxed and enjoyed making the most of the lush vegetation around her, having a good graze between hauling loads.


Toby and Celine negotiating a route through the trees. Credit: T. Bagley

Toby and Celine made a great team working together to get all the cut timber out of the wet site and onto dry ground. Negotiating a route around numerous trees, ditches and banks which all remain intact thanks to this low-impact extraction method. Toby will then process the timber and sell it onto the local community as sustainable firewood.

Southern Damselfly may be the target beneficiary from habitat restoration here but the works will benefit a wider community of species, and the wetland sites provide an important feature within the wider heathland habitat and landscape beyond.

 

Aemelia Roe

Dorset Heathland Heart Outreach Officer

 

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
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