Volunteers clear up Wigmore Heath in Tadley after fire in April
VOLUNTEERS gathered at Wigmore Heath in Tadley last Thursday to clear away burnt gorse from a fire in April.
The event was the beginning of a process to turn the area back to heathland – a man-made, rare habitat home to lots of different species.
Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council community development officer Charlie Cutt, biodiversity ranger Kayleigh Brookes and a team of hardy volunteers worked from 10am to 3pm to dig up and then remove as much of the burnt gorse as possible, as well as removing the layer of ash from the fire.
This is to allow the heather to regrow on the land, which thrives in soil with fewer nutrients.
Ms Cutt said the volunteers were essentially acting as the herbivores of old that would keep the heathland clear by grazing.
She said: “Heathland is a purely man-made habitat – it was created in the Bronze Age when they were removing parts of forests for farming.
“Heathland is generally looked after through grazing – they generally have cattle on site.
“The free-ranging herbivores of the past would’ve kept it open naturally through grazing, so we have volunteers who are acting as herbivores today and essentially helping to open it up.
“It’s a long-term project because it’s so slow – we tend to focus on small areas, get them into good condition and move on, so we wouldn’t ordinarily have attacked an area this size, but the fire gave us a good opportunity.
“While it might be man-made over thousands of years, species have evolved to live here and it’s our duty to make sure they don’t lose any more of what’s still here.”
The area was hit by a fire on April 20, with Tadley Fire Station firefighters finding a bird’s nest full of chicks in the ashes.
The station tweeted: “Carelessness and deliberate acts that result in wildfires can be devastating to the local wildlife.
“We regularly find snakes, slow worms and even a bee hive that have been unable to escape the flames.
“Please take care to avoid setting wildfires."
Ms Cutt added: “We’ve already found charred bones – it’s the wildlife damage.
“The fire was right in the middle of bird nesting season – there will have been a lot of nests lost, not to mention the insects that weren’t able to get out.
“It’s the loss of a mini ecosystem that’s the tragic part, especially if it was avoidable.”
Around ten volunteers turned out for the day, including former borough councillor Warwick Lovegrove.
Mr Lovegrove, who has lived in the area since 1957, said: “We played here as 10-year-olds, cowboys and indians.
“It’s a continuous work on this site, going back over 20 years.
“We’ve got to put it back to heathland, which is rarer than the rainforest apparently, although I haven’t measured it out.”