Dragonflies return to land of Henry VIIIBy Rebecca Connop Price
October 15, 2009
DRAGONFLIES are thriving in the nature reserves surrounding Yateley, Sandhurst and Crowthorne, according to the Forestry Commission.
In fact, the area is one of the most important areas in the country for dragonflies.
According to the British Dragonfly Society, at least 24 species of dragonfly and damselfly are breeding there, out of 38 listed in the entire country.
The Forestry Commission holding in the Thames Basin covers nearly 1,300 hectares, including Bramshill Plantation, Warren Heath, Heath Warren, Yateley Heath Wood and Crowthorne Wood.
The commission is celebrating fulfilling its pledge to improve these Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – thanks to a project that was started nearly a decade ago.
The area, reputed to have once been part of King Henry VIII’s hunting forest, combines forest, water areas and heathland, but 10 years ago, things were much different.
Substantial restoration was needed after the sand and gravel quarries on large areas had been exhausted and left to their own devices. There was stagnant water and heath that had been neglected.
Alongside the old quarries and ponds was a working forest with woodland areas cleared through felling.
All these circumstances meant an extraordinary mixture of wildlife had come together in close proximity.
With a little coaxing, the commission and its partners have managed to boost populations even more.
In addition to the dragonflies, the area is an important habitat for the internationally rare Dartford Warblar.
The area also has a community of rare insects that love bare earth such as burrowing bees and wasps.
A wide variety of amphibians and reptiles, including grass snakes and adders, and a number of threatened plant species, such as pillwort, a rare aquatic fern, make the area their home.
One of the project’s leaders was Nick Hazlitt, a beat forester in the Forestry Commission.
He remembers the site before the restoration work.
He said: “The site was badly in need of restoration and management when we started out in 2000.
"The old quarries had been made good and the entire area cried out for discipline and direction to ensure its wildlife habitats were sustained and encouraged.
“The woodland, water and heath, all needed to be working together as one.
“Without this project the site would have ended up with uncontrolled scrub, trees and vegetation with shaded and stagnating water, and an environment which would not have attracted the current quality of wildlife.”
A series of ponds were created, as stepping stones for dragonfly and damselfly populations, as well as a lattice network of interconnecting ditches.
Advice came from a number of specialists and experts, so that works were targeted to deliver optimum benefits.
Ken Crick, a dragonfly specialist, suggested clearing or leaving trees in different places on one side or other of the water, to provide the ideal conditions for dragonflies.
Patrick Crowley, a local expert on birds, gave invaluable help on when and where to cut back the gorse and scrub.
Among the volunteers helping the commission have been the Crowthorne Volunteers, a bog restoration group; the land aggregates operators; the Probation Service and Forest Research.
Mr Hazlitt added: “The work is ongoing. This is the sort of project where we will have to continually adapt what we do to support such an extraordinary variety of wildlife.”