Qinetiq's Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) covering an area of heath, bog, grassland and secondary woodland on Eelmoor Marsh at Farnborough, has been getting a winter face-lift.
Traditionally carried out at this time of year to minimise the risk of fire and cause the least disturbance to birds, reptiles and other wildlife, this work is part of an on-going management and restoration programme for the SSSI.
During the winter months large machinery, including a JCB and a Gorsebuster, has been moved in to work alongside men wielding chainsaws and strimmers. The machines create pools and scrape back pine litter, remove gorse and mow areas of rank purple-moor grass, while the men with chainsaws thin woodland areas, removing pine, birch and gorse scrub and strim ditches.
Qinetiq's SSSI has records for two-thirds of all resident British species of dragon and damselflies including four key uncommon species - the blue-tailed damselfly, hairy dragonfly, keeled skimmer and small red damselfly.
The pools created by the JCB create more habitat for these. As habitat increases, so does the annual count for each of these species. The scrapes expose buried heathland seed-banks and allow plants to re-emerge instead of remaining buried under deep pine litter or dominant grass. Thinning woodland areas creates sheltered glades for butterflies and other insects and the removal of gorse stimulates new growth and creates more habitat for birds - the resident population includes Dartford warblers and stonechats.
A unique project between QinetiQ, Marwell Zoological Park and Whipsnade Wild Animal Park contributes to the conservation management of the SSSI. A family of Highland Cattle and a bachelor group of Przewalski horses graze the site and help to remove dominant grasses and scrub. Since their introduction seven years ago the populations of a number of plants has increased including a ten-fold increase in the nationally scarce pale heath violet and yellow bartisia, which has re-appeared after a ten-year gap in the records. Heathland is a habitat under threat and in the last 200 years NE Hampshire has lost some 88% of its heathland heritage to development, forestry or neglect. Qinetiq says that its year round management programme of Eelmoor Marsh ensures that heathland will continue to flourish.