Heathland wildlife gets a boost

Stonechat by Ben Hall/2020VISION

The team at Worcestershire’s largest nature conservation charity are celebrating after receiving the final funding needed to buy a block of land that will help them to create the county’s biggest heathland.

Insects like pantaloon bee, minotaur beetle and hornet robberfly, birds such as stonechat and yellowhammer as well as reptiles like common lizards and slow-worms will see their habitat expand as Worcestershire Wildlife Trust purchase 95 acres of land next to already existing nature reserves.

The charity has long-term plans to restore heathland to the 95 acres of ex-farmland at Dropping Well Farm between Stourport, Bewdley and Kidderminster.  The Trust launched a fundraising appeal in autumn last year and received donations from members of the public as well as from grant-making trusts and funds.

News that the National Lottery Heritage Fund has awarded the charity £523,600 means that they can now complete the purchase of the land.  The Trust began managing the land in 2019 thanks to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation who bought it to allow time for the charity to raise the funds needed.

Pantaloon bee (gingery bee with ginger stripes of hair on a black abdomen and very hairy back legs) resting on sand by Margaret Holland

Pantaloon bee by Margaret Holland

Colin Raven, Director of Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, explains “We are absolutely delighted that we’re able to buy this incredibly important land and would like to thank everyone who has contributed to our appeal – individual donors and those who left gifts in their wills to the Trust as well as players of the National Lottery and funders like Severn Waste Services, The Banister Charitable Trust and The Rowlands Trust.

“The land lies at the heart of a series of nature reserves owned by us and Wyre Forest District Council. It is fantastic that we’re now able to connect up and restore 300 acres of heathland that sit within a whopping 600 acres of mixed habitat including woodland and acid grassland.

“Lowland heathland is an international rarity and one of the UK’s most threatened habitats. We’ve lost more than 80% across England and 90% here in Worcestershire over the last 200 years.

“This is a great help in our nationwide campaign with other Wildlife Trusts to see 30% of land managed to help nature to recover by 2030.”

Aerial view of Dropping Well Farm and surrounding nature reserves by Andy Young

Dropping Well Farm in the landscape by Andy Young

Dropping Well Farm sits amongst some of the last remaining fragments of heathland in Worcestershire: The Devil’s Spittleful and Blackstone Farm Fields, owned by Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, and the Rifle Range, Burlish Top and Burlish Meadows, owned by Wyre Forest District Council.

The Devil’s Spittleful and Rifle Range are part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest and are particularly important for a myriad of insects. Historic surveys have shown that they’re amongst the best sites in the country for bees, wasps and ants.  More surveys are already underway and will now encompass the land at Dropping Well Farm to monitor the success of the restoration.

Reptiles like common lizards and slow-worms will benefit from the restoration and it is hoped that, in time, birds like nightjar and woodlark can be tempted back to the area.

Hornet robberfly by Rosemary Winnall

Hornet robberfly by Rosemary Winnall

Anne Jenkins, Director England Midlands and East, National Lottery Heritage Fund says “National Lottery players have recognised landscapes and nature as especially important. They form the bedrock of our culture and heritage, improving wellbeing, sparking curiosity, and protecting and providing for the communities surrounding and inhabiting them. 

“We are proud to support Worcestershire Wildlife Trust with the purchase of land at Dropping Well Farm as this is not just conservation of an existing habitat but a complete restoration back to heathland, and also an opportunity to engage people actively in that important work.”

Colin adds “This is the biggest project the Trust has ever taken on. As well as working to restore heathland, we’re working closely with Wyre Forest District Council and will be reaching out to the local community and organisations to encourage people to look after it – whether this is schoolchildren learning about the wildlife that lives there or people getting involved as volunteers.

“Whilst we intend to leave vast areas as true refuges for wildlife with very little disturbance from people, we’ll also be creating a new nature trail that links up all these individual nature reserves.

“Thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we’re able to recruit a member of staff to help us with all of this.”

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