Wildlife thrives at The Devil's Spittleful

Wildlife thrives at The Devil's Spittleful

Common lizard by Tom Marshall

Work to improve a popular heathland nature reserve for wildlife is reaping rewards.

Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, who owns The Devil’s Spittleful nature reservebetween Bewdley and Stourport, have been removing young saplings and encroaching scrub from the open heathland over the last few years. Together with a successful campaign to reduce disturbance from visitors and dogs, the work has helped wildlife to bounce back.

Andy Harris, the Trust’s conservation officer responsible for the reserve, explained “The Devil’s Spittleful is a really important part of a heathland complex that also includes land owned by Wyre Forest District Council. It includes heather, gorse and acid grassland; a rare habitat in Worcestershire.

“It is an open habitat so we need to keep on top of the removal of fast-growing shrubs and trees that can shade out other plants and flowers such as gorse and heather. We’ve been doing this over the past few years and surveys of reptiles and breeding birds last summer showed that this work is paying dividends.

“In addition, we’re also increasing the number of refugia for reptiles – features like dead timber and log piles – that they can hide and hibernate in.”

Reptiles and birds on the increase

A recent survey, undertaken by Worcestershire Wildlife Consultancy staff, recorded the first ever slow-worm on the site. Slow-worms are able to survive in a range of habitats and rely on cover and camouflage to avoid detection.

Slow-worm by Magnus McLeod

Slow-worm by Magnus McLeod

Reasonable numbers of common lizards recorded at the site demonstrated that the heathland nature reserve is an important place for the species, especially given the good connectivity with neighbouring heathland areas.

Numbers of breeding birds that rely on places like The Devil’s Spittleful were up. Yellowhammers and linnets are likely to be breeding in the gorse, heather and low scrub. Birds such a common whitethroats and chiffchaffs that nest in low vegetation were also thought to be breeding in good numbers across the reserve.

Andy continued “This is great news.

“Although we may not see them, the wildlife sees us and our presence in the wrong place at the wrong time can spell disaster, particularly for breeding birds. Even the gentlest of dogs sniffing through the undergrowth could cause a bird to abandon its nest.”

“Most visitors are more than happy to help us help wildlife, we have experienced vandalism of our signage in the past and we would like to remind people that all incidents are reported to the police.”

Increased numbers of reptiles and birds means that we’re managing the habitat correctly and our continued work to keep disturbance to a minimum by encouraging visitors to stay on the main paths and to keep their dogs on a lead is making a difference.

The Trust closes some paths to visitors between March and August to give both early and late nesting birds the maximum chance to raise successful broods.

Eventually, the Trust hopes that visitors will see the return of rare birds like nightjar and woodlark to the nature reserve.

Further work to open up the heathland took place over winter when funding from Natural England enabled the Trust to remove more silver birch trees.

The Devil’s Spittleful and adjacent Rifle Range nature reserve, owned and managed by Wyre Forest District Council, are also grazed by cattle to prevent the growth of plants such as coarse grasses, brambles and trees from taking over, ensuring the diversity and health of the heath.