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The conservation work of The Yateley Society on Yateley Common

The conservation group working party linked to the society meets for 3 hours at 10.00am on the last Sunday of every month at Wyndham’s pond car park (you’ll find the car park on the left hand side coming up Cricket Hill, about 100m past the Cricketers pub). The group helps the Yateley Common Rangers with a wide variety of jobs that are required to maintain the rare lowland heath that makes up the common. You don’t have to be a member of The Yateley Society to join the conservation group – just come along and join in. It is a great way to get some fresh air and exercise.

The tasks the conservation undertakes under the supervision of the Rangers include cutting down scrub to prevent it over growing and forcing out the heather, repairing paths and steps, and helping to keep the ponds clear of invasive weed. Some larger trees and shrubs are left, and no cutting is done during the bird nesting season.

But why is the conservation work important for Yateley Common?
Most lowland heathland developed during or after the Stone Age (some 3,500 years ago) in areas with poor acidic soils, where trees were removed and grazing or burning prevented their re-growth. It typically lies below 300m (above 300m it becomes moorland) with a mild climate. Lowland heathlands are mostly man-made and therefore tend to revert to woodland and scrub without active management. All the plants and animals that have specialised and adapted to the open heathland over thousands of years are threatened if their habitats become shaded and overgrown. Examples are the marsh gentian, southern damselfly, nightjar and sand lizard, which often live only in these areas. These are the reasons why most lowland heathlands are designated Sites or Areas of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs/ASSIs) under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

It may be surprising that open lowland heathland is rarer than rain forest. In the UK it is estimated that only about one sixth (16%) of the heathland present in 1800 remains today. That is similar to an area the size of Cornwall shrinking to the equivalent of the Isle of Wight. The loss has speeded up in recent decades. However, the UK still holds 20% (more than 60,000 hectares) of the world’s lowland heathland. The aim is to not only to preserve and improve our remaining heathlands, but if possible, to re-create them in areas where they have recently been lost.

Graeme Tucker August 2014 (from various sources)