Published On: Fri, Nov 10th, 2023

Nature reserve is brought back to life…thanks to Daily Express readers | Nature | News

Woodlarks and Nightjar have returned to Horse Common in the New Forest since work began removing conifers and invasive rhododendron.

Express readers, with the help ­of Ecotricity boss Dale Vince, helped raise the £90,000 needed for the RSPB to buy the 91-acre plot ­of woodland and heathland in Wiltshire last year.

Site manager Richard Snelling said: “We cleared the conifer and rhododendron back and within a year we had woodlarks and we had nightjar back.

“The expectation was that it might have taken five years before that happened. It goes to show ­how nature will decide for itself ­and react. If conditions are right and the location is right, then it will just happen.”

He said they hoped to boost numbers of redstarts, marsh tits and lesser-spotted woodpeckers in the next few years. Volunteers have already celebrated an extra pair of goshawk and the addition of a cuckoo, boosting numbers from two to three.

Richard said the Express appeal was vital to ensuring work and surveys could begin on the land, with parts untouched for 80 years. The campaign formed part of the Green Britain Needs You crusade which calls for more space for nature.

He said they hope it will become a rich mosaic of mixed woodland, sandy heathland and watery mires, with beavers perhaps chipping in with natural engin­eering and even water voles. An army of volunteers braved heavy showers to remove rhododendron from the woodland floor, which forms dense thickets and shades out native plants.

Volunteer David Rogers, 74, a retired BT engineer, said: “I worry about [nature]. I’m certainly worried about global warming. I’m doing my bit [to help].”

Richard said conifers took up 60 per cent of the land with the remainder broadleaf. He said: “We want that to be the other way around. Some species like conifer so we’re not trying to get rid of it.

“Rhododendron swamps everything. Only three species use rhododendron whereas 300 species use an oak. So we want to get rid of all the rhododendrons. That’s why the volunteers are here, reduce the amount of conifer, increase the water table and bring some grazing in.

“None of it is rocket science, it just all needs time and money.”

Meanwhile, Forestry England worked nearby to fell commercial pine and fir plantations.

Saul Alonso, a warden at Franchises Lodge RSPB reserve, said he was excited to see the work, adding: “The site is interesting because there are several species here already but now it’s about its future and how it will change when the conifer and rhododendron goes.”

Dale Vince, who matched each donation made by readers to the appeal in December, said: “I’m thrilled to see work underway at Horse Common, to create some fabulous new habitats for ­wildlife – powered ­by a small army of ­volunteers and the ­generous donations of Express readers. Thank you all.”

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