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Heathland Restoration

Historically, The Common was predominantly open heathland with small, discrete patches of bushes, scrub and diverse woodland. Over the years, and especially since the end of WWII, the scrub and woodland has expanded enormously and in an uncontrolled manner, populated with poor quality, over dense trees fighting for space and light and very dense, sometimes impenetrable, scrub dominated by bramble and ivy - the rabbits and dear that populate natural woodland habitats and keep saplings and understorey under control are absent and human intervention has not taken their place - woodland doesn’t manage itself. As a consequence, the amount of open space has decreased from >70% of total area to <30%.

Copyright © Southampton Common Forum - 2021

Copyright © Southampton Common Forum - 2021

The heathland, an important habitat with a distinct ecology has become fragmented and almost disappeared and as a consequence Council has asked us to clear an area south of the Ornamental Lake as part of long term efforts to try to revert it to heathland. This involves grubbing out bramble and ivy, felling overdense and poor quality saplings and removing leaf litter to try to denutrify the soil. This is a long term project, much of the initial clearance has now been done but leaf litter removal and control of bramble and ivy are ongoing tasks. Gorse seedlings have already been seen geminating from the dormant seed bed, but their establishment is at risk from trampling by visitors and dogs who can now access the cleared area much more easily, so please take care if walking in this area. We largely run these work parties from September to March, outside of the nesting season and our regular volunteers include both individuals and families. We also run work team building days to help with the project.

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Historical spread of woodland on The Common - maps show the area covered in trees / woodland: green = 1898 large scale OS map, yellow = 1940 Luftwaffe aerial photo, magenta = 1994 aerial photo, red = 2018 Google Earth.
Click collated image for larger view (Image creation by Dave Johnston, for SCF)