Yesterday we worked with a team of volunteers from the South Downs National Park to remove a large quantity of Blackthorn from the eastern margin of Pheasant Field. Removing blackthorn from the meadow margins is an important means of ensuring that the meadow survives a grassland into the future. A huge thank-you from us to South Downs National Park Ranger Phillippa Morrison-Price and the volunteers for all their efforts yesterday. Walkers may notice that we have left a section of younger Blackthorn in place while removing the older bushes behind. This is because there are many wildlife conservation issues to be taken into account.
Only 2% of the UK’s former hay meadows have survived into the 21st century. Over the last fifteen to twenty years Pheasant Field has lost nearly 20% of its grassland to bramble and blackthorn encroaching on its margins. This growth can be very vigorous and a big part of our plan to restore the meadow is ensuring that this encroachment does not get any worse. The meadow grasses in Pheasant Field provide a major food resource for invertebrates and many of them form a fundamental part of the diet of our birds and mammals.
But removing blackthorn and bramble is not a straightforward process. These large impenetrable thickets form an ideal habitat for nesting birds and small mammals. Blackthorn is also an essential part of the life cycle for many invertebrate species. And some of these plant-insect relationships are very specific. The larvae of the Brown Hairstreak butterfly for example, feed almost exclusively on young Blackthorn while the adults require mature Ash trees to complete their mating cycle.
The management of these margins is intended to conserve the grassland and at the same time provide the widest possible variety of habitats on the grassland margin. Following the advice of the South Downs National Park and West Sussex County Council ecologist Ben Rainbow, we decided to remove a large section of older blackthorn from the eastern edge of the meadow while retaining the younger blackthorn growing in front of it. The plan is to allow the blackthorn to re-grow and in the coming years remove the blackthorn that was left standing yesterday.