Ever since I took up the post of Conservation Officer, back in December 2013, it seems to have been raining. Or blowing a gale. Or quite often both. So my introduction to the work of managing Ashdown Forest hasn’t been the easiest. Instead of carrying out the day-to-day winter management of the heathland, there have been fallen trees to clear from the roads and dangerous trees to make safe. Even when the tree work was finally under control, it was often too wet to take heavy machinery out on the heathland.
Perhaps you are thinking, ‘Oh well, if you can’t do the work it will just have to wait. What’s the rush?’ But we have some pretty tight time constraints; a lot of the heathland work – mowing and scrub cutting, for instance – needs to be carried out before ground-nesting birds take up residence. In a mild winter like this, that can be pretty early – wood larks were already starting to pair up in February. Male adders, too, will be coming out of hibernation on sunny days in March, to bask in the warmth.
‘But why bother with all this management anyway?’ you might ask. ‘Why not just leave the Forest to do its thing?’ And we could do that; there’s a lot of talk these days about ‘rewilding’ – letting nature take its course, as is happening at Knepp Castle. Unfortunately, though, if Ashdown Forest was left to its own devices, it would quickly revert to a rather uninteresting secondary woodland of oak and birch, with scattered pine and rhododendron. Poor-quality woodland is something we have plenty of in the south-east, but lowland heathland is vanishingly rare. And it relies entirely on our intervention.
So I will keep telling myself that it can’t rain forever, and that spring is on its way. And hopefully, before it does arrive, we can get out and do at least some of the management work the Forest needs.