Winter Heathland Clearance 2016/17 Roundup

OK, so where to start? Well here’s something that we keep seeing all over Ashdown Forest.

Pic 1

So, yes – not that pleasant but it’s something we find an awful lot. Apart from dog poo not being nice to look at the knock on effects can run a lot deeper.

In previous blogs and posts on Facebook, the problem of dogs attacking livestock on the Forest has been pointed out. In this blog I want to highlight the sensitive wildlife the dogs can disturb by not being under close control.

Lowland heathland, which is the majority of Ashdown Forest, is a nutrient poor habitat and many of the plants have evolved to cope with low nutrients, such as the carnivorous sundews which take protein from the insects they digest to make up for the lack of nutrients in the sandy soil.

Dog poo is full of nutrients and the cumulative effect of this can be detrimental to heathland.

It also carries two diseases of note. The first is Toxocariasis which is carried by roundworm parasites and can cause serious eye damage and seizures, although this is very rare.

The other is Neosporosis which is caused by dog poo mixing with cow dung and leads to cattle becoming sterile and even aborting which obviously would be major problem for us and our conservation grazing. There have been cases of Neosporosis close to Ashdown Forest in recent years.

A question that comes up sometimes is why are there no dog poo bins on the Forest? Well, the simple answer is that it is not our responsibility to deal with dog poo, it is the dog owner’s responsibility. Even if there were bins (which are expensive to buy and install), it would be a huge draw on our time and resources we don’t have to empty the bins and deal with the waste. If you have a dog, take your dog’s poo home with you to dispose of.

Please don’t indulge in the lazy practice of bagging the poo and then flinging it into a hedge; it’s just plain silly and I found this where we’ve been carrying out our winter heathland clearance at Marden’s Hill/Bunkers Hill.

Pic 2

It’s been there for a while judging the leaf litter and it was very much still there!

Staying with dogs, it is always worth promoting the need for close control. At this time of year, though, it is needed to prevent disturbance to one of our notable breeding heathland birds, the Woodlark.


Photo: Ján Svetlík

Woodlark are ground nesting and have been setting up territories since January as they tend to breed a lot earlier in the year than most birds. Just to emphasise, they are ground nesting and dogs off the lead, running around, not under close control will disturb these birds and could put them off breeding in some areas.

The good news is that Woodlark have recovered from historic population crashes and for that to continue we need to do all we can to conserve them and their habitat. They benefit from areas of a mosaic of heathland habitats and are very quick to colonise newly cleared areas, which is why we have left an area at Marden’s Hill because a pair has recently established a territory on part of the area we were clearing, which is good!

Listen for their deep, flutey song and calls, which are often sung in flight, like the Skylark, and sometimes from a perch.

I would like to point out that the disturbance from dogs is not just limited to birds. Many rare insects live in the vegetation on Ashdown Forest and dogs running through the vegetation can damage and disturb these insects.

I’ll use this Golden-ringed Dragonfly as an example.

Pic 4

Golden-ringed dragonflies are only found on heathland where the females (this is a male) lay eggs in acidic pools. Once they have developed in to larvae, it can take between 2 to 5 years for the larvae to emerge metamorphosed into an adult from the pools.

When they do emerge, they will leave behind their outer casing or exuvia on the plants they have used to crawl out on. That being said, the larvae may crawl further than just the pond edge and would be vulnerable to any loose dog running through the vegetation.

Another example is this cocoon of an Emperor Moth which is found in heathland and moorland, though it is not confined to these habitats.

Pic 6

The caterpillar’s food plants include heathers, Alder Buckthorn and some birches. At this time of year, they are in cocoon form and this could be knocked off or destroyed by a dog running through long vegetation.

This is a picture of an adult Emperor Moth.

EmperorMothJean-pierre Hamon

Photo: Jean-Pierre Hamon

Next, we have a Wasp Spider egg sack. Wasp Spiders are relatively new arrivals to Britain and do well in heathland areas.

Photo: Rich Allum

Photo: Rich Allum

Despite the colouring and size, they are harmless, although they are a spider species where the female will eat the male after mating.

Pic 8The egg sack (below) is very fragile and the ones I found were suspended between the prongs of the top of a heather bush. This is just another thing to be aware of with dogs running around.




I was wondering why would they make such a vulnerable egg sack in the first place but one rather unofficial theory is that it looks a bit like seed head and just for comparison, here is a Love-in-the-mist seed head:

Pic 9



We must concede however that some of our activities do disturb wildlife. However, we are managing the heathland for the benefit of the rare and endangered wildlife that relies on the Forest’s habitats.

If we did not manage the heathland, it would revert back to woodland.

This blog has hopefully focused on highlighting the sensitive wildlife that lives on Ashdown Forest and there’s so much I haven’t had time to talk about, like the flock of Waxwings that flew over us at Marden’s Hill a few weeks ago!

Pic 10

This wasn’t one of them but it was such a surprise I think these uncommon Scandinavian winter visitors are still worth a mention.

So to finish with, here’s an extract and link to our 4 C’s, our Code of Conduct for Dogs visiting Ashdown Forest which goes into more detail about dogs.

“Let’s be clear: well-behaved dogs ARE welcome on the Forest. The Forest however, is a very special place, internationally important for the wildlife it supports and loved by a great many people. In order for our visitors to co-exist with each other and with the plants and animals that make the Forest special, we ask that certain guidelines be followed.”


Tom Simon

Countryside Worker