The Park and Poor's Allotment
Know before you go
Grazing animalsCattle, sheep and ponies
When to visit
Best time to visittbc
About the reserve
Lesser butterfly orchid, Jack snipe, green hairstreak, tiger beetle and nightjar – these are just some of the amazing wildlife that have been found on Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s two newest reserves, The Park and Poor’s Allotment. Tucked away in the Forest of Dean district, the reserve forms two distinct areas: The Park, formerly managed by the Forestry Commission, and Poor’s Allotment, held by trustees from the parish of Tidenham and declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest by Natural England.
Both sites are fantastic examples of acid grassland and heathland, which, over the years, have allowed a wide range of fascinating wildlife to flourish. Twenty-five years ago or more, you may have been fortunate enough to spot the delicate spike of a lesser butterfly orchid or the distinctive flash of Britain’s only green butterfly, the green hairstreak, both of which thrive on acidic bog and heathland; today, however, such species need more than a helping hand to survive in the area. Last year, GWT was asked to help with the conservation of the sites. one of the immediate priorities was the need to manage the bracken which had dominated the area for so long, leading to the loss of species such as the lesser butterfly orchid and the bog asphodel. Tackling bracken is no quick fix but there are many methods at GWT’s disposal. “To deliver on anything, there is not just one tool,” says Park and Poor’s reserve manager, Kevin Caster. “Whatever we start, we must be able to continue and for bracken to become less dominant, we need to deplete its energy for five continuous years.”
Herbicide is an effective way to manage bracken, but Poor’s also has the help of local farmer, John Voyce, whose rare breed cattle do ‘the perfect job’ in trampling the plant’s rootstock (rhizomes). Hardy breeds such as Highland, longhorn and Dexter cattle are ideal grazers for this type of terrain as they can survive on rough fodder, nipping off bramble tips while trampling breaks through gorse at the same time. Exmoor ponies lend a hoof in Poor’s Allotment, while Kevin has the benefit of an Alpine tractor that takes the tops off the bracken on difficult terrain, revealing the heather underneath.
Also on GWT’s to-do list is tackling the natural succession of birch trees. “There’s an overwhelming amount of birch trees that we have to cut,” says Kevin. “Birch clearance is difficult because a single stem can turn into 10 stems if not dealt with properly.” This means using professional herbicides to treat tree stumps and burning waste material. Thankfully, Kevin has a willing team of volunteers in the Dean Green Team, which, last winter, dedicated themselves to restoration work in the reserve. “This was great as we could see the progress made in one winter and I can now estimate how many more winters it will take to achieve our goal” says Kevin. I am hoping that we will have the bulk of the birch clearance done over the next five years.” A daunting task to some, but Kevin is undeterred: “The strategy is to find attractive and diverse patches within the heathland – a feature tree or a pond – and clear that area as a glade. We’re effectively cherry-picking the nice areas which we will then maintain and allow to blend organically. It’s about finding a balance which is sustainable.”
Although there’s a lot of work going on at the sites, it doesn’t mean there isn’t lots of wildlife teeming throughout. Slow worms warming themselves up under rocks, lizards basking on sunny gorse, woodcocks performing their roding display flight at dusk, pairs of breeding stonechats and evidence of hazelnuts chewed by dormice – the sites are full of possibility and discovery for wildlife enthusiasts, and peaceful beautiful open landscapes that everyone can appreciate. “The reserve offers nooks and crannies to explore, the best views over the River Severn and a fantastic array of wildlife in fantastic habitats,” enthuses Kevin.
GWT has achieved a great deal in a short space of time – who knows what wonders we might once again see over the next 25 years?