Ben Thornes

Evaluation of the restoration of priority open habitats in Dorset

Wednesday 16th July 2014

Evaluation of the restoration of priority open habitats on the Forestry Commission estate in Dorset.

Report for the Forestry Commission undertaken by Chris Moody, Dr Kathy Hodder, & Dr Anita Diaz.

Executive Summary:

– The extensive restoration of open habitats in the Forestry Commission plantations of Dorset has been successful in producing habitat condition comparable to reference designated sites as well as many vegetation communities showing a composition with a good match to the restoration target.

– Condition status was assessed through Common Standards Monitoring for consistency with current standard habitat assessment across designated sites. For the restored habitats, the condition was remarkably similar to that recorded for the comparable designated sites in the Dorset region.

– Analysis of the seven vegetation communities that were found in both restored and target sites indicated that four of these in the restored sites showed as good a match to the NVC target as SSSI reference communities, while another three did not.

– Three heath communities (H1e, H8a, H9e) and a valley mire (M21) showed an equivalent match to NVC for target and restored sites, indicating successful restoration. This is particularly promising as this valley mire in the Poole basin often contains high abundance of a nationally rare moss, Sphagnum pulchrum.

– Three other heath communities (H2c, H3a and H3c) were significantly less well matched to their NVC targets on the restored sites and these differences are more likely to be due to either management or local landscape effects.

– The open habitats occurred on the restored and designated sites at different relative abundances. Although the restored sites had comparable relative abundance of wet and dry heath to those found on SSSI sites, there was a far greater abundance of scattered scrub, bracken and trees on the restored areas. This indicates that the FC restored sites are being managed to a slightly later successional stage stage than the SSSI sites. This may be detrimental to some heathland species that require particularly warm microclimates so are vulnerable to shading.

– An assessment of Invertebrate Habitat Structure (IHS) indicated that grassland habitats were significantly better for invertebrates on restored than target sites. This was largely caused by the heterogenity in sward structure provided by large tussocks of Molinia caerulea in restored sites. No significant differences were apparent for other habitats.

– More detailed records for a case study site (Moreton) showed potential for this to develop into a biodiverse complex including several priority habitats. even at this early stage post-restoration, the BAP priority species marsh clubmoss Lycopodiella inundata was present and brown-beaked sedge Rynnchospora fusca, an important species with restricted distribution, was also found. The spotted flycatcher Muscicapa striata was observed using the site, with nightjars observed nesting on site as well. Rare invertebrates included the raft spider Dolomedes fimbriatus and small-red damselfly Ceriagrion tenellum were also observed in large numbers on site.

The full report is available below to download as a PDF file.

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