|Basingstoke Conservation Volunteers|
|Hands-on help for local wildlife|
Bartley Heath and North Warnborough Greens
Bartley Heaths and North Warnborough Greens, near Hook, together form a large area of heath, grassland and woodland on the clay and gravels of North Hampshire. Heathland developed where woodland was cleared on poor soils and then grazed. 85% of lowland heathland was destroyed in the 20th century. The reserve is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The Heath and Greens have long played a facinating role in the local economy. They have been used by commoners for grazing and small scale gravel extraction. The later became more widespread following the 18th century Turnpike Acts which required materials for road building. The arrival of the railway brought an increase in the local population, leading to development such as the construction of a racecourse which existed here for some time.
The outer boundary of the Common has changed little over the centuries. Many features recorded in the 1561 "Perambulation" ( a descriptive system of defining boundaries) can still be seen, including named Oak trees.
As in many other parts of the country, grazing steadily declined here through the twentieth century. In 1967 it ceased completely, when an M3 junction dissected the Heath. Since coming into its ownership, the Hampshire Wildlife Trust has worked towards reinstating traditional grazing to control invasive species in favour of rarer wildlife on the site.
The Trust has a responsibility to manage the site for its precious wildlife, but also as an historic landscape. Traditionally (even within living memory) the area was more open, looking not unlike the New Forest. To recreate this requires the reintroduction of grazing. Secure boundaries, including cattle grids and some fencing is required, plus the installation of water supplies. Clearance of encroaching scrub will allow Registered Commoners to exercise their rights to graze cattle, ponies, geese, fowl (and one donkey). Some areas isolated by the new roads are being allowed to develop as woodland while flower rich areas of the greens were mown and raked until grazing was arranged.
Over the years BCV has been involved with the haymaking on the Greens and fencing and tree clearance on the Heath. National Lottery money has allowed the fencing to be completed and return of grazing animals means that the thankless scrub bashing should be much reduced in future.
The site supports a specialised range of wildlife which has adapted to the acidic conditions and the demands of regular grazing. A mixture of heather and grasses is studded in late summer by wildflowers such as the nationally rare Marsh Gentian. Another speciality is the Marsh Fritillary a butterfly whose caterpillars live together in a silken "tent" to protect them while feeding on Devil's Bit Scabious. With the decline of grazing large areas have become dominated by Purple Moor Grass and Birch. Ironically regular cutting under the pylons has stopped tree seedlings encroaching into these areas.
The woodland is largely Oak with good stands of Holly and a few Sallow which provide food for the elegant Purple Emperor Butterfly. Tree pipits need these open areas to feed and launch themselves from the treetops to perform their floating song-flights. Roe Deer are common.
Many of the small gravel pits have formed pools which have been colonised by aquatic plant sand insects. Too acidic for fish, many dragonflies thrive here including the uncommon Ruddy Darter. As these short lived insects age they become lethargic and spend long periods basking.
North Warnborough Greens are quite different. Grazed more recently, these lush wet meadows border the clear chalky River Whitewater. Swarms of purple Marsh Orchids, Marsh Helleborine, rare sedges and rushes, such as the diminutive Round-fruited Rush are found both on the Greens and in nearby areas where cattle used to roam.
The whole site is open access to visitors on foot and is crossed by several public footpaths. The Potteries car park is at grid reference SU 729 527.
Bartley Photo Gallery Click the image for the big picture. Use the back button to return.
I'm grateful to Hampshire Wildlife Trust for the reserve map and most of the information on this page.