Higher Level Stewardship Scheme
HEATHLAND and HIGHER LEVEL STEWARDSHIP
Newtown Common forms part of a complex of heathland sites which lie on the gravels of the Bagshot Beds which overlie the chalk in this area. Other nearby heathlands are Inkpen, Snelsmore, Greenham, Bucklebury, Burghclere and Earlstone commons. All of these areas are recognised for their importance to nature conservation, and all are under some form of positive management to retain and enhance their wildlife value. About one third of Newtown Common’s 58 hectares is heathland with the remaining two thirds being woodland.
Newtown Parish Council has been responsible for the management of the common since 1932 when Kingsclere and Whitchurch Rural District Council delegated the powers given to it in 1930 under the commons Act of 1899. See the Scheme of Regulation and Management.
Since the 1950s, changes in the use of the common have altered its nature. Myxomatosis arrived in the UK in 1953 and devastated the rabbit population and while wildfires still occur from time to time, the last major fire was in the very dry summer of 1976. The lack of vegetation cutting/grazing/burning has caused much of the Common to become overgrown with scrub and developing woodland.
The first formal plan to preserve the heathland areas of Newtown common was agreed in the mid 1980’s. In the early years, much of the work was done by volunteers, supplemented from time to time by contractors employed through Hampshire County Council’s Heritage Lottery-funded Hampshire Heathland Project.
In 2011, the Parish Council signed a Higher Level Stewardship agreement with Natural England, which gave assurance of funding for a period of 10 years. As part of the Agreement a new management plan was developed and a fundamental part of this was to produce a vision of how the common might look at the end of the five year period. The two maps below indicate the distribution of habitats at the start and end of the plan period.
The new management plan sets out the work which needs to be done over the first five years in order to get from the ‘Current State’ to the ‘Desired State’.
- Clear fell three hectares of pine woodland. (One and a half hectares were felled in 2012, the second phase of felling will be re-considered in 2020)
- Remove scrub from overgrown open areas
- Use herbicide to control bracken invasion of open areas
- Mow open areas in rotation to rejuvenate and regenerate heather
The intention is to create open areas that will gradually be recolonised by heather and other heathland vegetation. The picture below, indicates the extent of heather germination at the end of the first summer following the felling work and shows that there is a significant heather seed supply in the soil where the pine trees had stood.
All these works are intended to protect and enhance the valuable plant communities and associated wildlife of this increasingly rare habitat.
Volunteers still do much of the work that doesn’t need to be done by contractors. Most of the volunteers live locally but they have been assisted for the past few years by Newbury and Thatcham Green Gym, people who volunteer as a way of taking exercise. If you would like to become involved in the heathland restoration work join one of our winter working parties (dates and times advertised on this site and also in the News from the Villages).