How Piers is helping nature to thrive

Edition: Summer 2022

Wilder Horsham District is a five-year partnership between the Council and Sussex Wildlife Trust, working to deliver a Nature Recovery Network for our District.

Landowner Piers Clarke at Mount Wood

One of the main focusses of the Wilder Horsham District project is to work with local community groups, farmers and landowners to help them create improved habitats which will increase flora and fauna, with the ultimate aim of helping nature to thrive and combat climate change.

In this edition we pay a visit to new landowner Piers Clark, who took ownership of an area of woodland called Mount Wood near Rusper in late March 2021. He has started an ambitious series of projects to re-cultivate his land to create better habitats for wildlife, trees and grassland.

Here's what Piers has to say.

What is your background, Piers, and how did you become interested in tackling biodiversity problems? I did an environmental sciences degree in the late 1980s, and then completed a PhD in public health engineering. I have spent over30 years working in the water sector so have always been quite aware of environmental issues.

How did you become involved with the Wilder Horsham District project? When I bought the Mount Wood woodland area, I reached out to local  ecology groups and was approached by the Wilder Horsham District team.

The team have been instrumental in advising me about what I can do to create a broader variety of healthier habitats on my land, which will support many more species of trees and animals. They have also pitched in with teams of volunteers to lend a hand with the heavy work of digging and clearing vegetation.

What is your overall aim at Mount Wood? Ultimately, we want to maximise, protect and preserve as many ecological habitats as possible – we are not trying to protect single species, but encourage as much diversity as possible, in both flora and fauna. It’s all about multi-species and multi-aged trees and habitats. This is why we have scrub, closed canopy trees, hedgerow, standing dead wood, ditches, and we are creating a pond.

The biggest challenge is that the site is pretty small at just 12 acres, but it’s a start

WHD volunteers building natural hedgerows
Leaky dams built creating streams

What projects have you got on the go at Mount Wood at the moment and how will they help improve biodiversity?

  • Constructing leaky dams (pictured): leaky dams are a form of natural water management. By putting them across flow paths in the wood we will slow the passage of water through the wood. This will conserve water in the woodland by creating a series of smaller pools and pushing water out into the wider wood.
  • Creating a pond: ponds are great habitats for many varieties of organisms including plants, amphibians, fish, reptiles, waterfowl, insects and even some mammals.
  • ‘Haloing’ of oak trees: this entails cutting away other trees around well-established oaks to give them space. Despite their size and seniority in the woodland, oaks are sensitive to crowding and over-shadowing by faster growing species. Removing these competing trees gives the oaks room to spread and have largerlower limbs with more space for wildlife.
  • Management of ash trees which had ash dieback disease: ash dieback is devastating ash populations, but that doesn’t mean all trees should be cut down. There is evidence that some a share resistant and can recover and cutting down all infected trees would remove these trees as well.
  • Creation of two glades: glades are essentially more open areas of woodland which will attract more sunlight and allow ground flora to flourish and fallen trees to rot down, providing more habitats for a broader range of species.

What are your timescales? I want all of it to happen as soon as possible! But in reality, it’s a 500 year project.

What will success look like for you? We did a baseline ecology survey in April 2021, with the idea being that we would do it again every five years and hopefully see progress. As it happens, we have seen so much progress since then that I don’t think I need another survey to make me feel this is a success.

Volunteers in an open glade

How you can help nature

  1. Be bee-friendly: plant pollinator friendly plants that will attract bees and other insects.
  2. Give nature a home: put up a bird box or a bat box, or build your own hedgehog house.
  3. Just add water: your own pond, no matter how small, will instantly attract more wildlife.
  4. Don't be too tidy: leave some of your lawn unmown and a few piles of rubble and wood around which is really good to attract wildlife. Remember nature loves a mess!
Sussex Wildlife Trust and Horsham District Council

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