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Date updated: 11/15/2020

Ancient, rare and important habitats

Both Burnham Beeches and Stoke Common are Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Burnham Beeches is also a National Nature Reserve and a Special Area of Conservation. The habitats on both sites were created over hundreds, or even thousands of years which is one reason why they are so important for wildlife.

Burnham Beeches is especially important for its ancient, 'pollarded' trees, many of which are 4-500 years old. It's other habitats include heathland, wetland and mire, woodland ponds, ancient coppice and grassland.

Stoke Common contains the largest area of heathland in south Buckinghamshire. Heathland is one of the rarest habitats in the United Kingdom, created through a combination of poor, acidic soils and land management that keeps the vegetation open.

Keeping both nature reserves in the best condition for the wildlife that lives here and looking wonderful all year round takes a lot of hard work. We work closely with our communities, visitors and partners to develop ten-year management plans to help protect and preserve these special sites for future generations. These plans outline why and how we intend to do this and highlight our main projects.

Managing ancient trees

People used to manage the trees in the Beeches as pollards, probably to get firewood. The regular cutting of branches helped the trees live far longer than they may otherwise have done, and kept the woodland open. People also used to allow their animals to graze beneath the trees - this is known as 'wood-pasture'. Overtime, these practices declined and the old trees grew taller and young trees and scrub grew around them. This can adversely affect the ancient trees and the birds, fungi, plants, invertebrates and other creatures that live in and around them - many of these species are very rare.

To take care of this, we thin trees and scrub in some parts of the woodland to help light get to the ground. We also take special care of our ancient trees with each one having a plan for its individual needs.

Managing heathland

As heathland was created mostly through management, it needs to be continually managed to prevent it from turning back to young, scrubby woodland. We use different methods to keep our heathland open including: cutting back trees and scrub by machinery or volunteers; mowing or flailing; and grazing. Small areas of scrub are valuable for wildlife, especially birds, so we don't remove all of it.

Grazing

As grazing animals helped to create the wood-pasture and heathland, as well as keep them open, the best way to manage the habitat now is through grazing animals. The way they graze helps to create a lot of variations in the habitats and that in turn helps create diversity and encourages a wider range of species.

We use traditional breeds including British white and Sussex cattle, Exmoor ponies and sometimes, Berkshire pigs as they are docile and well suited to the type of grazing found on our sites.

We have traditional post and rail or wire fences but we also use an 'invisible fence' system. This has wires buried in the ground which transmit a signal. If the signal is picked up by collars worn by the cattle, the collar 'beeps'; if the animal goes closer they get a small shock similar to that of a traditional electric stock fence. The cattle quickly learn where the boundaries are and stay within the 'virtual paddock'. There is more information about grazing in the Burnham Beeches grazing restoration project summary below.

 Useful documents

Burnham Beeches 2020 - 2030 management plan PDF (6MB)
Date submitted: 8/17/20

Ten year management plan for Burnham Beeches

Stoke Common management plan 2019-2028 PDF (3MB)
Date submitted: 1/14/20

The Stoke Common plan was approved by Natural England in January 2019.

The Burnham Beeches plan was approved by Natural England in April 2020.

"Thank you everyone who has contributed and inputted into these plans. Your feedback, consultation and engagement has been invaluable and enables us to shape the future for these incredible sites."

Grazing restoration project summary PDF (819KB)
Date submitted: 8/04/20

Document explaining the use of grazing animals at Burnham Beeches