Woolmer Forest Heritage Society

The Biodiversity and Natural History of the Woolmer Forest in Bordon at the Whitehill

The biodiversity of Bordon and Whitehill on the Woolmer Forest

'Biodiversity includes all species of plants and animals, and the complex ecosystems that sustain them' In 1992 an Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro to look at the global threat to biodiversity. As a result 150 countries signed an agreement called the 'Convention on Biological Diversity' recognising the disappearance of species and agreeing to produce a national strategy for the "conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity".

The UK Biodiversity Action Plan 1994

The UK was one of the first countries to respond to the requirements of the convention. The government produced a broad strategy for the next twenty years to protect and enhance the biodiversity of the U.K. recognising that a healthy functional ecosystem contributes to a better quality of life.

Hampshire Biodiversity Action Plan 1998

A plan that a partnership of local individuals and organisations would follow to conserve and enhance what is special and important in the UK and Hampshire.

Biodiversity Action Plan: Whitehill Parish and its surroundings

This aims to protect and enhance the biodiversity of the Parish of Whitehill. It will implement the Government objectives in Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 9 and in Regional and Local Biodiversity Action Plans by identifying key core areas for biodiversity, important buffer zones in the surrounding area and ecological corridors.

Why do we need it?

All species are intrinsically linked in a web of life. Removal of one of the linking species upsets the balance of that web, which includes the human race. From the more common to the most threatened species, with which we share our lives, all rely on a healthy environment to ensure our survival.

From our environment we take food, clothing and raw materials for industry. We need to use these resources sustainably to ensure that we pass them on undamaged to future generations.

Without a stable environment we are more at risk from floods, droughts, soil erosion and pollution. The soil, rivers, air and species within them are part of a giant natural cycle, cleansing waste and absorbing the impacts of progress. We can use biodiversity to measure how well these processes are working.

With the fast pace of modern living many people will spend part of their leisure time out of doors, in nature reserves, in the countryside and in local parks. This gives a sense of well being and improves the quality of life, which in turn helps to promote these places and the plants and animals that live within them. It underlines why the environment is so important.

Dramatic losses have occurred in the past, particularly of the lowland heathland habitat, which is one of our special areas. The UK action plan recommended that this area should increase by 2005 to 6,000 hectares (Ha), of which 5,400 Ha should be in England. Unfortunately only 2,200 Ha were achieved in the U.K. of which 2,000 were in England. The new target for 2010 is 3,784 Ha in the U.K. and 3,050 Ha in England.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has provided a 'Guidance for Local Authorities on Implementing the Biodiversity Duty (2007).

2007 Consultation Document for Thames Basin Heaths SPA

A Draft Interim Strategic Delivery Plan has been prepared by South East England Regional Authority (SEERA) Nov. 2007 for consultation on the protection of the Thames Basin Heaths SPA as directed by the EU and the NERC Act 2006. This is very relevant to the Whitehill Parish, which includes part of the Wealden Heaths Phase 2 SPA.

The suggestions for consultation are that there should be an exclusion zone within 400m linear distance of the SPA and a Zone of Influence between 400m and 5km linear distances from the SPA. Within the latter zone there would be specific measures to avoid damage to the SPA by the local provision of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG). This is intended to provide mitigation for the potential impact of residential development on the SPA by preventing an increase in visitor pressure on the SPA. It must be such that the SANG is more attractive to users than the SPA. The quantity of SANG would be at a rate of 8 Ha for each 1,000 additional population. At 2.4 persons per dwelling, the amount of SANG for 4,000 new dwellings, as proposed by the Whitehill Bordon Opportunity, would be 77 Ha within the Zone of Influence.

What has created the biodiversity in our Parish?

After the last ice age with the slow warming of the land, many species of plants and animals moved northwards. Those that reached the British Isles before the melting ice raised sea levels to such an extent that the UK was separated from mainland Europe, became our native flora and fauna. Amongst these was man, whose actions have strongly influenced his local surroundings and other species.

The Mesolithic period, 10,000 to 6,000 years ago, heather grew in the woodland glades. The area was used by hunter-gatherers, and dating of ash from their campsites has shown hazel nuts were an important food source and these lay over the heather remains. Gradually as time advanced into the Neolithic period and man was able to make clearings in the woodland, it was possible to keep stock. When the fertility of the soil was exhausted they simply moved on to another area. Species such as the heather, which would normally have to wait for a tree to fall over in the wood, were able to take advantage of these open areas. The production of bronze tools from 4,200 years ago enabled further advances in farming, and the grazing of stock on the sandy soils of the Folkestone beds led to the start of the formation of our heathlands.

The Romans' appearance 2,000 years ago brought many new crops and livestock to the British Isles. Some such as the Sweet Chestnut escaped into the countryside and became naturalised. More woodland was cleared for agriculture and for the development of roads for troops, trade and incidentally species to move around the country.

The Norman invasion brought further new species to our countryside including the rabbit, fallow deer and pheasant. This area was prized as a hunting forest because of the open areas of heathland and Edward I had a hunting lodge built at Lynchmere so that he could enjoy the chase after red deer and wild boar. The latter however were hunted to extinction by the 17th Century. The Royal Woolmer Forest lost the last of its native trees in 1578 and was then exploited for grazing and turf cutting. Woolmer Forest was enclosed and remained as Crown land until sold in 1863 to the Ministry of Defence for military training. By this time Scots Pine, a native of Scotland was found to grow well on our sandy soil and has now spread into the heath land.

The military presence in our Parish has kept these areas from development and the MOD conservation programme has enhanced the habitat required by many special species that occur in very few other places. The removal of the Garrison from Bordon means that some of the military land is now under threat from development and it is essential that wildlife corridors remain in place to connect the extremely important areas for wildlife that are left.