Hampshire’s Heathlands: the ponies and cattle are roaming a special corner of Hampshire

Keeping Hampshire’s protected heathland well-managed calls for more than the tremendous efforts of volunteers, rangers and their chainsaws and mowers

Dec 21 2017

Heathland ponies

Free roaming Exmoor ponies and Belted Galloway cattle are at work to help conservation efforts on 76 acres of Castle Bottom National Nature Reserve, a site managed by our Countryside Services north sites team.

Managing this heathland habitat would not be possible without a band of dedicated volunteers who help by removing large areas of scrub and trees, maintaining the open landscape characteristic of this designated Special Protection Area (SPA). In addition, the six ponies and six cattle roam the heath and mire at Castle Bottom, keeping invasive grasses, birch and bracken to a minimum, while breaking up the heather structure and creating bare ground by munching away at vegetation.

The welfare of the animals is very important and there are local people who help ‘looker’ the animals, checking them daily to make sure they are healthy and grazing well. They are always looking for more people to help monitor the livestock during the week. Full training is given.  Anyone who would like to help ‘looker’ or take part in any of the other volunteering opportunities can contact our ranger team northern.sites@hants.gov.uk or 01252 870425.

Castle Bottom National Nature Reserve makes up part of a wider complex of Heathland sites known as the Thames Basin Heath SPA, part of which is neighbouring site Yateley Common.

Across these two sites a wealth of wildlife thrives in the open heather, gorse, birch and oak woodland. The areas are important for many breeding birds like nightjars, Dartford warblers and stonechats.  In the warmer months, it’s home to lizards and adders and a variety of butterflies, amid orchids and thistles. The Common is a vital resource for the local community, whether walking, horse riding or cycling.

Management of Yateley Common is thanks to the hard work of volunteers and staff, and December saw more than 75 people join the rangers at a special conservation event on the Common where they were rewarded with the chance of taking home their own Scots Pine Christmas trees. It’s been a joy for the team to see the photographs sent in of these trees in their fully decorated glory. Keep up to date with the Yateley Common Country Park and north sites team on Facebook, twitter and Instagram

Yateley Common is one of our featured walks. Follow the 1.25 mile circular route on our downloadable map to pass by many of the great features the Common has to offer. It starts at Wyndham’s Pool in an area known as Brandy Bottom.   Some of the paths can become muddy in winter, so bring your wellies!