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Wharncliffe Heath

This weekend’s task was at the beautiful Wharncliffe Heath, a nature reserve just north of Sheffield, where we were removing birch tree saplings.

Removal of tree saplings is particularly important on heathland as without this management it would, over time, gradually be succeeded by forest. Heathland environments are home to several rare species, such as nightjar and green lizard, however their extent has decreased by 90% across the UK. Maintaining Wharncliffe is therefore important to help preserve biodiversity. Naturally, heathland would be sustained by grazing and trampling of megafauna (e.g. auroch or deer) but humans and hunting pressures have largely removed these. Wharncliffe is instead currently managed by cows and Shetland sheep (who eat the young tree saplings), but sometimes they need a helping hand!

Wharncliffe is also historically important, with several Bronze Age quern stones - used to mill grain to make flour - and some later ones of Roman design (see photo). Geologically, the Wharncliffe crags are composed of a unique sedimentary rock that makes perfect milling stones as they themselves don’t break down during the grinding process. Quern stones manufactured at Wharncliffe have been found as far away as Germany - pretty impressive given this was 4,000 years ago!

Overall, it was a really good day, and amusing to see the occasional person disappear amongst the heather (very tough going - on a boulder slope with numerous hidden holes; think the raptor scene in Jurassic Park 2…). The site tour by the very knowledgeable David of the Wharncliffe Heath Trust was really interesting, and welcome after a days work helping out in this great place.

A lovely task in a lovely setting, we’ll be back!


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