We had just finished watching our recording of Springwatch Close Encounters, and, as there was still some daylight left, we decided to walk across the field to the SSSI land and see what had changed while we had been away. This area of land always used to be a mass of Orchids and other wild flowers at this time of year so I wanted to see what effect the scrub clearance using heavy machinery has had.
As we walked up the field we had a close encounter of our own. I narrowly missed stepping on a female pheasant that was sitting totally motionless and camouflaged in the tall grass. She didn't seem at all concerned that she had nearly been flattened by a big human foot, although, by the time we were going back home again she had sensibly gone.
The SSSI land looked awful with hardly a wild flower in sight and I noticed that the hawthorn that had been cut down, is regrowing with renewed vigour. There was also no sign of the lizards that used to frequent the bank. The clearance work of this area of chalk downland was commissioned by English Nature so presumably they approved the use of the heavy machinery and have been monitoring the work but I wonder how long it will take to recover. When I have got time I must walk down a bit further where there is an area of SSI land that was hand cleared of scrub by the Old Surrey Downs Group. It will be interesting to compare the rate of recovery of the two sites.
There is good news though, the Orchids are beginning to take a strong hold in the uncultivated fields adjoining the SSI land including the one we back on to. It has taken about 10 years of the land being set-aside to reach this point so maybe that is what I should expect with the SSSI land but it shows it should eventually recover. The trouble is I will be an OAP by then so I just hope I will still be able to scramble up the hill to see it:-)
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