Conservation and Management
In 1974 Shortheath Common was notified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) giving it legal protection under the Wildlife & Countryside Act, the most important piece of wildlife legislation in the UK. Since then, it has also been designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EU Habitats Directive. SACs are part of a European network of important, strictly protected, high quality conservation sites.
As a result of the conservation designations awarded to Shortheath Common, Hampshire County Council is required to protect the site from any activities which might cause damage. Previously owned by the MOD and used primarily for training purposes, the Common was not managed for conservation until its purchase by Hampshire County Council in 1994.
Management at Shortheath aims to improve the quality of the various habitats whilst maintaining a balance with access and recreational interests. Efforts to restore the Common to a more favourable condition have involved the removal of secondary woodland and scrub, recreating the open areas which are an historical feature of the site.
Another important aspect of management has been the control of bracken where it has encroached into areas of grassland and heath. Invasive willow, birch and Scot’s pine has been removed from the mire and a sluice has been installed to maintain optimum water levels. These levels are monitored on a monthly basis using a series of dip wells.
Whilst the absence of the traditional practice of grazing impedes rejuvenation over a lot of the common, Natural England recognises that overall, the site is improving. With the vast majority having been assessed as either ‘favourable’ or ‘unfavourable recovering’ it is apparent that the recent management of Shortheath is proving successful.
Current objectives include the continued control of invasive species, and management to benefit rare and threatened species which are present at the site, such as the Field Cricket Gryllus campestris and Water Vole Arvicola terrestris.
Shortheath Common comprises a wide range of habitats which account for a rich biological diversity. Although a proportion of the site is now dominated by semi-natural oak and birch woodland, it retains a large pond, wet and dry heath, acid grassland, oligotrophic and dystrophic pool, unusual inland ‘sand dune’ type communities, and an outstanding area of schwingmoor - classified under the SAC as ‘transition mire and quaking bog’.
The pond has been notified under the SSSI for its interesting emergent and bank side vegetation. Rare communities of Frogbit Hydrocharis morsus-ranae, Bladderwort Utricularia australis and Bottle Sedge Carex rostrata can be found, along with the more common Water Mint Mentha aquatica, Marsh St John’s Wort Hypericum elodes, Water Horsetail Equisetum fluviatile, Bird’s-foot Trefoil Lotus uliginosus and Pennywort Hydrocotyle vulgaris. Interestingly, the non-invasive species Narrow-leaved Arrowhead Sagittaria subulata can be found in the southern part of the pond and is not known to occur anywhere else in the UK.
Of considerable interest is the transition mire or quaking bog, featuring a huge floating raft of vegetation. This flora is dominated by sphagnum mosses along with higher plants such as Reedmace Typha latifolia, Marsh Cinquefoil Potentilla palustris and the insectivorous Round-leaved Sundew Drosera rotundifolia. Also present is the largest colony of the rare Cranberry Vaccinium oxycoccus in southern England. This feature distinguishes the bog from Emer Bog in the New Forest, the only of this type in the south of the country.
The margins of the mire grade into wet heath dominated by Cross-leaved Heath Erica tetralix, Purple Moor-grass Molinia caerula, Bog Pimpernel Anagallis tenella and Common Sallow Salix cinerea. This in turn gives way to dry heath and acid grassland communities.
The dry heath, which is notified under both the SSSI and the SAC contains a characteristic dwarf shrub flora. This community, which thrives on the acidic, nutrient-poor soils, contains Heather Calluna vulgaris, Gorse Ulex minor, a small amount of Bell Heather Erica cinerea and the ever encroaching birch and bracken.
Due to the range and quality of its habitats, Shortheath is able to support a prolific and diverse invertebrate fauna. It is host to 23 different dragonflies, including the nationally scarce Club-tailed Dragonfly Gomphus vulgatissimus, and the regionally scarce Golden-ringed Dragonfly Cordulegaster boltonii. The endangered Field Cricket Gryllus campestris was reintroduced to the site in 2002 under Natural England’s ‘Species Recovery Programme,’ and the ‘song’ of the males can be heard between May and August. Also of note is the Bee Wolf Philanthus triangulum which resides in the dry heath and preys on the Honey Bee Apis mellifera.
Of the birds present at the site the rare Woodlark Lullula arborea is the most noteworthy, receiving special protection under the EU Bird’s Directive and the Wildlife & Countryside Act. Snipe Gallinago gallinago have been over wintering in the mire.
Due to an incredible 95% reduction of its population nationwide, the Water Vole is the most significant mammal recorded at Shortheath Common. Management prescriptions aim to make conditions more favourable for these semi-aquatic rodents by improving the quality of the habitat in which they reside.