“Castle Bottom to Yateley Common comprises the largest remnant of heathland habitat together with the largest valley bog/heathland complex in the north-east Hampshire section of the Thames Basin"
Extract from Notification as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
Castle Bottom lies between the farmland and urban development to the north and east, and the forestry and gravel workings to the south and west. Within this context it represents a small fragment of what was once a very much more extensive system of heath and mire with some wood pasture. It is managed as part of the larger SSSI complex and although otherwise surrounded by different forms of development, there are a few other remaining pockets of habitat in the area, many of which are unmanaged and potentially under threat.
It is the long-term aim of Hampshire County Council to preserve and enhance the important habitats and species of Castle Bottom.
Lowland heathland is considered by some ecologists and environmentalists to be more threatened than the rainforests. Declining by 75% between 1800 and 1983 (Dolman & Regland, 1995) few would dispute the ecological value of our remaining heaths. Britain is a particularly important country for lowland heathland containing a significant proportion of the world’s total; Hampshire itself containing around 10%. Heathland has mainly been lost to development, forestry or sand and gravel extraction, and the remaining fragments of heath are often disturbed by these processes taking place around them.
Heathlands support a wide range of plants and animals, some of which are only found within such habitats or very heavily dependent upon the conditions they provide, thus declining along with the habitat.
Many of the remaining pockets of heathland are separated by many miles, which is a serious problem for less mobile species. Britain’s wildlife is particularly interesting as it supports a range of species on the northern or southern edge of their range. In the south this means that we have species of birds and invertebrates that are only found in a small area of warmer, more sheltered climatic conditions in the south east, but which may be more widespread on the continent. If their habitat becomes more threatened across Europe and therefore they are more dependent upon UK heaths, such species could be dangerously under threat and our heathlands even more vital.
Heathland is a natural habitat, but was probably a marginal one in its natural form, occurring only where clearings occurred in the wildwood that once covered Britain. When man arrived much of this forest was cleared for settlements and farmland. Heathlands were traditionally a good resource, gorse and birch being taken for fuel and bracken being taken for animal bedding and packaging purposes. Animals were also put out to graze the heathlands and these processes together with controlled burning prevented tree and scrub seedlings from generating and the area returning to woodland. Under these conditions the area of heathland spread with larger complexes forming.
Many heathlands were once registered as common land. This means that designated local people have special rights to graze animals or gather wood for fuel. Many of these rights have now lapsed over the years as people have not renewed their registration (such is the case on Castle Bottom) and many people do not exercise these rights if they do have them. It is therefore crucial to the survival of our remaining heathlands that we continue some of these traditional practices.
However an element of scrub is important and is a natural part of the heathland habitat. In the Castle Bottom SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) designation, the scrub/heath interface was highlighted as being particularly important for a range of invertebrates. In turn, of course, these invertebrates support important bird populations. On Castle Bottom we have carefully devised a programme of management that takes these and many other important factors into consideration. More details on our management aims can be found (links top right).