Narrow-headed wood ants
From dumping ground to breeding ground
Three years ago Bovey Heathfield was such a tip, it was dubbed the most abused SSSI in the country. Now, it is again home to a number of rare species.
Three years of conservation work at Bovey Heathfield in South Devon is starting to pay off, with several species flocking back to the site.
The heathfield, near Bovey Tracey, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), yet this designation failed to prevent years of neglect and vandalism.
Volunteers clearing the heath
The heath - which is a nationally rare habitat and home to dozens of protected species - was used as a dumping ground, and as a scrambling track by motorbikers.
The turning point for this important area of habitat came in 2002, when it was purchased by the Devon Wildlife Trust.
Then, English Nature funded a three-year restoration project under its Wildspace! programme.
More than 60 tons of rubbish has been cleared away, including dumped cars and washing machines.
Volunteers have helped in a major effort to re-establish the heather in areas where it had been stripped bare by offroad vehicles.
Dartford Warbler. Pic: RSPB
Those efforts are now bearing fruit, with birds such as the nightjar and Dartford warbler making a return.
Seventeen different species of dragonfly have been counted thanks to the ponds which have been created out of the deep scars on the heath, and life is also looking rosier for a rare colony of narrow-headed ants.
This is the only place in England where this species of ant can be found, after being wiped out at all its previous hotspots.
However, it's not all good news. Species like the silver-studded blue butterfly appear to be lost as a result of the prolonged damage to the site. Conservationists predict it will take a decade to cover the bare scars with heath.
Before the three-year project, Bovey Heath was described as "the most abused SSSI in the country." Now, English Nature have classed its condition as "recovering."
Silver Studded Blue Butterfly
The Devon Wildlife Trust's next job is to secure fresh funding to continue the work.
The trust also wants more local residents to help out at the heath, and one idea is to make it more "people-friendly" without jeopardising the habitat and wildlife.
The trust's Bovey Heathland community officer, Stephen Carroll, said: "It has been a tough three years and we still get some vandalism but overall the project has been a real success.
"It feels good that with heathland being so rare, we have done our bit to save about 50 acres of prime habitat.
"We hope we can continue to improve the site and that more people will visit to see what we have achieved."
last updated: 22/02/2008 at 12:24