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28 October 2014

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You are in: Dorset > Nature > Nature Features > Conservation Hero

Lucie Cowles

Lucie Cowles

Conservation Hero

Londoner Lucie Cowles came to Dorset five years ago and fell in love with the countryside. She’s now one of the county’s conservation heros – and urges us all to do our bit for Dorset.

Lucie Cowles gives up a day each month to chop down brambles and pull up weeds at Fontmell Down.

But for Lucie, it’s not a sacrifice, it’s something she enjoys.

“You don’t have to think about the nasty things you see on the news, all the big things happening in the world,” she explains.

“Your world suddenly becomes this little environment. It’s really relaxing.”

Fontmell Down

Fontmell Down

Fontmell Down near Shaftesbury is owned by the National Trust but managed by the Dorset Wildlife Trust.

It relies on volunteers like Lucie to keep it as a haven for wild flowers and butterflies. The chalk downland is at constant threat of being overrun by blackthorn and ragwort, a poisonous weed.

I met Lucie and her helpers Ann and Chris one Saturday morning. Their task was ragwort-pulling.

Ragwort looks like a harmless flower but it can poison livestock. In fact, it’s even a legal requirement for landowners to pull it up.

“This is akin to Charley in Big Brother – it’s really irritating,” jokes Lucie.

Ragwort is easy to pull up – the hard part is hiking around the valley in search of the poisonous plants.

Ragwort at Fontmell Down

Ragwort at Fontmell Down

“This is a green gym,” says Lucie. “You’re working out and also getting fresh air into your lungs. You can make it as hard or easy as you like.”

The Dorset Wildlife Trust is looking for volunteers to help them maintain its protected sites around the county.

You don’t have to be fit enough to chop down trees, just keen enough to come along and get involved. Even if that just means helping to identify species of flowers or butterflies.

“I’d just urge people to come along,” says Lucie. “And fall in love with it the way I’ve fallen in love with it.”

last updated: 14/03/2008 at 15:59
created: 17/07/2007

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Nicky Hoar, DWT spokesperson
Fontmell Down is a precious example of chalk downland, with an important range of flowers and butterflies. To maintain this biodiversity we need to prevent scrub, including bramble, from covering the area. Poisonous ragwort has to be removed as grazing is also required to maintain the open downland conditions.

Leon Truscott
I was horrified to see "conservation" volunteers removing ragwort from a nature reserve. Probably not the BBC's fault, but I have complained to the Dorset WT.

Michael Rubin
This article seems to suggest we should remove bramble and ragwort. But do you realise how many butterflies and moths rely on these plants for nectar and larval foodplants? Some of the butterflies are quite rare, and bramble in particular is exceedingly popular in the butterfly world. By removing these plants you are removing a significant source of food and endangering large numbers of these harmless and beautiful creatures.

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