Dozens of National Trust volunteer rangers have spent three months unearthing an array of wildlife and rare archaeological finds at one of the most ancient sites in the UK. Glow worms, butterflies, rare bugs and birds are among the species identified at the stunning and historic sites across Dorset and Wiltshire since May.
It is the first time in several years that this rare chalk grassland habitat has been so closely monitored, with the 43 volunteers – known as ‘Hillfort Heroes’ – recording species to provide a baseline for future measurement to aid management of the land.
This year’s Iron Age hillforts’ work across the South West has been made possible thanks to a generous award made to the National Trust by Postcode Earth Trust, raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, and a further award from the South Dorset Leader Action group.
National Trust Ranger Clive Whitbourn said, “Over the past few months our volunteers, have been helping record some of the key species that make chalk grasslands so special. Chalk grassland is an amazing habitat, densely populated with plant species which support a wealth of bugs, birds and other creatures like the chalkhill blue butterfly, Great green bush cricket as well as glow-worms which are pretty rare.
“Glow worms are so fragile and so susceptible to the smallest changes in the climate, or their habitat, that they really are the barometer as to the health of our landscapes. Species monitoring is therefore massively important because we will be immediately alerted to any changes in numbers, enabling us to investigate whether these changes might be down to weather conditions or even pests or diseases.”
The Trust has also introduced conservation grazing in some areas across the 13 sites where the livestock’s main role is to control the spread of more aggressive plant species and helping to prevent scrub encroachment. As a result, better conditions are created for fine grasses and wildflowers to thrive including devils bit scabious, knapweed and autumn lady’s tresses.
Using cattle is a more sensitive approach because it gradually removes plant material than cutting and burning the scrub using machinery.