The following is a list of frequently asked questions about the management of the forest.

What is heathland?

    Lowland heathland is characterised by the presence of plants such as heather, dwarf gorses, and cross-leaved heath and is generally found below 300 metres in altitude. Areas of good quality heathland should consist of an ericaceous layer of varying heights and structures, plus some or all of the following additional features: scattered trees and scrub; areas of bare ground; areas of acid grassland; on rare occasions calcareous grassland with limestone or chalk heath; gorse; wet heaths, bogs and/or open water. The presence and numbers of characteristic birds, reptiles, invertebrates, vascular plants, bryophytes and lichens are important indicators of habitat quality. Lowland heathland is one of the most threatened habitats in Europe and the UK has a significant proportion - 20% of the world total. Since 1800, more than 80% of lowland heathlands in the UK have been lost, largely due to the impacts of agricultural reclamation, afforestation and building development.

    Heather is not the same as heathland. A continuous stand of pure heather, as on a grouse moor, has comparatively low biodiversity. Heather passes through various stages as it ages from pioneer to old heath and has different growth forms. As a result, it has differing degrees of dominance over other plant species at different stages of its life cycle. This leads to variations in the composition of the heathland flora. Heathland may therefore often look very different at different stages in its succession.

Why are trees cut down?

The Forest is open heathland rather than woodland. We try to maintain a 40% woodland to 60% heathland ratio. This means that we do have to remove trees, particularly invasive species such as birch. Trees are sometimes removed to create wildlife corridors between areas of heathland or to soften the edges of areas of woodland. Woodland is also thinned or coppiced and trees can be removed by commoners as part of their commonable rights. Surveys of trees take place regularly and those that are diseased or weak are also removed, especially along roadsides, paths and rides where they could be seen as a danger.

Why are trees not planted?

In order to maintain the ratio of 40% to 60% described above it is not the board's policy to plant trees under any circumstances.

Why does management with heavy machines take place?

We can no longer rely on the centuries of extensive subsistence farming that generated this special habitat and have to use modern mechanised scrub clearance, mowing and targeted grazing. This is expensive; heavy machinery is not 'carbon-friendly' and is potentially at odds with 'quiet enjoyment' by Forest users. The search for less intrusive and expensive methods for the future is a priority.

Current planning sees the nature of heathland varying across the Forest. On the high ridges to the south and east, heathland will be on a landscape scale, with wide views across the Weald, giving visitors an almost moorland feel, unique in the south-east of England. To the north and west of the Forest, heathland will occur in much smaller blocks, surrounded by woodland.

Management planning for Ashdown Forest lowland heathland is a scientific and practical planning document used to implement policy. It is based on the national standard CMS7 software and identifies important features, lists factors that impact on each feature, and covers such matters as specific upper and lower limits for the factors, attributes and monitoring of targets.

What are the hebridean sheep for and why are they behind fences?

It has long been recognised that cutting machinery does a very 'even' job and that a 'mosaic' of differing heights makes a far better habitat. Grazing animals produce that 'mosaic' effect. The hebridean sheep are also selective grazers preferring gorse, young birch saplings and purple moor grass over heather. This really benefits the Forest. The large fences area protects the sheep and cattle belonging to a commoner who exercises his common right to graze. Out on other areas of the Forest there are smaller, temporary, enclosures (often electrified) that allow the hebridean sheep to graze particular areas in safety. These enclosures may be in situ from a few days to a few weeks.

What is an AONB?

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - designated under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, amended in the Environment Act 1995. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 clarifies the procedure and purpose of designating AONBs. Account is taken of the need to safeguard agriculture, forestry and other rural industries and the economic and social needs of local communities. AONB have equivalent status to national parks as far as conservation is concerned.

What is the Ashdown Forest Act 1974?

This is the most recent legislation specifically for the Forest to...'alter the constitution of, and to incorporate, the conservators of Ashdown Forest; to alter the arrangements for meeting the expenses of the conservators; to amend or repeal enactments relating to the conservators and the Forest and to confer further powers upon the conservators; and for other purposes.'

What legislation covers Ashdown Forest?

The Ashdown Forest Act 1949 strengthened the powers of the Conservators to enforce new byelaws drawn up in 1935, especially in respect of digging up plants and litter cutting. It arranged for grants from local authorities in exchange for representation on the board. The Forest was heavily used for military exercises through the Second World War – with emergency landing strips being constructed, slit trenches dug and tank manoeuvres carried out. The Ashdown Forest Act 1949 formalised and regulated the use of the Forest for post-war army training. The Ashdown Forest Act of 1974 remains the primary legislation governing the Forest. East Sussex County Council purchased the Forest from the Earl de la Warr in 1988 with funds from numerous sources including a public appeal. The freehold of the Forest was purchased (including the lordship of the Manor of Duddleswell) from the executors of the 10th Earl de la Warr and the Ashdown Forest Trust was established. Sixty-nine acres of woodland garden at Chelwood Vachery were purchased in 1994.

What is the Ashdown Forest Trust?

The freehold of Ashdown Forest, narrowly defined as the common land set aside in 1693 by decree of the Duchy of Lancaster plus a number of recent land acquisitions, is owned by the Ashdown Forest Trust, a registered charity controlled and managed by East Sussex County Council. Ownership was vested in the trust after the council bought the freehold from the executors of the Lord of the Manor, the 10th Earl de la Warr, in November 1988 supplemented by a public appeal.

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth, and includes all species of plants and animals and the natural systems that support them. Biodiversity encompasses the whole variety of life on earth. It includes all species of plants and animals, but also their genetic variation, and the complex ecosystems of which they are a part. It covers the whole of the natural world, from the commonplace to the critically endangered.

What is biodiversity duty?

From 1 October 2006, all public authorities in England and Wales had a duty to have regard to the conservation of biodiversity in exercising their functions. The duty aims to raise the profile and visibility of biodiversity, clarify existing commitments with regard to biodiversity, and to make it a natural and integral part of policy and decision making. The duty is set out in section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (NERCA) 2006, and states that: "every public authority must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity". The act extends to all public authorities the biodiversity duty of section 74 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW) 2000 which placed a duty on government and ministers. A similar duty was introduced in Scotland under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) act 2004, which requires public authorities to further the conservation of biodiversity. The duty affects all public authorities in England and Wales, which include public bodies, government and statutory undertakers. The latter includes bodies carrying out functions of a public character under a statutory power.

Why is burning used?

Setting fire to heath encourages early growth of grass by removing gorse and dead bracken. In some parts of the country it was also used to control ticks. Accidental fires are more likely in dry winter conditions when less green material is present. When the Commoners were at their peak numbers of 500 in the 19th century, there would have been little material to burn so it is believed that fires deliberately started by Commoners were relatively recent.

What was the close shepherding feasibility study?

The project, funded by Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), ran for three years from 2007 to 2010, following a model of shepherded grazing for conservation purposes established on heaths in Germany and the Netherlands. It built up a flock of over 300 grazing hebridean sheep that was still expanding at the end of the project. In the third year, at least 180 sheep grazed on the heathland for 122 days. At the start, the main concern was that worrying by dogs would make it unworkable; in the event, resources, especially staff, limited the amount of time sheep were on the heath and it was clear that major skilled volunteer input (as in Holland) was needed.

What are Conservation Objectives?

Conservation objectives define the desired state for each site in terms of the features for which they have been designated. When these features are being managed in a way which maintains their nature conservation value, then they are said to be in 'favourable condition'. For Ashdown Forest, conservation objectives have been written for European dry heath, north Atlantic wet heath, wet woodland, nightjar, dartford warbler, dormouse, great crested newt, silver-studded blue butterfly, purple emperor butterfly, insect assemblages. Attributes are described for each of these features and targets are set, concerned mainly with habitat extent and population size.

What is dwarf shrub?

Dwarf shrub heaths are characterised by vegetation dominated by members of the heather family (ericaceae). Typically they occur on acidic soils, including peats, of a low nutrient status. There are two main sub-divisions: dry and wet heaths. The former is characteristic of lowland areas, usually on freely draining, often sandy or gravelly soils, or rock outcrops. Wet heaths are more typical of upland areas (moorland) with high rainfall or impeded drainage, and are associated with shallow peat formation. Both types share strong affinities with a range of acidic grasslands, which often co-exist in dynamic habitat mosaics.

What is Environmental Stewardship?

An agri-environment grant scheme that provides funding to farmers and other land managers in England to deliver effective environmental management.

What is Favourable Condition?

The conservation objectives are accompanied by one or more habitat extent and quality definitions for the special interest features at this site (see below). These are subject to periodic reassessment and may be updated to reflect new information or knowledge; they will be used by ne and other relevant authorities to determine if a site is in favourable condition.

How big is a hectare?

One hectare is 10,000 square metres, the size of Trafalgar Square.

What are herbaceous plants?

Herbaceous plants have leaves and stems that die down at the end of the growing season to the soil level. They have no persistent woody stem above ground and may be annuals, biennials or perennials.

Where is the High Weald?

The High Weald countryside gets its ridges, valleys and rolling landscape from the underlying bands of sandstone and clay. The harder sandstone forms the high land and ridges, which generally run east-west across the high weald. The lower land between the sandstone ridges is the result of the softer clays having been more easily eroded.

What is Higher Level Stewardship (HLS)?

Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) aims to deliver significant environmental benefits in high priority situations and areas. It is paid as a fixed sum to the board for heathland restoration and funds public understanding and both capital and operating costs.

What is the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)?

JNCC is the public body that advises the UK Government and devolved administrations on UK-wide and international nature conservation. Originally established under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, JNCC was reconstituted by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006.

Who are Natural England?

Natural England is an independent public body whose purpose is to protect and improve England's natural environment and encourage people to enjoy and get involved in their surroundings.

What is an Special Area of Conservation (SAC)?

Ashdown Forest was submitted to be classified in 2001 as an SAC and achieved that status in March 2005 because it has one of the largest single continuous blocks of lowland heath in south-east England, supporting important beetles, dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies, including the nationally rare silver-studded blue butterfly plebejus argus, and birds of European importance, such as European nightjar caprimulgus europaeus, dartford warbler sylvia undata and eurasian hobby falco subbuteo.

Article 3 of the habitats directive requires the establishment of a European network of important high-quality conservation sites that will make a significant contribution to conserving the 189 habitat types and 788 species identified in annexes I and II of the directive. The listed habitat types and species are those considered to be most in need of conservation at a European level (excluding birds). Of the annex II habitat types, 76 are believed to occur in the UK. Of the annex II species, 43 are native to, and normally resident in, the uk.

What do we mean by scrub?

Scrub in this context means, a mixture of tall herbs and woody species. Young trees develop will into woodland where grazing or mowing is absent.

What is scrub tundra?

Scrub tundra is a landscape with plants similar to those seen now above the natural tree-line; the alpine zone is dominated by low-growing shrubs of jumper or willow and by ericoid (heather-like) dwarf-shrub heaths, dwarf-herb communities, moss-heath, grass-, sedge- and rush-heaths and snow-bed communities. 'Tundra' is derived from the Finnish word "tunturia," meaning barren land or treeless plain.

What so we mean by semi-natural woodland?

There is no 'wild' wood surviving in Britain; all woods have been altered in some way by human activity. Ancient semi-natural woodland is frequent in the High Weald but scarce on Ashdown Forest because of its farming history. The majority of trees present have grown on what was at one time heathland; it is often termed 'secondary' or 'successional'. The term 'invasive' is not the same as 'alien'; trees such as birch and oak are of course native whereas rhododendron ponticum, an important challenge for woodland managers, is an introduced species.

What is a slit trench?

A slit trench is a military training feature consisting of a shallow narrow excavation allowing one man to lie horizontally while shielding his body from nearby shell bursts and small arms fire.

What is a Special Protection Area (SPA)?

SPAs are strictly protected sites classified in accordance with article 4 of the ec directive on the conservation of wild birds (79/409/eec), also known as the birds directive, which came into force in April 1979. They are classified for rare and vulnerable birds, listed in annex I to the birds directive, and for regularly occurring migratory species.

Ashdown Forest was classified as an SPA in March 1996 because it supports bird populations of European importance which are listed on annex Ii of the directive: dartford warbler sylvia undata, 29 pairs representing at least 1.8% of the breeding population in great Britain (count as at 1994); nightjar caprimulgus europaeus, 35 pairs representing at least 1.0% of the breeding population in great Britain (two year mean, 1991 & 1992).

What is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (also knows as a Triple SI or an SSSI)?

The first SSSI were identified under the national parks and access to the Countryside Act 1949 when the then nature conservancy notified local authorities of SSSI. This was so their conservation interest could be taken into account during the planning process. Natural England now has responsibility for identifying and protecting the SSSI in England under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and more recently the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

Who are the Sussex Biodiversity Centre?

An organisation that collects, manages and disseminates wildlife data, providing an information service for the whole of Sussex; this includes the counties of east and west Sussex and the city of Brighton and Hove. They have over 3 million records on their database.

What is meant by unfavourable recovering?

This is one of the states of condition defined by Natural England. SSSIs are divided into 'management units'. At this unit level, condition is assessed against a set of ecological objectives identified to maintain the special habitat and species features in a healthy state. This level of assessment is underpinned by monitoring special features to a common uk standard co-ordinated by the JNCC. Natural England validates the condition assessments by more detailed monitoring of particular special features on a sample of SSSIs.

What are SANGS and SAMMS?

Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space (SANGS) and Strategic Access Management and Monitoring (SAMMs) are initiatives to protect the Special Protection Area (SPA) within the Ashdown Forest to allow development to proceed.

SANGS are to encourage people (often dog walkers) to use sites other than the forest for recreational purposes. SAMMs is designed to ensure that when people do visit the forest their impact on the SPA is reduced.

WDC has invested in SANGS to a total of some £4.3m to date. The Council has forward funded the implementation of SANGS and this money will be recouped over a period through developer contributions.

SAMMs is a co operative and collaborative initiative involving WDC and neighbouring authorities including Mid Sussex, Tunbridge Wells and Lewes. Again developer contributions are collected for SAMMs and these contributions are pooled by the authorities involved to fund projects agreed by the authorities in conjunction with the Conservators.

Currently some £90k is available for SAMMs with other contributions in the pipeline subject to developments being built out. It should be remembered that only a proportion of the funding collected (30%) can be committed now as the requirement is to provide SAMMs in perpetuity (defined as 100 years) so we need to retain and invest funding to ensure this condition can be met.

Discussions are taking place with neighbouring authorities, Natural England and the Conservators to finalise the various agreements and initial projects.

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