My Wild Life is a weekly column running each Saturday throughout 2015 in the East Anglian Daily Times. Each week it features stories of action for local wildlife
The five commons surrounding the village of Wenhaston, near Halesworth, form part of the Suffolk Sandlings and contain areas of threatened lowland heath. Once managed by local residents, relative isolation has increased their value as wildlife habitat. However, lack of use has risked the heaths reverting to scrub and woodland.
In the 1980s, enthusiastic villagers supported and encouraged by Richard Woolnough at Suffolk Wildlife Trust, set up the Wenhaston Commons Group in order to manage the heaths more effectively, in particular to reverse the encroachment of gorse. Original committee members included Heather Phillips, now an MBE for her services to the village. Heather remembers the first work party clearing paths on Mill Heath and an early bid to secure an award from the Shell Better Britain Campaign.
The group is currently working to a 10 year plan published in 2012 as Caring for the Commons the scope of which is made possible by funding from a Higher Level Stewardship scheme and the continued guidance of SWT who manage the funding.
A typical work party (usually 10- 20 volunteers) involves clearing gorse and scything bracken in order to encourage heather to flourish but always with a view to sustaining a variety of habitats. In addition to improving the appearance of the commons, this work crucially supports the significant number of protected species the commons are home to. These include 15 bird – and several insect species, the most iconic of which is the silver studded blue butterfly.
Recent projects include the reopening of a disused quarry to encourage the return of sand martins; a nest box scheme in which so far over 40 boxes have been put up. Reptile monitoring is another new initiative.
Wenhaston Commons Group enjoys the support of a large number of local residents who turn out regularly to sample the hard work and Heather’s sausage rolls. Further volunteers are always welcome.
By group member John Holmes