History of the site
There is little specific information about the history of the Heath prior to the 20th century. The 1899 1:2500 Ordnance Survey map shows a 5-acre enclosure in the southern part of the site. Between that and the road is shown a sand pit with a small building in it. A gravel pit near the centre of the Heath is described as ‘old’. This was probably used for road repairs, possibly for hundreds of years. The track across the centre of the Heath provided access to Cockglode, which used to occupy the site of the pit tip.
The heath is likely to have been visited by the Rufford Hunt.
Beginning in the early 1900’s, the flat area next to the A616 near the car park, was used as the local cricket ground for many years and was also used by the Army as a training ground, including tanks, until the early 1950’s.
There was a major fire on the Heath in 1976, which led to the problematic birch invasion. The heath is still used as a common by the people of Ollerton for recreation, dog walking.
The Heath is now part of the Birklands and Bilhaugh Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Local Nature Reserve, Leased to Newark and Sherwood District Council and managed by the Sherwood Forest Trust. Nottinghamshire County Council manages the woodland adjoining the heath to the west.
It is said that the Rangers of the Hays of Birklands and Bilhaugh once had a lodge on the site. It is thought that a house was built there in 1724 by the Reverend William Stern, who leased 19 acres of land from Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford, who had a dubious claim to that Crown property. Sterne planted an impressive avenue of Scots pines. The well-known Cockglode Hall was built in 1778 by Dr. George Aldrich, possibly incorporating Sterne’s house. It was enlarged in 1844 but became less desirable when Thoresby Colliery opened in 1928, and was demolished in the 1950’s to make way for a new pit tip.
Harley’s daughter, Margaret, married the 2nd Duke of Portland, and in 1818 the Duke legally acquired Birklands and Bilhaugh from the Crown, in exchange for the advowson of St. Mary-le Bone. He then sold the land to the east of the Centre Riding (including Sherwood Heath) to Earl Manvers. The Heath is now part of the Thoresby Estate and the adjacent woodland is owned by Notts. County Council and RJB mining.
The name probably means “Woodcock Glade”. Alternatively, glode is the obsolete past tense of glide, so it could mean “the place where woodcock were seen to glide”.
Cockglode Wood has ancient origins, being a remnant of the woodland that covered the area long before it became the Royal Hunting Forest of Sherwood. The bluebells and dog’s mercury that appear in the wood every spring are clues to these ancient beginnings.
Rotary Wood is the exact opposite. The native trees were planted on the restored spoil tip of Thoresby Colliery in 1998 – 1999 to celebrate the Millennium.
On a trip to Cockglode and Rotary Woods:
- see the exotic trees and shrubs, such as false acacia and rhododendron
- spot various butterflies, insects and ground-nesting birds that take advantage of the maturing woodland and wide grassy paths.
- soak up the fantastic views of the surrounding Sherwood landscape. This is easily accessed via the circular Rotary Walk from the Sherwood Heath car park just off the A614 Ollerton roundabout. From the top of Rotary Wood it is possible to see over Cockglode Wood towards Boughton Pumping Station as well as towards Sherwood Forest Country Park and the village of Edwinstowe with its prominent church spire.
Much of the habitat management work is done on a voluntary basis by the Friends of Sherwood Heath in conjunction with the Sherwood Forest Community Rangers.
Sherwood Heath is a 23 hectare area of lowland heathland, acid grassland and wood pasture/woodland
which is owned by the Thoresby Estates and leased to Newark & Sherwood District Council (NSDC). The site, also known as Ollerton Corner, lies between the A6075/Ollerton Road and the A616, due west of Ollerton roundabout.
As well as the nature reserve, there is a limited amount of car parking reserved for users of Sherwood
Heath together with a grassed picnic area.
In 1987 NSDC declared the Reserve as a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) and in August 2001 English Nature designated the Reserve as a Site of Special Scientific Interest SSSI (and is part of the Birklands West and Ollerton Corner SSSI which includes parcels of land owned by and on the Thoresby estate).
The Reserve contains tracts of unimproved acid grassland and lowland heaths which are distinctive
semi-natural habitats associated with the lowland heaths of the East Midlands. They form one of the
largest examples if this habitat type in the county and are ecologically linked to the larger heaths of
the adjoining Birklands and Bilhaugh SSSI.
SFT manage the site for its habitat value on behalf of NSDC, a management plan was produced by SFT in 2007, and NSDC entered into a Higher Level Stewardship to help manage the site and ensure that the value of the site is seen by many generations to come.
WHAT IS SHERWOOD HEATH?
It is a remnant of the heathland of the ancient Sherwood Forest, on which the flora and fauna typical of heathland have, until recently, been in decline. It has been designated as a Local Nature Reserve so that it can be preserved and managed in such a way as to bring back heather and the other plants of traditional heathland, and their associated animals, especially invertebrates.
WHAT IS HEATHLAND?
Heathland is an area where heather species grow – in Sherwood Forest they are ling (a local variety is hairy ling), bell heather, and in wetter areas, cross-leaved heath. Strictly speaking, heathland has a minimum of 25% heath species, but in Nottinghamshire acid grassland and/or bracken dominate most heathland. Typical grasses are wavy hair grass, sheep’s fescue, and matt grass, with herbs such as harebell, heath bedstraw, and tormentil. Gorse is usually present. Lichens and mosses are also important.
Heathland is essentially an open landscape but in Sherwood Forest has scattered trees and scrub, oak, birch and gorse, and occurs mostly as rather small fragments. Lowland heath occurs on nutrient poor, acid, sandy soil below 300m. In Nottinghamshire it is mostly found in the Sherwood Forest area, on the Sherwood Sandstone which extends from Nottingham to Worksop.
Why is it there? Where did it come from?
After the last ice age most of the British Isles became covered by woodland (“Wildwood”). Heath species existed naturally in clearings. Larger areas of heathland were created by man as he cleared woodland to create grazing, and used the wood for fuel and timber, allowing heath species to spread throughout the cleared areas. Although it was called common or wasteland in older documents, heathland was a valuable resource managed by man. Grazing by domestic animals, deer and rabbits, and the harvesting of heather and bracken for fuel and bedding eliminated tree seedlings and prevented the open areas from returning to woodland by natural succession. These activities also prevented bracken from becoming dominant.
WHY IS HEATHLAND IMPORTANT?
Heathland is important because it is the only habitat for certain species and the preferred habitat for others. Many of the plants and animals that live there have evolved over thousands of years, have specialised to suit that habitat, and are not suited to life elsewhere. Nationally, heathlands support some of Britain’s rarest plants and animals, although few are found in Nottinghamshire.
Mention animals, and many people think first of the furry kind, i.e. mammals. There are small mammals that live on Sherwood Heath, such as the stoat and the mice and voles that are its prey. There are birds too, but the most important animals on Sherwood Heath are harder to see. They are invertebrates – small creatures without skeletons, such as insects, spiders, snails and worms. Most people probably don’t worry about the plight of invertebrates but all species are linked in a web of interaction and the loss of one can have far reaching effects on many others and ultimately, perhaps, on people.
Heaths are important to invertebrates because there are many for which heaths are the only habitat. Some of the interesting insects at Sherwood Heath are:
- The green tiger beetle (Cicindela campestris) is one of the most attractive and easily recognised beetles. They are long-legged, fast-running and fast-flying predators. The larvae make burrows in light, well-drained soil, where they wait for prey.
- The Nationally Notable longhorn beetle (Strangalia quadrifasciata) is found in fallen logs.
- 60 species of moth have been identified, including the Nationally Notable angle-striped sallow moth (Enargia paleacea).
- The hornet (Vespa crabro) is found in Sherwood and often uses bird and bat boxes to build its nest.
- Anthills are an important feature of the flat areas of the heath near the Visitor Centre.
Few birds are found only on heathland but many require open country without intensive agriculture, such as heathland. Two declining bird species that may be seen on Sherwood Heath are the skylark and the barn owl. Some other birds seen are kestrel, sparrow hawk, green woodpecker, and yellowhammer. Some nationally scarce birds we hope to attract are the nightjar, the woodlark and the hobby.
The common lizard is the only reptile seen regularly on the heath.
The landscape of heaths is attractive and, although largely man-made, has a wilderness character that is enjoyed by many for recreation. Its historical value provides a strong sense of cultural identity.
LOSS OF HEATHLAND
Most has been lost to modern agriculture, conifer plantations, mining, and urban development – in Nottinghamshire 90% since 1922. Britain has lost 75% of its lowland heathland since about1800 but still has15% of Europe’s remaining lowland heathland. This is therefore of international importance and further loss must be avoided.
MANAGING SHERWOOD HEATH
The aim is to restore the site to traditional heathland, with its associated flora and fauna, and maintain it as a semi-natural area, while permitting access to the site by the local community and visiting public.
Some of the work you will see in progress on the site may look destructive but it is all necessary in order to improve the quality of the heath and will help to increase the diversity of plants and animals.
- Bracken Control
Bracken is an invasive species, which has limited use to wildlife but crowds out the desirable heathland plants, greatly reducing the diversity of flora and fauna. It used to be controlled by the traditional practices of grazing the heath and cutting bracken for fuel and bedding.
It is desired to greatly reduce the amount of bracken to improve conditions for heather to grow. This is difficult to achieve because the bracken fronds over a large area are actually all part of one plant, joined by underground stems called rhizomes, which store nutrients that enable new fronds to grow when existing fronds are killed.
One of the most effective ways of reducing bracken, without using ecologically unfriendly chemicals, is to crush the fronds when they have just fully unfurled and have used up many of the nutrients in the rhizomes. Some of the most troublesome stands of bracken are rolled each July with a special roller called a “bracken breaker”, which, it is hoped, over a period of several years, will remove most of the bracken from those areas. Other areas are not treated, in order to compare them with the rolled areas to gauge the effectiveness of the rolling. After two years the rolling has already caused a great reduction in the size and number of bracken fronds.
- Birch Control
Birch is a pioneer species – one of the first trees to colonise an open area. Countryside managers call it invasive because it grows quickly and soon covers large areas if it is not controlled, causing the heath to become woodland. This is an example of ecological succession. Therefore to protect the heath, birch seedlings and saplings must be regularly removed. Traditionally this was done by grazing animals but that is not compatible with public access to the heath. Therefore it is usually done by using brushcutters, or, if they have been allowed to grow too big, by chainsaw.
- Heather Restoration
Heather species are an essential component of heathland. Because traditional management has not been carried out for a long time, succession has resulted in much heather being replaced by birch, bracken or acid grassland. Heather grows best in soil with low nutrient value. Therefore to promote the growth of heather, and discourage more aggressive plants, the topsoil created by decomposition of plants and tree leaves is scraped off and removed. This looks messy for a year or two but the final result is worth it.
Sometimes there are heather seeds lying dormant in the lower layers of soil. This is called a seed bank, and when uncovered the seeds can germinate even after as long as 40 years. Here at Sherwood Heath there is no seed bank in some places because it was disturbed a long time ago. Therefore heather in seed is cut from other areas of the site, spread in the scraped areas, and covered with birch branches to hold it down until the seeds grow. Some of the heather can be seen in rather unnatural looking rectangular plots. These were planted with new seed as a trial, to determine which kind of preparation would give the best growth of heather.