A site of special scientific interest is designated and regulated by Natural England as an area of special interest by reason of its flora, fauna or geology. Ashridge have a number of these designated areas within the Estate and for Ashridge to be acknowledged as a special place, they have to work hard to meet certain standards. They are currently mindful of invasive and non-native flora on the property, like spanish bluebells, small balsam and more recently few-flowered leeks. Removing the daffodils is not a passion project – outside of the bounds of day-to-day activities or doing it for personal satisfaction.
There are more than four thousand SSSIs in England covering over two million acres, or about 7.6%, of England. SSSIs represent the very best of the rich variety of wildlife and geology that makes England’s nature special and distinct from any other country in the world. SSSIs can be small areas that protect populations of a single species or large expanses of upland moorland or coastal mudflats and marshes.
The volunteers have recently been actively involved in removing invasive plants like the few-flowered leek appearing on Northchurch common. Dumped by a passing motorist a few years back, a bag of unwanted bulbs became an ever increasing spread of plants requiring careful removal, and producing a truck-load of detritus.
Now that the rogue daffodils have been cleared out, the Trust are waiting for the small clumps of spanish bluebells to awake from their seasonal slumbers, so that they can be removed. This Spanish invasion is more insidious than the last one, with the plants out-performing our native bluebells over time, with bees cross pollinating with them to produce hybrids. This is a serious threat to the long term survival of hyacinthoides non-scripta. The small balsam which carpets the woodland floor in Aldbury common is an annual, and appears later in the year to be hand picked by the volunteers.
Over in Golden Valley work is continuing to clear up the fallen timbers and log piles which have accumulated over the years. Sadly this part of the Estate is not visited that frequently by the public, due to a lack of car parking facilities – some would say thankfully! There are vested interests at work here. Either let nature take her course by decaying fallen timbers where they fall, which is the normal practice at Ashridge, or remove them to present the correct visual aspect to the Park. When Capability Brown laid out the valley around 1755, he had all the fallen timbers removed to give a swathe of uninterrupted grassland dotted with specimen trees, and fringed by the woods on the valley slopes. To overcome this dilemma, Ben the forester has opted for a zonal approach with the large rotting timbers being lifted and moved out of sight further up the valley side by the volunteers, to quietly rot away, while the remaining brushwood is then loaded and carted away to leave an open aspect as originally intended by Brown.
Back at the Visitor Centre, Emily is preparing to let out space in her wildlife garden with an hotel for bees, recently built by the volunteers. Another SSSI site in the making!