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Author Topic: Restoration of View from Winter Hill  (Read 238 times)
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« on: September 11, 2019, 03:01:30 PM »

National Trust rangers for Maidenhead and Cookham Commons are currently planning a project to restore priority habitat and the historic view from Winter Hill. The work will be phased over five years to allow wildlife time to adjust to the change in habitat. This is a great opportunity for Maidenhead and Cookham to contribute towards the NT’s Land, Outdoors and Nature target of creating/restoring 25,000ha of priority habitat by 2025.

We are blessed with a scarce and declining habitat in Cookham.  The Chilterns offer one of the few remaining areas of chalk grasslands in the country.  But everywhere, this specialist environment is under duress, including in our village.  The way we farm has changed - the use of intensive fertilizers enriches the composition of the soil and livestock grazing practices have moved on, both of which have a detrimental effect on this dwindling habitat.

Cookham villagers were a generous (and foresighted?) lot back in the 1930s because the 46 acres of water meadows and chalk grassland, from Cock Marsh to Winter Hill were purchased by the village and donated to The National Trust in 1934.  For donkey’s years this area has been grazed.  Just the right amount of nibbling manages the plant content, allowing species that tolerate the poor chalky soil to flourish - even this lime rich earth will be taken over by scrub if it is not managed correctly.  From 1272 the land has been grazed and when Cookham had a monastery, sheep were an important income.  Fleeces and animals were transported down to Marlow via The Wool Way that ran along the top of Winter Hill and down through the woods (parts of this can still be seen today).  Nowadays, Commoners still have grazing rights over some areas and so the cows that appear every Spring on Cock Marsh, are working hard to maintain this Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Over the years, the Winter Hill area has not fared so well however.  Even as recently as the 1960/70s there was an open view across to our neighbours on the other side of the river, but today the hillside is largely covered with self-seeded trees, scrub and the odd chicken.  The National Trust are soon to start works to tackle this – in an effort to restore at least some of the view and chalk grassland, improve the biodiversity and future proof the area against disease like ash dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus).  From the footpath at the corner of the “old” car park to the gate across the sheep drove this area has been split into 5 compartments, to be approached in slightly different ways.

Sections one and three will be clear felled – meaning they will take as many of the trees out as possible.  By doing this they hope to not only restore the view but enable the chalk grassland species to once again take a hold.  Section two will be thinned – some of the significant trees will be left and they will install more bird and bat boxes. Compartments four and five will be selectively felled.  Many of the trees are self-seeded ash trees and quite a few are showing signs of ash dieback, so these trees will be a focus for the felling.  Some will be replaced with disease resistant varieties and other native species, of local importance.  New habitats such as hazel coppice and hedgerows will be introduced. You might think that it will be a bit untidy – dead wood and some felled timber will be left, and some stumps won’t necessarily be ground out, as these are also an important habitat for insects and birds.

The long game is to reinstating areas of priority chalk grassland habitat, whilst future proofing the site against the effects of a catastrophic outbreak of ash dieback and ensuring that this pocket of land is as packed with native species as possible.

The aim is that “Winter Hill will be a mosaic of chalk grassland, resilient woodland and woodland edge with stunning views across the Thames Valley. This combination of important habitats will be home to a plethora of wildlife. It will be a beloved spot for the local community and our visitors, whether it’s just a love for the view or a connection with nature.”

Comments are welcomed by the National Trust. If you would like to comment, please email: maidenheadandcookham@nationaltrust.org.uk

With thanks to Cookham Matters
« Last Edit: September 12, 2019, 11:57:40 AM by Cookham Webmaster » Logged
Birdman
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« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2019, 05:18:25 PM »

Good to see some well-thought out ideas being implemented here. This overall area of north Cookham has become progressively less diverse over the years and many of the wildlife species which used to thrive there have long since gone. Cockmarsh itself of course had breeding Lapwings, Skylarks and Redshank but increased access and an element of draining led to their loss. (Hopefully Battlemead seasonal flood areas might make up for this in time). The old black-and-white photos looking down from the top of Winter Hill that Pam Knight et al holds shows a much more open prospect and the suggested plan for the slopes look like it should restore some of those views. Well done NT.
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