Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust have begun an ambitious heathland restoration project in Hertford thanks to funding from Tesco.

The project at Hertford Heath Nature Reserve will allow delicate heathland plants such as heather and gorse to thrive on this rare patch of Hertfordshire heathland. Hertford Heath is classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) as one of the last remaining patches of open heathland in Hertfordshire.

The project has seen diggers scraping away layers of topsoil from selected areas of this site, under close supervision. Heather and gorse need sandy and gravelly soils which lie underneath the layer of topsoil. The upper layers of soil are full of nutrients that allow more dominant plants to take over the site, squeezing out these heathland plants. Staff and volunteers have also been working on site to help with tree-felling and scrub clearance to prevent the heathland areas from becoming overshadowed.

A recent audit showed that heathland is the most threatened habitat in Hertfordshire with as little as 30 acres of heather-covered heathland remaining. Only a small area of heather remains at Hertford Heath but the Trust believes that there is great potential for this to increase, making it one of the most important heathland sites in the county.

Jenny Sherwen, Reserves Officer at the Trust, says: “Heathland is an increasingly threatened habitat in the UK and Hertford Heath Nature Reserve is the only heath of its type in East Hertfordshire. The works we have done here might look quite drastic but are crucial to helping heather, gorse and rare heathland flora regenerate. In summer, this area will be teeming with wildlife which will also benefit the local community, of which this reserve is such a big part.”

The project was largely funded by grants from Tesco’s Bags of Help community scheme. Tesco customers voted for the Trust’s heathland restoration project in the Hertford branch of Tesco in May and June 2018.

Over 80% of heathland in the UK has disappeared in the last 200 years. Heathland is in decline because of the loss of traditional management practices which leads to scrubs and trees smothering and out-competing the more delicate heathland vegetation.