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Top Ten Questions Asked by Visitors to The Chase

November 9, 2011

Top ten questions the wardens are asked

 10. Why is there barbed wire along the footpath?

 As the National Trust we open the Chase nature reserve for permissive access to the general public along several designated tracks. These paths are routinely monitored for safety purposes including countryside furniture, and tree inspections which ensure the risks are evaluated for our visiting public.  We have re-erected a stretch of barbed wire along the perimeter of the site for the containment of five conservation grazing Shetland cattle. The containment of these cattle is of paramount importance for the safety of the wider community to ensure that the risk to public health and to road safety is catered for in addition to our legal responsibility for the welfare of the cattle themselves. The risk of cattle escape would be far greater than the risk presented by a short stretch of barb along a permissive path with alternative routes available. As the largest land owner in the country, the National Trust has much need for the use of barbed wire and you will find it readily used across vast swathes of the English landscape where necessary We safely manage The Chase as a countryside site and nature reserve which we provide public access to, we take the utmost care when managing any risk to the public however the barbed wire is a necessity on site for the management of our conservation grazing cattle. There has always been a barbed wire fence that surrounds The Chase although this was in a state of disrepair for some time. The new fence has been installed and is far less of a safety hazard than the old, broken and rusty one.

9. Why are dogs not allowed in the lake?

We do not allow dogs into the lake or on the bank edges as this causes loss to the vegetation and biodiversity on site which as a nature reserve is our main responsibility. Many dog owners use chemicals to inhibit the attachment of ticks/fleas, this then contaminates the water and affects the invertebrate life in the lake which of course has an implication on the food chain and so the whole ecology of the lake. Dog and human disturbance to the lake through entry also reduces the population of wildfowl which should be present and I’m sure al agree are nice to see. The dog dip was included at the suggestion of the visiting public and we have included a through pipe so that here is a flow through the pond when the levels are high. We have also left two small shallow pools at the edge of the lake for dogs to paddle in.

 8. Why has so much debris been left by the contractors?

We have left the brash and some timber on the ground as vital dead wood habitat in line with wildlife conservation policy and guidance from the Forestry Commission. This offers over wintering opportunities for a whole range of reptiles, amphibians and mammals as well as summer nesting sites and an increase in dead wood invertebrates and fungi.

 7. Why have you decided to bring cows into The Chase?

Grazing cattle are a fantastic tool for conservation. Not only will they remove the years growth so reducing the nutrient levels on site (less nutrients = more biodiversity) but the way that they do it will have a beneficial effect on almost every species on site. The following are just some of the benefits:-

  •  Our Shetland cattle will tear the grassed vegetation in the meadow, glades and rides with their tongues creating tufts of grass that make perfect habitat for invertebrates and ground nesting birds, they are also selective in their palate so will favour the more woody, course vegetation that can have a tendency to become too dominant.
  • The regenerating heathland will be grazed to improve the diversity in age structure of the heather plants as each stage of growth gives rise to a different group of fauna. Also, without the rotational grazing/cutting of the heather plants, at around 35 years of age they begin to fall apart and are unable to regenerate and so we loose the habitat and associated species
  • The cows’ hooves are cloven so put a large amount of pressure on a small area causing small breaks in the surface of the soil, at small levels this creates valuable microhabitats for invertebrate life. They can also help seeds to germinate through this action pushing seeds into the soil.
  • The cattle will graze the trees, thinning out the understorey, producing deadwood and ensuring the success of our future veteran trees and canopy.

 6. What happened to all the trees that were cut down?

Any proceeds that came from the sale of the timber that was felled in our thinning contract was put back into the project to improve biodiversity on site as well as improving public access. The timber was taken from site in differing lengths and sent to saw mills across the country to be processed as firewood, wood pulp – to make paper etc and timber that may be used to make anything from furniture to flooring.

 5. Why was it necessary to cut down so many trees?

We had a routine felling contract to thin the trees in the majority of compartments on site. The aim was to let in more light and improve the health of the remaining trees as well as improving the diversity of the ground flora and under storey. We have also coppiced about one fifth of the Alder Carr as we will continue to do every ten years or so. The trees that were felled in this area will regrow many stems from the remaining stump. This is an ancient management technique that prolongs the life of the trees and encourages biodiversity through changing light levels.

 Alder Carr at The Chase


 4. Why is the lake fenced off?

We have fenced the lake to protect the banks from erosion as we have worked hard to bring back the marginal vegetation which can be lost from compaction and erosion caused by people and dogs as well as poaching caused by the cattle.

 3. What species of plants and wildlife are you trying to encourage and why?

The Chase was gifted to the National Trust as a nature reserve with no public access and our main responsibility is to the wildlife on site. The habitats themselves are in much decline with Wet woodland, Wood pasture and Lowland heath all holding a biodiversity action plan set by the government to tackle their sharp decline. We do not single species manage but aim to improve biodiversity as a whole. We would expect to encourage more bird life such as nightingales which would require an improved understorey and to see an improved longevity of the reptile species on site as their habitat was previously very close to being lost. Invertebrates, fungi, mammals, fish, amphibians, bird life, reptiles and flora should all benefit from the project works and future management that is going to be carried out.

 2. Why do you not have dog bins?

Dog bins have now been put at each entrance point to the site. We would like to encourage people to use them as dog waste causes not only a health risk in the form of Toxicara canis which can cause blindness but also inputs nutrients into the soil which has an adverse affect on the ground flora. Due to the practicality and staffing levels of emptying, we are unable to place dog bins deep in the woodland.

 And the most asked question is….

1. Why do dogs now have to be kept on the lead?

The National Trust has always requested that dogs be kept on leads though until now have not had the staffing levels to enforce our condition of entry. We request that dogs be kept on leads in order to protect the public from accidental harm, to prevent dogs worrying the cattle and most importantly because our responsibility to the site as a nature reserve means that we have to protect the wildlife on site and often, by pure accident dogs off the lead will disturb birds, reptiles and mammals causing a fall in population figures not just of this year but of future years if nests are also disturbed.

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