Chris Packham examines wildlife conservation. He learns of foreign conifers that do little to aid native wildlife, and asks whether fragmented heathlands should be reconnected.
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The New Forest in Hampshire. Once a Royal hunting forest, now one of
the nation's great woodland treasures that we can all enjoy.
And as it happens this is my own personal neck of the woods too.
This is where I cut my teeth. It was a different world. Maybe one
blue tit I can hear. Certainly not the buzz of insects. It is
disastrous required. There are not the birds that used to be here.
That is the truth of it. It's really really sad. Of all the birds
in the UK it's our woodland ones which have suffered the greatest
declines in the last two decades. Like the beautiful wood-warbler.
Sleek-looking bird. Sadly its numbers are down by two thirds and
it's on our red list of endangered birds. It's the same with the
lesser spotted woodpecker. Of our three UK woodpeckers this is the
rarest. Vulnerable too, the nimble marsh tit, and the lovely redstart.
Climate change and loss of the birds' habitat in other countries
may be partially to blame for their decline but important too is the
You might think this is a beautiful glade but where are the flowers,
where are the young trees? In the New Forest there is very little new
forest. That is simply because everything from Viadana simply
eaten away. -- from here it down. And caught in the act. The culprits.
Some of the Forest's 1200 fallow deer. People love to see them but
their voracious grazing has damaged the habitat for other species, like
birds and butterflies. It's a problem in woodlands throughout the
UK. With no natural predators the deer numbers build up. Here the
Forestry Commission try to control them by culling but it's difficult
to get some landowners to agree to it. It's the impact the deer's
grazing habits have had on butterflies such as the stunning
pearl-bordered fritillary that's particularly worrying. Once common
throughout England and Wales, its survival here is highly threatened.
Parts of the New Forest, like this enclosure I've come to, are now
managed to help the butterflies by keeping the deer out. But Hampshire
ecologist Adrian Newton believes more could be done to make the New
Forest the vibrant stronghold for butterflies it once was. What is
going on here? The more species you have the more butterflies you can
have. This honeysuckle. The deer are door read. This would be very
hard hit. Would this be like a hundred and 50 years ago? Many
people came here. People would stick their business card on a tree
to claim it. It was that important. Could we rebuild it? We could. It
is not that difficult because we understand these things, they need
food plants. So what are the plants need? They need well lit woodland,
light coming in and not to be eaten. So we know good woodland management
can make a difference. Keep the deer down, get the habitat right
for plants and insects and the butterflies should flourish. Now
I'm heading north to Gloucestershire to another of the
UK's best-loved woodlands, the Forest of Dean. Just how
passionately we feel as a nation about our great woodlands was seen
earlier this year after the government announced plans to sell
them. Some of the biggest protests were held here in the Dean. With
strength of feeling like this, the Government backed down. So is the
future of this great forest safe? Well if I'm honest with you I've
got my doubts come up here and I'll show you what I'm talking about.
Vast tracts of non-native, for plantation. From horizon to horizon.
From the 1920s onwards great swathes of native broadleaf trees,
mostly oaks, were cut down here by the Forestry Commission to make way
for conifers grown for timber. And plantations like these, Douglas
Firs have had a devastating impact on the forest's wildlife. It's
pretty poor, it really is, there's some moss growing on these felled
boughs, some of the saddest looking bracken I've ever seen in my life
because so little is perforating through this deep dark dingy canopy
I'm even more disheartened by what one local conservationist has
I am even more disheartened by what one local conservationist has
invited me to come and see. The Forestry Commission says it is
committed to conserving wildlife. So why is still planting non-native
Douglas fir trees here? It should be planted with nature species. Now
with Douglas fir which originates on the west coast of America. It
has no association with vertebra so when it grows tall there are no
Is it an opportunity missed? If this were planted broadleaf it
would see perfectly. Why is it not happening? Because the Parameters
the Forestry Commission work till are basically economic parameters.
They would argue it is a good thing for us in this country to grow
timber but the question is should we grower it on one of our most
important ancient forest lands? There must be other places to
grower and the Forest of Dean. This should be native would land. What
is the mix of assiduous against, for here? About 40 per cent, for.
Our intrigued to discover how the Forestry Commission defence it's
policy. Would it not be better to put more broad leaves in? These
non-native things are not brilliant for biodiversity. We have some
biodiversity benefits. They are different than those of broadleaf
trees but they are important in other ways. So we maintain goshawks
Would it not be better over all to replant purely with fraud Leeds?
do not think so. We get a better return with con of the trees. They
grow quickly, lot up carbon, have a rapid turnover which means we can
influence landscape. There are many good reasons for social, economic
and Obara mental reasons for planting, this. I would argue the
main reason for planting these is cash. You're not putting this in
the ground to help wildlife, this is a cash crop. Not specifically
for wildlife, but not for cash either. We used about 60 million
cubic metres of timber every year and that timber has to come from
somewhere. Most of it comes from abroad. 85 per cent of it. Is it
not right that we should grow some of that at Hove as well? Wildlife
that genuinely needs these, this. I am not convinced. I am not
convinced it could not fight a broad leafed alternative. As far as
planting these things at the expense of our ancient woodland, I
would rather not. It is trees like this that are really important.
What an award beauty. In the UK we now only have two per cent of the
ancient woodland we used to. On land it is our richest habitat,
more things live here than in any other. We have been going on and on
about the loss of trouble go rain forests where in our own backyard
our woodland has been disappearing without a peep. It is a real shame.
However, with the right management restoring ancient woodland that's
been planted with conifers can work. They have cut this tree down and
let the light in. Wood sorrel here, foxglove, violent, we have the
pioneers, those plants which are coming back from the ancient
woodland that used to be here. And, with restoration of the habitat
there's a better chance for birds like the pied flycatcher and the
nuthatch, which thrive in this kind Yet only one per cent of our
ancient woodland is currently being restored. Have we got our
conservation priorities right? Well, I for one think we've been focusing
rather too much time and effort on some what shall I say, more
favoured species Dormice have been dramatically in decline - their
numbers have dropped by more than 50 per cent in the last 25 years.
That's because of the loss of woodlands and hedgerows where they
live. Special dormice bridges are being built to avoid disturbing
their habitats. This one in Wales cost the local council �190,000.
The big question we have to ask is with so much at stake are we
spending a disproportionate amount of time and effort on the
undeniably cute and cuddly? I've come to Paignton Zoo to find out
more about why so much attention is lavished on these little mammals.
Here they run a captive breeding programme. In the last decade
they've re-introduced more than 600 dormice into northern counties of
England where they'd become extinct. There have been the infamous
dormouse bridges and people think they are too expensive, one little
mouse crossing the road, is it worth it? It is hard to judge.
Hopefully other animals will benefit. I cannot say about the
cost. But I think it was an experiment worth doing and possibly
vitally important. It may have got these animals into new areas and
allowed populations to be more varied. We are getting numbers out
there are more. They are developing the areas themselves and spreading
out into areas that are not their prime habitat but they can manage
in them and seen to be doing well. Is there a chance we are practising
survival of the duties? We are using an attractive animal for the
benefit of the others. By saving this one we will be saving natural
pommes, waterways in that area, then we should be working to make
sure those are suitable for the animals that also need it. To raise
money for a project you need something like this to do it. It is
important work. We got a step ahead before this animal became on the
brink of extinction in this country. A lot of what Julian says makes
sense. But I have to say and still not convinced when it comes to the
cost of looking after this one creature. We asked one UK wildlife
charity how much was spent in the UK on doormats conservation every
year. They said they could not tell us. It worries me. Conservation
should know how much it is spending. But there may also said they did
not really want to tell us "because the figure might seem very high and
that would not sound very good because the species is still in
And whilst our attention is caught up with the fluffy and cute, some
of our most fragile wildlife areas have been left in a shocking state.
This is Dartmoor, not an area I know very well, but I have been
told there is a big problem on these upland moors. Vast areas of
blanket bog - it precious peat reserves that protect the
environment by holding stores of carbon - have been drying out. And
from what I can see, the wildlife seems to have been vanishing, too.
We have been up here for a couple of hours. The only birds we have
seen not two Swallows and they have gone from one horizon to the other.
It is an ecological -- ornithological desert here. I don't
know why I'm bothering. There is nothing to look at.
The man charged with the job of restoring this sorry looking bog
land is Andy Guy from Natural England. The most important impact
on the landscape here have been overgrazing and burning. The
numbers of sheep went through the roof up here. That had a really
detrimental impact on the heath habitats. Burning, or swaling - a
setting fire to the moorland vegetation - is an effective way to
encourage the growth of fresh grass for livestock. But according to
Natural England, the burns have been done too often and too
extensively. Repeated fires, they say, are destroying the peat or
blanket bog on the tops of the moors. This is a blanket bog, isn't
it? The thing is, with the best of respect, this does not look like
some of the blanket bogs that I have seen. There is no sphagnum
moss, which has an integral part of that. The sphagnum is what burns
the peat, so we are standing on five metres of peat, which has been
built by sphagnum over the years. We can now see that sphagnum is
pretty much absent. It is too dry? It is to drive for sphagnum at the
moment, yes. This is a loose peat. There is nothing sticking. It is
just washing away. It is a bit of a mess. Can it be fixed? It can be
fixed, yes. We take a scoop of peat and put it in one of these channels
across here to create a damn it, which will form shallow pools that
sphagnum can colonise and start building peaked again. Quite
honestly, I am staggered that such a large and important area for
wildlife and the larger environment is in this sort of state. A �1
million project, funded by the local water authority, is under way
to re-wet 120 hectares of blanket bog on Dartmoor over the next five
years. That should bring back the specialist bog plants - cotton
grass, and the fascinating insect- eating sundew. But it is not enough
- it is less than 2% of the total natural England say needs to be
done. I have been looking around and this is the only healthy patch
of sphagnum moss that I can find down here. If I take my blood as of,
I can skip some out so that you can appreciate just how good at holding
water this material is. -- take my gloves are off. It seems to hold
more than its own volume in water and that is why it is so important
for these blanket bogs. I will put this back in here and hope that it
regenerates and that in time, this hall blanket bog can regenerate and
there will be areas like this of green sphagnum covered in birds.
They will be sweeping majestically across this blanket bog. There will
be loads of lapwings. Yes, in my dreams!
On Dartmoor, as elsewhere, wildlife has been lost as habitats have been
destroyed. To stem the decline, I believe we have to manage that
wildlife on a much bigger landscape scale - and I am not alone. It is
exactly what ecologists who have been advising the government are
calling for, too. Habitats in general are still crashing in terms
of abundance and richness. How will we halt the loss of this
biodiversity? What we need to do in this landscape scale approach is
about changing philosophy. It is about understanding nature and how
the natural environment works and trying to support the processes
that lead to more habitats. We need to take a fresh look at those sites
and their place in the landscape and how we are joined together,
work with the landowners between those sites, to ride a farm at more
or to build green spaces into new developments, and to provide
stepping stones and corridors for wildlife to move around more freely.
And one of the priority habitats to be linked up - heathland. What we
have left of this habitat in the UK makes up a 5th of the entire total
left in the world. It is special because of the fantastic range of
wildlife that it supports, like this smooth snake, Britain's rarest
reptiles. And the vulnerable Dartford warbler, which feed on
insects in the gorse. Huge chunks of this habitat have vanished,
swallowed up by urban development across the south. But now,
conservationists are working to reconnected. To snatch a glimpse of
this landscape scale conservation in action, I have come here to the
RSPB's beautiful reserve in Dorset. They have a very ambitious project
to join back together some patches of one of our most exciting
habitats. We are standing on the bridge, with Wareham over in the
mist. This is the backdrop of Dante's big idea. What is the idea?
For the last 5,000 years, this was predominantly a heathland landscape.
It is only in the last 100 years that it has been fragmented and
lost through urbanisation, forestry and golf courses. Our ambition is
to peace that back together and create a landscape that is
connected and thriving. Heathland based, though, because this is a
very special area? How long before we can have a sustainable area of
heathland? We are talking 50 or 100 years but I am quite impatient.
There is no reason why we can't deliver some parts of this project
within five years. And restoration is effective. Three years ago, the
RSPB persuaded and neighbouring landowner to cut down a large
section of con others. Already, the land is returning to heath.
Endangered heathland species like the woodlark are moving in. It has
become a vital wildlife corridor, connecting suitable chunks of
wildlife for other creatures, like the spectacular sand lizard. I
don't know about you, Dante, but that animal takes a few boxes for
me. It is stunning. The bright coloration at this time of year is
tremendous. They are one of the species being less mobile that are
going to become increasingly dependent on these corridors. If a
catastrophe happens - a fire is always potentially one of those -
you could lose the whole lot, and if they are joined up. Dot if they
have connecting habitat, they can creep into other areas. People look
at heathland as being a barren wasteland and I don't think people
realise that it is so rare. It is restricted to particular
temperature ranges and soil types. It is not a habitat that you can
just decide to have some overbearing stead. You have got to
have it where it is possible for it to exist. That is a very limited
range of opportunities. -- to have some over there instead of. We know
that if we joined at these places up, creatures like this will have a
sustainable, healthy future. That has got to happen. If there is a
duel on it our heathland that we have to look after, it is this one.
I am giving it a 10 at of 10. It is this sort of reconnection between
habitats that ecologists are now calling on central governments to
fund. To halt the current loss of species in the UK, they say that
the government needs to spend about �1 billion a year on biodiversity.
That is about twice what it spends now. When you think about that �1
billion investment in the environment, this is money well
spent. Their national environment is working in ways behind the
scenes all the time but we don't fully comprehend. But we know it
that healthy, fun to international environment is a good thing to aim
for. Spot-on. It is time to put some of these key questions to the
Environment Secretary. First, I want to know about those awful
Douglas fir trees. Why are the Forestry Commission still sticking
in lots of non-native conifers, which are no good for wildlife and
biodiversity? I am on the public record as saying about I think we
should increase the rate of recovery of plantations on the
ancient woodland site. When the broadleaf trees were chopped down,
the genetic information is still in the soil and we can recover those
sites and enhance biodiversity by doing that. How is the government
going to meet its biodiversity targets went there are so many
heavy cuts in your department? People like Natural England and the
Forestry Commission - how will they do the job without the people and
the funding? We are confident of being able to make good progress on
enhancing biodiversity and helping to halt the loss of biodiversity
with the resources, even though they are restrained. This is
something where we can all get involved - not just the government
but business, communities, individuals. All of us can do our
part to do the best we can for biodiversity. A lot of your viewers
do their part and this is something As far as I am concerned, our
wildlife is on the brink. The question is, can we pull it back?
In this series, I have seen how - on our farm land - a bird, plant
and insect numbers have plummeted tutor decades of intensive farming.
In recent years, we have paid farmers to try to bring back the
wildlife. But although we have won a few battles, we are a long way
from winning the war. For our marine life, a new conservation
zones are being planned - but without effective monitoring and
enforcement, they could be a wasted opportunity. And we have seen how
wildlife has been lost from some of our best-loved landscapes - but we
have also seen how we can restore and reconnect precious habitats. So
I am optimistic, and yet pessimistic at the same time. Let
me explain - I am optimistic because I think we know exactly
what we have to do when it comes to wildlife conservation, and we have
got the techniques to actually do it. But I am pessimistic because
some of our wildlife charities seem to be pursuing out of date and
distracting ideas, which are not as effective as they could be. I am
also pessimistic because government is not giving enough money directly
to wildlife conservation. But for me, the real truth about wildlife
Naturalist Chris Packham presents a hard hitting personal take on what's going wrong - and sometimes right - with our marine wildlife and its conservation. He finds non-native conifer plantations that do little to aid native wildlife and iconic places like the New Forest and Dartmoor that are suffering loss of habitat. He asks whether we are spending too much on cute and cuddly species like dormice and whether we should concentrate instead on connecting up important habitats like precious heathland that has been fragmented over the years.