Woods, Moor, Heath The Truth about Wildlife


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Woods, Moor, Heath

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

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the nation's great woodland treasures that we can all enjoy.

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And as it happens this is my own personal neck of the woods too.

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This is where I cut my teeth. It was a different world. Maybe one

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blue tit I can hear. Certainly not the buzz of insects. It is

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disastrous required. There are not the birds that used to be here.

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That is the truth of it. It's really really sad. Of all the birds

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in the UK it's our woodland ones which have suffered the greatest

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declines in the last two decades. Like the beautiful wood-warbler.

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Sleek-looking bird. Sadly its numbers are down by two thirds and

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it's on our red list of endangered birds. It's the same with the

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lesser spotted woodpecker. Of our three UK woodpeckers this is the

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rarest. Vulnerable too, the nimble marsh tit, and the lovely redstart.

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Climate change and loss of the birds' habitat in other countries

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may be partially to blame for their decline but important too is the

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You might think this is a beautiful glade but where are the flowers,

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where are the young trees? In the New Forest there is very little new

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forest. That is simply because everything from Viadana simply

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eaten away. -- from here it down. And caught in the act. The culprits.

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Some of the Forest's 1200 fallow deer. People love to see them but

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their voracious grazing has damaged the habitat for other species, like

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birds and butterflies. It's a problem in woodlands throughout the

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UK. With no natural predators the deer numbers build up. Here the

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Forestry Commission try to control them by culling but it's difficult

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to get some landowners to agree to it. It's the impact the deer's

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grazing habits have had on butterflies such as the stunning

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pearl-bordered fritillary that's particularly worrying. Once common

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throughout England and Wales, its survival here is highly threatened.

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Parts of the New Forest, like this enclosure I've come to, are now

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managed to help the butterflies by keeping the deer out. But Hampshire

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ecologist Adrian Newton believes more could be done to make the New

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Forest the vibrant stronghold for butterflies it once was. What is

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going on here? The more species you have the more butterflies you can

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have. This honeysuckle. The deer are door read. This would be very

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hard hit. Would this be like a hundred and 50 years ago? Many

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people came here. People would stick their business card on a tree

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to claim it. It was that important. Could we rebuild it? We could. It

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is not that difficult because we understand these things, they need

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food plants. So what are the plants need? They need well lit woodland,

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light coming in and not to be eaten. So we know good woodland management

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can make a difference. Keep the deer down, get the habitat right

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for plants and insects and the butterflies should flourish. Now

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I'm heading north to Gloucestershire to another of the

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UK's best-loved woodlands, the Forest of Dean. Just how

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passionately we feel as a nation about our great woodlands was seen

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earlier this year after the government announced plans to sell

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them. Some of the biggest protests were held here in the Dean. With

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strength of feeling like this, the Government backed down. So is the

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future of this great forest safe? Well if I'm honest with you I've

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got my doubts come up here and I'll show you what I'm talking about.

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Vast tracts of non-native, for plantation. From horizon to horizon.

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From the 1920s onwards great swathes of native broadleaf trees,

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mostly oaks, were cut down here by the Forestry Commission to make way

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for conifers grown for timber. And plantations like these, Douglas

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Firs have had a devastating impact on the forest's wildlife. It's

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pretty poor, it really is, there's some moss growing on these felled

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boughs, some of the saddest looking bracken I've ever seen in my life

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because so little is perforating through this deep dark dingy canopy

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I'm even more disheartened by what one local conservationist has

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I am even more disheartened by what one local conservationist has

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invited me to come and see. The Forestry Commission says it is

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committed to conserving wildlife. So why is still planting non-native

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Douglas fir trees here? It should be planted with nature species. Now

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with Douglas fir which originates on the west coast of America. It

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has no association with vertebra so when it grows tall there are no

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Is it an opportunity missed? If this were planted broadleaf it

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would see perfectly. Why is it not happening? Because the Parameters

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the Forestry Commission work till are basically economic parameters.

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They would argue it is a good thing for us in this country to grow

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timber but the question is should we grower it on one of our most

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important ancient forest lands? There must be other places to

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grower and the Forest of Dean. This should be native would land. What

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is the mix of assiduous against, for here? About 40 per cent, for.

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Our intrigued to discover how the Forestry Commission defence it's

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policy. Would it not be better to put more broad leaves in? These

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non-native things are not brilliant for biodiversity. We have some

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biodiversity benefits. They are different than those of broadleaf

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trees but they are important in other ways. So we maintain goshawks

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Would it not be better over all to replant purely with fraud Leeds?

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do not think so. We get a better return with con of the trees. They

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grow quickly, lot up carbon, have a rapid turnover which means we can

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influence landscape. There are many good reasons for social, economic

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and Obara mental reasons for planting, this. I would argue the

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main reason for planting these is cash. You're not putting this in

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the ground to help wildlife, this is a cash crop. Not specifically

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for wildlife, but not for cash either. We used about 60 million

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cubic metres of timber every year and that timber has to come from

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somewhere. Most of it comes from abroad. 85 per cent of it. Is it

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not right that we should grow some of that at Hove as well? Wildlife

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that genuinely needs these, this. I am not convinced. I am not

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convinced it could not fight a broad leafed alternative. As far as

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planting these things at the expense of our ancient woodland, I

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would rather not. It is trees like this that are really important.

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What an award beauty. In the UK we now only have two per cent of the

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ancient woodland we used to. On land it is our richest habitat,

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more things live here than in any other. We have been going on and on

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about the loss of trouble go rain forests where in our own backyard

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our woodland has been disappearing without a peep. It is a real shame.

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However, with the right management restoring ancient woodland that's

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been planted with conifers can work. They have cut this tree down and

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let the light in. Wood sorrel here, foxglove, violent, we have the

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pioneers, those plants which are coming back from the ancient

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woodland that used to be here. And, with restoration of the habitat

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there's a better chance for birds like the pied flycatcher and the

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nuthatch, which thrive in this kind Yet only one per cent of our

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ancient woodland is currently being restored. Have we got our

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conservation priorities right? Well, I for one think we've been focusing

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rather too much time and effort on some what shall I say, more

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favoured species Dormice have been dramatically in decline - their

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numbers have dropped by more than 50 per cent in the last 25 years.

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That's because of the loss of woodlands and hedgerows where they

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live. Special dormice bridges are being built to avoid disturbing

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their habitats. This one in Wales cost the local council �190,000.

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The big question we have to ask is with so much at stake are we

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spending a disproportionate amount of time and effort on the

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undeniably cute and cuddly? I've come to Paignton Zoo to find out

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more about why so much attention is lavished on these little mammals.

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Here they run a captive breeding programme. In the last decade

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they've re-introduced more than 600 dormice into northern counties of

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England where they'd become extinct. There have been the infamous

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dormouse bridges and people think they are too expensive, one little

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mouse crossing the road, is it worth it? It is hard to judge.

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Hopefully other animals will benefit. I cannot say about the

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cost. But I think it was an experiment worth doing and possibly

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vitally important. It may have got these animals into new areas and

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allowed populations to be more varied. We are getting numbers out

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there are more. They are developing the areas themselves and spreading

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out into areas that are not their prime habitat but they can manage

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in them and seen to be doing well. Is there a chance we are practising

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survival of the duties? We are using an attractive animal for the

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benefit of the others. By saving this one we will be saving natural

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pommes, waterways in that area, then we should be working to make

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sure those are suitable for the animals that also need it. To raise

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money for a project you need something like this to do it. It is

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important work. We got a step ahead before this animal became on the

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brink of extinction in this country. A lot of what Julian says makes

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sense. But I have to say and still not convinced when it comes to the

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cost of looking after this one creature. We asked one UK wildlife

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charity how much was spent in the UK on doormats conservation every

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year. They said they could not tell us. It worries me. Conservation

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should know how much it is spending. But there may also said they did

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not really want to tell us "because the figure might seem very high and

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that would not sound very good because the species is still in

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And whilst our attention is caught up with the fluffy and cute, some

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of our most fragile wildlife areas have been left in a shocking state.

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This is Dartmoor, not an area I know very well, but I have been

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told there is a big problem on these upland moors. Vast areas of

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blanket bog - it precious peat reserves that protect the

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environment by holding stores of carbon - have been drying out. And

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from what I can see, the wildlife seems to have been vanishing, too.

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We have been up here for a couple of hours. The only birds we have

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seen not two Swallows and they have gone from one horizon to the other.

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It is an ecological -- ornithological desert here. I don't

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know why I'm bothering. There is nothing to look at.

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The man charged with the job of restoring this sorry looking bog

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land is Andy Guy from Natural England. The most important impact

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on the landscape here have been overgrazing and burning. The

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numbers of sheep went through the roof up here. That had a really

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detrimental impact on the heath habitats. Burning, or swaling - a

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setting fire to the moorland vegetation - is an effective way to

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encourage the growth of fresh grass for livestock. But according to

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Natural England, the burns have been done too often and too

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extensively. Repeated fires, they say, are destroying the peat or

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blanket bog on the tops of the moors. This is a blanket bog, isn't

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it? The thing is, with the best of respect, this does not look like

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some of the blanket bogs that I have seen. There is no sphagnum

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moss, which has an integral part of that. The sphagnum is what burns

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the peat, so we are standing on five metres of peat, which has been

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built by sphagnum over the years. We can now see that sphagnum is

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pretty much absent. It is too dry? It is to drive for sphagnum at the

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moment, yes. This is a loose peat. There is nothing sticking. It is

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just washing away. It is a bit of a mess. Can it be fixed? It can be

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fixed, yes. We take a scoop of peat and put it in one of these channels

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across here to create a damn it, which will form shallow pools that

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sphagnum can colonise and start building peaked again. Quite

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honestly, I am staggered that such a large and important area for

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wildlife and the larger environment is in this sort of state. A �1

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million project, funded by the local water authority, is under way

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to re-wet 120 hectares of blanket bog on Dartmoor over the next five

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years. That should bring back the specialist bog plants - cotton

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grass, and the fascinating insect- eating sundew. But it is not enough

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- it is less than 2% of the total natural England say needs to be

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done. I have been looking around and this is the only healthy patch

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of sphagnum moss that I can find down here. If I take my blood as of,

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I can skip some out so that you can appreciate just how good at holding

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water this material is. -- take my gloves are off. It seems to hold

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more than its own volume in water and that is why it is so important

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for these blanket bogs. I will put this back in here and hope that it

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regenerates and that in time, this hall blanket bog can regenerate and

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there will be areas like this of green sphagnum covered in birds.

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They will be sweeping majestically across this blanket bog. There will

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be loads of lapwings. Yes, in my dreams!

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On Dartmoor, as elsewhere, wildlife has been lost as habitats have been

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destroyed. To stem the decline, I believe we have to manage that

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wildlife on a much bigger landscape scale - and I am not alone. It is

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exactly what ecologists who have been advising the government are

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calling for, too. Habitats in general are still crashing in terms

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of abundance and richness. How will we halt the loss of this

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biodiversity? What we need to do in this landscape scale approach is

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about changing philosophy. It is about understanding nature and how

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the natural environment works and trying to support the processes

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that lead to more habitats. We need to take a fresh look at those sites

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and their place in the landscape and how we are joined together,

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work with the landowners between those sites, to ride a farm at more

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or to build green spaces into new developments, and to provide

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stepping stones and corridors for wildlife to move around more freely.

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And one of the priority habitats to be linked up - heathland. What we

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have left of this habitat in the UK makes up a 5th of the entire total

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left in the world. It is special because of the fantastic range of

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wildlife that it supports, like this smooth snake, Britain's rarest

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reptiles. And the vulnerable Dartford warbler, which feed on

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insects in the gorse. Huge chunks of this habitat have vanished,

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swallowed up by urban development across the south. But now,

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conservationists are working to reconnected. To snatch a glimpse of

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this landscape scale conservation in action, I have come here to the

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RSPB's beautiful reserve in Dorset. They have a very ambitious project

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to join back together some patches of one of our most exciting

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habitats. We are standing on the bridge, with Wareham over in the

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mist. This is the backdrop of Dante's big idea. What is the idea?

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For the last 5,000 years, this was predominantly a heathland landscape.

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It is only in the last 100 years that it has been fragmented and

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lost through urbanisation, forestry and golf courses. Our ambition is

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to peace that back together and create a landscape that is

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connected and thriving. Heathland based, though, because this is a

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very special area? How long before we can have a sustainable area of

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heathland? We are talking 50 or 100 years but I am quite impatient.

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There is no reason why we can't deliver some parts of this project

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within five years. And restoration is effective. Three years ago, the

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RSPB persuaded and neighbouring landowner to cut down a large

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section of con others. Already, the land is returning to heath.

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Endangered heathland species like the woodlark are moving in. It has

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become a vital wildlife corridor, connecting suitable chunks of

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wildlife for other creatures, like the spectacular sand lizard. I

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don't know about you, Dante, but that animal takes a few boxes for

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me. It is stunning. The bright coloration at this time of year is

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tremendous. They are one of the species being less mobile that are

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going to become increasingly dependent on these corridors. If a

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catastrophe happens - a fire is always potentially one of those -

:21:54.:22:04.
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you could lose the whole lot, and if they are joined up. Dot if they

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have connecting habitat, they can creep into other areas. People look

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at heathland as being a barren wasteland and I don't think people

:22:16.:22:21.

realise that it is so rare. It is restricted to particular

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temperature ranges and soil types. It is not a habitat that you can

:22:27.:22:29.

just decide to have some overbearing stead. You have got to

:22:29.:22:34.

have it where it is possible for it to exist. That is a very limited

:22:34.:22:42.

range of opportunities. -- to have some over there instead of. We know

:22:42.:22:46.

that if we joined at these places up, creatures like this will have a

:22:46.:22:52.

sustainable, healthy future. That has got to happen. If there is a

:22:52.:22:57.

duel on it our heathland that we have to look after, it is this one.

:22:57.:23:04.

I am giving it a 10 at of 10. It is this sort of reconnection between

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habitats that ecologists are now calling on central governments to

:23:07.:23:14.

fund. To halt the current loss of species in the UK, they say that

:23:14.:23:18.

the government needs to spend about �1 billion a year on biodiversity.

:23:19.:23:25.

That is about twice what it spends now. When you think about that �1

:23:25.:23:27.

billion investment in the environment, this is money well

:23:27.:23:32.

spent. Their national environment is working in ways behind the

:23:32.:23:38.

scenes all the time but we don't fully comprehend. But we know it

:23:38.:23:41.

that healthy, fun to international environment is a good thing to aim

:23:41.:23:51.
:23:51.:23:52.

for. Spot-on. It is time to put some of these key questions to the

:23:52.:23:55.

Environment Secretary. First, I want to know about those awful

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Douglas fir trees. Why are the Forestry Commission still sticking

:24:00.:24:04.

in lots of non-native conifers, which are no good for wildlife and

:24:04.:24:09.

biodiversity? I am on the public record as saying about I think we

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should increase the rate of recovery of plantations on the

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ancient woodland site. When the broadleaf trees were chopped down,

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the genetic information is still in the soil and we can recover those

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sites and enhance biodiversity by doing that. How is the government

:24:26.:24:30.

going to meet its biodiversity targets went there are so many

:24:30.:24:34.

heavy cuts in your department? People like Natural England and the

:24:34.:24:37.

Forestry Commission - how will they do the job without the people and

:24:37.:24:43.

the funding? We are confident of being able to make good progress on

:24:43.:24:47.

enhancing biodiversity and helping to halt the loss of biodiversity

:24:47.:24:51.

with the resources, even though they are restrained. This is

:24:51.:24:55.

something where we can all get involved - not just the government

:24:55.:25:00.

but business, communities, individuals. All of us can do our

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part to do the best we can for biodiversity. A lot of your viewers

:25:07.:25:17.
:25:17.:25:21.

do their part and this is something As far as I am concerned, our

:25:21.:25:27.

wildlife is on the brink. The question is, can we pull it back?

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In this series, I have seen how - on our farm land - a bird, plant

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and insect numbers have plummeted tutor decades of intensive farming.

:25:37.:25:42.

In recent years, we have paid farmers to try to bring back the

:25:42.:25:46.

wildlife. But although we have won a few battles, we are a long way

:25:46.:25:51.

from winning the war. For our marine life, a new conservation

:25:51.:25:55.

zones are being planned - but without effective monitoring and

:25:55.:26:00.

enforcement, they could be a wasted opportunity. And we have seen how

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wildlife has been lost from some of our best-loved landscapes - but we

:26:05.:26:10.

have also seen how we can restore and reconnect precious habitats. So

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I am optimistic, and yet pessimistic at the same time. Let

:26:15.:26:19.

me explain - I am optimistic because I think we know exactly

:26:19.:26:24.

what we have to do when it comes to wildlife conservation, and we have

:26:24.:26:28.

got the techniques to actually do it. But I am pessimistic because

:26:28.:26:33.

some of our wildlife charities seem to be pursuing out of date and

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distracting ideas, which are not as effective as they could be. I am

:26:38.:26:43.

also pessimistic because government is not giving enough money directly

:26:43.:26:50.

to wildlife conservation. But for me, the real truth about wildlife

:26:50.:26:56.

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.