Astonishing success as nature takes the lead


Rewilding Wild Woodbury – Dorset Wildlife Trust’s project records more than 1,100 species in its first year

Lesser Quaking Grass
Image © Seb Haggett

A year into the Wild Woodbury rewilding project at Bere Regis and surveys have already recorded an uplift in the biodiversity and abundance of species moving onto the site. Over the last year, the land has been allowed to regenerate naturally, which has increased the biodiversity and abundance of wildlife. Staff and volunteers have recorded more than 1,100 species in this summer’s surveys, and eight Red List birds (of conservation concern) have been confirmed to be breeding at Wild Woodbury.
Skylarks have increased from just two singing males last year to 18 counted this summer. No tree pipits or woodlark were recorded in 2021 but a breeding pair of each has been sighted raising juveniles this year. Though there’s no previous data for them, 28 yellowhammers have been counted this year.
A rising number of juvenile birds have been spotted across the site too, including cuckoo, whinchat and nightjar.

Wild Woodbury, taken in June 2021 as the rewilding project began (image courtesy of James Burland).

Lesser quaking grass
A dry spring and the mass of emerging pollinators in the former arable fields helped to increase the invertebrate population. Butterfly transects tracked more than 200 meadow brown butterflies as well as silver-washed fritillary and painted lady on the wing. The hot summer weather increased moth activity, attracting rarer species such as dingy mocha.
Invertebrate specialists amassed more than 200 species of beetles, bugs and spiders, some of which have only a handful of records in Dorset.
Large clumps of the nationally-scarce lesser quaking grass appeared, offering an excellent food source for many finches including goldfinch and linnet, and for yellowhammers.. Narrow-leaved lungwort, red hemp nettle and three species of orchid – including southern marsh orchid – are present on the site, as are small populations of cobalt crust fungi.
The restoration of natural processes on the site should provide the right conditions for many species to return in greater numbers next year.

Wild Woodbury taken almost exactly one year later, in July 2022 (image courtesy of Roger Bates)

Nature’s regeneration
With an ambitious aim of building an exemplar for sustainable land use to tackle the climate and ecological crises, the early years of the project were always going to be about letting nature take the lead, allowing the land to gently regenerate and giving nature more space. But of course, that doesn’t mean simply abandoning the land! The Wild Woodbury team, partners and volunteers have spent much of the year conducting surveys and collecting data on ecology, soil, hydrology, species and water quality to provide baselines for monitoring and future analysis.
Restoring a landscape and making space for nature on this scale takes time, but it is extraordinary to see all that has been achieved in just one year and to witness the abundance of wildlife species already calling Wild Woodbury home.

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