SSSI History and Vision
On the Western edge of the village of Martlesham Heath, alongside Dobb's Lane, is an area known as the Western Corridor. This is an example of the type of habitat known as lowland heath which is typified by poor, sandy, acidic soil and is home to a number of characteristic species of plants (such as gorse, heather and birch), adders, and many rare insects and other invertebrates such as the Silver-Studded Blue butterfly. Lowland heath is also important for birds such as nightjar, stonechat and the Dartford warbler.
Because of its rarity, lowland heath is subject to protection in a number of places, and this area was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1988. The SSSI extends from the back of Broomfield at the North end and beyond the ownership of MHHL in the South. The boundary here is marked by a barbed wire fence, but the SSSI continues for a distance into the neighbouring farm.
The Western Corridor was owned by Bradford Property Trust (later acquired by Grainger plc) during the development of the village and was assigned to MHHL on a 999 year lease in 2008, in accordance with the development agreement
During their ownership BPT/Grainger had made no effort to maintain the SSSI and the only work done was by volunteers with the Martlesham Conservation Group. Without adequate active management the land will continue to become colonised by trees and scrub, losing its heathland character, and there is a danger that MHHL could face action from Natural England for not maintaining the condition of the SSSI. MHHL recognised this but wanted to avoid the cost of such work falling on members, and therefore entered into an agreement with Natural England (the public body responsible for improving the natural environment) to fund the work. MHHL also set up a separate company called Martlesham Heath SSSI Ltd, which is wholly owned by MHHL, to manage the maintenance of the land. This is also run by volunteer directors.
The agreement with Natural England covers 10 years and has a series of targets to be met to restore the heathland conditions. Typically, these targets involve work to alter the balance and structure of vegetation on the heath. A vegetation survey was carried out in June/July 2012 and has been used to identify what changes are necessary. The main targets are:
- the area covered by trees and saplings is to be reduced from its current level of 25% to below 15%
- gorse is to be kept below 25%, although recent fires have reduced this to a level of around 20%
- the amount of heather is to be increased and its age structure managed
- bracken to be reduced from about 8.5% to below 5%
- the area of acid grassland is to be maintained or increased
- the amount of bare ground is to be increased from 3% to between 5% and 10%
This will allow the SSSI to provide a better habitat for the animal and plant species that require acid heathland to thrive. Because of the need to avoid disturbing nesting birds, major work on the SSSI is restricted to the winter period
Martlesham Heath SSSI Ltd. is developing a vision statement for the SSSI which recognises the importance of this area as heathland as well as the amenity value to members of MHHL and the wider community.