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Ham Common

Local Nature Reserve & Site of Special Scientific Interest.

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Britain has some of the finest remaining examples of heathland in Europe, one such area is Ham Common Local Nature Reserve, Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

This area was part of a continuous block of heathland in the 1760's and it covered approximately 100,000 acres of acidic sands, gravels and clays, broken only by the richer soils in the valleys of the Rivers Stour, Frome and Piddle.

Ham Common is an area of great beauty and interest. It provides a habitat for an immense variety of flowers and animals as well as being a place where visitors can enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this site. Birds such as the Dartford Warbler might be spotted flying in jerking movements low over the gorse bushes.

If you are very lucky you might be able to spot a lizard flicking its tail through the bushes.

Characteristics Of Heathland

Heathlands are renowned for their changing seasonal colours. Carpets of bright purple ling and bell heather and an array of bog plants flower in the Summer. In the Winter, green, crimson and orange bog mosses brighten dark mysterious pools. While the Spring brings once more the sweet coconut scent of golden yellow gorse flowers.

Historical Background

Heathlands are a semi-natural habitat whose origins in the Poole Basin go back to 8000 BC and the arrival of Mesolithic people.

Primeval woodland was cleared for pasture and crops, a process which continued throughout the Bronze Age. Grazing prevented tree regrowth and so the soils became leached and acidic, the vegetation changed and around 500 BC heathland was established.

The area around the hamlet of Hamworthy remained relatively untouched until 43AD when Roman Legionaries built a road nearby known as Ickfield Way.

Exploitation of ball clay began here at this time but it was not until the 19th Century that large scale quarrying was carried out by Royal Doulton. The clay is so named because it was originally dug out using curved spades and so curled into balls. Commercial quarrying ceased in the late 1920's.

Ham Common is one of the few British sites where fossil plants, which grew some 55 million years ago, can be found. The fossils consist of fruits, seeds and the wood of trees and vines which grew in the tropical Mangrove swamps which one dominated the area.

Conservation Of Heathland

British heathlands are on the decline. Of the 39,000 hectares which existed in the 1750's, little over 5,000 hectares remain. In 30 years time there may be very little left. The site was notified in 1987 as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), because of its rare and endangered species, its geological importance and its size as the fourth largest remaining fragment of heathland left in The Borough of Poole.

Ham Common is particularly vulnerable to fire through vandalism. It also suffers encroachment from scots pine trees and silver birch shrub, gorse and bracken which leads to the steady disappearance of the typical heathland community of plants and animals. Even dog fouling is a threat as, not only a health hazard in itself, it also fertilises the soil and so prevents heather from growing.

The area has great fragile beauty and needs to be sensitively managed. Many of the techniques which the Countryside Wardens use may seem drastic, but they are necessary in order to ensure the survival of this unique and precious habitat. The invading trees and plants will be cut down and cleared. Firebreaks are cut and erosion barriers (revetments) are used around the coastal and lake area. Public pressure on Ham Common is enormous and so the risk of disturbance and erosion is very apparent.

The future of Ham Common has now hopefully been secured. It was declared a Local Nature Reserve on the 16th May 1992. With positive management techniques and sensitive approach to its use the heathland will continue to survive, not only as an area of great scientific value but one which will bring pleasure to those who are fortunate enough to visit it.