Threatened birds spotted at depleted site just a year after the Wildlife Trust let ‘nature take the lead’

An uptick in biodiversity and an abundance of species, including threatened birds, have been seen just one year into a rewilding project in Dorset, according to a local conservation group.

The Dorset Wildlife Trust acquired 170 hectares of land near Bere Regis in 2021 as part of a large-scale community rewilding project. After consulting with the community, the trust named the area Wild Woodbury. The trust’s plan is to rewild 150 hectares of the land – including 11 hectares of new naturally regenerated woodland, 30 hectares of new wetland and to open up 35 acres of the land for the public to use.

The site, part of which used to be called Court Farm, has historically been under intensive arable management, according to the trust, which reduced the biodiversity of the land significantly and introduced pollutants from chemical fertilisers into the area’s waterways. But this summer alone the Trust recorded more than 1,300 species, including eight birds of conservation concern.

Wilder Dorset project manager Rob Farrington said: “Restoring a landscape and making space for nature on this scale takes time of course, but it is extraordinary to see all that has been achieved in just one year and to witness the abundance of wildlife which has made its home at Wild Woodbury.”

Juvenile birds that have been spotted across the site include cuckoo, whinchat, and yellowhammers. The number of skylarks have also increased, and for the first time tree pipits have been spotted raising their young there. All of these birds are on the Red List Birds of Conservation Concern.

Birds are not the only winged creatures thriving at the site. Butterfly transects conducted by staff and volunteers have tracked more than 200 meadow brown butterflies, as well as silver-washed fritillary and newly-hatched painted lady on the wing. Rare species of moth, such as dingy mocha, have also been spotted, and invertebrate specialists have found over 300 species of beetles, bugs and spiders.

Alongside  the boom in fauna, the conservationists have spotted large bunches of lesser quaking grass sprouting up, a nationally scarce flora, as well as plants such as narrow-leaved lungwort, red hemp nettle and three species of orchid, including southern marsh orchid. Small populations of cobalt crust fungi have also been found.

Farrington shared that the aim of their work at Wild Woodbury is to “build an example for sustainable land use to tackle the climate and ecological crises” and “let nature take the lead”. He said the charity’s plans for next year include restoring the river Sherford, which is currently a network of ditches at Wild Woodbury, to create a wetland habitat for wildlife.

The river will also create wetter soils, acting as a carbon store. The group will also aim to introduce mixed grazing onto the land, and have said they aim to open up 35 acres of the site for local people to use.