This change is directional as one community is replaced by another. Ecologists call this process succession. Succession is a natural increase in the complexity of the structure and species composition of a community over time." Environmental Systems and Societies Course Companion by Jill Rutherford.
I'm currently doing a project about succession - how a landscape changes of time in a natural way - and I'm specifically looking at the process of how a heathland forms into a woodland area in Horsell Common. The majority of England used to be covered with heathland, however, over time birch and pine trees started to take over. Their growth created shade which ultimately resulted in the heather dying due to lack of sunlight.
Heathland is incredibly important for invertebrates. A lot of uncommon species live in the heather, such as the bog bush cricket, large heath butterfly, black darter dragonfly. The heath also supports rare birds such as the nightjar, and reptiles such as adder and slowworm. Without the heathland, all these species will eventually die. A large percentage of remaining European heathland is located in Britain, however since 1949, 40% of British heath has been lost by conversion to arable, or intensive grazing, afforestation, building or succession to scrub due to lack of proper management. Therefore, all over the country people are working on restoring the heathland.
The Horsell Common Preservation Society has a wide variety of volunteers who manage the common "out of respect for the wildlife living there and the general environment" (www.horsellcommon.org.uk). Horsell Common has a wonderful habitat for wildlife, and is home to Bronze Age Barrows and to a former Muslim Burial Ground. It's also the place where HG Wells' Martians landed. It has about 830 acres of green space, "maintained for the benefit of all and for the conservation of the animals and plants that live there" (www.horsellcommon.org.uk).
The volunteers of the Preservation Society meet up one Sunday a month to help restore the heathland. They have started a 10 year project, which is funded by Natural England through conservation grants. "Heathland restoration involves the remocal of pine, oak and birch trees; the trees will be chipped and used to generate electricity at Slough Power Station ... All this work produces an environment with favourable conditions for heathland regeneration from dormant seeds." (www.horsellcommon.org.uk)
Basically, what they're doing is chopping down specific areas of the woodland. This will create an open clearing for heather seeds that have been left in the soil to start growing again. It takes about 5-6 years for the heathland to fully be formed so it's a very long process. While the heather is attempting to grow, the surrounding trees will be dropping their seeds in the cleared area too. Over time, the trees will start to take over the heathland, and the cycle will start all over again. This is what I'll be photographing over the next 3 months.