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Scrub

National changes in vegetation through time (succession) gradually change the type of plants in an area.  Without management heathland would become scrubby eventually succeeding to scrub woodland.  These are both important habitats in their own right such which are managed for maximum wildlife benefit. 

Scrub is an integral part of any heathland habitat, as a resource for wildlife e.g. stonechat, Dartford warbler to providing shelter and shade for grazing animals.  Ideally 10% of any heathland should consist of scrub.  Where management has been withdrawn scrub becomes dominant.

Gorse, silver birch, willow, hawthorn and blackthorn are all managed to ensure the balance of scrub to open heathland is correct.  On some of the Gower commons rhododendron was planted by the large manorial estates as game cover for shoots.   When these commons were sold the management of such vegetation ceased and the rhododendron spread.  For example in 1963 there is no evidence of rhododendron on Ryers Down but by 2001 there were 7 hectares.  There area other exotic invasive plants on the commons such as Cotoneaster, Japanese Knotweed, Himalayan Balsam, Golden Rod.

Gorse is a native plant and does have a role to play on our heathlands.  There are two types of gorse found on Gower, European gorse Ulex europaeus and Western gorse Ulex gallii.  European Gorse is normally taller growing up to 2.5 metres whilst Western Gorse is normally under 1m. European gorse flowers throughout the year and  has a distinctive coconut smell, whereas Western Gorse only flowers from mid August through to October (at the same time heather is in flower)

Traditionally gorse was used for fuel or milled to create fodder for livestock.  It is of importance as a habitat for invertebrates, with 50 species of insects, including spiders which make there webs within the branches.  This is an food source for ground nesting birds such as the Skylark.  The protection this gives is used by reptiles such as adders who use it to shelter from the wind after coming out of hibernation in spring.

The problem with this plant is that it is very invasive and rapidly colonises disturbed land. It is a fire dependent species and its seeds only germinate after a fire. It sheds leaves (to provide fuel for wild fire) creating a mulch as well as having a dense canopy, which restricts light making it difficult for lower plants to survive.

 

   

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