The Nature Reserve
Langford Heathfield is a 226 acre nature reserve owned and managed by the Somerset Wildlife Trust. The reserve lies to the west of the village and comprises a mix of woodland, scrub, heathy grassland and bracken. The reserve is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and as would be expected of a site of national wildlife importance supports many rare and endangered species.
Little is currently known of the early history of the Common but commoners rights still exist, with named commoners having the ancient rights of pasturage (grazing), turbary (turf cutting) and estovers (cutting timber for fencing against the Common and firewood.
The Tithe Map of 1841 shows the bulk of the site as open common with areas of coppice wood, arable, pasture and orchard in the areas now known as Coram’s Wood and Lucas’s Copse and along the western margins. A cottage, of which the outline of walls remains, was located in the northwest corner of Coram’s Wood. There is also a disused quarry just to the south of the reserve.
A golf course was established on the site with work commencing on 3 March 1908. Col. E. C. A. Banford opened the course on 7 July 1909 with the first hole acknowledged as “365 yards, a good example of the dog-leg variety”. It was short-lived, however, being wound up on 31 October 1925 with the pavilion to be disposed of. Remains of some of the features of the course such as bunkers can still be seen within the grazed areas.
Due to its common land status and the fact that it is very poorly drained, as it is underlain by a heavy clay, the reserve has never been intensively farmed. As a result much wildlife that has been lost in most of the countryside continues to thrive here.
In late spring the open grassland areas are carpeted with common lousewort, this is followed in early summer by thousands of orchids, mostly heath spotted but also a few common spotted and southern marsh. The small pink flowers of the uncommon bog pimpernel can be seen in the shortest areas. In late summer large blocks of devils bit scabious provide yet another splash of colour.
Butterflies are also abundant with many species including ringlet, marbled white and skippers easily seen. The reserve is important for fritillary butterflies with both the small pearl bordered and the silver washed easy to see, the silver washed is a large orange/brown butterfly which is a strong flier and highly visible in mid to late summer. More difficult to see, but equally important are the night flying moths which are also present in large numbers. These include the rare double line moth, this species is of national importance as it is largely confined to a declining number of sites in South West England and Wales.
Breeding birds include mistle thrush, nuthatch, bullfinch, marsh tit, greater spotted woodpecker and many summer visiting willow warblers and chiffchaffs. Buzzards are easily seen and tawny owls are increasingly vocal during daylight hours as well as being active at night.
Mammals include dormice, badger, several species of bat, roe deer and the occasional red deer.
Due to its large size, mix of habitats and poor drainage this is a difficult site to manage. The Trust’s objectives include maintaining and improving all of the habitats present, thereby ensuring that all the wildlife species continue to thrive, and maintaining and enhancing the visitor experience.
In order to achieve these objectives the Somerset Wildlife Trust undertakes a lot of management work. Large areas of the grassland are seasonally pony grazed, whilst some of the smaller areas are cut, the ponies help control the coarse grass, bracken and scrub by eating and trampling it, this allows space and light for the rarer and more fragile plants to flourish. Some areas of bracken are being controlled by regular cutting whilst others are maintained as they support the violet plants which are vital as the food plant of the fritillary butterfly caterpillars. The scrub around the edges of the grassland are regularly coppiced to prevent them reverting to secondary woodland and shading the wildflower rich grassland.
Much of the woodland is periodically thinned to open up the canopy and let light in for the woodland flowers, shrubs and next generation of trees. This thinning is undertaken a block at a time on a rotation of 25 years plus, this work can be controversial as the use of the heavy machinery necessary to fell and extract large trees on such a wet site can lead to a lot of mud, ruts and mess in the short term, however it recovers rapidly and the higher light levels are of huge benefit to the woodland species in the longer term.
The reserve is open access and visitors are welcome. Please keep your dog under control and clean up after it. Please take care as the paths can get very muddy and slippery during periods of wet weather. During the summer please beware of the electric fencing used to enclose the grazing ponies.
Much of the work on the reserve is only possible thanks to a network of local volunteers. These help with many aspects of the work including wardening, butterfly and plant surveying, pony checking and habitat management work.
If you would like to learn more about the reserve or to help with its management please visit the Somerset Wildlife Trust website at www.somersetwildlife.org.
Reserves Manager, West Somerset/Blackdowns
Somerset Wildlife Trust