The Wellington College estate extends beyond the perimeter fence up to Little Sandhurst, covering an area of woodland, heath and bog. Each of these habitats supports a great range of wildlife, and this mixture of different habitats is really important for biodiversity. Part of this area has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest because heathland and lowland bog are priority habitats for the government’s Biodiversity Action Plan.
The nocturnal Nightjar and the rare Dartford Warbler breed on the heath here, as does a small colony of the rare Silver-studded Blue butterfly. The bog is home to specially adapted species such as Round-leaved Sundews, one of Britain’s carnivorous plants. This region is one of the very few parts of the British Isles where Smooth snakes and Sand lizards live and where all six British reptile species can be found.
In spring 2019, a volunteer group of Welly staff families planted Alder Buckthorn saplings on part of the SSSI as foodplants for Brimstone butterfly caterpillars. It was exciting to see the first eggs in spring 2020.
Some of the Welly pupils help to manage the heath as part of their Service. They cut back trees that have seeded themselves in the heath, to prevent it from turning into woodland and prevent the leaves from adding nutrients to the soil. Heath and bog soils are poor in nutrients and the plants that live there have adapted perfectly to this and would not be able to cope with a higher level of nutrients. In nature, the tree seedlings would be removed by wild grazing animals, such as deer and ponies. The Welly Gardens and Countryside team also replicate the effects of grazing by cutting patches of the heather to different stages of growth and ensuring that some areas are left bare, as this means that a wider variety of wildlife can live in the different areas.