Although World Land Trust (WLT) is best known for its work saving threatened forests in foreign parts, the Kites Hill Reserve in Gloucestershire is WLT's showcase reserve in the UK. Concern for the trees on the reserve is mounting as more and more cases of ash dieback are confirmed in several English counties.
The ancient Beech woodland at Kites Hill has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Natural England, but there are some ash trees and a selection of native trees has been used when the trust extended the woodland in two areas. Ash dieback is a major concern for British woodlands as the fungal disease causes leaf loss, lesions on the bark and dieback of the crown. Infected trees usually die, and there are fears that this outbreak of ash dieback will be as devastating to the British countryside as Dutch elm disease was in the late 1960s.
The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) is managing Kites Hill on behalf of World Land Trust. Theresa Watt, TCV Gloucestershire Team Leader, is cautiously optimistic: "The reserve and the trees on the Kites Hill reserve look very healthy at the moment and the management we are doing with the Conservation Volunteers, is keeping the reserve in good condition. We will monitor the site for any outbreaks of pests and diseases and follow the Forestry Commission guidelines to deal with any issue if it does arrive."
Threats to UK trees are not restricted to the ash. Acute oak decline, which causes stem bleeding and has been known to kill oak trees, is also affecting British woodlands. Fortunately, as yet, there are no indications that acute oak disease has spread outside the Midlands and the south east, so the oak trees at Kites Hill are safe for the time being.
The work being carried out by WLT at Kites Hill aims to attract more butterflies, bats, owls and other species lost to the area through decline of habitat, by providing suitable breeding and feeding sites throughout the reserve. It has been hugely encouraging that a wildlife pond, which was created in 2009, has been colonised by many native species. The trail around the reserve gives visitors an opportunity to see the woodland through the year – from the carpet of wood anemone and bluebells in the Spring to the Autumn splendour. New interpretation panels planned for the nature trail will provide a valuable resource for learning about conservation management.
Kites Hill, originally used as farmland, was donated to the WLT by the owner, Miss Pointer, as a 'Living Legacy' in order to ensure its protection forever, for the benefit of wildlife. Miss Pointer still keeps an active interest in the maintenance of the reserve and is pleased to be able to see its conservation first hand during her lifetime. We very much hope that no-one has to witness disease spreading to the trees at Kites Hill.
Although the WLT does not require funds for land purchase in the UK, funds are needed for the management and wildlife enhancement at Kites Hill, which is open to the public.