Quantock Hills Blog

Clare goes ‘back to the floor’ on the Quantocks

- Clare Steel, SCCs Lead Commissioner for Adults and Health came to see how the AONB team work

Katy Coate

Posted by Katy Coate on 03 January 2013

Clare goes ‘back to the floor’ on the Quantocks Somerset County Council run ‘back to the floor days’  for their Senior Leadership team so they can spend the day finding out what really goes on behind the scenes. In late December Clare Steel, who is Lead Commissioner for Adults and Health came out, breathed good Quantock air, and found out more about the Quantock AONB team and our work to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the Quantocks.

‘The sun shone brightly but it was bitterly cold. However, a morning of coppicing hazel on Cothelstone Hill with three volunteers and two rangers warmed me up - a small bonfire, mince pies and hot coffee helped too!

It was astonishing the amount of wood we lopped and sawed through, opening up woodland to the sun, whilst keeping sufficient ‘touching’ of trees at canopy level to protect the runways used by dormice, who nest in trees.

Swaling is the deliberate burning of old heather to encourage new, nutritious growth. Volunteers help with this too, in fact the amount of swaling needed every year to maintain the habitat couldn’t happen without them. Rangers from other parts of the UK visit the Quantocks team to learn how to swale effectively. The partnership working between local commoners, who rear livestock on the hills, landowners, Natural England and the AONB team was explained.

Diplomatic skills are needed to gain agreements and continuing commitment to managing the land to protect long-term biodiversity, even when it clashes with short term interests. The damage done by thoughtless owners of four wheel drive vehicles was evident, and stories about destructive and illegal activities revealed the dark side of the countryside that the rangers have to deal with - such as buzzard poisoning and badger baiting.

The team work with ‘Mind’ to support people recovering from mental illness through volunteering - a group of about 20 people volunteer every week. Heathfield School has a group of Young Rangers who respond positively to activity and education in the open air. The team are also developing working holidays with local B&Bs to boost local tourism.

The rangers career histories reveal the layering of many years of expertise and experience. These are certainly jobs that benefit from long-term relationships with local people and a deep and detailed knowledge and love of the land. I see the Quantock Hills in a new light and now I know that dormice nest in trees - not many people know that.’

Clare Steel


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