The Holmstone holly wood, located on Lydd Ranges is a unique shingle habitat that has received unwanted attention from people over the centuries. The trees were chopped down around 1801 by the preventative men to discourage smuggling. This 1946 aerial photo shows the lines of holly bushes orientated along the strips of fine shingle, though with an extensive and very damaging network of vehicle tracks all over the beach (1). The lichen heath, on which the hollies would have germinated, was reduced to a few small fragments ( see 2). The lichen heath shows up as a paler patch of vegetation compared to the very dark holly bushes.
The same area in 2008 shows that astonishingly between 1962 and 1983 part of this unique area was quarried to provide shingle for sea defences (1). Most of the few remaining patches of shingle heath vegetation were destroyed by this stage including that in (2).
On the positive side the Army have controlled vehicle use on the shingle – there are no fresh tracks across the shingle on this aerial.
The key issue for the wood is where do the next generation of trees come from. Restoration of lichen heath in this area is important as young bushes do not establish well on bare shingle. Ten years ago some shingle heath that was to have a road built over it was translocated to area 3. This vegetation had a deep bed of humus and was therefore able to be lifted as turves, and to my surprise has prospered within the protection of a rabbit proof fence – the strip can be seen as a faint strip in area 3. Rabbits, it seems, are one of the agents preventing revegetation of the shingle, and recent Army conservation has been concentrating on controlling their numbers in this area to try and encourage natural vegetation recolonisation, and to improve the condition of the holly bushes.