A Great Start to the Year for our Habitat Creation Team!

Posted by James Edwards on 6/05/2016

The year started with the launch of one of our largest native woodland planting projects this year. As part of the Gatwick Airport Flood Alleviation Scheme, Ecosulis’ HCEC Team were asked to conduct a five-year habitat creation and maintenance program for the Environment Agency in Crawley. Our task for the first phase of works in 2016, was to plant over 4,500 trees and shrubs to create a new woodland habitat that would be beneficial to the Dormice that have been found in adjacent woodland around the site.

The planting strategy was to create an environment that would provide a canopy of varying layers and height; for example some areas were planted to create rides and basking spots through the woodland, others were planted with taller trees to provide height in different parts of the wood. The planting mix consisted of oak, beech and wild cherry, with a mid-layer of Hazel and Hawthorn, dispersed throughout with Honeysuckle.

This was a really great site to work on. Its location meant that wildlife in the surrounding area and on site was abundant and diverse. Amongst others seen on site were three courting kestrels (our favourite), many buzzards, robins, wrens, stone chat, black cap, meadow pipit and both the green and great spotted woodpecker. Reptiles were common on site too. On the sunnier days, common lizard could often be seen basking on or around the dead wood piles that provide refuge around the site. Even though adder and slow worm have been seen on site, none were seen by the HCEC Team at this time. Which, personally, I was disappointed about, as I have never seen an adder in the flesh. Roe deer and rabbits were also seen on site.

A small steep sided valley with a small stream runs through the site, dividing it into two sections and we spotted a water vole here. Due to the slow flowing nature of the stream and a number of fallen trees, a boggy area had been created, forming a small wetland marsh. This was dominated with common rush and other wetland grasses and rushes and on further inspection the water was full of Sphagnum sp. mosses. During our time on site a number of other smaller boggy areas were also discovered. These too contained a number of different of Sphagnum sp. mosses. I counted four different species. However, there could be more as some species can only be identified by microscope. These areas are classed as priority woodland habitats and require preservation, as they can contain some very rare bryophytes and in some cases can be a breeding site for the greater silver water beetle.

In conclusion, this was a very successful project for the HCEC Team. It required a large amount of hard work from all involved and, for those on site, the rewards were knowing we had a hand in creating something that, in the years to come, will be beneficial to the local population.

More recently our habitat creation team has been busy with a vegetation clearance project for a large housing development in Swindon. We were tasked with the removal of large sections of hedgerow and to fell eleven conifer trees, to allow for civil engineering and house-building operations to commence respectively.

Hedgerow clearance at the start of nesting bird season can be a testing time, and one that can result in delays. However, on this occasion, after each daily nesting bird check had been completed, work could commence. Apart from the spikey nature of the vegetation involved in hedgerow clearance, this was a straightforward project.

One of our most recent projects includes a monthly wetland maintenance visit to Rushey Weir, Oxfordshire. This yielded some extra-special news, as during our inspection of the fish-pass, we spotted some otter scat and footprints and water vole droppings! The HCEC Team are particularly happy about this as the fish-pass was constructed less than two years ago. We found evidence of otter using the fish-pass to circumvent the fast-flowing weir structure and to forage for food. Water voles, however, are far less mobile than otter so finding droppings could mean that they are inhabiting the fish-pass itself. As well as droppings, tracks of footprints were seen, as was the characteristic grazing signs of diagonally-cut grass.