With spring now a fading memory and the summer in full swing, it means that it is surveying season here on the SNCV sites as flowers burst into bloom. Over the past week, volunteers and the biodiversity team having been carrying out a range of invaluable botanical surveys. Specifically, I’d like to write about the ‘Phase 1 habitat survey’, as this assessment provides essential information for the future management of our sites, yet, may only appear as baffling argot to those without an ecological background.
Primarily, the Phase 1 habitat survey is an assessment of the ecological features and habitat types within a site. To determine this, we identify each and every botanical species. We also assign the relative distribution of these species to five categories; Dominant; Abundant; Frequent; Occasional and Rare (this may also be referred to by the acronym as DAFOR), which indicates how well key target species are doing or suggests whether undesirable species are becoming too dominant. With this information, the site can be classified into a broad habitat type, such as ‘Grassland and marsh’, where the site can then be allocated to a specific habitat type, such ‘Grassland and marsh: Calcareous grassland – unimproved’. Additionally, we note down butterfly, insect or bird species of interest. This serves to provide further information about the site.
For conservation to be effective, it is absolutely necessary to carry out the Phase 1 survey as this procedure assesses whether previous restoration or conservation attempts have been successful and indicates where future conservation efforts must lie. At Sutton Nature we use these surveys as a way for monitoring changes to the vegetation, determining whether our conservation efforts have been successful and for creating targets to be achieved in the future. For example, at our chalk grasslands (or Calcareous grassland – unimproved) we have made huge efforts to increase the distribution of Kidney Vetch Anthyllis vulneraria as this is sole foodplant for the larvae of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority species Small Blue Butterfly Cupido minimus. With the Phase 1 we can determine whether restoration has been effective as in 2013 the DAFOR score for A. vulneraria may have been rare (R), while in 2015 this may have changed to occasional (O), indicating progression and sparking subsequent jubilant scenes at SNCV HQ!
During my first week I have been present on two Phase 1 surveys at Queen Mary’s Woodland and Cuddington Meadow chalk grassland. Here, I have successfully managed to bumble around and excel in being useless. Thankfully, Dave has the patience of an Ancient Oak as it mustn’t be easy to be accompanied by a blithering twit continually asking ‘so, what’s this?’ ‘Is this one the same as that one, it sort of looks the same?’ ‘Dave, sorry but what’s this one again?’ The task is certainly a daunting one, but it is one that I would love to excel in and after walking around with Dave, I’ve learnt that carrying out a successful Phase 1 survey requires a lifetime’s dedication to Ecology. What an exciting prospect.
Hopefully, this provides a basic insight to what a Phase 1 Habitat survey involves and means to us at the SNCV. We certainly find it a valuable procedure. In the future posts I shall explain the other surveys that we use throughout the season. If you would like more information on Phase 1 Habitat surveying please feel free to email me and I will happily help in any way possible – firstname.lastname@example.org
 The BAP priority species have been identified as species that are in the most need of conservation action within the UK. To be designated a priority, species must fall under one of the four criterions: internationally threatened; moderate decline of the species in the UK and an international responsibility; marked decline in the UK; other factors (such as restricted geographic range or if habitat is threatened). It may be useful if I go into greater detail about this in a future post, so keep your eyes peeled.