Community planting at Sutton Common – a magnificent meadow in the making !

Sometimes it is hard to put into words the joy that is experienced when things go well. Last week’s community planting day at Sutton Common was just such an occasion. Armed with spades and trowels the Council’s Biodiversity Field Officer and our small team of volunteers, headed to Sutton Common with a mix of excitement and trepidation, to commence the next phase of operation ‘magnificent meadows’.

IMG_3212

On your marks !

When planning a community event one is never really sure, until the day, what to expect. Having spent a great deal of time designing posters, ‘getting the word out’, choosing and ordering the plant species and devising a way of monitoring how successfully the plants have established, we had done everything we could to ensure things would go well.

IMG_3224

Dig one, plant one

As we pulled up to the site, things were already looking good, we could see that Tom, horseman from Operation Centaur, and his noble steeds Nobby and Heath were already busy preparing the ground. Then, as we  began to offload tools and the all important plants, a steady stream of people from the local community began to swell our ranks.

Having received a short brief and an explanation about the project and its goals, the now sizable band were joined by further families and friends. The assembled group was so large that we split into smaller groups of about five and each took charge of the planting of our designated plots. With the teams working so efficiently and managing to plant half of the site in less than an hour, it meant that we had plenty of time to take a break and enjoy a cuppa with an infamous broken biscuit!

IMG_3246

Everything in the right place

As the horses had prepared the other half of the field, while the humans were taking a break, it was now ready and the teams picked up their pre-marked ropes and  proceeded to position, prepare holes and plant our chosen flowering plant species on the second side. It is perhaps useful to briefly explain that the first half of the field named ‘A’ had been given distinctly different preparation to the other, ‘B’, half. ‘A’ had been ploughed earlier in the year, whilst ‘B’ had only been harrowed. These efforts are aimed at trying to remove as much as possible the domineering creeping bent grass, so that space is created to encourage a variety of flowering species, which in turn provide breeding and feeding sources for butterflies, moths and bees.

Comparing these two forms of management as well as the species being planted will give us an indication of which mixture of species are best suited to the specific soil conditions of this site and which type of management gives better results. The teams joined in the experimental spirit and dug with all their might and determination.

IMG_3256

The team in action

Although we had expected the work to take up until 1.30pm, the scale of the dedicated and sizeable team that had assembled for the mission meant that everything was pretty much wrapped up by noon. By this time, the younger helpers were invited to take a little drive with the horses. Needless to say, the children absolutely loved it! The rest of the team were happy chatting in the glorious sunshine about what the site will hopefully look like in coming years and admiring Nobby and Heath.

IMG_3267

Getting a horse’s eye view.

Although the success of an event like this is never guaranteed, it can certainly be said that today’s was the result of some lottery success, most favourable weather and a fantastic local community, who are happy to be helping wildlife on Sutton’s doorstep. This project was made possible by a grant from the People’s Postcode Lottery, which was secured by the successful partnership between Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers and Sutton Council’s Biodiversity Team. This  means that the local community will soon be enjoying a host of wildflowers and the bees, butterflies and other wildlife that they will attract.

We’ll be running another planting day next spring, so please come along to that. We’ll provide more details next year!

By Sulam Deaville, Biodiversity Assistant

Advertisements

People’s Postcode Lottery – Grant funding award!

Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers have been granted a generous award by the People’s Postcode Lottery, as part of their Postcode Local Trust.

Continue reading

Task Programme – Out now!

The new task programme is now out: July – October 2016!

We’re continuing our summer season of botanical surveys, study days to help you brush up on your identification skills (continuing this Saturday with Butterflies) and more works at Queen Mary’s Woodland, including the first chance to get involved with the improvements to this new site through seeding the newly cleared areas and laying wildflower turf.

What better chance to get outside, laugh and learn do you need this summer?!

IMG_1592

Chalk grassland at Roundshaw Downs Local Nature Reserve

Our National Pollinators

Good lord, we’re well into March already. And after a balmy winter, Friday (4th) brought about the years first grass cut in my garden. After blowing out the cobwebs, cleaning the air filter and checking the oil and petrol, off we went on our quest to neaten the garden. However, unlike previous years, I noticed that I was far less gung-ho and far more slow-mow. Being more ecologically minded, I would peer over the mower, observe the forthcoming grass patch and grind to a halt, if I feared I would slice through the dreaded, detested and despised dandelion Taraxacum officinale. But why so cautious, in particular for a plant that when searching into Google ‘removing dandelion’, brings about 197,000 results and solutions?

DSCF2267

Marbled White butterfly feeding off Common Knapweed. Joined by a hoverfly.

Now that I’m an esteemed ‘Biodiversity Assistant’ with Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers and Sutton Council, I can ask whether I can tag along to events such as DEFRA’s ‘National Pollinator Strategy: Urban Knowledge Exchange Workshop’. This event attracted the nations leading Doctors and Professors,  key policy makers, top ecologists, respected biodiversity officers and of course, an esteemed biodiversity assistant.

The day brought to my attention the value and necessity of our urban landscape to our national pollinators. Bees, hoverflies, butterflies, moths and beetles, provide critical ecosystem services, i.e. benefits to humans from the environment. These include food production, as through transporting pollen from one plant to another, the production of British crops is ensured. The National Audit Office, estimate that the value of honey bees alone (in the UK) is worth around £200 million, based on pollinating strawberries, apples, pears and oil seed rape,  while the retail value of what they pollinate is considered to be around £1 billion. Yet, this doesn’t earn a mention in George’s illustrious budget review. A shame.

IMG_4810

Buzzzzzzzzz. A bee enjoying the riches of a red clover Trifolium pratense late in the season (17/09/2015)

Conservationally speaking, as well as their economic importance, pollinators ensure the functionality of a healthy ecosystem. Simply put, by pollinating flowers, flora diversity is maintained and this enables all the essential interactions between flowers and animals (i.e. food, nesting and breeding resources) to take place. When considering the health and well-being properties of the natural landscape and how pollinators positively impact this, the conservation of our national pollinators is most certainly in our interest.

Despite their relevance, it is understood that pollinator diversity and abundance is declining, due to a number of environmental pressures. Use of herbicides/pesticides, intensive land use and habitat loss are all believed to be contributing factors to their decline. However, urban environments, such as Sutton, have the potential to be incredibly important habitats for our pollinator species.

Research suggests that across farmlands, nature reserves and urban areas there was no significant differences between pollinator species diversity and flower visitor abundance. Additionally, bee species diversity was higher in urban areas than farmland! Importantly, this suggests that urban landscapes are becoming an increasingly important habitat, so how can we improve them?

Cuddington Flowers

Cuddington Meadows. An SNCV site that is fantastic for pollinators

Typical features of an urban landscape include: road verges, recreation grounds, parks, school ground, offices, gardens and churchyards. These can all be managed sympathetically towards the needs of pollinators. Ultimately, providing structural heterogeneity and improving floral diversity is essential. By improving these components, the habitat will provide suitable conditions for pollinators at different stages of their life cycle and provide pollen and nectar resources throughout the Spring and Summer months. Where appropriate, methods that are encouraged include the sowing of seed mixes and plug plants, followed by a reduced mowing regime, which will allow the plants to set seed and provide resources throughout the desired months. See here to learn more about methods of improving the urban landscape.

At the SNCV, we aim to provide suitable conditions that will enable pollinators to thrive. During my time here, I’ve learnt a variety of methods that aim to improve plant abundance and diversity; green-haying and cattle grazing at Roundshaw Downs, plug planting across our sites, Sheep grazing at Cuddington Meadows, while scrapes have been created at Therapia Lane Rough in order to remove undesirable species and promote the growth of chalk grassland species. In essence, our grasslands are managed in a way that seeks to promote plant diversity and abundance, that will in turn, provide valuable resources for bees, moths, butterflies, hoverflies, beetles etc.

Clearly pollinators are fundamental to our existence and therefore, we should be doing everything in our power to help them. With this in mind, the SNCV have a couple of exciting projects coming up this month! Through community conservation days, we aim to improve pollinator conditions by  plug planting at Roundshaw Woods and Carew Manor Wetland. At these sites, we will be planting suitable native plants, that have the most likely chance of surviving and thriving in these chosen habitats. For the SNCV, our main aim is to improve the conservation value of sites throughout Sutton, and by providing richer  pollen and nectar resources throughout the seasons, we hope we can achieve this.  In the years to come, through this work, we hope to develop areas that can be enjoyed by all things natural, including humans. So, if you have the time, do please come along to one of these community planting days.

Carew Manor

Carew Manor Wetlands. On the 30th March, the SNCV will be aiming to improve the surrounding wet meadow through plug planting. Please do come and join us!

Oh, and in regards to those dandelions, a study in Canada found that this plant species had one of the highest diversities of bee visitors, when compared with other present plant species. In the early Spring months (such as now) the dandelion provides a valuable nectar source for the early and opportunistic pollinators! So leave them be, for now anyway.

FOROS Poster-2

CMW Planting Poster-2

 

 

Roughin’ it in Ruffet and Bigwood

After my latest trip out with the Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers, I am now relaxing at home with aching biceps, feeling tuckered out yet exhilarated. Earlier today I have been putting my newly acquired tree felling skills to good use in one of Sutton’s precious woodland habitats. Yes, today we have been axe swinging in Ruffet and Bigwood. Check out some of our previous blogs for more information on the benefits coppicing has for nature: https://suttonnature.wordpress.com/tag/coppicing/

12573169_10153211235551651_3668549197953725565_n

Volunteers coppicing at Ruffet and Bigwood

Working with the SNCV every week gives me the opportunity to take my head out of my books, roll up my sleeves and get stuck in. I have learnt so much about ecology whilst volunteering and this has inevitably enriched my studies in biology.

The weather in recent days has been cold but beautifully sunny. Working in the long shadows with the sunlight beaming through the trees is magical and hard to find in everyday urban life.

I first started volunteering with the SNCV last spring and have since seen all four seasons and the changes they bring to our conservation areas and the native species dependent on them. I was initially drawn to the work of the Sutton Biodiversity Team and the SNCV because I wanted to spend more time outdoors.

On my second day out with the volunteers, I jumped at the chance of donning some waders and squelching around in the waters of Anton Crescent Wetlands. Although I was busy trying to stay upright, I caught glimpses of elusive wading birds among the reed beds, in their element in this carefully managed environment.

I remember how welcomed I felt on my first day and since then I haven’t looked back. The SNCV volunteers are friendly, supportive and keen to share their skills (and broken biscuits!)

In their company you can be yourself, as quiet or as chatty as you like, working in quiet contemplation or chatting away with a friend.

When the weather is rainy or cold, I can be tempted to stay at home in the warm but it never fails to amaze me how a day working outdoors makes me feel uplifted and invigorated, whatever the weather.

As a massage therapist, I appreciate the benefits of the natural endorphins (happy hormones) released during outdoor physical activity, which are great for the soul. There is no better remedy for the mid-winter blues.

As I relax at home, thinking about the trees we coppiced today, allowing sunlight into the woods, I know that soon my tired arms will be ready and raring to get to work again next week!

Ali Clarke- SNCV volunteer

941030_10153211235421651_7441163874782211784_n

Sun shining through Ruffet and Bigwood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brown Hairstreak

According to the authors of ‘Butterflies of Surrey Revisited‘, “finding an adult brown hairstreak is one of the most difficult tasks for a butterfly enthusiast”. As a fond admirer of the fluttering jewels, I must count myself very fortunate then, for in the Summer months I managed to catch a glimpse of two females, both by chance.

The UK status 

DSCF4460

The underside of a  female brown hairstreak, balancing on a yew ‘aril’ at Cuddington Cemetery

Sadly, these sightings are becoming rarer and rarer, as data collected by Butterfly Conservation suggests that their population has decreased by 40% from the period between 1995 – 2009. For this reason, the brown hairstreak was recognised as a (now archived) UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species. In other words,  it is a species experiencing rapid population declines and faces a high risk of regional extinction.

Reasons for this decline can be attributed to the loss of British hedgerow. Nationally, since 1945 over 121,000 km has been lost to make way for larger fields for agriculture and development. Importantly, blackthorn Prunus spinosa, a scrub species largely associated with hedgerows, is the main larval host plant for the brown hairstreak. Therefore, as blackthorn availability decreases, the opportunity for egg laying diminishes.

Brown hairstreak 21 (female)

The upperside of a female brown hairstreak

Research carried out by Merckx et al., (2010) highlighted the preferences of young blackthorn  growth for brown hairstreak egg laying. Additionally, their study suggests that altering the landscape structure from a linear to a scalloped pattern will create sheltered mirco-climates that will benefit the development of ecotothermic species. Therefore, by cutting mature stands of blackthorn in a rotational pattern to create these ‘scallops’, this will encourage young growth and provide conditions that are suitable for egg laying. Moreover, it seems that the brown hairstreak requires a habitat that is continuing to decline, and within that habitat, needs specific conditions for optimum growth. To create these conditions therefore requires sensitive management.

Curiously, adult brown hairstreaks will congregate around the ‘master tree’. A master tree serves the purpose of providing aphid honeydew, on which the adults feed on, and as a breeding site. I say curious, as research cannot determine why certain  trees are chosen as the master, for observations have recorded various ages and conditions of chosen trees. Most typically, these master trees are Ash Fraxinus excelsior (though they will use oak Quercus robur), and as these trees are critical for breeding, ash dieback Chalara fraxinea is an ongoing concern for the species . Moreover, the current condition of our UK ash, may also be contributing to the loss of brown hairstreak.

SNCV and the brown hairstreak

At the SNCV, a number  of sites that we work on are under the ‘Higher Level Stewardship’ (HLS) scheme. The HLS is a mechanism whereby land owners (such as Sutton Council) can apply for funding that will go towards restoring and/or conserving priority habitats and species. The government’s adviser to the natural environment, Natural England, will assess the site for suitability, i.e. whether they feel the site can successfully restore/conserve priority species and habitats. Moreover, on a number of our HLS sites, specific habitat management for the brown hairstreak  is ongoing and proving to be a great success.

Brown hairstreak 14 (female)

A female brown hairstreak egg laying on young blackthorn

Encouragingly, in the summer at Carshalton Road Pastures (CRP), we witnessed our first sighting of the brown hairstreak on site. This location hosts an extensive amount of blackthorn, which we have been scalloping since 2009. As well as a hot spot for blackthorn though, CRP appeared to be a Mecca for fly-tippers and a home for smashed sinks and disused armchairs. Thus, it was a very welcomed reward to see the brown hairstreak after shifting this mass of dross and comforting to know that despite these inconveniences, our target species was able to exist on site.

To add to the successes of our first sighting, during an egg search in December, we managed to find 6 eggs, neatly placed on the underside of young blackthorn branches. To any passers by, I can’t help but think that this must have been an odd sight. A group of folk, consisting of various ages, delicately poised between sharp blackthorn bushes, studying the underside of a twig, in the rain, in quest of an object that is the size of a grain of quinoa. To further this, the search for brown hairstreak eggs is also known as ‘streaking’. When I mentioned to my mother that I had been streaking at Carshalton Road Pastures, in the rain, with my boss, she looked at me bemused and slightly stunned. To this day, I still don’t understand why*.

BH_Egg8

Brown hairstreak egg at CRP

BH_Egg3

Brown hairstreak egg at CRP

 

IMG_0027

Brown hairstreak egg at Roundshaw Down

But what ever my mother thinks, finding eggs is fantastic news and it does not stop there. We’ve also seen brown hairstreaks across other sites in Sutton this year, such as at Cuddington Cemetery and Anton Crescent Wetlands, whilst Dave (Sutton’s Biodiversity Officer) also managed to find eggs on Roundshaw Downs during a search on Christmas Eve. Clearly, Santa thought Dave had been a good boy in 2015. Importantly, this highlights that with careful management and understanding of good science, the SNCV and Biodiversity Team carry out conservation work that is actually making a difference for some of Britain’s rarer species. By managing areas of blackthorn across Sutton in the ‘scallop’ fashion advocated by Merckx et al, we are improving  the ability for brown hairstreaks to breed on these sites and when dispersing across the landscape, to find other, suitable habitats. This *may* be increasing their distribution and population across Sutton. Therefore, when I said earlier that I saw two brown hairstreaks by chance, I think this maybe  more down to the work that the SNCV undertake.

Keep an eye out on the SNCV events page  where we will be running a butterfly day course in the summer. Similarly, if you want to learn more about butterflies, I’d suggest Butterfly Conservation who provide comprehensive information about our British Butterflies and very enjoyable blogs. You may also be interested to know about the Surrey and South West London branch of Butterfly Conservation, who provide local news and events for all things butterfly.

*correction – the search for brown hairstreak eggs is not actually referred to as ‘streaking’ – that was a joke.

Reed Beds

By November, I had assumed that our annual grass cuts had been completed, with our green hay spread, our seeds sown and our plugs planted. So surely it was time to put away the rakes and let them lay dormant until called upon in the Spring. Well, it appeared not, as there was one final grass that had to be attended to – the common reed Phragmites australis.

Reed beds are early successional wetlands that are formed by stands of one plant, the common reed. They tend to occur in open areas of freshwater and ditches, whilst also establishing themselves in brackish and tidal water, such as estuaries. Once the reed has colonised open water, plant litter gradually builds up, resulting in the drying of the habitat. Consequently, overtime these areas undergo natural succession from reed bed, to scrub, to woodland. Therefore, if we want to maintain a reed bed and its ecological and conservation value, then active management is essential. But what is the conservation significance of a reed bed?

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

Anton Crescent Wetland – A site with various habitats, including reed bed.

These habitats are among the most important areas for a number of Britain’s resident and migratory bird species. They support a distinctive assemblage of specialist species (meaning that they are entirely or largely dependent on this this habitat) including the; bittern Botaurus stellaris, bearded tit Panurus biarmicus, marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus, Savi’s warbler Locustella luscinioides, Cetti’s warbler Cettia cetti and the crane Grus grus – all of which are currently nationally rare, Red Data Birds. Further to this, reed beds provide roosting habitats for a number of our overwintering wildfowl and wading birds, whilst common reed seed provides a valuable food source for a number of our resident passerine species during the winter. Clearly, the diversity of rare avifauna associated with reed bed is extensive, which suggests why conservation of these habitats is so important.

As well as birds, British reed beds provides habitat for a number of globally rare invertebrates. Species including the reed leopard moth Phramataecia castanaea, a rove beetle Lathrobium rufipenne,  and the swallowtail butterfly Papilio machaon are all closely associated with reed bed conform to the GB Red Data Book and the IUCN red list. In addition, 40 species are known to feed exclusively on reed, whilst a wide range of invertebrates are strongly associated with reed, even if they do not feed directly upon it (i.e. spiders, who use it to spin their webs).

Unfortunately, across the UK, it has been estimated that up to 40% of reed bed habitats were lost between 1945 and 1990, predominantly through dredging for agriculture, deeming it a nationally scarce habitat. As a result, reed beds are considered a priority habitat for conservation in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.  Therefore, in Sutton, it is critical that we manage our small areas of reed bed effectively. But how do we do this?

Our main area of reed bed is at Anton Crescent Wetland, where the SNCV have been involved with management work on the site since 1989. Much of this work involves halting the natural succession of scrub and tree species – typically willow carr, brambles and nettles – thus ensuring that the common reed is the dominant feature of the wetland area.

R001-021

Anton Crescent Wetland – This picture shows the various habitats on offer at ACW. In the foreground we have the grassland, which we have spent time on plug planting, in order to improve the botanical diversity. The reed bed and willow carr dominate, while in the bottom right we have the areas of scrub.

According the RSPB’s extensive report on reed bed management – “Bringing Reedbeds to Life: creating and managing reedbeds for wildlife”, there is a clear method that increases the potential of improving the site for wildlife. The report states that:

  • older, drier parts of the reed bed support the highest overall invertebrate diversity and many invertebrates of conservation importance
  • early successional reed beds are essential for specialist invertebrate reed bed/wetland species
  • temporal and spatial variation in the habitat is key to maintaining and providing high flora and fauna diversity

Moreover, the reports suggests that by creating a heterogeneous reed bed, i.e. one that supports a structural diversity of reed of different ages and heights, the chances of improving the site for wildlife are greatly increased. Heterogeneity increases the diversity and availability of foraging, breeding, nesting and roosting resources, that can potentially host a range of species, thus improving the site for wildlife.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

Anton Crescent Wetland – This picture highlights the structural heterogeneity of the reed bed. In the middle left we have the mature reed (light brown patches). In the centre, the area of dark green is the young reed growth, which would have been cut back the previous autumn. The varying height structure and stages of growth are what we are looking for with our reed bed management.

In order to achieve this, under the guidance of Sutton’s Biodiversity Team, the SNCV carry out an annual rotational cutting regime of the reed. This involves selecting a patch of reed bed, scything down the reed and collecting the arisings. If left, nutrient enrichment will favour the growth of scrub species, while decomposition will also lead to the drying of the site.

Over the years, Anton Crescent Wetland has attracted a diversity of wetland birds uncommon in London, such as the water rail Rallus aqauticus, reed and sedge warblers (Acrocephalus scirpaceus and Acrocephalus schoenobaenus), reed bunting Emberiza shoeniclus, the over wintering green sandpiper Tringa ochropus and common snipe Gallinago gallinago. Importantly, these species prefer different stages of reed growth for survival. The water rail, for example, prefers shallow areas of open water for foraging, surrounded by dense reed beds for nesting and breeding.  While the snipe, a cryptic wader, requires areas  of 10-30cm tussocky vegetation for nesting and dense stands around muddy polls, so they can probe on the water’s open edge for foraging but then swiftly blend in with the vegetation when necessary . Further still, the areas of bramble and the reed bed provide lots of cover and feeding opportunities for small perching birds. House sparrows (Passer domesticus), great tits (Parus major) and blue tits (Parus caeruleus) are common visitors to the site. In the winter months, charms’ of gold finch Carduelis carduelis and   long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus) families chirp away harmoniously. Evidently, providing structural diversity and various stages of reed bed growth is attracting numerous bird species to our wetland site.

Thanks to the  fantastic effort (reed removal is a particularly tough task, with endless scything, wading through water and shifting great quantities of reed) of the SNCV, we are able to support these species, and it is hoped, that with our current management we will continue to discover more species within our reed beds.

Unfortunately, Anton Crescent Wetland is closed to the public. Though, withinthe M25 there are plenty of reed bed habitats, with sightings of bitterns being recorded in London every year since 1990! Other exciting reed bed visitors include the otter Lutra lutra, so it is worth exploring London to see these flagship species! For a list of London sights, click here. London Wetland Centre  and Rainham Marshes are certainly worthwhile days out. Also, Beddington Farmlands Bird Group offer open days to the public and always see exciting and regionally rare birds on their wetland site. There’s plenty out there to explore and see! Alternatively, if you’d like to help with the volunteer task days please get in touch at: sncvvolunteers@hotmail.co.uk.

 

Grazing Consultation – Wellfield South

Over the last few months, the London Borough of Sutton Biodiversity Team have run a small consultation on the potential grazing of Wellfield South, a 0.6ha site in Carshalton Beeches.

The Biodiversity Team are happy to report that the majority of respondents to our surveys are in favour of grazing Wellfield South. The briefs on the Phase 2 consultation background: Wellfield South Grazing Consultation – Phase 2 background and Phase 2 consultation results: Wellfield South Grazing Consultation – Phase 2 Results are available, just click the links to view! Option 2, (page 9 of the background document), a temporary paddock created through electric fencing was the preferred choice by respondents (61%).

Sheep grazing Wellfield West on Wednesday 4 November

Sheep grazing at Wellfield West on Wednesday 4 November

We are now in discussion with our grazers, the Downlands Partnership, as to when we are likely to be able to graze the site. Grazing by the Downlands Partnership in Sutton is autumn grazing but because all of the partners that the Downland’s supply around north Surrey with grazing animals want autumn grazing, it may mean that we can’t graze the site at this time of year, as animals are already munching away on other sites.

This inability to autumn graze, however, may not be such a bad thing. In the main, we graze animals on our grasslands in late summer and autumn to convert the nutrients in the grass into meat on the animals (ensuring the grassland remains low nutrient, ideal for scarce flowers) and to help distribute seeds around the site, through being caught in their fleece (or pelt for other grazing animals), hooves and dung. [In Africa, some plant species even produce seeds that look like the dung of antelope to trick dung beetles into rolling them away to bury, thereby ‘planting’ them in ideal conditions!]

When conservationists are dealing with a site like Wellfield South, one of the problems is that the grass species on site are tall and vigorous. This means that once the growing season really gets underway in late spring and early summer, the grasses grow tall (for false-oat grass Arrhenatherum elatius, this can be up to 3 1/2 feet (1.1m) tall). This creates shading to lower growing species, reducing light (and thus, energy) reaching many of the plants, as well as creating more humid conditions at ground level, which favours some species more, in general, than the indicator species we are looking to promote for a chalk grassland.

Common Centaury - an indicator species of low nutrient short grasslands

Common centaury – an indicator species of low nutrient short grasslands

One of the best ways to deal with this strong growth of coarse and tall grasses is to graze the site during the spring, as the sheep (or cattle), will preferentially take these coarser species when they are at their most palatable (i.e. young, tender and full of nutrients). We have to be careful that we don’t overgraze in spring, or graze repeatedly over many years, as that is likely to negatively impact on species which flower earlier. We don’t currently have early flowering species of conservation concern on site as yet but we want to ensure that if they start growing, we create favourable conditions for them.

The aim for Wellfield South is to spring graze over the next few years to reduce the tall grass growth and create a shorter summer sward (height of grasses and flowers), allowing wild flowers to grow with less competition. We will also aim to intersperse spring grazing with autumn grazing over the years to transport seeds caught in fleeces and dung from the better quality grasslands just down the road at Wellfield East and West.

The Biodiversity Team will place posters around the site prior to sheep going on and keep this blog and our social media sites updated with news as to when the sheep might be arriving, so do follow us to keep abreast of the latest news!

If you have any questions on the grazing of Wellfield South or any of our grassland sites, please do get in touch. We will be looking for additional stock checkers to help monitor the condition of the sheep on Wellfield South, once they go on, so if you are interested in receiving basic training in livestock management, give me a call or drop me a line!

David Warburton
Biodiversity Officer
david.warburton@sutton.gov.uk
020 8770 4203

Recruiting Now! Biodiversity Project Officer vacancy

Our partners, the London Borough of Sutton Biodiversity Team, are recruiting for a Biodiversity Project Officer. This is a full-time temporary contract (until at least November 2017). Salary range is £24,744 to £28,935.

Queen Mary's Woodland

Queen Mary’s Woodland

This role will be mainly linked to Queen Mary’s Woodland but will also undertake conservation work across the borough, including wetland and grassland habitats.

You’ve need at least 3-4 years professional experience undertaking habitat management, leading volunteers, undertaking botanical and faunal surveys and an understanding of the planning system and wildlife legislation.

For more details on the job role, please download the Job Description and Person Specification: Biodiversity Project Officer – JD & PS Oct.15

To apply and for all necessary information, please go to the London Borough of Sutton job pages.

For an informal discussion on the position, please contact Biodiversity Officer David Warburton on 020 8770 4203 or email david.warburton@sutton.gov.uk

We look forward to working with you!

Therapia Lane Rough – the wasteland.

Therapia Lane Rough is a site that has been swallowed by industrialisation. Nestled amongst a tram line, a suburban housing estate and an industrial builder’s yard, it is hard to believe that this site offers much for nature conservation. Upon first viewing this remains apparent. The site depicts a ‘wasteland’ where bramble is prevalent throughout, with areas of rough grassland and scrub separated only by concrete paths and concrete slabs. Appropriately, the rear wall is concrete, covered in graffiti and topped with barbed wire.

The rear wall. Behind here lies a large industrial yard.

The rear wall. Behind here lies a large industrial yard.

 Historically, Therapia Lane Rough was considered a ‘wasteland’, a typical term for an abandoned industrial site, which was once a common sight throughout London due to the damage inflicted from the Second World War. However, from a wildlife point of view, this site was far from a ‘waste’, as once upon a time, over 230 species of flowering plants were recorded here, making this one of the most diverse botanical sites in London. For this we have the British Railway and tram line construction to thank as it is believed that the ballast used during these developments contained alkaline substrates ideal for wild-flower establishment due to low nutrient levels.

Sadly, this site had been bereft of management for a number of years and has been largely unused by humans, apart from the odd fly-tipping. Consequently, the once diverse site has suffered from the encroachment of invasive scrub, ruderal grasses and Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica), thus suffocating the wildflowers which once flourished here. Importantly, the SNCV are assisting with carrying out a number of management practices which aim to stop this encroachment and return Therapia Lane Rough to a rich botanical site.

The site a couple of years ago. Thanks to the work of the volunteers, the site has drastically improved from this.

The site a couple of years ago. Thanks to the work of the volunteers, the site has drastically improved from this.

The SNCV gained full access to the site in 2007. After a Phase 1 survey of the site, the priority and invasive species were recorded, where management objectives could be determined based on these findings. Initial management focused on the removal of Japanese knotweed which had become dominant across the site. Once controlled, with available funding, we were able to create scrapes, which removes the top soil and therefore the roots and seeds of undesirable species, such as bramble (Rubus fruiticosus), goats-rue (Galega officinalis) and Japanese knotweed. Importantly, scrapes also unearth the soil substrate that is suitable for wild-flower establishment. Surveys from 1990 of the site, identified 27 native species that are considered rare in London and our management of these scrapes aims to re-store these species. So far this has proved a great success as we have seen the re-establishment of yellow vetchling (Lathyrus aphaca), restharrow (Ononis repens) and vervain (Verbana officinalis). 

restharrow: Ononis repens

restharrow (Ononis repens)

Through the instigation of scrub control, a seasonal mowing regime of the patches of ruderal grassland and the development of scrapes, the conservation value of this site can be raised considerably. Already there have been a number of positive developments as a Phase 1 survey carried out earlier in September identified a number of neutral grassland indicators, suggesting that wild-flowers are beginning to establish themselves once again. Further, kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) has colonised two of our scrapes, which offers potential egg laying habitat for the Small blue (Cupido minimus), one of our target species at the SNCV.

The team carrying out a Phase 1 Survey

The team carrying out a Phase 1 Survey

With these improvements, Therapia Lane Rough can become effective as a ‘stepping stone’ that will serve to enhance the connectivity of our sites and develop a ‘coherent and resilient ecological network’. In an urban environment, where habitats are often fragmented and isolated, ‘providing pockets’ of green space (like Therapia Lane Rough) is essential for nature conservation as the creation of these spaces contribute to a ‘wildlife highway’. Importantly, these ‘pockets’ and ‘stepping stones’ allows wildlife to disperse and re-colonise in an environment where habitats are continually being lost to modern day pressures and where species need to migrate northerly due to climate change.

Our kidney vetch scrape

Our kidney vetch scrape

Our kidney vetch scrape

Our kidney vetch scrape

Personally, these ‘wastelands’ are my favourite sort of sites. Upon first viewing, their features can appear insipid and leave a lot to be desired. However, as proved by the work of our volunteers, when guided by the management of Sutton’s Biodiversity Team, these sites offer real potential to become areas of considerable conservation importance. With our ever increasing  urbanisation, the harmonious juxtaposition of a ‘Site of Importance for Nature Conservation’ (SINC), buried amongst all things urban, offers hope that despite ongoing development, we can still protect nature effectively.

The forbidden fruit? Not quite. It was delicious.

The forbidden fruit? Not quite. It was delicious.

I must mention that I thoroughly enjoyed the apples on offer at Therapia Lane Rough. They certainly provided a much needed energy boost as concentration levels waned during the Phase 1 Surveying and bramble removal.