Booking System update

You may have noticed we have recently updated the booking system, making it more user friendly. As part of this work, we have also updated the URL (web page address) to https://suttonecology.getconnect2.com/. This works from our Events page, which works through both the Google calendar and for each event description, which requires booking.

If you have book-marked the old URL (http://37.188.117.158/suttonecology/),vthis no longer works, so please update to the new address!

In addition, you will also see that we have slightly updated the Terms and Conditions on the frontpage, to make them compliant with the new GDPR policies.

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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?!

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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CMW Planting Poster-2

 

 

Trees

I’m sure there have been many an iconic verse throughout the annals of history, dedicated to trees. Keats, possibly, Wordsworth, inevitably and Shakespeare almost certainly. I’ll be honest, I did think about searching ‘trees and Wordsworth’ in Google in order to bestow a deceitful intelligence upon myself and provide a nice opening sentence for this blog post on trees. But I haven’t, and I probably wouldn’t have understood it anyway.

“You’re so beautiful….like a tree” – Flight of the Concords (2007). As the esteemed musical icons suggest, trees are beautiful. As I stare into my garden on a drizzly Sunday, I see the dainty pink blossom that has erupted from the cherry plum Prunus cerasiferathe elegant white petals of a neighbors blackthorn Prunus spinosa and a shower of  plump yellow catkins, dangling on the hazel Corylus avellana. Though remarkably early, these features remind us that Spring is near and the days are getting longer. Wonderful.

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London’s largest plane tree Platanus spp. Or is it?

http://www.suttonguardian.co.uk/news/9386804.When_trees_go_to_war___debate_rages_over_the_tallest/

 

Ecosystem Services

Trees are not just lovely to look at of course, they provide numerous functions that are absolutely essential to our existence, functions termed ‘Ecosystem Services’. Of course, trees absorb carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, generate sugars for growth, and as a by-product release oxygen, oxygen that we can use to breath.

Additionally, in light of the recent flooding, there’s been a plethora of column inches dedicated to the roles trees can play in flood prevention, which is also backed by science. If this isn’t enough, studies have also suggested that trees can reduce the amount of harmful toxic particles in the air, (such as the one produced from our exhausts) as a result of their large porous surfaces. Still not enough? How about their role as natural air conditioners? Through providing areas of shade and the process of evapotranspiration (the equivalent of trees sweating), there is a thought that trees have the potential to cool our surroundings. Further still, as well as cooling our bodies, trees can also cool our minds. According to a study carried out by the Forestry Commission, there was a significant difference in the mean ‘mental wellbeing’ of tenants with high tree cover, when compared with tenants from a negligible tree cover. Similarly, patients recovering in hospital, recovered on average a day faster when their ward had a tree visible to them. And of course, trees play a critical role for wildlife, providing sources of foraging, nesting, breeding and shelter. Moreover, it seems fair to suggest that trees are important.

Trees and the SNCV

As of late trees have constantly preoccupied my mind. In fact, I think I have been directly involved with trees almost daily in 2016, whether that be with the SNCV, or practicing Vrksasana on Tuesday and Friday evenings .

With the SNCV, we began the year hedge laying at Anton Crescent Wetland (ACW). From a conservation point of view, hedgerow is an incredibly important habitat, and is essential for 47 species of conservation concern in the UK. Hedgerows act as corridors for the movement of populations and have the potential to increase the connectivity of populations from one habitat to another. Further still, creating hedgerow improves the structural heterogeneity at ACW. As a result, there is greater niche, resource and shelter availability, which should in theory attract a greater scope of wildlife. Resource and niche availability is further improved through hedge laying, as reducing the canopy cover will allow more sunlight to penetrate the understorey, which may benefit a greater diversity of ground flora.

By jove hedge laying is a skill! Thankfully, we had our hedgemaster, Sutton’s Biodiversity Officer Dave at hand. Our hedgerow consisted of a range of native species, hazel Corylus avellana, field maple Acer campestre, blackthorn Prunus spinosa,  ash Fraxinus excelsior and hawthorn Crataegus monogyna. Once ‘pleached’ (carefully thinning the tree to an angle where it will lay flat, yet not tear away from the trunk), our trees were delicately laid as we completed a fantastic, native hedge.

With hedge laying over, we have moved into the woodlands, Oueen Mary’s and Ruffett and Bigwood.  Thinning trees plays a vital role in conservation. Where areas are too shaded as a result of dense canopy cover, trees have been selectively thinned in order allow greater light to radiate the woodland floor. It is hoped, the this extra sunlight will benefit the wildflowers in the understorey, in particular species such as dog violet Viola riviniana, dog’s mercury  Mercurialis perennis and bluebells  Hyacinthoides non-scripta. In these woodlands, there is an abundance of ash Fraxnius excelsior and sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus, which is where most of our thinning was focused. Within the years to come, it will be fascinating the monitor the process of the extra sunlight!

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Winters day at Ruffett and Bigwood

Having enjoyed this work greatly, it has dawned on me that my tree identification is relatively embarrassing, especially with a title of ‘Biodiversity Assistant’ entrusted upon me. And so, with this woeful knowledge and with the help of two other SNCV volunteers (Adam and Alison), we have been tasked with mapping the trees of Sutton. We are literally putting trees on the map.

Referred to as the ‘Barc de Treeumph’, the three of us walk around Sutton, recording any tree species in a public space. With the information, Sutton Council’s Tree team can place some sort of value on their sites, whilst the SNCV have a greater understanding of the diversity, and conservation attributes of areas across Sutton. And most importantly, we’re learning how to successfully identify trees. Black buds, most definitely ash. Large green buds, sycamore. Hmmmmm, very small buds, black in colour, small hairs, blooming hec is that an elm, Ulmus spp.?  I think so. What about this one, quite a corky bark, small hairs, very small buds, black in colour. Oh, is it in an another elm?

I scored 8/10. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/01/can-you-identify-the-uks-most-common-trees

Importantly, Sutton’s Biodiversity Officer Dave, is hosting a Winter Id tree training day (which he’s probably put on for me), and promises to be an excellent and knowledgeable event! So do book on, and get identifying.

 

 

 

 

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 

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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.

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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.

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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*.

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Brown hairstreak egg at CRP

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Brown hairstreak egg at CRP

 

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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