Thursday, 21 February 2013

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” - Autumn/Winter habitat conservation

River Mole floodplain grassland during most of the summer

The ecological field surveying at Gatwick came to a close in autumn 2012 and it was declared one of the wettest summers on record... So a rather problematic first field season for me, then again even some of the hardiest ecologists I met along the way were suffering from dampness-doom! But enough about the wash-out summer, what then goes on during the autumn and winter once the final reptile and grassland surveys have been carried out?

The focus then switches to our first set of actions outlined in the Biodiversity Action Plan. From hedgerow-restoration to dormouse box installation, a new grass-cutting regime to scrub and woodland coppicing, we have now got the ball rolling on improving these habitats to benefit biodiversity. 

 Glade creation in Upper Pickett’s Wood with JS Agriculture

They say that a rolling stone gathers no moss, but what about when it hits the mud? ‘Challenging’ is the word I would use to sum up this conservation task season! There was very little chance for the land to dry out over summer, so the autumn and winter kept all our natural areas in the constant state of wetland. Habitat management became expeditions with teams of people, heavy equipment and large vehicles which were needed to get as close to a boggy woodland ride as possible. When four wheels wouldn't cut it, trucks were abandoned and it was down to the trusty wheelbarrow...

                  Weather-hardened Gatwick Greenspace Partnership Volunteers and JS Agriculture workers

However vehicles and equipment have their limits… 

A shuffle of our action plan schedule and we crack on with an alternative task. When it comes to biodiversity works it is a case of adapt to survive!

Our main habitat and conservation works this past autumn and winter:
•             Grassland cutting and collecting
•             New stock-proof fence and gate installation
•             Dense woodland and young plantation coppicing/thinning
•             Footbridge and fingerpost installation on public footpaths
•             Creation of woodland glades and opening up woodland rides
•             Hedgerow restoration and hard cutting-back
•             Rotational scrub coppicing
•             Pond and stream bank scrub management
•             Black Poplar tree planting along the River Mole
•             Habitat creation: nest boxes for dormice, hibernacula for reptiles and amphibians, dead-hedging and piling up deadwood for invertebrates

Gatwick Greenspace Partnership battling on in the rain, Horleyland Wood

 JS Agriculture carrying out bankside management of ponds (LERL)

                          British Airways Engineering Volunteers plantation coppicing

                                     (who had the inside info on the weather?)

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Winter bird survey

A joint effort by Rachel Bicker of JS Agriculture and Tom Forward of Gatwick Greenspace Partnership.

River Mole, north of the runway

On Monday we completed our final winter bird survey at the North West Zone. The River Mole was in spate, spilling out onto its floodplain, and the weather was bordering on blizzard conditions. However the birds were still pretty active and we recorded 25 different species which is not far off our usual count of around 30. 

  The floodplain, doing its job

Conspicuous by their absences were Fieldfare, Redwing and Reed Bunting which had been abundant in our early winter survey. Also recorded earlier this winter along the Mole, were Water Rail and Teal. We had also hoped to flush a Common Snipe which had been recorded last week further along the Mole in Horley. They like to probe for invertebrates in the soft ground created by flooding, but no luck on this occasion.

Little Grebe -

The highlight for me was a new tick for our Gatwick bird survey… A Little Grebe bobbed up in the river about 20m in front of me and left me rather perplexed. This is a type of small diving bird which is a lovely reddish brown colour. Whenever I see something I’m not sure of, I suddenly find I lose all ability to describe or explain, so this is what I helpfully called out to Tom: “Quick, Tom! A braaaaahhn thing!” It then of course completely vanished, but somehow he knew from that vague description what I was getting at. Luckily it popped up again later on and so Tom was able to confirm it. 

Our transect route in the North West Zone

Sunday, 10 February 2013

An introduction to Gatwick’s Greenspaces...

Gatwick Airport, its boundaries and our two main zones of conservation focus

Gatwick Airport is its own thriving town or city; just ask anyone who works here. It also happens to be an island surrounded by the beautiful Sussex and Surrey countryside; a very rare position for such a large specimen of airport... If you take an OS map you may be surprised by the amount of undeveloped land which exists here, also the number of public footpaths passing through habitats such as woodland, grassland, floodplain meadow and wild ponds. With such a range of habitats the resulting variety of wildlife is quite astounding, and seemingly unperturbed by busy air traffic. I am continually updating Gatwick’s wildlife records database which we began in summer 2012 (anyone who enjoys a spot of data entry do drop me a line) and I am excitedly anticipating what we might find each season. These records are shared with our local biodiversity record centres which collectively hold copious information on the species and habitats of the UK.

River Mole North of the runway

Our ultimate goal is to protect and improve what we can in terms of the existing natural habitats and species diversity on Gatwick landholdings. Over the decades Gatwick Airport has become ever busier, but equally people have been working ever harder to preserve its greener zones. Thanks largely to volunteers from the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership, the British Airways Engineering volunteers, the Sussex Wildlife Trust, helpful individual naturalists and the companies JS Agriculture Ltd and Ecology and Habitat Management Ltd, we are now making a concerted combined effort to achieve The Wildlife Trust’s Biodiversity Benchmark Award. 

                                Grassland and woodland habitat along the River Mole