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?)