As usual this year we make our regular donation to Handicap International UK, an aid organisation who were active again over Christmas in the Philippines. In 2012 it was Typhoon Bopha causing landslides and then during November 2013 Typhoon Haiyan triggered catastrophic coastal flooding. Support HI(UK), check-out their website and give a Seasons gift. We are also providing a donation to the British Red Cross who are working to help the millions of homeless, starving people caught up in the Syrian war since 2011, with the UN estimating over 100,000 people killed and 9 million forced to flee their homes...
The cool spring postponed the creation of Wycherley Pond at East Surrey Hospital, which was required to mitigate for the partial loss of Brickfield Pond where Great Crested Newts breed. Dug in February it was eventually lined in April, planted-up in May with carefully selected native plants and had settled by November. Little Pond had a face lift this month with a new chestnut post-rail fence, replacing a dilapidated chestnut-pale fence installed during 2007. In November the new theatre over Brickfield Pond was all but complete, with a newly created boulder facade. On 16th December 2013 the new theatre opened...
Surveys during May on behalf of Barfoots Ltd. at a farm-site in Hampshire, identified an inactive badger sett entrance disused for many years, which was opened-up and active three months later during an August visit. This hole was the closest sett entrance to the application site and at about 5m from the application site boundary, appropriate mitigation and zoning had to be agreed through consultations with Hampshire County Council. To determine sett status Andy Rothwell set-up Mammal-Cam during late summer over a three-week period, confirming two to three badgers and a cheeky fox were using the sett! See the film-link for more.
In autumn Surrey County Council repaired a dangerous Bridleway, damaged and rutted by off-road users. Ruts were over 1m deep and had become colonized by Fairy Shrimps Chirocephalus diaphanous and Great Crested Newts Triturus cristatus. The Council decided to re-instate a new bridleway, keeping the old route rutted at the only known Surrey site for Fairy Shrimps. Photos show works to one of the deeper ruts, starting one dry morning in September, but following heavy rain, by the afternoon had already started filling with water. The site gets so water-logged the mini-digger nearly got stuck in one of these ruts!
In August 2013 we got very excited, confirming white-claw crayfish at two small remnant populations in a Surrey backwater. Quite by chance contractor Simon Knight, located the crustaceans during ditch maintenance earlier during winter. Upon checking out the site and another historic location nearby (see photos), the Environment Agency were very excited that their presence was confirmed. At this site 25 crayfish were observed during a one hour sample along a 50m section of stream. However, prospects are not good with American Signal Crayfish in surrounding river systems and across Surrey. Freshwater Invertebrate Survey of Suffolk have produced a useful ID-guide.
From February to December 2013 GPM Ecology conducted surveys, mitigation and consultations on behalf of National Trust to re-locate grass snakes and amphibians from a dam restoration site at Frensham Little Pond. The Pond was formed during the 13th century, in the reign of King Henry III, by building an ironstone wall across a shallow valley and damming a stream that rose from springs in Churt, several kilometres to the south. This ironstone dam had started springing leaks! During the restoration we worked closely with the National Trust and the contractors Webbs Ltd., re-locating grass snakes, frogs and toads.
GPM Ecology recently purchased signs from Sheen Botanicals for 4-Delivery, fitting them to compost bins on a Southern Water scheme where slow-worms were relocated from the path of a pipeline. Stating 'Slow-worms in residence, please do not disturb' the signs provide a warning to site managers that such compost bins need to be managed with care. They could also be used for GCN mitigation. At £5+VAT signs can be purchased direct from Sheen Botanicals, though they will make savings for bulk-buys. If organisations wish to make a block-booking do contact GPM Ecology, as we can contact associates promoting a bulk-purchase.
England suffered drought in spring 2012, which was thought to have caused delays in GCN breeding and surveys, with subsequent excessive spring rainfall (see March-news 2012). This spring surveys and mitigation did not commence until April, this time due to a cold winter extending into early-March. This impacted both mitigation-works and newt surveys, with East Surrey Hospital pitfall-trapping starting on 10th April finishing by 14th May, due to heavy frosts and snow during March (see photo). On other survey sites it meant that the season was condensed into a narrow survey-window, reducing the survey period from four to three months.
In April we were involved in conducting a water-vole survey of a ditch-system on farmland along the South Coast. During summer 2012 we had picked-up water-vole latrines and a burrow along a ditch that was subsequently cut to ground-level by April 2013, supposedly by the Environment Agency (EA). as part of flood-alleviation management, with possible impacts upon the water-voles (see photos). This is despite advice on ditch management supported by the EA. The tenant-farmer plans to talk with the EA to provide a more sensitive ditch maintenance regime, but our changing climate will remain an issue along flood sensitive catchments!
During February and March 2013 GPM Ecology was involved in conducting over-wintering wildfowl surveys associated with Solent and Portsmouth Harbour SPA (SBGWS). The birds utilise arable fields to roost or feed during high-tide. We surveyed two farm sites for over-wintering wildfowl this winter (see January-news). Normally such surveys would finish by end of February, but with the coldest March for 40 years, surveys were extended. No wildfowl, but brown hares were using these fields over-looking Portsmouth Harbour (see photo below) and colleague Andy Rothwell set-up a Mammal-Cam to see if they used holes on site, but alas got no sightings!
GPM Ecology has been involved with a 25% infill of a pond to accommodate new theatres at East Surrey Hospital. These essential works were granted a disturbance licence on grounds of exceptional circumstances, with concerns that healthcare could be impacted as a result of delays associated with Great Crested Newt mitigation. Natural England licensing staff and the NHS team worked closely to resolve the situation. The licence included creation of a new pond. The photo sequence below shows the efforts required to sensitively infill this pond, which took over 2-weeks during February to complete from drain-down to finished cap.
GPM Ecology has assisted a solar farm project in the New Forest, where an Estate is diversifying, having installed Photovoltaic Collectors into a former arable field (see news-item January 2011). The field will be maintained by sheep once grassland establishes and is expected to provide an overall ecological gain in comparison to conventional arable. Over-wintering bird-monitoring transect was set-up and commenced in January, with an invertebrate survey scheduled for the summer. The scheme will add directly to the National Grid. Photos show the recent installation of the PV Collectors and nearby Fawley Power Station over-looking the internationally important Calshott Marshes.