At the end of November 2015 GPM Ecology assisted with tweaking the landscape design to gain Ecology-credits during the construction of a McMillan Day Centre at East Surrey Hospital. We provided advice on encouraging wildlife into the garden and mitigating for the loss of a remnant hedge-line present for at least 150 years and largely removed in the 1980’s, when the hospital was constructed. This year we are giving a donation to the MacMillan Nurses supporting nurses and patients in need of support across the Country. Season greetings and good luck for 2016 and beyond to the MacMillan Nurses.
An Ecological Management Committee meeting towards the end of 2015 met for the third year running, to consider the ecological benefits that solar can bring to a farming landscape. The fix-point photography show the muddy field in 2014, subsequently grazed in 2015. The amount of sheep grazing was over the stipulated 1 per ha and while it was agreed to keep this current level of stock, the site managers agreed to fence-off areas from being grazed, to allow a variation in habitats to grow. Further studies are needed to determine whether solar fields can present an opportunity for ecological gain.
During 2015 Natural England started looking at streamlining the planning process regarding Great Crested Newts (GCN). Gareth attended a seminar on the proposals for a pilot in Woking Borough, Surrey. For those Planning Authorities who sign-up, GCN distribution will be assessed (using eDNA, egg-search and other basic sampling techniques), with a strategic approach to the planning system, including planning zones according to important and less important areas/zones for GCN. While the proposals sound like a sensible solution to the planning 'head-ache' GCN currently cause, Local Government Ecologists (see letter below) had concerns about the detail and deliver-ability of the scheme.
At an arable site in Oxfordshire three previous surveys over the last eight years during flowering period, have failed to locate the legally-protected rough marsh-mallow Althaea hirsute. Last observed at this site in 1995 it is now considered likely to be absent. We did record dwarf spurge Euphorbia exigua, corn parsley Petroselinum segetum, rounded-leaved fluellen Kickxia spuria and small toadflax Chaenorhinum minus locally common, declining arable plants. Plantlife developed a scoring system to determine 'Important Arable Plant Areas' depending upon their species assemblage, 33-44 being a Country Important Site, but this site only scores 13, with these four arable indicators.
Barfoots received planning permission to increase vehicle movements to an Anaerobic Digester Plant in Hampshire. County Ecologists were concerned about the impact upon the woodland road verge, which required Highway Safety Maintenance works. It was agreed that Photo-monitoring would take place over the next three-years to determine whether the maintenance works has provided good habitat for dormice. Andy Rothwell’s box monitoring represented bad news for the local population, with a drop in occupancy from 40% in 2013 to 28% (2014) and a further drop to 2.5% in 2015. Also, in August we conducted some woodland maintenance for Dormice in Surrey.
Bentley Village Pond is a Site of Nature Conservation Interest, on account of supporting a large Great Crested Newt population, with a peak count of 114 GCN during surveys from 2007 to 2011. During spring we made contact with Bentley Village Pond Warden and following surveys recorded a peak of 4 GCN. We subsequently arranged a pond task between Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARCT) and Bentley Parish Council, spending a day clearing the former intake, duckweed from the pond surface and removing shady trees around the pond margins. The task was videoed by naturalist and film enthusiast David Myers.
In June 2015 GPM Ecology was commissioned to conduct a Great Crested Newt (GCN) survey at historic GCN ponds in Morden Park, Merton. It was too late for traditional survey techniques, so we commissioned Surrey Wildlife Trust Ecological Consultancy to assist with environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis of a pond near a new Leisure Centre development. Unfortunately the target pond had completely dried-up soon after booking the eDNA kit, making it impossible to take water-samples. However, we were able to survey another pond nearby created by Froglife (2012) to determine whether GCN had colonised this pond. The eDNA test proved negative.
In 2015 we conducted 10 Great Crested Newt (GCN) surveys, three supporting GCN. A scheme in Ifold involved re-visiting two garden ponds last surveyed in 2009, with peak counts of 2 (small garden pond, see Photo) and 1 GCN (new balancing pond), a low population status. By 2015 the population increased to a medium status, with respective counts of 8 and 42 GCN in the two ponds. A further 1m x 2m pond constructed in 2013 supported a peak of 4 GCN. Elsewhere a failing population was recorded in Bentley, Hampshire and a large population in Holmbury St. Mary, Surrey.
At the end of 2014 we attempted to commence a rescue to remove slow-worms from a Housing Association site in Eastleigh, where we had recorded a super-dense population of slow-worms, with a high count of 42 adults under 25 refugia on this 0.05ha plot. This is equivalent to a density of 840 slow-worms per ha. We were expecting to catch large numbers, but were surprised to catch only 47 animals in a total of 14 visits (with 150 refugia) rescued from 31st March to 21st April, with adults released into compost bins provided for new residents and juveniles relocated off-site.
Barry Kemp of Sussex Amphibian and Reptile Group purchased Enkamat, a rubberised flexible sheet that amphibians can grip, with research showing that it works as a retrofit allowing trapped amphibians to climb out of gully-pots. Danial Winchester, Amphibian Officer of Surrey ARG was aware of a toad-crossing in Cobham, Surrey where gully-pots were entrapping toads and newts. A SARG team (Danial, Jamel Guenioui and Gareth) assisted toad-warden Joanna Rutherford during March 2015 to install strips of Enkamat (purchased from Sussex ARG) within gully-pots adjacent ponds. Joanna since reported that 'fewer toads appear to have been caught in gully-pots this year'.
GPM Ecology assisted the National Trust to assess the usage of a toad tunnel and status of toads at Lower Pond, Petworth Park during 2014 and then again in 2015, grant-aided by Arun and Rother Rivers Trust. A maximum of 83 toads were seen at Lower Pond in 2014 and no toads were observed crossing the road or using the tunnel. Andy Rothwell set-up a Mammal-Cam during March over a two-week period during toad migration. Alas no toads were found to use the tunnel, but six species of mammal, including water-shrew were seen at the tunnel entrance! See the film-link for more.
In November 2012 we discovered Dormice at a coppice woodland site in Hampshire. This January we re-visited the site and Andy Rothwell compiled the two-year interim monitoring. In total 28% of boxes had dormice activity in 2012, rising to 40% in 2013, but dropping again to 28% in 2014. Barfoots Anaerobic Digester is up and running, with a landscape scheme consisting 1.5ha of newly planted native woodland around the site, providing habitat for dormice to colonise in years to come. Road safety works could help rejuvenate over-shaded hazel coppice (15-20 years old in places), a possible reason for Dormice decline.