Posted on 21 September, 2016Comments (0)
Wildlife Support and Conservation
Wildlife Support & Conservation: We celebrate our sixth birthday in September, and almost nine years since I teamed up with ‘Fight for Four Marks’. Most of the committee members are now working for the good of the community or with the Parish Council, and Ingrid Thomas has become our very popular, and industrious, District Councillor.
WS & C evolved following the distribution of wildlife surveys for the Biodiversity Action Plan, which became the Community Plan. We then all moved forward with counsellors and residents in Medstead and Four Marks to work on our very successful Neighbourhood Plan which went to referendum earlier this year.
Wildlife protection: Following the distribution of wildlife surveys in 2010, we received so many complaints and concerns for wildlife and habitats, especially during the development process, it was time to take action. Few people are aware, often until it is too late, that wildlife has no protection during the development process, either before a landowner submits a planning application, during land clearance and development, or post-development.
Three developments in Four Marks and Medstead are mentioned in the August issue, each with various issues relating to wildlife and disturbance.
Wildlife mitigation: This has become an unpopular word in our villages. It trips easily off counsels’ tongues in court because ‘in mitigation’ there could usually be found a plausible reason why a defendant had committed a crime, or behaved out of character. However, in the development process this word takes on a very different demeanour. Mitigation literally means to lessen the intensity of something rather unpleasant, or to minimise the impact and reduce the severity of exposure to risk. Hence this unpopular word crops up in almost all planning applications where wildlife, flora or fauna, are concerned.
Translocation: In planning terms, most of us have become aware that this relates to moving, or translocating, i.e. habitat translocation, or a species (protected or otherwise), i.e. a plant, tree or hedgerow out of the way, or to another location. Sometimes this works and we might breathe a sigh of relief when it does, but it can also fail to the point that the plant or species is destroyed in the process. Translocating our local, rare orchid, the Violet Helleborine, is clearly not possible despite suggestions that it might be! Enhancing and infilling hedgerows, replacing or repairing Dormouse nesting boxes, setting Bat boxes in place, etc., when wildlife has disappeared, is akin to creating a wildlife garden when all the species have gone, and only a handful of pollinators and a few wild birds remain.
Wildlife and Habitat conservation: Sadly, Bat roosts, Badger setts, hedgerows and trees with nesting birds, and reptiles, are often destroyed before a landowner makes a planning application, and contracts with an ecology company to survey and mitigate for wildlife on site. The Wildlife and Countryside Act clearly states that anyone destroying or disturbing wildlife is breaking the law, so if readers see a tree being felled, or a hedge being cut any time of day or night, or at an inappropriate time of year, we are all entitled to call the Police. The tree or hedgerow may also have a TPO, Tree Preservation Order!
Many of our supporters keep watch over fields, hedgerows and woodland deemed to be ‘at risk’. I recall standing in front of an outlying Badger sett awaiting the arrival of the Police in 2011. They prevented a tractor and flail mower operator from destroying wildlife noted on site by the ecologists. I would not hesitate to do the same thing today!
Medstead Farm: The final Liaison Panel meeting took place in early September. We were all assured that fencing would be set in place on the western boundary to protect the newly planted hedgerow, and that the ecology company contracted with the developer, Charles Church/Persimmon, would be back on site to deal with protected species under licence from Natural England, and ‘conditions’ in respect of reptiles. Contact details for Persimmon’s Contracts Manager have also been Emailed to their ecologist, so that a list of recommendations can be forwarded, following a site visit on 11 July. Wildlife packs have also been delivered to residents with information for local species, including the Hazel Dormouse. A Dormouse leaflet provided by the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) enabled one new resident to confirm a Dormouse sighting in a garden backing onto the 15 metre buffer with the SINC.
Wooden Panel Fencing: This type of fencing now defines the boundary of the final property to be completed at Medstead Farm. Gravel boarding attached to the bottom of fencing panels prevents wildlife access for small mammals, and therefore not wildlife friendly. While erecting the fencing, the contractor also cut down saplings and new growth in the hedgerow, property of the Parish Council. We have recommended green, post and chain link fencing as a more suitable alternative for areas where this hedgerow has been breached.
Wildlife-friendly gardens: We have been invited to several large, wildlife-friendly gardens this Summer. Wood and post fencing is clearly suitable for the boundary of SINCs, for Roe Deer access. Space has also been made for Roe Deer, and Badgers naturally create their own mammal paths. While standing in one garden a doe and fawn casually walked across to access the woodland and meadow beyond.
I also looked at another very impressive wildlife garden, with adjoining meadows, in Willis Lane. One meadow with a formidable amount of nettle beds supports a large number of butterfly species, so a return visit is planned for next year. Ponds on site are important habitats for amphibians, Dragonflies and Damselflies, and other aquatic species. The hedgerows are also suitable habitat for Dormice which have also been noted on site. This garden and surrounding meadows also provide excellent habitats for Tawny Owls, Barn Owls, Bats and Badgers.
Nocturnal Wildlife: Tawny Owls are fairly dominant in our villages, but we also noted the Little Owl in Four Marks and Medstead this year. This small owl can sometimes be seen in daylight, either in trees or on telegraph poles. The Little Owl population in the UK has reduced by twenty-four per cent, between 1995 and 2008, according to the RSPB. A Barn Owl once frequented Medstead Farm, prior to development. A Barn Owl has also been seen hunting in fields surrounding this estate, and fields on the boundary with Barn Lane.
Chawton House Library: We re-visited the house and gardens this Summer. The gardens and grounds are still in a process of restoration and a great deal has been achieved. ‘The promotion of nature conservation and ecology to create a wide diversity of the land and wildlife habitats remains a constant principle.’ Edward (Austen) Knight had originally built a walled garden. Sadly it was not completed until after Jane Austen’s death.
Herb Garden: As well as an organic vegetable garden, a new herb garden was officially opened on 14th July. The garden is a tribute to Elizabeth Blackwell, an 18th century herbalist, author of the second volume of ‘Curious Herbal’. This book can be viewed on request at the Library. The garden is important for pollinators with abundant herbs planted in beds between gravel pathways which connect to a central, wooden seating area.
Apple and pear trees heavily hung with fruit border the central pathway, and a wonderful display of Sunflowers adorn the old brickwork. Bee hives are now visible where the old glasshouses once stood. There are plans to eventually reinstate the Regency glasshouses.
Hazel Dormouse Decline: Sadly we note that the UK’s population of Dormice has fallen by a third since 2000, and have disappeared from seventeen counties during the 19th century. Dormice are a very good species indicators for animal and plant biodiversity. They are also part of an ancient group of rodents dating back more than 40 million years. Some work has been done to reintroduce this species, e.g. The Perch at Cheddar Gorge where I trained with the Mammal Society.
The PTES manage the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, and volunteers have collected 100,000 records. The Hazel Dormouse was once a familiar sight in our countryside, but over the last century numbers have declined dramatically due to loss of woodlands, hedgerows, and changes to farming and woodland management. Climate change is also thought to be a contributory factor. According to the PTES, the species is now noted to be rare and, ‘vulnerable to extinction’. We continue to do our best to protect this species in Four Marks where it is noted to be present in SINC hedgerows, at Kingswood Copse and in hedgerows and byways.
State of Nature Report: We noted worrying declines in species in the first State of Nature Report last year. The second report is due to be launched by Sir David Attenborough and various UK conservation charities on 14th September, so a further update will be provided next month.
[Please note that this message is not posted on behalf of Bentworth Parish Council and does not necessarily reflect the Parish Council’s policy]