Posted on 29 September, 2017Comments (0)

Wildlife Support & Conservation

Wildlife Support & Conservation

I am following up with a progress report following information published in the March issue of The Villager on mitigation for EPS Dormice, and the prototype of a Dormouse bridge on the SSSI site at Briddlesford Woods, on the IOW, owned by the PTES (Peoples Trust for Endangered Species).

Dormouse bridges: Although Dormouse bridges were set in place to provide connectivity for the Central Hedgerow at Medstead Farm (Four Marks) in April, access in the structures for all Dormouse bridges was not in fact made possible until August this year. As far as we are aware, all Dormouse bridges should have been erected by the end of 2016, and access should have been created. The site was checked during the week of 21 August while work was in progress, and photographs were taken.

Inspection Chambers: Dormouse inspection chambers for ecological monitoring have been constructed at the base of each Dormouse bridge support. Although thick rope spanning these bridges has now been wound into the hedges, it has to be noted that these inspection chambers are constructed with close panel wooden fencing with gravel boarding at the base. (Residents will have noted that each chamber is securely locked and bolted, so members of the public do not have access).

There remain only a few small gaps at the base of some structures, and consequently Dormice are only able to access some bridges and the central hedgerow arboreally. Gravel boards unfortunately also prevent Hedgehog access and have caused numerous problems for connectivity between gardens on new developments in our villages.

As we are aware, Dormice are mainly arboreal during the Spring and Summer months when there is plenty of foliage for cover and food is abundant in hedgerows. However, during Dormouse training with the Mammal Society, ecologists were also made aware that Dormice will occasionally come to ground to cross open spaces and roadways. In fact, it was noted that a thriving Dormouse population had been found living in a central reservation on a dual carriageway.

Hibernation: It is also important to note that, ‘Dormice hibernate on or under the ground from about October until March or April. They are thus affected by ground disturbance in Winter and early Spring’. (Dr. Pat Morris, Paul Bright and Tony Mitchell-Jones) Dormouse Conservation Handbook, Second Edition.

Replanted Hedge: Dormouse bridges erected for the central hedgerow span Lily Road, Beech Grove and Elm Tree Place at Medstead Farm, and should provide connectivity to a well established hedge. The hedge should have been replanted by the developer in order to comply with the Natural England licence. Unfortunately planting has been poorly done with saplings that have not survived spells of very warm weather this Summer, with little rainfall. In my view, this hedge now requires replanting with further mature, native species, e.g. Hazel, Hawthorn, Yew and Dog Rose, Bramble or Ivy, in order to provide sufficient cover and connectivity to the ancient hedgerow in Brislands Lane, on the southern boundary.

Hedgerow Brislands Lane: Additionally the hedgerow in Brislands Lane (Four Marks) also requires considerable infill around the Dormouse bridge, which has yet to be lowered. It was erected at its present height so that construction vehicles had access, but as the main access for all vehicles is now via Lapwing Way, the original height is no longer appropriate.

Hedgerow Western Boundary: Following the destruction of a large section of hedgerow on the western boundary, there has been substantial planting by Four Marks Parish Council. A suitable, five-bar gate has also been added where members of the public are now able to access the Recreation Ground through the development. These saplings will take years to mature and provide essential cover for Dormice, so we await the erection of another Dormouse bridge adjacent to the soak away, as noted on the site plan.

Monitoring: When these Dormouse bridges are finally monitored with cameras, post development, we shall hopefully hear whether they are a successful means of providing connectivity over roadways, and should be considered for Dormouse mitigation on other developments. However, I am not particularly optimistic as we are aware that Dormouse nesting boxes and habitats were destroyed by the developer during early clearance work.

Dust and Airborne Particles: Additionally and throughout the development phase, problems were voiced by residents at Liaison Panel meetings complaining about dirt and clay dust affecting their health. Airborne particles are known to affect humans, and small mammals may also have been affected in this respect.

Dormice: Dormice are also know to be particularly affected by ‘habitat deterioration and fragmentation’ as well as inappropriate habitat management. ‘For these reasons they are highly vulnerable to local extinction. They are consequently good bio-indicators of animal and plant biodiversity; where Dormice are present, so are many other less sensitive species’. (DCH as above).

Dormice noted to be present in the SINC meadow, to the north of the development, have not had the opportunity to access the open countryside for some years. Consequently they may have become a typically, isolated and unsustainable population due to inbreeding.

Licences: I have been asked who is responsible for enforcing a licence. The Police (Wildlife Protection officers) say it is the responsibility of the licensing body, i.e. Natural England, but they will help NE enforce licences if necessary. Dormouse specialists are however in no doubt that the responsibility lies with the developer contracting a suitably qualified ecologist, and applying for a licence to carry out the work.

The local planning authority and enforcement may lack evidence and be unaware of any problems, unless Parish Councils, residents and others attend Liaison Panel meetings, or something comes to light.

Licensing Issues: The main problem appears to be the developer’s contract (work commissioned with the ecologist) and calling the ecologist back to site to carry out and supervise work in order to comply with the terms of the licence. Equally the ecologist may feel unable to complain if not called back to site, especially if the developer is a well-known house builder who may end his contract, or refuse to give him further work. The process is unfortunately money driven, and wildlife suffers as a consequence. On this occasion we have been able to watch development on site quite closely at Medstead Farm. The main focus is naturally on road building, construction, etc., and selling new houses, so again profit and money driven. Obviously all companies need to be profitable, but surely there is no reason why work to protect and enhance wildlife habitats could not go hand in hand with building and construction work. We can only hope that mistakes will not be repeated on other developments.

Bats: We are members of the Bat Conservation Trust and work with the Hampshire Bat Recorder and his team of volunteers whenever time permits. We invested in a Bat Detector which will pick up Bats flying at dusk via echolocation. Several were spotted in Blackberry and Telegraph Lane, in Four Marks, but due to tree felling and problems with outdoor lighting, none have been recorded this year. Information on Bats and Bat species can be found on the website, www.wildlifesupportandconservation.org .

Bats in Churches: Bats are often found in old churches, and by working with Bat Conservation, bats and people can share places of worship. Many medieval churches have Bat roosts, and at least eight of the 17 species use churches. Maternal colonies often use the southern aisle as a warmer area, and select cracks and crevices in walls and woodwork, while others prefer to hang freely, and need more space to ‘take off’. During Summer months roofs and eaves can house maternity colonies and hundreds of Bats. However, Bat colonies in most churches are often smaller and congregations are often unaware of their presence.

It is important to note that Bats are very clean mammals, and their urine and droppings cause no risk to human health. However, Bat urine can corrode metal, and stain fabrics, alabaster and marble. Occasionally Bats may fly around a church at dusk or if woken up by noise. As British Bats have declined dramatically in recent years, they are protected by law and their roosts cannot be destroyed. Any building or repair work in churches or old buildings needs to be carried out sensitively to ensure Bats and their roosts are not harmed. For support and advice, churches can contact the National Bat Helpline on 0345 1300 228.

Diana Tennyson

[Please note that this message is not posted on behalf of Bentworth Parish Council and does not necessarily reflect the Parish Council’s policy]

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