You could almost be forgiven for thinking that the UK missed spring this year given the glorious sunshine that we had. However, some things can’t have been missed such as the breeding birds and the brightness of the new leaves on the trees. Wildlife sightings within the Wichelstowe site this spring include deer, herons, mallards, moorhens, grasshopper warbler (red listed bird species) and reptiles.
Spring works 2011
Spring indicates the start of the ecological survey season for Ecosulis at Wichelstowe. Surveys that commenced in spring include: great crested newt surveys, an annual habitat assessment, Indian balsam surveys and water vole surveys.
Ecosulis’s countryside management team also regularly attends the site to undertaken maintenance of the temporary and permanent amphibian fencing and to provide an ecological watching brief within sensitive areas.
Great Crested Newt Surveys – Wichelstowe supports a network of ponds and water bodies, and every year these are surveyed for amphibians, including great crested newts. Great crested newt surveys have been undertaken for over ten years to monitor the newt populations on site. This data is used to determine any management that needs to be implemented on site as well as to inform the European Protected Species licences in respect to development for the Wichelstowe site. Great crested newts have been recorded within some of the ponds this spring; however, it will be interesting to see how the hot and dry weather has affected breeding success (surveys in later summer will give an indication).
Annual Habitat Assessment – Wichelstowe supports a variety of habitats including farmland and pasture, hedgerows, mature trees, water bodies and watercourses. The annual habitat assessment is undertaken every spring to map any change in habitat distribution and to inform the on-going management of the site and future reserved matters planning applications.
Indian Balsam Surveys and Control – Indian balsam surveys have begun on site, focusing on Wroughton Brook. Indian balsam (also known as Himalayan balsam) is a non-native invasive species listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. These surveys form part of a long-term control strategy for Indian balsam on site, and will continue throughout the summer months. The results of early surveys in 2011 suggest that control measures implemented by Ecosulis in 2010 have been successful with far less Indian balsam being recorded. Ecosulis’s Indian Balsam Control Strategy continues to be implemented by Ecosulis Countryside Management including hand pulling, strimming and burning the plant growth.
Water Vole Surveys – The annual water vole surveys have begun on site. The Wichelstowe urban extension site supports several watercourses, which continue to be surveyed annually for signs of water vole including latrines, burrows and feeding remains. The Wichelstowe urban extension site has historically supported water vole populations on a number of its watercourses. Signs of otter, including spraints and holts will also be noted during the surveys.
Spring saw the appointment of LDA Design to provide Swindon Borough Council comprehensive, proactive and commercially aware urban design and planning services at Wichelstowe. Ecosulis is working alongside the urban designers to ensure that ecological is fully considered early in the design process and that opportunities for biodiversity gain and green infrastructure are maximised, whilst not compromising the overall development objective.
Surveys still to commence on site
Badger Survey – A badger survey is due to commence on site in the next few weeks which will monitor the badger populations and setts on site. Several setts have historically been recorded on site and will be assessed according to their current size and activity levels. Other signs of badgers, including latrines and snuffle pits (foraging signs) will also be recorded during the survey. This data will go onto inform the design process and future planning applications.
This issue of Wichelstowe Wildlife News includes an outline of recent spring works undertaken in 2011. For a brief introduction to Wichelstowe and other ecological works undertaken to date, please refer to earlier issues of Wichelstowe Wildlife News.