Evidence of autumn is beginning to appear on Wichelstowe as the weather becomes colder and the evenings draw in. Wildlife is still abundant, with several species preparing for cold weather and winter hibernation. Wildlife sightings this summer have included underground bee nests, herons, mallards, deer, foxes and rabbits. A juvenile adder was also sighted near the disused railway cycle path just off the Wichelstowe site– this is a first for Wichelstowe as this species has never been recorded on site before.
Summer Works 2011
Summer surveys are drawing to a close for this year as the ecological survey season comes to an end. Surveys undertaken in summer include badgers, water voles, otters, Indian balsam and great crested newt larvae recruitment surveys. Bat box monitoring has also been undertaken, which includes bat boxes positioned along the River Ray.
Ecosulis’s Countryside Management team also regularly attends the site to undertaken maintenance and removal of the temporary and permanent amphibian fencing, implement the Indian Balsam control strategy, and to provide an ecological watching brief within sensitive areas.
Badger Survey – Wichelstowe supports large areas of suitable habitat for badgers, and several badger groups have historically been recorded using the site. The badger survey was undertaken to determine any changes in badger groups/setts and to inform on-going management and mitigation. Badgers are still present on site, with several main setts and high activity levels recorded on site. Wildlife corridors incorporated into the masterplan for the site will ensure that badgers can access large areas of high quality foraging habitat to ensure the longevity of badger groups on site.
Indian Balsam Surveys and Control – Indian balsam surveys have continued on site, focusing on Wroughton Brook. Indian balsam (also known as Himalayan balsam) is a non-native invasive species. The results of surveys in 2011 suggest that control measures implemented by Ecosulis in 2010 and spring 2011 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. The Highways Agency, Environment Agency and Wiltshire Wildlife Trust have been provided with a copy of the control strategy to ensure that this is integrated into other plans within the catchment area.
Water Vole and Otter Surveys – The annual water vole surveys have been completed on site. Signs of water vole including latrines, burrows and feeding remains have been recorded on several watercourses at Wichelstowe, including the canal and several ditches where water voles have not historically been recorded. The Wichelstowe urban extension site has historically supported water vole populations on a number of its watercourses and surveys suggest that some watercourses are only used occasionally as part of the wider network. Signs of otter, including spraints, were also recorded on several watercourses during the surveys
Great Crested Newt Recruitment Surveys – The dry weather experienced this year has resulted in very low water levels and dry ponds nationwide. Great crested newts were still recorded within some ponds in spring despite the dry conditions; however most of the ponds have completely dried out making it difficult to determine breeding success during the recruitment surveys undertaken in August and September 2011. Ponds that dry out occasionally are however still suitable to support great crested newts and great crested newt surveys in 2012 should give an indication of how dry conditions this year have affected the newt populations on Wichelstowe.
Bat Box Monitoring – Bat boxes were installed along the River Ray as part of the East Wichel development plan. These provide suitable summer and hibernation roosting opportunities for a range of bat species. Evidence of roosting bats has been recorded on most of the bat boxes, particularly staining which is a result of bats entering the box to roost. The bat boxes will remain in place indefinitely and in combination with built-in bat tubes installed on the exterior of the new housing at East Wichel will provide high quality roosting opportunities for bats.
Contract 4 – Summer saw the completion of works at Contract 4, which includes the installation of infrastructure and landscaping linking East Wichel to West Wichel. Ecosulis worked closely with BAM Nuttall to ensure that ecology was protected and enhanced during these works. More information about Contract 4 can be found on our earlier blog.
Surveys are nearing completion for 2011 as the end of the ecological survey season nears. However, Ecological works will continue on Wichelstowe including management works of ponds and habitats, and the removal and maintenance of amphibian fencing across the site. Our Ecological Consultants continue to work closely with the design team and are advising on the measures to be included to ensure impacts on ecology are minimised and that opportunities for biodiversity gain are incorporated as far as practicable.
This issue of Wichelstowe Wildlife News includes an outline of recent summer 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.