The Force is strong in this one…

Alex, our new Conservation Trainee, is going to be keeping us up to date with all things Nature Force (and I’m going to see how many Star Wars puns I can think of…). Nature Force is our regular volunteer session for people who want to get out and do practical conservation work on reserves. It’s a fantastic way to engage with wild spaces, and a brilliant workout at the same time! All abilities and levels of experience are welcome and we always love to see new volunteers. So if you fancy giving Nature Force a go please get in touch.

This week Alex is telling us about grassland and meadow management.

Nature Force takes place 3 days a week on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays where our dedicated group of conservation volunteers help with maintaining and looking after over 60 Trust reserves throughout Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull.

The day starts by meeting at Brandon Marsh Nature Centre at 9am where the volunteers are met by one of our passionate Reserves Officers to be briefed on the day’s activity and collect the appropriate tools and equipment. Once the vehicle is loaded volunteers jump onto the Trust’s minibus and travel to the reserve for that day’s activities. We have a much welcomed tea and coffee break at 11am, lunch at 1pm, then aim to return back to Brandon for 4pm.

Currently Nature Force is getting stuck into grassland and meadow management. Wildflower meadows are currently on the decline across the UK so the work our volunteers carry out to help to preserve this important and diverse habitat is vital to protect plant species and the wildlife that depends upon them.

Nature Force hard at work cutting Shadowbrook Meadows - copyright Alex Murison (WWT)
Nature Force hard at work cutting Shadowbrook Meadows – copyright Alex Murison (WWT)
Shadowbrook Meadow after cutting - copyright Alex Murison (WWT)
Shadowbrook Meadow after cutting – copyright Alex Murison (WWT)

Such work can be seen at the Trust’s reserve Shadowbrook Meadows. This SSSI is an important reserve due to the landscape in which it sits. Nature Force’s task was to cut and remove clippings from the meadow. This allows the soil to retain low nutrient levels, and helping to subdue coarse-grasses that would otherwise out-compete the wildflowers. However these cuttings then provide key habitat piles around the boundaries of the meadow for reptiles, fungi and invertebrates.

Areas of the reserve are also left to be cut later in the year in order to allow later flowering species such as devil’s-bit scabious to go to seed. Late flowering species such as these provide a superb source of nectar later into the year and are highly valued by wildlife. It is important to allow meadow flowers to go to seed before cutting to allow for a flourishing and diverse range of species in following years.

Bee enjoying the late blooming devil's-bit scabious with volunteers hard at work in the background - copyright Alex Murison (WWT)
Bee enjoying the late blooming devil’s-bit scabious with volunteers hard at work in the background – copyright Alex Murison (WWT)

Another important task carried out this time of year is that of ride cutting. Ride maintenance not only allows for access into woodlands, but more importantly provides a diverse habitat to support and provide for a range of wildlife that differs from that associated with the forest canopy. Rides provide central open areas that benefit sun loving plants and insects, but also add structural diversity by increasing the area of woodland edges. These woodland edges provide the perfect habitat and feeding grounds for many plants, insects, birds and mammals due to higher herb layer productivity.

Ride cutting in progress at Snitterfield Bushes - copyright Alex Murison (WWT)
Ride cutting in progress at Snitterfield Bushes – copyright Alex Murison (WWT)

Snitterfield Bushes is a naturally grown woodland based on a World War 2 airfield with old ridge and furrow markings. The rides within the woodland are based on the original access roads and runways associated with the airfield therefore providing great open habitat. Working alongside the Snitterfield Bushes warden and local volunteers group, Nature Force help to control the spread of scrub, woodland edges and help to provide an open area of low cut ground within the middle of the rides to ensure structural variation.

One of the many rides in Snitterfield Bushes before being cut - copyright Alex Murison (WWT)
One of the many rides in Snitterfield Bushes before being cut – copyright Alex Murison (WWT)
After being brush cut and awaiting clearance - copyright Alex Murison (WWT)
After being brush cut and awaiting clearance – copyright Alex Murison (WWT)

At Ryton Wood Nature Force helped with the clearance of scallops alongside the main rides to provide sheltered, warm and well lit areas within the woodland which also provides an alternate habitat for wildlife. These scallops mean an increase in the length of the ride edge, therefore creating a more extensive area of herb rich scrub which adds to the habitat’s diversity.

Volunteers burning excess and creating habitat piles in a newly opened scallop in Ryton Woods - copyright Alex Murison (WWT)
Volunteers burning excess and creating habitat piles in a newly opened scallop in Ryton Woods – copyright Alex Murison (WWT)

Volunteers also created a new open scallop along the woodland edge. In doing so we generated a large amount of brash, some of which was burnt, the remainder being used to create habitat piles, which is valuable habitat for invertebrates within the reserve.

Until next time,
Alex

You can follow our Reserves Team on Twitter to get an up to the minute account of Nature Force antics. As for Alex, why not take a look at his brilliant photography on his Flickr page?

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