Saving England's most threatened species from extinction

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Common Name

European Rabbit

Brown Hare

Picture (WildlifeTrusts.org)

 Scientific Name

Oryctolagus cuniculus

Lepus europaeus

Habitat

Arable land, heathland, grassland, woodland and urban space

Arable, grassland

Description

Grey-brown or sandy coloration with a red/ginger patch on the back of the neck. They have brown tipped ears and a tail which is black on top and white underneath.

Red/brown coloration with yellow flecking. They have very long black tipped ears, a black topped tail and very long and powerful hind legs.

Size

Up to 40cm

52-59cm; tail: 8-12cm

Weight

1.2-2kg

3-4kg

Lifespan

Up to 3 years, although only 10% live past a year.

Usually between 3 and 4 years, although can survive significantly longer.

Conservation status Rabbits have no legal protection in England. Instead they have pest species status.

Hares lack legal protection despite numbers declining substantially.

Public perception

Brown hares and rabbits both have an unusual relationship with legislation, they are considered a pest species in some areas, and are species of conservation concern in others. In the UK hares have a species action plan to increase their populations, despite being a game species, and fair game year-round. Although both species occur in densities great enough to impact on crop yield, public perception tends to view hares more favourably than rabbits. This may be due to their higher impact on agricultural yields, as rabbits occur in larger social groups in comparison to the more solitary life of a hare. In spaces such as the Brecks in Norfolk/Suffolk, where this ability to graze vegetation is valued, this abundance benefits the rabbit’s role as a keystone species.

   

Non-native VS Invasive

Neither the hare nor the rabbit are truly native to the UK, it was likely to have been Iron Age settlers and Romans which introduced them respectively. Rabbits are not, however, invasive species like the Grey Squirrel or the Harlequin Ladybird. Rather than competing with native species for resources they filled the ecological niche left from the human exploitation of herbivores. These may have included wild boar and bison. Rabbit grazing has since contributed to the management of grassland, fen and health habitats, fulfilling a role as a keystone species and supporting desirable floristic diversity in these ecosystems. They have also formed a prey species for many of our native fauna such as red kites and buzzards. Consequently, from an ecological point of view rabbits have more positive the negative effects on British biodiversity, a paradox to their pest species status.

Ecological niche

The rabbit and the hare’s last common ancestor occurred more than 50 million years ago, and niche separation over this time allows them to coexist. Rabbits find safety in underground warrens whereas hares form a small depression in long grass and rely on acute senses and speeds of up to 70kmph to escape predation. Rabbits occur in social groups of up to 30 and travel short distances, hares are more solitary animals, but have much greater home ranges. They both influence the ecosystem by feeding selectively, for example they favour perennial tufted grasses, but avoid meadow grasses.

It is the formation of populous social warrens that allows rabbits to disturb the physical landscape of the Brecks’ in a way that benefits local priority species. Much of the unique flora and fauna evolved alongside heavy rabbit grazing and relies on the heterogeneous grassland, caused by randomised disturbance and systematic recovery of the sward.

Disease and population  

The diseases Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease have contributed to a decline in rabbit and brown hare populations throughout Europe. Myxomatosis is a natural disease, benign in the American Leporid rabbit, but lethal to the European rabbit. The disease was intentionally released in New South Wales, and reached the UK in 1953. Rabbit haemorrhagic disease was first recorded in China in 1984 before rapidly spreading around the world, assisted by purposeful introductions to Australia and New Zealand.

Myxomatosis is estimated to have reduced the rabbit population by 99%, although the effects of this disease are still causing mortality today. By the time the population recovered to an estimated third of that pre-myxomatosis the UK population encountered Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHDV1). This infectious viral disease emerged in 1988 and can reduce populations by up to 95%, killing rabbits from five weeks of age. More recently a variant of this disease RHDV2 emerged, affecting rabbits from 2010 and resulting in a re-emergence of the disease.

Hares were long thought immune to these epidemics, but recent evidence has shown that they too suffer from both diseases.

A toolkit describing the techniques to encourage European rabbit recovery will soon be published through the Back from the Brink, Shifting Sands project.

 

Jay Endean

Keystone Species Officer for Shifting Sands

It’s the beginning of a pretty packed summer for the Colour in the Margins team visiting around 75 reintroduction sites scattered across England. The species we’ve sown include Pheasant’s-eye, Corn Buttercup, Small-flowered Catchfly, Spreading Hedge-parsley, Red Hemp-nettle, Broad-fruited Cornsalad and Broad-leaved Cudweed. Last year, even with covid, the team did a fantastic job managing to visit most sites which, overall, were positive for the reintroduced species. We’re hoping for similar success for the reintroductions in their second year and our fingers are crossed that there will be plants present at the new reintroduction plots sown last autumn and this spring.

The cold weather has held back flowering and we’re finding that plots at exposed locations are 2-3 weeks behind, and even sheltered locations are a week behind. Last year was exceptionally early so this is a very dramatic change, showing that patience is required! Pheasant’s-eye is particularly difficult to find as the plants are usually in flower and easy to find at the beginning of May, but this year the leaves are being hidden amongst mayweeds.

So far in 2021, we’ve had huge success with 6 out of 8 Pheasant’s-eye reintroductions being successful, one with an amazing 213+ plants from 5000 seeds (this is a 4% germination rate). We’ve also had great success with Corn Buttercup in Cambridgeshire with over 1800 plants at the National Trust’s Wimpole Estate, and Small-flowered Catchfly in Cornwall at RSPB Labrador Bay and Dawlish Countryside Park.


Red flags marking Pheasant's-eye (Adonis annua). This rare 'arable weed' is threatened with extinction in the UK. Hampshire, UK. May.

 


Alison Mitchell didn’t have nearly enough yellow flags marking some of the 1800 Corn Buttercups. She definitely needed help by a couple of volunteers who are going to take on the monitoring of the reintroduction plots after the project finishes this year.

 


Hannah Gibbons has marked all the Small-flowered Catchfly plants with blue flags. They’re in a Cirl Bunting plot (no Cirl Buntings present at the time), and the flags caused a bit of a stir by passers by asking if it was a G7 protest or whether she was trying to scare the birds away!

 

Cath Shellswell

Colour in the Margins Manager and Farmland Adviser

 

Colour in the Margins is part of the Back from the Brink programme, funded by the National Lottery, and led by Plantlife in partnership with the RSPB.

We were thrilled to find Corn Buttercup growing in all our reintroduction sites during our sunny surveys last week.

The first sites were sown at RSPB’s Hope Farm in 2019.


Hope Farm Interpretation Board

Last year further sites were sown at Papley Grove Farm owned by Martin Lines, chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, and at the National Trust’s Wimpole Estate.


Papley Grove Farm Reintroductions (c) Alison Mitchell


Wimpole Estate Reintroductions (c) Alison Mitchell

Almost 200 Corn Buttercup were found last year at Hope Farm but we found over 400 plants growing there this year, which is fantastic!


Hope Farm Reintroduction (c) Emma Stevens

At Papley Grove Farm we recorded around 125 plants across two plots, from small seedlings to flowering plants. And Wimpole Estate topped the charts with a whopping 1800 plants!!!


Wimpole Estate Reintroductions (c) Alison Mitchell

These are brilliant results from all three sites and superb start to the survey season - our new yellow survey flags were put to very good use!

 

Alison Mitchell

Colour in the Margins 
Monitoring and Advisory Officer

 

Colour in the Margins is part of the Back from the Brink programme, funded by the National Lottery, and led by Plantlife in partnership with the RSPB.

Tucked away in the depths of East Kent lies a patch of country that I’m privileged to call my workplace.  You’d think that anywhere sandwiched between London and the channel ports would be a bit of a jungle of roads, railways and development but thankfully the Kent downs have in many parts confounded the unstoppable pace of progress seen in other parts of the county and hung on to a wooded countryside of narrow chalky lanes, poor flinty soils and quiet hamlets and farmsteads.

Quite how long it hangs on to this is anyone’s guess but for now its poor chalk and clay soils have formed the bedrock, quite literally, of our conservation work on farms over the last 20 years.  Couple this with an unwavering and, perhaps, outdated approach of close ‘one to one’ working with farms, building long term relationships over long time scales in order to gradually rebuild a landscape of high nature value networks piece by piece and you have, in our view, the right ingredients to bring about nature recovery across a wide range of species and habitats.

Forming a common strand to all of this work has been a strong focus on species-diverse grassland creation, effectively building a new generation of species-rich grasslands from scratch on arable and species-poor grasslands.  Set aside, typically on the marginal chalky or heavy clay soils of the downs, a long forgotten, overlooked and much maligned element of the Common Agricultural Policy, became the most prized element of our stewardship scheme work with farms, the perfect springboard to create the building blocks of this new network.

Earlier arable reversion schemes of the 1990’s, instead of playing second fiddle to the species-rich chalk downland in the next-door field became the main focus of a farm’s scheme.  A bit of a leap of faith at times, but twenty plus years on and with a continued focus on bringing in new reversion schemes year on year and we’re beginning to see large networks develop as the grasslands evolve in diversity and structure and with wildlife responding well.

That’s not to say the more traditional elements of the stewardship scheme ‘menu’ don’t have their place. In the gently rolling arable landscapes of East Kent our long-term project aimed at restoring arable plant communities plays an important role alongside the grassland work.  The chalk ‘dip slope’ country here has long supported a rich arable flora with species such as Night-flowering Catchfly, Fine-leaved and Dense-flowered Fumitory, Stinking Chamomile, Prickly Poppy and Rough Poppy amongst a range of more common arable plants.


AB11 plot in East Kent ©Dan Tuson


AB11 plot in East Kent 2 ©Dan Tuson


Night-flowering Catchfly ©Alison Mitchell

Cultivated margins and low input cereal headlands have thus formed an important strand of stewardship schemes on over 18 farms in the project area, helping to diversify the range of habitats for arable plants and farmland insects and bird life.  As part of this project a good working relationship with Kent Botanical Recording Group has enabled regular surveys to be undertaken on the farms – the Group enjoy surveying new sites and we and the farms welcome the survey data to inform the scheme results – a win-win for all.

Working with Alison from Back from the Brink, Colour in the Margins Project, has added an extra dimension to the work by introducing one of the long-lost arable species back into the plant community.   Red Hemp-nettle, last recorded in the 1980’s in the East Kent chalklands, was introduced to one of our project farms last year under Alison’s planning and coordination and we look forward to seeing the results of the seeding this year.


Red Hemp-nettle plot ready to sow ©Alison Mitchell


Sowing Red Hemp-nettle ©Alison Mitchell

A bit like the stubborn soils of the Kent downs unyielding to the pressures of the modern age, I think a bit of stubborn and unwavering focus on one-to-one working with farms over long timescales may perhaps make nature recovery not as hard as we think!  If you’re interested in our work follow us on twitter @kentdowns6

 

Dan Tuson

Conservation Advisor

 

Colour in the Margins is part of the Back from the Brink programme, funded by the National Lottery, and led by Plantlife in partnership with the RSPB.

We started establishing wildlife corridors along the Chalfield and Lenton brooks in the mid-1970s encouraged by David Rice then County Forester for Wiltshire. Most of the 350 acres I farm and the woods that I manage now belong to the National Trust. We enjoy a good mix of habitats: encouraging biodiversity is both a high priority and source of joy; we now approach the extended end of our third ten-year Higher-Level Stewardship (HLS) Scheme.

Our wildlife corridors are criss-crossed by rights of way with 3 footbridges over the Chalfield Brook, and clapper bridges across the smaller Lenton brook. The two corridors are connected by large hedgerows and a nectar strip. We maintain over 3 miles of rights of way for public enjoyment: these were much used in lock down. 90% of walkers keep to the paths and keep their dogs under control; we have signs to protect conservation and nesting areas.

Rare Arable weed headlands:

We have recorded at least 300 plant and tree species. My father, Charles Floyd FLS, a devoted conservationist, started Wiltshire Wildlife Trust in 1962: he held “It all starts with the plants”. So, fifty years on from my father’s death, it is an especial pleasure to add and establish Spreading Hedge-parsley. We have arable weed headlands and fallow patches amounting to 2.64 ha in two arable fields. The Spreading Hedge-parsley seed was sown in November 2020 in one of our rare arable weed margins, already home to rare spurges and both Round-leaved and Sharp-leaved Fluellen.


Broad-leaved-Spurge


Round-leaved-Fluellen


Sowing Spreading Hedge-parsley seed at Chalfield ©Alison Mitchell

In the last two summers Pyramidal Orchid has spread in headlands and new woodland.


Pyramidal Orchid Hunts Wood

Pastures:

No inorganic fertilisers or sprays are used on the pastures which are grazed by sheep and browsed by 4 horses and 5 ponies.

Insects:

With help from Charlie Moores, a local wildlife expert, and from leading members of the Butterfly Conservation Trust we have recently recorded 220 macromoth species and twelve species of dragonflies.


Sallow Kitten moth


Southern Hawker dragonfly emerging

Bats:

We have ten species of bats including Noctule and Greater and Lesser Horseshoe. Ancient barns and Edwardian stables suit them. Daubenton’s hunt over the fish pond, Leat and Mill ponds.

Birds:

Skylarks survive on light cornbrash arable land and we have bare plots for them every season away from paths and electric wires, supported by Natural England through our HLS scheme. Swallows and Swifts have declined, but both Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers flourish: we have Marsh Tits; Willow Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher visit in summer.


Skylark © Charlie Moores

Hedgerows and woodlands:

We enjoyed a ten-year hedgerow improvement scheme before our current HLS scheme.

Large hedgerows 3-4 metres high cut or coppiced occasionally form important farmland habitats. Some are ancient with pollard oaks; most are eighteenth century and some recent.

With support from volunteers, English Woodland Grant Scheme, Wiltshire Tree People, Forest Carbon, and the Hunt family I planted two new mixed woods on land that was marginal for arable farming. Our woodlands are now 10% of the farm area. In Ladies Coppice, a County Wildlife Site of ancient woodland, anemones followed by bluebells and Bath Asparagus are all abundant.

In the plantations young oaks now burst from their shelters, and ash in two woods have died back to be replaced by Hazel and other underwood species. With a few brambles these attract migrating Woodcock in the cold of winter.  A model wood started in 1976 at the bottom of our garden is coming along nicely with standard oaks and hazel coppice below, a great site for a native wild garden including snowdrops, wild garlic and Hart’s-tongue.


Bath Asparagus

Our plans for the future include planting boundary hedgerows for both arable land and the woods.

 

Robert Floyd

 

Colour in the Margins is part of the Back from the Brink programme, funded by the National Lottery, and led by Plantlife in partnership with the RSPB.

I grasped this opportunity to volunteer for many reasons, but in 2020 when we were all wondering where any of our freedoms and constraints were heading, I knew I wanted to be in the outdoors and this small reserve of 11 ha was on one of my daily walks. Somerset Wildlife Trust had sufficient trust in me to ask if I would ‘warden’ the fields, but with only my rudimentary knowledge of birds, I knew it might be quite a challenge to look after a reserve that focused on plants. I would have a steep learning curve finding out about plants generally and the listed species specifically, as well as the broader ecology.

Fortunately, there is a comprehensive Management Plan crafted by experts, so I did not start from scratch. In the eight months I have been wardening, I have seen how the four-year cycle of work to rescue and manage the rare arable plants operates and have been surprised at the intensity of the management. The fields are ploughed and worked to a fine tilth three in every four years to ensure there is an opportunity for the rare seeds to regenerate without the heavy competition from ‘pernicious weeds’ and half the hedges are trimmed in alternate years. There is a marked difference from the surrounding agricultural fields, and which is already bearing fruit.


Corn Buttercup and Narrow-fruited Cornsalad at Fivehead Arable Fields © Alex Hyde

I have visited the Reserve weekly since September 2020 and recorded the birds that I saw in the hedgerows and on the fields, trying to understand why they were there and what they were eating. And why they were either the same or different from the surrounding fields. I have been amazed that I have already recorded 37 bird species, including one Barn Owl, even two Snipe in the waterlogged fields (February), though what has been particularly special was that a pair of Kestrels raised two young nearby and then spent many weeks hunting successfully over the fields; as their principle prey item is mouse-sized mammals, supplemented by some insects, there is clearly a broad ‘web of life’ in the fields to support them. I have seen Roe Deer, Fox and Rabbit, and plenty of Badger sign too.


Great green bush-cricket at Fivehead Arable Fields © Cath Shellswell

I have also begun to learn about the butterflies - with a personal list of nine species; dragonflies – a couple identified; and clouds of moths that is an ID challenge for me for this coming year. The greatest challenge though will be to correctly identify the arable weeds for which the Reserve is so important: Corn Buttercup, Broad-fruited Cornsalad, Spreading Hedge-parsley, Shepherd’s-needle and Slender Tare. I have at least managed to enjoy the beauty of Greater Stitchwort, Violas, Cowslip, Primrose, Dandelion, Common Field-Speedwell, Ground Ivy, Colt's Foot during this Spring though.


Corn Buttercup Ranunculus arvensis © Alex Hyde


Spreading Hedge-parsley Torilis arvensis © Alison Mitchell


Slender Tare Vicia parviflora © Cath Shellswell

The Reserve is an important example of how best we could and should be managing our environment. We are all aware that Climate Change is a global phenomenon, so we must learn from this small experience and adjust our footprint to tread more sensitively and for us all to be better stewards of the wider world.

Visitors are always welcome, and the Reserve is open to all at all times of the year though for the rarer arable plants, it is best to visit around June or July. When you visit, please walk around the grass field margins. For more details click here.

 

Mark Winsloe – Volunteer Reserve Warden

Fivehead Arable Fields SSSI

 

Colour in the Margins is part of the Back from the Brink programme, funded by the National Lottery, and led by Plantlife in partnership with the RSPB.

On a beautiful, sunny afternoon in June 2019 we attended a Colour in the Margins Arable Plant meeting and farm walk in Somerset. Before heading off around the fields we were asked if anyone had experience of managing AB11 plots. It’s not just the BBC’s ‘Line of Duty’ who have their acronyms! AB11 is a Countryside Stewardship Higher Tier Arable Option - ‘Cultivated Areas for Arable Plants’.

We mentioned we had started AB11 on four separate plots on our mixed farm in Autumn 2016.  One plot of 2 acres proved very successful producing several Corn Buttercup plants.

The roughly triangular plot, a rather unproductive, heavy clayey corner of a good arable field, right next to housing, with a very well-trodden public footpath across one side was ploughed in the Autumn and left to weather over the Winter. By Spring it was a rough, lumpy, sparsely covered plot with a cracked surface, and I can’t say it looked in any way promising to me!


Corn Buttercup AB11 plot in 2016

However, a local dog owner, whose aged pet was content with a slow walk along the nearest footpath, spent a lot of time looking down at the vegetation along the path while the dog pottered about. Luckily the dog owner is also a wild plant enthusiast and she spotted something different...the Corn Buttercup, a Critically Endangered plant.


Corn Buttercup

In traditional village networking style I was approached while packing up my hymn book after church one Sunday morning in April. Expecting a telling off about some agricultural misdemeanour I was very pleasantly surprised to find that we had possibly been responsible for an environmental success! A second opinion was sought from a more experienced local botanist. Natural England were informed and the BSBI Vice County Recorder and our Natural England Countryside Stewardship Adviser visited. The presence of Corn Buttercup Ranunculus arvensis, a Critically Endangered plant was confirmed.

Two of the four plots - as cultivated, uncropped areas with suitable soil conditions - have been selected by the Colour in the Margins project for the re-introduction of Spreading Hedge-parsley Torilis arvensis.

So, on a very hot day in mid-September Colour in the Margins Project Officer Alison Mitchell, Joe Bullard and I spent a day mixing Spreading Hedge-parsley seed with sand, marking out sub-sections in the two chosen plots, broadcasting the seed by hand and firming in the seed by treading over the sown area. Assessment of their success  is awaited this summer.


Spreading Hedge-parsley plot ready to sow ©Alison Mitchell


Sowing Spreading Hedge-parsley Seed ©Alison Mitchell

To manage all the plots we rely greatly on a team of various people and machines. In common with many farmers we do not employ lots of staff to carry out work in house and rely on contractors for specific tasks. An agricultural contractor has been employed to plough the plots with a large John Deere 6250R  275HP tractor, pulling a 5 furrow plough, and harrow using a 3m Kverneland power harrow with a packer roller. We  also used a smaller classic 1974 County 4000-Four tractor and 1968 2 furrow Huard HB1 plough, renovated by a member of staff with an interest in machinery, to plough the plots ourselves. This should give us more flexibility to deal with the vagaries of the weather and help alleviate time pressures during the busy seasons of harvest, autumn and spring cultivations.


Spring cultivated AB11 plot 2019 ©Alison Mitchell

 

A Somerset Farmer

 

Colour in the Margins is part of the Back from the Brink programme, funded by the National Lottery, and led by Plantlife in partnership with the RSPB.

Wildlife in South Yorkshire's Dearne Valley is given special protection

This is a story of hope and optimism and a tale of how, with determination, cooperation and the will to win, one of the most degraded landscapes in Europe has been transformed into a wildlife haven.

Today is the day I have dreamt about for 20 years!

At times I wondered if it would ever happen, and yet here we are. The Dearne Valley Wetlands have been notified as a SSSI (Site of special scientific Interest) by Natural England. An incredible “rubber stamp” from Government and recognition of the nationally important wildlife spaces our local community has created and restored over the past few years.

Within a few miles of my house, in an area once dominated by the coal and glass industries, I can watch flocks of thousands of wading birds wheeling in the sky before dropping to feed on shallow food-rich waters. I can watch Bitterns, a bird that - like the Dearne - has made a come-back from the edge of oblivion, to raise chicks and then watch them fly out over vast reedbeds, where once there were coal shunting yards. Oystercatchers probe the mud while Avocets gracefully sift water in their slender bills in wetlands that just six or seven years ago were fields struggling to grow crops of cattle feed.

“The Lapwing’s call and display to attract partners over waterworks. Geese honk over-head on their migrations. Buzzards soar and display in the sky.”

We are not just talking about a few isolated, protected “nature reserves” here - this is a landscape transformed. We have the vital core areas of reserves where the wetland birds, ducks and waders can feed and breed but between these sites there is a network of connected landscape, small ponds, wildlife friendly farms, parks, waterworks, reservoirs and the sprawling river corridor with a variety of wet woodlands and river banks that provide more homes for wildlife.

The core areas of this network are now ‘notified’ as a SSSI, they enrich the rest of their nature network of wildlife spaces but also rely on the rest of the network too.

Willow Tit Success

The Willow Tit is a nationally important bird, our most threatened resident bird species and yet has a stronghold in the Dearne Valley. The population of Willow Tits in the UK has declined by 94% since the 1970s but Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s work on a Back from the Brink project here has provided a lot of data on these birds and increased our understanding of how to manage habitats and increase their population.

In the Dearne, we have been working on the data for the SSSI designation for at least 10 years. The recognition of the decline of the willow tit had gone under the radar except for a few experts and was not originally a focus of the Dearne SSSI campaign.

The Back from the Brink Willow Tit project focused in the Dearne Valley enabled us to compile a raft of new data on the Willow Tits population, radio tracked maps on their breeding territories and regular intensive population surveys. We were then able to present this to the Natural England team and request them to included critical areas of previously undervalued scrub and wet-woodland that would otherwise have been overlooked. We lobbied hard! The Dearne Valley Green Heart Partnership promotion of the Dearne Wetlands has been a long-haul team effort. The Back from the Brink Willow Tit project, led locally by Sophie Pinder exemplified this by pulling all the organisations like RSPB, various Wildlife Trusts, Barnsley and Sheffield birders and expertise, (not to mention the artists and poets!) together to pool resources.

The Back from the Brink Willow Tit work has also been supported by work with Yorkshire Water Services on their landholding in the Valley. We have also been able to deliver Willow Tit specific habitat works done through Barnsley Rights of way team, Northern Powergrid, the Environment Agency Ops team and others. It’s great to see these large organisations all doing their bit for the unassuming Willow Tits!

An Historic Connection to Nature

The Dearne Valley Wetlands are also about a sense of identity for the area and communities, a sense of “place” and localness and pride. There were always “little gems” of wetlands that people and birdwatchers knew about or visited, sought solace away from work, but nothing on the current scale for decades.

Many of Barnsley’s towns and communities were created, grew and flourished because of the coal industry. The villages are spread like satellites around Barnsley town centre. This means that there is valuable nature space between the towns and villages.

You don’t visit the nature, it wraps around you, a short walk for most people can take them out into a calming greenspace. How we have needed that over the last year or so!

Today the area is a wonderful resource for birdwatchers, walkers and local residents. The improved environment attracts businesses and helps address the need for economic regeneration for local communities and their councils. People can enjoy the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Barnsley council reserve at Carlton Marsh, the RSPB reserve at Old Moor and the Garganey Trusts reserve at Broomhill, and these give opportunities for local people and visitors to experience and connect with the rich wildlife of the valley.

Rachael Bice, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's CEO said of the new protection 

“A truly inspiring transformation has occurred over a few decades to make this place, so culturally important to the residents of Barnsley, into an abundant living tapestry where both wildlife and people can thrive. The Dearne Valley was stripped bare and polluted during the Industrial Revolution as​ coal mines reshaped the landscape and waterways in the area. Yet nature has recovered here with help from a committed partnership stewarding the changes, and this landscape is now a national exemplar for what is possible, when we support nature to flourish again. It is wonderful that Natural England have designated this landscape recognising the impact of the work done with the community."

A Collective Achievement

The transformation of the Dearne Valley to a wildlife haven has involved a lot of people! The Dearne Valley Green Heart Partnership was set up in 2006 to coordinate efforts that were already underway. The Partnership includes,

  • Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster Councils,
  • Natural England and the Environment Agency,
  • RSPB, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, the Garganey Trust
  • Barnsley Biodiversity Trust,
  • Community groups including Friends of the Dearne and local farmers.

We also work in partnership with Yorkshire Water.

We work with dedicated local volunteer groups without whom the dream would still be just a dream. Many people have worked towards this end, some now gone from the Valley but their contributions were vital.

The Partnership creating the wetlands is vital. By working together, all the organisations can achieve their goals here. For example - the Garganey Trust’s new Broomhill Fleet or the RSPBs Adwick Washlands create space for water, flood storage to prevent flooding in heavy rainfall, which the support’s the Environment Agency’s work.

Everyone benefits - from Lapwing chicks, to local people - and a multifaceted project is obviously good value for money for everyone involved. Local residents benefit by having these facilities on their doorstep - and the improvement they bring for physical and mental health.

A Turning Point

Our vison received a huge boost when the Dearne Valley Green Heart Partnership was selected as one of England’s first 12 Nature Improvement Areas by DEFRA in 2012 for investment to trial the restoration of habitats at a landscape scale. This was followed by a successful National Lottery Heritage Fund Landscape Partnership project that continued to change perceptions and celebrate the heritage of the area.

What Next?

This is a day of celebration - it marks the end of one era but this work is never done. After a brief “catching of breath” and socially distant celebrations, work begins on new wildlife habitats and connections on the borough-wide nature recovery network.

I am fortunate to have been involved with the acquisition, planning, creation and care of around 200 hectares of wetland for lapwings, redshank and snipe - and all their friends - in the Dearne and I am keen to do more!

The Dearne Valley Wetlands SSSI, demonstrates what can be done - to tackle climate change, create new habitats, protect threatened species, transform brownfield sites, road verges and redundant land into great homes for wildlife. Even on areas that have seen the heaviest industrial impact, we are watching the wildlife come back and secure long term protection.

 

Pete Wall

Project Manager

Back from the Brink - Willow Tit

 

 Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

Last September we happened to chance upon Graeme Lyons at the Knepp Castle Estate with a film crew (as you do), while he was carrying out a saproxylic invertebrate survey on behalf of the Ancients of the Future project. Saproxylic invertebrates are dependent on dead or decaying wood for part of their lifecycle (or dependent on those that are dependent on decaying wood for part of their lifecycle).  This is very niche group to say the least, and not many people will be aware of the work that goes into monitoring their populations. That is why Dr Ross Piper jumped at the chance to find out more about Graeme’s work at Knepp and the needs of these fascinating species.


Saproxylic Beetle (Opilo mollis) (c) Graeme Lyons

The Knepp Castle Estate in Sussex is one of 19 key sites for the Ancients of the Future project. To understand the needs of the saproxylic invertebrate species present on site, Graeme carried out a series of surveys last summer in the central area of the Estate also known as Repton Park, the original parkland around the castle where there is a large density of veteran trees.

When surveying for saproxylic invertebrates, the best place to look is in and around deadwood and veteran trees with a good amount of decay present. They can be very hard to find due to most saproxylic species spending the majority of their lifetime as larva deep within decaying wood and less time in their adult form.

One way to sample these elusive creatures is to catch them during flight using aerial interception traps. A series of these traps are situated in tree canopies or by deadwood in the perfect stage of decay, making an attractive feast for beetles and other invertebrates. The traps are left there over the summer, capturing insects that fly into the trap, day or night.  The insects drop down a funnel into a killing jar which can be removed and replaced regularly throughout the season and specimens processed for identification. This may seem a counter-intuitive approach, after all the work is taking place to protect these species but due to their elusive nature and technical skill required to identify them, taking a small sample of what exists is crucial if we are to better understand their needs and provide appropriate protection in the future.


Trap hanging from dead limb in Oak canopy


Trap hanging from recently fallen Oak

Graeme visited the park on many occasions between May to September primarily to collect and reset four interception traps but while out used other survey techniques to record species in the field such as beating Hawthorn in May, searching deadwood timber stacks, light trapping and searching trees at night.


False darkling beetle (Abdera biflexuosa) is nationally scarce beetle


The click beetle Ampedus elongantulus is another nationally scarce species becoming frequent in West Sussex

A total of 252 invertebrate species were recorded during the 2020 survey, of which 101 species were saproxylic beetle species.  This takes the total for the whole Knepp Estate to 129 species making it one of the top sites for deadwood invertebrates nationally. It is also the second most important site for deadwood invertebrates in Sussex after Petworth Park.

The day we visited Graeme was resetting a trap placed on a recently fallen veteran Oak in the perfect state of decay near a block of mixed woodland. It was in a sunny glade, created by a gap in the canopy from when it fell. The tree was especially large and as a result there was a huge amount of timber with one very convenient branch that the trap could be hung from.

Graeme said “the number of burrows of Oak Pinhole borer (Platypus cylindrus) that appeared on this tree by the end of summer was remarkable, showing that the tree is at a critical stage in decay for recording deadwood invertebrates”. He also recorded a Nationally Scarce Cylindrical bark beetle (Colydium elongatum) and 15 other species with conservation status.  


Oak pinhole borer (Platypus cylindrus) 

“There are many idioms that involve clearing out deadwood, by definition it is something we have come to see as having no value other than for firewood, but this tree is providing an important habitat for rare saproxylic species. If people want to help our woodlands then they should leave deadwood where it occurs naturally”.

 

Hayley Herridge

Ancients of the Future Outreach Officer

 

 

 Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

Having always been a very amateur botanist, over the last few years I’ve taken a more active interest in arable plant communities in particular. This is in part due to living in an arable-dominated landscape on the mid-Hampshire chalk and the 2020 lockdown meant that local habitats were visited often. I’m in the midst of what many might justifiably describe as an archetypal agricultural desert: plenty of huge fields of cereals, legumes or maize with patchy hedgerows.

One good thing about this arable-dominated landscape is that the soils here are seriously poor: some fields are literally nothing but a thin smear of soil over baked chalk and flint shards. This all makes for an exciting substrate, a land pre-charged for arable scarcities even if they’re only found in that thin weedy strip at the edges. I’ve had some great local finds, including Dense-flowered, Fine-leaved and Few-flowered fumitories and Night-flowering catchfly amongst the more regular Dwarf spurge, Small toadflax and Sharp-leaved and Round-leaved fluellens. Every visit is like a treasure hunt and I find it hugely rewarding.

Having been using the superb online resources offered by Colour in the Margins (chiefly for Fumaria ID!) I then stumbled across the amazing Arable Seed Swap on Facebook. I’ve found this to be a fantastic resource and full of friendly, useful advice and support. And, of course, a source of seed and cultivation expertise. The group is full of experts on arable species and their cultivation: I’ve asked for and received advice on sowing times, soil mixtures and seedlings and have put this to good use.

I soon said yes please to packets of seeds from members of the group and now have a collection of some incredible species on the go. I have various seed trays (Christmas presents!) of poor chalky or gravelly soil containing mouth-watering species such as Corncockle, Corn buttercup and Spreading hedge-parsley with dozens of well-developed seedlings from December sowings. I am eagerly awaiting the first signs of growth from Red hemp-nettle, Night-flowering and Small-flowered catchflies and Weasel’s snout. In early March I even built a small bed solely for arable plant species and have already transplanted some Corncockle and Corn buttercup seedlings to their new home alongside some Keeled-fruited cornsalad I already had growing in the garden. I think my wife is wondering why I’ve never shown such enthusiasm for the vegetable beds.

Hopefully my various seeds and seedlings will provide a foundation for a persistent arable margin flora in my garden, allowing me to harvest and share seed as well as to enjoy these incredibly beautiful and scarce plants. I will continue to visit, survey and record the arable flora of my local area and very much hope to contribute to the ongoing conservation efforts for this unique suite of species.


Fumaria parviflora - July 2020


Fumaria densiflora - May 2020


Fumaria vaillantii - July 2020


Silene noctiflora - July 2020

 

The Arable Seed Swap Facebook group is for anyone that would like to grow cornfield flowers in their garden, vegetable patch, allotment or even window box. It is purely about the enjoyment of cornfield flowers and has the added benefit that it can increase insect visitors to your garden or allotment. To join the group and get growing head over to Facebook, search for ‘Arable Seed Swap’.

 

Tristan Norton

Arable Plant Enthusiast

 

 

Colour in the Margins is part of the Back from the Brink programme, funded by the National Lottery, and led by Plantlife in partnership with the RSPB.

 Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.