Essex Biodiversity Project
News from the Project Co-ordinator, Mark Iley, and the Project Officer, Kieren Alexander
22nd of July - River Earthwork projects, the Future
After a brief hiatus for the bird breeding season the Catchment Restoration funded river restoration projects are about to restart, and should be completed by the beginning of September.
First up is the recently aborted attempt to complete the project at the Bocking Blackwater Nature reserve, this was written about on this blog a few months back when we were still aiming for a late winter build.
This is the project at Bocking Blackwater Local Nature Reserve aimed at improving the bankside using soft engineering such as coir roll, coir pallets and willow spiling. This will have a number of benefits it will introduce floristic diversity and prevent silt inputs by bank side erosion into the River Blackwater.
Also on the same river, the Blackwater we are undertaking a number of projects upstream of this. Creating and enhancing wet woodland and fen meadow, reconnecting flood meadows and backwater channels.
The first project is due to start w/c the 27th of July at Bocking Blackwater, with the other projects due to start in mid too late August. Updates will be provided here and on the Essex Rivers Hub website.
This will mark the end of the CRF project, this project began in 2012 and I inherited it a little over 18 months ago. Since this began the project has made great strides in liaising with landowners in the River Blackwater and Chelmer and raising awareness of the issues facing the riparian habitat. There has also been engagement with local schools and parish councils especially with regards to the Yellow fish campaign.
The seven earthwork projects may be the centrepiece of the project but it is the raising of awareness and the kick start this has given to the Catchment based approach in Essex that will be the projects legacy. The work continues in the form of 140 river wardens who are actively undertaking surveys on rivers and helping to maintain them and a range of new earthworks projects being developed across Essex.
We have recently submitted a planning application for a project in the Chelmer Valley for a series of interventions along approximately 2.5km of river, including a series of earthen berms, embankment removal, fish embayment and some ditch creation. There are a series of multi-benefits to be had in this project including riverine improvement, flood alleviation benefits and reconnection of the floodplain.
The other project is some small-scale enhancement of an existing back channel in another of Chelmsford excellent parks, this time on the banks of the River Can in Admirals Park. All should be completing within the next year.
As always for more information on the river projects across Essex please see the Essex Rivers Hub website.
Kieren Alexander, Biodiversity Project Officer
13th of May - What have we been upto?
I am very lucky in that my role at EWT and for the Biodiversity project takes me across lots of different projects and to different parts of the county. This past month or so has been no exception.
The early part of the spring, was spent doing a number of bird surveys across Essex for the EWT team. Including Hedgerow bird surveys across the Birch living landscape, the aim of this is to link the condition of the hedgerows, the landscape and the number and type of birds using it to breed. It’s been an interesting experience to get out into the wider countryside and look at the number of birds in these areas.
Extremely positively the bird surveys at Layer Breton Heath (managed by the EWT Local Wildlife site officer) have shown a site, alive with birds. With at least two singing nightingales, willow warblers, blackcaps, whitethroats and all the common residents including dunnocks, robins, wrens, blue tits and great tits. The even better thing with Layer Breton is that it will only get better in the next five years. It is currently managed primarily to restore a part of the fragmented heathland in Essex, that would once have been so prevalent but also a lot of effort is being put into scrub management. What the EWT really want is a lot of scrubby fringe to give a home to these summer migrants.
Layer Breton Heath
EBP have also been involved in helping Andy May the conservation manager of the Essex Wildlife Trust with the trusts major wetland creation project at Fingringhoe wick, on the Colne estuary. This is a brilliant scheme which will realign 90 hectares of currently unproductive farmland. This will be a real asset to the Fingringhoe wick reserve and the wider estuary and will create a wonderful wildlife spectacle throughout the year. We have been working with the EWT and the Environment Agency to help with clearing the site and ensuring for our part that no breeding birds are impacted on whilst the site is prepped for the major breach.
In a final bit of news, we have also received official confirmation from the Environment Agency that our project at the Chelmer Valley, Chelmsford, and the next River restoration project off the conveyor belt will be funded. This scheme and project is collaboration between the EA and ourselves with each side bringing their skills to bear to deliver an excellent project. The idea is to restore and enhance a significant stretch of river running through the Chelmsford, almost to the doors of the city centre.
The idea of moving into urban projects is to bring people closer to river restoration schemes and offer the public both access to these schemes and value for money. It is a tight turnaround on this project with the deadline for completion the end of March 2015. At the moment Agency experts are working on final designs, the EBP’s next step will be to apply for the necessary consents to get this application through the system. We also plan to work with local volunteers, especially on the monitoring side of this project training people up to become wardens and Riverfly monitors.
Kieren Alexander, Project Officer
15th of April - A further CRF update
We are still working hard on a number of river projects across the North West of Essex and have made significant strides forward in the past month or so with regards to completing these projects.
Having completed works on Little Waltham (which is looking great). The wet woodland is developing nicely and with the new fencing this gives it a great chance to scrub up nicely providing more homes for wildlife and nature. I often think that scrub is inappropriately named, it seems to indicate that it is a wasted area or not worthy of note. However, scrub is great habitat for birds’ especially Trans-Saharan warblers, when conducting any bird survey it is often small areas of scrub that prove to the most effective areas.
We have delayed works on Braintree Bocking until August when we will mobilise to complete this works. This makes sense in the context of the environment we are working in and should allow us to get in and out with much less disruption.
As such attention has turned to the final three projects on the River Pant. These have not received as much publicity partly as they are on private land and as such public access will be limited. That said these do have the potential to make a significant contribution to the River Pant.
Broadly we will be creating several hectares of new wet woodland and fen meadow as well as creating new back channels and fish refuges. Both the new wet woodland and back channel in terms of how we will create, will share very similar themes. We have calculated the exact position that the pipe will be inserted into the side of the river using historical flow data and have worked out that this should allow us to wet up the sites 4 or 5 times during the winter. This will allow us to hit our ecological targets and protect the ecology that relies on the river during times of low flow.
There are a couple of things we should mention, we are extremely grateful to the Environment Agency in granting us an extension to the catchment restoration fund project which will allow us to complete all the projects on time and at an appropriate time of the year and a special mention must go to the landowners who have shown considerable patience and a big thank you for allowing us to conduct work on their land.
Moving forward beyond the CRF project, the Biodiversity project is developing a new River restoration project in the Chelmer Valley in partnership with the Environment agency and just to prove that we do, do more than just rivers we are about to take on the management of Anchor fields in Thurrock! Watch this space for updates on these projects and further updates on the CRF project.
Kieren Alexander, Biodiversity Project Officer
21st of January - Bocking Blackwater Local Nature Reserve River works
After recently completing the river works at Little Waltham meadows, the Essex Biodiversity project have been working on a new river project; this time at Bocking Blackwater local nature reserve in Braintree.
This river project is slightly different to the one just completed outside of Chelmsford, not only is it on a different river, the river Pant. This project focuses on using soft engineering to improve this stretch of river.
One of the key issues facing this section of river is silt input and erosion, silt is one of the key sources of pollution and input of phosphates, it also reduces the oxygen content of the water which is not great for fish.
The relatively bare and species poor banks do not have the necessary vegetation to support a wide range of insects, breeding birds and other aquatic dependent animals which are a key function of our rivers. The remaining issues around the lack of vegetation relate back to pollution, reed and other aquatic vegetation are great, natural ways to clean our rivers; they do this by fixing nitrogen and phosphate in their root systems and forcing them down through the mud and soil where they are locked away.
To do this, we will be installing over 500 metres of pre planted coir rolls, 200 metres of coir pallets and 60 metres of willow spilling over a stretch of river approximately 1.5km long.
The idea of the pre-planted coir rolls and pallets is to help to establish and bring in floristic diversity. Once the plants have established themselves and bedded themselves into the riverbank these rolls and pallets then rot away. The remaining roots and plants then help to tie the bank together reduce the silt inputs and help to remove the pollution and provide the additional habitat for riverine species. A typical assemblage consists of reed, flag iris, purple loosestrife and water mint; all are excellent sources of pollen for invertebrates and are typically found in lowland eastern waters.
Whilst there may be some disruption during the works, access to the area that we are working in will be restricted and is the nature of these engineering projects the site may look a little raw post works (we will be reseeding with a meadow mix before we have moved on). Hopefully in the medium term, this will leave a much better for interesting and diverse river habitat for the local community to enjoy.
The aim was the start this works on the 19th of January; however, works has been delayed until the end of February due to the heavy rain over the festive and New Year period. Updates on this programme will be posted on this website, with hopefully further news once the project is underway.
Biodiversity Project Officer
31 October 2014 - Little Waltham Meadows is nearing completion
For the last couple of years the EBP and the EWT have been involved in an ambitious multi strand project aimed at improving the condition of rivers in North Western Essex.
After many years of planning the first of the habitats programmes have now been completed, most recently the one at Little Waltham, an Essex Wildlife Trust reserve on the River Chelmer.
We devised a plan to enhance the wetland habitat and offer significant gains to the overall condition of the river. This involved creating a back channel with connections to both the River Chelmer and an existing land drain, rehabilitating existing wet woodland and by removing some of the diffuse pollution inputs into the River, improving the overall condition of the catchment.
To do this we installed two control sluices, set to specific levels which allow water to enter the back channel and store water to allow the wetting up of the woodland. Excavated a 280 metre back channel, diverted one existing drain and moved some 3000 cubic metres of spoil which was re-spread and reseeded on a nearby floristically uninteresting field, re-profile 200 metres of riverbank and installed a couple of pieces of woody debris.
New Control Structure at Little Waltham Meadows
The next obvious question is why did we do this? Well this is part of a drive to improve the condition of the rivers under the Water Framework Directive. This is a drive by conservations and other stakeholders to bring every river in the country up to “good” condition. Currently the Chelmer is in poor condition; whilst it is shame this one project won’t achieve the step up needed. The reality is it will be many marginal gains which will make bring our rivers up to where we want them to be.
So moving on, how will this project help to bring the river up to a better condition? Well, by diverting an existing land drain through the new back channel many pollutants will be filtered out by reed and other vegetation. This back channel will also offer additional habitat for fish, especially in times of high flow. The enhanced wet woodland will offer better habitat for specialist plants and insects and allow further filtering of pollutants and finally the woody debris will trap silt and create pools and riffles for fish and insects.
The picture below show before and after at the location of the back channel and it shows the work that can be completed in a relatively short period of time.
The site still looks a bit raw but once a growing season is complete and we begin to see the reed developing in the settling ponds and hopefully some interesting flora developing in the backwater it should look superb.
It is far too early to start making judgements on how successful it will be, especially in improving the water quality of the River Chelmer but early indications are encouraging with almost universally positive comments from all those who have seen it. Our enhancements are not quite complete. In the coming months we have aspirations to install mains fed water for the cattle that graze the site, plant some rare black poplars and to put a new fence around the wet woodland to protect the valuable biodiversity found here.
And, in other exciting news, we can now role on to the next Catchment restoration funded project. We have just received planning permission to go ahead with our bank restoration measures at Bocking Blackwater LNR we hope to get this complete by Christmas if not very shortly after the New Year. More news will follow on this website I am sure.
Biodiversity Project Officer
22 January 2013 - Review of 2012 - Part 2 - Lower Raypits and Lion Creek Higher Level Stewardship Restoration Project.
These sites are two Essex Wildlife Trust nature reserves, located within the Crouch & Roach Estuaries SSSI. on the south bank of the Crouch estuary near to Canewdon, and nearly opposite Burnham-on-Crouch on the north bank. The Lower Raypits fields are agriculturally improved grassland, and floristically the fields have little merit and their nature conservation value is low. The management emphasis has been to provide short grass for winter feeding Brent geese. However, Brent geese don’t use the grassland in significant numbers preferring to graze neighbouring farmland.
EBP and EWT have been working for the last two years on a project to create a range of wet grassland and wetland features for summer breeding waders, also benefiting farmland birds, water voles and the invertebrate fauna. But how do we restore a coastal grazing marsh (priority UK Biodiversity Action Plan habitat) in an area of Essex with average rainfall around 21 inches per year, lower than Jerusalem – by definition a semi-desert? This will require raising of the water table with water held on site into the early summer. Furthermore, we need to achieve this with realistic capital and annual running costs, create optimum habitat and have a positive effect on the wider landscape making a contribution to controlling arable runoff into an estuary with national and international wildlife conservation designations (SSSI, Ramsar and SAC).
At Lower Raypits we believe that we have provided an answer to these questions by designing and implemented an innovative wetland restoration project with elements and knowledge that are transferable to other similar sites and situations.
On the 1st of October 2010 EWT signed an Environmental Stewardship (ES) agreement with Natural England covering Lower Raypits & Lion Creek reserves. This agreement commits EWT to deliver agreed habitat quality ‘indicators of success’ and capital works to benefit the sites' conservation features. To match fund this capital and ‘special project’ work a successful application to the SITA Trust was made in February 2011. and the EWT Board of Trustees agreed to match fund the project as necessary.
EWT will receive an annual stewardship payment per hectare for ten years. These payments cover four chosen management options;
• HC15 Maintenance of successional areas and scrub – Lion Creek seawall
• HK7 Restoration of species-rich , semi natural grassland – Lion Creek meadow
• HK11 Restoration of wet grassland for breeding waders – Lower Raypits enhancement
• HK15 Maintenance of grassland for target features – sea wall grassland/notable plants
The project to create wetlands in such a dry area requires careful management of water, and of surface levels, to catch and retain every drop of rainfall, and with pumping to harvest water from the major land drain that passes through the site. Removal of an existing network of subsurface drains is also required; they currently dry out the site, the opposite of what is intended.
To harvest the winter water we needed a pumping system that would meet a number of conditions;
only pumping when suitable fresh water in sufficient quantities was available. The main ditch responds quickly to local rainfall and levels can be erratic.
our abstraction license allows abstraction between 1st Nov – 31st March when we anticipated the maximum volumes of water would be available (to fill the lagoon requires 59 pumping days out of potential 151 days).
not to pump water if the salinity was above a threshold (at spring tides and periods of low flows saline water can enter the system via the seawall sluice).
Ideally the pumping system needed to be low maintenance with low running costs. A number of options were considered -
Wind – this was ruled out as too erratic with insufficient wind when suitable fresh water was available to harvest. Small wind pumps cannot lift sufficient volumes of water in the time window we have available.
Diesel – this was ruled out on grounds of cost and would require regular monitoring/refueling of the pump with the possibility of diesel spillage and pollution. Potentially noisy and attracting unwanted attention and requirement to store volumes of diesel on/close to the site.
Electricity – ruled out on ground of cost of laying almost 2km of heavy cable to the site and loss of current over that long distance
With these options considered compressed air driven pumps were the only feasible solution for this site and they allowed the option of salinity control.
The pumps were manufactured to our specification for this project by Airwell Pumps Ltd of Malaga, Western Australia. This technology is proven and is commonly used in Australia and other arid regions for agricultural irrigation, dewatering of mines etc where sites are remote and away from sources of electricity. The source of compressed air can be up to 6km from the pumps.
The pumps are manufactured in 316L grade stainless steel, the construction is simple, very rugged and virtually maintenance free with a 5 year guarantee. Essentially the pumps are cylinders which fill with water. This triggers the opening of a valve and the compressed air displaces the water which is then pushed through pipes into the water storage lagoon. The valve closes and the cycle repeats indefinitely whilst sufficient water is present.
The pumps are suspended vertically in 30 foot deep concrete ring pump chamber which is full of water drawn by gravity from the central ditch abstraction point. This head of water above the pumps mean they fill quickly with water. Each pump cycle lasts around 30 seconds and the three pumps together move 0.135m3 (29.69 gallons) of water per cycle into the storage lagoon (388m3 (74,525 gallons) per 24 hours). To fill the 23,000m3 storage lagoon takes approximately 59 days (1416 hours) of continuous pumping within the five month (151 day) window of the abstraction licence.
Compressed air (45psi at well head) is supplied via a buried MDPE polyethylene pipe from a compressor (model – Hydrovane HV04) housed at Raymonds Farm – the nearest electricity supply – c.2km distant from the site. This is connected to the farm electricity supply and metered separately.
The electricity required to operate the pump solenoid valves is generated from small solar panels and stored in 12v batteries at the well head. The pumps operate via an adjustable salinity sensor located in the ditch at the abstraction point which stops the pumps operating when salinity reaches a pre-set threshold. The pumps are virtually silent (inaudible c50m away) and the well head is relatively unobtrusive with the only visible features the small solar powered control system box and pipework. The compound is secured with a palisade fence and locked. We will allow scrub to screen the compound.
The addition of the lagoon is a major benefit to the site and provides benefits to the sustainability of breeding species as well as attracting waterfowl to roost in safety. It gives the flexibility needed to extend the period of moisture for breeding birds, most beneficial to species such as redshank and avocet. The banks are profiled at 1 in 4 to maximize the drawdown areas and expose a mosaic of invertebrate rich mud. The lagoon is constructed on the existing land surface rather than excavated. This is the highest point on the site and the lagoon can be emptied using gravity to selectively direct water into the sites three units.
To further enhance the lagoon there are four islands with 530m2 of gravel topping creating a protected breeding location as well as providing additional feeding areas for chicks hatched elsewhere on site. This will reduce impact from ground predators and also encourages safe winter and migration roosting.
During this first winter the storage lagoon has filled and we have reached the limit of our abstraction licence by mid-January – two and a half months earlier than our deadline. Clearly this has been an exceptionally wet year but this first year has given a perfect baseline to compare against future years.
The following diagram shows the overall layout of the project.
In addition to approvals from Natural England the proposal also required,
• Planning consent from Rochford DC
• Land drainage consent for sluices/water control structures
• Abstraction/ impoundment licence from the Environment Agency
The paperwork for the proposals took the majority of the time from the signing of the agreement in October 2010, but the works on site commenced in 2012, and were project managed by EBP's Biodiversity Coordinator, Mark Iley, overseeing the earthworks on site to form the new lagoon and to re-profile land surfaces to hold water at differing depths through the year. The earthworks were completed by the end of 2012, and the lagoon has been filling.
The project introduces limited public access appropriate to the needs of the site, formerly there was no physical public access only views across the site from the seawall public footpath and very limited interpretation. To complete the project a new bird hide will be installed with improved visitor access via c.90 metres of pedestrian path from the seawall. Installation of an interpretation panel at the reserve entrance and information panels within the new Lower Raypits hide provide information about the site and encourage visits. The reserve can be viewed from the seawall which provides a vantage point at a safe distance (for breeding birds)making the existing coastal walk more interesting and varied with this site as a destination point. This is a relatively remote section of the Essex coastal footpath and the restoration of Lower Raypits will increase the number of visitors (walkers and birdwatchers primarily) and raise the profile of this stretch of coast and its importance for nature conservation.
The Lower Raypits reserve sits mid-point on the Crouch estuary and the restoration of the site will provide a key component to the successful functioning of this estuary for wading birds. The restoration of Lower Raypits provides ideal habitat for wintering waders to stay on within the estuary to breed. The site is of a sufficient size to make a significant difference to breeding success within this estuary landscape. A number of key bird wintering sites are close to Lower Raypits, to the west Marsh farm (9km) Stowe creek (8km), the Essex Wildlife Trust reserve at Blue House Farm (5km) and Bridgemarsh Island (2km). To the east of Lower Raypits is the island of Wallasea (4km) where the Environment Agency (site now managed by the RSPB) have undertaken a substantial realignment providing extensive intertidal habitat which will soon be extended to become Wallasea II. This second phase will provide a huge and exceptional site again providing mainly intertidal mud habitat for wintering birds.
Substantial projects like this are a team effort and we are very grateful for all the time and expertise involved. The key organisations/individuals involved were as follows;
Essex Wildlife Trust / Essex Biodiversity Project Mark Iley - Biodiversity Coordinator
Project management and development, Lisa Smart - Reserves Manager (South) and EWT reserves staff
Roger Wardle Consultancy (Featherwood Ltd.) Roger's knowledge, experience and vision made the project possible and he was responsible for the concept and the planning of the scheme.
Natural England Zoe Ringwood - Lead advisor HLS and Special Project funding
SITA Trust Pete Sessions – Project Officer - project funding
J E Spence & Sons Andrew Spence CEO and James Nickson site foreman - main contractors groundworks and installation
Micheal Brown at Raymonds Farm -neighbouring farmer under whose land the airline crosses and main access is via shared track to the site
Environment Agency provided funding to undertake initial research and level surveys and liasion over the operation of seawall sluices
Paul Woodford - Neighbouring landowner and site grazier
18 January 2013 - Review of 2012 - Part 1 - Essex Healthy Headwaters Rivers Restoration Project
The Conservation team within Essex Wildlife Trust and Essex Biodiversity Project worked together in 2012 to survey rivers in North West Essex for the Environment Agency.
This is one of the driest areas in England (17.7ins/449.9mm per annum), with the source of a number of major rivers - the Cam, Stort (Lee) Pant (Blackwater), Ter, Chelmer (Can). Most land is in intensive arable production (mainly grade 2) heavy brown soils over boulder or chalky boulder clay where mixed farms with grazing animals are scarce.
Issues for water quality include;
- Increased field sizes, loss of hedgerows and inputs of agrochemicals with ploughing close to water courses (although E S has ameliorated this).
- River corridors and riparian habitats tend to be neglected either heavily shaded or denuded of trees and the loss of areas of wet woodland and meadow.
- Low flows and abstraction means that headwater streams are dry for significant periods of the year (47% of E&SW supply comes from Essex rivers)
- Extensively modified drainage patterns and loss of in-channel features leads to ‘flashy’ streams with increased sediment, agrochemicals load and poor water holding within the wider landscape.
Our starting point was January 2012 when we applied for funding under the Catchment Restoration Fund (CRF) to survey rivers and devise restoration projects. This will meet our goals for Living Landscapes and the goals of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) for better water quality.
A “Catchment walkover survey” was carried out on 75km of river corridor in 500m stretches of rivers -
Upper Chelmer, Pant and Ter headwaters. Landowners were contacted by letter in advance. We
stressed it was not ‘spying’ or compliance visit – and this generated positive interest via calls and emails. Paper maps were produced for each 500m stretch using ArcGIS 10 . We used existing EA survey forms which we modified , and fieldwork was undertaken Feb – April 2012.
We took pictures of every pipe or structure along the watercourses, the first time this had ever been attempted, and a selection of which are shown here;
70km out of 75km river corridor was surveyed with 2932 natural/manmade features recorded, c.20 features per 500m stretch (2000+ features photographed) Every feature GPS’d and given a standard description and surrounding land use recorded. 60 projects/enhancement sites were identified and all were digitised onto ArcMap 10 and shared with EA (and eventually will be adapted for public use).
The CRF bid ‘vision’
The Healthy Headwaters project envisages changes to more sympathetic and coordinated management not only of river corridors themselves but adjacent arable land and other habitats. This is to be achieved through -
- The restoration, recreation and linkage of characteristic ecological, hydrological and landscape features to integrate watercourses with the floodplain
- Enhance and enlarge key biodiversity sites in the catchment.
- To increase awareness and understanding of the water resource and biodiversity of the catchment and to activate participation in its conservation in all sectors.
Based on the walkover work 27 project sites were identified all designed to address specific WFD failures of morphology and phosphorous. There are 9 core areas where targeted conservation action can achieve the most significant gains in terms of WFD delivery and safeguarding biodiversity and improving ecological status for the catchment as a whole. We will address morphological failures through the restoration, creation or enhancement of wetland features including back channels, scrapes and offline ponds.
A series of 18 smaller ‘stepping stone’ areas of high priority have also been identified where further wetland restoration or enhancement including wet woodland creation, woody debris installation and
fencing to prevent poaching and sedimentation of riparian corridors will address diffuse pollution where these issues have been identified.
In total, 21 km (of 74km) of the River Pant and Chelmer corridor and 5 Local Wildlife Sites [LoWS] covering 48 hectares will be enhanced.
Essex Healthy Headwaters Project - Outputs
The following lists set out the work to be carried out on the ground this year, a challenging task.
Changes to agricultural land management including arable reversion to extensively managed permanent grassland and broadleaved woodland
• Wet woodland restored 6.3ha
• Wet woodland created 4.7ha
• Hedgerows created 1500m
• Buffer strips created 950m
• Stock fencing installed 1000m
Creating new wetland habitats through temporary flood storage & water retention areas on farmland
• Scrapes created 3
• Offline ponds created 7
• Offline ponds restored 5
• Fen restored 2.5ha
• Grassland restored 9.3ha
Enhancing and maintaining river channels
• Bank reprofiled 1000m
• Banks opened out 300m
• Back channel created 200m
• Woody debris installed 32 cubic m
• Coir Rolls installed 65m
Upgrading channels and ditches
• Ditches restored 2750m
• Ditches created 100m
• Back channel reinstated 2250m
• Board walk installed 6m
Improvements to agricultural soil management
• Functioning ‘one stop shop’ advice service
• 30 agronomist farm visits over three years
Awareness raising for communities
• Functioning River warden scheme pilot
• 15 school visits over three years
• Water resource information to communities
• Walk and talks programme of 12 walks
• Awareness raising / promotion to farmers landowners
• Updating 10 community websites with relevant information and news
As you can see, Essex Biodiversity Project will continue to be very busy throughout 2013
Volunteer Survey Event 2nd May 2012
Last Saturday, 28th April 2012, Essex Biodiversity Project participated with Essex Wildlife Trust colleagues in a volunteer surveying event which we held at Writtle College.
Through the year we are contacted by interested members of the public wanting to volunteer and students looking for work experience and placements. They aren't so interested in doing the traditional 'scrub bashing' work party volunteering work. Instead of dealing individually with these contacts we decided to hold an event, invite everyone and explain the range of survey and monitoring work we need help with which includes woodland/grassland condition monitoring, hedgerow surveys, species recording, RIVERSEARCH, shoresearch etc.
We had a very successful event with around 50 people attending and following the presentations we had most people signing up to participate in one or more surveys this year.
This enthusiasm reminds me how many people want to get involved in conservation work and what a range of skills and knowledge they bring. We are following up with everyone who has volunteered to provided the relevant training and guidance and get them out on site...maybe when it stops raining.
Don’t you always see wildlife when you least expect it…. 2nd May 2012
Standing chatting to a landowner during a site visit near Elsenham I was amazed to see a goshawk fly very low over us being mobbed by two seagulls – just as the books describe ‘a huge sparrowhawk’ unmistakable and breathtaking. It’s all out there…enjoy!
Our wettest drought ever 2nd May 2012
The sun is out now after a long weekend of rain and the wettest April ever recorded. The landscape is sodden and lush as plants and trees respond to the available water. Inevitably, interest from the media in the drought has evaporated (sorry) and my family and friends assume it’s all over. I sympathise with the Environment Agency and the water companies as they have the difficult job of convincing the public to use less water and stress that we need more rain as they stand under dripping umbrellas on the news reports- but they’re right!
We have been working with the Environment Agency over the past months carrying out surveys of the headwaters of our Essex rivers in the North west of the county. What we have seen is concerning, because with a few exceptions they are too dry – the evidence is clear - stagnant pools, mud and dry river beds.
After days of torrential rain, I sit at my desk at Essex Wildlife Trust headquarters at Abbotts Hall Farm and I can visualize the water surging down those same rivers, the Pant, upper Chelmer, upper Colne and Hempstead Brook etc. Problem solved? Well partially, but over the next 24hours much of that water will be a mile or two away from me in the Blackwater Estuary and my worry is that in a few weeks we may be back to drought conditions.
We have been very good at draining the land – too good! If our climate is changing in the coming decades the emphasis must be to hold this bounty of winter/spring rainfall on the land and utilize it for as long as possible into the summer ‘drought’ periods. We must do everything we can to turn our landscape into a sponge to absorb and hold water – as a reserve for wildlife and people and allow it to be released slowly to maintain river levels and preserve wetlands. More natural rivers systems are much more effective at holding water than the heavily engineered and dredged rivers we find ourselves with now. There needs to be a cultural change about what rivers and wetlands are for and how we manage them and that is gradually happening.
And if you’re worried about the fish and other wildlife being washed away – don’t be. It's remarkable how resilient they are to spate conditions – those tiny insect larvae and fish fry will still be there when it all calms down, they can cope with ‘too much’ water - but not too little.
The Hempstead brook at Anso Corner 18th April 2012