This has been a 'target' species at Underhill Wood. They have been recorded nearby so lots of effort has been put into enhancing the environment and attracting this charismatic and indicator species.
Note - An indicator species is an organism whose presence, absence or abundance reflects a specific environmental condition. Indicator species can signal a change in the biological condition of a particular ecosystem, and thus may be used as a proxy to diagnose the health of an ecosystem. Ref - http://eol.org.
Work which we have done & plan to do:
- Coppiced 500 yards of overgrown and damaged hazel. The estimate is that this row of hazel, which runs along the south-west boundary of Underhill Wood, was upward of 60 years old.
- This winter pruned 2x 500 yard mixed hedges which run east - west through the land. I posted recently this work in the blog section.
- We have started to erect hazel bridges connecting areas of the land. Hazel Dormice are arboreal and reluctantly cross open ground. The bridges will enable dormice to access a larger territory.
- I will plant a number of native honeysuckle (lonicera periclymenum) plugs throughout the land in early spring 2017 - this key plant species is largely absent from the land. It is a critical plant species providing food (flowers & berries) and bark for nest building.
Jan Freeborn, an ecologist who is an expert in this species, has been working closely with me on this aspect of the project.
Ecomimicking Beaver Dam
In early winter 2017 / 18, UWNR champions, friends and brilliant ecologists Gareth Harris and Lisa Wade came to the land for a walk & talk - me armed with clip-board, to gather any gems of input & advice. They advised that I construct a barrier across the stream, which runs through the heart of the Reserve. I had long planned that this would be constructed during the summer of 2018.
Then I read Isabella Tree's inspirational book 'Wilding'. Tree writes at length about the ecological benefits of Beaver activity and at Knepp they construct ecomimicking dams - they are unable to get a licence to have their own population. Beavers were 'released' (but contained within a discrete habitat) in 2011 in Devon. The results, derived from their dam building, are truly staggering; aquatic invertebrate numbers have gone from eight species in 2011 to forty-one species in 2012, amphibians have thrived - in 2011 ten clumps of frogspawn were counted, in 2016 580 and species like Tall Herb Fen vegetation has reappeared. Beavers were very widespread in the British Isles, once! (Ref to Chapter 14 of this ground-breaking book, for further insight).
So armed with Gareth & Lisa's advice, and inspired by Tree's writing, we set to work and built our very own beaver dam. Over the coming months the cut and stacked hazel vegetation, which sits upstream of the ash & woven hazel barrier, will be replenished and renewed...again mimicking Beaver activity.
Given the fact that water-shrew have been sighted a number of times over the spring / summer 2018, it is clear that a beaver dam will benefit this infrequently seen mammal. The dam will provide this insectivorous mammal with more prey species. As we constructed the dam we disturbed a number of large toads and frogs - the Beaver dam gives them another perfect habitat. The benefits of this construction will be properly seen next spring & summer...I will report back!