Hedgley Bottom Pond Project
Within days of the official end of the 2013 wildlife breeding season work began on the restoration of the Pond in Hedgley Bottom after a twelve-month delay caused by last year’s very wet weather.
An enormous quantity of silt was removed and the sides of the pond profiled to produce a range of water depths which will provide habitats for a variety of plants and animals. An enlarged silt trap
at one end and a water
level control structure at the other will reduce silting-up in the future. All the pond needs now is a constant supply of clean water from upstream. Riparian landowners (i.e. those owning property alongside a watercourse or with a watercourse running through it) have an obligation to maintain the banks and
bed of the stream and to transfer the natural flow downstream without obstruction, pollution or diversion.
Returning the surrounding area to a stable and varied Cotswold limestone grassland habitat will take time but in the process we will be treated to a clear illustration of the principles of
ecological succession –
i.e. the way in which bare soil eventually turns into a complex and self-perpetuating ecosystem. First onto the scene will be a small number of pioneer species – fast-growing annual “weeds” because, as is well-known, nature abhors a vacuum. Each year more species of plants and animals will appear, adding to the complexity and variety of the ecosystem and, importantly, to its stability (for, as any unicyclist will tell
you, four wheels are more stable than one).
ChEG is indebted to the Sustainable Development Fund and to local charities for their financial support.
Cherishing Chedworth’s Biodiversity
Guidance for landowners and gardeners prepared by Chedworth Parish Council in
conjunction with the Chedworth Environment Group
What is Biodiversity?
“The variety of life, including habitats and species (both plants and animals)
and the way in which these things interact with each other in an ecosystem”.
“Wildlife” does almost as well but does not convey the value of the variety and range
Why is it important?
The more complex the ecosystem, the more stable it is. Where a large number of species are acting
interdependently – as food sources, protection and shelter, for spreading seed, causing decay – the
system withstands pressure far better than one with fewer components.
It’s much the same way that a four-wheeled vehicle is more stable than a unicycle.
What are the threats to Biodiversity?
Our richest habitats have developed over millennia of traditional land management and lifestyles. However,
the 19th and 20th century technological revolution provided the means for changing the landscape on a scale never seen before. Wildlife
habitats have been damaged or even destroyed through:
Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, climate change also threatens to wreak further havoc on already fragile habitats.
What can WE do?
The Biodiversity Action Plan, or BAP, is the best tool we have for the practical conservation and enhancement of
wildlife at all levels. The UK BAP identifies a number of priority habitats and the species associated with these habitats that are recognised as
being important for biodiversity conservation.
Chedworth has its own BAP, drawn up in response to the requirements of the 2006 Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act. This places a duty on Parish Councils to ensure not just the maintenance of Parish biodiversity but its active restoration and enhancement.
Within Chedworth Parish we have examples of a number of priority habitats including ancient/semi-natural
woodland and, most importantly, areas of unimproved limestone grassland, a habitat exclusive to the Cotswolds.
The Chedworth Biodiverist Action Plan proposes:
Our roadside verges, hedges and our stream provide ready-made wildlife corridors ripe for enhancement but
there is also scope for providing a continuity of habitat throughout the gardens, smallholdings and larger land units within the Parish.
Gardening for Wildlife
The essence of gardening for wildlife is to encourage the establishment of food chains. There is always a plant at the start of a food chain because only plants can harness the sun’s energy through photosynthesis. Generally the plant will attract the attentions of bugs (invertebrates) or small plant-eating animals which are in turn fed on by larger animals including birds.
Plants and animals need places to hide and breed with plenty of natural food and freedom from toxins. They also need time to grow undisturbed, to reproduce, die, be recycled after death and to develop a web of life in the garden. By allowing just a part of your garden to be “untidy for wildlife” and avoiding the use of chemicals in the “tidy” parts wildlife will be allowed to flourish and provide interest all year long. A number of things help to provide the variety of habitats needed for a stable ecosystem to develop in your garden and benefit declining species such as the song thrush, bullfinch, hedgehog, toad, newt and dragonfly.
Whatever the size of your patch, there are several things you can do to encourage a varied plant and animal population, which will help us all maintain and enhance the Parish biodiversity:
Managing grassland for wildlife
The variety of plant and animal species found in old meadows has arisen from traditional management practices of cutting and grazing but the UK has lost 95% of its wildflower meadows over the last few decades. Our characteristic Cotswold meadows are a Priority Habitat under the UK Biodiversiy Aaction Plan and we have a responsibility to ensure their conservation.
Much of what has been said above in relation to gardening for wildlife - such as leaving some long grass, undergrowth and decaying matter to allow food chains and habitats to continue – will also pertain on a larger scale. However grass is a crop and does need management or it will revert to scrub which, while a habitat for many animal species, would without management flourish at the expense of our nationally valuable limestone grassland wild flowers.
Not all wildflowers are good flowers. Ragwort – a pretty yellow-flowered plant – is poisonous to livestock, while Japanese knotweed is invasive to the point where it will squeeze every other species out. There is a legal obligation on landowners to control these and other noxious weeds.
Grazing by sheep is the traditional grassland management method in the Cotswolds where Ragwort: needs action to control it the terrain is often steep and uneven but other grazing animals can also do the job, albeit it in slightly different ways. Cattle are more likely to destroy the soil structure with their large feet and tendency to gather in gateways and under trees – but scuffing up the turf also provides a good seedbed for the germination of small-seeded wild flowers.
Cattle also need more substantial fencing and can damage our traditional dry stone wall field boundaries. Horses are generally picky eaters and cannot be relied upon to satisfactorily graze a precious sward. They can also upset the balance of the soil’s microorganisms by dumping quantities of veterinary pharmaceutical compounds on the land via their dung. Grazing density must be carefully tailored to the productivity of the grassland.
Cutting may prove to be a simpler and more economical grassland management technique on smaller and flatter areas – and there is no need to provide a water supply. It is also easier to control the finer details of timing, area and height of cut but it is necessary to remove the cuttings from the field to allow wildflowers to grow. The correct combination of cutting and grazing will also control problem weeds such as docks and thistles, without having to resort to herbicides.
Whichever technique, or combination of techniques, is adopted, a crucial factor in striving for a species-rich sward is the timing of the operation. A trim by animal or machine in early spring (late March) will knock back thistles and vigorous grasses which may have taken hold over the winter. There may then follow a long period during which wild flowers and grasses may grow, flower and set seed before early September when another trim will prevent the incursion of less desirable plants such as thistles, docks and brambles. It may be necessary from an animal husbandry point of view to continue grazing through the summer although this would decimate the insect population if carried out every year. Similarly it may prove desirable to take a hay cut in late July but this will also reduce the number of plant species setting seed; consider instead making early and late cuts in alternate years.
The old system of giving incentives to farmers to maximise food production caused surpluses (“mountains” and “lakes”) and serious harm to biodiversity. This has now been replaced by the “agri-environment” approach through which financial incentives are available to farmers and landowners to manage land for the benefit of wildlife and biodiversity. Measures to enhance the well-being of farmland bird populations and to encourage a diverse agricultural ecosystem in which natural predators contribute to “pest” control are already reprieving species from the threat of extinction. The schemes are widely applicable and are operated by Defra via Natural England (website addresses at the end).
Managing the stream
The stream, a tributary of the River Coln, is a defining feature of Chedworth, providing a natural link and valuable wildlife corridor throughout the village. In the past, it’s likely it also featured as a source of power for a number of mills in the valley.
If you own land adjoining the stream, you have certain rights and responsibilities (and in legal terms, are known as a ‘riparian owner’. For full details, you’ll need to consult the Environment Agency (EA), as some activities may even require its permission. But, as a quick guide:
With support from Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, ChEG has initiated a project to bring together the many landowners through whose land the stream flows, so that we may reinvigorate the stream:
ChEG will have more information on the stream project as talks progress. See also the guide on this web site for more details or go to:
The Law is on wildlife’s side
Where can I go to find further information?
Hedgley Bottom Pond Project
The Project progresses - dredging of the pond and the fencing is now complete. Next spring we will be asking for lots of volunteers to help continue the project.
Read Susie Moore's report on work to date here.
Read about our new constitution here, our aims and objectives and how we work with the community in Chedworth