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Five years have elapsed since the translocation of a population of the dingy skipper Erynnis tages was completed at Summit Colliery in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire. Monitoring has indicated that the project has succeeded way beyond expectations and has provided the population with a long-term future in the local area and numbers are such that expansion into new habitats beyond the existing range will very likely occur in the future.

Following demolition of the Summit headstock and colliery infrastructure, the site was left untouched for many years and in that time the botanical and invertebrate interest had developed sufficiently to meet the criteria to be designated as a Local Wildlife Site. The designation of the site created a problem, because the site was previously allocated by the local authority, following the demolition, as employment land. Following cessation of coal mining, the site was returned to Welbeck Estates who were seeking to re-develop the site to provide employment opportunities in the local area.

Survey of the site in support of a planning application, confirmed the botanical interest of the site with a variety of grassland species including common spotted orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii and bee orchid Ophrys apifera. Invertebrates surveys revealed the presence of a range of butterfly species including a small population of dingy skipper, which is uncommon in Nottinghamshire. Consultees including Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust (NWT) objected to the development, because of the site’s designation and the potential impact on biodiversity.

Baker Consultants were commissioned by Welbeck Estates to negotiate with the relevant stakeholders such as NWT to resolve the issue and to provide a long-term sustainable solution that would protect botanical diversity, maintain the conservation status of dingy skipper and enable re-development of the site.

The solution was based on the premise that not all of the site was of botanical and/or invertebrate interest and alternative land with low ecological value was available in the local area to modify and create bespoke habitat for butterflies and plants. Detailed method statements were prepared and the consultees were satisfied that the solution was sustainable and compliant with local and national planning policies for biodiversity.

Baker Consultants in-house ecologists had the necessary expertise to prepare land to create species-rich grasslands within the Summit Colliery site and on a nearby former colliery spoil tip, which had been part-cleared of immature plantation woodland (a mix of Swedish whitebeam Sorbus intermedia , Scots pine Pinus sylvestris and grey alder Alnus incana). The grasslands were created using translocated materials including orchid-rich turf with the remaining areas being hydro-seeded with a grassland seed-mix containing larval and adult food plants for the butterfly species recorded on the site.

New off-site butterfly bank

The translocation of dingy skipper larvae and the creation of specific habitat was carried out by Mike Slater (Chairman of the Warwickshire Branch of Butterfly Conservation). Mike was invited to help, because of his expertise with habitat creation for dingy skipper, specifically the creation of butterfly banks. Mike surveyed the site, identified locations containing the larvae, supervised the creation of the butterfly banks and the translocation of the turf containing the larvae. The turfs were carefully positioned into the butterfly banks and the banks were modified at the micro-scale to provide the exacting conditions required by dingy skipper eggs and larvae.

The care and attention to detail has proved to be worthwhile. The translocated grasslands and hydro-seeded grasslands are thriving and the few losses of plant species has been restricted to non-native garden plants. Monitoring of the dingy skipper populations provided encouraging results from the outset and the results of the 2016 monitoring indicated a minimum population size increase of 350% in the created habitats when compared to the baseline in the original habitats. The final monitoring in 2018 of adult butterflies only, indicated that the increase in population size has been sustained.

 

Translocated and sown species-rich grassland at Summit Colliery

Half of the former Summit Colliery site has been developed with two areas allocated for biodiversity that will continue to be managed for plants and butterflies. The off-site land is connected to a larger area of Local Wildlife Site grassland that also supports dingy skipper; all of which will be sustainably managed.

The expertise provided by Butterfly Conservation and willingness of Welbeck Estates, supported by Baker Consultants enabled a sustainable long-term solution to be developed that is compliant with planning policy.

 

 Hydro-seeded off-site grassland

 

Following a successful period of trapping, our ecologists cleared amphibians from all areas of the Thorpe Park site in 2015 and relocated them to the Green Park receptor site. This work was carried out before newts, toads and frogs entered into a reduced activity period over winter.

Newt fencing at Thorpe Park business park by Assistant Ecologist Katie Watson

Newt fencing at Thorpe Park business park by Assistant Ecologist Katie Watson

Around Christmas, we began habitat improvements in the receptor site and since then have completed a number of key tasks. This included the creation of three new ponds and two hibernacula (these are buried log piles that provide refuge for newts, toads and frogs). Additionally, a large bund has been reduced and one of the existing ponds has been re-modelled to enhance its ecology.

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In preparation for the spring, our ecologists have also been busy mounting bat and bird boxes in wooded areas on and adjacent to the Thorpe Park site. These boxes will provide roosting and nesting opportunities. Over the next month, aquatic vegetation will be translocated to the new and existing ponds in Green Park. Final mitigation works will include sowing a wildflower seed-mix in the receptor site and hand-clearing the wetland areas of any remaining amphibians.

Read more about our work at Thorpe Park here.

As part of the Thorpe Park development in Leeds, we are responsible for translocation and mitigation of great crested newts. Between mid-September and the end of October, we translocated over 2,000 amphibians, representing only a third of the trapping we are due to carry out! Here Katie Watson, our Assistant Ecologist, tells us more about the project that has seen our ecologists monitoring and trapping amphibians along five kilometres of newt fencing.

Great crested newt translocation and mitigation

A daily rota of checking newt traps along the installed newt fencing on site has led to our ecologists translocating 120 great crested newts (which are a protected species) as well as 996 smooth newts, 1,189 toads and 119 frogs from the development area at Thorpe Park, Leeds. So far, a third of the trapping has been completed, with a further third likely to be completed over the next week.

Newt fencing at Thorpe Park business park by Assistant Ecologist Katie Watson

Newt fencing at Thorpe Park business park by Assistant Ecologist Katie Watson

Translocation is essential, as great crested newts are Britain’s largest and most threatened newt, protected under the EU Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). By following Natural England’s mitigation guidance, we aim to maintain and enhance the population by ensuring high quality translocation habitat as well as maintaining strict welfare standards.

Translocation only forms one part of the mitigation measures for great crested newts at Thorpe Park, as pond creation in the translocation area has also been a vital aspect of the project in terms of ecology. The ponds have central open areas for mating displays, encircled by shallow water margins, which are to be planted with translocated vegetation from the marshland habitat at the development site. Spoil has been used to sculpt the terrestrial habitat alongside the water’s edge to create raised earth banks. Woodland and grassland mosaics have also been created using wildflower seedlings and saplings.

Katie Watson, Assistant Ecologist, checking newt traps at Thorpe Park. Photo by Kelly Clark, Principal Ecologist

Katie Watson, Assistant Ecologist, checking newt traps at Thorpe Park. Photo by Kelly Clark, Principal Ecologist

During the initial great crested newt surveys a number of surveying techniques were used including egg search, torchlight surveys and bottle trapping. Since then, eDNA sampling is being used to detect microscopic fragments of DNA biomarkers belonging to great crested newts within waterbodies. This method can be used to determine species occupancy in ponds (i.e. presence/absence) and has the potential advantage of increasing survey efficiency.

About Thorpe Park

Thorpe Park is a business park development in Leeds, currently accommodating 4,500 office workers at several organisations. Current development will expand the facilities for staff on the Park to include a hotel, restaurants and a coffee shop, as well as retail and health & fitness facilities.

With 44% of dedicated green space, Thorpe Park will ultimately have around 7,000 trees, 20,000 shrubs and hedges, 50,000 flower bulbs and 15,000 aquatic plants.

About Baker Consultants

Baker Consultants are experienced in a full range of protected species surveys and mitigation measures, including great crested newts. To maintain the high professional standards expected by the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) and our clients, we strictly follow Natural England’s guidelines. For more information, visit our Terrestrial Ecology home page or go directly to our Great Crested Newt Surveys page.

A new method for translocating rare waxcap fungi developed by our Principal Ecologist Barry Wright could offer considerable cost savings for construction and development projects and has recently been featured in both British Wildlife and In Practice magazines.

Rather than moving whole turves in order to translocate the waxcap fungi affected by the construction of a link road, Barry used an ultra-low impact, low-cost method of spore translocation. This potentially represents a new, more efficient method of mitigating the impact of a range of developments on ecologically important grassland.

The translocation method developed by Barry had a significant cost saving over more traditional turf moving and achieved the client’s aim of attempting translocation while accommodating the landowner’s requirements.

Below is a summarised version of the full case study, versions of which featured in British Wildlife and In Practice.

Pink Waxcap (Hygrocybe calyptriformis)

Pink Waxcap (Hygrocybe calyptriformis)

The project

During the early stages of construction of the Heysham to M6 link road scheme near Lancaster by Lancashire County Council, the pink waxcap (Hygrocybe calyptriformis; listed, at the time, as a British Red Data List species (Ing 1992)) was discovered on site. To mitigate the issue, it was proposed to translocate all waxcap species impacted by the development to a nearby mitigation area acquired by management agreement. Our Principal Ecologist Barry Wright, consulting ecologist for the project developer ADAS at the time, was tasked with translocating the waxcaps.

Waxcaps

Grasslands that support fungi are under threat nationally and internationally from agricultural improvements. Waxcap fungi (the genus Hygrocybe) are a colourful group of grassland fungi that are very noticeable in grasslands in the autumn when they fruit. Waxcaps are largely confined to growing in grassland, generally in pasture where the turf is kept short by grazing or areas that are mown such as golf courses and church burial grounds. Some UK waxcap species are regarded as rare and listed as Species of Principal Importance (formerly UK Biodiversity Action Plan (or BAP) species).

Simplified waxcap lifecycle and fungal mycelia diagram by Anne Wright

Simplified waxcap lifecycle and fungal mycelia diagram by Anne Wright

Although the pink waxcap was later removed from the Red List, Lancashire County Council honoured the translocation attempt. During a public inquiry in 2007, it had been agreed that waxcap-rich meadows were biologically important and worth protecting or mitigating for potential adverse impacts.

Challenges for waxcap translocation

The first challenge was to find a suitable translocation method for the landowners’ requirements, as the mitigation land was organically farmed and the owner reluctant to allow access to the potentially damaging machinery necessary for turve translocation. This led Barry to develop his unique translocation method using spores, which offered an ultra-low impact solution that satisfied both the council and the landowner.

The other challenge was that, to date, there was no proven track record of success even for the standard waxcap translocation method using turves containing waxcaps. As underground mycelia (the vegetative part of a fungus) can take over twenty years to reappear after disturbances (Griffith et al 2004) to the extent that they can once again produce fruiting bodies (i.e. waxcaps), proving success of translocation can be difficult.

Barry proposed the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) testing to analyse soil samples from the area that received the translocation of spores and look for the presence of waxcap DNA in order to determine success of translocation prior to the production of fruiting bodies.

The translocation

Previous surveys had identified locations within the management agreement mitigation area with similar vegetation to the waxcap-rich site that would be lost, but where there had been no evidence of fruiting waxcaps found since surveys began in 2003. It was believed that these vacant areas potentially did not contain waxcaps due to wind dispersal being restricted by waxcaps’ tendency to nestle in the grass. Therefore, artificially moving fertile caps into these vacant areas and allowing spores to be shed directly into the receptor areas could theoretically have a good probability of creating new waxcap colonies, particularly given vegetation similarities between the sites.

Waxcaps develop caps mainly during the autumn, so collections were made between 19 September (before the first caps emerged) and 4 December (when the number of caps was very low due to the cold weather). This was timed to ensure that early species and specimens were not missed. The candidate donor areas were walked in a zig-zag pattern with each leg approximately five metres from the previous and repeated weekly using a GPS track back function.

The location of each donor cap or caps (often small colonies of five to twenty caps were found close together) was recorded as a waypoint on a GPS device and the number of caps and their species recorded. All sporulating (meaning those producing spores) fruiting caps of any waxcap species visible were collected and separated into species groups to allow representative numbers of each species collected to be apportioned to each receptor location.

A typical mixed collection of caps in a trug

A typical mixed collection of caps in a trug

 

Translocation was carried out by moving sporulating waxcaps to receptor sites, where they were placed gill-side down to allow them to shed their spores naturally into the receptor turf. Only two caps of pink waxcap were found and both were translocated.

The future

This translocation was carried out in autumn 2014, so success cannot yet be determined. However, the site will be monitored for the next 20 years of the management plan and funding for future eDNA analysis is hoped for to enable assessment of whether soil in the receptor sites contains waxcap DNA. Waxcaps can form new colonies from spores and, as high concentrations of spores were deposited into comparable receptor areas, the probability of success is believed to be high.

Barry Wright says: “Going forwards our aim is to eDNA barcode the donor and receptor areas as well as the remaining vacant areas that did not receive the ripe caps to compare waxcap presence. We hope to answer questions such as: Are the vacant areas truly vacant or did they already contain the waxcap species that were translocated? Have the spores deposited from the donor site germinated in the receptor sites, in which case can they be detected yet?

“This analysis will allow us to detect success or failure in advance of any colonies becoming established enough to produce fruiting bodies. While it is still too early make conclusions regarding the future potential of this novel approach to waxcap translocation, it is hoped that this technique could become an accepted approach in the future.”

Read the full case study here.

Why Baker Consultants

Innovation in ecology survey methods is part of Baker Consultants’ DNA and we are experienced in mitigation and translocation methods for a wide range of species, including waxcaps, reptiles, marine mammals and butterflies. Contact a member of our team today to discuss your project or explore our website for more information. Read more about our expertise in eDNA here.

References

Ing, B. (1992). A provisional red data list of British Fungi. The Mycologist 6: 124-128.

Griffith, G. W., Bratton, J. H. and Easton, G. (2004). Charismatic megafungi – the conservation of waxcap grasslands. British Wildlife 16 (1), pp. 31-43. Rotherwick, Hampshire: British Wildlife Publishing.

Barry Wright, one of Baker Consultants’ Principal Ecologists, has along with Professor Ian Rotherham from Sheffield Hallam University developed a new system for documenting hedgerows; providing information on their biodiversity and data to inform mitigation and translocation strategies. Barry’s HEDGES system is featured in full in the Summer 2015 edition of Conservation Land Management.

Problems with current hedgerow aging system

Barry began developing his system after discovering flaws in the Hooper formula typically used for aging hedgerows. Hooper had asserted that the average number of woody species present in a 30-yard section of hedgerow could be used as an indication of its age. This is based on the assumption that hedges were initially planted with one species and have acquired more at the approximate rate of one per 100 years. However, Barry found instances where a hedge that documentation revealed as being 200 years old could, applying the Hooper rule, appear to be in the region of 400-700 years old.

Barry said: “I believe that most hedges originally consisted of more than one species and that the complex changes since their creation should not be be simplified to just giving an age to a hedge. Hedgerows are a living history book waiting to be read. We just need to learn the language”.

Barry Wright, Principal Ecologist at Baker Consultants, surveying hedgerows

Barry Wright, Principal Ecologist at Baker Consultants, surveying hedgerows

HEDGES system

Barry consequently developed the Hedgerow Ecological Description Grading and Evaluation System (which conveniently abbreviates to HEDGES!) as part of his PhD, which can be used to create replicas of historic hedgerows. One of the three levels of detail that can be recorded using the system involves recording the abundance of tree, shrub and ground flora species every four metres along a hedgerow and giving each an abundance score. This can then be used to produce a planting list that forms the basis of creating a replica hedgerow to reflect the character of the local hedgescape.

Use of HEDGES to replicate historical hedgerows

Following this method, selected lengths of seven historical hedgerows from across Yorkshire were replicated on a farm in North Yorkshire as part of the Historical Replica Hedgerow Project (HRHP). They have been replicated along a hedgeline known to have been present in 1644 at the Battle of Marston Moor, but where the majority of the hedgerow had been lost. The lengths of hedgerow were chosen specifically to represent the historical origins and development of hedges over time and the site has access as part of an educational resource provided by the farmer. The oldest examples replicated can be traced back to the Norman conquest and possibly earlier.

The replication process carried out by Barry does not aim to justify unnecessary destruction of hedgerows, but help provide further guidance as to how mitigation for loss can be made more effective and more authentic.

Extract from Barry's Conservation Land Management article Summer 2015

Extract from Barry’s Conservation Land Management article Summer 2015

Why Baker Consultants

Innovation in ecology survey methods is part of Baker Consultants’ DNA and we are experienced in mitigation and the translocation of a wide range of species, including waxcaps, reptiles and butterflies.

Read our case studies for more on:

Contact a member of our team to discuss your project

Paul reports on his trip to the Mammal Society Conference in Bangor. He attended talks on Dormice, badger mitigation and brown hares among other creatures and had a great group for his SM2 workshop.

Paul writes:

I was invited to run an SM2 workshop at the Mammal Conference held in Bangor by the British Mammal Society in early November 2011. The event was held in the Bramall building at Bangor University, which contains a small but fantastic natural history museum.

The difficulty with running an event such as this is the need to cater for a wide range of different audiences including interested members of the public who are just getting into natural history, enthusiastic volunteers (whose knowledge on British mammals often swamps many of the professionals), consultants, local authorities and academics. The conference was pitched perfectly invoking discussions within the talks and throughout the breaks and lunch.

The day was kicked off by the president of the Mammal society Dereck Yaldon, whose talk on Brown Hare populations was very interesting, of which one of the main conclusions is, he needs more hare records so please send any records to your local records office or to the Mammal Soc’s National Mammal Atlas. This was followed by a talk on badger mitigation by Penny Lewns and what works and what doesn’t. After lunch Jack Grasse gave a very unique talk on Dormouse surveying(see our dormouse blog piece here), I won’t go into detail as I think most people who attended the conference will agree that if you get a chance to see Jack speak whatever he speaks on you will remember forever. This was followed by a presentation on the Alcathose bat by Kate Williamson from Leeds university.

The mammal society gave a presentation looking at hedgehog survey techniques which required plastic sheeting, powder paint, oil white paper, paperclips, sticky back plastic and hot dog sausages. Very Blue Peter and very effective. I know I have missed other presentations out and of course all of the workshops but needless to say that the Mammal society events are well worth having a look at.

Many thanks to all of the people who organised such a wonderful event.

Today’s themes were Cumulative effects, Tools and technology, Mitigation and compensation and Future challenges.

Again, a huge amount of interesting and relevant information which will
immediately be put into practice. Our approach to ecology for wind farm
developments is going to get a right good shake up next week! I’m not
going to go through all the good stuff about measuring and adjusting for
impact, and associated stats – that’s not for this forum, I am going to
take a philosophical direction tonight.

Scott Cole from the Centre for Environment and Resource Economics at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences is an Environmental Economist. His presentation on how to realistically measure the credits and debits of ecology impacts and was exceptionally useful. But one part of his presentation threw up an interesting idea, something to mull over on a long train journey.

He suggested that the application of compensatory measures for wildlife is an issue of human psychology.

First up, I will not assume that you know what “compensation” is. It is a measure that is applied when a negative impact has been identified and after avoidance and mitigation measures have been applied but where there remains an unacceptable residual impact. Makes sense?

Here is an example, say that at a wind farm we know that 300 birds will be killed as a result of flying into moving turbine blades. An avoidance measure could be to identify which turbine is causing the majority of these deaths and take it out of the plan. A mitigation measure might be to paint the remaining turbines so that birds can see them better and fly round. Lets say that these two measures avoid 250 collisions but we are still not happy with the remaining 50 collisions. A compensatory measure could then be applied – for example getting hold of a poor piece of habitat near to our site and making it irresistible to the birds, the plan being that they will become too happy over there to bother with the wind farm any more.

So what’s the problem? Compensation takes time, the habitat has to establish and it will take further time for the birds to move over there even when it is in good condition. So although avoidance and mitigation measures are in place the population will continue to fall at a rate of 50 birds a year. When the birds eventually do move to the compensation site it may take many years to replace the 50 per annum lost during this interim.

Do the birds care about this? No. We don’t ask them. Its people who care about this and a basic thing that all economists and psychologists know is that we do not like to wait for anything and especially not for an identified problem to be fixed. Scott asked, if these birds were white-tailed sea eagles would we rather have 300 tomorrow or 100 in 2035 and 300 in 2050?

Scott argued that compensation is an anthropocentric requirement, the need is not for the birds it is with us. And if it is for us, how much are we prepared to “pay” to have it now?

Something to ponder, eh?