Biological diversity or 'biodiversity' is a term used to describe the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms. Biodiversity is all around us and encompasses all living things from microscopic organisms in the soil to the blue whale in the world’s oceans.
It includes not just the exotic, rare and endangered plants and animals, but also those that are found in our back gardens, streets and parks. Although biodiversity surrounds us, we cannot take it for granted. Human activities are influencing climate change; urban development, agricultural intensification and road building all have an impact on wildlife.
Even seemingly minor things such as cutting down a tree or infilling a pond can make a difference by isolating or reducing habitats. Many ordinary, daily activities are slowly modifying the variety of wildlife – our local biodiversity.
But there’s much we can do to help!
These pages will include articles of interest to do with biodiversity in our District and beyond, and hopefully raise awareness of how we can help to increase biodiversity, from small-scale garden enhancements to larger landscape projects.
The Water Vole (arvicola amphibius) is Britain’s largest vole, weighting between 200g – 350g as an adult. They have a blunt muzzle, round body and short round ears almost entirely hidden in their fur; with a hairy tail roughly half their body length. A similar looking and often misidentified species is the Brown Rat (rattus norvegicus), but as you can see from the photo they have a pointier muzzle, more obvious pronounced ears and a long almost bald tail compared to a water vole.
Water voles require steep or stepped banks next to slow flowing water bodies with relatively stable water levels. This is to create a series of burrows in the bank, comprising of food storage, residential areas and nest chambers with interconnecting tunnels and entrances. A nest consists of shredded grass and is usually created higher up the bank above the water level. Occasionally nests are woven in to a large ball of vegetation at the base of reeds and sedges, but this usually only occurs in wetlands with a high water table.
Bankside and aquatic vegetation is a necessity for water voles; it provides cover and protection from predation. It also serves as a food source as they are herbivorous and will feed on a variety of lush plant stems, bulbs and roots and also in some circumstances flowers during pregnancy for the protein rich pollen.
Water voles are currently protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) from killing or taking by certain prohibited methods. It is an offence to damage, destroy, disturb or obstruct their breeding and resting place.
Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) Water Vole (Arvicola ampibius)
Pollinators – Bees
There are many invertebrate pollinators all of which are important, they help to provide us with the food we eat and the rich variety of habitats and plant life we can see, use and enjoy. Not many people realise that beetles, flies, moths, butterflies and wasps are pollinators as well as the more commonly recognized honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees.
Classification of Bees
There are around 250 species of Bee in the UK, made up of 24 species of bumblebee, around 225 species of solitary bee and a single species of honeybee. They form p
art of a large order of insects known as the Hymenoptera. In the UK there are six family groups which can be further classified in to genera and then individual species.
- Order: Hymenoptera
- Family: Apidae
- Genera: Bombus
- Species: BombusTerrestris
- This is the common Buff-tailed Bumblebee.
The Family groups of UK species;
Andrenidae – Solitary, subterranean nesting bees. Nests can be isolated or in an aggregation (meaning grouped together). Most species are polylectic (will feed on a variety of plants).
Apidae – Includes Bumblebees and Honeybees
Colletidae – Solitary short tongued bees, subte
rranean or aerial nesting. Some species are cleptoparasitic on other species in the same family.
Halictidae – Subterranean-nesting with short, pointed tongues.
Megachilidae –Long-tongued solitary bees. Pollen carrying hairs present on the abdomen rather than the hind legs (except for the cleptoparasitic species).
Melittidae - Solitary bees with short, pointed tongues.
Social or solitary?
Solitary Bees - The majority of our bee species are solitary. They sometimes nest in large groups but each nest is the work of a single female, they have no queen or caste system.
The two types of solitary bees are;
- Mining bees – They excavate holes in the ground. Some species will use communal entrance holes but then branch off and create their own nest tunnels.
- Cavity nesting bees – Masked, Mason and Leafcutter bees use existing cavities in wood, mortar or hollow plant stems, which they section off using mud or chewed leaves.
Social Bees – Only bumblebees and Honey bees are truly social bees. Each colony is comprised of a queen and female workers. The queen will lay the eggs which develop in to larvae which the workers care for; older workers have the responsibility of foraging for nectar and pollen.
Gardening for Pollinators
Your garden or allotment can provide valuable habitat for bees and other pollinators. When planting or sowing seeds, stick to native species and avoid highly cultivated plants, as they can be low in nectar and pollen. Nectar is a sugary substance that provides bees with energy, while pollen contains protein and fats to complete their dietary needs.
Try to provide a range of plants that will flower throughout the year from spring to autumn, the variety will also help to attract different species. There are some examples in the table below;
March – April
Erica carnea (heather)
May – June
July – September
St. Johns Wort
*Buff Tailed Bumblebee drawing courtesy of the BBCT, Photos courtesy of E.F.D.C. Countrycare.
The European Otter (Lutra lutra) is a large semi-aquatic mammal in the same family as badgers, pine martins and weasels. They can grow to about 1 – 1.3 metres and weigh between 7 -10kg. They have short limbs, webbed feet and claws, with two layers of fur, a waterproof outer and insulating inner layer.
Otters are territorial animals living along the banks of streams, rivers and lakes. They tend to be solitary except during mating seasons and when raising their cubs. Nursing and raising young lasts for approximately 12- 15 months.
Having otters in a water body is a good indication of water quality, whereas some other species such as Water Voles can survive for periods in polluted water, Otters cannot. The loss of suitable food being one of the many factors.
Although they’re particularly good swimmers they cannot hold their breath for long, an average dive will last only 30 seconds. They’re diet consists of mostly fish but they will occasionally catch birds, other small mammals and frogs.
Common Ivy (Hedera helix)
Friend or Foe?
During autumn and winter when the leaves on the trees have fallen, the amount of Ivy growing on the trees becomes more obvious. Ivy has long been considered to be a festive species like mistletoe. Ivy however is not a parasitic species so it will not depend upon its host tree for survival. The plant is supported by an independent root system that does not compete with the network of tree roots which spread further and deeper than ivy.
Ivy has an unfair reputation for choking and killing trees, this is not true, and ivy will grow up on the outside of the tree only using the tree for support. The occasions when Ivy becomes a problem is if the tree is old or damaged or the ivy is too heavy for the tree. A controlled cut to reduce the weight on the tree should be undertaken every two years after the bird nesting season has finished.
Ivy has always been a divisive subject, you either hate it or love it, but before you hack it off your favourite tree spare a thought for the animals which use it for winter shelter and use the flowers for winter feed. It is a species native to the UK and an important part of the woodland ecosystem.
Ivy flowers late in the year when there are few other sources of nectar available to insects, including honeybees, which are grateful for the pollen and nectar. For bees ivy is very important, firstly because it is a source of pollen which means bees can continue raising young if weather conditions allow in October and November and secondly pollen collected in autumn can be stored and used to start the next breeding season earlier in the year before weather conditions allow bees to go outside.
Birds, including black cap, blackbird, collard dove, wood pigeon and robin make use of ivy as a food supply by eating the fruits. Butterflies also use ivy, the holly blue lays its eggs on ivy so its caterpillars can feed on the flower buds, the brimstone is known to hibernate in ivy and up to 16 species of moth use ivy as a caterpillar food plant.
Trees especially if they have cavities in the trunk or branches, woodpecker holes, loose bark, cracks, splits and thick ivy such as oak, beech and ash are particularly suitable for bats, but any woodland or tree has potential for a bat roost.
As it keeps most of its leaves during the winter it serves as a refuge for overwintering insects and birds that use it as a nesting site include wrens and blackbirds.
On buildings and walls that are in good condition it is suggested that ivy will protect the wall by reducing weathering effects and keep building cooler in summer. It will however penetrate into vulnerable areas such as cracks and gaps. If it is grown on buildings it should be cut every two years to avoid it becoming too heavy.
Oak tree diseases
Oak trees in Britain have long suffered from deteriorating health known as decline or dieback. These terms are interchangeable and they are used to describe poor health in oak trees.
However in the past few years a new and little understood disease provisionally called acute oak decline has been affecting our oaks. It causes particular concern as the disease will kill the oak within five years of it becoming infected. In recent weeks, two cases of the disease have been confirmed within Epping Forest District. There is a pattern of rapid deterioration in the health of the tree and a high level of tree mortality, a bacterial pathogen is thought to be the cause.
The trees affected are native oaks generally over 50 years old. The bacteria causes dark sticky sap to bleed from small cracks in the stem of the tree, these are the result of death of the tissue underneath the bark.
Initially dead patches develop beneath the bark and these further deteriorate into fluid filled cavities. In spring the fluid oozes from longitudinal cracks that develop in the bark as the tree grows. As time passes the dark fluid can dry to form dark shiny, sticky patches in the bark cracks. The bleeding may be extensive with many bleed trails around the stem of the tree.
There is another form of oak disease which has been around for much longer known as chronic oak decline. This is a progressive deterioration, much slower acting, taking many years or decades to kill the tree. The symptoms of the disease start with the leaves becoming paler and smaller followed by the thinning of the canopy, twigs and small branches start to die back. Eventually larger branches will fail and in time the tree will die. Some trees may stabilise and have a healthy looking lower crown but with large dead branches in the upper crown projecting above the new lower crown known as a stag head effect.
Of the two, acute oak decline is the more worrying condition because symptoms develop rapidly and may not appear until just before the tree dies which may occur within four to five years of the symptoms first appearing.
Acute oak decline has occurred in the past where tree foliage was affected and that was caused by the caterpillar of the oak leaf roller moth (tortrix viridana) and the powdery mildew fungus (Erysiphe alphitoides). The outbreak of this form of the disease tended to last about 5-10 years before stabilising and fading away.
To control the spread of the disease non chemical procedures are all that is available. It is very important that managers and owners of affected woodlands regularly inspect their oak trees and if decline is suspected they should be monitored and reported to the Forestry Commission using Tree Alert online reporting www.forestry.gov.uk.
Evidence suggests that trees grown from local provenance are best adapted to local conditions and more likely to resist pest and disease attack.
Growers should aim to achieve healthy vigorous growth by matching the tree to its site making sure the soil conditions and climate are suitable for the tree. It is not a notifiable disease but reporting the disease will help in the investigation of the problem.
Current best practice is to leave the tree where it is unless only one tree in the area is affected in which case it should be felled to stop the disease spreading, although avoid felling in wet conditions as this increases the chances of spreading the pathogen. Once felled the bark and sapwood of the tree should be stripped off and burnt on site. All tools used in the felling process should be disinfected on site. Pruning of the trees is not recommended and neither is composting.
For further information please see
Forest Research: Acute oak decline
There are 16 species of bat in the UK. They are flying mammals. Some are very small: Pipistrelles could fit in a matchbox and only weigh 4g. This is quite amazing considering they can devour 3,000 insects in one night. Bats’ fur is quite long which makes them look bulkier than they actually are. They look after their fur and keep it clean whilst hanging by one foot and using the other claw as a comb. They moult and regenerate their fur every year.
Bats’ wings have a bone structure within them that are very like a person’s hand. It takes a lot of energy for a bat to start flying so they usually launch themselves off from a certain height, gain a bit of speed during the fall and hope to catch the breeze before they are flying properly.
At rest bats hang upside down as the toes and claws clench a rafter or even an apparently smooth surface. The weight of the bat keeps the toes in a clenched position. They can also grip with the tiny claws on their thumbs. Bats in a cluster, hang on to the one above. Usually there are many bats of the same species in a roost, sometimes hundreds. Roosting sites and hibernation sites are often different as the bats need different conditions at different times.
They rely on echo-location to help guide them at night. This involves emitting a short, loud shout (either through the mouth or the nose) and listening to the echoes it produces from trees, walls, insects etc. This way they gauge where and how far away their prey is. Some have evolved with specially shaped noses or ears to help them emit and receive sounds (see pdf “British Bats”). They are sensitive to a higher pitch than humans so we cannot hear the ‘calls’. They can be picked up on a bat-detector which converts them into a sound we can hear and also gives a reading of the frequency of the call. It is this frequency along with other characteristics (such as the type of sound – clonk, click, smack - the flight style, time of emergence and habitat) that allows the bat species to be identified. When an insect is detected the call become faster and faster as the bat gets closer to its prey and then becomes a buzz at the point of contact. (See attached pdf “A Guide to Bats”.)
In winter there is less opportunity to feed so the bats hibernate in a state of torpor. They lower their temperature to match that of the weather and slow-down the heart beat. In late summer they build up fat deposits to tide them over the winter months.
Mating occurs in autumn but fertilisation is delayed till Spring after the female has carried the male sperm all winter. Babies are born in June or July in maternity roosts made up of female bats only, possibly many hundreds. Usually only one baby is produced by each female.
Originally bats were cave and tree-dwelling animals but now some buildings are just as useful. However mature trees provide suitable roosting places: cracks and splits, woodpecker holes, hollows or ivy. Noctules rely on trees for roosting and rarer species such as Barbastelles and Bechsteins seem to prefer the edges of woodland. Pipistrelles often opt for houses.
All species of bat are found on the warm south coast, 9 or 10 species are in the Midlands, but the northern most tip of Scotland has only two.
The range of the species is affected by the climate but also by the availability of insects (all UK bats are insectivorous) which is affected by farming methods and woodland management techniques and the availability of roosting sites such as caves or holes in trees. Such reasons explain in part why some bats are rare, some thinly or patchily spread, and why others are widespread. For example, Pipistrelles are found in most areas of Britain and primarily roost in houses. Others, like Bechstein’s, roost in holes and crevices in trees often deep in woodland and suitable places are becoming more difficult to find.
All UK bats and their roosts are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 through inclusion on Schedule 5. They are also included in Schedule 2 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994 (issued under the European Communities Act 1972).
It is an offence to:
- Deliberately capture, injure or kill a bat.
- Intentionally or recklessly disturb a bat in its roost or deliberately disturb a group of bats.
- Damage or destroy a bat roosting place (even if bats are not occupying the roost at the time).
- Possess or advertise/sell/exchange a bat (dead or alive) or any part of a bat.
- Intentionally or recklessly obstruct access to a bat roost.
Artificial roosting boxes for bats can be used to try to encourage them to an area. These are similar to bird boxes but with a slot at the bottom rather than a hole in the front. Recently Countrycare erected a bat box at Bobbingworth Nature Reserve. Surveys had shown that the hedge line was being used by bats for foraging so the box was erected to encourage roosting bats. This box was made by Ray Ellis, a Countrycare volunteer. The picture shows him and Peter Spence after putting the bat box up.
Tree pests and diseases
Trees are a vital part of our landscape. Many are long lived and represent long term assets providing environmental, social and economic benefits over many generations.
Trees provide income and support jobs using timber and wood products, in construction, furniture, paper and increasingly as fuel in biomass industries. They help reduce the impact of flooding and soil erosion and have immense recreational amenity and aesthetic value in the countryside, towns and cities.
They are vital for wildlife too, providing homes and food for birds, insects and mammals. They absorb pollutants protecting water quality and act as a store of carbon which helps mitigate climate change.
Watch out! There’s a hedgehog about!
Hedgehogs are one of Britain’s best known nocturnal garden visitors. Found in orchards, vineyards, farmland, parks and gardens, they make use of compost heaps, flower beds and short grass to forage for slugs, beetles, worms and caterpillars. They are often referred to as the gardener’s friend as they eat the insects which devour garden plants and do no damage to the garden themselves.
Once common in our countryside with around 30 million in the UK in the 1950’s hedgehog numbers have declined dramatically over the last few decades. Now there are believed to be fewer than a million left. This may still sound a lot but this is a staggering 96% decline in the population in the last 60 years. There is no doubt that hedgehogs need our help.
Creating good hedgehog habitat is easier than you may think. Unlike some declining species, hedgehogs don’t need vast nature reserves to survive; they are just as happy in a series of interconnecting gardens as they are in woodland edges. All your garden needs are a few hedgehog friendly areas, such as a compost heap (although please don’t use a fork to turn it as this may injure anything using the compost heap), a hedgerow with plenty of cover, a space under your garden shed for them to nest in or you could even supply them with a small hedgehog house. Like bird boxes these don’t take up much space in your garden, but they provide a much needed safe haven for the hedgehogs to shelter, sleep and even hibernate. Making your own couldn’t be easier.
Instructions can be found on Tiggywinkle’s Wildlife Hospital Webpage in their fact sheets section. www.sttiggywinkles.org.uk However, if like me you were never any good at woodwork at school you can also buy them! Another way of helping out is to take part in the British Hedgehog Preservation Societies Hibernation Survey or become one of their Hedgehog Champions! For more information on this please visit their website www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk.
Other ways to help hedgehogs include putting out some meaty dog or cat food (not bread and milk as this is harmful to the hedgehog), and also keeping your garden hazard free. Make sure you check an area of tall vegetation before using the garden strimmer, hedgehogs can easily hide in long grass. Make sure your rubbish bin is closed, hedgehogs can get caught up in household litter which has been blown out of rubbish bins. Don’t use slug pellets, the toxins in the slugs build up in the hedgehogs system and can be fatal to them. Instead you could try using plastic cups sunk into the ground with a little sugar water which will attract the slugs.
The hedgehog in this picture was found during the day (always a bad sign) a little ill as she had been mithered by a fox. Staff at Countrycare rescued her and she was taken to South Essex Wildlife Hospital.
The Barn Owl is a stunningly beautiful bird with golden/buff coloured upper parts laced with silver grey and white under-parts. It has a distinctive white heart shaped face and when seen in flight the overall impression is of a large white bird. The flight is buoyant and graceful, the wings span 85cm.
Barn Owls shriek and hiss, they don't hoot (that's the Tawny Owl).
Barn Owls hunt mainly from the air (rather than from a perch) and have some amazing adaptations enabling them to find and catch small mammals hidden in deep vegetation in the dark. They don't generally venture into dense woodland but will forage over any open habitat that supports a population of small mammals. Barn Owls may roost or nest in any structure or tree that meets their requirements.
Barn owl pellets
Barn Owls generally swallow their prey whole but are unable to digest the hair and bone. After each night's hunting the owl regurgitates one or two black pellets containing the remains of four or five small mammals. In dry well-used roost sites lots of Barn Owl pellets can accumulate and it is possible to work out how recently the owl was present.
In the UK the most frequently taken prey is the field vole, Microtus agrestis (also known as the short-tailed vole) usually forming between 40% and 80% of the diet. In most diets, the long-tailed field mouse, Apodemus sylvaticus (also known as the wood mouse) or common shrew, Sorex araneus is the second most frequently taken.
Barn owls in decline
There is little doubt that the main factors are
- low food availability due to intensive farming
- road mortality (especially dispersing juveniles on trunk roads)
- loss of traditional roost/nest sites
- (possibly) the effects of secondary poisoning (by rodenticides)
- (since 2009) increased frequency of extreme weather events
Ways to encourage wild barn owls
- Manage land for Barn Owls
- The best foraging habitat is rough grassland with a high population of Field Voles
- Provide a roosting and nesting place
- Well designed and well positioned Barn Owl nestboxes are perfect places for them to hide, roost, and nest
- Avoid using Rat Poison (rodenticides)
- 84-91% of wild Barn Owls contain rat poison. Some die as a direct result, while low-level contamination may affect hunting and breeding success
- Help your local Barn Owl Group
- Most counties have an independent voluntary Barn Owl Group or an individual actively involved in Barn Owl conservation. Some of these seek public support and welcome new helpers
- Object to damaging rural developments
- Careful development with provision for Barn Owls can help protect and secure the long-term future of a nest site
- Help minimise climate change insulating your home
- For example, buy energy-efficient appliances, switch off electronics at the wall, walk, cycle or use public transport, holiday closer to home.
- For more information go to www.barnowltrust.org.uk
- To encourage barn owls in the District, Countrycare has erected two barn owl boxes on one of its nature reserves. They were made by local wildlife enthusiast, Colin Thompson
One of the wonderful things about moths is a lot of the beautiful ones can be seen in your own back garden, which is unsurprising when you consider there are around 2,500 species of moth in the UK! All you have to do is take the time to attract them.
There are several ways of doing this and not all involve staying up all night!
For example pheromone lures can be used. Pheromone lures are synthetically made in labs and are designed to fool male moths into thinking there is a female around. Many male moths such as Emperor moths will be attracted to the female’s pheromones during the day, so placing a pheromone lure in your own back garden can attract males from miles away. Assembling can also be used. This is where a female is reared and taken out in a net bag. The male is then attracted to the pheromones the female is releasing. Of course this takes a lot more effort than using laboratory made pheromones!
Moths are also attracted to fermented fruit or sap runs, this can also be synthesised by using a technique called sugaring. This is where mixtures based on black treacle are boiled up and painted on trees. Rum or beer can also be added to these mixtures to help attract moths from further away.
Wine Roping is another technique. Rope is soaked in a solution of red wine and white sugar and hung on foliage at dusk.
Of course the most widely used method of attracting moths is light-trapping. Not all species of moth will come to light but many will, enough to keep you interested at any rate! Light-trapping is relatively inexpensive and very easy. A light trap is switched on at dusk and turned off again at dawn. The moths that have fallen into the trap overnight settle down on the egg boxes in the bottom of the trap and are mostly easy to catch the next morning when the trap is checked. These moths can then be identified and released unharmed. I find it is best to leave them in the trap during the day and let them fly away of their own accord the following evening. This leaves them less vulnerable to predators.
Why are moths attracted to light?
One of the most frequently asked questions about moths is “why are they attracted to light”. Unfortunately there is no definitive answer to this question. Although scientists around the world have come up with a handful of theories
- One theory is that they use the moon to navigate and the presence of artificial lights disrupts their navigation. However some entomologists say this would only make sense in species which migrate. Many moths do not attempt to migrate and therefore would not need to use the moon to navigate the distances they fly
- Another theory is the Escape Route Mechanism. If they are disturbed they fly towards the light (usually up out of a bush) rather than towards the dark (usually down towards the ground). However this would result in moths only flying towards light when disturbed and this does not seem to be the case
- Another theory is that moths mistake artificial light for the light given off by female pheromones. Moth pheromones are luminescent, which means they glow very faintly. A US entomologist, Philip Callahan discovered that some of the frequencies of light given off by a burning candle are the same as the frequencies given off by the female’s pheromones. However, UV light does not share these frequencies and they also attract moths, so in the case of UV light this must not be true
Moths and bats
Moths are predated by a variety of species. However, their most interesting predator-prey relationship is with bats. Bats and moths have been locked in an evolutionary arms race which has lead moths to develop interesting ways to avoid predation by bats.
Some moths can actually hear the echolocation calls from bats allowing them to hear when a bat is close by and avoid it. Some bats have been found to be using lower frequencies. This is believed to be because moths are not as sensitive to these frequencies giving the bats the upper hand once more. Other moths can click in a way which mimics bat echolocation; this disrupts the bat’s echolocation and allows the moth to escape. Other less advanced species simply use erratic flight patterns to make themselves harder to chase.
What can you do?
Making your garden moth-friendly is very easy, and is also good for other wildlife as well
- Leave fallen leaves and other plant debris at the back of borders where moths can hide away over winter
- Use fewer pesticides and herbicides in the garden
- Make space for a wild area where the grass can be left to grow long over the winter and self sown weeds will provide breeding habitat for many moths
- A small tree or shrub as well as a lawn and flower beds will make the garden better for moths
- Keep your garden green. Moths can’t live on decking or gravel
- Do some moth trapping in your back garden and send the information to your County Moth Recorder
Some species of animals and plants are protected under law. The level of protection varies between animals and between laws.
There are 3 main categories
- European Protected Species eg. all bats, great crested newts, otters, dormice and some plants. These are protected under the Habitats Directive/Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010.
- Domestically Protected Species eg. water voles, reptiles (slow worm, grass snake, common lizard), all wild birds, badgers. These are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.
- “Species of principle importance” ie. BAP species (see Biodiversity Action Plan section). These are listed under Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.
A very short summary follows for each animal. Please refer to the Acts for further details.
Bats and Great crested newts
All bat species in Britain and Great crested newts share the same level of protection. They are protected under Schedule 2 of the Habitats Directive/Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 and under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 through inclusion on Schedule 5.
Under the Habitats Regulations “a person who…deliberately captures, injures or kills any (schedule 2 animal))…is guilty of an offence”
The WCA (1981) states “A person is guilty of an offence if intentionally and recklessly he…disturbs (a Schedule 2 animal) while it is occupying a structure or place…,or…he obstructs access to any structure or place which (a Schedule 2 animal) uses for shelter or protection…., or sells any live or dead (Schedule 2 animal) …or any part thereof…”
All wild birds are protected as a starting point. Certain birds are excluded from “wild bird” definition to reflect landowner/sporting interests ie poultry/game birds. The WCA (1981) defines “wild bird” as “any bird of a (species) which is ordinarily resident in or is a winter visitor to (any member State or the European territory of any member State) in a wild state…”
The offence is “if any person intentionally kills, injures or takes any wild bird…damages the nest of a wild bird while the nest is in use or being built…or…interferes with any nest habitually used by any wild bird in Schedule A1, obstructs or prevents any wild bird from using its nest… takes or destroys an egg of any wild bird…”
Otters are protected under Schedule 2 of the Habitats Regulations where the offence is committed by a person who “deliberately captures, injures or kills…disturbs…damages or disturbs a breeding site or resting place…” The WCA 1981 adds to this that it is an offence for any person who “sells…transports for the purpose of sale, any live or dead wild animal…or any part thereof…”
All native reptiles are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (WCA) 1981 (as amended). Common lizards, slow worms, adders and grass snakes are all protected by section 9(1) and 9(5) of this act. An offence is caused by “a person who…deliberately captures, injures or kills…or…sells any live or dead (Schedule 5 animal) or part thereof…
Water voles receive protection through inclusion in Schedule 5 of the WCA 1981. Previously only the burrows when “in use” were protected. This protection has recently been extended (April 2008), so the water vole is now fully protected under all the potential offences listed in Section 9 of the Act: killing, injuring, taking, damaging or destroying structure or resting or breeding place, obstructing access, selling etc.
Badgers have their own Act, The Protection of Badgers Act 1992. It is a criminal offence to wilfully kill, injure, take, possess, sell, or cruelly ill-treat a badger, or attempt to do so; to intentionally or recklessly interfere or block the entrance of a sett.
Biodiversity action plan
The Biodiversity process in the UK
Following the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, 150 governments from around the world signed The Convention on Biological Diversity. In so doing, world leaders agreed a comprehensive strategy for 'sustainable development' and committed themselves to restoring the Earth's natural resources.
The UK government was one of the signatories to the Convention and its first action was to produce the UK Biodiversity Action Plan in 1993. By 1995 the UK Biodiversity Steering Group had published action plans for many species and habitats detailing how they were to be protected, sustained and increased.
The Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act came into force on 1st Oct 2006. Section 41 (S41) of the Act requires the Secretary of State to publish a list of habitats and species which are of principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity in England.
The list has been drawn up in consultation with Natural England, as required by the Act. 943 Species and 56 habitats are presently on the list. These are species found in England which were identified as requiring action under the UK BAP and which continue to be regarded as conservation priorities under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.
In accordance with Section 41(4) the Secretary of State will, in consultation with Natural England, keep this list under review and will publish a revised list if necessary.
Section 40 of the Act puts a general legal duty on public bodies to have regard to the purpose of conserving biodiversity:
“every public authority must in exercising its functions have regard…to the purpose of conserving biodiversity”
It soon became apparent that if the BAPs were to be successfully implemented, much of the work would need to take place at a local level. In 1999 the Essex Biodiversity Project was formed to coordinate biodiversity projects across the county, identify local issues and to harness local skills and expertise.
Essex Biodiversity project
The Essex Biodiversity Action Plan focuses upon 19 Priority Habitat Types and recognises that many organisations, local authorities or regional governments continue to use or reference local or historic national BAP targets and may continue to do so for planning and other purposes. Indeed, the new National Planning Policy Framework makes explicit reference to such targets (where they locally exist) as part of the planning process. Where such local or regional BAPs can be clearly demonstrated as being of relevance to a local plan then these should continue to be a material consideration and are of relevance for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) for specific developments. Equally, previous BAP targets (local, regional or national) provide a useful tool and guide against which to baseline and plan biodiversity delivery.
In Essex, the existing working arrangements with partners are so well established that it makes good practical sense to continue with them, and this will enable continuity with current on-going projects. The Essex Biodiversity Action Plans 2011 is under construction. It comprises the guidance for biodiversity work in Essex, and relates to the 19 Priority Habitats of the Biodiversity 2020 Strategy, as well as the list of Priority Species and Habitats provided for in Section 41 of the 2006 Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act.
Epping Forest District Council uses the Essex BAP as a guide in its regard to its biodiversity duties.
The Biodiversity Action Reporting System (BARS)
The ability to collate and report information on practical action taken to achieve benefits for biodiversity has always been important within the conservation community. However, the need to do this effectively at a national and UK scale was driven by the strategic commitments made under the first UK Biodiversity Action Plan published in 1994.
BARS development is supported by a UK partnership between DEFRA, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Environment Agency, the Wales Biodiversity Partnership and the National Biodiversity Network Trust. This partnership continues to maintain and enhance BARS to ensure that it meets the needs of its users.
It is a national on-line system that meets the individual reporting needs of organisations and the collective reporting needs of the broader partnerships. It is a strict model for recording actions but also a flexible structure to establish partnership affiliations between organisations and actions. BARS includes interactive mapping which helps users explore the location and extent of activity. Building on the new data model it is now possible to generate a range of powerful aggregated action summaries.
Epping Forest District Council reports its biodiversity actions to the BARS website.
Bumblebees need your help!
You can help to halt the decline of bumblebees in the UK, starting in your own back garden.
It is well-known that bumblebees are great pollinators, and therefore have a key role in producing much of the food that we eat, such as tomatoes, peas, apples and strawberries.
Bumblebees feed only on nectar and pollen and so need a ready supply of flowers throughout the year.
With wildflower meadows becoming scarce in the wider countryside, using your garden to grow native wildflowers is a great way of providing much needed habitat for bumblebees.
Native wildflowers are generally easier to manage in a garden compared to exotic or highly cultivated plants. So why not try growing some bumblebee favourites throughout the year?
Bugle, Lungwort, Comfrey, Monkshood, Foxglove and Cornflower are just a few examples that will attract and provide food for bumblebees.
Countrycare will be holding events and volunteer days over the next year for adults and children. The aim being to promote further appreciation and understanding of the many varieties of bumblebee.
Keep an eye on the Countrycare website for further information about these events.
Or for more information about bumblebees why not visit the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website at: www.bumblebeeconservation.org
Or take part in the BeeWatch Survey!
What is green hay strewning?
Since the 1930’s species rich grassland has declined by 97 percent in England and Wales. This is an important habitat to many species of invertebrate, bird and mammal and must be protected and enhanced where ever possible. Many species poor grasslands have the potential to be enhanced with the correct management technique.
One such technique is green hay strewning. This involves a nearby species rich donor site being cut before the wildflowers have gone to seed and the cuttings being spread over the species poor receptor site. Green hay strewning can be a very effective method of sward enhancement, however, for the best results the sward must be opened up.
This involves cutting the sward short and then creating areas of bare ground with machinery. Around 40-50 percent of the area needs to be opened up. This looks extreme but research has shown it to be necessary to reduce competition. Within a few months the original sward will recover and very little bare ground will remain.
Once the receptor site is ready a thin layer of green hay is spread thinly over the bare ground and trodden in. This is left up to 3 weeks to allow the seed to fall and then rolled to bed the seed into the ground. Results can be seen as early as the following year but some species may not appear in the sward for several years.
Linder’s Field Local Nature Reserve is made up of a mosaic of grassland, scrub, ponds and woodland. In 2011 the grassland portion of the site was identified as species poor, but Countrycare has used the green hay strewning technique of grassland management to improve the biodiversity and ultimately the aesthetics of the meadow.
The hope is that with continued management of the site, Linder’s Field LNR will become a thriving species rich grassland with wildflowers such as Grass vetchling, Knapweed, Goatsbeard and Ox-eye daisy. These are all species currently found at the donor meadow in the Roding Valley Meadows Local Nature Reserve. This work is all being undertaken by the Roding Valley Meadows Reserve Warden, Countrycare staff and volunteers from both organisations.
There’s life in that deadwood
Many people wonder why woodlands are left looking untidy with dead pieces of old trees left lying on the ground or as standing dead trees or stumps. Dead and decaying wood may look untidy but it is a vital part of a properly operating woodland ecosystem. It helps retain the diversity of the woodland by adding nutrients back into the soil and providing food and shelter for rare wildlife and plants. Deadwood also plays a part in alleviating the effects of climate change by acting as a medium term sink for carbon.
Until the late 20th Century woodlands which were being actively managed had deadwood disposed of by burning, chipping or removal. This was because of a mistaken idea that woodlands should be kept tidy and rotting wood should be removed to ensure the good health of the remaining trees. This led to the nutrients contained in the dead wood being removed and the widespread depletion of the woodland biodiversity.
The types of deadwood appearing in woodland include veteran trees, standing dead trees, trees blown over by high winds, fallen deadwood and old tree stumps. Although larger pieces of deadwood have more value as habitat than smaller, this does not mean smaller pieces are of no value.
Having large diameter deadwood is likely to produce a better long term continuity of habitat as large logs take longer to decay than small ones. Having trees at different stages of decay ensures a continuous of supply of deadwood.
There is a wide range of species which depend upon deadwood for habitat or food source, from birds and mammals to invertebrates, lichens mosses and fungi. Twenty percent of all woodland species depend on deadwood at some stage in their lifecycle. Many of the species are threatened or rare because of habitat loss and are restricted to habitats such as ancient woodlands and parklands. The benefits in retaining deadwood in woodlands has been shown as several of the insect species previously considered to have poor means of moving have undergone a rapid increase in their range through the retention of deadwood.
Deadwood is created by the process of decay in living trees and occurs in 1 of 2 ways
- Outside-in occurs where the tree is damaged either from high winds or storm or the tree might be diseased or suffering from drought. This will cause decay in the bark, the outer sapwood of the tree and the tree roots
- Inside-out occurs where a fungal infestation creates a hollowing of the tree heartwood
The process of decay occurs over a long time period. It creates a special type of habitat that changes as the decay increases. The decay is lived in by specialised organisms which rely upon the long term existence of the deadwood. Once decay starts the tree will become hollow and this creates the right conditions for hole-nesting birds and bats.
The UK Biodiversity Action Plan has a key component to create manage and retain deadwood habitat to improve the condition of native woodland.