Following survey work by the Wildlife Trust last summer 14 new Local Wildlife Sites have been recognised across Northamptonshire. Despite the wet weather, and alongside a troup of volunteers, I surveyed over 70 sites across the county, including existing and potential new wildlife sites. The results were great news with the many of the existing sites in good condition and 14 new sites discovered – not bad for a county recently described by a Plantlife report as ‘botanically luckless’.
The new sites included a number of acid grasslands (a perfectly safe but rare Northants habitat that is important for insects and reptile and birds), wildflower meadows, a species rich road verge and the counties only remaining sphagnum bog. These are a mixture of new discoveries that have eluded surveyors in past years (it’s amazing how well wildflower meadows can hide away in lesser visited parts of the county), combined with sites that have developed through wildlife friendly management, the latter showing that the hard work by conservation organisations, landowners and famers in recent years is really paying off!
I may be biased but Local Wildlife Sites (aka County Wildlife Sites in Beds and Cambs) make a vital but often unrecognised contribution to our counties wildlife. In fact they are the most important areas for wildlife outside of legally protected sites such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). They come in a range of shapes and sizes and include wildflower meadows, ancient woodlands, wetlands, churchyards, old quarries and roadside verges. As the name suggest they are hugely important for our local wildlife, with a wealth of species depending on these sites, including many rare plants, insects and mammals. With the recent additions there are now 754 Local Wildlife Sites across Northamptonshire – so plenty of surveying to keep me busy, fingers crossed for a drier summer this year!
But it’s not all about surveying. As well as identifying and monitoring all important wildlife habitats across the county through a periodic surveying programme, there is a second important reason for running the Wildlife Site system. That’s to help land managers to maintain or improve their sites for wildlife, by providing free advice and information to landowners on managing these sites. In Northants 37% of Local Wildlife Sites are classed as being positively managed for wildlife, a number that has gone up annually since we started monitoring this in 2009, another positive for our wildlife!
However, that leaves many sites in need of improved management. This has led to the, SITA-funded project, Inspiring Meadows, an exciting project which is restoring wildflower meadow sites through working with landowners by offering free wildlife surveys and management advice, as well as funding for practical work to restore meadow habitats and help long-term management. Work over the winter has included fencing and providing access to water at seven sites, allowing better management through conservation grazing and I’m looking forward to seeing the benefits of the work this summer.