So far, we are the only authority in the United Kingdom to have made a written commitment to seek to achieve a net gain for habitat biodiversity, which will benefit both climate change mitigation and adaption.
Biodiversity in Warwickshire’s country parks
We asked Ben Coleman, Countryside Ranger at Ryton Pools Country Park to tell us about the work being done to increase biodiversity in our country parks and to give us some top tips for what we can do if we are lucky enough to have our own garden.
How important is climate change and conservation to our country parks?
There is a very strong conservation strand to the work we do, which benefits not just biodiversity as a buffer to climate change, but which also directly improves carbon sequestration. This helps to negate some of the effects of climate change in terms of cool zones and runoff capture.
What does this look like in practice?
We are currently involved with two schemes to enhance biodiversity. The first is the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), which runs across all five of Warwickshire’s country parks. They are all managed, in part, under Higher Level Stewardship agreements with Natural England. This agreement offers support to the undertaking of environmental management schemes which offer “significant benefits” to high-priority areas, namely wildlife conservation and natural resource protection.
HLS involves complex environmental management with advice and support from Rural Development Advisors. Most of our sites are in the scheme for the improvement of grassland swards to support greater floristic diversity, and hence increasing diversity up the food chain as a result. It involves nutrient stripping certain sections of grassland during the autumn and winter months by cutting and raking. This reduces nutrient levels in these areas, weakening grass vigour and creating gaps for wildflowers to re-establish from the seed bank. As we near the end of the ten-year agreement next year we have seen huge improvements in floral biodiversity (with 303 species of flowering plant recorded at Ryton Pools) and we are monitoring subsequent insect recovery currently alongside this too.
The second project is based at Ryton Pools, where we are five years into a thirty-year Biodiversity Offsetting Scheme (for which Warwickshire was one of the local authorities acting as a piolet for the scheme) working alongside colleagues at WCC Ecology. One of our 17-acre meadows is currently in the scheme with hopes of adding a second meadow soon. The scope of this work is to re-establish good quality, diverse hay meadow of which the UK has lost 97% (7.5 million acres) since the 1930's. Species-rich grassland now only covers just 1% of the UK's land area. As much of the preparatory work has now been achieved, we are working with colleagues in WCC ecology to seed the meadow this autumn with a local provenance Warwickshire wildflower seed, which is the first time this will have been done.
What else are you doing?
We also work very closely in partnership with Butterfly Conservation to both improve habitat and monitor butterflies and moths. Precise habitat management work across the site at Ryton Pools is now in place to ensure the greatest diversity possible. These insects are widely accepted as bioindicators of ecosystem health and as such respond very quickly to climate change. Our systematic survey data is submitted to both the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) and National Moth Recording Scheme (NMRS). Our data allows changes in distribution of various species to be tracked both in Warwickshire and in the national context, now proven statistically to be linked to a warming climate.
We also have a strong working partnership with Warwickshire Wildlife Trust in delivering outcomes for some of their landscape-scale improvement schemes. Kingsbury Water Park were involved in some large-scale reedbed creation work as part of the Tame Valley Wetlands project and here at Ryton Pools some 20,000 hedgerow trees have been planted to date as part of the Dunsmore Living Landscape Scheme. Drawing on knowledge in the team here, we have planted a huge diversity of hedgerow trees, including some rarely seen, to benefit the greatest range of dependent species we can. The fledgeling hedgerows are now going to be bolstered by additional rows, as thick, species-rich hedges have been proven to sequester more carbon than single rowed, tall hedges. Hedgerow Standard Trees (those that are allowed to grow to full size within the hedgerow structure) have also been planted, which are proven to increase biodiversity. Thought has also been given to selecting species resistant to climate change too.
We also have good contacts with a network of nature recorders across various groups of insects and animals who submit records to us which help inform site habitat management decisions.
What can residents do, if they are lucky enough to have a garden?
Avoid plastic grass at all costs! Insects can't access the ground beneath, everything below it will die and it contributes to heat retention and radiation from the ground. "Proper" grass and lawns contribute to urban cooling and rainwater capture as well as providing foraging grounds for birds.
Plant native species wherever possible, especially in terms of hedges and trees.
Don't mow the lawn as often, take part in "No-mow May" to allow wildflowers to flourish, providing nectar sources for insects.
Plant nectar sources and foodplants for insects and seed-bearing plants and fruit bearing shrubs for birds.
Don't be too tidy, leave a wild area with self-sown wildflowers and nettles for wildlife.