Saturday, 23 February 2013

Providing habitat for Breckland species

We are currently undertaking some noticable work on the reserve as part of our management programme to encourage Brecks wildlife. You may have noticed the digger and other vehicles on site who have been contracted in to create disturbed ground and make improvements to some of our car park areas.

Historically Knettishall Heath had a lot more open ground and disturbed areas through past aggregate pits and sandy tracks. Many of these areas have been allowed to vegetate over and become more mature habitats. Therefore after securing some funding we are currently trialing a process to gradually re create bare ground and disturbed areas in small, highly varied parts of the reserve to create a mosaic of micro habitats.
Bare, sandy patches surrounded by Brecks flora of a varied structure are essential for some pioneering plant species that are now in decline, and it is hoped this work will encourage them back. Reptiles, such as this Adder (right,, and Breckland invertebrates, will benefit from warmer open patches and the associated diversity of flora.

The process is carried out by a digger skimming off the vegetation and top soil of a small area to expose the sandy soil underneath. Areas that have been chosen for the work include parts of the reserve on the heath that are most likely to support the targeted Breckland species, as well as several old pits where the natural slopes should encourage a variety of wildlife.
In particular a large pit near to Hut Hill was chosen that has a very old and hugely matted pile of barbed wire at the bottom, that was to entangled to move. The material that was scraped off the sides of the pit and nearby slope were then used to bury this hazard. The picture on the left shows this pit before it was re structured and covered up.
The pit after it has been filled in and bare gournd habitat cretaed around it

 The rest of the soil and vegetation material that has been scraped off in other areas has been transported to the car parks. Here it will be used to create low banks, or bunds, to define the car park edges, instead of the low wooden rails that are currently prone to accidental damage and vandalism. This should also leave the car parks with a more natural aesthetic appeal and further wildlife habitats.

Depositing the soil on top of the wooden car park fencing to create bunds
Timing: After securing funding we have waited as long as possible over winter until we started the work to prevent damaging the public footpaths too much during the muddy season, but have had to get the work done before ground nesting bird season in order to minimise disturbance to wildlife. Although skimming off the soil can at first appear damaging; this is essential habitat creation that has been carefully planned. It is a very exciting project, and for more information on it and the species it should benefit please don't heistate to contact the ranger.

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