Our Sussex office enjoyed taking a day out to monitor a nature reserve and look at the long-term effect of a Higher Level Stewardship agreement.
Our involvement in a development scheme in Newhaven is in its 10th year! Amongst other things this has involved a multi-season translocation of a significant population of great crested newts to a purposely commissioned nature reserve – The Ouse Estuary Nature Reserve. The reserve is also an important site for birds as well as providing a range of ecosystem services such as flood management and recreation. It is managed by East Sussex County Council’s Rights of Way and Countryside Maintenance team, who we have worked closely with over the years.
Most recently we have written a 10 year management plan, overseen ditch restoration works and successfully applied for a Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement. Payments under both the HLS and a Section 106 planning obligation have helped to safeguard the reserve going forward.
In consultation with Natural England the HLS has been uniquely designed to benefit great crested newts. 20 hectares of grassland will be managed under prescription HK15 – Maintenance of grassland for target features, following a rotational grazing plan for cattle. A further 15 ponds within these fields will be managed under HQ2 – Maintenance of ponds of high wildlife value.
At the end of June our Senior Ecologist Ben Kimpton led our Lewes staff and Andy Mitchell (the council’s Senior Ranger) on a day botanising around the reserve. This helped to inform baseline information for HK15 grassland from which any changes brought about through HLS can be monitored. We recorded a number of new plants including meadow crane’s-bill, pepper saxifrage and adder’s-tongue. We also gained a better understanding of the distribution of the nationally rare divided sedge Carex divisa, which was already known at the site.
Whilst grassland at the site contains a suite of plants indicative of ‘Lowland Meadow’ their frequency is currently too low to qualify for this status. Lowland Meadows have undergone a dramatic decline in the 20th Century and are a Habitat of Principal Importance for Biodiversity in England under the Natural Environment and rural Communities Act 2006 [formerly referred to as priority habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan].
It is hoped that changes to grassland management will help improve the diversity and frequency of wildflowers as well as providing high quality terrestrial habitat for great crested newts. Who knows, if things go to plan, some fields may even qualify as Lowland Meadow which will be a great asset for the reserve. This could then be managed as HK6 – Maintenance of species-rich, semi-natural grassland.
The day out helped to share both our skills in recording and dodging a herd of 16 frisky bullocks! Monitoring of the reserve will be carried by Ecology Consultancy as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility with results fed back to the local Records Centre, East Sussex County Council and Natural England.