Tag Archives: Stewardship

Carrs Wetland practical resources

Regular visitors to the Carrs Wetland website may notice a new menu tab called Resources. The purpose of this is to put in one handy place the acquired wisdom of the Carrs Wetland Project on practical methods for wetland restoration schemes. It is particularly for farmers, land managers or conservation advisers, (yes, even Natural England Land Management and Conservation Advisers) but any interested people will find some gems to use and share. Some of the downloads were previously available on the site, but harder to locate, (for example under FarmingInformation for Farmers).

The idea is for you to use / download / print / share them.  For starters don’t miss our popular case study notes of wader scrapes and farm sluices, summarizing the lessons and insight gleaned from the early years of the Carrs Wetland Project. We have had kind comments that the ‘scrapes hints and tips’ offers a more comprehensive explanation of the ‘how to do it’ than any Technical Advice Notes currently available from Natural England etc.

Wader scrape excavated in spring 2011 on Willerby Carr

Wader scrape excavated in spring 2011 on Willerby Carr

“I should explain that I digested and assimilated all the Scrapes guidance I could lay hands on at the time, from RSPB, Natural England, Buglife, Freshwater Habitats Trust etc,” admits Project Officer Tim Burkinshaw, “but the hints and tips started life as a guidance note for groundwork contractors who’ve not dug wader scrapes before.” Digger drivers can be too good when you want wader scrapes excavating, explains Tim:

“One was so skilled with a 13-tonne ‘360’ and 5ft bucket that he wanted to make smooth manicured, graded ponds, rather than the irregular, chunky finish that I wanted on the wet grassland fields. It looked like we were going to go way over time and budget on one job, so we had to press home the message that rough and lumpy was the way to go!”

Incidentally there’s a useful note on working with drainage and plant operators below too (including guidance on pros and cons of fixed price work and paying by the day or hour). I’d also recommend the online resources collectively called the Pond Creation Toolkit by Freshwater Habitats Trust (formerly Pond Conservation), which have much more on this topic, relevant to planning designing and implementing wetland scrape creation, which after all are temporary ponds.

If you haven’t done so already, please take a look at the Resources page now to see what’s there already. This will be added to this over time so keep checking back or follow our Facebook page or Twitter account for notifications of new stuff in Resources or elsewhere on the website.

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Fencing clever

Breeding waders HLS

Fencing at Staxton Carr for stewardship grassland

Regular visitors to Staxton Carr may have noticed some new fencing appear this spring on fields off Ings Lane and Staxton Carr Lane. The fencing is part of the scheduled HLS capital works to help manage some of these pastures for breeding waders, like Lapwing and Curlew, or possibly Snipe.

There are some nice options for circular walks in this area, using the public footpaths and, by common practice the river bank of the Hertford Cut. These circuits are perhaps best-known to residents of Staxton village who take regular walks with canine friends. Three lanes run parallel northwards to the Hertford River (the third, Willerby Carr Lane, becomes a rough farm track after the last house but is a public bridleway.)

A glance at the map shows that all three lanes are linked by Public Rights of Way. The fencing that has been added this year does two things. Firstly it creates grazing compartments enabling the farmer to better control the stocking levels (or shut them for a late summer hay crop). Secondly it separates the sensitive fields from the public rights of way in order to reduce disturbance from walkers or dogs straying ‘off piste’ among the ground nesting birds (or cattle, or both).

A wader scrape at Staxton Carr in one of the fenced pastures

A wader scrape at Staxton Carr in one of the fenced pastures

When the HLS scheme started here the relevant fields had some wader scrapes excavated – hollows for seasonal wet patches to linger in the springtime. Ground-nesting waders recorded in the fields in recent years include Lapwing Oystercatcher and Curlew. Over-wintering Snipe may stay on to nest among the boggy rushes, if undisturbed and the sward develops to their liking. Other ground-nesters here are Skylark, Meadow Pipit and that diminutive game bird the Quail.

Next time you enjoy exploring this part of The Carrs look for the scrapes and the rushy patches and remember why these fields are sensitive, especially at nesting time. We need the help of all footpath-users, whether two – or four-legged to keep these fields undisturbed – the wildlife value may not be obvious to the casual observer, but those of us in the know will keep a look-out and may even spot some chicks, if we are lucky.

A Bounty on the Brow

Jan14 011

Some mornings on the way over the Yorkshire Wolds to Scarborough I like to take in the back roads. One such route crosses East Heslerton Wold to arrive at the top of Sherburn Brow, where it encounters the Wolds Way long distance trail, which follows the road downhill towards Sherburn before regaining the crest of the brow. Now this un-sung viewpoint offers a cracking view across the Vale of Pickering any day of the year*, but the added bonus on this occasion was a mixed flock of finches alighting in a skeletal hedgerow.  The birds were enjoying the bounty of a stewardship crop planted as a winter food source for farmland birds. These wild bird mixtures can be a vital crutch to the survival of some of our smaller seed-eating birds in the winter countryside and I stopped briefly to appreciate the crop and the flighty flock of winged seed-seekers.

A wild bird seed crop (sometimes called WBS mix by those in the know) is a tailored mix of arable crop plants left unharvested over one or two winters. Typically they include a mix of starchy cereals and oil-rich brassicas. Wheat, barley or triticale, a forbear of modern wheat, could provide the cereal element for instance. Providing seeds with high lipid content could be oil-seed rape, fodder radish or kale. Such brassicas left to seed will provide seed pods for a couple of seasons and the sought after seeds will be held tightly by the plant until a prying beak makes good its entry. Other seed bearing crops like millet are sometimes are included in the mix to increase the variety. The whole lot grows together and additionally provides cover and shelter for game birds in the barren months of winter and spring.

stewardship

Wild Bird Seed crop on Sherburn Brow

One of the advantages of a sacrificial crop like this is that the seeds remain attached to upright stalks, safe from the rot and mould they would quickly succumb to if scattered on the ground. It can produce quite a wildlife spectacle if carefully located, by a thick hedge or a woodland for safety and warmth. This particular location, on my visit, had attracted 40 or more Bramblings, among dozens of Goldfinches and Chaffinches, with a few Greenfinch, Linnet and Bullfinch for good measure. While we enjoy our garden bird visitors attracted to seed feeders and bird tables it is worth thinking about the feast we might have in the countryside if a few more hectares of wild bird seed mix were sown on every farm. To recover their dwindling populations our farmland birds need not only to survive through the winters but emerge fit enough to breed the following spring. It made my week to see Bramblings and Linnets in double figures. Will future generations enjoy such treats I wonder?

* Footnote: The spot I refer to is one of my favourite routes to descend into the Vale of Pickering. While a sunny morning view is a joy, there is a phenomenon I long to capture on camera: that magical meteorological situation when a thermal inversion holds a thick grey fog pooled in the Vale while the Moors and the Wolds are bathed in golden sunshine. One can almost imagine Lake Pickering once more filling the Vale.