A 'green line'

An example of species-rich chalk grassland at Red Hill - Rachel Shaw

Having learned about the importance of green corridors for the movement of wildlife, I visited a site in Colsterworth to see some conservation in action.

Having learned about the importance of green corridors for the movement of wildlife I visited a site in Colsterworth, on the doorstep of Newton’s birthplace, to see some conservation in action. Here local volunteers, organised by Mo and Jackie Taylor, managed two miles of disused railway.

They had already implemented a number of measures to make the area more accessible and pleasurable for visitors. This included scrub removal, path widening, bench installation, litter clearance and they had even added a camp ground. However, they were eager to learn how they could make the land more sympathetic to the native species of Lincolnshire.

Scything demonstration

Mark giving a scything demonstration

Perhaps surprisingly, Mark Schofield, one of the Trust’s 2.4 Conservation Officers that cover the whole of Lincolnshire, advised them to cut and rake the grassland and open up the area further by removing some of the trees.

He explained that this was because the site contains limestone-grassland, an increasingly scarce and biodiverse habitat that would once have covered large swathes of western Lincolnshire but is now highly threatened due to development and agriculture.

Red Hill Lincolnshire

An example of species-rich chalk grassland at Red Hill - Rachel Shaw

These scarce grasslands contain lime-loving plant species which are important for insects such as butterflies, bees and hoverflies. These insects are important pollinators and in turn provide and important food source for predators and are essential for healthy agriculature.

If the land were not ‘disturbed’ by cutting and removal of the cuttings then already abundant, highly-competitive plants such as nettles, dock, cow parsley and ultimately hawthorn would flourish in an environment that was becoming a sink for macronutrients, such as nitrogen.

The tree and large shrub removal is also necessary to allow more solar energy to reach the ground layer, creating suntraps necessary for certain grassland species to thrive and to prevent the spread of shade-loving plants, such as ivy. This managed disturbance simulates the grazing and foraging behaviour of wild animals and stimulates the re-growth of the plants that are necessary to keep the grassland species rich.

The volunteers were also shown how to harvest local seeds and plant them so that the rarer species are given a better chance to survive. As part of the site visit Mark gave a demonstration of scything so that the volunteers could manage the grassland and keep fit in the process (without losing appendages).

It was heartening to see the energy and enthusiasm that the team had in maintaining and ultimately improving the natural surroundings in which they lived and it gave me hope that, with guidance, people can create a more resilient and varied environment that will meet our provisioning needs but that we can also enjoy.

Doug

Colsterworth visit