Managing our reserves

Matthew Roberts

During my placement I have been lucky to have visited some of the Trust’s reserves and find out what goes in to managing them as special sites for nature.

During my placement I have been lucky enough to have guided visits of around eight of the Trust’s reserves. It has been apparent how diverse the habitats are, sometimes within the same reserve where there is a mosaic of different environments, such as Whisby which has wetland, woodland and calcareous grassland.

It takes specialist knowledge to understand these different habitats, such as knowing which species do and should exist there, and then manage the areas to allow native species to thrive and prevent invasive species from becoming established.

Sometimes this involves decisions that are not popular, such as cutting down trees, something I wrote about in an earlier blog, because they are not appropriate for the habitat. Either because they do not allow enough light through to the understorey or because they provide a vantage point for predators to hunt the already vulnerable ground nesting birds and their eggs.

The reserves are vital because they are natural resource zones that we rely upon to support and protect our infrastructure and living standards.

Many reserves have been reclaimed from industrial or agricultural land and it often requires the reserve managers and Trust to have a long-term vision and commitment to remedial work before the land is quality habitat.

The reserves are vital because they are natural resource zones that we rely upon to support and protect our infrastructure and living standards. Within the national picture of conserving these resources Lincolnshire provides essential habitats that are arguably the most threatened because they do not fit the prevalent woodland view of nature conservation.

It has wetland, fen and peat lands that provide us with clean water, carbon and water storage facilities, soil cycling and pollution regulating services not to mention flood protection. There is also grassland, a highly endangered habitat and it is generally good for farmland, which supports pollinator species necessary for farming.

Finally, it has coastal and transitional areas between land and sea, in which many species seek refuge, that helps regulate the soil quality and again provides us with a safety buffer from flooding and erosion.

Many of these services will become more important as climate change continues and there are increasing demands on the land. In many respects the recreational aspect of the reserves is secondary but they are perfect locations to connect with nature as well as communicate their importance and educate people about the species found there. It is this aspect that perhaps provides the most challenges for the managers as they have to balance the needs of the wildlife with the desire to encourage as many people as possible to engage with these picturesque resources.

In many respects the recreational aspect of the reserves is secondary but they are perfect locations to connect with nature as well as communicate their importance and educate people about the species found there.

Within the species and habitats portion of their role the managers have to be careful not to concentrate exclusively on any one species as this can often be to the detriment of others. They have to ensure timely and appropriate food sources, such as berries or nectar, for the variety species.

Disturbance, such as flooding or grazing, is an important part of creating a habitat as it allows certain species to thrive and prevents succeeding species, for example scrub, from becoming established but the managers also have to ensure, as best they can, that the land is disturbed at the right time i.e. when birds are not nesting, and this has become more important as our wildlife stocks have become more scarce and increasingly vulnerable to disappearance.

Volunteers

Volunteers working on a reserve - Matthew Roberts

Often the managers will have a team of dedicated volunteers who are involved in species monitoring, manual labour to reduce scrub or build features (from benches and hides to nests for ospreys), educating the public or just acting as eyes and ears to spot plants and animals and prevent damaging behaviour and make the wardens aware of any hazards.

What has been apparent amongst all the reserve managers is not just their knowledge and understanding of the habitat they are stewards of but also their commitment to protecting the nature that we enjoy and need.

Doug