Flooding EghamAs I write this the devastating effects of flooding on individuals and communities, particularly in the south of Britain, can be witnessed daily through the media. In Somerset, and here in my own county of Surrey at Staines, Chertsey and Egham, homes have been damaged and people evacuated. 900 people have been rescued across the county since last Sunday. The political blame game is in full swing and the misguided call for dredging appears to be winning the day. But as one Environment Agency colleague succinctly put it, thinking that dredging would help alleviate these floods was like thinking you can fit four teapots full of tea into one bone china cup if you remove the spoon-full of sugar.

 

HedgesFlood(C) Adam GrayThankfully, the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), together with the BluePrint for Water Partners that includes The Wildlife Trusts (for whom I work) have published “Floods and Dredging, A reality Check”. The report summarises the effects of dredging on river systems, highlighting that it can be a useful tool in the toolbox increasing channel conveyance and reducing water levels in small floods, particularly on heavily modified water bodies. However the report emphasises the need for a Catchment Based Approach (CaBA), with focus on natural practices to slow water and increase infiltration rates, including “planting woodland, shelter belts and hedgerows”

The first title for this blog was going to be “Apart from flood mitigation, soil protection, mitigating runoff and pollution of watercourses, hosting natural predators of crop pests, stock management, food, wood fuel and climate regulation, what have hedgerows ever done for us..? ?” A Hedgelink report summarises the ecosystem services provided by hedgerows (1), including identifying an important role in water management.

“A 50m hedgerow at the bottom of a 1ha field can store between 150 and 375 cubic metres of water during rainy periods for slow release down slope during dry periods”

Evidence points to hedgerows being useful in storing water and increasing its transit time across fields. A 50m hedgerow at the bottom of a 1ha field can store between 150 and 375 cubic metres of water during rainy periods for slow release down slope during dry periods. This effect is greatest in soils rich in clay or organic matter. Because of their deep roots, hedgerows remove water faster from the soil than crops during periods of excessive rainfall, through increased evapotranspiration.(2,3)

flooded fieldsSince 1945 there has been a drastic loss of hedgerows through removal and neglect throughout the UK, especially in eastern counties of England. Between 1984 and 1990, it was estimated that the length of hedges declined by about 23% in Great Britain (4).As well as the decline in biodiversity, this loss could present a significant reduction in the services, such as flood management, provided by hedgerows.

But supporting evidence is still needed, and last year Hedgelink members proposed that ecosystem services provided by hedgerows as a top research priority. DEFRA have awarded funding to produce a research review to be undertaken which will be published in late Spring.

1. Wolton 2009 The importance of hedgerows and the services they provide to society. Hedgelink.
2. Provision of environmental services through the Environmental Stewardship scheme. Final report to Defra (research contract NR0121). By Land Use Consultants in association with GHK Consulting Ltd. March 2009 http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Document.aspx?Document=NR0121_8197_FRA.pdf
3. Trees, Hedges and Water. 2000. Document produced jointly by Solagro (France), Rural Development Department of Lower Austria, An Taisce (Ireland) and The European Natural Heritage Fund (Spain).
4. Barr, C.J. et al (1993), Countryside Survey 1990, Main Report, DOE London.

hedgelinklogo900 www.hedgelink.org.uk

This post first appeared on Feb 16 with details of how to order the work from NHBS at £399. I was promptly contacted by Georg Muller the author to tell me that neither he nor his publisher had supplied NHBS and certainly not at this price.

If you would like to purchase the book please contact Georg Muller direct for 318 euros = 262 pounds including shipping costs if it is dirket ordered from the author. See website http://www.wallhecke.de.

This is an impressive work that Georg has funded himself. Without visionary and dedicated people like him, works like this would not exist. Worth every penny.

******

Europe'sFieldBoundariesAfter 30 years of intense research in over 30  European countries Georg Muller has produced a colossal and comprehensive new work on Field Boundaries across Europe, which highlights the connection between farming methods and their field boundaries.

I was able to leaf through these impressive tomes at a recent Hedgelink Steering Group meeting, two of my colleagues having been sent complimentary copies. The books are so large that Emily bought Volume 1 from Leeds and Rob Volume 2 from Devon! As well as the beloved hedgerow, types include fences, dead hedges and hedge banks and dry stone walls. As well as wonderful colour photographs the 2 volume set has diagrams of construction methods

Professor John Dover, also of Hedgelink has written of Muller’s work

 “Field boundaries are not simply stock control or ownership boundary features, they are human cultural artefacts – and their presence in the landscape is a physical history of human endeavour

If you are feeling charitable and should you wish to purchase a copy for me, well, my gratitude would be as large as Georg Muller’s work.

Muller 2013 Europe’sFieldBoundaries_sample

hedgelinklogo900 www.hedgelink.org.uk

HarvestMouse1

Sunday

At 05:00 this morning I headed out onto almost deserted roads, the cars outnumbered by planes overhead on their final approaches: as I cruised up the A3 to junction 10 I waved farewell to those heading north into Heathrow and instead turned east onto the M25 with those Gatwick-bound. Our destination was the same, though I was not intent on the glitzy outlets for duty free shopping or awaiting a call, coffee in hand , for a flight to sunnier and more exotic climes. Instead I was headed for some grassy fields on the western side of the airport around the floodplain of the River Mole.

I had been invited to help out with some small mammal trapping at the airport by site ecologist Rachel Bicker and her friend and Sussex Mammal Group member Laurie Jackson. Rachel has been monitoring the site in order to make habitat management plans and has surveyed everything from moths to dormice to bats and herps. No mammal trapping had yet been undertaken, but Laurie and Rachel had found a harvest mouse nest on site. They had put 20 traps (locked open) in two locations on Thursday and the traps had been set on Friday morning by Rachel. On Friday evening at 5:45 I joined them with three others who were interested in gaining some trapping experience to check if the day had brought us any luck. We were rewarded with a bank vole!

I couldn’t attend on Saturday because I was tied up with our annual PTES Harvest Mouse workshop at Thundry Meadows (traps I had put out only caught a vole and nest searches of two areas were fruitless, the first time in 3 years). Rachel had two common shrews Sorex araneus and a wood mouse Apodemus sylvaticus on Saturday morning.

I arrived at the Greyhound Pub in Tinsley Green to pick up Katie May from the Bat Conservation Trust who had offered to help out. As the fog lifted and the morning brightened to a gorgeous sunsparkle October morning, we drove round past the monstrous hangers and the sleeping dragon-like jumbo jets, some roaring into the sky. I wondered if any passenger might spare a thought as they passed over the river to the figures emerging from a battered blue Peugeot van, to don wellingtons and fluorescent jackets and head out along the woodland edge into the surrounding fields, glittering with dew-bedecked spiders webs.
SpideryField
Our first ten traps quickly bought us up to match yesterday morning’s total with a couple of common shrews and a wood mouse. Sadly one shrew had died, not unusual at this time of year. Shrews have a relatively short lifespan and even those born in the spring are unlikely to make it through to the following year. A shrew’s high metabolism also means it need to feed constantly, so a good supply of mealworms- shrews being insectivores- is always required in a trap. Our wood mouse was a pregnant female, not unusual to find one this late in the year but in recent trapping events I have been finding quite a few-dormice also seem to be breeding quite late this year. Perhaps this is to be expected after the very late spring.

WoodyOutBag

DeadCShrew

We moved on to our second site adjacent to the River Mole where the grass was long and fringing Phragmites reeds and soft rush made it ideal habitat for harvest mice Micromys minutus. Katie and I had just been speaking about harvest mice and then in our next trap we found one! A spectacularly tiny 3g juvenile( too small to sex!) the young of this year. the tiny creature tried valiantly to chew my finger, but his tiny teeth did little to cause me pain. The miniscule harvest mouse is not unlike the shrew in in its short lifespan. Most will be born and die in the same year, although research shows those born in October have the best chance of surviving over winter. Maybe this little chap will have that chance!
MistyMole

We found two more common shrews- one with a curious black rump which made it look half water-shrew! I wondered about the possibility of cross breeding between these two species but its unlikely as they are not even the same genus. Common Shrew –Sorex araneus, Water shrew Neomys fodiens.

 

2013-10-06 08.11.09

We did two ten-minute nest searches in 50m2 around the harvest mice location but failed to find a nest despite suitable habitat structure. I vowed to return with a few more bodies to help out since there was a lot of habitat to cover, not just the grassland but reedbed areas too.

Katie and I walked back to the van buoyant from our discovery. I’m certainly glad I’ve seen my first harvest mouse for the year, even if I can’t add the result to our Surrey dormouse map, Gatwick being just over the border into Sussex. We can however take the news to the River Mole Catchment Partnership newly formed to focus on a long-term vision for the river. Mapping the extent of harvest mice, which are known to fare better in well-connected habitat, along the course of the Mole will give us a way to gauge the success of projects to improve the ecological status of the river as required under the EU water framework directive.

Time for a bacon sandwich and a cup of coffee. Despite the still-early hour I’m too buzzing to snooze!

In Viscri at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, the sky is exploding. The sky was darkening as we sat in the cobblestone courtyard of No 22 eating our tasty lunch of chicken soup followed by apricot cake, surrounded by prowling cats, a scruffy black and white hound, and a coterie of chickens and turkeys. As plans were confirmed for the afternoon the rain began and my afternoon survey was called off, and I’m grabbing a few priceless minutes to at last write my blog.
It’s just after breakfast on Tuesday morning in Viscri, Transylvania and the dust is settling where two minibuses loaded with 45 students predominantly from Sevenoaks in Kent but with a group from Glasgow, rolled down the road, passing a horse-drawn cart and villagers sat outside their houses enjoying the morning sunshine. The first of the OpWall students for the Romania 2013 season were heading back to Sighisoara for a day of sightseeing and a relaxed evening meal before catching a 6am flight home. It was a sad moment there was no doubt. We had certainly worked very hard and the cracks were definitely beginning to show toward the end, but most of the students bought enthusiasm and a keen sense of fun (mischief?) I have no doubt that some of them had life changing experiences. For the scientists, myself included, their departure was an opportunity to take much needed down time and restore our energy levels before the next group arrives on Wednesday afternoon.
Viscri is the third and largest village on our itinerary so far. A very impressive fortified church dominates the now familiar red-slate roved houses. When descending from the hills on our walk over from Mesendorf, I felt like we could be descending into a Romano British villa circa 43 AD. We were all very pleased to finally have beds and hot water after a week and a half under canvas in Crit and Mesendorf and suffering cold showers. The sun is now with us, bringing 30 degree heat, almost daily afternoon thunderstorms and some very trying survey conditions.
We are all well used to the patterns of our own survey agendas now. There are three transects at each village to the north, south and a third through the centre usually following a river. I’m up first at 5:3am if I have set the mammal traps, followed by Paul on Bird transects at 6am. I am usually back for breakfast for 7:30, then out again on Herp Surveys (Lizards and Amphibians) from 8:30 until 1pm. Nathan and Bruce conduct butterfly and plant transects during the day, while Roger and Nicole make visits to farms to study cattle health and offer advice on environmental stewardship payments. I am out again at 3pm to do more Herp surveys and set mammal traps, then I will co-lead with Paul amphibian and bird-call back surveys in the evening. Each of us is accompanied by our fabulous Romanian guides Dragos, Marcella, Sylvia and Tudor who are all environmental engineering students.
While we are out Rory delivers lectures and supports Carys, our boss, in making sure everything is running according to plan. Which it doesn’t always by any means. Students and staff are sometimes sick, rooms pre-booked disappear . Rory also plays some mean Ukulele and when we do get a chance to busk together we drive Carys up the wall.
Transylvania is stunningly rich in biodiversity. On our transects we are striding knee-deep through rich biodiverse grasslands. The grassland survey team are looking for indicators of unimproved, high nature value grasslands such as yellow scabious, sanfoin, crown vetch, charterhouse pink and lady’s bedstraw, and we are finding these in abundance. There are also less welcome yet still beautiful species such as chicory and agrimony indicating improvement. These are the once grazed or sown meadows that have been abandoned and are now showing signs of scrubbing up. The hillsides around Viscri are particularly degraded from intense grazing and lack of traditional management with some of the hillsides scrubbing up with hawthorn and blackthorn bushes. However this is excellent reptile habitat. I have found common (viviparous) lizard Lacerta vivipara, sand lizard Lacerta agilis  , meadow lizard Lacerta praticola and in Crit the fabulous Eastern green lizard Lacerta viridis, bright green with a vividly blue chin.
My small mammals surveys have been disappointing however and I am reviewing my methodology for the next group. I have been endeavouring to sample four habitats with a single nights trapping in each, and this doesn’t appear to be enough. I am catching almost exclusively the wood mouse Apodemus sylvaticus, although I am please to have caught a couple of Striped Field Mice Apodemus agrarius. I had until yesterday been perplexed by the lack of voles, until I caught a beautifully ruddy-backed bank vole Myodes glareolus, but to support the need to change tactics this was after trapping in the woodland for a two day period. Part of the problem is being unable to leave traps in situ during the day, unless this is in the most dense areas of grass and scrub, simply because there is so much agricultural activity from hay cutting to grazing. I have already lost 12 traps from one site.

We are picking up some more casual small mammal records during transect walks. Not only the common shrew Sorex araneus but also the lesser white-toothed shrew Crocidura suaveolens, much lighter in fur-colour and with an obvious sparse fringing of long hairs along its tail. My heart jumped when a brown hare  bolted from a tall patch of grass in front of me.
There is bear sign everywhere. In the meadows you can easily find anthills dug out by bears, areas of sometimes quite large disturbance with big clumps of soil and turf turned over quite ulike any other animal. There are some badgers and foxes too. Tell-tale scats, usually full of cherre stones, are plentiful up trails and through the beech, oak and hornbeam woodland, the signs of both polecats and beech and pine martens. I had brought some larger traps but have been unsuccessful in capturing a larger mammal yet. Adept, OpWalls local NGO partners have been running large mammal surveys in the evenings and setting camera traps. Bears have been seen up-close twice and, arguably more excitingly, a wolf. Much rarer in these parts has been caught on camera. Sadly none of the OpWall staff have yet been out on this survey, but I am hoping to go before I leave.
Transylvania is an amazing place for European visitors, particularly form those countries such as England who have lost a great deal of its biodiversity. Here you can easily see the plants and animals that you can see if you try harder and look further in England, and species we have lost and some we never have had. As I mentioned before there are moments when I feel like I might be in the England of the romans and other times when I might be in Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. The cobbled street lined by simple brick-built houses covered in lime render, animals and farm machinery are everywhere. On the occasional day when I have a lie in and make breakfast for 7:30, I meet locals coming back from the fields who have already put in a day’s scything now that July 1st has passed.
I was hoping to learn some more from Roger about how environmental stewardship is supporting Romanian farmers in Producing High Nature Value Grasslands but sadly he has also left with our first group after becoming too ill to continue. He suspects he may have picked up a a bacterial infection from unpasteurised cheese offered to him on one of his farm visits. We are being very careful about food!
We await our School groups from Austin, Texas and Manchester. Now I have finished my first blog I will catch up with my sleep before our evening meal. Tonight we celebrate the end of the first two weeks and Bruce’s birthday, reflecting on how lucky we are to be in this beautiful and inspirational country

Below: Lacerta vivipara Viviparous lizard

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Below: The hills above Viscri, Transylvania

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Bombina variegata Yellow bellied toads

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Lacerta agilis Sand Lizard

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A fritillary butterfly

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On the move between Mesendorf and Viscri, Rory plays some tunes

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Lacerta viridis Eastern green Lizard

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S3 Otter

A great moment this week when we discovered that one of our “OtterCams” had finally captured a picture of an otter on the Surrey side of the border with Hampshire.

Whilst the otter recovery across the UK-  a welcome antidote to the gloom presented by the recent State of Nature report- has seen all counties now with records of otter , the recovery in the Southe East, in Surrey, Sussex and Kent, has been slower. 

Early in 2013, I was alerted to the presence of otters on our South West border by the Environment Agency  and following it up was almost incredulous to see three otters- one obviously adult and two juveniles, which we have assumed are a family group. I have been tracking the progress of these animals along 5km of river into Surrey.Recently  I have been aided in my efforts when in May Aaron Mason from Surrey University Department of Computer Science loaned us 3 HCO Scoutguard SG580M cameras . These units not only take pictures but email thumbnails as soon as they have. We had placed one of these by a sprainting site that by the signs present had been visited regularly over a few years and which I knew had been sprainted in March 2013 and again in early June. As luck would have it we positioned a camera at this site only one day before the photograph was captured above.

We have two more cameras downstream, beyond the point at which we have found spraint, but where an artificial holt was installed by my predecessor Chris Matcham. It took me at least a minute to resolve the image below into something that wasn’t an otter, fixated as I was in their advance up river, but these are definitely badgers, visible beyond the “rear” exit pipe of the buried holt.

I’ll keep you posted though.

 S2Badger

Flickr Photos

Staples Lane, Clandon Downs, TQ063503

Staples Lane, Clandon Downs, TQ063503

Ash tree in hedgerow, Staple Lane, Clandon TQ 064503

Overlooking woods at High Clandon Farm TQ06275053

Gappy Field Maple hedge, Clandon Downs TQ06435035

Clandon Downs TQ06435035

Clouds over Clandon Downs

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) in hedge bottom, Staples Lane, Clandon Downs TQ05865137

Staples Lane Clandon Downs Panoramic

Staple Lane, East Clandon TQ06435035

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