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Today Surrey Wildlife Trust’s new Citizen Science Project ‘Hedgerow Heroes’ took a step closer to realisation as I delivered a taster session for our People and Wildlife Department directed  by the awesome Aimee Clarke

 

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Awesome Aimee Clarke

 

As regular followers of this blog will know hedgerows are a passion of mine having created and steered the Hedgerows for Dormice Project for Peoples Trust for Endangered Species from 2009-2011 thanks to a Countdown 2010 Grant from Natural England to improve the status of Dormice in the UK.

Thanks to the incredible physical endurance of  James Herd from the SWT Commercial Development Team and Ranger Ben Hapgood who recently completed a gruelling Triathlon , and the generosity of Chessington World of Adventures, “Hedgerow Heroes” will commence in 2017. In the first instance we will be training volunteers to help us update the status of  hedgerows in Surrey- their extent and condition, In future years we hope to engage in hedgerow management and perhaps explore some novel ideas around community ownership of hedgerows as part of neighbourhood planning and green infrastructure networks.

Surrey Wildlife Trust has a Vision for a Living Landscapes for People and Wildlife which depends on Citizen Science programs like RiverSearch and the upcoming Hedgerow Heroes. Hedgerows are a magnificent example of a semi-natural habitat that requires human intervention to maintain (blog post on anthropogenic habitats forthcoming), which 130 Species of Principal Importance for Nature Conservation rely on and ecosystem services such as natural flood management, natural pest control and  soil erosion control depend on.

Our day today was light-hearted but with serious overtones. Guffaws about hedgerow bottoms were met with serious concerns about well-managed hedges with enough shrubby growth at the base for refuges for hedgehogs, which are one mammal species, as well as  dormice, that can trace an evidence base for their own decline back to  hedgerow loss and poor management

Oh dear I seem to have brought my Canadian Doughnut & Hedgerows fetish back to the UK as well.

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L-R: Glen, Keith, Emma, Libby,Jenny, Louise, Tom, John, David

Turning a frown into a smile amongst ordinary people working to improve their environment

Today started badly there is no doubt about that. The US became even more of a theme park than usual and an Orange Man who hates almost everyone but himself had become President.

Yet haven’t most of us known for some time that 21st Century Western Civilization is broken. It’s a machine designed to make us consume, because consumption is the dynamo that drives the growth economy which allows our societies to build more houses and shops and roads and hospitals and schools so we can live long and healthy lives….er… consuming.

For me Brexit and Trump are warnings of collapse, but instead of marshalling the best in us to build a better world, they are symptoms of the fear that people have for their future when power is taken away from them, away from the idea that Governments are elected to represent them but instead give power to globalised entities in the name of wealth generation and growth.

Wealth generation and growth is a process, not an end point. The end point should be global well-being.

My antidote to all this was a day on the Rye Brook , a small tributary of the River Mole which itself is a tributary of the River Thames, rising in West Sussex near Horsham and flowing 80km north-west through Surrey to join the Thames at East Molesey near Hampton Court. I was here with 9 volunteers who had given up their day to help improve the morphology and habitat of the Rye as it confluences with the Mole in River Lane Meadows, Leatherhead. The Rye is classed as a Heavily Modified Water Body  in the parlance of the EU Water Framework Directive due to its modification for flood relief, so it will never achieve Good Ecological Status. However we can mitigate the effects of the structures and impoundments along its course by improving habitat. This is the aim of the project we are now running called Rye To Good, with the target being Good Ecological Potential.

I have been working on the Rye since 2010 when I produced a Hedgerow Management Plan for Ashtead Rye Meadows. Today, I manage projects like Rye to Good as part of Surrey Wildlife Trusts’ Living Landscape vision, and particularily our Catchment-based Approach (CaBA) work hosting the River Mole Catchment Partnership (RMCP) and Wey landsacpe Partnership (WLP). The Rye Brook is lucky enough to have an army of interested residents and forward-thinking landowners who readily get involved to improve the condition of their local watercourse.

Today everyone looked a bit fazed. We had hoped to break a couple of weirs at the mouth of the Rye to improve the passage of fish into the brook, but after a full night of rain the brook was too high to work with the equipment to cut through concrete weirs. However we set to work on the other goals- installing two deflectors to encourage a straightened section of channel to meander; building a berm to create a low flow channel which would continue to move silt even in lower flows; and day-lighting the brook from years of neglect allowing blackthorn to block out any light into the channel.

With myself and colleagues Glen and Emma today were John, Keith, Libby, Tom, Louise, David and Jenny.Volunteers were from the Surrey Wildlife Trust RiverSearch Citizen Science Project and Surrey County Council’s Lower Mole Countryside Project.

Today has reminded me that real political power lies in the connections we have with each other. Keeping an open mind and heart and solving communal problems as citizens- not as consumption-orientated individuals has to be the way to a brighter future.

Stay positive.

 

 

 

 

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(Probably) The first ever hedge layed in Canada! L-R: Jim Jones, Jef Gielen, Nigel Adams, Steve Quilley

Where I find myself in Ontario Canada introducing the technique of hedge-laying and discovering social-ecological complexity, Novel Ecosystems theory and Community Supported Agriculture along the way

 

 

I’m writing this blog as US Citizens go to the polls and a baked potato crisps in the oven, getting ready for a date with home-made chilli. By the time you read this, we will have a new ‘leader of the free world’. I doubt much will change really, except the aforesaid citizens will have as much to divide them as we Brits now have thanks to Brexit

So if you can’t bare another Trump vs Clinton, Brexit vs Remain story, let’s talk about Connections, my favourite topic. There is after all far more that unifies us than divides us.

I was invited as a guest of the Institute of Social Innovation and Resilience at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, to take part in exploring social-ecological complexity, and in particular the role hedgerows and hedge-laying might play in designing “novel” or “designer” ecosystems ahead of the inevitable growth of the Toronto Golden Horseshoe.

Hedgelaying in Ontarios Greenbelt-Program Fall 2016

I’ll explore the detail of the project in a later blog, but for now it’s worth explaining how this invitation came about due to its almost serendipitous levels of connectivity. Before I joined the Surrey Wildlife Trust I ran a project for the People’s Trust for Endangered Species called Hedgerows for Dormice (HfD) (HfD Newsletter 2011) from 2009-12, for which I ran a series of workshops across England and Wales for Landowners about Hedgerow Management. Through this project I had joined Hedgelink which at the time was the UK BAP for Hedgerows Steering Group, and now goes from strength to strength as a technical advisory group on hedgerows which are a Habitat of Principal Importance for Nature Conservation in England.

Through Hedgelink I met Nigel Adams, a countryside management professional specialising in hedge-laying, and vice-chair of the National Hedgelaying Society. I enlisted Nigel to help me with the HfD Hedgerow Management Workshop, providing a much-needed practical element of hedge management through his 10-point plan to compliment the positive wildlife message from my PTES project. Nigel also attended my NERC Workshop on Hedgerow Connectivity at Imperial College in 2014 and off the back of this he enlisted me in the 3-man mission (with Jef Gielen, a hedge-layer from the Netherlands) to Ontario to demonstrate the art of Hedge-laying. Nigel and the NHS had hosted the Waterloo team, headed up by Dr Steve Quilley and PhD Candidate Perin Ruttonsha, when they attended the National Hedgelaying Championships in 2015, and who subsequently invited him and Jef to take part in the all program at Waterloo in 2016.

Nigel, Jef and I were intrigued by the invitation because we didn’t equate Canada with hedgerows, let alone hedgelaying. The team at Waterloo were tasked with finding a hedge for Nigel and Jef to demonstrate their art and it soon became clear that finding a suitable “hedge” was not easy. After arriving in Ontario on a Monday evening in September we went straight to work on Tuesday demonstrating hedge-laying on a small patch of shrubs at the Quilley’s property in Elora. I say “we” I am of course more an eager conservation hedge-layer rather than professional like my colleagues but the “hedge”, layed midland style, was soon shaping up. Until we ran out of shrubs to lay!

Following this first demonstration we journeyed with our hosts from our base in Waterloo to Caledon and scoured Mount Wolfe Forest Farm for a suitable hedge to lay. Beautiful as the farm is, it did lack anything resembling a hedgerow although a line of trees along the edge of a woodland strip gave us the opportunity to demonstrate again. Assembled at Mount Wolfe to watch the demonstration were some of the posse that had been to the 2015 Hedge-laying Championships in the UK including Debbe Day Crandall (Save The Oak Ridges Moraine Coalition), Gord Macpherson (Toronto Region Conservation Authority), Karen Hutchinson (Caledon Countryside Alliance/ Albion Hills Community Farm) and Nicola Ross (Writer and Environmentalist), together with farm manager Sarah Dolamore, all keen to see how hedges and hedge-laying might be a useful tool in the conservation of the Oak Ridges Moraine Area.

These hedge-laying demonstrations naturally gave rise to many questions. Why aren’t hedges, never mind hedge-laying, more prevalent in Ontario? What are the best species of shrub to use from the palette of Ontario species? In our hedgerows were maples, ash, basswood, hawthorn and buckthorn which all seemed to work but would this yield the best results? How might snowfall impact the newly cut pleacher? There may be good practical reasons why hedges haven’t been planted extensively in Ontario, however further work should look to map current hedgerow extent. Nigel and Jef had brought their own bilhooks over with them thinking no such equipment would be easily available. Only after they had both left (I stayed on for two extra weeks) was a Canadian-made billhook unearthed in the Barn at Mount Wolf Forest Farm

Of course there may also be social aspects to explain the lack of hedges. Settlers from Europe were in some cases disenfranchised by the theft of common land and its redistribution to wealthy landowners exemplified by the exclosure acts. During the enclosure acts of 1750-1850 over 200,000miles of hedgerow was planted enclosing over 2 million acres of land. Perhaps hedgerows represented a way of life settlers would rather forget. I will come back to this because I think it raises some challenging questions about how much social and cultural aspects should be considered when ecosystem functioning is threatened.

The general consensus was that some trial hedges should be planted as soon as possible to answer some of these practical questions before hedgerows might be rolled out as a component of green infrastructure.

Subsequent blogs will explore:

  • Novel ecosystems concepts
  • Complexity and resilience
  • Ontario-Surrey Comparisons
  • Community Supported Agriculture & Forestry
  • Locally-derived ecological coherence & resilience

Oh, and here are the donuts………

No one who isn’t a full on neoliberal capitalist, head of a multinational or hedge fund manager really thought the political system was working well, was happy with the status quo. I looked forward and worked towards a time when people took power back and said Enough!….I respect the need for the voice of protest emerging behind #Brexit #Trump but not the fear – and hatred- driven direction this protest has taken.

But its not a time for despair: its a moment to stay together, dig deeper and work harder for a future where social and ecological justice prevail. This doesn’t just happen- we all need to take responsibility for making this happen, and stop burying heads in the sands of consumption.

 

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After a busy week of hedgerows, harvest mice and River’s Week planning, time to relax…with a Dormouse Box Check!

9am in the woods at Furnace Place Estate (FPE), I met with Margaret, Wendy, Alan Mary and Nigel from the Haslemere Natural History Society (HNHS) who have been checking the boxes with me for the last two years. They were very patient through year one when we caught absolutely nothing vertebrate- not even a wood mouse! We’ve been rewarded this year with four individual dormice –two each male/female. We caught a pair in May, snoozing in their bracken and birch-leaf nest. We hoped they would breed but no sign yet. In June we picked up another male and July another female. We are able to identify individuals by giving them an individual fur-clip (requires L2 licence from Natural England).

I’m back from the site now where we found one individual but unfortunately it was too quick for the surveyor. We use a “stuffer”-a duster- which goes in the hole in the box to prevent its occupants fleeing before it’s taken from the tree for processing. This sharp-eared dormouse must have heard us coming and was out before stuffer was..er…stuffed. Still, good to know the animals are still about even if we can’t know which of our animals that was.

The Hazel Dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius is afforded the highest legal protection because of its declining UK population. It status as a European Protected Species (EPS) means that a licence is needed in order to survey and handle them. A Level 2 licence is needed to fur clip animals as part of a scientific study. Fur clipping helps us to identify individual animals and learn about their survival, breeding and dispersal (movement habits). This site will be registered as part of the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme run by Peoples Trust for Endangered Species so that our data can be used to keep track of the UK conservation status of these species.

 

49 dormice boxes at FPE set up in a grid pattern. By chance rather than by design the north-east tip of the grid eases out into more open habitat on Forestry Commission land (with their approval of course) which is regenerating woodland clear-fell. Of particular interest at this site is that all animals are being discovered in this habitat where birch, bramble and bracken dominates on very acid soils, and not in the oak-ash-hazel coppice woodland where the bulk of the boxes are. In fact we have caught nothing in two years in this habitat, not even a solitary wood-mouse. I’ve never come across this before in other sites I have monitored. Perhaps the dormice are hiding way up in the canopy and amongst the cavities and rot-holes in some rather splendid, rather tall oaks. Laughing.

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Oak/ash/hazel woodland with (44/50 boxes,  0 dormice)

 

<Pic of birch/bracken scrub to follow (5 boxes, 4 dormice)<

 

My own feeling is that the dark interior of this woodland provides less foraging opportunities than the scrub beyond. Studies from Europe show how Dormice respond very well to woodland management   opening up the canopy and letting light into encourage understory growth of brambles and shrubs (e.g. Ramakers_etal_2014; Juskaitis2008_CommonDormouse_pp90-93 ; Juskaitis2008_CommonDormouse_pp18-25). I don’t have the data to support this from our site however, and there continues to be a dearth of published studies in the UK since Morris/ Bright’s in the 1990s and therefore strong differences in opinion in what constitutes good woodland management with dormice in mind. Following the Forestry Commission’s Best Practice Guidelines is the current standard.

In the meantime however here are some pictures of dormice nests composed of bracken and birch leaves without a bit of honeysuckle in sight.

I’m very grateful to the The Barlow’s who own Furnace Place Estate for allowing Surrey Wildlife Trust to monitor these woods for Dormice in collaboration with NHNS who through their members Wendy and Allan Novelle, also dormice monitors, supplied the FPE project with boxes. Landowners, Communities and organisations like Surrey Wildlife Trust working together for the benefit of wildlife is an essential part of SWTs Living Landscape vision. Chris Packham claimed dormice were a “conservation con” a few years back to the outrage of the monitoring community, although I recall he was really just bemoaning the improbability of discovering one of these fascinating mammals in the normal process of being a naturalist. Its my hope that where schemes like these give people the chance to discover these sleepy characters in their own local woods along with other natural gems, a sense of value and pride can be fostered in local natural places, and a plan to invest in retaining them into the future can be drawn up.

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Some of the team from Haslemere Natural History Society earlier in the year with Mary Stuart-Jones (Surrey Dormouse Group etc etc)-Margaret and Alan Tomsett, John Rees (also Surrey Moth Group), Martyn Phylis (also Surrey Bat Group), Margaret Hibbard, Wendy Novelle (better picture coming soon!)

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Yours truly with the first dormouse at FPE captured May 22 2016

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