New ditches for water vole created using pre-established coir pallets and planting

A while back we told you about the biodiversity boom happening in Norfolk in part thanks to our Coir Rolls.

The latest from the area suggests some exciting ongoing work being done by the Mid Level Commisioners which highlights how managing wetlands can benefit wildlife.

At the annual meeting of the Middle Level IDBs Biodiversity Action Plan Partnership Ruth Hawksley presented findings from three surveys of water vole distribution in Ransonmoor and Curf Fen Drainage Districts carried out since 2005. A key fact was that ditch maintenance does not have a significant effect on water vole populations, and the best ditches were cleansed within the past 4 years.

Hilary Conlan, PhD student at Anglia Ruskin University then gave a very insightful presentation on her study of pollinators and the opportunities different types of fenland ditch margins present to them beside Manea and Welney District Drainage Commissioners drains. Several interesting initial findings were revealed such as – bat exclusion causing over population of certain insect species. Wide access margins provide more flowering opportunities in the early season – April and May. Also, narrow ditches with minimum margins that do not get cut until after harvest provide the flowers pollinators seek from mid-June onwards. And the addition of white clover to drain banks could provide long season nectar sources.

New Biodiversity Action Plan targets funding bid

Selection Of Unplanted and Pre-Established 200mm and 300mm Coir Rolls
Pre-established Coir Rolls

The Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) targets achieved by the Drainage Boards in the Middle Level Internal Drainage Boards(IDB) BAP Partnership are impressive – currently 92 barn owl boxes provided, 82 bat boxes installed, 84 kingfisher sites created, 148 black poplars planted and 80 otter holts constructed. 1,770 metres of Coir Rolls pre-planted with native marginal water plants have been installed at 23 sites to create ‘instant habitat’ for water voles, provide pollen for insects, seeds for birds and stabilising bank margins.

Plans for new actions that will benefit wildlife further in and around IDB drains over the next five years are being considered.

An action that not only benefits wildlife but also improves the stability and erosion protection of drain edges is the creation of small, flat berms just above summer water levels. When a flat shelf has got good vegetation cover, such as sedges, both the roots and the leaves give binding strength and erosion protection to the vulnerable soft margin of the drain. The shelf need not be particularly wide, 30 to 50 centimetres is enough to provide a flat base for good vegetation growth.

If sedge plugs are planted their root system is well suited to binding the soil and providing a geo-stabilising mat that naturally regenerates. The leaves of established sedge bend downwards in the winter and provide a curtain of vegetation that protects the soil at the water margin from erosion.

Other actions to benefit water-loving species that are being considered are the creation of wetland or pond sites adjacent to drains. Shallow water sites are some of the most valuable habitats to create but can also be some of the most difficult to maintain. Because of their generations of experience of managing water, IDBs working with willing landowners have the potential to create small but important wetland stepping stones in their Districts. The design and size of each potential wet site will depend on the opportunities that the individual location presents.

Of course the first question that any board member will ask is ‘How much is it going to cost?’ IDB are working with Cambridgeshire ACRE, the team that successfully put together the Heritage Lottery Fund bid that created the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership.

Under the working title ‘Giving Nature an Edge’ the creation of shelves and shallow water features at and near drain margins will form an crucial element in the bid, within a portfolio of projects aiming to strengthen the natural heritage of the Fenland area with an associated outreach programme to local communities. This will help to improve the understanding of the importance of IDB’s (and others) land and water management that is essential in the Fens and underpins biodiversity improvement work in the area.

This will be another major funding bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, put together – with Cambridgeshire ACRE again taking the lead – by a wide partnership of organisations. The aim is to put in an outline bid application in spring 2017.

If a bid for funds to support habitat creation on Board drains is successful it will provide opportunities for the creation of many connective stepping stones throughout Middle Level Districts and the enhancement of many drain edges to provide optimum habitat for water voles, invertebrates and plants that attract pollinators, among many others, while stabilising and protecting vulnerable bank margins. We will need to involve members of our local communities to help with surveying, recording and reporting changes at new sites, as well as monitoring successes at our existing provision of barn owl boxes, bat boxes and kingfisher sites, etcetera.

These volunteers will require training by experts in the skills necessary to carry out checks safely and correctly, which the bid will also cover.

Mid Levels IDB would like to hear from anyone with an interest in this sort of habitat creation, especially land owners adjacent to IDB drains. It will be targeted towards projects that Drainage Boards can assist with. An early expression of interest, without obligation, will help shape the funding bid and give a better chance of a successful bid.

Please contact Cliff Carson at Cliff Carson, Environmental Officer, MLC Offices, 85 Whittlesey Road, March. PE15 0AH
Direct line 01354 602965
Mobile 07765 597775
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