If ever I had a motto for how to increase the biodiversity of a place it would be "Just add water..."
Water, even the tiniest amount, brings huge benefits to wildlife.
For the wildlife already in-situ, a pond or lake provides somewhere to drink and bathe. And it then creates a new habitat for new species to move into. The likes of frogs, newts and dragonflies will very soon find a new patch of water to colonise. So, yes, "just add water" is a very simple thing we can all do to help wildlife. But recently I've come across a whole new meaning to the phrase.
Kingsdown Water are a bottled water company. They extract rain water from a chalk aquifer that simply drains water into the sea. So the water they take out does not effect any local rivers, its so deep it doesn't effect the largely monoculture farming fields 100ft above. The bottles they use are glass not plastic and they are certified as carbon neutral. You may not agree with bottled water, but as bottled water companies go, these guys are trying hard to get it right when it comes to the environment.
They're doing well as a business too and want to build a bigger factory. This means buying up a local Garden Centre and its land. A number of local residents are horrified by this and some claiming wildlife will be threatened, but I am not sure that is the case. I know many developments see concrete pouring all over a site, but I've just been to talk to the company, looked at the site and actually, I think there plans could well increase diversity, not lower it.
Of the five acre site, only about a third will be turned over to factory and car park. The rest consists of scrub, an over grazed field and some low grade newly planted woodland. They've asked me to help look at the land and increase its biodiversity.
The first thing to sping to mind is of course build a pond, there is plenty of room for that and I am sure it will be a first up. Secondly, the field has been grazed by horses for an age, its pretty rubbish for wildlife, but it is a field based on chalk, and it could be chalk grassland which can be tremendous for wild flowers and insects; not far away Blue Adonis butterflies can be found for instance. So Kingstown Water want to manage the field to bring it back to top class wild chalk grassland, one of our rarest UK habitats.
Around what will be the factory borders are hedgerows of bramble and hawthorn, a bit of ash and elder. It's messy looking scrub basically. Whilst the temptation of most companies would be bring the "tidy up brigade" in and stick in load of non-native ornamentals of little or no value to wildlife, Kingsdown Water have agreed that the place should stay untidy, let some nettles grow, allow dead wood to build up. This is ideal.
Between what will be the car parking bays, there is the idea to create rows of apple trees, a mini orchard, instead of the usual low privet hedge look. Blossoms in Spring will be good food for insects and the fruit in the autumn a harvest for all.
In the far corner of the site lies a small area of newish woodland. Here they will help thin it out, let some light in and plant native bluebells and snowdrops. They are also looking at nest boxes. Most of the trees for some distance around are very young and haven't had the time to develop holes, so nesting places are limited. At least a dozen or more nest boxes could go up across the whole site and lend the likes of tits and robins a hand. Tawny Owl boxes will go up too.
Most ambitious of all is getting a Barn Owl box up. The new field will create ideal hunting habitat and there are Barn Owls within a few miles. The trouble is the surrounding farmland in between is monoculture and not farmed for wildllife in anyway. Could corridors be created to help bring the Barn Owls over to the factory site? Well, there's no harm asking and Kingsdown Water will ask some their neighbouring land owners if they can help but allowing some rough strips of grassland to grow.
Lastly, there are badgers on the site, which will be well protected from the building works, and it sound like the company will be happy to build a badger watching hide that local school children could come and visit. So educating kids about the natural world, one of the most important things we can all do, is very much on the cards.
In my first post of the year, I bemoaned the spread of development, and I still think the vast majority is dreadful, especially housing. But in some cases, where people choose to care about nature, it can be a good thing. I think what Kingstown Water are hoping to achieve should be a case more companies could follow.
From a garden centre full of polly tunnels, rubbish and an overgrazed field could come what is essentially a mini nature reserve. Of course, Kingstown Water have to go through with it yet, but the determination seems to be there and if all goes to plan I will help them achieve their wildlife goals. So, yes, "Just add water" and you will be surprised at what you can achieve.
N.B. I am not being paid by Kingstown Water, I have no arrangement with them, I have nothing to gain personally, other than to see wildlife benefit what seems a like a case of positive development, and development, whether we like it or not, will always happen, that is the nature of things.