2020 Survey highlights from the Berkshire Local Wildlife Sites

article written, by Caitlin Coombs, Berkshire Biodiversity Officer

In 2020, despite a late start, 19 Local Wildlife Sites across Berkshire were successfully surveyed throughout the season. I (Caitlin Coombs of TVERC) undertook a Phase One Habitat survey on each site, whilst a skilled team of volunteer surveyors have also been busy, carrying out systematic surveys for a range of specialist species groups including dragonflies, butterflies, water voles, leafhoppers, sawflies and aculeates.

The survey season has been very exciting, and I have been lucky enough to visit an array of beautiful sites across the county, supporting a range of habitat types and species. I enjoyed each Local Wildlife Site thoroughly and have listed some memorable moments below.

Visiting Lough Down LWS, a rich chalk grassland on a steep bank, flanked by species-rich hedgerows and chalk scrub. A student from Reading university joined me to learn about the LWS project and gain a hands-on experience in habitat surveying. The site was beautiful, carpeted with the yellows of lady’s bedstraw, St John’s wort, agrimony and birds foot trefoil, the pinks of common centaury, wild basil and greater knapweed, and the purples of harebell, small scabious and wild marjoram. Autumn gentian, eyebright, pale toadflax, yellow-wort, and pyramidal orchid were personal favourites. We also stumbled across numerous badger setts and found badger hairs at the entrances, where we could clearly feel the distinctive ‘non-cylindrical’ nature of a single hair whilst we rolled it between our fingers.

McIlroy Park LWS, a publicly accessible hilltop park in Reading with areas of Ancient Woodland, where I came across a large-looking tree. On reaching the other side, I discovered how it had impressively rotted throughout the entire core, leaving behind only the outer layers of bark where all the essential vessels for survival reside. The tree is listed on the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Inventory.

A disused gravel pits site south-west of Reading, which is designated as a LWS on the basis of its rich bird life, where two members of Berkshire Ornithological Club (who are currently managing the site) kindly gave me a tour around the newly established lake area and wet woodlands. As well as the surplus of dragonflies and butterflies enjoying the standing water and the nectar-rich bankside vegetation, we were treated with first-class sightings of Canada geese, common sandpiper, lapwing, little and great crested grebe, cormorant, grey heron, and green woodpecker, amongst many others. Reptiles are also taking advantages of the mosaic of habitat types present here, reinforced by the fact that I nearly stepped on a grass snake as I was wading through the tussocky grassland at the south of the site!

Ancient Woodland Indicators were rich galore within a complex of woodland patches designated as LWS in Wokingham. Stinking hellebore, woodruff, wood anemone, pendulous sedge, wood spurge, yellow archangel, wood melick, wood millet, Solomon’s seal, sanicle, black bryony and nettle-leaved bellflower were amongst those recorded.

Data from volunteer surveyors is still currently being collected, however, initial results have been exciting, with evidence of water voles along the River Kennet and invertebrate sightings which suggest specific species may be expanding their ranges: including high numbers of white-legged damselflies and a sighting of Andrena florea (an RDB3 ‘rare’ mining bee) in areas of Berkshire where these species have not been previously recorded!

I look forward to further analysing these results against historical data for the sites and interpreting their overall biodiversity value and ecological role within the wider landscape.

Posted: November 10, 2020