2021 Survey highlights from the Berkshire LWS Project

Written by Caitlin Coombs, Biodiversity Officer

In 2021, a grand total of 20 Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) across Berkshire were successfully surveyed throughout the season. LWS are sites recognised as having high wildlife value and considered to be of county importance. Although they have no statutory designation, they can form vital links with legally protected sites to create essential networks of habitats.

I (Caitlin Coombs of TVERC) undertook an extended 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, birds, mammals, fungi, bryophytes and invertebrates!

In Berkshire, LWS cover 8% of the county land area and include areas of ancient woodland, lowland calcareous grassland, lowland fen, lowland meadow, wetlands habitats and more. The job never bores me as there is somewhere new and beautiful to visit every day!

Thanks also to my loyal team of 22 volunteers, without whom I would be lost. They have been incredible, gathering over a thousand records in total for the LWS which will help in getting sites the protection they deserve. Thank you also to the cooperation of public and private landowners who have cooperated and worked with TVERC to help the project run smoothly.

I thoroughly enjoyed visiting each Local Wildlife Site and have listed some memorable moments below.

Craven Hill LWS in West Berkshire, which supports lowland fen and lowland dry acid grassland – these habitats are not so common in this area of the country. Although the sedges definitely tested my knowledge, it was one of my favourite sites with an array of wildflowers in rich areas including lesser spearwort, cuckooflower, creeping forget-me-not, greater bird’s-foot-trefoil, marsh pennywort, ragged robin, square-stalked St John’s-wort and heath-spotted orchid. At one point, a frog jumped on my boot and nearly gave me a heart attack!

Holies Down was probably the most beautiful in terms of chalk grassland habitats. This National Trust-owned site near Streatley supports 11.8ha of chalk grassland in a dry valley, and presented me with my first ever sighting of a bee orchid! I was alone (due to Covid restrictions at the time) which is probably for the best, as I was dancing and singing with joy and excitement when I saw it. Apologies if any dog-walkers/ hikers saw a crazy woman with a clipboard that day (it was me). Also, I have never seen so many common spotted orchids in one place before, there must have been thousands! Other species include pyramidal orchid, common spotted-orchid, salad burnet, wild basil, field madder, horseshoe vetch, fairy flax, dwarf thistle, common eyebright, carline thistle and clustered bellflower.

AND – one of my lovely volunteers Linda Fenwick was lucky enough to stumble across a Hornet Robberfly (Asilus crabroniformis), which is a species of predatory insect in the family Asilidae. Reaching more than 25 mm in body length, it is one of the largest flies in the United Kingdom and feeds on grasshoppers, dung beetles and other flies. Sounds like something out of a horror movie?

I was pleasantly surprised by Lousehill Copse, a site in the suburban Tilehurst, Reading, which supports ancient woodland including areas of coppice, small streams and a pond. There were beautiful swathes of opposite-leaved golden saxifrage and other wet woodland flora throughout the site. If you haven’t already visited this woodland I highly recommend you do! TCV are managing the site and organise a variety of activities, check them out here: https://www.tcv.org.uk/southeast/volunteer-south-east/lousehill-copse/

I am currently analysing all the survey results against historical data for the sites and interpreting their overall biodiversity value and ecological role within the wider landscape. If you know of any local areas near you which you thin have potential to be designated as Local Wildlife Sites, please get in touch!

Posted: November 1, 2021