The Ridgeway: Baseline Biodiversity Assessment

by Caitlin Coombs, TVERC Berkshire Biodiversity Officer

With a bit of extra attention, some sections of The Ridgeway National Trail have potential to be enhanced for their biodiversity interest. Targeted conservation management could really increase the number of wildflowers and insects along the Trail! Our field surveyors have been busy walking from Streatley to Avebury (yes- 44 miles!) to pin down these areas.

The Ridgeway National Trail passes through a surprisingly remote part of southern central England. From its start in the World Heritage Site of Avebury, it follows a ridge of chalk hills in a north-easterly direction for 87 miles to reach Ivinghoe Beacon. Popularly known as ‘Britain’s oldest road’, The Ridgeway still follows the same route used since prehistoric times by travellers, herdsmen and soldiers.

It is thought that many of the habitats directly adjacent to The Ridgeway have remained relatively undisturbed for many years and may retain areas of Lowland Calcareous Grassland that form biodiversity hotspot pockets along the route.

TVERC is working with National Trails and North Wessex Downs AONB to undertake a baseline biodiversity assessment of the Ridgeway; from Avebury in Wiltshire to Streatley in Berkshire. Our botanists Yolanda Vazquez, Julie Kerans and Caitlin Coombs are currently walking the stretch and identifying and mapping existing habitats along the route, their extent and botanical species composition. Sweaty!

This exciting project will provide an up-to-date picture of the type, location and area of habitats along the Trail; and will be crucial in informing the Trail Team of areas which are in favourable condition and which areas could be targeted for conservation management.

So far, a range of biodiversity hotspots have been identified along the route, supporting a diverse plant assemblage including a range of calcareous grassland indicator species such as…

…dropwort, kidney vetch, common twayblade, knapweed broomrape, wild carrot, common milkwort, sainfoin and fairy flax (amongst many others!)

There are some very nice stretches of chalk grassland communities which must often go overlooked by today’s mountain bikers and serious hikers!

Mapping is being carried out to UKHabs classifications instead of JNCC Phase 1, as the second phase of this project will focus on monitoring habitat condition in areas identified by survey work for management and restoration efforts; therefore, it will be more suitable to map habitats to this classification system as this is what is currently being used in the DEFRA metric and Biodiversity Net Gain calculations.

Quoting the Lawton Report, we need wildlife sites to be ‘more, bigger, better and more joined up’. Due to the location of The Ridgeway, it is ideally placed to act as a significant and uninterrupted wildlife corridor across the south of England.

This interesting project will improve understanding of the Trail’s biodiversity value as a whole, with the potential for positive impacts on a landscape scale.

Posted: August 9, 2021