Once again, I’m pondering how to avoid conflicts between scrub clearance to expand the grasslands and the needs of the species that live in and around that scrub. When we plan management work it is vital to understand which species are using which parts of the site (although conservationists do not always consider this when rushing to finish work under a tight schedule or when focusing on one particular species or habitat). That’s why our volunteers began putting out ‘refugia’ for reptiles, amphibians and small mammals at Pwll Edrychiad last week.
Pwll Edrychiad is the large area of the reserve to the west of the A476 Llandeilo Road, and roughly means ‘View of the Pool or Pit’ in Welsh, reflecting its bowl-like topography. There are over nine hectares of a unique mix of unimproved habitats here, from species-rich calcareous grassland and neutral grassland with an expanding population of Greater butterfly orchids, to wetter grasslands, a lot of scrub and small woods. This is in addition to roughly 7.5 hectares of semi-improved grasslands that are ‘unimproving’ under our management of haylage cutting, grazing and sowing of yellow rattle.
We are experimenting with a mix of materials for the refugia, using roofing felt, lino tiles and corrugated roofing sheets of different sizes to provide warm shelters in cool conditions. Traditionally refugia have been used to monitor reptiles, but the South and West Wales Wildlife Trust has successfully trialled the method to survey small mammals as well. See the article on page 20 of Biodiversity News about their project.
We have placed the tiles near areas of scrub that we are considering coppicing next winter, and will be checking them regularly throughout the summer and autumn to see what’s there. Reptiles use the shelters to warm up, and will move off to hunt for food as soon as their cold-blooded bodies warm up –so we are in for some early summer morning visits. The effort will be well worth it, both for the thrill of seeing species such as lizards, adders, slow worms, newts, mice and voles close-up, and for the fact that we will learn which areas are most and least important for the animals. It is impossible to cater for all species at all times, but we will use this information to carefully plan our works to benefit our grassland habitats along with as many species as we can, whether common or rare.