Parish Environment Champions
Spring Resource Pack
Spring is in the Air!
It’s that wonderful time of year when things burst back into life and it feels even more welcome this year. We know that many champions have astonishing ecological knowledge, but after a recent catch-up with our countryside rangers, we wanted to pull together a short pack that covers the subjects that might be worth thinking about at this time of the year. Please don’t take the thoughts as patronising, they are just designed to help only if you need them.
Early spring is a great time to think about completing some pond maintenance. Ponds of all sizes need attention to keep them in a state that allows for all sorts of plants and animals to successfully live together. Removing some edge vegetation, weed and silt from the bottom keeps a mix of open water, material plant cover, and bottom mud. However, when you do clear out your pond only ever clear one-third at a time. Always leave the removed plants and silt on the edge of the pond for at least a few days, this allows any snails, newts, and other invertebrate life to crawl back in.

Amphibians will be spawning at this time of year, so if you are lucky enough to have frogs or toads you can use these signs to put out on any paths that they are crossing in an effort to keep them safe on their journey. 

Many species will make use of your pond for drinking water in the drier months and so building some rudimentary steps or a ramp from the edge to the surface of the water will help them safely access the water and decrease the risk of falling in and being unable to get out. And also helps when the flog and toadlets come to want to leave the pond in a few months.

Finally, if you want a true wildlife pond then avoid fish; they predate the wonderful mix of invertebrates and amphibians at various stages of their lifecycles and you just won’t get the diversity that you would without them.

For guidance on how to build your pond see here 
Nest boxes are a superb way of supporting our bird populations and increasing wildlife in your local area. However, they do need maintenance. Nest boxes should be cleared out annually in the autumn, from September, once the birds have finished nesting. Old nests can harbour bacteria and parasites and so by removing old material you give the new occupants the best chance of raising a healthy brood. Do not disturb any nest boxes between March – September as they are most likely to be occupied and you could cause the bird to abandon their chicks.
Mapping your boxes will give you the best chance of keeping them well maintained. If you can monitor their use through observation. Plotting use of boxes over the seasons and years will help you understand which ones are well used and which aren’t, allowing you to move boxes that aren’t used to new locations.
Directions on how to create a birdbox can be found here
Most often land owners will employ a contractor to cut the grass for them and it depends if this contractor has the correct equipment to support conservation grass cuts. To encourage the best diversity, the grass needs to be cut once a year, after the wildflowers have flowered and set seed usually sometime from July.
The cuttings must also be collected and removed to ensure that the nutrients in the cut grass do not re-enter the ground; wildflowers are best on poorer soils.In reality this means a contractor either cuts, rake and removes or has a piece of equipment that cuts and collects. For small patches of ground cutting and raking by hand with volunteers can work and this is something that communities could achieve together.

Increasing grassland diversity can take many years and it's always best if you can identify and record the species present when you start the change in management, and then annually thereafter, to track the changes and improvements in diversity. Guidance for grassland surveying can be found here

If you want to speed up improvements in a patch of grassland you could sow an appropriate wildflower seed mix. For best results, the grass needs to be removed so the seed has the best chance of germinating. You can check out the guidance here

Improving grasslands for plants also supports a whole range of insects and therefore pollinators; vital components of our ecosystems. Every small patch can make a difference. Patches of unimproved grassland act like stepping stones, allowing many species to expand their ranges and colonise new spaces.
With trees becoming ever more popular within the environmental, political and public discussion there are opportunities now unlike there ever were previously.

Identifying sites and then establishing plans for those sites is key, this way there can be a directed approach to the copse or woodland.

Establishing a woodland that has a canopy and understory has historically been ignored and so when establishing these sites keeping in mind these essential habitats can drastically improve the benefits it has on surrounding wildlife and other ecosystem systems such as flooding.

Assessing the already established habitat is crucial when deciding whether to plant trees, as some areas may be significantly more beneficial for wildlife than first meets the eye such as open meadows and grasslands.

Conducting a Phase One Habitat Survey is always a great way of understanding the types of habitat present and minimising unnecessary destruction of other habitats, often ecological consultancies provide training days for those who want to learn the surveying method.

There is a mapping tool developed by DEFRA which you can view which presents areas of already known habitat types in your area Click here to view the mapping tool

Simply select ‘Habitats and Species’ from the Table of Contents on the left-hand side and zoom into the area you are assessing and it will identify any habitats which have been submitted to DEFRA.

Tree Maintenance

We found 2020 to be a very hard year for those trees planted in January and February as we had significant extended dry periods, this is where those newly establishing trees really need a helping hand. If you are acknowledging that there has been very little rainfall over some time visiting the site of planting is essential, looking at the soil around the foot of the tree will give some indication of how desperate they are for water. Watering around the base once every week until the drought is over, use your community to create a rota of watering this way it is less intense for said individual. 
There are key opportunities whilst we are all out on our daily walks, in the garden or even looking out the window to contribute towards citizen science databases. Below we have collected several national and local opportunities for you to take part in.

Somerset Environmental Records Centre (SERC)

SERC has been the main centre holding data on wildlife sightings, types of environments, and geographical information for over 20 years in Somerset. This data is essential for contributing towards conservation work, academic research, and wildlife protection.

Specialist interest groups – SERC

There are a number of groups dedicated to recording Somerset’s wildlife. These groups have a wealth of local knowledge collecting a majority of the species records held by SERC.
Garden Data

Recording the data of your set area (garden or allotment), provides additional information that will guide policies and planning decisions. This data can be submitted directly into the SERC database. Find out more here

Hedgehog Monitoring
Having lost a third of all our hedgehogs since the millennium, we need to look out for our only hedgehog species.
Hedgehogs love gardens, and fortunately, there are around half a million hectares of garden in the UK. But we have a problem of connectivity within our gardens, develop hedgehog highways through your fence by cutting a 13cm by 13cm hole. This will be small enough for most pets and still allow hedgehogs to pass through.
You can find details on how to add to their database and more inspiration on how to make your garden beneficial for hedgehogs here

National Plant Monitoring Scheme
The NPMS is a monitoring scheme that is helping organisations such as Plantlife and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) in establishing an understanding of plant abundance, diversity and to assess the true health of our own habitats.
To find out more visit their website here
Species Monitoring

If you have a smartphone, please download the ‘iRecord App’ This app was developed by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
It allows you to record species sightings with GPS coordinates, descriptions, and any other additional information.
Searching ‘Centre for Ecology and Hydrology’ in your phones application store will give you more specified apps with some of the topics covered below:

·      Algal blooms
·      Grasshopper
·      Rare Arable Flowers
·      Butterflies
·      Asian Hornet
·      European ladybird

Bird Monitoring
Why not take part in the Breeding Birds Survey (BBS) which is the main scheme for monitoring the population changes of the UK’s common and widespread breeding birds, producing population trends for 117 bird and nine mammal species. You can take part here

It involves a recce visit and two early-morning spring visits to an allocated 1-km square, to count all the birds you see or hear while walking two 1-km lines across the square. Undertaken between April and June, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) do hold further training courses if you wish to further your understanding, please see here for more info

The most important of our ecosystem is the bugs and insects that pollinate and are food for a lot of the wildlife that visit our gardens and countryside. Without invertebrates, we wouldn’t survive.

Find out why pesticides and insecticides should be avoided and what you can do to encourage and enable more invertebrates to thrive and how to spot and record these exceptional mini-beasts.