Fritillaries for the Future – Project Update: Restructuring Rowland Wood
Monday 4th December 2017
A key aspect of the Fritillaries for the Future project has been guiding the management of the BC reserves in Sussex, with the aim of creating and maintaining suitable habitat for the re-introduced population of Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary and, looking ahead (given the necessary consents), the Pearl-bordered Fritillary. Last winter we focused all of our efforts on Park Corner Heath, clearing a huge amount of scrub and reinstating a much more aggressive Bracken management regime.
This year we have turned our attention to Rowland Wood, which, given its size, has required the services of a contractor (Ian Hampshire), to take care of the heavier forestry operations. We are very grateful to BC Reserves Officer Jayne Chapman for setting up this contract at short notice. Ian's work, which has fundamentally restructured Rowland Wood, has been conducted to the highest possible specifications, in an environmentally sensitive manner. We are delighted with the results.
The much wider and extensive ride system is now in a condition which will facilitate an ongoing programme of management by machinery, ensuring that top quality habitat for fritillaries and other species can be maintained more easily. This work also allows us to meet our obligations to the Countryside Stewardship grant system, which will provide financial support in the future. However, the considerable upfront costs of this restructuring work have been met by the BC Sussex Branch; I can't imagine a better use of Branch funds.
This does not mean that we will be become less reliant upon the work of volunteers; far from it. Some areas are too wet and ecologically sensitive to drive heavy machinery over, so it is vital that we manage these by hand. Volunteers will also provide the means of fine-tuning the habitat management work; it is often the attention given to small areas which creates the perfect breeding conditions for the fussier species.
This image shows widening work along a wet ride which we know is highly suitable for the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, but which had become choked with Bramble, sallow and saplings. We are very fortunate to have hosted several visits by the Brighton Conservation Volunteers, who have done a fantastic job of clearing this area with scythes, loppers, rakes and saws, while I've put my Fritillaries for the Future training with the chainsaw to good use. Just around the corner, in the ride known as ‘Dead Man's Gulch', BC Sussex volunteers have been performing similar work, and are creating an open, boggy area just below the lake; again, very suitable for the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary.
Here we see new ride of 30 metres width, running SW-NE in the north-western part of the reserve. Although the surface is currently dry (due to the carpet of mulchings), it is hoped that this will soon become damp, with standing water, rushes and, of course, violets.
Ian has expertly crafted some cross-ditches , which should provide perfect egg-laying sites for the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary.
The view from the northern end of this ride, towards a conifer clearfell, the western part of which has been de-stumped and will be maintained as a wide ride in the future. I'm hopeful that this area might be used by Nightjar in years to come.
Ian's machines have carefully avoided the original ride surfaces, so as to reduce, as far as possible, any damage to the existing fauna and flora. The adjacent strips have been mulched, to remove old tree stumps and lying debris, so that tractor-drawn mowers can maintain these areas on a rotational basis.
Here you can see existing and newly created bunds in the higher, drier, central-east part of Rowland Wood. This area is more suitable for species such as Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Grizzled Skipper, which will hopefully breed on the south-facing slopes of these features. We know, from old records, that the Pearl-bordered Fritillary favoured this part of Rowland Wood in the late 1990s.
Wherever possible, Ian has sealed the new ride surfaces with clay. This will provide a tougher surface and hopefully retain patches of bare ground and sparse vegetation, suitable for warmth-loving species.
This image shows the greatly widened ride which best connects Park Corner Heath with Rowland Wood, before running along the western edge of the lake. With just the single line of Beech trees along the parish boundary path to navigate through, this should ensure that there is some mixing of the butterfly populations between the two reserves.
Ian's cut & collect machine has cleared some rides of their excessively dense Bramble growth and, more importantly, has close-cut the densely vegetated part of the 'rush meadow'. This will open up its structure and hopefully increase floral diversity, to create the much more favourable conditions seen in the northern part of the meadow, where the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary is already breeding.
We will shortly announce the re-opening of the Rowland Wood reserve, but until Ian Hampshire has finished his work, please continue to observe all exclusion zones and warning signs and barriers.
Fritillaries for the Future Project Officer