Woodlands, wildflower meadows and roadside nature reserves... APSE Direct spoke to the Biodiversity Team at Denbighshire County Council to find out the various ways they are helping to increase opportunities for biodiversity and secure the future of local species.
Since 1930, the UK has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows, while England and Wales have less than 1% of the pre-war total area of unimproved lowland meadow remaining. A recent study of 240 countries found that the UK ranked 228th (12th worst) for biodiversity, and found that the UK is ‘among the most nature-depleted countries in the world’ with one in seven of our wildlife species at risk of extinction, and more than half (56%) in decline.
Denbighshire Council declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency in 2019 and took immediate action to restore deteriorated grassland habitats and increase the overall amount of pollinator habitat throughout the county. This work enables the Council to comply with the statutory duties placed on all public authorities under the Environment (Wales) Act, 2016, which requires the Council to “maintain and enhance biodiversity so far as consistent with the proper exercise of their functions and in so doing promote the resilience of ecosystems” as well as the Resilient Wales element of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. Creating and managing wildflower habitat also helped towards achieving the biodiversity targets set out in Denbighshire County Council’s Corporate Plan 2017 – 2022.
One of the key aims of the Council’s Wildflower Project is to create large-scale connective, local provenance wildflower habitat to help facilitate the movement of wildlife across the county. This was partially achieved in 2019 when the Biodiversity Team joined members of the Highways Service to rewrite the Highway Rural Verge/Grass Cutting Policy. Cutting along the rural verges, outside the 30-40mph limit and non-principal roads, was reduced to a single annual cut, to be taken from August onwards. This new policy transferred roughly 78% of the rural road network (roughly 1,820km) into more sympathetic grassland management. In addition to this, the policy connected the Council’s 11 roadside nature reserves into the newly created wider connective meadow network.
In 2020, a new Biodiversity Verge Pilot was created which aims to create local provenance urban and peri-urban meadows across the county. These new sites act as stepping stones and corridors across our urban areas, linking back into our wider meadow network. Each site (including the 11 roadside nature reserves) acts as a seedbank for local provenance seeds.
The sites are managed using a variety of specialised cut-and-collect machinery to help reduce soil nutrients and develop a healthy meadow sward. Each site is monitored on a monthly basis throughout the growing season using a custom created GIS surveying APP. The surveys have produced some encouraging results since 2020.
The project has now gathered 10,157 individual wildflower records from 780 surveys. Of the 268 different species recorded during 2021, notable species records for Denbighshire included: 44 scarce, 7 scarce/rare and 9 rare species.
As part of the drive to enhance biodiversity, sites which do not establish themselves at the expected rate can be enhanced using a range of local provenance wildflower plug plants. The seed for these plants are harvested from roadside nature reserves and Biodiversity Verge Pilot sites and grown on at the Denbighshire Tree Nursery.
The newly established nursery focuses on growing local provenance trees, including rare species such as black poplar, alongside a range of wildflower species. The nursery has the capacity to grow roughly 100,000 plants within the three 78ftx30ft polytunnels, with space for an additional 100,000 plants outdoors. These wildflowers are then used to increase wildflower abundance across our sites.
The nursery also has a 4-acre field which has been converted into a wildflower meadow by sourcing green hay from a local provenance meadow in Denbighshire. This onsite meadow will be used to harvest seed more rapidly, with the aim of producing a local provenance Denbighshire seed-mix. The seed mix will then enable the Biodiversity Team to create and enhance meadows at a faster rate, across the rural road verge network and Biodiversity Verge Pilots sites.
Due to the large amount of plant material being moved across the county, a custom designed GIS Plant Tracker APP was installed which tracks the movement of every plant – from where the seed is sourced, grown on at the tree nursery and then planted out at its final location. By tracking every seed or cutting, the Biodiversity Team aims to strategically manage and conserve genetics of rarer species within the county, such as black poplar. The APP will also ensure that should a plant pathogen enter the nursery’s stock, the team will be able to retrace every plant to its source (or final destination) and deal with any issues in a rapid and strategic manner.
Over 700 species of plant having been recorded on road verges, roughly 45% of all UK flora species. By managing Denbighshire’s verges and amenity grasslands as wildflower habitat, Denbighshire aims to conserve nature through the continued creation of countywide connective wildflower habitats.
• Liam Blazey, Biodiversity Officer at Denbighshire County Council, spoke on this topic at the APSE Parks Seminar in Manchester on 15 March. For more information on how APSE membership can help your parks and greenspace service, please contact Principal Advisor, Wayne Priestley on firstname.lastname@example.org