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How Wildlife Trust is protecting precious habitats in Cambridgeshire - and why you should try 30 Days Wild

Caroline Fitton, of the Wildlife Trust in Cambridgeshire, discusses what you can find in a prehistoric wood, work on Cherry Hinton brook and encourages us to enjoy 30 Days Wild.

Operation Oxlip

Oxslips and bluebells in Hayley Wood. Picture: Pete Johnstone (46438669)
Oxslips and bluebells in Hayley Wood. Picture: Pete Johnstone (46438669)

The humble oxlip, Primula elatior, is a delicate spring flower found in damp woods and meadows, thriving in nutrient-poor and calcium-rich soil, and characterised by flowers facing the same direction to one side.

It is most usually associated with ancient woodland and only found in small areas of Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Essex, whereas the far more common cowslip, Primula veris, is found across much of the UK, and has deeper yellow flowers on both sides, as is the false oxlip Primula veris x vulgaris, a hybrid of cowslip and primrose which grows to the same height as oxlip but the flowers do not grow one-sided.

The Wildlife Trust in Cambridgeshire’s Hayley Wood is the largest oxlip wood on chalky boulder clay in Britain, and one of only a very few woods in Cambridgeshire surviving from prehistoric times.

A valuable remnant of ancient woodland, it's a haven for biodiversity and the trust's management work creates a varied structure, with trees of different stages of maturity, some areas coppiced on rotation, wide grassy rides and minor paths. This creates a variety of microhabitats that suit different species and so conserves the biodiversity of the wood, and permits a host of woodland flowers to thrive.

Oxslips at Hayley Wood. Picture: Pete Johnstone (46438671)
Oxslips at Hayley Wood. Picture: Pete Johnstone (46438671)

Funding for much-needed woodland management work at Hayley Wood recently came from the Amey Community Fund (which awards grants to support community, environmental and heritage projects run by non-profit organisations based in Cambridgeshire, within 10 miles of a landfill site).

The £20,600 grant has enabled extending coppicing into two new areas bordering cross rides in the wood, plus additional work in other areas improving the woodland structure.

Work included clearing two acres along the cross rides to create new coppice plots, selective felling of mature standard trees, felling an area of mature ash succumbing to ash die back in the southern corner, allowing other species to regenerate, plus mowing grassland ride and glade areas on the cross rides and maintaining paths, gates and footbridges for safe public access.

This opening up new areas of the woodland floor means that many more oxlip and other ground flora can flourish, providing prime habitat for many invertebrates and birds.

Gravelly boost for Cherry Hinton Brook

Work on Cherry Hinton Brook was carried out by the Wildlife Trust and city council (46438665)
Work on Cherry Hinton Brook was carried out by the Wildlife Trust and city council (46438665)

The Wildlife Trust's water for wildlife officer Ruth Hawksley (onthe right in photo) worked with the city council and Friends of Cherry Hinton Brook plus a hardy band of volunteers to shift 20 tonnes of gravel into the Cherry Hinton Brook from April 18 to 20.

This much-needed work was done to improve flow in the brook. In attempts to ensure good drainage, many of Cambridge's rivers and streams have been made too wide and too deep by dredging, which means that in many places the gravel bed has been removed - as the gravel was laid down in the last Ice Age, it won't be coming back. So instead the beds are silty, and because of the dredged shape, flows are rendered sluggish, with silt coming from the bare banks deposited across the bed.

This work has put gravel back into a short section of the channel, downstream of similar work by the city council in Cherry Hinton Hall Park, which will bring multiple benefits for the brook and its wildlife.

Gravel in place in Cherry Hinton Brook. Picture: Ruth Hawksley (46438667)
Gravel in place in Cherry Hinton Brook. Picture: Ruth Hawksley (46438667)

As Ruth says: “Firstly, because the channel is no longer uniform in shape, we have created areas of fast flow, where we hope the water will keep the gravel bed clean, and areas of slower flow where silt will collect.

“There are also deeper and shallower areas so all this provides more variety of in-channel habitat and suitable niches for many more invertebrates. Where the water flows over shallow gravel, there is also more turbulence, which will increase oxygenation of the water.

“We hope the gravel bed will also reduce the total amount of silt in the brook by capping the silty bed and lower part of the banks, as well as providing areas, such as behind the flow deflector logs, where silt can collect. All this should lead to better water quality and more diverse and abundant invertebrate life.”

30 Days Wild

The Wildlife Trust is encouraging us to enjoy 30 Days Wild in June (46438640)
The Wildlife Trust is encouraging us to enjoy 30 Days Wild in June (46438640)

Sign-up is now open for the Wildlife Trusts' annual nature challenge where the trust ask the nation to do one 'wild' thing a day every day throughout June. Daily Random Acts of Wildness can be anything you like - litter-picking, birdwatching, planting seeds, puddle-splashing, you name it.

By signing up in advance planning is possible for June, with a free postal or digital pack of goodies to inspire a wild month - including an activity passport and wallchart to track progress.

The 30 Days Wild pack from the Wildlife Trust for those taking part (46438677)
The 30 Days Wild pack from the Wildlife Trust for those taking part (46438677)

There are packs of wild ideas with options for schools, care homes and businesses to take part too.

Taking part in 30 Days Wild is scientifically proven to make participants feel happier, healthier and more connected to nature. In 2020, more than half a million people got involved - a record 650,000 people - from families and couples, to teachers, care homes and workplaces: everyone's invited.

Visit https://www.wildlifebcn.org/30DaysWild.

Read more from the Wildlife Trust every month in the Cambridge Independent

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