After a spell of heavy rain in the Tame Valley Wetlands, we have welcomed back the glorious sunshine this week. Here are some lovely wildlife pictures from over the last few days.
With fewer people around at Hams Hall Environmental Centre and less opportunity for maintenance of the walled garden, the plants are thriving. There is an abundance of nettles, of course (which are inconvenient for people but do act as an important habitat and food source for insects such as butterflies), but also there are many beautiful wildflowers such as this field poppy and a group of orchids.
We have also been sent images of wildflowers from around the Tame Valley wetlands, such as this Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis).
This time of year is peak season for caterpillars, often spotted munching away on leaves or trying to stay hidden from predators. Here is a peacock butterfly caterpillar (Aglais io) spotted at Whitacre Heath Nature Reserve, and a fantastic image of a Mullein moth caterpillar (Cucullia verbasci) resting on a buddleia.
Finally, the butterflies have again made beautiful photos this week. Here is a comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) – you can see how its wings, with their scalloped edges and cryptic colouring, give the butterfly strong camouflage – especially useful when hibernating in piles of leaves during the winter months.
In October 2019, Tame Valley Wetlands team and TameForce volunteers planted a grand total of 14,000 plug plants at Southfields Farm along the River Blythe in order to help restore and improve the SSSI. You can read more about the days we spent planting here.
8 months later, in June 2020, efforts have been rewarded with an abundance of wildflowers and grasses growing in the fields.
Click through the slide show below to see the results!
Over the past few weeks, there have been numerous sightings of otters, which is great news and usually an indicator of a river having fairly clean water and enough good-quality habitats.
Otters are not often seen by people as they are largely nocturnal. The most common indicators of an otter population are tracks or spraints (droppings). Otters often leave their spraints in conspicuous places along their territory, as a warning for other intruding populations to stay away.
Despite their elusive nature, Nick, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s Wetland Project Officer, has managed to record some fantastic footage of otters on the River Blythe.
In the video below you first see a mink cross the river. Mink are an invasive species and are a considerable threat to UK native species such as the water vole. Towards the end of the video however, three otters come swimming up the river. This group is likely a mother and two large cubs.
Otters communicate with whistles and twittering sounds, often heard at night when they are active and their surroundings are quiet. Click on the video below to hear an otter calling.
This video shows another otter on the Blythe, possibly the father of cubs. The male otter parent is known to play no part in rearing the cubs, leaving that to the mother.
And finally, here is a quick clip of an otter swimming along the river.
The re-profiling of the River Cole, located upstream of the River Tame in North Solihull, is an important project aiming to enhance the biodiversity and aesthetics of the river. Working alongside Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council and the Environment Agency, with support from our National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), the project will make the River Cole better for both wildlife and people visiting the area.
Initial assessment of the River Cole concluded that it was an unsuitable environment for wildlife, because of its poor water quality and low variety of different habitats available for a diverse range of species to thrive. Therefore, project planning commenced to decide what improvements could be made to the worst areas of the river.
The poor quality of the water was found to be because of urban pollution further up the river, such as regular use of overflows by sewerage systems and runoff from roads or agricultural land. Work by Severn Trent will make sewerage systems more efficient, find alternative drainage options from roads, build buffers along the river banks and promote use of more environmentally-friendly farming methods. This will mean the water in the River Cole can be made cleaner so it provides a safer environment for the development of fish populations. Moreover, placing large hay bales along the edges of the river will help to catch any sediment; this clever technique ensures that sediments do not contaminate the river.
The habitat quality and diversity of the River Cole was another important area identified for improvement.
Because of human activity and the high energy water flow which had gradually eroded the river banks, the structure of the River Cole had been changed over time so that it became straightened and unvaried. This had a negative impact on the diversity and richness of different wildlife species inhabiting the river. It also meant that the river was unable to accommodate large populations of wildlife.
Work to improve the quality and variety of habitats in the river involved creating more islands and meanders (bends in the river course), planting more trees and shrubs along the river banks, and introducing gravel to the river bed. Adding these kinds of features improved the environmental diversity and allowed a greater variety of plants and animals to thrive in the area, especially different fish species. It also improves the visual aesthetics of the river, making it a more enjoyable place for people to visit.
Work on the River Cole project began on Monday 11th February 2019 and was complete by the end of the week. The re-profiling involved working mainly within a 300m section of the river. By improving this space, with a focus on the quality of the water and surrounding habitats, the project will yield many benefits in terms of the River Cole’s natural diversity and public appeal.
As part of ‘Blythe Alive’, a project to improve the River Blythe SSSI and its environment, we are planting native riparian trees and hedgerows at various sites near to the River Blythe.
One of the benefits of hedgerows is their importance in acting as habitats for small animals such as birds and invertebrates. Hedges provide food and shelter for animals, and also act as corridors for animals to move along, improving connectivity between habitats.
Hedgerows are also important for preventing flooding. Hedgerows provide weather barriers and contribute to natural flood management by intercepting rainfall and slowing runoff from the land.
When planting close to a river, as we are doing for our Blythe Alive project, the flood management aspect of hedgerow gapping-up has been particularly important. The improved hedgerows will help to absorb rainfall and therefore limit the amount of water running into the river. They will also intercept sediment and pollutants from land run-off which would otherwise contaminate the river. This lowers risks of flooding, loss of nutrients from the land, and pollution of the river.
We have planted 1000 hedgerow plants and Black Poplars at Hawkswell Farm. This planting contributes to gapping-up the existing hedgerows, which is necessary for maintaining their longevity and structure.
This work was carried out with the help of our dedicated volunteers, and plays an important part in our project to improve the health status of the River Blythe and the quality of its surrounding ecosystem.
With the help of a team of volunteers from Severn Trent Water, we planted around 2000 hedgerow plants at Packington Estate to create a new hedgerow for the field.
The new hedgerow will provide more habitats and more protection against flooding for the field,
Watch the video below to see just how many plants were planted to create this hedgerow!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Tame Valley Wetlands team!
Here is a picture from our Christmas celebration with our volunteers, where we enjoyed a bonfire and jacket potatoes.
Thank you to our volunteers, project partners and staff who have helped to deliver work this year. We will be continuing with our two current projects, Blythe Alive and Love Your River Cole, in the New Year, as well as planning for new projects in the future.
If you are interested in volunteering for us, taking part in practical conservation work across the Tame Valley Wetlands, please contact email@example.com or phone 01675470917.
We have been planting plug plants at Southfields Farm as part of our work to help restore and improve the River Blythe SSSI.
Plug plants are small-sized seedlings, grown in trays, which can then easily be planted into prepared soil. We are using species such as Meadowsweet, Reed Sweet Grass and Marsh Marigold.
Planting native plant species along the banks of the River Blythe will provide considerable benefits to the health status of the river. Firstly, the inclusion of a range of native species will help improve the biodiversity and species composition of the environment. This is important for the robustness ecosystem surrounding the river, making it more resilient to change and fluctuations. Additionally, the plug plants will help to stabilise the river banks and reduce sediment run-off, which will aid in enhancing the water quality in the river.
We have had fantastic contributions to this work from local and corporate volunteer groups.
After some initial doubts regarding the suitability of the weather conditions (considering the amount of rain we had in previous weeks!) our hard working TameForce volunteers braved the elements and aided in planting a huge number of plants at Southfields Farm.
Luckily, the rain managed to hold off for our two final planting days at the end of October. During these days, we had volunteers attend to help us with our work, as well as staff from Jaguar Land Rover. Morale was kept high by supplies of tea, coffee and biscuits, and we successfully reached our target of planting 14,000 plants in total.
Thank you to all who helped us to complete this work – we really could not have done it without you! Keep an eye out for more updates on our River Blythe work.
Biocontrol is a method of controlling the growth of a population – usually a pest or a weed. It has been successful in many other circumstances as it is much more environmentally-friendly than using chemical pesticides, and requires much less physical labour than manual removal of pests.
Biocontrol involves using one species of beneficial living organism (the control species) to limit the spread of another species (the target species). The target species must be controlled as it poses a threat to the environment. It is important that studies and monitoring are carried out throughout the control process to ensure the control species continues to work effectively against the target species.
The process of trialing the rust fungus for the biocontrol of Himalayan balsam began at the beginning of 2019. Initial studies were carried out to ensure the fungus would propagate on the plants.
The photo above shows what the Himalayan balsam at one of our project sites looked like before we started any of our control methods. The plants look strong and are growing in huge quantities, meaning they pose a threat to the other plant species in the area.
To initiate the biocontrol process, we sprayed test areas with the rust fungus to allow the fungus to establish on the plants.
After allowing the fungus to propagate and grow on the Himalayan balsam plants, we re-visited the site multiple times over the following months to monitor its progress as a biocontrol agent. Here you can see there areas where the fungus has established. The brown patches on the leaf show where damage has been caused by the fungus.
We hope that the rust fungus will eventually become fully established on the invasive species.
If the fungus is successful over the winter, we will be able to be confident that the fungus will make an effective long-term biocontrol mechanism by helping to reduce the growth of Himalayan balsam without harming other plant species.
Tame Valley Wetlands are also planning to carry out biological control, as well as mechanical control, of Himalayan balsam at other project sites.
We will post updates about this on our website and social media pages – keep checking back!
Himalayan balsam plants are extremely fast-growing and can tolerate shady conditions better than many other plants. The plants also disperse their seeds very widely. This means balsam out-competes many native plant species; it is often the case that very few other plants are able to survive where balsam grows. For the health of the environment, this is bad news – a low variety of different species of plant means the biodiversity of the ecosystem is decreased, with a negative impact on the overall ecosystem stability and health. Another problem caused by the excessive growth of Himalayan balsam is that it can block the flow of rivers, leading to flooding.
As part of our work in our two current projects, ‘Blythe Alive!’ and ‘Love Your River Cole (LYRiC)‘ we have been tackling the problem of Himalayan balsam growth along the Rivers Blythe and Cole.
One method we have used to remove the balsam plants from the river ecosystems is by mechanical control. Mechanical control methods involve manually pulling up the invasive plants to physically remove them from the environment. Although this requires a lot of manual labour and hard work, it is generally a fail-safe way to remove a species from an environment.
Mechanical control has been a particularly useful method of beating Himalayan balsam at some of our project sites, where we have employed contractors to remove the balsam plants. You can see that in the ‘before’ photos, the plants were growing in huge amounts and taking over many of the available space. In contrast, after mechanical control works had taken place, much more space was left for other native plants to grow. We hope that in the future this will help contribute to a more biodiverse and healthier ecosystem surrounding our rivers.