The Conservation Forum is the annual gathering for volunteers of the Wildlife Trust that are involved with looking after nature reserves. This years' Forum was attended by over 100 volunteer reserve managers, wayside wardens, wildlife records officers and staff.
Consultant Bat Ecologist, Barry Collins, opened the Forum with a fascinating insight into the bats of Center Parcs Sherwood Forest. Barry has monitored the bats since the early 1990s when soprano pipistrelles were found in a holiday villa. The bats have since used 47 villas, appearing to choose them on a whim and perhaps using 3 or 4 at any one time. Smell and sound proofing has been installed, ensuring human guests are undisturbed. With 250 bat boxes also on the Sherwood site, extensive research has been carried out on the bats preferred style of box.
Phil Espin, Regional Representative of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) introduced initial findings on the new BTO Bird Atlas, research for which is being carried out from 2007–2010. The Bird Atlas maps the distribution of bird species in the UK. The first atlas of 1968-1972 was the first of its kind in the world and played a critical role in bird conservation, illustrating for example the decline in barn owls. The second atlas showed that in Lincolnshire the decline of barn owls had been reversed. The new atlas 2007-2010 will map distribution and abundance of bird species. In this final year, people can still make vital contributions (see www.birdatlas.net). Phil mentioned in particular the need for breeding evidence of typically rural species such as corn bunting and yellowhammer.
Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust President, Ted Smith, posed the question of when individual species should be re-introduced. The protection and restoration of habitats must always be a priority but just keeping what we have now, leaves us with a much diminished flora and fauna. Many species have been lost and others, perhaps thirty plant species, are restricted to a handful of sites. These small, isolated populations are vulnerable and can easily be lost. Carefully planned re-introductions could help maintain species and back those that have been lost. One example is the chalkhill blue butterfly which in the 1970s was present on just one Lincolnshire site: Copper Hill near Ancaster. It is no longer found in the county and with no nearby populations it is unlikely to find its own way back. Without re-introduction we must write it off as a lost Lincolnshire species.
There have been successful species re-introductions in Lincolnshire. Anne Goodall, Principal Ecologist, ESL, spoke about the Lincolnshire Limewoods Dormouse Project. The national species recovery programme for dormice aims to re-introduce them to every county where they were previously found. In Lincolnshire, the Limewoods project area was chosen as it includes wooded areas with good hedgerow connections on which dormice are dependent. In 2002, sixteen pairs of dormice, specially bred by registered breeders, where released and 180 nest boxes installed. By 2007, the project was officially declared a success. Dormice have now spread from their original release sites and are making wild nests as well as using the boxes.
Less charismatic than the dormouse but still in need of conservation: the ribbon-leaved water plantain is a very rare aquatic plant. Richard Chadd, Lincolnshire Biodiversity Partnership Chair & Lincolnshire Naturalists’ Union Executive, explained how it was thought that this plant had disappeared in Lincolnshire until its presence was confirmed in 2006. In 2009 surveys were carried out in the rivers and ditches of the Spalding area. The plant with strap-like leaves grows submerged in water so the surveyor is kitted out with a dry suit and snorkel. As well as further evidence of ribbon-leaved water plantain other rare fenland plants were discovered including great tassel stonewort in a ditch near Surfleet.
One of Lincolnshire’s iconic species is the natterjack toad – first identified by Joseph Banks from a population present at Revesby, not far from Horncastle. There are now only two populations of the toad in the county, at Saltfleetby and Theddlethorpe Dunes and at Gibraltar Point. Dave Miller, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s Coastal Action Zone Ranger, explained how natterjacks had been re-introduced to Gibraltar Point and how management is tailored to aid their survival. Natterjacks live in sand dunes and rely on ephemeral pools for breeding. At Gibraltar Point pools are artificially created on rotation preventing the build-up of predators such as diving beetles and dragonfly larva and, competitors such as frogs and common toads.
Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust Chief Executive, Paul Learoyd brought the forum to a close. He commented that in these times of great uncertainty it is encouraging that nature conservation has been in the news with the Lawton Review recognizing the need to think about wildlife on a landscape scale and the consultation on the Natural Environment White Paper. Paul thanked all of those who give their time, skills and energy to the Wildlife Trust: "We have a huge strength of volunteers, for which we are very grateful."