Thursday, 12 November 2015

Spiceball Park, Banbury: re-wilding the River Cherwell!

This week the Wildlife Trust started an exciting project to re-naturalise the River Cherwell where it flows though Spiceball County Park in Banbury.  I grabbed an opportunity to join RSPB colleague Charlotte Kinnear and take a look at the work in progress with Jude Hartley, Catchment Partnerships Officer, Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust.

Charlotte Kinnear and Jude Hartley discussing thework
The river channel had been over-widened in the past, and this means during low river levels there is a only a very thin layer of water flowing over the riverbed, not great for the fish populations.  One of the main aims is to create a more natural, somewhat narrower channel.  This will be particularly beneficial during dry periods in the summer, but will also make the river that bit more dynamic.  The river banks are also being re-profiled to create shallower gradients, opening up views of the river for people walking through the park.  
this stake marks the edge of the new river channel
During my visit, works to fell some of the riverside trees had been completed.  The trunks and branches had been laid into the river as far as a set of stakes that defined the edge of the "new" channel.  An excavator was then reshaping the riverbank and pushing soil over the felled trees.  This jumble of branches and soil will create a very interesting habitat once regrowth happens next spring and summer.  I'm hoping this new habitat will be particularly attractive to sedge warblers, maybe reed buntings too.  Certainly a great place for otters to explore and kingfishers to perch.  This year has seen a real upsurge in otter sightings along the rive - hopefully this trend will continue.
tree trunks and branches laid into the edge of the river with soil bulldozed on top.

video
This initial phase of work will, we hope, be the start of more action to improve habitats along the Cherwell north and south of the town.  There are certainly some excellent opportunities.  Great for the town to be proud of the river and take some positive steps to make it better for nature - it does seem to have been somewhat neglected in the past.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Birds in trouble: puffins, dotterels and turtle doves

Last week was rather full of pretty grim conservation news, especially from Defra. who have just published their annual trends in wild bird populations in the UK.  A neat summary can be found on the RSPB blog written by Dr Mark Eaton, Principal Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science.  Basically, not good reading if you are a farmland bird.  But there is a lot of interesting detail behind the downward-trending graphs, with quite a few birds undergoing remarkable population increases.

Earlier in the week, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) added Atlantic puffins, European turtle doves, Slavonian grebes and pochards are now on the Red List of Threatened Species for birds. This means the number of UK species on the critical list has doubled to eight.  UK puffins are not doing too badly, it is further north in Iceland and Norway where they in trouble. 

On a more positive note, a great new blog has started up all about waders.  Its called WaderTales.  Brace yourself for some bad news about dotterels but read on for some fascinating posts about black-tailed godwits, woodcock, amongst others.