This year’s drought forced our Partners in Action to find creative ways to continue their work with Target 25 (T25) species, groups and habitats, our project supporting once common species and habitats, now in decline in the UK.
At Lee Abbey, the drought significantly impacted some T25 species. The house martin, for example, needs wet mud to create its nests, with each nest consisting of over 1000 individual drops of mud mixed with the bird’s saliva. In an average year there are significant areas of muddy puddles within easy reach of nesting areas, but this year they had all dried up. The estate team identified that the house martins were in trouble and, without help, would not be able to build their nests properly. So the team filled upturned bin lids with a mixture of mud and water to provide this vital nest building resource. Their quick thinking and creativity meant that the house martins had a typical breeding season with around 20 or more occupied nests. A Rocha UK also provided Lee Abbey with several artificial nests, which will be put up this winter to help support next spring’s population.
This summer, A Rocha UK received an SOS from another of our partners, Blacknest Forest School, near Windsor. The drought was having a major impact on the woodland and grassland landscape – even typically drought-tolerant species were showing significant signs of stress. Concerned about the plantlife, A Rocha UK’s conservation team met with the Blacknest leadership team and together they came up with a plan to preserve the water supply: deep mulching all the new trees in the planted hedgerow area with wood chips donated by a local supplier. The wood chips would hold water more effectively, which became even more important when a hosepipe ban came into force just days later. The results of these relatively simple efforts were impressive, with over 80% of the planted trees and shrubs surviving to the autumn. After their first few seasons, when their roots have gone deeper, many of the species planted will be more drought resistant. Blacknest’s success story was highlighted at our recent Partner in Action annual retreat, and could be replicated by other Partners in Action to support plant life through future droughts.
Our own two nature reserves also encountered significant challenges with drought. The worst affected areas included the ponds (at Foxearth Meadows and Wolf Fields) and orchard areas (at Wolf Fields). Many of the fruit trees were dropping their leaves three months early, a sign of acute water stress. In addition, with the ponds drying up and a hosepipe ban, there was little the team could do to help.
Inspired by the work at Blacknest, Kailean, our Wolf Fields Reserve Manager decided on deep mulching around the fruit trees with a mixture of cut grass, cardboard, and other green compost. As with Blacknest Forest School, a quick response from Kailean and the volunteer team meant that the site lost only a handful of trees. The team has also been working hard to create more wetland habitat around the pond, which meant that although the ponds did partially dry up, the new wetland stayed largely intact. This conservation work ensured that pollinating insects could feed and survive. At least six species of dragonfly and damselfly (a T25 group) were observed through the drought, evidence that not all had been lost.
The key for Partners in Action this year has been resilience. We know that climate change is having an increasing impact on species and landscapes, but with creativity and imagination, our Partners have proved that we can help nature adapt. We welcome any imaginative ideas that will help us all deal with the future challenges that climate change will bring.