New species, Orchard Farm, and a little bird with a huge voice… our latest biodiversity blog piece with Adam Cheeseman
In our latest biodiversity blog with Adam Cheeseman we’ve taken a look some new species, a profile of the Orchard Farm site in Colne Valley, and the Cetti’s Warbler bird – which only arrived in Britain in 1973!
With the arrival of spring in April and May, my job gets a whole lot busier as wildlife of all shapes and sizes really comes to life with the warmer weather. We carry our ecological surveys regularly – but with animals and plants beginning their main periods of reproduction there’s all of a sudden a lot more to count!
So from now until Autumn much of my time will be spent carrying out regular counts of birds, butterflies, moths, amphibians (as well as making casual observations of creatures I stumble across) using a range of survey methods from simple head counts to putting out humane traps and examining the contents the next day, before releasing the animals back in to their habitat.
As the season progresses even more species, and habitats too, will become evident and need surveying, such as bats and dragonflies.
91 new species found this year to date…
New species found are a fairly regular occurrence. These are mostly invertebrates as many families have not been recorded previously due to being quite difficult to get to grips with their identification and generally being quite small and hard to come across in the first place. So far this year 91 new species have been found, 49 of which have been mostly various types of fly, wasp or bee.
Other groups that have bumped up the species total this year are fungi, lichens and mosses, which included Dead Moll’s Fingers – the airport’s 2,500th species. Lichens are quite easily overlooked, but if you look at any tree, wall, wooden fence, kerbstone, building and even some vehicles, you will find that these sometimes colourful symbiotic life-forms between a fungal and an algal partner are all around us.
Perhaps the most spectacular looking addition to the airport’s fauna this year though has to be the Rose Chafer. A metallic emerald green jewel of a beetle about the size of a broad bean that was found at Camp 4 recently.
Last autumn’s planting of native Wild Daffodil and Bluebell bulbs, by Heathrow colleague volunteers in the coppiced woodland area at the Causeway Nature Reserve, proved quite successful with many delicate nodding yellow trumpets and slightly drooping blue flowers colouring the woodland floor before the canopy closed over and the other vegetation grew taller.
Profile: Orchard Farm Biodiversity Site
Orchard Farm is a small parcel of land, some 2 hectares in size, which sits within the greater Colne Valley site owned by Heathrow Airport Limeted. The site gets its name from a small, turn of the century orchard and cottage that existed approximately in the locality. Comprised principally of a mixture of grassland habitat types bordered by the River Colne to the East and a small stream to the South, the terrestrial habitats were moved wholesale to this location from their original site where Terminal 5 now stands.
The main reason for the translocation was the existence on site of the only known Greater London wild population of Water Avens, a plant that loves damp grasslands and wet meadows. A decade on and we are encouraging the plant to increase and spread with strong results. Also present is the regionally uncommon Pepper Saxifrage (a plant that’s actually part of the carrot family).
Wet grassland habitats in the area are sustained by seasonal inundation from the Colne River and the stream in winter, while an autumnal conservation cut and collection in the area prevents it from being taken over by scrub.
The invasive Himalayan Balsam plant is present, but this is hand-pulled to prevent its spread from along the river corridor. The mix of dry and wet grassland habitats provides for a diverse mix of flora in the sward. In turn this sustains a rich invertebrate fauna that has been recorded here.
We have had specific beetle and spider surveys carried out by local experts in these species and several very rare animals have been found including some previously unrecorded in Greater London and some that are Red Data Book (a publication including information on some of the rarest flora and fauna) listed.
Not surprisingly, bird life is pretty sparse here, but recently a pair of Cetti’s Warblers have bred along the margins of the River Colne. This little bird with a huge voice only started breeding in Britain for the first time in in 1973 and has slowly worked its way inland over the last 40 years.
Other species that can be found here are Grass Snakes, the iridescent Banded Demoiselle dragonfly and the Small Heath butterfly. Pipistrelle bats can sometimes be seen hunting over the area at dusk.
Orchard Farm has no conservation designations, but does form part of the Colne Valley Regional Park. It is also one of our Biodiversity Benchmark Award winning sites and can be viewed from the permissive bridleway that runs through the Colne Valley.
Find out more about Heathrow’s environmental and biodiversity efforts:
- Behind the scenes… with Biodiversity Manager Adam Cheeseman
- Fungus discovery becomes 2,500th species found around Heathrow
- World Water Day and Heathrow…