Gathering data from nature reserves
Ecology Groups were established in 2001 to enable volunteers to help us monitor our reserves. Volunteers can get involved with a huge range of surveys, learn new skills and meet like-minded people. The results of these surveys help us with practical reserve management.
Ecology Group projects include:
Bat call surveys
Aquatic insect surveys
Fixed point photography
Dormouse nest box monitoring
Breeding bird survey
And many more.....
The main aim of these surveys is to provide information on population trends and species diversity. This information can then be used to inform the management of our reserves. If you would like to become an Ecology Group volunteer, please email us or see our volunteering section for more information about other ways you can help the Trust.
Breeding Bird Transects
Monitoring scrub and woodland structure
The purpose of these projects is to monitor the structural attributes of scrub and woodlands annually. Both of these habitats are key features of many nature reserves. They record those bird species dependent on scrub and woodland as nesting habitats during the breeding season with the objective of detecting changes brought about by our management.
They will also provide an accurate annual assessment of the condition of the scrub and woodland structure against which we can produce monitorable objectives for the site management plan.
These projects use the transect method, by which a recorder walks a path of fixed length in one direction at a particular time of day, taking a consistent length of time, recording all bird activity along it on a map of the transect route.
Are dormice moving through the Living Landscape?
Are dormice able to disperse and move between our nature reserves and other favourable habitats? Monitoring projects are being developed to assess the success of reintroduction projects and whether or not existing dormouse populations are isolated or can take advantage of habitat restoration schemes.
One such site includes Brampton Wood, the location of one of the very first dormouse reintroduction projects in the country, in 1993. Since then nest boxes have been checked on an annual basis. In 2011 the Wildlife Trust incorporated the box checks into the monitoring programme of the Cambridgeshire Boulder Clay Woodlands Ecology Group and the network of nest boxes has been expanded.
As part of this series of projects we have developed a new dormouse nest box, The Brampton, which has been successfully trialed.
Landscape-scale monitoring of woodland linkage projects
Our reserves alone are not enough to provide a habitat for bats and other species to survive and populations to expand. They need corridors linking different areas of habitat to allow them to move through the wider countryside.
The Pathfinder projects seek out bat commuting routes and foraging areas both on our reserves and the landscapes surrounding them to build up a clearer picture of their requirements. This information is also used for monitoring the success of habitat creation and restoration techniques
With the help of volunteers we monitor a network of reserves and connecting habitats in the Rockingham Forest Woodlands and West Cambridgeshire Hundreds. Methods used include field identification and automated recording of bat calls from transect walks and fixed points and mapping bat flight paths within and between our reserves.
Big Wetlands Bat Survey
Developing the use of large wetland reserves as surveillance sites
Large wetland nature reserves provide a valuable feeding and watering resource for bats of many different species.
Bats from a wide geographic area may congregate in large numbers at such sites, providing a valuable opportunity to sample the range of species in such an area, including migratory species, such as the Nathusius’ Pipistrelle.
Several nature reserves have been identified as target sites for the survey because they contain large wetland habitats and, in some cases, their close proximity to a major river. Most are strategically located in a Living Landscape including the Great Fen, Nene Valley, Flit Valley and Ouse Valley.
Find out more about this annual survey on the wetlands bats pages.
Bat Woodland Surveys
Discovering more about the bats using our woodland reserves
Trees and woodlands are important to all our bat species, for foraging and commuting as well as roosting. Some of our wooded reserves fall into the Pathfinder or Big Wetland Bat Surveys but not all and these others can be just as important for the bats. We are using transect surveys to increase our knowledge of which bat species are using our woodland reserves.
Pooling resources with local bat groups to increase our knowledge
Starting in 2017 we are working more closely with the Bedfordshire and Cambridge Bat Groups to find out more about the bats on our nature reserves. So far this has involved joint transect surveys and trapping sessions, the latter involving catch the bats to check on their condition and identify some of our more cryptic and rare species.
Monitoring of wetlands on a local and landscape scale
We monitor aquatic invertebrates on local wetlands, specifically the gravel pit edges, scrapes, temporary pools and ditches on individual reserves.
We hope to detect changes brought about by our management and other factors, and provide an overview of the condition of shallow water features on our reserves including those in the Nene Valley Living Landscape.
Exploring monitoring the condition of woodland rides
We are gathering information on the abundance and distribution of hoverflies using the available nectar sources along the main ride in Old Sulehay Forest (Old Sulehay nature reserve).
This will help complement data gathered as part of the nectar sources monitoring.
Other monitoring projects will determine the abundance and variety of the ride side flora and provide information of other target invertebrate groups.
Our chalk grasslands are home to some of the UK's rarer butterfly species. Working with volunteers and university researchers we are able to better understand what species are present as well as the best management techniques for them.
Monitoring the condition of grasslands
The purpose of these projects is to monitor the effects of grassland management techniques such as conservation grazing, mowing and others involved in the restoration of such habitats, in the reserve compartment in question.
They assess whether or not the vegetation of the grassland feature exists in zones within the compartment and then stratify sampling accordingly to allow the condition of the dominant flora (one of the key attributes of the grassland) to be monitored as an on-going project.
The projects gather data frequently enough to track the ‘trajectory’ of the composition of the developing grassland communities and establish the longer term trends in the grassland condition; these longer term trends form the basis of management plan objectives.
Much of this work has been developed on reserves in the Northamptonshire Limestone and John Clare Country, such as Collyweston Quarries and Old Sulehay, and then rolled out to other grasslands in the Nene Valley.
This project was set up to investigate the success of different heather management techniques at Cooper's Hill nature reserve in an effort to encourage new heather growth and so improve this rare heathland habitat.
The turf-removal trials in particular have been very successful over the short term with significantly more heather seedlings in appearing. Long term monitoring will be required to determine final success of the project.
Annual counts of our rare orchid species are important as they help as understand natural fluctuations, identify population declines and ensure suitable management to reverse these declines where possible.