John goes native to help out the special wildlife found inhabiting the undisturbed corners of the MOD Bicester garrisons.
The Ministry of Defense (MOD) garrisons to the south east of Bicester are custodians of areas of special habitat for the counties wildlife, the undisturbed land being a haven for birds and butterflies alike. Although these areas benefit from being undisturbed they can’t be left entirely to their own devices. If unmanaged the vegetation would turn into dense scrub which would be an unsuitable habitat for the wildlife found there. Grundon (www.grundon.com), one of the UK’s leading suppliers of integrated waste management and environmental solutions, kindly sponsors environmental work parties to periodically visit the sites and to control the scrub growth. The work parties are organised and lead by the Chiltern Rangers (chilternrangers.co.uk). Chiltern Rangers is a social enterprise which works with local communities to provide practical habitat management for the woodlands, chalk grassland, commons, ponds and chalk streams in the Chilterns’ area.
I (John) volunteered for just such a work party and on a grey day towards the end of October found myself bashing huge, vicious and very tenacious brambles in the company of others from the technical, marketing and various other departments of Grundon. We were ably organised by the commanding Chiltern Rangers. Wildlife experts were on hand to give us the details of the small and elusive creatures we were helping.
Paul Watts, a volunteer with the British Trust for Ornithology (www.bto.org) says:
“MOD Bicester Garrison is particularly special for birds due to its large areas of scrub and grass habitats. We have been carrying out scrub clearance activities to ensure that the scrub habitats within the site remain diverse, and include areas of re-growth.”
“The site is important for birds all year round, but is of particular note for its’ breeding birds, especially its’ migrant summer visitors. The scrub habitats support a diverse range of birds, including a number of warblers as well as the regionally rare nightingale and turtle dove, whilst the areas of open grass support grasshopper warblers.”
Nick Bowles, Chair, Upper Thames branch of Butterfly Conservation (upperthames-butterflies.org.uk) says:
“There are 55 species of butterfly in Britain and about 40 of those are resident in our region of England. Unfortunately many are very scarce as so few places provide the right habitat to allow them to breed. The MOD land at Bicester is home to at least 32 of these species (32 seen there in the last three years) and we suspect that some others are there in very low numbers, and so not recorded recently. This area can never provide the right conditions for all the butterflies that live locally as some need sandy heathland or chalk grassland, which the MOD land at Bicester doesn’t have. What it does have though is a large area that has not been sprayed or tidied the way that most land has. No-one has tried to make the grass grow faster with fertiliser (and thereby extinguished low growing and ‘essential-to-butterflies’ plants) or flailed a hedge to keep it neat. This allows certain habitats to exist which wouldn’t elsewhere. We believe that a rare group of five butterflies, called Hairstreaks, that need very particular habitats making them scarce across Britain, are all found around Bicester. No other region of Britain hosts all five (naturally).”
“Other rare species include spring flying skipper butterflies (almost never seen in other parts of north Oxon) and the large and impressive Purple Emperor. ”
“Though we have not been able to moth trap here for some time, the evidence from species seen in the day is that the numbers and range of moths on site is equally impressive. Consequently, we invest our volunteer time in surveying and in helping to conserve this incredibly valuable habitat, which, if left entirely alone, would eventually turn to dense woodland which is far less suitable for invertebrates.”
“If you would like to get out into the countryside and see butterflies at first hand then visit the Butterfly Conservation website which lists the sites where we lead free guided walks (in summer). It also lists a host of winter events:
“Butterfly Conservation is also on Facebook: #Butterflies.Berkshire.Buckinghamshire.Oxfordshire”
If you would like to try out some environmental activities you can find out about volunteering with the Chiltern Rangers on the ‘volunteering’ page of their website. chilternrangers.co.uk/volunteering.
Written by John West