Habitat enhancement on the VTB

Habitat enhancement on the VTB

Over a 9-day closure from Saturday 19 to Sunday 27 February, working on behalf of Network Rail works delivery, we carried out vegetation management and biodiversity improvements at Haywards Heath, Wivelsfield, Burgess Hill and Hassocks. We caught up with Project Manager, James King to find out more.

What are we trying to achieve?

The objective of this project is to implement a variety of habitat enhancement techniques, to help boost biodiversity along the lineside estate.

What are we doing?

Before any work begins the first step is for our ecologists to carry out a Preliminary Ecological Assessment, otherwise known as a PEA. This will give us a kind of baseline understanding of what the habitat consists of, and what, if any species are likely to inhabit the area.

In the case of where we are today, this habitat is classified as mixed woodland, and the presence of Hazel Dormice has been identified, so all works are being carried out under licence issued to us from Natural England. As Hazel Dormice not only a protected species, but are very endangered it’s critical to not only retain their habitat, but also do what we can to enhance the area.

In this instance we’re using traditional woodland techniques, such as coppicing the larger hazel and leaving it high enough to still act as suitable habitat. 

Experimental Hazel Hedge laying

We’re also experimenting with Hazel hedge laying, which will create a natural barrier and extra habitat and food for Dormice. The hedges will also help keep areas of habitat well-connected, enabling wildlife to move from one to the other to access different food sources and nesting sites.

The canopy has also been opened up in certain areas which allows the light to reach the woodland floor in places, which will encourage the understory to grow and provide extra food for dormice. Besides Dormice, we have created many hibernacula and log piles, which will provide excellent refuge for hedgehogs and invertebrates, as well as reptiles and amphibians. We’ve also left standing deadwood, and have created man made bird nests and bat roosts along the embankment.

Example bird nests. The nest on the right was made using a salvaged piece of scrap fishplate.

What are the results?

As this is a woodland it will take a long time for it to mature and for us and network rail to really understand the gains that have been achieved.  But come sping/summer, nature should have played a large part in improving the habitat, and hopefully we won't only have improved the lineside estate, but also help to connect it with the surrounding habitat and begin creating an extensive wildlife corridor. We'll also be back later in the year to replace some of the tress that have been removed.

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