Background

Earlier this month our operatives, alongside an ecologist, collaborated to improve a Kent nature parks habitat for its herpetological residents. The project focused on constructing hibernacula, and implementing wildflower turf finishes to support reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. Two areas were left as log piles which can be utilised as basking spots for reptiles as well as shelter, breeding sites and foraging spots for a plethora of invertebrate species, promoting ecosystem resilience.

Due to the sensitivity of the site, it was the advice of the on-site ecologist to put down our strimmer’s and use more traditional techniques to prepare the areas for hibernaculum building. These efforts aimed to enhance habitat quality, promote biodiversity, and aid in the conservation of threatened herpetological and invertebrate fauna.

Objectives

Construct Hibernacula: Build nine effective hibernacula structures to provide overwintering refuges for reptiles and amphibians, enhancing their survival during colder months.

Implement Wildflower Turf: Introduce wildflower turf finishes on and around hibernacula sites to increase plant diversity and support pollinator insect populations.

Preserve Herpetological Populations: Create an ideal habitat environment for slow worms, viviparous lizards, and great crested newts, contributing to the conservation and restoration of declining population levels.

Implmentation

  1. Preparation:

As a reserve with protected status, great care was taken not to cause any unnecessary damage or disturbance to wildlife or flora. Under the guidance of an ecologist, vegetation encroaching on the hibernacula was flattened using our feet to flush out any reptiles or amphibians. These were then cut back using handheld pruning tools.

  1. Hibernacula Construction:

Utilized layers of discarded masonry and local stone, decomposing vegetation and a soil mix to construct hibernacula, providing natural insulation and refuge for reptiles and amphibians during winter.

Strategically placed hibernacula within the Nature Park to maximize accessibility and effectiveness as overwintering shelters. The “entrances” were carefully positioned to maximised sun exposure and turf strategically placed to insulate against the onshore winds that the area is so often exposed to.

Due to wind exposure and unsuitability of construction materials, the ecologist directed two of the designated hibernaculum sites were instead left as log piles, which provide their own benefits especially for invertebrates, such as the charismatic stag beetle.

  1. Wildflower Turf Finishes:

A bespoke mix of sub-soil and topsoil was used to cover the hibernacula and provide a low nutrient substrate for the wildflowers to embed into.

Implemented wildflower turf finishes on and around hibernacula sites to introduce a diverse range of plant species.

The addition of wildflowers support pollinator insect populations, contributing to the Park’s ecosystem health and biodiversity.

Results

Improved Habitat Quality: The completion of hibernacula, wildflower turf finishes, and log piles enhance habitat diversity and quality within the nature park.

Biodiversity Promotion: The introduction of wildflowers and utilisation of log piles support a wide range of species, including pollinator insects and threatened beetle species.

Population Conservation: By providing suitable habitat and refuge areas, the park has contributed to the conservation of slow worms, viviparous lizards, and other herpetological species.

Reduced Translocation Risks: Hibernacula structures help mitigate post-translocation dispersal risks by providing stable refuge sites, reducing the likelihood of individuals venturing into unsuitable or hazardous areas.

Conclusion

The collaborative efforts of “Twigs” operatives have successfully enhanced the areas capacity to support herpetological and invertebrate populations. Through the construction of hibernacula and implementation of wildflower turf finishes. The park now offers a more hospitable and biodiverse environment. These conservation initiatives demonstrate the importance of proactive habitat management in safeguarding vulnerable species and preserving natural ecosystems for future generations.