By Louise Barnetson
In April Manhood Wildlife & Heritage Group (MWHG) ran two floral and wildlife surveying sessions with enthusiastic volunteers, one in West Wittering and one in East Wittering. Now that we can safely say that Spring has sprung, we've ceased most of our our habitat management activities and we're now searching for, and recording, what wildflowers and wildlife can be found.
Our amazing volunteers joined us, armed with ID guides and Apps, to help us look for and identify as many plant and animal species as we could find. Everyone came with different levels of experience and knowledge - from complete beginners to veritable experts - and we all enjoyed learning from each other and expanding our understanding. It's always a rewarding experience to slow down and really take time to just look at what's there and be amazed at the variety of plants that are, quite literally, under our feet!
Our session in West Wittering focussed on the areas of the parish owned by the Parish Council. MWHG has been working with the West Wittering Parish Council to look at how these areas can be improved for wildlife, including reducing mowing, letting the grass grow long and wildflowers bloom, as well as wildflower seeding and tree planting.
Whilst we may be used to grassy areas in village settings being neatly cut, if some of these areas are left unmown then wildflowers and grasses have a chance to flower which benefits pollinators such as butterflies and bees, as well as herbivores. In turn this benefits insect-eating birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and other invertebrates. Invertebrates get a chance to lay eggs on their preferred plants and complete their lifecycles. If the flowers are allowed to set seed, instead of being mown down, then these seeds are also available to birds and small mammals. In turn, predators such as owls and birds of prey benefit. Long vegetation also provides shelter to wildlife and corridors for species to move and disperse safety, allowing wildlife to breed successfully and spread to other areas. In short ... long grass and wildflowers = more wildlife and increased biodiversity.
The bus stop area on Rookwood Road is a great example (see photo below). This area is now being left unmown and is already full of wildlfowers - we recorded 27 different plant species in this small area including Creeping Buttercup, Red Campion, Lesser Celandine, Lords-and-Ladies, Red Deadnettle, Forget-me-Not, and Green Alkanet. Why not take a moment to enjoy the flowers and the bees whilst you're waiting for the bus?
You may have already noticed some work taking place in the village green, where a large wildflower area is being created (see photo on the right). This will enhance the already rich flora of this site - we recorded 50+ different plant species here already. Please stop and take a look next time you're heading down to the beach.
The Snow Hill area is also being left mostly unmown and we counted 50+ different plant species here. This area features a lot of gorse which is important for many birds and invertebrates. The bright yellow flowers smell of coconuts!
Our second surveying session in April was at Hilton Business Park Pond in East Wittering. This hidden treasure was restored at part of MWHG's FLOW project, with work beginning in 2017 when the pond was found to be completely overgrown and neglected. A survey back then revealed only 10 obvious plant species. Extensive work to restore the pond and its adjoining ditches was carried out and it is now a healthy thriving haven for wildlife.
Our survey in April revealed 80+ different plant species! The site was rich with bird-song and we also found several different bumblebees, butterflies and pond-dwelling invertebrates.