Ipswich Heaths Project
Greenwings founder Matt Berry talks about an exciting project to save a species!
In 2012 I was delighted that Butterfly Conservations landscape-level project, aimed at restoring lowland heathland habitat of 300 hectares on 14 sites in Ipswich, was awarded a Wren Biodiversity Action Fund grant of over £100,000. The project was born from a desire to conserve and enhance the remaining patches of heathland in and around Ipswich, part of what was once a continuous band of mainly coastal lowland heathland called the Sandlings, which stretched between Felixstowe and Lowestoft.
Back in 2009 the Suffolk Branch of Butterfly Conservation commissioned a condition study of several significant county heathlands that held Silver-studded Blue colonies. From that the Branch instigated a series of practical emergency measures to rescue an ailing colony from probable extinction at one of the sites, Purdis Heath, where in less than 20 years the count had dropped from 2,000 to less than 10. The biggest factor contributing to their decline was insufficient management, leading to scrub succession and loss of optimum breeding habitat for the Silver-studded Blue and other heathland species of conservation concern. Volunteers have since stepped in to help manage the site and reverse the decline, undertaking operations such as tree removal, creation of bare ground habitat and heather cutting. Each year since starting the work the count has risen, too early to declare the population as recovered, but an encouraging sign nonetheless.
The Ipswich Heaths Project, delivered by Sharon Hearle (Project Officer), is enabling the scale of restoration to be dramatically accelerated, extending the work to include all 14 sites. Funding also pays for contractors to carry out some of the larger scale works needed. However, community groups and volunteers will continue to be integral in making the project a success, supporting the project officer and volunteer warden with practical conservation work and site monitoring.
I was delighted to hand over a cheque to Butterfly Conservation CEO Dr Martin Warren, at the recent Rutland Water Birdfair event. The money was raised from the proceeds of our Greek Island Odyssey holiday in April. It will be put towards the match funding that is needed to make the Ipswich Heaths Project a success. Thank you to all our guests on that trip, for helping us to help conserve butterflies!
It was a good year for the Silver-studded Blue. Numbers rose again from the 2012 season and the butterfly was observed in far more areas of the site. All encouraging signs for the future and satisfying for those involved in trying to get the habitat on site back in good shape.
The project is now in the second year and plans are in place for a significant amount of habitat restoration to take place at some of the key heathland sites this winter, which will start very soon. I have been working with the project officer and site warden of Purdis Heath to prepare a plan of action for consolidating the excellent progress already made on the site, by pushing scrub back from the key flight areas of the heath and creation of more bare ground habitat. In addition, we are excited to be working on creating a link between Purdis Heath and the neighbouring golf course, which is a partner organisation in the project and they are keen to improve and create habitat for the butterflies on their own land too. To make the link a fairly large amount of tree clearance is required, mostly Oak and Silver Birch, which have encroached onto the heather during the past few decades. It may look drastic but it is an essential goal of the project to try and strengthen the colony by extending the opportunities for butterflies to move between a larger area of sites and enlargen its gene pool. As always we will be putting out information explaining the work to the public. This will be posters on the site and online, via the Suffolk Butterflies website, Facebook and here of course!
Greenwings are delighted to be involved in such a worthwhile conservation project. As well as providing some financial support we are directly involved in the ways described above, right down to getting our hands dirty and doing the habitat management work with some wonderful local volunteers.