A tour of SSSIs. With a bit of soil sampling thrown in. (2014)

Fancy a tour of SSSIs?  Want to get paid for it?  Yes please!

Aqualate MereI have been very lucky with work this year and this has been one of my most fun projects.  Another from Natural England’s research programme.  This time the plan was to find out whether there was any correlation between favourable condition and soil chemistry.  Basically, I was sent out to various SSSIs in Lancashire, Shropshire, Derbyshire and Cumbria and told to go to certain units (parts of the sites) and get soil samples from favourable and unfavourable areas.

Bracken patch on Whitbarrow

Finding areas in unfavourable condition is easy enough – after all, everywhere has a few patches of thistles, nettles or bracken.  Finding areas in favourable condition, however, is slightly more complicated than it first appears, because deciding what is and is not in favourable condition isn’t just a matter of ecologist’s intuition.  I might rock up and think a grassland looks nice (it is in a SSSI, after all), but in fact Natural England have quite specific criteria to be met for favourable condition.  And these criteria are different depending on the NVC community involved.  So although this is a soil sampling project, my first job on arriving at the target area is to deploy my botany skills and decide which NVC community it is.

Lathkill Dale

Then the fun begins and I trundle around collecting soil and recording information on a condition assessment form.  Or, realistically, I trundle around looking for areas where the soil is actually thick enough to sample!  My sites included steep escarpments and limestone pavement so I’ve had to be a bit creative with where I collect samples.  Now I know to make a beeline for any anthills or trees which may have collected soil around the edges.  We learn something new every day 🙂

Sugarloaf hill behind Wetton Mill


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