Ever assessed the condition of a calcareous grassland in January? Me neither, before last month. At least it wasn’t snowing (!) I do a lot of specialist botanical stuff for consultancies who haven’t got their own botanist and it is always nice to get a call from a regular customer asking me to help out. This project was a quarry access road at a site in Flintshire, where the existing road was too narrow and close to a precipice and needed to be re-routed for safety reasons. My job was to assess the condition of calcareous grassland habitat affected by the project, to identify areas of grassland worth translocating onto a new bund, and to help the project ecologist in developing a simple monitoring protocol to assess the condition of the translocated vegetation.
With all this talk of translocation, you might imagine we were dealing with nice flat grassland suitable for cutting into nice neat turves. Uh, no. Think more like a 40 degree slope largely consisting of loose pebbly stuff.
First order of business, then, was to talk to the site manager and make sure the new bund would have a stepped profile so that the project ecologist could have safe access for monitoring. Unlike having to scrabble up and down the slope which is what we did this time. A good workout, but not the safest working environment.
The grassland was actually not bad, maybe not the most exciting in the local area but definitely worth mitigating for. We used the Natural England Rapid Condition Assessment forms for calcareous grassland to assess its current condition and identified some easily recognisable positive indicator species which could be used for future monitoring. The way the RCA works is that to be in favourable condition, a grassland has to meet certain structural criteria (height, scrub cover, etc) and have a certain number of positive indicator species present in the sward at the right levels – at least frequent or occasional, rather than there just being one or two plants. So it’s a great tool to use as a base for post-construction monitoring.
The project ecologist is now equipped to design a meaningful post-construction monitoring scheme which will genuinely assess whether the grassland on the new bund is doing well. I hope to be asked back to join in with the first post-construction monitoring session this summer, as I think the site will be rather pleasant on a warm sunny day…..