Aqualate Mere SSSI - Eastern Meadows (National Nature Reserve) (033)
Staff member responsible: PAUL CANDLIN
Unit Id: 1028638
Unit area (ha): 33.1125
Unit Status: Live Gridref: SJ 784 201
Main habitat: NEUTRAL GRASSLAND - Lowland
Condition (click for history): Favourable Assessed by: HOLLAND, (TOM)
Last assessed: 19/06/2014 Last field visit: 19/06/2014
ISA Survey: View Surveys
Date of site check: Last CSM assessment: 19/06/2014
Comment:

Interest features –

Interest features –

  1. Assemblages of breeding birds - Lowland open waters and their margins

As per the variety of breeding birds feature, this feature on this site is dubious. The criteria sheet says the selection criteria are not proven. The baseline is recorded as 36.5 but over a nine year period from 1968 – 1976, eleven years before notification. It says the ‘this data is now unreliable but the BCI will be metby the revised SSSI if the open water margins are on the generous side’. It’s not clear whether breeding was shown to be probable or just possible. In which case we could either disregard it as a SSSI feature of interest or perhaps we could use the minimum target (i.e. 70 species) as target. The baseline score at notification was 36.5. Fluctuations in populations are allowed and the number of breeding birds has to fall by 25% (to 25) before the feature is deemed to in unfavourable condition.

No formal survey has been carried out but a score of 29 was reached using information from Mel Brown and Tim Coleshaw. Clarification is required on whether their information was based on probable or possible breeding and whether it was based purely on the 2014 breeding year. At the moment I think it was based on more or less probable breeding and just the one year – 2014 in the case of Mel Brown’s information. Either way although a decline from the baseline is suggested the figure falls within the 25% fluctuation allowed before unfavourable condition is record. Some parts of the breeding assemblage do appear to have declined over the longer term whilst others have increased. For example, redshank, curlew and snipe have either disappeared altogether or are breeding at much reduced numbers; whilst it seems likely that Cetti’s warbler is breeding already or will start to do so in the near future.

Therefore I would suggest the feature is recorded as favourable with the proviso that further investigations are made into i) the size of the original baseline; ii) whether the figures supplied by Mel and Tim are from one year or more and whether they represent probable or possible breeding; iii) whether a more formal survey is needed and worthwhile; iv) whether the decline in breeding numbers is not permanent; v) advice is sought from the national birds specialists, Allan Drewitt/Stella Bayliss; vi) whether the feature ever met the SSSI selection criteria and whether it is retained as a feature of interest.

Favourable

  1. Assemblages of breeding birds - Lowland damp grasslands

There was no baseline score recorded at notification, so the minimum score (of 16) needed to meet the SSSI criteria selection is used. Fluctuations in populations are allowed and the number of breeding birds has to fall by 25% (to 12) before the feature is deemed to in unfavourable condition.

No formal survey has been carried out but a score of 16 was reached using information from Mel Brown and 23 using information from Tim Coleshaw. Clarification is required on whether their information was based on probable or possible breeding and whether it was based purely on the 2014 breeding year. At the moment I think it was based on more or less probable breeding and just the one year – 2014 in the case of Mel Brown’s information.

However, I would suggest the feature is recorded as favourable with the proviso that further investigations are made into i) the size of the original baseline; ii) whether the figures supplied by Mel and Tim are from one year or more and whether they represent probable or possible breeding; iii) whether a more formal survey is needed and worthwhile; iv) advice is sought from the national birds specialists, Allan Drewitt/Stella Bayliss. Favourable

  1. Variety of breeding bird species

As comments for unit 32 - Favourable

  1. M23 - Juncus effusus / acutiflorus - Galium palustre rush pasture

The wet grassland vegetation in this unit fails on the

  • ratio of ‘good’ rushes : ‘bad’ rushes – i.e. to be favourable condition there is supposed to be a greater cover of ‘good’ rushes, such as Juncus articulatus, J. subnodulous and J. acutiflorus, than ‘bad’ rushes, such Juncus effusus, J. inflexus and J. conglomeratus.
  • the high cover of species indicative of agricultural improvement – 16% cover of Holcus lanatus and a 4% cover of Ranunculus repens.
  • The frequency of positive indicator species – Of those on the list in the FCTs the vegetation contains two frequent (Galium palustre & Lotus pedunculatus) and one occasional (Filipendula ulmaria).

 

However, all these failures might be just artefacts of the targets than a reflection of the habitat’s real condition:

  • The sward structure looks good to me and like the textbook drawings from NE’s Technical information Notes - The photographs below show a sward structure that is comprised of an intimate mosaic of short areas of turf between small open stands of tall and not-so-tall rushes. In this situation I can’t see how it matters that a high proportion of the rushes are soft rush rather than sharp-flowered rush. I wonder whether a high cover of soft-rush becomes more relevant in thicker less managed swards, where it grows as dense tussocks that shade out desirable forbs and makes foraging difficult for ground-nesting birds. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and breeding lapwings have increased in number since the present sward structure was produced after the introduction of a regime of regular rush-cutting, cattle grazing and raised water levels.
  • The target is that species indicative of agricultural improvement such as Ranunculus repens and Holcus lanatus should collectively have a cover of less than 20% and individually a cover of less than 10%. This target is failed so narrowly that it could easily be put down to my observer error.
  • The list of indicators has been taken from the generic list published in the Common Standard Monitoring guidance and has not been tailored to this unit. The vegetation in this unit contains a number of desirable species that could legitimately be added to the list of positive indicator species – specifically Potentilla erecta, Ranunculus flammula and Carex panicea which all have an occasional frequency and if included on this list of target species mean the vegetation hits this vegetation composition target.

In conclusion, the condition of the vegetation might be favourable. However, with the condition close to borderline, it is likely that negative changes in management (e.g. a stop to rush-cutting or cattle-grazing or falling water levels) could lead quickly to a change to unfavourable condition.

Favourable

Management suggestions

Raising water levels with dams and sluices seems to have contributed something (maybe a lot) to the positive change in condition on this unit (along with rush-cutting and cattle-grazing). Filling in the ditches would be more permanent, and allow natural processes and a more resilient hydrology to develop; and would likely lead to a greater diversity of plant communities and habitat (with areas of fen as well as wet grassland). If the water supply is not clean it might also lead to the development of eutrophic species-poor habitats; might make rush-cutting and other management techniques more difficult; and might have impacts on adjacent farm land. However, it might be interesting to consider the pros and cons of allowing the development of a more natural hydrological regime.

Number of adverse condition reasons: 0
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