Bees and Trees at Dorridge Park

Alongside the main Wildlife Ways programme, lots of smaller programmes have been developed as part of the Wildlife Ways / Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership’s Habitats Grants Programme (part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund).

One of these is Bees and Trees – an ambitious project which supports a wide range of habitat and nature improvements across the borough and which will ensure better conservation for over 23 hectares of habitat – that’s the equivalent of around 33 football pitches.

To date six parks and woods have benefitted from woodlands management work through the Bees and Trees project and we will shortly be starting some grasslands enhancement works at Dorridge Park.

To tell us more about this project we spoke to the ecologist leading the work, Dan Hunt.

So Dan, what’s behind this work? Why is grassland so important?

Traditional hay meadows were once widespread, but since the 1930s over 3 million hectares of wildflower-rich grassland have been lost in England through changing farming practices, inappropriate management, urban development and woodland expansion. This contributes directly towards the decline of many plant and insect species, including many of our pollinators.

Losses of these important hay meadows are continuing at a national rate of 2-10% per annum (although the rate of loss has slowed). To prevent further declines, lowland meadows are recognised as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Habitat and also part of the local Biodiversity Action Plan which provides the local response to the UK government’s National Action Plans for threatened habitats and species.

How does Bees and Trees fit into this?

The aim of Bees and Trees grassland management works is to help address the national reduction in species-rich grassland to deliver biodiversity benefits for local users, visitors and wildlife. This will enhance both the sward structure and floristic diversity whilst creating a valuable pollen and nectar source.

Work will involve native wildflower seeds being sown directly into a prepared seed bed from September, followed by native tree and shrub planting to deliver biodiversity benefits for local users, visitors and wildlife.

What’s wrong with the grassland at Dorridge Park? It looks beautiful already. Which areas within the park are you working on?

Dorridge Park is stunning but unfortunately it contains large areas of amenity grassland and species poor semi-improved grassland. Dorridge Park is an important site for us. In total it is 19 hectares and through the project we can deliver 4.78 hectares of habitat management – that’s about 25% of the park. We will do this through 4.51 hectares of grassland enhancement and 0.27 hectares of native tree and shrub planting.

Five areas of grassland have been selected for this project (see map areas A – E). These areas are characterised as follows:

  • Area A – Dorridge Park Meadow (also referred to as Woodside Meadow) Local Wildlife Site (LWS) – 2.7 ha (designated in 2012). The Woodside Meadow has been managed as a hay meadow since 2012 to begin the process of converting areas of species poor grassland into floristically diverse meadows. It has been upgraded to semi-improved grassland, but is still species-poor on the ranker west side.
  • Areas B and C – Dorridge Wood LWS is nine hectares of woodland with 1.5 hectares of meadows. The two smaller meadows north of Arden Road remain unmanaged and have been subjected to the increasing spread of bramble, although rabbit grazing has kept parts of both meadows as open grassland.
  • Area D – East of Dorridge Wood, this reverted to an annual cut and collect as part of the Councils ‘Let it Grow’ scheme which began the process of restoring the meadow. This area is still recorded as species-poor.
  • Area E – Classed as amenity grassland this has been mown throughout the growing season with clippings left to rot down and enrich the soil. This management method usually results in low species diversity as slower and larger growing plants are not given the opportunity to establish.

Seven to nine different grass species were recorded in the meadows. Of the grasses present it is the coarser species – Yorkshire fog, false oat grass and cocksfoot that dominate.

To see the plan of the landscape works:

To see an aerial view of the site:

So Dan, can you take us through what you’ll be doing here please?

First of all we need to prepare the area for wildflower sowing by clearing the areas of weeds that are overgrown and treating dominant weed species with herbicide. We will barrier these areas off and put up notices so that visitors are fully aware of what we’re doing. We’ll follow this with cultivation which involves scarifying/harrowing the soil to create a clean seed bed of between 50-100% bare earth as all wildflower and grass seed need to touch bare soil. Wildflower seed will then be sown onto the surface (rates dependent on seed mix) and the soils then rolled to ensure good contact between the seed and soil. This will encourage rapid germination and establishment.

Where possible the wildflower seed mix will be chosen to reflect the site’s soil type and of suitable provenance. More species diverse areas retain a number of native grasses and flowers so these areas will be restored.

Soils in areas of amenity grassland are likely to be nutrient-rich and as wildflowers thrive in poor low-nutrient soils this will require starting again. We’ll do this by removing the existing grassland cover through careful use of herbicides and harrowing to create 100% bare earth before sowing a seed mix containing 80% grasses to 20% wildflowers.

How will you ensure that the work establishes?

We’ll do this by cutting. Vegetation will be cut and collected regularly in the first year to reduce competition from the most vigorous grasses and weeds. This is the priority in the first year, so please be warned – we don’t expect flowers until the second season. As the wildflowers become more established, less cutting will be required until it is only necessary once a year.

Anything else we need to know?

People sometimes think that managed grasslands and wildflower meadows look ‘untidy’ at certain times of the year. To help with this we’re going to frame the meadows by mowing a narrow strip around the edge and reinstate some paths through the meadows. We will also install an information panel later on to help people to understand the project and what we’re trying to do here. This is an exciting project which will help wildlife and will also improve the look of the park over time.

Pictured above, L-R: Dan Hunt (Ecologist), Cllr Andy Mackiewicz (Cabinet Portfolio Holder, Climate Change, Planning & Housing), Cllr Ian Courts (Leader of the Council), Cllr Ken Meeson (Dorridge & Hockley Heath Ward Member), Nic Wright (Landscape Architect)