A visit to the Somerset Levels
Doesn’t a wet grassland audit just sound like a thrilling way to spend a day? If the answer to that question is ‘yes’ then read on; it must be your lucky day because our team (who really do like this kind of stuff) have just completed one at our Tealham and Tadham Nature Reserve on the Somerset Levels.
So, I hear you cry, why would one conduct a wet grassland audit?
We do this to inform the way we manage land within our nature reserves. At Tealham and Tadham we want to know if our management is creating the right conditions for breeding wading birds such as snipe, lapwing, curlew and redshank. We need to know if the sward height and structure is suitable, there are enough water features (not lakes, more like small pools and muddy ditches) and that there is enough food.
Should I need to - how might I conduct a wet grassland audit?
It’s very technical - you need a spade and a pencil.
First, take your spade and dig out a square sod of earth a spades depth. Next peel apart the sod and count how many worms you find sorting them into red and green worms. An interesting dinner party gambit is that green worms like more waterlogged soils and red worms prefer more aerated soils. Counting the worms will tell you how much food there is for the birds and also how water levels have affected soil invertebrates. Looking at the soil type and structure also gives lots of clues about the land use history and how we need to graze a site.
Next, take your pencil and prod it into the earth. This will tell you how accessible the food is. If you can’t get your pencil in neither can a snipe get its beak in to feed on the worms and other invertebrates in the soil. Creating more open water with muddy edges will not only provide lots of easy access to food in soft soils, but it will also be alive with aquatic invertebrates such as delicious non biting midge larvae later in spring, just as the breeding wading birds' chicks hatch.
Who carries out these wet grassland audits?
This one was done by our team along with colleagues from Avon and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trusts and from FWAG South West. Thank you by the way.
We’re having a big push this year to improve our monitoring of wildlife on our nature reserves - we’ve got 71 sites that cover 1,720 hectares so it’s quite a task. We’re looking for volunteers to help and, if you’re really lucky, you too might get to perform a wet grassland audit, but we can’t make any promises.
See here for more detail and to get in touch with our senior ecologist Kiff Hancock.