Clophill Lakes Grazing Project
Written by: Jon Balaam
The Clophill Lakes site is a former Fullers Earth quarry, restored largely to agriculture in the late 1990s and essentially left to its own devices since then in terms of areas of nature conservation interest. This project has focused on an area of grassland of 13.5ha which we aim to restore back to floodplain grazing marsh and neutral grassland adjacent to the River Flit.
A 2018 survey identified species poor MG1 grassland with small pockets of species indicative of semi-improved grassland, and a relatively small area of existing floodplain grazing marsh adjacent to the Flit which (despite a lack of management) was reasonably diverse, and also included some small areas of reed swamp. It has not been in any form of conservation management since the site was restored.
The site is within the Greensand Ridge NIA and will contribute to the restoration of key habitats within the NIA, as well as supporting the management of a County Wildlife Site (the southern part of the project area is a CWS). The Greensand Trust has created a Conservation Management Plan for the whole site and have identified this as within an area zoned for “Nature Conservation” , with the emphasis on conservation with appropriate grazing regimes and levels.
Having never been managed in this way we needed to install all of the infrastructure required. The main works are now complete, and we aim to introduce grazing in 2023, at around the same time as the wider site is opened to the public. It will be important for the public to see active management through grazing – while this particular area will not be publicly accessible as such, those arriving at the site by car or bike will travel through it.
The works were carried out to a high standard despite the challenges created by unsuitable materials.
Benefits to People
Greensand Trust volunteers contributed many hours to the installation of the fencing, learning specific skills in this. They also learnt about the wider benefits of management of wetlands and grasslands through grazing.
A video has been produced describing the wider project, and including information on the grazing areas, helping inform the wider community. It is an important piece of a wider ‘jigsaw’.
Benefits to Heritage & Landscape
The project will result in a better quality of habitat and associated wildlife once the grazing regime has been implemented and begins to take effect. It will also help maintain an open, pastoral landscape with important views, within the Flit Valley. The site cannot be classified as “in better condition” because the grazing has not begun, but everything is in place to ensure that this can take place.
Challenges & Lessons Learnt
The biggest challenge was unsuitable materials. Despite having posts specified by the supplier to meet the requirements of a wetland site to be grazed by cattle, the posts supplied as ‘straining’ posts were completely inadequate and would have been unable to withstand the attentions of cows without falling over. Additionally some even broke whilst installing, despite soft ground.
This was particularly disappointing because we specifically sought out recycled plastic posts to be environmentally sustainable and for their greater longevity – traditional wooden posts only last 10 years maximum, often less, in damp/wet environments. We have had to revert to the use of metal posts instead.
If we use recycled plastic posts again we would need to over-specify.
“I had never fenced before! I worked twice on my own with Jamie [Greensand Trust Ranger] who was superbly patient teaching me how to use the tractor attachment to sink posts and how to manually build post and rail fencing. With the other volunteers I’ve been shown how to staple cattle fencing”
– SP, Greensand Trust Volunteer
“It is good to keep practising those skills and be part of the team that put it up…it is a good feeling to know that when I come back in years to come I can say I was part of the team…it means community investment and involvement and pride in our work”
– HW, Greensand Trust Volunteer