It has been 3 years since the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales teamed up with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to create a new wetland habitat at Parc Slip Nature Reserve.
In this exciting project we transformed over 3ha of improved agricultural field into a series of freshwater scrapes, to provide habitat for many species including wading birds, amphibians, invertebrates and Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies).
Freshwater scrapes are a unique and scarce kind of wetland, supporting some species of wildlife which depend entirely on this type of habitat for survival. Scrapes act as temporary pools, which can fill up in the rainy months, and dry out into smaller pools and puddles in the summer.
Because the pools are shallow, they are able to both warm up and cool down quickly, causing high levels of productivity in the water and providing plenty of food for invertebrates. The temporary nature of the scrapes means they will not be inhabited by fish; which need at least 2ft of water to survive, reducing the predation risk to the early life stages of Odonata and amphibian species.
In the winter of 2013 NRW dug 15 scrapes of varying size and depth, and created banks around the edges of the field. We seeded the banks with wildflowers, added a shingle shoreline to some of the scrapes and built the Mary Gillham hide.
Since then however, with the exception of digging a few smaller scrapes by hand and creating the Strachan hide, we have left the habitat fairly well alone, to let natural succession take place and for the vegetation to arrive by natural means.
This is a really interesting process. The Scrapes started as holes in the earth, filled with water, very few nutrients and little aquatic life. But as time has gone on the scrapes have naturally accumulated nutrients through the process of succession; where the addition of any materials to the pond and the subsequent decay of the materials, adds nutrients, which in turn stimulates the growth of aquatic life.
Seeds, and small pieces of pond weed and plants have been introduced by birds and visiting animals, which act as ‘pond pioneers’. Submergent vegetation has developed along with emergent vegetation around the edges of the pond, which provides shade, food and habitat within the scrapes. Planktonic algae feed zooplankton, which in turn provide food for the aquatic invertebrates and animals.
By now the scrapes habitat has had 3 years to establish. The pools have become vegetated with bulrush, yellow flag iris and smaller aquatic plants, and the bare earth has been covered with grasses, soft rush and wetland wildflowers like ragged robin.
The field has already been home to a variety of bird species, including Little ringed plover, which nested amongst the shingle and raised 3 chicks there. The site has also been visited by Lapwings, Curlew, Common sandpiper, Greenshank, and Sand martin. Dragonfly and damselfly species have been seen in abundance whisking over the surface of the pools and scrapes, including southern hawker, emperor, and golden ringed dragonfly. We have also come across frogs, toads, great crested newts, grass snakes and bank voles in the field.
There is still much to be learnt about our new habitat. We have yet to do a full survey of the aquatic freshwater invertebrates in the scrapes, and this may tell us more about the stage of their development.
It is very exciting however, to see that we have already encouraged so much wildlife to move in and inhabit a space that was previously inhospitable for wildlife.