Sustainability and biodiversity on the Estate – a winter update

Sustainability and biodiversity on the Estate – a winter update

Sustainability and biodiversity on the Estate – a winter update

by Matt Antrobus, Estates and Waste Manager at the Babraham Research Campus.

The site is not only home to the Babraham Research Campus (BRC), the Babraham Institute and commercial companies but also extends to farmland, woodlands and other natural habitats within the estate boundary. The Estates team, made up of six members of BRC staff is dedicated to grounds care and maintenance of the campus and estate, as well as care of the surrounding environment. Year round there are lots of tasks that go into running the estate. The team strive to have a positive impact by introducing schemes that benefit wildlife, and local people. In this blog, Matt Antrobus, Estates & Waste Manager, describes some of their plans to increase the sustainability and biodiversity of the surrounding land.

Planting at the main entrance

Following the recent bulb planting  to bring some spring colour to the main entrance, the Estates & Gardens team are carrying out the first section of planting on the berm. This will consist of a mix of species including bird cherry, English oak, whitebeam, small leaf lime and hazel, as well as some larger standard field maples. Staff from across the Campus who enjoyed planting bulbs with the Estates team this year will be able to enjoy the blooms in the spring before another round of bulb planting comes around again next autumn.

Hedgerow Planting, Field 17

The Estates and Gardens team will be working to bolster existing hedgerow planting with a mix of field maple, hazel, dog rose and spindle – continuing the work to increase the level of connectivity between patches of woodland and refuge on the estate, as well as replace historic field boundaries. This will aid small mammal transport routes around the estate by providing cover corridors, as well as an important nesting and shelter habitat. Hedgerows will also help to reduce wind erosion and soil damage.

The old Winter Paddock

This area, cleared in the 1970s for animal grazing, is being reverted to woodland as part of the sustainability works being carried out by the BRC Estates department. Walkers who are familiar with the area will have noticed the willow transplanting trials we have already carried out – this is being supplemented this winter with hornbeam, alder, small leaved lime, hazel and further willow. Willow is an amazing species – cuttings taken from our existing willow pollards will readily grow when planted into the ground directly after cutting. This area of woodland will be nurtured and developed over the coming years, and should be established as a young woodland within the next ten years.

Winter pollarding works

This winter, the Estates team will also be carrying out pollarding works of the willows along the River Granta, which flows through the site. Pollarding is an ancient woodland management practice dating back to medieval periods, where trees were cut for firewood and other products such as ash staves, at a height of eight foot or upwards. This means that the resulting regrowth is out of reach of browsing damage from animals (including cattle which were driven into woodlands as it was found that cattle would self-medicate on ground flora), as well as disturbing the woodland floor and promoting plant species growth with the increased light level as a result of the pollarding process.

These willow trees are pollarded on a cyclical five-year rotation. Frequent users of the footpaths may encounter some diversions while these are carried out, as well as some safety measures, and pollard works of the multi-stem poplars on the estate (which have reached a size and structure where they are developing fissures at the stem junctions). We will also be removing some of the leylandii, along the southern boundary of the woodlands, to increase the light levels at ground and field layer in order to encourage growth of native species. Resulting branches and brash are split into two purposes, either adding to the woody debris and dead wood content of a young woodland, or the larger material is chipped to provide footpath covering and mulching material for use on the main campus.

The cordwood from this process is logged up as firewood and kindling available to campus tenants, or converted into charcoal using our retort on site – which is also used to make some fantastic bio-char  for use on the campus.