Wilding at the Keyworth Site: An Update / / by Melanie Leng

Melanie Leng is chief scientist for environmental change, adaptation and resilience at the British Geological Survey. Here, she tells us about the successful first six months of BGS's wilding group... 

The wilding group hard at work

In July 2019 a small number of staff at the BGS Keyworth site formed a ‘wilding group’. The group is supporting our Estates and Facilities staff in increasing small projects around the grounds to encourage biodiversity in particular. The group meet one lunch time per month and have so far worked in the small woody area by the Nicker Hill top gate entrance and the Hanlon House garden. In the wood we have created a path to the compost pile (which also conveniently doubles up as a small mammal and insect refuge), built hedgehog hides and have planted spring flowering bulbs among the trees. We are hoping for a good crop of bluebells, snowdrops and alliums from early February which will provide much needed nectar for early emerging insects.

Clearing garden waste from the site

The lawned area between the Nicker Hill top entrance wood and the access road was left uncut between April and October 2019 and to our great surprise we found 30-40 different types of plants popping up including knapweed, cranes-bill geranium, selfheal, vetch, cuckooflower, ragged-robin buttercup, oxeye daisy and bee orchids. In that area we have also seen evidence of squirrels, fox, kestrel, hedgehogs and huge varieties of bees and other insects.

Small areas of the site were also flagged as 'no-mow' areas to allow our bee orchids to flower and thrive. Overall the sympathetic management of some part of our grassland habitats on site have enormous benefits to our wildlife, especially our beautiful orchids.

The wilding group has focused on the Hanlon House garden over the winter months. The area had been swamped by bramble for many years so our main challenge has been to hack back the bramble and create piles of branches which are great refuge for insects as well as a habitat for fungi, mosses and lichens. In the Hanlon House garden we have also improved (revealed!) the paths, cleaned out the pond, created rocky areas for insects and most recently built a toad hole (a large hole filled with leaves and rocks). The rocks were recycled from some of our long forgotten collections! Clearing the bramble and cutting back the encroaching blackthorn hedge has revealed some beautiful specimen trees (most notably a cork screw hazel) and 3 benches (one with a plaque to Mary Hurley). Mary’s Meadow was created in 2001 in her memory by friends. Now the bramble has been removed we expect to see a fine show of wild flowers in the garden through 2020 (so long as we can keep on top of the bramble!)

In November we participated in the woodland Trust’s “Every Tree Counts” campaign. The grounds staff removed dead and dying trees and these are being replaced by (mostly) native trees kindly donated by staff. Dying laurel opposite the front entrance to BGS was removed and replaced by a monkey puzzle tree. The tree is small but around 15 years old and we are hoping that over the next decade it will double or triple in size. The monkey puzzle tree is native to Chile and Argentina where it is in danger of extinction due to the logging industry. The ancient conifer first evolved around 200 million years ago and the best fossilised Monkey Puzzle Tree wood can be found in Toarcian aged (180 million age) rocks around Whitby. The fossil material is known as Jet and has been used in jewellery for millennia.

The new monkey puzzle tree

Overall, the first 6 months of the wilding group have been an amazing success. Staff come for an hour once a month and choose their activity, which in recent months has been mainly cutting back bramble, but also includes everything from building wildlife hides to counting plant species. We have all benefitted from interaction with like-minded people and getting out into the fresh air.