Final Wild Campus Blog 31/05/203
As we near the end of the project, we would like to take the time to reflect on the project as whole, what we have achieved and look forward to what comes next. At the start of the project in 2020, Cirencester College (CC) and the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) joined forces to begin creating a more wildlife friendly area by developing habitats, enhancing biodiversity, and investing in the health and wellbeing of the local community. Wild Campus was match funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and began with an ecologist from Wild Service doing an initial ecological enhancement plan, and the deliverables for the project were borne from this. This included:
- Replacing or improving outside lights in line with Bat Conservation Trust guidance to enhance foraging habitats for bats.
- Planting 1000m2 of wildlife friendly hardy native shrubs to provide more corridors for small mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
- Planting 3000m2 of wildflowers where insects can forage and hence enhance bat foraging sources as they feed on insects.
- Diversifying 4 hectares of lawn, leaving long grass, providing further food sources and cover for small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects.
- Installing 5 hedgehog shelters and 5 reptile/amphibian hibernacula.
- Planting native species to enhance 5 existing ponds for amphibians, water fowl and aquatic invertebrates.
- Thinning woodland to enhance ground flora and create refugia to provide better habitat for small mammals, amphibians and bats.
- Planting a heritage orchard, further diversifying insect, bat and nesting bird habitat and providing food sources for small mammals, insects and birds.
- Installing 150 bird and bat boxes to enhance roosting and nesting opportunities.
COVID-19 restrictions meant that, most work was delayed until 2021. In 2020 plans were made to diversify the grass lawns, and ‘no mow’ areas were assigned. The summer of 2021 brought phase one of shrub planting, various wildlife surveys, building of hibernacula and hedgehog shelters and the beginning of installing the bird boxes. Conservation Club was started by Liam Collins and Rebecca Elton who joined the project in 2021, and students of the RAU were encouraged to get involved with the project. The grounds team were brought in to assist with delivery and maintenance of the newly established habitats. Deb Govier joined the project team as Project Manager in November 2021.
Cirencester College completed their ‘Axehead’ area in 2020, and enhanced the area in 2021, this area will continue to be improved and enjoyed by CC staff and students and Stuart Williams, who looks after the area. In January 2022, phase one of the heritage orchard was planted, with students from the RAU completing the work under the supervision of Rebecca Elton and Dr Ian Grange, as a part of the Conservation degree offered at the RAU. More hibernacula were installed by Conservation Club, and they continued their surveying efforts. 2022 saw the first research projects from data collected from Wild Campus, including student assignments on reptile hibernacula use, and mammal preference of ecotones on the RAU site. The first research paper published was from Dr Kelly Hemmings, Rebecca Elton, and Dr Ian Grange, titled ‘No-mow amenity grassland case study: Phenology of floral abundance and nectar resource’ in Ecological Solutions and Evidence (2022) (tinyurl.com/5d56j3d3). Wildflower areas were sown on both sites this year, and CC completed their bird box installation. Wild Campus was also awarded Environmental Project of the Year by Cirencester Chamber of Commerce, Business and Community Awards. The most costly and largest effort began in the improvement of the lighting around the RAU and CC sites. This involved making the lights a warmer colour and more downward facing, creating a darker corridor for bats. Rebecca Smith and Angharad Webb joined the project, in the roles of Project Technician and voluntary Hedgehog Ambassador respectively. Angharad ran the Hedgehog Friendly Campus, for which we completed various tasks to be awarded our Bronze level award at the end of 2022. The bird and bat box installation were completed with help from the arborist team from Id Verde, and the RAU maintenance team who put up the house martin boxes around the accommodation blocks.
2023 brought about our last 5 months of the project for ERDF funding, and the heritage orchard and hardy shrub planting was completed by students. Phase two of the hardy shrub planting was supervised by Rebecca Smith and included three botanical species, Chamomile, Lemon Thyme, and Elderflower with the intention to create more flavours of the RAU Gin. Along with this, extra lavender was planted and harvested and a distilling station and introductory session was led by Jonathon Code. From the success of this session, a proposal has been raised for a permanent distilling station to be installed in the labs. Signs can be seen around both sites, describing the environmental improvements to the specific areas.
The end of the project had the team completing a summative assessment, for which a maintenance plan was written, that should keep the efforts from the project alive for 15 years, until 2038.
The Wild Campus team would like to thank Teresa North (RAU Project Sponsor), Jim Grant (CC Sponsor), Sarah Morton, Dr Kelly Hemmings, Dr Ian Grange, Liam Collins, William Melville, Cotswold Turf Care, ID Verde, Jacquelyn Jenkins, Jane Dowdeswell, Katey Harris, Helen Tonks, Stuart Williams, Angharad Webb and all students involved with the project and Conservation Club for all their help and patience during the project.
Written by Rebecca Elton, Deb Govier and Rebecca Smith.