Surveys with the Southern Co-op

Long term relationships could be key to enhancing our environment and creating places for wildlife to flourish. Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust have a long-standing relationship with the Southern Co-op, corporate members who support a number of our projects, most recently Wilder Portsmouth. Sarah Jackson, Senior Ecologist with the Trust explains some of the work the ecology team have been doing on their sites.

Southern Co-op has a fantastic approach to biodiversity and sustainability, and in 2013 it engaged the Trust’s services to create a biodiversity action plan for a newly acquired site, which would become a new crematorium in Havant. The ecology team went to visit the site, carrying out a walkover survey to assess what was on the site and its potential for wildlife. This information, along with other surveys and data that had been collected, was used to create a set of actions on how to enhance the site’s biodiversity.

Each year following the creation of the plan, the Trust has undertaken a range of surveys at the crematorium including botanical and invertebrate surveys of the fantastic wildflower meadow that Southern Co-op has created. The meadow has been very hard work to establish but is now looking brilliant, with a range of wildflowers and grasses flourishing. These plants support butterflies (including caterpillars and evidence of egg-laying), bumblebees and grasshoppers to name just a few; themselves the food source for a host of other animals.

In 2020 brown argus butterflies were recorded on site for the first time and were observed egg-laying. Small heath butterflies were also recorded on half the survey visits, they are a UK BAP Priority species and listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List, so their presence is a very good sign. Our surveys have been used to monitor progress towards actions to improve the habitat for wildlife and also provide on-going advice and recommendations. 

Southern Co-op later purchased an existing natural burial ground in West Sussex. Following on from our work at the crematorium, it asked the Trust to help improve the biodiversity of the burial ground and provide advice such as with the best choice of trees.  The ecology team took on a similar approach, tailoring surveys to the habitats present and the potential species these habitats could support. There is a duck pond with an adjoining ditch on the site, meaning it was important to carry out amphibian surveys.

Excitingly, during the surveys, great crested newts were found in the ditch. This was a great find, as nobody knew these protected newts were present on site. The ditch dries annually, and the pond contains introduced fish, both detrimental to newt breeding and survival. Over the last year Southern Co-op has undertaken work to extend the area of wetland and increase the number of waterbodies on site, as well as removing the large majority of fish from the pond. We are looking forward to going back this survey season to see if the new areas have been colonised by the newts.

Both sites are fantastic examples of the work the Trust does to create a balance between wildlife and function, with sites contributing to a joined-up Nature Recovery Network across our two counties. In fact, with these particular sites the natural environment has created a place of peace and contemplation for visitors.

Our work on these sites has been very rewarding, as the Southern Co-op teams are very engaged with their surroundings and understand the importance of improving them for wildlife. Colleagues are always keen to hear what has been found after each survey, and we have an annual meeting to discuss the previous year’s results. They are also very engaged in plans for the next year, helping achieve the best outcomes for the site and wildlife.