Scientifically discovering our wetland inhabitants
By Earth Trust, June 2022
Last year, we finalised the construction of River of Life II – the largest wetland habitat creation of its kind on the banks of the River Thames and Thame. This project aims to improve water quality, biodiversity, carbon sequestration and flood alleviation, and demonstrate how similar projects can benefit the environment and people without damaging farming models.
We’ll soon be able to find out exactly what wildlife has been enjoying our new wetland habitat with an ecological study into returning species, their numbers and habits, to better understand the impact of the changes in biodiversity and ‘re-wilding’ of features.
We’ve partnered up with our friends at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), who have installed a very exciting, high-tech piece of equipment to monitor the wildlife visiting the River of Life II floodplain area.
The new features of this wetland area have just begun bedding in, so this new partnership represents a fantastic opportunity for us to monitor impact from inception, and generate important learning about how new habitats evolve over time.
Last year, Network Rail enlisted UKCEH to create a biodiversity monitoring station to autonomously record and identify the calls of birds and bats, plus photograph small mammals and moths. Earth Trust is now in the fortunate position of benefiting from UKCEH’s prototype. We are extremely proud to be a beneficiary of this exciting new technology. As part of an ongoing ecological research project, the monitoring station will be generating important evidence to help us learn about the impacts of creating wetland on a floodplain as well as the potential changes in species richness, and diversity of life – including any new species in the area.
The equipment was put in place (at Earth Trust’s Clifton Meadow, adjacent to River of Life II project partner, Church Farm, north of Day’s Lock) earlier this month and, as we speak, the first set of data is now being recorded! The solar-powered station includes a moth trap, small mammal camera and a bat ultrasound recorder. It also records the rainfall, wind speed and humidity, so we can track the meteorological impacts on wildlife too. There is a 360° camera to record the vegetation growth, which might even spot the occasional otter down at the riverbank.
Earth Trust volunteers will be collecting the data at regular intervals and then UKCEH will do the necessary data-crunching to deliver the findings. We expect to see a variety of bats, wetland birds and water voles, but who knows what will turn up?! We’ll be sharing details as we receive them on our website – so if you’re keen to follow the project’s progress, sign up to our newsletter or our social channels to keep up to date!
We will be using the monitoring station for many years to come, which will enable us to see scalable changes in the data/habitat, and further help us to demonstrate the benefits that other similar projects may create.
With wetlands increasingly suspected to play an important role in storing carbon, and with their ability to act as natural flood defences and filtration systems to improve water quality, these habitats can have far-reaching effects. Our aim is to create a demonstration of how landowners, working in partnership to create initiatives like River of Life II, can make a real difference to climate, biodiversity and human health. If replicated on an even larger scale (for example, at many more places along the River Thames) then the impacts would be even more significant.
We’re excited to see what discoveries will be made…