Science Interviews

Interview

Sun, 25th Sep 2011

Stonehenge Landscape Restoration Project - Planet Earth

Chris Gingell, Grace Triston-Davies

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Chris -  When Turner and Constable first painted Stonehenge about two hundred years ago, the very famous monument was surrounded by species rich chalk grasslands. However the need to grow food after World War II saw these grasslands turn into arable fields. But the landscape is changing once again.  In the year 2000, the National Trust, with help from local landowners and scientists from the University of Reading, began what is known as the Stonehenge Landscape Restoration project. It's aim is to restore the landscape surrounding the monument by recreating the chalk grasslands and reintroducing biodiversity to the area. Planet earth podcast presenter Sue Nelson went to one of the restored fields to meet two of the team, starting with the National Trustís countryside manager from Wiltshire, Chris Gingell. Stonehenge

Chris Gingell - Well, what we did in 2000 was to bring a small quantity of seed harvested from Salisbury Plain, the great ancient grasslands to the north of here, and to grow a crop in the field adjoining us there, Seven Barrows Field, with that naturally harvested grass.

Sue -   So the fields that we're by the edge of right here, with all this lovely swaying grassland, and I can see a few yellows of wild flowers and purples in the distance, this wasn't like this in 2000, ten years or so ago?

Chris - No, this was another field of winter wheat and so on, but in this field we grew the first stand of this flower-rich grassland and used this as the nursery site to harvest further seed. Every one to two years another large arable field has been converted from corn to grassland with seed, either harvested here or now the programme rolls on so that some of the fields that were laid down six or seven years ago are now in turn being harvested to spread the seed further around the site.

Sue - And in that field I found Grace Twiston-Davies from the University of Reading, about to perform a butterfly survey.

Grace - Basically when I do the survey I just need a survey sheet, so I can just write down any butterflies I see, and an identification sheet which just helps me with some of the female butterflies, some of the blues are quite difficult to identify so I have that as well, and a pen, and I have a stopwatch as well because I often do about a 30 minute survey.

Sue -   Talk me through exactly what you do...

Grace - We will walk in a straight line for about 100 metres, quite slowly, and we're looking either side of us, about 10 metres either side, and we will see what butterflies are in the transect.

Sue - Okay, let's walk about 10 metres or so through the grass.

Grace - I've seen some Meadow Browns. There's a few Meadow Browns fluttering about.

Sue -   Gosh, you must have extremely good eyesight.

race -   Yes.  It's the way they fly, they fly very distinctively, almost like they're on a piece of string, they kind of bob up and down. Oh, I can see a blue over there. It's probably a Common Blue.

Sue -   Oh yes, yes. Sorry, you do have to have good eyes for this one.

Grace - That's a male Common Blue there.

Sue - It's almost like it's ringed with pale white. So how many species of butterflies have your observed in this beautiful re-created chalk grassland?

Grace - Well last year when I did the surveys we saw over 20 different species, Common Blues, we saw Small Heaths, Small Tortoiseshells, Adonis Blues, Small Blues.

Sue - It's interesting, you mentioned Adonis Blues because they've not been as successful have they in terms of returning to the sites as other species of butterfly.

Grace - Yes that's because the Adonis Blue are mainly at the old chalk grassland fragments that are still on this landscape, so we only see them in the new restored fields when they're coming to look for nectar in the new flowers that are there, but they're quite specialised and they will only lay their eggs on Horseshoe Vetch and their caterpillars will only eat Horseshoe Vetch and that's a plant that's very restricted to these old fragments, but we're hoping that in the future that the Horseshoe Vetch will become established in the new restored field as we can expand their populations.

Sue - Right, now let's walk back through the grass towards Chris. Hi Chris, it's all gone really well. It was rather beautiful to see and it's nice to see you sheltering from the wind in your National Trust Land Rover. When, for you, will you consider this restoration project complete?

Chris - I suppose what we're doing is perhaps not something that in a sense has a completion but something which will be its own sustainable long-term future as a landscape and that really is a question of scale. I think we've all known for a very long time that our protected sites, little fragments of the countryside that have much of their biodiversity interest, many, many of them are too small or too isolated or too fragmented. One of the things which Grace's work will help us to understand here is just how extensive does this have to be to have that long term viability and for the free movement of plants and animals without so much intervention. What we've done of course in the last ten years is intervention, but for that grassland to persist with all its character and interest in the future.

Chris -   Chris Gingell from the National Trust and Grace Twiston-Davies from the University of Reading explaining the Stonehenge Landscape Restoration project to Sue Nelson.

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