Category Archives: Research

Planting Strapwort Seedlings In Cornwall

Published: June 12, 2016

A joint project between the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust and the National Trust has culminated in over 1500 strapwort plants being planted on the shores around Loe Pool in Cornwall, a site where it was last recorded in the early 1900s.

The tiny plants were grown by the horticultural team at Paignton Zoo (run by WWCT) using seed from plants at Slapton Ley, a nature reserve also owned by WWCT. This was previously the only site for the Critically Endangered Strapwort in the UK.

strapwort-WWCT-cornwall

Once the plants arrived at Loe Pool, staff and volunteers from both organisations combined to undertake the mammoth task of getting them all into the ground. The site had been carefully selected with the open conditions required for strapwort. The new plants were already flowering and ready to produce seed for the next generation. The low water levels meant there was plenty of shoreline and it should continue to drop over the summer.

The newly planted population was closely monitored over the summer. Alex Millington, a researcher from the University of Exeter, was on site for much of the summer, watching for the first new Cornish plants for 100 years and recording data for his dissertation.

strapwort-conservation-project

Strapwort is a small plant with white flowers which is found on the shores of freshwater lakes and rivers. It needs the bare shore left as the summer water levels drop to grow and produce its tiny seeds. These are spread by water and possibly birds’ feet.

Slapton Ley has always been known by botanists as the place to spot strapwort, and people on their knees peering closely at the ground around the shores of the Ley is not an uncommon sight. A combination of research, site management and supplementing the Slapton population has led to sustainable numbers and improved knowledge about the ecology of this choosy little plant. Grazing animals historically kept much of the shoreline open, but these days the clearance work is done by FSC reserves officer Nick Binnie and a willing band of volunteers. However, as a single population, it was at high risk of extinction, so Natural England funded us to undertake a study to look at other potential sites.

We looked at several sites but the National Trust site at Loe Pool was always the most likely as it had historic links with strapwort. It was recorded there in the late 1800s as being prolific before declining and disappearing in the early 1900s. Conditions in the pool have improved over the last 15 years so reintroduction is now possible.

The National Trust were also keen to see it growing there once again.  Laura Bailey, the NT ranger for Loe Pool, has been preparing the site with volunteers by clearing some scrub to create the open conditions it needs.

For more information please visit:
http://lizardandpenrose.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/rare-plant-reintroduction-at-penrose.html

Native species in a zoo full of exotics…

Published: August 12, 2014

Conservation work in Primley Meadow

Recording the vegetation in Primley Meadow

My name is Alexandra Moore and I’m a placement student from Cardiff University working as an ecology researcher for the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust based at Paignton Zoo.

Five months in and I am still having the best time. It’s great working in the Field Conservation and Research Department as there are plenty of different projects to get involved in. A placement year is the perfect way to gain practical experience and see what working life is truly like.

What have I done so far? Keeper days, pond dipping with school children, weekly butterfly transects, planting thyme, post and rail fencing, the list goes on! I particularly enjoyed helping with the monthly monitoring of bat numbers in the caves at Clennon Gorge, a 60 acre wooded valley adjacent to the Zoo. This involved being fully kitted out with waterproofs, wellies and helmet and crawling through some rather tight spaces in order to count the numbers of greater and lesser horseshoe bats present. It was amazing to see all the sleeping bats up close. I’m not the biggest fan of spiders, so I had to do my best to pretend they weren’t there!

Being at the Zoo we are surrounded by incredible animals that you do not expect to see on a daily basis! However, my work focuses on native species, which are very important and shouldn’t be forgotten about. Strapwort (Corrigiola litoralis) is a Critically Endangered plant growing on the shore of Slapton Ley, one of the nature reserves WWCT owns.  The future of strapwort at Slapton Ley is uncertain because the sea could break through the shingle ridge. I’ve explored all the information I can find on strapwort in order to develop a view on the feasibility of reintroductions to other sites in South West England. Strapwort may not be the most exciting of plants, but it would be a real shame for it to disappear from Britain altogether.

For University I have to carry out my own project entailing research, planning, data collection and analysis. I am investigating the floral diversity of Primley meadow, an important green space in Paignton. Before 1995, horses grazed on Primley meadow, resulting in a highly fertile soil overrun by few coarse grasses in low biological diversity.  I have read a large number of papers and completed a literature review on meadow restoration, which highlighted restoration of grassland on formerly arable land to be an important biodiversity issue.

Previous students have tried to work out the best way to increase plant species diversity at Primley, experimenting with techniques such as ground rotovation, sowing yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) or adding wild flower seed mixes. Yellow rattle may look pretty and innocent, however, looks can deceive – it sends out roots that grow into the roots of neighbouring grass plants, stealing nutrients. Yellow rattle can help to provide variety in meadows by weakening the coarse grasses, giving other species more of a chance to survive. In May I will be collecting data to see how well Primley has progressed in species richness, whether the yellow rattle has spread from where it was sown and if there are particular floral diversity hotspots in the meadow. In the meantime, my wildflower and plant identification skills need some vital attention!