Friday, 26 June 2015

BioBlitz MMU: measuring biodiversity at MMU’s Cheshire Campus

Here, Stu and Simon Valle, along with Kosta Tzoulas from the Urban Environments Research Group talk about our MMU Futures event which measured the biodiversity value of the MMU Estate.

MMU has been assessing biodiversity value in its own backyard through a series of BioBlitzes - days of intensive biological surveying which aim to record as many living species as possible. MMU has a very strong environmental policy, and is one of the UK’s greenest universities. One part of this green commitment involves increasing the biodiversity value of the university’s estate – a very exciting prospect. 

MMU's Cheshire Campus at Crewe is a diverse 14 ha site with its own river and extensive woodlands (Photo: Stu)

The idea is that this year’s Bioblitz surveys will form a baseline against which the effects of future changes in management on biodiversity can be properly gauged. The events were run as part of ‘MMU Futures’, a programme designed to give our students skills which will enhance employability. After surveys at Ryebank Fields, it was the turn of the 13.8 hectare Cheshire Campus in Crewe. In early June, staff and students from MMU teamed up with professionals from The Environment Partnership (TEP), a leading environmental consultancy, and walked, waded, trapped, counted, and mapped throughout the property. We recorded all species of plants, lichens, birds, butterflies, and moths encountered, as well as tracks and signs of bats and mammals.

Mobile BioBlitz lab at MMU's Cheshire Campus (Photo: Stu)

The campus presented an interesting mixture of habitats ranging from heavily managed areas (buildings, amenity grassland and ornamental planting) and more natural areas (broadleaved woodland, watercourses and swampy areas). Of particular interest is the river which runs through the campus. On it are Kingfisher, and, even, more excitingly, TEP staff found signs of water voles (feeding remains, latrines and burrows) on the banks. This is a very important species to have on MMU grounds, as it is currently the fastest declining mammal in the UK. A number of mature trees on the banks of the brook showed some high potential for roosting bats (i.e. Category 1-1* of the Bat Conservation Trust Guidelines) and the network of habitats offered suitable foraging grounds for bat species.

Fresh signs of the lovely but severely declining Water Vole Arvicola amphibius were found on campus. This is a key species to monitor on the site (Photo: Peter Trimming).

The bird team paid special attention to finding key birds such as Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Willow tit in the riverine woodland, but without success. The grounds did provide breeding sites for an array of bird species, among which Goldcrest, Bullfinch (Amber status according to RSPB red list) and House Sparrow (Red status).

The campus has some extensive woodland, some of which retains an ancient woodland ground flora, including protected Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta (Photo: Stu).

An active badger sett was found on site, and there was potential for bats and other small mammals, grass snakes and slow worms. Important is evidence and/or sightings of three specially protected animal and one plant species on campus (Kingfishers, Water voles, Badgers and Bluebells). This information is being used by the university’s Biodiversity Management Group and by the grounds team to ensure that these species and their habitats are not disturbed. Some woodland areas, despite being encroached by housing and containing a number of non-native plant species escaped from residential gardens, had a remnant ancient native woodland ground flora, including the protected Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta. Woodland by the river contained the invasive Himalayan balsam Impatiens glandulifera,being controlled by the grounds team to allow development of a richer ground/understory flora.

The benefits of the BioBlitz went beyond the biological assessment. It was a welcome opportunity for academics, students and ecological consultants to share ideas and compare experiences about local biodiversity. It was a good occasion for students to work alongside and learn from professionals from a dynamic job industry as ecological consultancy. Finally, the exercise sets a framework for developing a regular survey programme for biodiversity in and around university campus with the help of local experts and enthusiasts.


The MMU BioBlitz at Cheshire Campus was funded by MMU Environment team in Estates Department 

and carried out in collaboration with 

Image result for tep the environment partnership

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