I’d never really considered an allotment as a potential site for a miniHide before but having seen the wildlife area created at my local field I began to think there could be some real opportunities. Certainly there is much to recommend encouraging allotment wildlife as it is undoubtedly much better to work with Nature than against it. Sites generally are very well managed with excellent control over access and can often attract a wide range of wildlife. There are also obvious advantages to be gained by encouraging the ‘right’ kind of wildlife that will help to control pests and diseases for the mutual benefit of all. A chance to regularly visit a small bird feeding station after a dose of ‘double-digging’ should be both relaxing and enjoyable across all generations and hopefully encourage everyone to spend more time down on the ‘lottie’.
Having been a keen plot holder at Castle Hil in Ipswich I decided I would approach the Committee to see if there was any support for the idea of me helping to manage a small area specifically for wildlife. I was looking for somewhere where I could develop my own ideas and designs for wildlife watching facilities that would be made available to all plot holders. Above all I wanted to to create a wildlife pond and a bird feeding station where I could add a small miniHide where everyone could watch the wildlife with minimum disturbance.
Wildlife Area Proposal.
Very often allotments have a few plots that are difficult to rent. Maybe this is because of poor access or are generally pretty infertile or waterlogged. These areas often make excellent miniature reserves.I am delighted that the Committee welcomed my proposal and have agreed that I can help manage a small over-grown section of the existing wildlife area. We haven’t any formal agreement in place but I intend to see how things develop over the coming 12 months until such time as the Committee or myself wish to review the arrangement. If we experience problems of undue disturbance or vandalism we may have to reconsider sooner rather than later!
Excellent work has already been done by Jean and her team and a very successful wildlife area is well established and managed in a very effective way. The area selected is shown in the photo on the right. It was picked because it sits nicely on the edge of the existing wildlife area alongside the railway track. It has good , existing footpath access but should not be overly disturbed by passing traffic. A couple of hours work opened up the area considerably allowing more light in. A dead hedge was created and connected to some existing log piles and compost heaps. The intention is to add a wildlife pond, some bird feeders and a miniHide over the Spring of 2017. In addition a range of mini habitats, nest boxes and the like would be added.
For those who are not aware Castle Hill allotments are owned by Ipswich Borough Council and let by the Ipswich Allotment Holders Association. The site lies close to the centre of Ipswich and is bordered by a railway line to the east and a line of residential properties to the west. It covers an area of 3.16 hectares and has 184 plots with 99% occupancy. In short it is a popular and successful field. In addition to the plots there are a couple of wildlife areas towards the centre close to the Community Hut . Here there is willow and hazel coppice, a small orchard, pond and,of course, a number of compost heaps. There is also a short section of ancient hedge running alongside the main track and a World War II pill box that has been adapted as a bat roost.
Allotment Wildlife : Target Species
Jean and the Suffolk Wildlife Trust have already completed surveys of Castle Hill allotments and I am grateful to have been able to study these before describing the key target species present. These species include those that would most benefit from some simple management practices and the ones that would most benefit the people directly involved. A balance is clearly required and this is likely to change as we gain more experience and information. As a starting point I have selected the following species.
1. Slow worms
These ‘legless lizards’ are already quite common on the site and should be protected. They thrive on compost heaps and are excellent at helping to control ants and slugs.
Take care when grass cutting and strimming as these operations can be a real danger for slow worms.
Grass snakes are also present on the site and, in addition, have already bred successfully in some of the compost heaps.
Remember grass snakes are not poisonous but harmless reptiles that avoid contact with humans whenever possible. They like to warm up on a compost heap before setting off hunting later in the day.
They feed on frogs and newts and will help to maintain the existing population.
Ipswich has been identified as an area where there is real potential to increase the population of this declining mammal. Suffolk Wildlife Trust has been the first to appoint a dedicated officer to encourage these popular mammals. Furthermore it is hoped that the new officer, Ali, will shortly visit Castle Hill to give us some help and advice. Hedgehogs benefit gardeners by helping to control slugs.
4. Stag Beetles.
Ipswich is also a hotspot for this dealing species. They thrive and breed on dead wood. This is a habitat that has greatly declined over the last few decades partly as a result of overzealous health and safety concerns.
5. Frogs, newts and toads.
All of these groups are well represented on the site already as there is an all-the-year-round water source from the railway line runoff. These are all great slug controllers. Grass snakes love to hunt them as they make up an important part of their diet and as a result help to main a healthy population.
Find out how you can build a mini ponds for frogs and newts
6. Pipetrelle Bats
There is a World War II pill box on site that has been adapted as a bat roast. Bats are well protected by law and help to control insects.
The Management Plan
Everything needs a plan!
- enhance the wildlife value of the field.
- encourage wildlife friendly gardening on the field.
- install additional wildlife watching opportunities
- provide additional educational facilities for children
- clear and manage a small area within the existing wildlife zone
- install a bird feeding station
- construct a wildlife pond
- install a miniHide
- Key Work tasks.
- tasks will be under constant revision – suggestions and support from plot holders will be very welcome
- clear area within existing wildlife zone
- establish bird feeding station
- install wildlife pond
- install miniHide
- a miniHide log book may be used by visitors to monitor sightings.
- all news and photos will be shared on this website.
There will be a work party on Saturday 24th February 2017 to help plant a short hedge and prepare the base for the miniHide. Jean will be in contact with further details.
Please feel free to leave any comments below.
See Part II of Castle Hill allotments