Making Space for Nature on the Marlborough Downs
Monitoring and Evaluation - Are we making a difference?
Because the way we work is unique, it's important that we keep good records of what we do and what impact it has on the wildlife, landscape and people of the Downs. For the first three years of the project (2012-2015), we were in the fortunate position of having the resources to design and implement a monitoring method to go with each and every activity we undertook.
As well as surveying all our grassland, we carried out farmland bird monitoring on three sites and butterfly monitoring on another three sites. We also surveyed ten farms for arable plants, and regularly undertook one-off surveys of everything from dawn chorus birds to dragonflies and damselflies, often with visiting groups or as training events.
At the end of the three years were able to collate all the data we collected and evaluate our achievements. It was this evidence that persuaded Defra that our bottom-up approach did in fact deliver significant environmental benefits, and so supported the introduction of the Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund, which enables other farmer led groups to set up their own projects to deliver wildlife conservation at a landscape scale.
But we didn't stop recording when the funding ran out .... despite having no current budget for monitoring and evaluation we're still surveying and reporting on a range of habitats and species.
During the first three years of the project (when we had funding!), we undertook an annual survey to find out what people thought about our work, what impacts they had seen or experienced, and what suggestions they might have going forward.
We've used a variety of techniques to try and improve the range and density of wildflowers on some of our more boring grassland, with some spectacular results!
Matt Prior of Wiltshire Ornithological Society co-ordinates our farmland bird monitoring and carries out nest box surveys and PITT tagging, as well as ringing anything he can get his hands on!
Clean Water for Wildlife
Over the winter of 2016/17 we sampled the water in all the ponds we have created or restored since 2012 and tested it for pollutants. Click here to see the results - we think you'll be surprised!
Richard Aisbitt of the Wiltshire Botanical Society has surveyed many of the grass verges across the Downs so we can make recommendations on how best to manage them to increase diversity.
We are in the process of mapping the important wildlife habitat on members' farms and all the areas that are being managed under Govt schemes so we can see where we need to focus effort.
Sawflies, bees, wasps and ants are pollinators, parasites, and makers of honey. With local entomologist Marc Taylor we are undertaking a long term survey of these important insects on the Downs.
We've collaborated with a number of universities and research institutes on projects as diverse as looking at how reptiles and amphibians use field margins to move around the landscape, and mapping habitat across the Downs to see how we might improve connectivity by creating corridors and stepping stones. If you're interested in finding out more about the projects we have supported, or indeed have a research proposal which you'd like to implement on the Downs, please contact us.
We're also keen to ensure that we work as effectively and efficiently as possible, given the funding constraints that we work under. To inform the way we work, we've commissioned two Partnership Working Reviews, both of which are available to download here: