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Celebrating a milestone year at Ranscombe

(c) Ben Sweeney

The combined impact of 16 years of active – and at times intensive – conservation management led to noticeable improvements at Ranscombe during 2021/22, with several threatened species recording their best ever years.

Man Orchid numbers rose from 96 in 2010 to 384, while Clustered Bellflower – a rare plant in Kent – increased from just 20 in 2012 to 796.

Both increases are likely to stem from the way the grassland on which they rely has been managed. Clustered Bellflower has benefitted from the introduction of an effective mowing regime, and has also successfully spread to restored chalk grassland reclaimed from dense scrub over the last few years.

Elsewhere, moving grazing livestock between different areas has been credited with the increase in Man Orchid, and may also be responsible for a healthy new population establishing itself in Brockles Field, where chalk grassland restoration started a decade ago.  Habitat condition surveys carried out at the 23 hectare field during the summer also showed a considerable improvement in the species composition from the previous two years alone, which again is most likely due to scrub control and more effective grazing management.

(c) Ben Sweeney

A year of records

The success in Ranscombe’s grasslands was mirrored in its woodlands, where both Lady Orchid and Fly Orchid recorded their highest numbers since 2011 thanks to effective management.

In addition, a large, stable population of Interrupted Brome – which was previously extinct – has now become established seven years after its reintroduction, with more than 13,000 plants recorded in May. This success suggests the species will continue to be a regular feature at Ranscombe alongside other arable rarities, such as Broad-leaved Cudweed, Narrow-fruited Cornsalad and Stinking Chamomile.

In 2021/22:

Our volunteer task group welcomed three new members, taking its total to 20.
Together, they carried out more than 1,900 hours of work, including practical habitat conservation, supporting the reserve manager, checking livestock and monitoring plants and wildlife.
An estimated 100,000 visits took place to the reserve. Although this was slightly less than during the COVID-19 lockdowns, it was still much higher than we would usually expect.

Over the next five years, we plan to start the creation of an additional seven hectares of species-rich grassland after signing a new countryside stewardship agreement with our tenant farmer in March.

Image credits: All images - Ben Sweeney

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Ongoing ‘managed messiness’ campaign picks up pace

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