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Wildlife Highway Designed to Help Animals Adapt to Climate Change

The Severn Vale Living Landscape project ambitious £500,000 five-year project is aimed at ensuring creatures such as the otter, water vole and wading birds can survive in a changing environment.The project will be developed at the Severn Vale in Gloucestershire, UK, one of the country’s most important wetland sites and a priority area for conservation.

The ambitious scheme by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, will take shape within the floodplain of the River Severn, extending from Berkeley in the south to beyond Tewkesbury approximately 30 miles north east.At its widest between Stonehouse and Rodley, it will be up to 10 miles across. It will run along both sides of the River Severn, thinner in the north and wider in the south as the river nears the estuary.

The main aim of the project is to join up wetland habitats in the Severn Vale that have become fragmented as land use has changed, leaving wildlife stranded and unable to move north as temperatures rise.Planners have been working closely with local landowners and farmers to create new habitat areas which will allow the animals to make the move northwards while at the same time ensuring the land remains suitable for agriculture.

New wetlands can be created often by simple changes in farming practice such as managing the number of grazing livestock differently at certain times of the year to create less uniform pasture, and keeping ground water levels just below the surface during drier months so the soil remains soft enough for breeding waders to find food.Project officers will also be consulting with landowners about the timing of hay cuts, harrowing, grassland rolling and ditch maintenance, all of which are crucial to creating habitats suitable for wetland species.

Although the target habitat is lowland wet grassland, the project also aims to restore and recreate areas of other habitats such as fen and marsh, reed-bed, wet woodland, unimproved neutral grassland and salt-marsh which together will form the habitats needed by a whole variety of wildlife.

“If wildlife can’t move it won’t be able to adapt to climate changes that are already happening, so species will stop breeding and eventually, over time, disappear from ever larger areas of the countryside.The Severn Vale is the ideal place to establish our first wildlife highway. It’s rich in wildlife and the course of the river provides a natural route north east from the Bristol Channel up into the Midlands and beyond.”

~Dr. Gordon McGlone; Chief Executive of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust

A comprehensive nature map drawn up by the Gloucestershire Biodiversity Partnership, has enabled the Trust to identify 22 strategic nature areas where it can create target wetland habitats in the Severn Vale. Linking up just 12 will establish the desired ‘wildlife highway’ route north.

“Basically, we’re having to adopt a completely new way of thinking about conservation. The old stamp collecting approach of establishing nature reserves just won’t work in the face of climate change.Wildlife that’s happily lived on our reserves for 40 years won’t survive the next 40 years unless we start linking up habitats so it can move and adapt,”

~ Gordon McGlone.

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