REVERSING the decline in biodiversity is the aim of a team at Winchester City Council.

The council is drawing up its first biodiversity action plan to help protect nature under increasing threat.

Sue Croker, head of landscapes and open spaces, told councillors on the health and environment committee that 20 per cent of sites of special scientific interest in the Winchester district are in poor condition, 45 per cent of lowland meadows had been lost between 2006-18, and 69 per cent of wood pasture in the same period.

The council has been taking measures including changing the way Whiteshute Ridge at Badger Farm is managed, but it aims to do more.

Ms Croker said: “The time for talking is gone; we need to drive action on the ground.”

The key habitats the council want to improve are species-rich grassland, woodland, chalk rivers and hedgerows.

The species to be boosted include: hazel dormouse, bats, water vole, hedgehog, swift, house sparrow, skylark, grey partridge, great spotted woodpecker, great crested newt, slow worm, common lizard, common toad, white-clawed crayfish, stag beetle, southern damselfly, bumblebees, chalk hill blue butterfly, silver spotted skipper, stripped lychnis moth, green winged orchid and bee orchid.”

Hampshire Chronicle:

St Giles Hill: increasingly heavily shaded

Ms Croker said the council aimed to work with partners and community groups to augment the two full-time ecologists working on the plan.

“We would like to have a biodiversity day to the launch the action plan, where people can come and make bird boxes and talk to people about bats.”

She said she would like to see a ‘call for sites’ for nature conservation in the same way there is a ‘call for sites’ for developers, the SHELAA.

Cllr Linda Gemmill, Conservative member for Central Meon Valley, said it would be good to involve schools and colleges.

Cllr Victoria Weston, Conservative member for Upper Meon Valley, pointed to the recent removal of a hedgerow and the destruction of a wildlife corridor at Dradfield Lane, Soberton.

Cllr David McLean, Conservative member for Bishop’s Waltham, highlighted a recent issue in Durley where trees in a coppice were felled over a weekend when no-one from the council planning enforcement team was at work.

He asked: “What strength will the biodiversity action plan have, to stop this sort of biodiversity robbery from happening?”

Among the sites the council is looking to improve is a scrubland between Garnier Road and the East Winchester Park and Ride, which the Chronicle pointed out earlier this year was rapidly deteriorating.

Hampshire Chronicle:

Scrubland at Bar End, between Garnier Road and the park and ride car park

A spokesman said: “We are in the process of creating our Biodiversity Action Plan which aims to protect, enhance and restore biodiversity across the district and build a positive future for our wildlife. As part of this action plan, we are assessing and prioritising all relevant areas and projects. The site near Bar End is part of this process and will be considered within a future annual action plan.”

The action plan is due to go to Cabinet in December.

Two Winchester beauty spots are set for environmental makeover: Nuns Walk in Abbotts Barton and Clausentum Fen in St Cross.

The sites will have significant biodiversity enhancements thanks to the Durngate Flood Alleviation Scheme, currently under construction.

The project is supported by the city and county councils and Sparsholt College, whose students will get involved to gain direct practical experience of environmental enhancement.

At Nuns Walk there will be river bank restoration, improvement to river flows to de-silt areas and improvements that will support vegetation in creating self-sustaining habitats for invertebrates and spawning fish. There will also be dipping areas provided for the public to help protect banks and control erosion.

A designated site of importance for Nature Conservation, Clausentum Fen will benefit from increasing light levels to the watercourses and the restoration of wet soils that have become depleted. There will also improvements to help improve flows, silt deposition and bank management to create better conditions for a wide range of flora and fauna.

The funding has come from the Durngate Flood Alleviation Scheme which is jointly supported by the city council and the Environment Agency.

Cllr Lynda Murphy, Liberal Democrat councillor and cabinet member for climate emergency, said: “Both of these sites are popular with residents and are incredibly important for biodiversity and wildlife. I am delighted to see they’ll be getting much-needed improvements to ensure they’re in the best possible shape going forward.

“As a council, looking after the environment is a major focus and these improvements come as we launch our Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) which sets out how we will protect, enhance and restore biodiversity across the district.”

Work is expected to start in December.

Meanwhile works have been undertaken to clear trees on St Giles Hill which is becoming increasingly shaded, harming biodiversity because many plants cannot grow under the thick branch and leaf canopy.