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Wildlife

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This section presents information relating to wildlife plants and animals, their habitats and the areas recognised as being important for wildlife. It also contains a section on wildlife crime. For further information:

 

Around 200 bird species are seen annually in Wiltshire. As of 2009, the Wiltshire Bird List included 286 species recorded since 1950 and another 13 species from self-sustaining populations of introduced species. 62 bird species are listed in the Wiltshire Biodiversity Action Plan 2008 as a priority for conservation.

In 2011, the Wiltshire Ornithological Society (WOS) reported that since 1995, Turtle Dove, Willow Tit, Cuckoo and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker have declined seriously and Snipe and Redshank have gone, while Red Kite, Raven, Little Egret, Lesser Black Backed Gulls and Herring Gulls are increasing.

In the South West as a whole, “Meadow Pipit and Garden Warbler numbers have declined by a smaller amount in the South West than in any other English region, and Canada Goose, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Swallow have shown greater increases than in other regions. Starlings have declined more than in other regions, and it is the only region in which Goldcrest numbers have declined. Of the 60 species for which trends can be calculated, Cuckoo has shown the greatest decline, and Canada Goose the greatest increase.” (Breeding Bird Survey Report 2010, p.20)

Across England and the UK, farmland and woodland bird populations are declining, driven by severe declines in specialist species. Breeding Bird Survey results for Wiltshire and the South West can be found online (link below).

Garden birds are faring slightly better than the UK average, both in terms of bird numbers and the percentage of gardens in which they were seen. In the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2011, house sparrow, blackbird, starling, blue tit and chaffinch are the top 5 in both Wiltshire and the UK. The top 20 garden birds in Wiltshire are almost the same as the UK top 20 list. The exceptions to this are the songthrush, which does not feature on the Wiltshire top 20 list but is listed number 19 in the UK, and the rook, which is listed number 20 in Wiltshire and number 25 in the UK.

The Southwest Farmland Bird Initiative is working with farmers to reverse the decline of farmland birds, in particular six species, the ‘Arable 6’: Grey partridge, Lapwing, Turtle dove, Yellow wagtail, Tree sparrow and Corn bunting. These are all farmland specialists and have undergone the most severe declines. The project has set up a monitoring framework in 35 farms and gathered baseline data in 2011.

Wiltshire is one of only two breeding locations for the summer visitor Stone Curlew. 136 pairs of Stone Curlew bred across Wessex in 2010, raising 97 young birds successfully, mostly on Salisbury Plain but also nesting on the Marlborough Downs for the first time.

Having been extinct in the UK since 1832, in 2004 a project began to reintroduce the Great Bustard onto Salisbury Plain by releasing chicks reared in Russia. The first known nest was recorded in 2007 and there are now around 17 birds in the wild. Although most of these have stayed within the local area, in November 2011, two birds were spotted over 50 miles away in Dorset and Devon.

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Wild Bird Populations in England 1970 -2010
Wild Bird Populations in England 1970 -2010

Sources:

Link 2 Nature Landscape Conservation: http://www.link2nature.org.uk/landscape-map.html

Breeding Bird Survey (Defra, RSPB, BTO, JNCC): http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/bbs/latest-results

South West Farmland Bird Initiative http://www.swfbi.org.uk/

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch http://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/results.aspx

RSPB Stone Curlew information: http://www.rspb.org.uk/news/263443-a-flyaway-success-for-wiltshires-special-bird-in-2010

Great Bustard Group: www.greatbustard.org

Wiltshire Ornithological Society: http://www.wiltshirebirds.co.uk/

Freshwater fish populations are difficult to measure directly, so as a proxy data has been collected on the returning numbers of salmon and sea trout in the River Avon at Knapp Mill, located at Burton, just outside of Christchurch in Dorset. This is close to the mouth of the river and so includes many fish which will end up travelling to tributaries outside of Wiltshire. However, the majority of the river’s course lies within Wiltshire, and these numbers will provide a good indication of the overall trend.

The data shows that returning salmon stocks at Knapp Mill have declined dramatically, reducing by over 50% between 2006 and 2010.

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Total No. of Salmon & Sea Trout Measured at Knapp Mill
Total No. of Salmon & Sea Trout Measured at Knapp Mill
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Fish Counts Measured at Knapp Mill
Fish Counts Measured at Knapp Mill
Wiltshire is a stronghold for bats – 14 out of 17 species breeding in the UK were recorded in the county in 2011. All bats and their habitats are protected by law.

Two Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) in Wiltshire have been designated for their importance as key bat sites – Chilmark Quarries (near Tisbury in southern Wiltshire), more than 80% of which is reported as being in ‘unfavourable no change’ condition; and Bath & Bradford on Avon Bats (comprising Box Mine and Winsley Mines SSSIs), which are reported as being in ‘favourable’ condition. Both sites are important for their populations of Bechstein’s, Greater horseshoe bats and Lesser horseshoe bats. Chilmark Quarries is also important to barbastelle bats.  

Bechstein’s bats are one of the rarest species in the UK and are restricted to southern England and parts of southern Wales. In late 2010, a breeding colony was discovered in Braydon Forest. The only other known breeding site for this species in Wiltshire at present is in woodland near Trowbridge.

The Cotswold Water Park Bat Initiative has recorded 13 bat species in the Park area since 2005.

At a national level, trends in populations of six widespread bat species are estimated to have increased by 21% in England since 2000.

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Trends in Populations of Widespread Bats 1999 - 2009
Trends in Populations of Widespread Bats 1999 - 2009

Wiltshire is a stronghold for butterflies – themap below shows the richness of species in the Wiltshire area compared to most other parts of the UK. (Butterfly Conservation/CEH) Across the UK, 72% of species have declined in abundance and 54% declined in distribution over the last ten years. Butterfly populations and abundance have fallen even more sharply in England, although some species such as the Adonis Blue have responded well to conservation efforts. 

Salisbury Plain is a particularly important site and is listed among Butterfly Conservation’s top 20 ‘Survival Zones’ for butterflies, along with the New Forest and the Cotswolds, which also fall partly within Wiltshire. Bentley Wood SSSI (near Salisbury) is also a very important site for woodland butterflies and moths.

The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme includes 48 sites in Wiltshire where butterfly numbers are regularly counted. Trend data for these sites shows that many butterfly populations in Wiltshire are stable (although a large proportion of the monitoring data is insufficient to provide a trend analysis; see table).

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Trends in Butterfly species at 48 Sites in Wiltshire, 1979 to 2010
Trends in Butterfly species at 48 Sites in Wiltshire, 1979 to 2010
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Butterfly Species Richness Map 2005 - 2009
Butterfly Species Richness Map 2005 - 2009
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Ten Year Trends in Butterfly Indicators
Ten Year Trends in Butterfly Indicators
Otters are on the increase in Wiltshire. The Environment Agency has conducted five surveys of otter populations since 1977, most recently in 2009-10. No otters were found in any of Wiltshire’s river systems in the first three surveys and not in the Kennet system until the 2009-10 survey.

The report notes that at a national level since the 2000-02: “Of particular importance has been the expansion of range in Wessex Region. […] The expanding Wessex population has almost certainly made a contribution to the population of the upper Thames, the tributaries of which rise close to those of the Bristol Avon which is also linked to the Kennet via the Kennet and Avon Canal, and to the western part of Southern Region.” (section 6.2)   

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No. of Sites with Positive Otter Recordings
No. of Sites with Positive Otter Recordings

Source: Environment Agency Fifth otter survey of England 2009 – 2010 Technical report http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/wildlife/110740.aspx

© Environment Agency

Non-native species are those which have reached England by a result of natural or human actions, and which were not found before 1500. Most of these are considered benign, but some have significant detrimental effects on the ecosystem they arrive into. Those that do are considered to be invasive; spread of disease, increased competition, direct predation, parasitism and hybridization can all occur from introduced species..

Native wildlife has suffered from the introduction of non-native Invasive species, including American mink. River systems have been badly affected by plants such as giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam. The native white-clawed crayfish is threatened by crayfish plague introduced by the non-native signal crayfish.

Wiltshire Wildlife Trust is helping to combat the spread of invasive plant species through practical projects, of which more information can be found at http://www.wiltshirewildlife.org/what-we-do/protectingwiltshiresrivers.htm

Priority habitats for wildlife conservation have been identified by the Biodiversity Action Plans for Wiltshire and Swindon. These habitats are mapped by the Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre to the greatest extent possible, although this is not comprehensive.

The South West Nature Map shows the best areas to maintain and expand terrestrial wildlife habitats at a landscape scale in Wiltshire, Swindon and across the South West.

The current data held on priority habitats is presented in the attached table.

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Extent of Mapped Priority Habitats
Extent of Mapped Priority Habitats
There are 135 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Wiltshire, covering 282.3 km2 and accounting for 8.1% of the land area (as of April 2013).  This includes 8 SSSIs in Swindon Borough, covering 1.36km2. Detailed and current data is maintained on Natural England’s SSSI website. Maps showing SSSIs in each of Wiltshire's Community Areas are available in the maps section of this site.

SSSIs are designated as such because they are of special interest based on their flora, fauna, geology or other landscape features. Despite the designation, access to and ownership of these areas varies in the same way as any other area of countryside. However, SSSIs are extended legal protection from development, damage and neglect.

While most SSSIs are designated for their wildlife interest, twenty-four sites (including five in Swindon Borough) are designated for their geological interest. Another two sites – Chilmark Quarries and Fyfield Down – are designated for both wildlife and geological interest. See separate section on Geological SSSIs under Land Use and Development/Geology.

The condition of SSSIs is assessed by Natural England on a six-year cycle. By 2020, the government's target is for 50% of SSSI area to be in 'favourable' condition and 45% to be in 'unfavourable recovering' condition. In Swindon, more than 50% of SSSI area is already in 'favourable' condition. However, another 35% of the SSSI area is represented by Burderop Wood near Chiseldon, which is Swindon Borough's largest SSSI and is currently in 'unfavourable no change' condition due to pressure from deer grazing. The overall target can only be met if this improves.

Wiltshire has a much smaller percentage of SSSI area in 'favourable' condition, compared to 37.59% in England as a whole. This is largely due to the largely ‘unfavourable recovering’ condition of Salisbury Plain, which accounts for over two thirds of SSSI land in Wiltshire. The government targets can only be met through a change in this assessment to 'favourable'. Natural England and the Ministry of Defence are working to bring large areas of chalk grassland into 'favourable' condition through scrub removal and juniper regeneration, including by working with tenant farmers through agri-environment schemes. The next SSSI condition assessment for Salisbury Plain is scheduled for 2014.

Porton Down is the next largest site at 10.3 km2 (with a further 5.3 km2 within Hampshire not included here) and has a similar proportion of land in 'favourable' or 'recovering' condition as Salisbury Plain. Savernake Forest appears to be in worse condition with no land in 'favourable' condition and over 5% 'declining'.

Leaving aside the four largest sites shown in the table, a high proportion of SSSI land is in 'favourable' condition but a high proportion is rated as ‘unfavourable no change’ in comparison with the rest of the county. More positively, over 85% of Salisbury Plain and over 75% of SSSI area in Wiltshire as a whole is recovering and none of the SSSIs in Wiltshire have been destroyed or excessively degraded.

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Condition of SSSIs in Wiltshire & Swindon

The following table shows SSSI condition by habitat type. This highlights the 'unfavourable no change' and 'unfavourable declining' condition of specific habitats such as acid grassland, dwarf shrub heath, standing open water and canals, and rivers and streams.

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SSSI Condition in Wiltshire & Swindon by Habitat Type
SSSI Condition in Wiltshire & Swindon by Habitat Type

Longer term data from 2005 (see graph below) shows that SSSI condition has improved significantly in Swindon Borough while in Wiltshire it appears that some SSSIs have improved while others have deteriorated. This may be due to changes in the criteria for 'favourable' condition, which includes requiring more detailed wildlife monitoring. This is likely to have meant that many SSSIs were reclassified.

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Change in Condition of SSSIs 2005-2013
Change in Condition of SSSIs 2005-2013

Information © Natural England copyright September 2013

Data on SSSIs is based on information from Natural England and is regularly updated on the Natural England SSSI website: http://www.sssi.naturalengland.org.uk/

Certain sites in Wiltshire have been recognised for their international importance for wildlife conservation:
  • Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are designated under the European Habitats Directive;
  • Special Protected Areas (SPAs) are designated under the European Birds Directive.

SACs and SPAs provide important protection under European law to a wide range of migratory birds and other wild animals, plants and habitat types, and are a key part of the global effort to conserve biodiversity.

There are ten SACs and two SPAs wholly or partly within Wiltshire. Salisbury Plain and Porton Down account for around 95% of the total SAC area and these are also designated as separate SPAs. The New Forest SPA is very close to Wiltshire’s southeast boundary. All SACs and SPAs are also designated as SSSIs.

There are no SACs or SPAs in Swindon Borough.

There are no sites in Wiltshire or Swindon Borough designated under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, although Wiltshire’s southeast boundary is very close to the New Forest Ramsar site.

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Area of SACs and SPAs in Wiltshire and percentage within Wiltshire
Area of SACs and SPAs in Wiltshire and percentage within Wiltshire

© Natural England

Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) are recognised by local authorities for their high wildlife value (as defined by habitat), but are not designated as SSSIs. They have no statutory status, and so fall outside the legal protection of SSSIs. Their only protection is through the spatial planning system. They include valuable semi-natural habitats such as ancient woodland, species-rich grasslands, hay meadows, and wetlands, among others. They are also known as County Wildlife Sites or Local Sites, although this latter term also includes local geological sites.

There are over 1500 local wildlife sites in Wiltshire and Swindon, covering almost the same amount of land as SSSIs. They form a vital network of high quality habitats outside of statutory regulation. Wiltshire has a large area of local wildlife sites and a high number of individual sites, although they are highly fragmented geographically.  The percentage of the total land area accounted for by local wildlife sites in Wiltshire and Swindon is 6.22%, which is lower than Berkshire (8%) and Cornwall (10%), but higher than the South West (5.5%) and England as a whole (5.3%).  Maps showing the location of local wildlife sites in each of Wiltshire's Community Areas are available in the maps section of this site.

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Area and Extent of Local Wildlife Sites
Area and Extent of Local Wildlife Sites

Until 2010/11, local authorities were required to report to central government the percentage of local wildlife sites where positive conservation management has been or is being implemented in the preceding five years, known as National Indicator 197. In Wiltshire, there was a significant year on year growth in positive management of sites. Part of this increase was due to improved data gathering and part due to improved uptake of agri-environment schemes by land owners. The National Indicator (NI) set has been replaced by the Single Data List, with the same requirement for reporting data but without a target for positive conservation management.

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Local Wildlife Sites in Positive Management
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Area of Wildlife Sites by Habitat Type

Sources: Wiltshire and Swindon Wildlife Sites Project, Wiltshire Council and Swindon Borough Council, The Wildlife Trusts Wildlife Sites survey 2011 http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/localwildlifesites

For further information, please contact Rob Large, Wildlife Sites Officer at Wiltshire Wildlife Trust (email: robl@wiltshirewildlife.org, telephone: 01380 736 090).

Many environmental organisations and local authorities own and manage land as nature reserves. This is professionally managed to provide the best possible habitat quality for wildlife. These areas are also open to the public, and provide significant benefits to health and wellbeing, as well as providing valuable recreational areas. A map showing Forestry Commission ownership in Wiltshire is available in the maps section of this site.

Natural England has powers to designate National Nature Reserves (NNRs), which are a selection of the best parts of England’s SSSIs. There are seven NNRs in Wiltshire:

·         Fyfield Down
·         Langley Wood
·         North Meadow
·         Parsonage Down
·         Pewsey Downs
·         Prescombe Down
·         Wylye Down

Maps showing the location of NNRs and Local Nature Reserves in each of Wiltshire's Community Areas are available in the maps section of this site. Further details and maps of NNRs in Wiltshire and the rest of England are available on Natural England's website.

Local authorities have powers to declare and manage Local Nature Reserves; there are eleven in Wiltshire: 

·         Avon Valley Reserve
·         Bemerton Heath and Barnards Folly
·         Conygre Mead (WWT)
·         Corston Quarry and Pond
·         Drews Pond Wood
·         Green Lane Wood (WWT)
·         Jubilee Lake
·         Mortimore’s Wood
·         Oakfrith Wood
·         River Wylye
·         Smallbrook Meadows (WWT)
     

There are seven LNRs within Swindon Borough:

·         Barbury Castle Country Park
·         Coate Water (also a SSSI)
·         Quarry Wildlife Garden
·         Radnor Street Cemetery
·         Rushey Platt Canalside Park (WWT)
·         Seven Fields
·         Stanton Park 

 

Wildlife crime takes many forms, affecting protected and endangered species and habitats.

Wiltshire Police (covering Wiltshire and Swindon Borough) report that most incidents relate to hare coursing and deer poaching, with low levels of reported other crimes such as damage to SSSIs, theft of plants and trapping or poisoning of species including birds, bats, badgers and otters. In 2011, there were on average 25 reports of hare coursing or deer poaching each month, with peak months having in excess of 50 reports a month.

Wiltshire Police has a dedicated Rural Crime Team, with an additional 6 Police Wildlife Crime Officers across Wiltshire and Swindon Borough.

For more information, see Wiltshire Police web pages on Rural Crime, including wildlife crime: http://www.wiltshire.police.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=232&Itemid=681  

This section provides biodiversity data and information for each Community Area, published in 2014 alongside the Joint Strategic Assessments 2013-14.  The Excel workbook gives a breakdown by Community Area of the following data:

  • overview of SSSIs and details of individual sites (habitat type, condition, land area)

  • overview of County Wildlife Sites (number, habitat types and land area)

  • Landscape Biodiversity Areas

  • comparisons between Community Areas and with Wiltshire as a whole