Habitat Management for Invertebrates

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Habitat management is a vast, varied subject and should not be approached as ‘one size fits all’, though unfortunatley this can often be the case. This blog includes an introduction to why management is needed for wildlife and a talk by Pete Boardman that delves into some specific examples of habitat management in the UK, primarily focused on invertebrates species.

Why do we need to manage sites for wildlife?

For centuries humans have managed land seeking a desired outcome. It is often used for agriculture, residency, commercial gain, and recreation. However, we are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental damage and species declines that have occurred as a consequence of land development. Therefore, it is essential that land is managed to promote biodiversity and conserve species wherever possible.

Considerations for invertebrates

If you are managing land, taking the time to understand the habitat types and species that are already present is the best place to start. By using this information, a plan can be made that ensures minimal damage to the wildlife that is already established and incorporates your own goals.
If you are managing land for invertebrates, it should be noted that they can have highly complex life cycles. Some species, such as dragonflies, will live in various habitats during different life stages and change their diet as they develop. The duration of their lifecycles should also be considered as they can vary between several years, once a year or several times a year. There will also be differences in how each species deals with winter - some will hibernate, some will take shelter, and others will persist through the harsh conditions.


An Introduction to Habitat Management for Invertebrates with Pete Boardman

As part of our Invertebrate Conservation series, we were joined by Pete Boardman for an Introduction to Habitat Management for Invertebrates.

Pete introduces some of the key invertebrate and habitat characteristics that should be taken into consideration when managing a site, as it is easy to adopt simple general-purpose or species-specific policies and to miss opportunities. Making the best use of a site is easier with a good understanding of the needs of invertebrates and the different habitat requirements. When making decisions, it is worth considering the characteristics of invertebrates and of their life histories and lifestyles which affect their habitat requirements; broad habitat structures, mosaics, transitions, and complexity; specific niches, small habitat features and very specific requirements; continuity and catastrophe; examples of opportunities and niches provided by people, machinery, livestock, and chance.

As it is such a vast subject, Pete has focused on and discussed a few specific habitat types, including lowland heathland, woodland rides, and brownfield sites, all with specific invertebrate case studies. You can watch the whole talk below on our YouTube video.

 Q & A with Pete Boardman

How do you answer the question of scale in habitat mosaics - are we looking for a mosaic of lots of tiny patches within a small area or a mosaic of larger areas of habitat across a landscape?
Ideally, you are looking for both. Obviously, it depends on the size of your site, the size of your landscape, and the features you are managing. Start small and look at the area you are managing, look at the most important features and prioritise them. Bring in different types of management and see where you are.
It's a really interesting question, but it isn't easy to answer without looking at sites as it depends on many different factors.

What's the name of the second machine in the video, the one which collects the clippings up?
I think they fall under the category of 'out front mowers with collection', it looks very similar to this model.

What are Aculeates?
Aculeates are the group of stinging insects - bees, wasps and ants.

What if your substrate is clay or heavier than sand, will bare earth be as useful?
It's still useful. You see aculeate holes in some seemingly solid clay/sand areas. The more friable the substrate, the better, but still do create some south-facing bare ground in less perfect conditions because something will use it. If not for nesting, it will likely still be used for basking as it will still raise the temperature higher than the surrounding ground.

Does creating bare ground on heathland not just create a perfect seedbed for birch? That's been my experience.
One of the issues with creating bare ground is that things want to grow in it as you are creating a substrate. It comes down to follow up management. Ultimately, it depends on the type of substrate you have and how you manage it.

I manage small green spaces in urban areas, and I am keen to improve habitats for invertebrates. However, most are close to roads and have public access. What are the best things that I can do for invertebrates?
Some of the heathlands I have worked on in the more urban areas of the West Midlands are in a similar situation. There's a whole host of things you can do- create bare ground, stack deadwood, leave as much standing deadwood as you can when felling trees. Have a play around with grasslands and create different areas, such as areas that don't get cut as often at the back to allow for tussocks. Depending on the vegetation present, you can have areas that are managed regularly, like low growing areas, so different species can thrive. There's a whole range of stuff you can do.

Given that many insects have limited ability to disperse, should we be doing more translocations of insect species to newly created or significantly changed habitat types?
That is sort of happening probably a bit more than it used to, but really you have to ensure that the habitat is right. It's worth approaching it in the opposite way and turning attention to habitats first. Some species will struggle to reach new habitats naturally, but once the habitat is proven to be in good enough condition that it can support the species, then translocations can be discussed. It opens up a whole can of worms when we talk about species translocations, but it certainly has its place.

How come cattle and rabbits are considered good for conservation, but deer are damaging? Is it just numbers?
It is absolutely the numbers. Again, at a site in Shropshire where I have been involved, they undertook some deer survey work a few years back, and they assumed they had 20-50 deer, but the results of the survey showed numbers in the high hundreds. This means there is little regeneration in the woodlands due to the deer taking all of the samplings out, and the less palatable species start to take over, like holly. It's all down to numbers, small deer interaction is fine, but generally, there are large numbers around.

I've read Peter Kirby's guide, which is wonderful...any other suggested texts?
Buglife have some free Habitat management data sheets, which may be of interest.

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