The area of limestone grasslands near Charmy Down, just north of Batheaston, is home to a wide range of rare plants and insects, but the habitat has come under threat from dense scrub encroaching across the site over the last 50 years.
Now Wessex Water's Conservation, Access and Recreation (CAR) team is stepping in to ensure species such as the clustered bellflower, bee orchid, hawksbeard mining bee and Adonis blue butterfly can thrive again on the slopes above Chilcombe Bottom Nature Reserve.
The team will return advancing scrub back to the levels seen in the late 1970s, allowing these plants and insects to re-establish over the hillside, with certain areas also being re-seeded with a local grass & wildflower seed mix.
Leaving mature woodland areas untouched, some woodland management, including coppicing, hedge-laying and wood chipping will also be completed during the autumn and winter months up to 2024 to ensure the site is a mix of open and densely-vegetated habitats.
Wessex Water is also installing fencing and water troughs in the area so that grazing cattle can maintain the grassland beyond the completion of the clearance work, while a flight of steps on the public right of way running through the site also being refurbished.
The project is part of Wessex Water’s continuing drive to support and enhance biodiversity on its land by restoring and creating priority habitats throughout its region, including improving the public’s access to them.
Charmy Down is one of three locations earmarked for restoration in the first phase of the programme, with sites at Bleadon Levels, near Weston-super-Mare and Durleigh Reservoir, near Bridgwater, also undergoing conservation work.
Wessex Water Conservation Officer, Rosie Maple said: “We want to see these habitats thrive and the work taking place at Charmy Down will bolster the resilience of one of the most threatened grassland types in the country.
“The site is the missing link in joining up other areas of this rare habitat with Little Solsbury Hill to the south and the slopes of St Catherine’s Valley to the north. Connecting this habitat is especially important for plant and insect resilience to threats such as climate change.
“We are very pleased to link to nearby work carried out by organisations like Batheaston Freeholders Association and the B-Lines project – which creates wildflower-rich and insect habitats throughout our countryside and towns - to increase the overall impact of similar grassland restoration efforts elsewhere in the valley
The team have used expert advice and wildlife surveys to establish the extent and method of restoration, ensuring sensitive delivery of the project for both wildlife and people.
Wessex Water’s Conservation, Access & Recreation Manager, Tom Reynolds said: “Our aim is to make a real difference at these sites by improving their biodiversity and restoring the rare habitats in which wildlife and plants can thrive.
“This is just the start of the overall project, part of the Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP), that will see us sensitively improve sites including mixed deciduous woodland, lowland grassland, ponds, lowland meadows and saltmarsh, to the benefit of their associated wildlife.
“We’re working closely with local communities to ensure they understand the work taking place and the steps being taken to ensure wildlife can successfully flourish in these areas."
Updates on the work taking place at Charmy Down, Bleadon Levels and Durleigh Reservoir will appear on Wessex Water’s website throughout the course of the projects.