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Ponds and Heathland work

The Countryside Team are always very busy looking after the wonderful unique environment we have at Kelling. Read what they have been up to below.

Our newest pond and wildlife hide

It has long been recognised that wildlife thrives on diversity. Kelling Heath fully appreciates the beauty of it's surroundings and the positive impact of well managed Wetland, Heath and Woodland can have on both wildlife and visitors.

In 2016 the area which we now call our Wildlife Hide was rejuvenated to complement the southern part of the Park. The existing hide had weathered well and needed just a few modifications to make it wheelchair friendly and useable by people of all ages. The are of the Hide looks onto offered more of a challenge as it had become so overgrown. As it happened, the Countryside Team comprises of an Arboriculture Professional, a Groundworks Coordinator and an Aquatics Specialis. Coupled with supportive management a plan was contrived to bring this forgotten area of beauty back to life.

The first step was to clear the area and level the ground to gain a clear view of the scale, backdrop, required levels etc. Next was to determine the size of a pond and how this would marry in to the surroundings.

Excavation was soon underway, and a pond shell was formed. Levelled with wooden pegs it was then very easy to see how shallows could be incorporated and enabled us to see how a planting scheme would evolve to encourage all manner of wildlife to inhibit and visit the pond and the surrounding area.

With a Pond of this size it is always important to consider several factors. Obviously, it needs to be water tight, so a prefabricated rubber liner is the first choice and was promptly ordered. This liner then needed to be protected, so a base layer of sand was used to dress the excavation. This was then covered with a geotextile membrane to further protect the rubber from stones. Fitting a rubber liner always offers challenges because of access and the sheer weight of the membrane. "Many hands make light work" and the Maintenance and Countryside teams joined forces to persuade the sheet to neatly fit into the prepared hole.

Once to this point, the requirement was water and we were able to extract this from out Bottom Pond and thus introduce mature pond water into the new entity which would ensure a great start for the eco system. Filled to 75% capacity we could concentrate on the margins. Over the top of the liner and around the entire perimeter was laid another geotextile membrane onto which was placed over 200 hessian sacks full of subsoil. These would then be split and planting with aquatic plants which have been extracted and transferred from the other ponds on Park. The margins were finally covered in subsoil to hide the liners and the Pond was filled to the brim.

The surrounding area was seeded, and logs were used to create wildlife habitat piles. Frontage fencing was erected, and nettles and gorse allowed to dominate the Pond surrounds so that access is only viable via the hide front door.

Finishing touches include a chalk board for sightings, bird feeders and a convenient log lines access path to the hide. Even though the area is in it's infancy, it has already been recognised by the David Bellamy Award Scheme and was officially opened in June 2018 by Simon King OBE (Wildlife Presenter, Photographer and Author) as part of a celebration of a successfully completed and very worthwhile addition to our landscape.

Ponds update December 2017

The extensive work on the ponds carried out by the countryside team last winter certainly paid dividends with the ponds recovering well providing wonderful habitats that were enjoyed by many throughout 2017. 

With winter well and truly here, the ponds at Kelling Heath are very much in the dormant stage.  They have all been subject to a covering of ice and the aquatic vegetation has gone to sleep.

After cold nights, all the ponds offer fantastic photographic opportunities with plentiful wildlife and the frost kissed reeds emerging from the water surface adding to the scene.

Ponds and Heathland work - winter 2016/2017

Kelling Heath Holiday Park is on a 300 acre estate made-up of woodland, grassland and very rare lowland heathland, all enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year. There is a constant need to preserve, protect, and sometimes enhance the natural environment across the estate, and so a four man team of Countryside Rangers is employed by the holiday park to ensure this happens.

This winter the Countryside Rangers have been focusing on two extremes of habitat, both of which exist on the Park, the ponds and wetlands, and the dry lowland heath.

With a name like Kelling Heath Holiday Park it could be assumed that the land across the estate is reasonably dry. However, there are two good sized ponds along with a wetland and natural spring. This natural spring runs across the wetland and feeds one of the ponds known as the Fishing Pond. The source of the spring can be seen from the boardwalk that hovers across part of the wetland. The second pond is found on the edge of some semi-ancient woodland called Hundred Acre Woods. This pond is known as the Conservation Pond.

This winter the Rangers have been busy on both the ponds. Five new fishing platforms have been built on the Fishing Pond. The dominant vegetation growing around the edges of the pond have been dramatically reduced to allow other species to grow and so increasing the diversity of the flora and fauna. The reed bed and waterlilies growing in the pond have been reduced slightly in order to improve the recreational value of the Fishing Pond. On the Conservation Pond work has been carried out to protect the edges of the pond from erosion and to control some of the dominant aquatic vegetation which was starting to have a detrimental effect on the really rare and interesting native species which exist. Forty Crucian Carp, which are an endangered fish, have been introduced to this pond to help with a national breeding program. There are resident moorhens as well as a large Sweet Chestnut tree growing out of the Conservation Pond, which is iconic to the Park, and has remained untouched.

Now that this work has been completed the ponds and wetlands can yet again play host to bats hunting moths, birds building nests, dragonflies mating, froglets marching, deer grazing, as well as, pond dippers, fisherman, walkers, cyclists and much more.

Once the wet bits were all in order the Rangers headed over to the lowland heathland. Here the land is always trying to turn into woodland. However, lowland heathland is a very rare habitat and lots of rare and interesting wildlife relies on it. It has always existed on some of the Parks estate and the land heading across to Kelling Village because of the soils lack of nutrients and high acidity. For this reason it was never used as arable land or converted to grassland, but instead was grazed in its natural condition. This stopped the native heathers, which were left by the grazing animals, being out-competed by tree species which were also able to grow in the poor soils. Tree growth was also controlled on the heathland by people harvesting the trees for fuel or for building materials. Grazing on the heathland stopped many years ago as did large scale tree harvesting.

The lowland heathland on both the holiday park estate and on the neighbouring land has since been kept in reasonable condition by rotational cutting using tractor mounted machines, which can both cut and pick-up the encroaching vegetation. This method proves quite successful in some areas but less so in others, and some of these poorer areas of heathland are the ones being targeted by the Countryside Rangers this winter. This is involving removing encroaching vegetation with chainsaws and in some cases mini-diggers. All the cut and dug-up vegetation is then removed off the heathland. Sometimes this work is exposing good bits of heather growth but often the encroaching vegetation has long since out-competed and killed it. When the latter is the case the Rangers are trialling a heathland management method which has not been used on the estate before. They are lightly drilling the soil to turn the part contaminated with seed from encroaching vegetation over in order to expose heather seed rich soil. In other areas where there is a good covering of native heathers, but where the plants are very old, some cutting has already taken place. This cutting was done back in autumn last year for two reasons. The first was to encourage fresh grow on the old plants, and the second was so the seed-rich cuttings could be used in a heathland creation project happening in another part of the estate.

The Countryside Rangers have also remembered lessons from the past and reintroduced grazing to a part of the heathland. This grazing is being carried out by a flock of Black Welsh Mountain sheep. Some of these sheep are veterans in conservation, having previously worked on important areas of the Brecks.

The heathland work for the holiday park's Countryside Rangers does not stop there. They are now helping to support the work being carried out on the neighbouring land. This land has a Site of Special Scientific Interest designation placed on it, meaning it is one of the country's best and most important sites for wildlife and geology. The land management operations being carried out on this part of the heathland by the Park's Rangers are controlled by Natural England and a group of trustees.

Once this year's heathland work is done it will ensure that the habitat so important to rare species like, for example, the Adder and Nightjar, is preserved. The work will also have aesthetical implications to the Park and the dramatic views enjoyed by the holiday park of sea, sky, trees and countryside will be even more impressive.         

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