A project to translocate reptiles implemented by Ecological Planning & Research (EPR) during the construction of a new care home in Otterbourne Hill in Hampshire has delivered real benefits for the wider community and its wildlife.
The residential care facility, completed in 2018 by developers Stepnell Construction and operated by Brendoncare, incorporated reptile habitat enhancements which were also designed to maximise wider biodiversity benefits. Results have proved extremely promising following a five-year monitoring study by EPR, with a steady growth in the number of slow worms recorded.
Prior to breaking ground, EPR relocated 106 slow worms to a dedicated receptor area within the Otterbourne Hill site, as well as an additional off-site receptor at nearby Knightwood to establish a new population. The sites were carefully chosen due to their connectivity with other habitat and features of value to reptiles for foraging and hibernation, which could be enhanced through careful targeted habitat management.
The peak adult count from the 2017 monitoring survey across both receptors was a dozen slow worms. In 2021 the peak adult count rose to 41 of these charismatic, legless lizards, with juveniles and sub-adults also recorded, indicating successful breeding. It’s important to note that the peak adult count recorded in 2021 (41) represents the maximum number of adults recorded in one single survey visit and differs from the total populations across both sites, which is likely to be significantly higher.
The burgeoning populations present at both receptor sites have benefited from the broad menu of habitat enhancement measures implemented by EPR and managed by Brendoncare’s maintenance team, resulting in previously unseen species populating the improved habitat.
Site enhancements included the incorporation of specific plants added for shelter and to establish useful connectivity to wider reptile habitat. Botanical diversity was maximised through supporting sustainable drainage systems and the site saw wildflower meadows planted, offering a home for invertebrates – a favourite food of slow worms.
Coupled with ongoing habitat management, completed by Brendoncare’s skilled maintenance team, in accordance with the Reptile Mitigation Strategy, EPR have been undertaking annual reptile monitoring surveys. These determine how the reptile population is faring following the development and check that the habitats are establishing as planned. Not only has the presence of slow worms increased almost fourfold between 2017 and 2021, but the site improvements have seen it welcome new residents such as the protected grass snake.
To comply with applicable legislation and planning policy, a Reptile Mitigation Strategy is required where development proposals are likely to result in killing or injuring native reptiles, all of which receive legal protection. In this case, given the relatively high numbers recorded, the Reptile Mitigation Strategy was also required to maintain the conservation status of the local slow worm population post-development.
Suzanne Melhuish, a Principal Ecological Consultant at EPR, who led the work said, “Coupled with our annual reptile monitoring surveys, we have worked closely with Brendoncare’s maintenance team to monitor habitat establishment to ensure that the habitats have developed as planned. This partnership has enabled habitat management to be tweaked to maximise benefits to reptiles and other wildlife and has enabled the slow worm population to not only survive but to thrive.”
Andy Oliver, Brendoncare’s Maintenance Supervisor at Otterbourne Care Home said, “To see evidence of population growth through EPR’s monitoring over the past five years has been heartening. We are thrilled to see the growth in slow worm numbers across the sites that these species now call home which is testament to the success of the mitigation strategy”
“We have let care home residents know of the effort undertaken to safeguard the reptile population at both receptor sites, sparking an interest in slow worms and adding to their enjoyment of the greenspace, which is widely known to promote mental and physical health.
“It is particularly pleasing to note that the wildflower meadows put in place are not only benefitting the residents but are also having a positive impact ecologically in providing food and shelter for the range of species that continue to call Otterbourne Hill home.”