Wildlife & Nature

The estate is home to 1000 acres of arable land, marshes, grassland and woodlands. We employ a full-time Conservation Officer to monitor and enhance the wide variety of habitats on the Estate.

Modern farming can sometimes be the cause of biodiversity decline. Simply put, this is completely unnecessary. We strongly believe that with a sympathetic approach, successful farming businesses can run alongside thriving ecosystems.

On this page you can see just a few of the successful conservation schemes we run on the estate, independent of any government funding.

Conservation strategy

The essence of our conservation strategy is to increase biodiversity by providing a variety of high-quality habitats suitable for a range of species.

Once habitats are in place, then biodiversity follows. Careful management of this habitat, ensuring that appropriate food sources are supplied and pest species are controlled, results in a sustainable increase in biodiversity.

This is in contrast to the well intentioned, but often short-sighted agri-environmental policies of targeting just one or two species. Whilst wonderful for creating environmental monocultures that cater for a particular animal or plant of interest (and even then frequently for a single period of its life), these run the risk of being unsuitable for the majority of other wildlife. We are already demonstrating that our approach creates thriving populations, not only of the rarer species, but also the more common species such as insects, which create the foundation of healthy ecosytems.

Over the past few years we have had dramatic successes in the increase in numbers of nesting and visiting birds, and a major increase in the populations of insects, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Grassland

The diverse grassland habitats adjacent to the marshes provides fantastic habitat for a wide variety of meadow and long-grass specialists

Grassland habitats are in steep decline in the UK: around 95% are estimated to have been lost since the Second World War (Countryside Commission, 1985). At Claxton, we implement a wide range of programmes to preserve this fragile yet critically important habitat.

Just a few of our programmes to boost this ecosystem include:

  • Only grazing certain areas, creating both the short grass critical for many breeding wading birds and meadow specialists, whilst also providing the longer, un-grazed grass that provides their insect food source
  • Maintaining a ‘chemical free’ environment over all of our grasslands
  • Planting ‘pollinating insect’ friendly native flowers and grasses
  • Leaving grass cutting until late in the year in some areas. This ensures that insectivores have a plentiful food supply whilst raising their young, and grass-dependent insects can lay the eggs that will overwinter until spring. In addition, it means that ground nesting birds are left undisturbed whilst raising their young. 
  • We have moved to using the most invertebrate-friendly wormers available on our cattle in order to boost the invertebrate diversity and populations on our grassland.

 

Woodland and hedgerows

Claxton is home to a highly varied mix of woodlands, and we have recently entered into a new forestry plan that will see these woodlands improved and also new woodlands planted

Woodland provides a critically important habitat for a wide range of UK wildlife. At Claxton, we are currently planting new wooded areas to extend the already mature areas that exist on the estate.

In addition, hedgerows provide one of the most important habitats for UK wildlife, both as permanent homes for some species and movement corridors for others.

Just some of our programmes to enhance these habitats include:

  • Creating an additional 52 acres of woodland through natural regeneration and planting. This will result in a total of 60 acres of wet woodland; a rare and nationally important habitat.
  • Planting 4.5km of new hedgerow.
  • Gapping-up several kilometres of existing hedges.
  • Delaying autumn hedge-cutting until after the peak berry season, providing an important Autumn food source for a variety of mammals and birds.
  • Increasing the health of the woodland deer populations through selective culling, resulting in a great surge of ground vegetation and survivorship in ground-nesting birds.
  • Where some of the older hedges have become thin and gappy we will shortly start a traditional hedge-laying programme. This will thicken the hedges, improving their value for wildlife.

The marshes

We have greatly enhanced the several hundred acres of marshland on the estate over the past five years. As a result, Claxton now boasts a wide variety of aquatic habitats and species.

Claxton Marshes boasts 24km of dykes (i.e. 48km of waterside edge habitat) and we have dug over 20 wildlife ponds in the past few years without any government funding. 

By clearing and enhancing all of the dykes on Claxton Marshes, which had been neglected for many years, we have enabled a flowing water system. This has encouraged reed bed growth and, by banning all chemical use on the marshes, has resulted in a surge in water quality. Consequently, this has caused a boom in sensitive life at all levels, from water-lilies and water voles, to nine-spined sticklebacks and otters.

We have paid particular attention in creating habitat diversity. Even factors such as the steepness of the dyke and pond banks are kept variable, ensuring both deep and also shallow water specialists can thrive side-by-side.

In addition we aim to create a minimum of 10km of ungrazed, protected margins along the dyke edges on the marshes to allow a varied and diverse habitat for many species. Trial work that we have already completed has shown the attractiveness of this type of habitat for a wide range of species. In particular, these margins have proved particularly attractive as hunting grounds for the many species of raptor found on the estate.

Population monitoring

We take a results-driven approach in our conservation programmes, which allow our management decisions to be based on informed farming practices

Every year we conduct wildlife surveys to document the presence and health of the different plant and animal populations found on the estate. This provides the foundation that allows us to judge the success of our different conservation programmes.

For example, in 2013 alone we documented 23 species of butterfly along the ‘butterfly walks’ that we created the previous year through planting native flowers and grasses along the periphery of several woodlands.

Living with Raptors

At Claxton Manor Estate we are very proud to host a diverse population of raptors. Buzzards, every native UK falcon, three species of harrier, every native owl except the snowy owl, sparrowhawks, and the occasional goshawk have regularly been seen hunting here, and in addition we frequently see rough-legged buzzards during the winter.

Our high raptor density is a testament to the habitat enhancement programmes we operate. Raptors are generally adaptable predators, and the diverse habitats and ecosystems on the Estate ensure that an equally diverse food source is available, reducing the impact of such a high predator-density on any one prey species such as vulnerable ground nesting birds (e.g. grey partridges) and some species of songbirds.

During the spring, we also operate a diversionary feeding programme, which ensures that vulnerable and rare prey species are able to breed when they are at their most vulnerable. We have found this has increased the success of our grey partridge breeding programme.

The importance of population balance

The selective culling of certain species forms a vital part of conservation in the UK

Predators and their prey have been living side by side with each other for millennia. Predators eat their prey, which compensate by creating enough offspring to allow the next generation to continue.

So what happens when the predators disappear?

Well, this is exactly what has happened in the UK. All of our large ‘mega-carnivores’ are now extinct. We once had wild lynx, wolves and even bears roaming the landscapes here! Whilst the predators are gone, their prey species remain. These include deer, rabbits and hares. In addition, the mesopredators, such as foxes, corvids and mustelids, now free from competition themselves, will continue to expand their numbers until they have depleted their prey species. 

With nothing to keep population numbers in check, increase in numbers of the mesopredators and prey species can result in devastating consequences. For example, deer such as roe and muntjac, left to their own devices, quickly multiply, eating and eradicating ground vegetation and saplings. They frequently turn to the bark on trees, often killing them. In very little time, this can create an ecological ‘desert’, where all the animals that used the ground cover vegetation (rodents, small predators such as weasels and stoats, ground nesting birds etc) must move on or die. Eventually the deer, having used all their food up, starve to death in what is known as a ‘population crash’.

This is why all leading conservation bodies advocate the careful culling of certain animal species when their numbers go unchecked. This includes deer (in particular the introduced muntjac), rabbits, crows and other corvids, and mesopredators such as foxes and mustelids. In fact, recent studies have shown that deer are now at double the population density that is sustainable for our countryside, causing widespread declines in species such as nightingales and other woodland birds. At Claxton, rather than shy away from these issues, we take a responsible attitude towards culling. Sick, old or injured deer such as muntjac and Chinese water deer are culled. If a large number of species are starting to show a decline (for example, songbird nests being raided at unsustainable rates by corvids) then we seek to reduce the population of the responsible predator or species using legal control methods.