Traditionally, Leicestershire was well-known as a green county, famous for grasslands, dairy herds and sheep flocks. The land would have been criss-crossed with hedgerows and littered with field ponds left to enable livestock to drink.
Agriculture is still the main use of land in Leicestershire, but the amount of land used to grow crops has increased. The change from grazing to crops has led to the filling in of many field ponds and wetland areas to improve crop growing conditions. It has also led to the destruction of many hedgerows to provide larger areas that are more easily farmed by machinery.
Ponds, Reedbeds & Grasslands
The first few ponds of our reedbed system at the Nature Reserve are planted with common reed (Phragmites australis). These plants provide an excellent root system to hold the sand bed together and enable filtering. These reeds need to be maintained by regular cutting. In other areas of the UK, reeds are still cut and used for thatching on houses.
Summer is the best season to see meadows in all of their full spectacular glory. In the hurry to reproduce and form seeds many wildflowers have bright colourful blooms to attract insects. Wildflowers that you might see in our grasslands are ox-eye daisy, common knapweed and birdsfoot trefoil.
Around the ponds you will be able to see flowering yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus). If you look closely you may be lucky enough to see a dragonfly nymph climbing up a stem and an adult dragonfly emerging. This can take a long time and the adult dragonfly will have to bask in the sunshine to harden the soft wings before it can take flight. The skin of the nymph is left behind on the plant stem so you may find one of those if you have good detection skills!
Plants have had to find a way to move their pollen and seeds around. Some attract insects such as bees, beetles, flies or butterflies with flowers that then spread pollen to hopefully another plant of the same species. Others such as grasses and trees produce a lot of pollen and let the wind do the hard work, also causing hay fever in humans! To encourage seeds to be spread around some plants have bright fruits that are eaten by birds who deposit the seeds elsewhere. Others have bursting seed pods like gorse (Ulex europeaus) and herb robert (Geranium pyrenaicum) so listen out for them!
We are very proud to have maintained our hedgerows at Twycross Zoo. Ecologists have surveyed them and have found that some of them are very species rich. There are many different species of plant in the hedges at the Nature Reserve and in general, the more species there are the older the hedge is. When surveyed, the hedges in this location were found to have five different woody species of plant. This makes them excellent nesting habitat for goldfinches.
There will be flowers in the hedgerows too, perhaps some elderflower (Sambucus nigra) and dog rose (Rosa canina). Mature hedgerows like these in The Nature Reserve will also have more plants in the base, indicators of an ancient hedgerow that was created before 1750. The hedgerows in The Nature Reserve do have the plant lords and ladies (Arum maculatum).
Tall, wide and bushy hedges with several different plant species provide the richest wildlife habitats. The thick vegetation of a hedge provides shelter for nesting birds and hibernating mammals. The fruit and flowers are a good food source for invertebrates, birds and small mammals.