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THE ECOLOGY OF BENFIELD VALLEY

A truly unique space

Habitats

Chalk grassland

Chalk grasslands are semi-natural grasslands found on lime or chalky soil and are one of the most species-rich habitats found in northern and central Europe [3, 4]. These habitats can support up to 40 species of plants in an area of 1m2! [5] They are also home to over 60 species confined to chalk grasslands and other calcareous grasslands in England. Ten of which are flowering plants that grow nowhere else [6].


It is estimated that more than half of the 1,500 British species of seed plants are found at chalk grassland sites [7]. Chalk grasslands support some of Britain’s rarest butterflies and offer invaluable basking areas for reptiles [8].

Here at Benfield Valley, you can find chalk grassland plants like Agrimony,  Common Knapweed, Clover, Vetch and Speedwell.


Unfortunately, our chalk grasslands are in decline. Since the Second World War we have lost over 80% due to changes in land use including building development and agricultural changes [9]. 

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Deciduous woodland

A deciduous woodland contains trees that seasonally shed their leaves with the autumn leaf fall, fertility of the soil is maintained when leaves decompose, and nutrients are released [10]. Deciduous woodlands support many species by providing food, shelter, and breeding opportunities [11]. They also aid climate regulation, acting as climate control they store greenhouse gases such as CO2 from our atmosphere reducing the effects of global warming [12].


Importantly, they also reduce temperatures beneath the canopy in comparison to open sites. The tree roots also bind the soil together, regulating rainfall and soil erosion by moderating water infiltration [13]. 

However, it is not only living trees that provide benefits for wildlife. The various stages of wood decomposition are essential within the ecosystem. Deadwood provides invaluable habitats for organisms like lichens, mosses, birds, invertebrates, and mammals by providing shelter, food and places to breed [14].


Some of the trees you can find in the valley include Ash, Blackthorn, Goats willow, Hazel, and Plum.


References

[4] Dolek M, Geyer A. Conserving biodiversity on calcareous grasslands in the Franconian Jura by grazing: a comprehensive approach. Biological Conservation. 2002 Apr 1;104(3):351-60. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320701002002?casa_token=1lQiWwj6Ti8AAAAA:tNvM3zFJ4sxJw1YDZTdFioFs91AH5m9ETYsfuYgFJCljOlcVabSluUu2vM7djZZDgN6d9R9u [Accessed: 08/04/21]

[5] Ashwood, F.LOWLAND CALCAREOUS GRASSLAND Creation and management in land regeneration. Forest Research. Available at: https://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/documents/2449/BPG_18.pdf [Accessed:08/04/21]

[6] Wells TC. Botanical aspects of conservation management of chalk grasslands. Biological Conservation. 1969 Oct 1;2(1):36-44. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/000632076990113X [Accessed: 08/04/21]

[7] Lousley, J.E. (1950) Wild flowers of Chalk and Limestone. Collins, London, xvii. pp254

[8] National trust. What's special about chalk grassland?.[Online] Available at: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/whats-special-about-chalk-grassland [Accessed: 28/04/21]

[9] Williams, S. Study shows how damaged chalk grasslands can be revived. UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. 2018 Aug 22. Available at: https://www.ceh.ac.uk/news-and-media/news/study-shows-how-damaged-chalk-grasslands-can-be-revived [Accessed: 08/04/21]

[10] Park BB, Rahman A, Han SH, Youn WB, Hyun HJ, Hernandez J, An JY. Carbon and Nutrient Inputs by Litterfall in Evergreen and Deciduous Forests in Korea. Forests. 2020 Feb;11(2):143. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jonathan-Hernandez-3/publication/339678030_Carbon_and_Nutrient_Inputs_by_Litterfall_in_Evergreen_and_Deciduous_Forests_in_Korea/links/5e5f962e299bf1bdb850daff/Carbon-and-Nutrient-Inputs-by-Litterfall-in-Evergreen-and-Deciduous-Forests-in-Korea.pdf [Accessed: 08/04/21]

[11] Smurthwaite S. 11 must-know facts about woods and forests [Internet]. Woodland Trust. 2018. Available from: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2018/04/woods-forests-facts/ [Accessed:13/04/21]

[12] Alonso I, Weston K, Gregg R, Morecroft M. Carbon storage by habitat: review of the evidence of the impacts of management decisions and condition of carbon stores and sources. Carbon storage by habitat: review of the evidence of the impacts of management decisions and condition of carbon stores and sources. 2012. Available at: http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/1412347 [Accessed:09/04/21]

[13] Morecroft MD, Taylor ME, Oliver HR. Air and soil microclimates of deciduous woodland compared to an open site. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology. 1998 Mar 1;90(1-2):141-56. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0168192397000701 [Accessed:08/04/21]

[14] Radu S. The ecological role of deadwood in natural forests. InNature Conservation 2006 (pp. 137-141). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. Available at: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-540-47229-2_16 [Accessed:08/04/21]

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