A wildlife corridor created by South East Water in Swinley Forest during the construction of a five kilometre major new strategic water main has been heralded a significant environmental success by Natural England.
The scheme, which began in 2014 and completed at the end of 2015, involved laying a new £6.5 million pipeline through the environmentally sensitive forest, part of Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (SPA) and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), designated due to its rare breeding birds, heathland and woodland habitats.
South East Water takes the restoration of local, rare habitats extremely seriously. The pipeline route was identified as the perfect opportunity to undertake extensive heathland restoration and regeneration. In preparation, a mix of local wildflower, grass and heathland seeds were collected and stored in controlled conditions until reseeding could take place in autumn 2015. The success of this re-seeding programme became fully evident in July this year.
Mandy Apps, Environmental Performance Delivery Lead at South East Water, said: “The heathland on the habitat corridor had begun to establish much faster and far better than we anticipated, given it was only its second growing season. Heather is typically a slow growing plant. We were hugely encouraged by what we found and will continue to monitor the regeneration of this heathland.”
Des Sussex, Land Management Adviser at Natural England said: “The initial results of the environmental work that South East Water has carried out at Swinley Forest are impressive. The wildlife corridor is showing good coverage of important heathland species such as bell heather, heath bedstraw and tormentil. This is already providing habitat for rare species such as woodlark, grayling butterfly and common lizard. It is a great example of best practice from planning through to the execution of the scheme. We are particularly impressed with the reinstatement of the site, and the monitoring underway to ensure its success.”
Natural England has also endorsed South East Water’s protective management plan for wildlife that was put in place before construction began.
The company timed most of its work in key parts of the forest to take place outside the bird breeding season, monitoring to ensure that migrating and ground nesting birds such as rare Dartford warbler, nightjar and woodlark were not disturbed. Reptiles and amphibians such as threatened great crested newt were protected through exclusion fencing and a capture and relocation programme to the safety of specialist reception areas before construction began.
Archaeological investigations revealed World War Two structures and Napoleonic military fortifications on the land owned by the Crown Estate and the Ministry of Defence, which were protected through realignment of the pipeline route.
Emma Goddard, Head of Environment at South East Water said: “Protecting the environment and its historical heritage is always a top priority for the company. We worked hard to make sure we fully minimised our impact over the whole length of this essential new pipeline.
“I’m delighted that all our environmental efforts and collaborations with our project partners, the landowners, local communities and Natural England on this strategically important project have proved so successful.”
The water main scheme through Swinley Forest has ensured a resilient and secure water supply for thousands of South East Water’s customers across Berkshire, Surrey and Hampshire into the future.
Insert Image: James Brockwell, Civil Engineer