University staff and students regularly take part in volunteer days with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust in the Leeds area each year. These activities bring together staff and students from a number of University managed sites across both Central and North West Leeds. So far this year, groups have undertaken hay meadow management at Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve, and willow coppicing at Esholt, near Rawdon.
The Kirkstall event saw the volunteers helping to clear cut hay in October, thereby preventing the nutrients from returning back in to the soil. This action limits the growth of invasive or dominant species, and allows the natural wild flowers to grow and prosper, thus encouraging further insects and bird life in the hay meadows, and broadening the reserve’s biodiversity. The team were supervised by two members of staff from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, and one was even a graduate from the University.
The work at Esholt in November consisted of coppicing or cutting three year old willow stems, and sorting them by thickness, for subsequent use as posts, or willow whips. The willow will then be transported for use at either Meanwood Beck in Leeds, Pudsey Beck near Bradford, or Otterburn Beck near Skipton, all located in the River Aire catchment. The willow will be used in a process called spiling, whereby the posts are driven in vertically along the water’s edge, and then the whips are woven or laid as fascines between the posts. The final structure acts as an initial barrier to erosion, but the beauty of the willow is that it will grow again in spring. The new roots will help to anchor the riverbank, provide habitat for water larvae, and reduce silt/improve the water quality. The new shoots will also help provide extra cover for insects and bird life along the becks, thereby helping to expand the existing biodiversity.
Further events are planned for spiling at Otterburn Beck; tree planting at Water Haigh Woodland Park; and scrub bashing at Ledston Luck Nature Reserve in the New Year.