Since 2002, wildlife surveys on BASC members’ land have produced nearly 2000 new wildlife records for the Somerset Environmental Record Centre and other partners and reinforced the point that most shooters are also keen wildlife observers and conservationists. These records gave a clearer picture of the distribution across the Levels of vulnerable species such as skylarks, yellowhammers, owls, bats, breeding waders, and water voles.
Following from these surveys, over 70 BASC members and landowners have become involved in specific conservation projects. The table below summarises the range and extent of what has been achieved since the launch of the project through some of these projects.
The size of the land holdings ranged from four acres to nearly 300 acres, and the land type varied form seasonally-flooding marshy grassland to rolling limestone hills (the Mendips) and dry ground ridges with broad-leaved woodland and arable fields. It is important to note that over 70% of these activities are self-funded through small-scale shoot subscriptions (co-funding by family and friends), or funded through a more formal shooting syndicate fee.
Table summarising the increases in biodiversity over the 10 years of the Somerset Levels Green Shoots project.
| ||Conservation Activity||Gain over 10 years to 2012|
|1.||Gapping-up/renovating old hedges||9.7km|
|2.||Planting new hedgerows||14.3km|
|3.||Planting hedgerow trees||712|
|4.||Tree planting, either as specimens or within 5 below||8380|
|5.||Planting spinneys or other small woodland||39 (14.5ha)|
|6.||Coppicing/pollarding mature trees||621|
|7.||Creating woodland butterfly glades||1.9ha|
|8.||Cutting/maintaining woodland rides||26.4km|
|9.||Renovating derelict ponds||32|
|10.||Creating new flight ponds||36|
|11.||Creating grass-strip field margins||366km|
|12.||Planting cover crops/wild bird mixes*||172.2ha|
|13.||Creating wild flower meadows||45.83ha|
|14.||Sympathetic ditch and rhyne clearance||31.87km|
|15.||Erecting nest boxes/bat boxes||138|
|16.||Creating new reedbed||200m2|
Water voles (arvicola amphibious), once common on waterways throughout the UK suffered a population crash in the late 20th Century and it was feared that the species would become extinct after the millennium. This situation has been attributed to both loss of habitat and to predation by American mink. By 2002 the Somerset Levels held only a few relic populations of water voles until BASC took the lead in their conservation in association with our partners.
A BASC programme of mink control and habitat enhancement across the Levels was launched in 2003, a project involving not only BASC members, but also gaining multi-partnership support from anglers, the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, the Environment Agency, and Natural England.
A trapping and monitoring team was recruited and mink control became a co-ordinated effort across the Somerset Levels from Gordano on the Bristol Channel to Martock in South Somerset.
To date over 600 mink have been trapped and the rapid expansion the water vole population in the last ten years has been hailed as a major conservation success story. Accounts of the project have appeared in UK conservation publications and also in European journals.
Building on this, BASC’s conservation and control activities have also been adopted in Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, and Gwent