Success for initiative introduced to improve understanding of the local natural environment

Data for Nature, a project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and delivered by Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust (SRWT), draws to a close at the end of this month. The 18 month long initiative aimed to address one of the key recommendations in the 2018 Sheffield State of Nature Report, which identified major data gaps in our knowledge of important local habitats and species. The project’s main objective was to lead a step change in how the Trust manages its nature reserves for conservation.

By creating an adaptive ecological monitoring framework linked to the management plans for the nature reserves and by creating a new data management system, staff and volunteers in the Trust are now better able to collect and analyse data about the species and habitats on our reserves. And thus enabling the Trust to make evidence based decisions on the management of our reserves. Examples of vast array of monitoring protocols embedded through Data for Nature included: counting flower spikes for bog asphodel and southern marsh orchids, listening for skylarks and nightjar, counting amount of dead wood and identifying tree species, looking for great crested newts in our ponds and for harvest mice nests and identifying fast moving dragonflies and damselflies.

The data collected through monitoring, as well as historic records, have been entered into a new species recording database, Nature Counts.  The tool has a dedicated website where members of the public can also upload details of the wildlife and plants they have seen in the area.  Information like this helps the Trust to get a clearer representation of how local flora and fauna are thriving or where they are in decline. The data collected also feeds in to the National Biodiversity Network database, NBN Atlas, where it is shared by ecologists across the country and used to inform national policy decisions about nature and the environment.

In order to implement the monitoring framework and gather relevant data, staff and volunteers were trained in various survey techniques and data input.  Throughout the life of the project, 22 training courses have been delivered and over 62 volunteers have been involved, with a core number of 20 volunteers.

As a result of this project, the Trust can take a more evidence-based approach to management, allowing the organisation to be more targeted, focusing our limited resources where they can have most impact, resulting in better more effective conservation of important species and habitats.

“The data generated by the Data for Nature project has already been very helpful in demonstrating the effectiveness of our nature reserve management. At Woodhouse Washlands the grassland compartment which we fenced off prevent disturbance to ground-nesting birds has provided habitat for 5 or 6 pairs of skylark, whilst our survey found hardly any evidence of skylark breeding in the unfenced areas of the reserve.

Elsewhere at Woodhouse Washlands, the Data for Nature survey found a thriving population of great crested newts in the complex of ponds, including 4 new ponds which have been colonised since they were created 18 months ago”. Nabil Abbas – Living Landscape Manager (South).

David Renwick, Director, England: North, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “Looking after nature and helping people to understand its importance has never been more urgent and will be a major focus for The National Lottery Heritage Fund moving forward. The importance of data is essential to getting a clear picture of species and habitats, and thanks to National Lottery players this species recording site will make it easier to bring together the valuable information that citizen scientists and ecologists alike collect.”

The training of key staff, delivery of training materials, protocols and handbook, together with the commitment of the Trust, means that the monitoring framework will carry into the future. The project has also established a core group of volunteers willing to continue the monitoring in the coming months and years, creating greater interest in biological recording across the area through Nature Counts.



Photos submitted to Nature Counts:
Roesel’s Bush-Cricket Forgemasters Tip (c) Allen Holmes
Common Stinkhorn Greno Woods (c) Chris Doar
Emperor Dragonfly Woodhouse Washlands (c) Isabel Commerford
Painted Lady Sheffield Botanical Gardens (c) Richard Jaques