Handforth Ecology Report

 

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Ecology report by Evelyn Frearson & Kris Hayward on Handforth growth village development

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CS30: North Cheshire Growth Village and CS34: Safeguarded Land HANDFORTH ECOLOGY, BIODIVERSITY AND RURAL ISSUES Evelyn Frearson, BSc Botany and Zoology Christopher Hayward, BSc Botany and Zoology 1

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This report has been prepared on behalf of Handforth Parish Council and residents of Handforth and Woodford. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Adam Hayward, BSc Environmental Management, member of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, member of the Institute of Environmental Sciences, for advice on environmental legislation. Members of Handforth Parish Council, residents of Handforth, residents of Woodford, RSPB and Manchester Birding Forum members, variously for contributions to the Bird Survey and checking the report. Paul Carter, RSPB member, for confirmation of the identity of birds photographed on site. Members of the organisation Plantlife, for identification of the orchids. Angela Graham, B. Tech. (hons) MCIEEM, Angela Graham Bat Consultancy Service Limited, www.batconsultant.co.uk for advice on bat habitats and protection. Long-tailed tit, CS34 Cover photographs Top: Little Owl in mature oak in field in Threeways Farm in CS30 Second line, from left: lambs on Threeways Farm; sheep grazing in CS30; Greater Spotted Woodpecker in CS30 Third line, from left: Common Spotted Orchid in CS30; pond 14 in CS30; Waterlily on pond 16 in CS30 Bottom: Dragonfly on pond 16 in CS30 2

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Buzzard circling over grassland in CS30 CONTENTS 1. Executive summary 2. Introduction 3. Habitat protection 4. Habitats found on site 5. Overview of species on site 6. Pond survey 7. Bird survey 8. Wild flower survey 9. Tree survey 10. Conclusions Page no. 4 7 8 8 10 12 20 25 29 40 Satellite image showing CS30, CS34 (Handforth to the East, Woodford to the South West and West) 3

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1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY CS30 and CS34 represent irreplaceable assets, comprising a variety of important habitats and hosting protected species in need of conservation. They form a vital part of the ecological network, contributing significantly to biodiversity and carbon dioxide absorption, helping us to address climate change and long-term human survival. In addition, they contribute to the rural economy and the health and well-being of residents. The sites CS30 (North Cheshire Growth Village at Handforth East) and CS34 (safeguarded land) total 103 hectares and 19 hectares, respectively. CS30 comprises farmland (approximately two thirds) and unfarmed, open areas known locally as “the Meadows” (one third). CS34 is all productive farmland. The sites contain a diverse range of habitats and a diverse range of plant and animal species. Rare plants and protected animal species are to be found there. Habitats include mixed deciduous woodland, mature trees, scrub, dense undergrowth, wet grassland with sedges, rushes and reeds, ponds, marshes, streams, ditches, old and derelict farm buildings, arable farmland, farmland used for grazing, and mixed mature hedgerows. Many of these habitats match the descriptions of priority habitats described in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) and the recently updated UK Biodiversity Framework, which includes ponds, hedgerows, woodland and unimproved grassland. http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/PDF/UKBAP_PriorityHabitatDesc-Rev2011.pdf These habitats have priority status as they support ecological networks and species which are becoming increasingly rare in the UK. For example, the UK Biodiversity Plan highlights the importance of meadows and pastures associated with low-input nutrient regimes, which host a specialist group of scarce and declining plant species. Every county in the UK is losing, on average, one species of wild plant every two years, the majority being grassland species. http://www.plantlife.org.uk/wild_plants/habitats/grasslands/ Habitats and wild life are now further protected by new European legislation. The Council and European Parliament signed into law the Decision on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 "Living well, within the limits of our planet". http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-131020_en.htm The unimproved grassland and woodland areas support a profusion of wild flowers in the spring and summer, including orchids: Dactylorhiza praetermissa (sorthern marsh orchid) and Dactylorhiza fuchsia (common spotted orchid). These wild flowers in turn support pollinator insects, including butterflies and bees, some of which are key pollinators of human crop plants. Humans are part of the complex interactions in the web of life. Damage to any part of the network can have profound implications for human well-being. This is exemplified by the current problems with bee populations which pollinate key crops, which in turn threatens the human food chain. 4

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Hedgerows are recognised as important habitats, also providing conduits for wildlife movement, protecting soil, and helping to lock up carbon dioxide. The farmed areas of the site include 6.9 kilometres of mixed species hedgerow in CS30 and 3.1 km in CS34. There are twenty ponds in CS30 and three in CS34, providing habitats for a wide range of plant and animal life, including dragon flies and the protected Triturus cristatus (crested newt) and Alcedo atthis (kingfisher). Woodland areas include mixed deciduous woodland, including woodland in wet ground, with at least eighteen species, including Quercus spp (oak), Fraxinus excelsior (ash), Salix spp (willow), Alnus glutinosa (alder), Corylus avellana (hazel), Acer pseudoplatanus (sycamore). A total of 1,088 trees over the height of 4 metres were recorded on site CS30. In addition, there are many in CS34 which have not been counted to date. Mature and potentially veteran trees are present on site. There are a large number of mature specimens of Quercus sp (oak) and Fraxinus excelsior (ash) which have high conservation value. http://www.naturalengland.gov.uk/Images/fepveterantree_tcm6-6492.pdf Oak trees provide a habitat rich in biodiversity, supporting more life forms than any other native trees, hosting over 280 species of insect, and supplying many British birds with an important food source. The wide range of habitats supports a large number of different bird species as observed by residents and visitors, including members of the RSPB. Species recorded include many woodland and farmland species, including the protected species Turdus iliacus (redwing), Turdus pilaris (fieldfare) and Fringilla montifringilla (brambling); and waterside species, such as Ardea cinerea (heron) and the protected species Alcedo atthis (kingfisher). Unimproved grassland areas provide breeding site for Alauda arvensis (skylark) and hunting grounds for birds of prey, such as Falco tinnunculus (kestrel), Accipiter nisus (sparrow hawk), Buteo buteo (buzzard) and the protected species Falco subbuteo (hobby) and Tyto alba (barn owl). Rodents, such Apodemus sylvaticus (mouse), Microtus agrestis (vole), and Talpa europaea (mole), and other mammals, such as Vulpes vulpes (fox), and bats (specialist survey recommended) are well represented in the ecosystem on the site. It is clear from their Biodiversity website that Cheshire East Council claims to be committed to protection of sites of nature conservation value from inappropriate or harmful development. http://www.cheshire-biodiversity.org.uk The recent UN report on climate change highlights the impact we are having on our ecological niche, Planet Earth. Planning for sustainable development which does not needlessly damage the environment will be a key component in safeguarding our future on the planet. It is recommended that a full professional survey is conducted in the summer months in order to fully elucidate the ecology of the sites and the habitats and species present. 5

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PROTECTED SPECIES KNOWN TO BE ON SITE INCLUDE: Triturus cristatus (crested newt) Turdus iliacus (redwing) Turdus pilaris (fieldfare) Fringilla montifringilla (brambling) Phoenicurus ochruros (black redstart) Alcedo atthis (kingfisher) Falco subbuteo (hobby) Tyto alba (barn owl) Meles meles (badger) Bats (species yet to be identified) Satellite image showing location of sightings of kingfishers, barn owls and other rare or protected flora and fauna [Contents] 6

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2. INTRODUCTION CS30 is 100 hectares, comprising farmland (approximately two thirds) and unfarmed, open areas, known locally as “the Meadows” (one third). CS34 is 19.5 hectares of entirely good quality farmland. Some of the unfarmed, open areas in CS30 contained an RAF base during World War II. The base was demolished after the war and the area is now owned by Cheshire East Council. Some reclamation work, including creation of ponds and tree planting has taken place, but the area has largely been taken over by nature and currently contains a wide range of vegetation types. Areas of it are heading towards the climax vegetation for this country, oak woodland. This report aims to summarise the key issues for the rural economy, leisure use and ecology of the area associated with the proposed development. It highlights the diverse range of habitats and species present and the valuable contribution of the site to biodiversity. A fully comprehensive, professional ecological survey will need to be undertaken during the summer months in order to elucidate the full extent of habitats, biodiversity and presence of rare or protected species. The unfarmed, open areas known locally as “the Meadows”, which contain a wide range of vegetation types and habitats, will be referred to simply as the open areas for brevity henceforth in this report. THE NEED TO PROTECT THE RURAL ECONOMY The farmland makes a significant contribution to the rural economy, including production of hay, silage, cereals, lamb, wool, and beef. The farm fields that would be destroyed by CS30 and CS34 are all part of someone’s livelihood. At least one of the farms affected has diversified into the leisure industry providing livery, grazing and farm rides for horse owners. Loss of this productive land will have economic implications: causing damage to the rural economy; threatening local agricultural jobs; compromising the viability of the farms affected; contributing to the reduction in this country's ability to produce its own food; and adding to the need to import food. THE NEED TO MAINTAIN OPPORTUNITIES FOR OUTDOOR RECREATION The site of the proposed development provides opportunities for many outdoor pursuits, including walking, jogging, bird-watching, model aircraft flying (club has100 members) and fishing. Several footpaths cross the farmland and open areas. In addition, the open areas have been a popular haunt for locals for over twenty years with the result that a network of pathways has developed on the opens areas due to frequent public use. These will have become de facto public rights of way. The area contributes to the health, well-being and education of the local community. THE NEED TO PROTECT SENSITIVE ECOLOGICAL AREAS The main focus of this report is the ecological damage that would be caused by the proposed development. The site contains a diverse range of habitats and a diverse range of species, including protected species. There is complex interaction in the web of life, such that damage to any part of the network can have profound implications for the delicate balance of nature. The Cheshire East Council (CEC) Biodiversity website proclaims: "Working towards a Cheshire region richer in wildlife by 2020: Cheshire East Council aims to conserve and enhance the natural resources of its area through the policies of the emerging Local Development Framework. It is envisioned that the nature conservation policies of the plan will seek to protect sites of nature conservation value from inappropriate or harmful development, and also to use such opportunities as may arise to secure the means to maintain or improve their worth." 7

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The global human population has exceeded 7 billion. We are already experienc[ing damaging effects on our environmental niche, including increase in greenhouse gasses, rising sea levels, local flooding, and local air pollution. Food and water shortages are predicted in the future. The recent UN report on climate change highlights the needs to change our behaviour and approach. [Contents] 3. HABITAT PROTECTION The UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) was first published in 1994, and was the UK Government’s response to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which the UK signed up to in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. A document was published by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on behalf of the UK Biodiversity Partnership. http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/PDF/UKBAP_ConBio-UKApproach-2007.pdf UK BAP priority species and habitats were those that were identified as being the most threatened and requiring conservation action under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP). http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page6189. Habitats and wild life are covered by European law. On 20 th November 2013 the European Commission welcomed the 7th Environment Action Programme becoming law. The Council and European Parliament signed into law the Decision on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 "Living well, within the limits of our planet". The 7th Environment Action Programme will guide EU policy action on environment and climate policy for the next seven years, till 2020. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-13-1020_en.htm The EU Habitats and Birds Directives are the cornerstones of th e EU’s nature legislation. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/conservation/species/habitats_dir_en.htm http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/conservation/wildbirds/index_en.htm 4. HABITATS IN CS30 AND CS34 The following habitats are present on the site of the proposed development. The majority are described as priority habitats in UK BAP. Farmland including: a) Grazed grassland b) Hedgerows c) Mature trees d) Copses e) Ponds Open areas including: a) Unimproved grassland b) Scrub c) Mature trees d) Mixed deciduous woodland e) Copses f) Ponds GRASSLAND (SEE SECTION 8: WILD FLOWER SURVEY) GRAZED GRASSLAND A significant proportion of the proposed development site is grassland used for grazing and hay/silage crops. In addition to the contribution to agriculture, these areas provide habitats for several bird species. UNIMPROVED GRASSLAND Unimproved grassland in the open areas of the site provides an important ecological niche, including grasses, sedges, many wild flower species and birds, providing breeding areas for skylarks and hunting grounds for birds of prey. It is now recognised that previously disturbed land, which is low in nutrients, supports rare plants which cannot compete on rich soil with the vigorous growth of more common plants. The organisation, Plantlife, notes 8

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that 97% of our grassland meadows have been lost since the 1930s, and that every county in England is losing on average one species of wild plant every two years. The Cheshire Biodiversity Action Plan notes that Britain has lost more than 95% of its unimproved grasslands and, since 1939, the Cheshire region has lost 99%. In the Cheshire Grassland Inventory only 860ha of unimproved grasslands were found. http://www.cheshire-biodiversity.org.uk/action-plans/listing.php?id=22 The UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework notes that semi-natural lowland grasslands are a priority for nature conservation due to their steep decline and scarcity and because they provide home to a host of highly specialised plants and animals. http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-1431 HEDGEROWS (SEE SECTION 9: TREE AND HEDGEROW SURVEY) CS30 and CS34 contain 6.9 km and 3.1 km of hedgerow, respectively, comprised of at least eighteen native species such as hawthorn, oak, holly, and ash. Native hedgerows are recognised as an important habitat. In the foreword to the DEFRA Hedgerow Survey Handbook, the Minister for Biodiversity, Landscape and Rural Affairs stated, with regard to hedgerows: "Hedgerows have their part to play too in helping us to respond and adapt to climate change, providing conduits through which wildlife may move, and protecting soil, livestock and property against extreme weather events. They even help to lock up carbon and provide a sustainable source of fuel. Even on a small scale, this can help towards our goal of One Planet Living." http://archive.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/landmanage/landscape/documents/hedgerow-survey-handbook.pdf UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework provides guidelines for hedgerow conservation which are reflected on the CEC website which states: "The average loss of hedgerow in the county of Cheshire was estimated at 66% in 1992 with the greatest loss occurring in areas of high quality agricultural land. In lowland Cheshire, hedgerow trees are an integral part of ancient hedge systems and have been deliberately planted in later hedge systems. These trees constitute substantially to the wooded aspect of the rural Cheshire region." http://www.cheshire-biodiversity.org.uk/action-plans/listing.php?id=72 The Wildlife Trust and many other organisations recognise the importance of hedgerows in supporting biodiversity. http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife/habitats/hedgerows PONDS (SEE SECTION 6: POND SURVEY) There are twenty ponds in CS30, ten in the open areas and ten in the farmland. There are three additional ponds in CS34. Some are open in aspect surrounded by grassland. Others are partially bordered by trees, or in copses of large mature trees, providing a variety of different habitats hosting dragon flies and the protected species Triturus cristatus (crested newt) and Alcedo atthis (kingfisher). Ponds are included in the list of six priority freshwater habitats under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan which notes that: the diversity of habitats within and around fresh waters supports a wide variety of species and they can provide valuable green corridors for wildlife in intensively developed urban or agricultural landscapes. http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-1430 MATURE TREES (SEE SECTION 9: TREE AND HEDGEROW SURVEY) CS30 is home to over one thousand mature trees and there are many in CS34. Mature oaks are common, including many with a circumference around 300 cm (150 – 200 years) and some veteran specimens with a circumference of up to 450 cm, representing an age of approximately 200 - 300 years. 9

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The Woodland Trust notes that oaks are particularly important for biodiversity, hosting over 280 species of insect and supplying many British birds with a food source. Ash is very important for wildlife as it supports more than 100 species of insect, including 60 of the rarest. A healthy tree can live for centuries, providing habitat for deadwood species such as the lesser stag beetle and birds like owls, woodpeckers and nuthatch which nest in the hollows trees. www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/learn/british-trees/native MIXED DECIDUOUS WOODLAND (SEE SECTION 9: TREE AND HEDGEROW SURVEY) Large areas of the site are covered in Mixed Deciduous Woodland, comprising eighteen different native species, which is spreading with time. Over 1,000 trees with a height greater than 4 metres have been counted on CS30. Oak is spreading markedly with thousands of young oaks at varying ages and densities across the site. The water table is very high on the proposed development site and there are wet woodland areas in the open area, containing willow, alder, hazel and birch trees. The CEC Biodiversity website notes the need to preserve woodland in Cheshire: "Cheshire is one of the least wooded counties in the country with only 4.4% of land area covered." [Contents] 5. OVERVIEW OF SPECIES ON SITE FUNGI A survey was not undertaken and is recommended. PLANTS NON-FLOWERING PLANTS: BRYOPHYTES (MOSSES, LIVERWORTS), LICHENS, PTERIDOPHYTES (FERNS). The damp conditions, with shade in the woodland areas, are favourable for bryophytes. Lichens on tree trunks and branches are frequent and varied. A survey was not undertaken and is recommended. GYMNOSPERMS : CONIFERS Conifers are infrequent on site, mainly pines and larch bordering the A34 bypass and A555. ANGIOSPERMS : FLOWERING PLANTS Grasses and Sedges Many species are present. A survey was not undertaken and is recommended, as this wet environment provides a specialised niche. Wild Flowers 32 species were recorded and photographed during the spring and summer months. See Section 8: Wild Flower Survey. Photographic evidence on site is available for all flowering plant species listed in this survey. Trees 18 species were recorded during the winter and spring 2013/2014, growing as individual specimen, in copses or in hedgerows. See Section 9: Tree and Hedgerow Survey. 10

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ANIMALS INSECTS A survey was not undertaken and is recommended. The following were observed on site: bumble bee, honey bee, horse fly, midge, five spot burnet moth, skipper butterfly, peacock butterfly, meadow brown butterfly, gatekeeper butterfly, tortoiseshell butterfly, red admiral butterfly, orange tip butterfly, speckled wood butterfly, dragon fly (several species), damsel fly (azure blue). See Section 8: Wild Flower Survey. AMPHIBIANS A survey was not undertaken and is recommended. The following have been observed on site: Common Frog, Common Toad*, Smooth Newt, Great Crested Newt*. REPTILES A survey was not undertaken. FISH A survey was not undertaken. The following were reported by anglers who use the ponds on site: Roach, Crucion Carp, Perch, Tench, Bream and Stickleback. See Section 6: Pond Survey. BIRDS A list of 82 bird species observed on site has been compiled from information supplied by local residents and visitors, including members of Manchester Birding Forum and the RSPB. 12 of these are on the RSPB red list, 19 are on the RSPB amber list and 7 are on the UK government Protected Species list. See Section 7: Bird Survey. MAMMALS A survey was not undertaken and is recommended. The following have been observed on site: Rabbit, Mole, Fox, Badger*, Bats*. Note that bats have been observed at Blossoms Farm and are likely to be found on the sites. Advice from a bat consultant notes that bats will use a network of hedges and trees as commuting and feeding routes from the roost into the wider countryside and interruptions to these could be significant. Some species are deterred by artificial lighting, especially less common species that might be present in an area such as this. They will also roost in trees with cavities, raised bark etc. They will feed over ponds. Darkness may be important in both cases. *Denotes Protected Species [Contents] 11

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6. POND SURVEY Top: Pond 17 in Threeways Farm in winter; Centre: Pond 15 in autumn Bottom left: Dragonfly on pond 16 in July; Bottom right: Waterlily on pond 16 in summer 12

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SUMMARY The revised area for site CS30 contains 20 ponds in total. There are an additional 3 ponds in CS34. Notable features of the whole site, including the open area and farmland, are the high water table and frequency of ponds. There is large variation in the size and depth of the ponds on site and in the surrounding vegetation. A few are seasonal, shallow and filled with marsh grass, sedges and bulrushes, providing an ideal habitat for amphibians, including crested newts and common frogs. Many ponds are in open grassland, supporting good fish populations and providing hunting grounds for frequently observed herons (and human anglers). A range of fish species are to be found on site, including roach, perch, bream and crucian carp. Other ponds are surrounded by mature trees in copses, providing a dark, damp habitat for lichens, mosses, amphibians and fish. All have a high ecological value. The CEC Biodiversity website states: "Ponds at all successional stages are important for wildlife. The new national pond action plan specifically recognises ponds of high conservation value. These ponds are those, which have either international importance, species of high conservation value present or support exceptional assemblages of species as well as those that are of high ecological quality.... Ponds are important for many invertebrates including the broad bodied chaser (Libellula depressa), the red-eyed damselfly (Erythromma najas) and the protected lesser silver water beetle (Hydrochara caraboides)... In Cheshire ponds are particularly important as home to the protected great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) (1in 3 ponds in Cheshire contain populations of great crested newts). Ponds also provide habitat for other amphibians such as, common toad (Bufo bufo), smooth newt (Triturus vulgaris), palmate newt (Triturus helveicus) and common frog (Rana temporaria). Water voles (Arvicola terrestris) and white-clawed crayfish (Autropotamobius pallipes) can also be found in ponds." http://www.cheshire-biodiversity.org.uk/action-plans/listing.php?id=25 Ponds 3, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 21 are particularly aesthetically pleasing, the most notable of these being numbers 14 -18. Well worth a visit. 13

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METHODS The results of the survey have been tabulated in the following pages. Pond reference numbers Each pond was given a reference number. The numbering follows the order in which the ponds were assessed and is not consecutive in the tables. Latitude and longitude Measurements were taken using a Globalsat GPS receiver. Location Location with respect to key landmarks is provided. Size The size measurements recorded represent the longest axis of each pond. Vegetation The type of vegetation immediately surrounding each pond was recorded. Some of the ponds are in the copses recorded in the tree survey and these have been cross referenced. Comments This section provides information on the type and depth of the pond, animal habitats provided, use by anglers and any notable aesthetic or ecological features. Pond 14 in autumn 14

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PART 1: PONDS IN OPEN AREA IN CS30 Pond Survey Table 1. Ref No. P1 Latitude 5320379 Longitude -211338 Location Near footpath from Blossoms Lane Size (m) 5 Surrounding vegetation Willow, birch, oak, grasses Comments Very small, seasonal pond in hollow. Surrounded by trees and partially collapsed fence. P2 5320399 -211387 Near footpath from Blossoms Lane 24 and 14 Willow, oak bulrushes, grasses 2 adjacent ponds in dense vegetation. Surrounded by partially collapsed fence. P3 5320421 -211564 Nr bypass 32 Notable old gnarled oak overhanging water, alder, grasses In mostly open grassland. Deep. Fish and tadpoles observed. High level of traffic noise. P4 5320520 -211584 Nr bridge over bypass 35 Alder, willow, grasses In open grassland. Used by anglers. Roach and other fish species observed. P5 –P10 no longer included in revised NCGV plan. P11 5320539 -211462 In centre of wild area nr Total Fitness. Not marked on OS map. 33 2 willows at one end, bulrushes, grasses In mostly open grassland. 15

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