Nature conservation is largely implemented through the identification, protection and management of sites (although in London it also includes accounting for and enhancing the built environment where possible). Land management is critical in determining the ecological quality of a site; the nature conservation interest of many sites across London has been lost through either neglect, intensification, and/or inappropriate methods, although significant improvements to many sites have taken place since the early 1990s.
Appropriate land management is required to conserve and enhance habitats and species effectively, and these often need to be finely attuned to the circumstances of the individual site – what is appropriate for woodland at one site is not necessarily the case for another. Factors such as topography, underlying geology, hydrology, history, and surrounding influences can be highly influential in determining the management that takes place. In addition, many habitats and species in London are also vulnerable to significant visitor pressures, competing uses, pets, pollution, and the impacts of many invasive non-native species.
Typical conservation techniques include coppicing and pollarding in woodland, scrub clearance, hay-cuts and grazing in grassland, controlled burning and re-seeding on heathland, and bank re-profiling and riffle creation in water courses. However, the local context of each site, and its particular conservation objectives, is key to determining the appropriate techniques to be used, which should be identified through a site management planning process.
Most conservation effort is focused on habitats, as this is usually the most effective means of conserving species. For example, conserving some waxcap fungi or skylark can be more effective by conserving acid grassland as a habitat. In London we have a highly fragmented mosaic of wildlife habitats, and therefore the emphasis on conservation is to protect and enhance these fragments, and where possible to enlarge and reconnect these. Habitat restoration targets identified by the London Biodiversity Partnership are now embedded in The London Plan, and help to determine the priorities for management on a site or in an area.
There are only a few species which require more focused interventions, and these are usually those with particular needs that cannot be met through habitat management, those that are critically endangered in London, or those subject to specific legislation, and where targeted interventions are required. In London, these include, for example, peregrine falcon, black redstart, adder, small blue butterfly, tower mustard, some orchids, Himalayan balsam and giant hogweed.
Habitat creation, through plug-planting, tree planting and re-seeding, have their role in conservation management, although in most cases this should only be considered as a last resort, or where natural regeneration is unlikely to occur or have the desired effect (for example on amenity grassland). There are justifiable concerns that resources for habitat management are harder to secure than those for tree-planting and habitat creation, and that there is a long history of sites that were created and then forgotten.
It.is recognised that some taxa are less well-catered for in conservation management, as most habitat management has largely been influenced by botanical or ornithological interests. Fungi, lichens, mosses, molluscs, many insect groups, fish and small mammals (aside from dormouse, water vole and bats) are largely been ignored in conservation management, although the Biodiversity Action Plan process has addressed this imbalance to some degree.
Conservation management on most wildlife sites in London is guided through site management plans, which aim to ensure consistency of approaches over time, and in accordance with local and national conservation objectives.
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