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9 June 2016

Habitat Creation 12 Years On

It’s not often that we get the opportunity to re-visit projects that we’ve worked on so many years after the project has ended. Once such project is right on my doorstep in Buxton and I’ve just been out to take a look.

Lightwood Reservoir Habitat Creation Lightwood Reservoir Habitat Creation

This reservoir on the hills above Buxton and was built to supply water to the town. It was retained by an earth dam 13.4m high and at 105m in length it had a capacity of 73,000 cubic metres. The reservoir was decommissioned in 2004.

The project involved draining the reservoir, leaving behind the brick and concrete lining and dam walls. The old concrete and brick liners were then broken out and the water tower and valve chambers demolished. Arisings from the dams were used to reprofile the sides of the reservoir to form a natural valley shape, with a stream at the base feeding four pools, designed to encourage aquatic vegetation and associated wildlife. As a nice little touch we even included stepping stones across the stream.

Lightwood Reservoir Habitat Creation Lightwood Reservoir Habitat Creation

A team of engineers and landscape architects, supported by ourselves at PAA, ensured that the resulting landform and habitats were as close as possible to the natural valley form and habitat types. Alongside the pools, other target habitats were species-rich grassland and wet woodland.

We seeded the reprofiled valley sides with a flower rich seed mix applied at a very low density to allow plenty of gaps for natural colonisation and fenced the area to exclude grazing livestock for 3 years.

Lightwood Reservoir Habitat Creation Lightwood Reservoir Habitat Creation

Initially, the grassland was slow to establish – probably due to the heavily compacted nature of the reprofiled valley sides – but the sward has slowly closed and is now, in 2016, wonderfully diverse. I counted around 50-60 southern marsh orchid spikes on my latest visit.

The pools are now bursting with aquatic and marginal plant species and support a significant population of common frogs and toads. Guardian naturalist and writer Mark Cocker wrote a great piece about this in his Country Diary column.

A really striking feature 12 years on is the abundance of willow scrub that has colonised the valley floor creating a mosaic of grassland, wetland and trees that appear to be as attractive to people as to wildlife. A network of informal pathways winding along the valley floor is testament to its use as an important area of local green space.

Lightwood Reservoir Habitat Creation Lightwood Reservoir Habitat Creation

I often run up to Lightwood from my house as it makes a great, short evening running route and I have the added bonus of knowing that I was involved in this wonderful piece of local habitat creation.

Sacha Rogers, Managing Director at PAA, June 2016