A Site Of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI)

The Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) has identified 1250 Sites of Nature Conservation Interest including woodlands, downland, heathland, meadows, lakes, coastal sites and others.

They are ‘places that are considered valuable and important because of their wildlife. They have no statutory designation but nevertheless contribute to Dorset’s diverse countryside…their value is recognised by Local Authorities and taken into account when planning or development  proposals would have an effect on them. DWT recognises that farmers and landowners hold the key to ensuring that the remaining pockets of wild-life rich land continue to be well managed. It is thanks to the past management by farmers that such sites still exist and continued sympathetic management will mean that their wealth of wildlife will be available for future generations.’

The Site of Nature Conservation Interest at Homers Farm is part of a 6ha parcel which comprises fields of unimproved and semi-improved grassland with thick hedges. The site was surveyed and registered by DWT in 2004 and includes a northwest facing slope within a large field which is part of Homers Farm. The remainder of the SNCI is in other ownership.

To qualify for SNCI status, an area should have five wildlife species of note. Four plants of Dorset notable interest were identified on the Homers Farm slope. They are Common Bird’s-Foot Trefoil, Corky-Fruited-Water-Dropwort, Downy Oat-Grass, and Meadow Barley. Devil’s-Bit Scabious, Common Knapweed, and Oxeye Daisy were recorded on other parts of the site. Grasses and additional plants include Tufted Hair-grass, Meadow Fescue, Meadow Foxtail, Pepper Saxifrage, Common Bird’s-Foot Trefoil, and Black Knapweed.

The site includes a large naturalised pond in and around which grow alders, flags, iris, water peppermint, aqua grasses, meadowsweet, St John’s wort and more. Nearby buddleia, fritillaries and verbena thrive all attracting butterflies, bees, dragonflies. Spotted flycatchers dart out from the alders and bats fly low over the pond feeding on the insects it attracts. House martins, swallows and swifts make their nests all around the pond. The pond is home for at least some of the year to Moorhens, Mallards, Frogs, newts including great crested newts about which we are delighted.

Buzzards, Kites and Harriers fly over the fields and we occasionally see a barn owl well away from the house.

Preserving the integrity of the site

In the past the slope and surrounding field has been grazed by sheep and horses. Preserving the integrity of the site while using it to keep alpacas can be achieved by following DWT guidelines.
The grazing regime and cutting for hay:

In years when the slope is not cut for hay it is best maintained by allowing it to be lightly grazed through spring, summer and autumn. Ideally there should be areas of short and long growth with heights of between 2 and 10cm by the end of the season. This provides a variety of microhabitats for invertebrates. Winter grazing is appropriate if the ground does not become poached. Using the site for hay rather than grazing every three years will help to preserve tall perennials. Hay can be made once seeds have set.
The stocking rate:

The recommended stocking rate is 4 alpacas per ha per year.

The use of Avermectins and related compounds:

Avermectins kill off invertebrates that colonise dung thereby reducing the food supply for insectivorous birds and bats. Pour-on or injected formulations are preferable to bolus as the latter results in avermectins being released into the ground over a longer period. A list of less harmful alternatives can be found in The Lowland Grassland Management Handbook published by Natural England. Removing dung daily also helps to reduce the amount of chemical entering the ground.
Recommended methods of control of undesirable weeds:

It is important to avoid creating bare ground into which the weeds can seed and establish themselves e.g. through overgrazing and poaching. Nettles flourish in nutrient rich soils therefore it is advisable to avoid practices that can lead to this e.g. leaving cut material/spoil/manure on the ground.

Cut spear thistles and nettles at ground level just before flowering (and remove cut material). Spear thistles are more easily eradicated than creeping thistle, which spreads by underground rhizomes and needs repeated cutting. Cutting is less effective in controlling nettles but repeated cutting can suppress their growth. Top thistles just before flowering, when the plants have used up their energy reserves but before the buds have opened with a follow up cut or grazing a month later. Topping should be left until after July if ground nesting birds are present. Dig or hoe thistles just before the flowers open (again removing dead material). Pull (by hand or mechanically) thistles, nettles and ragwort. For thistles and ragwort, mechanical pulling should take place after maximum extension of the flower stalk but before seeding, hand pulling just before the flowers open. Nettles should be pulled early in the season as soon as the stems are robust. Pulling will be required in successive years to reduce the extent of these perennial species.

Non chemical methods of control are preferred wherever possible but if this is impractical consider spot treatment or weed wiping, targeting only the undesirable species. If weed wiping, there needs to be a height differential between the target species and surrounding vegetation. Spot treatment with glyphosate is acceptable. The optimum time for spot treatment of ragwort is in late April or May when the plants are still at the rosette stage. Weed wiping would have to be later once a differential is established. Thistles are best treated prior to the flower bud stage when the plant is growing vigorously, nettles also at the maximum period of growth.

What the Dorset WildlifeTrust offers:

The SNCI scheme is voluntary and owners are not required to manage the site in any way that they don’t wish to. The DWT has supplied a map of the site boundary, a description of why it is important and a list of species found during the survey. It offers free advice on management to help wildlife and can assist with applications for grants for conservation management. SNCI owners receive an annual newsletter with articles about habitat and species, management techniques and useful contacts.

With thanks to Amanda Marler, SNCI Survey and Monitoring Officer
www.dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk
www.defra.gov.ukwildlifeandpets/wildlife/wildlifemanagement/weeds
Dorset Environmental Records Centre

Species list for ST81/034/01 (comp 1- Homers Farm)

  • Creeping Buttercup
  • Common Nettle
  • Broad-Leaved Dock
  • Creeping Cinquefoil
  • Meadow Vetchling
  • White Clover
  • Red Clover
  • Cut-Leaved Crane’s-Bill
  • Corky-Fruited Water-Dropwort
  • Germander Speedwell
  • Spear Thistle
  • Creeping Thistle
  • Common Ragwort
  • Red Fescue
  • Perennial Rye-Grass
  • Crested Dog’s-Tail
  • Cock’s-Foot
  • Downy Oat-Grass
  • False Oat-Grass
  • Tufted Hair-Grass
  • Yorkshire-Fog
  • Common Bent
  • Meadow Foxtail
  • Timothy
  • Smaller Cat’s Tail
  • Meadow Barley
  • Common Blue
  • Meadow Brown
  • Stock Dove
  • Mole

In the spring, bluebells, dog violets, vetches, primroses, vipers tongue all grow along side the hedges.