Connect Plus and Connect Plus Services are supporting Highways England’s objective of converting 3,500 hectares of open grassland to species rich grassland.
Connect Plus and Connect Plus Services are working in partnership with Highways England to develop better environmental outcomes, specifically to meet their aim of converting 3,500 hectares of land from open grassland to species rich grassland.
We have a duty to the generations to come, to preserve an environment we are proud of. We are committed to working in a sustainable way, alongside our in-house experts, to ensure we are always sympathetic to our surroundings and are protecting local habitats.
Part of this commitment is about enabling species to move between core wildlife areas, by reconnecting habitats and ecosystems to deliver restoration and connection on a significant scale.
Aims & Objectives
Highways England's target for the M25 network is 71 hectares and this year (2019) we achieved over 10% of that target. In 2019-2020, we’re expecting to achieve 10-15% with a further 15%-25% a possibility in the following year. The ultimate outcome should be an enhanced environment for pollinators and increased habitat connectivity.
In June 2018 Highways England requested our help in converting open grassland to species rich grassland, within a relatively short time frame.
We agreed upon a solution that would delay the in-process study schemes and in doing so allow us to refocus and rapidly survey the existing open grassland. In addition, we would create a bespoke local plant mix, based upon soil type and area characteristics.
A fast-track design and delivery was agreed with Highways England to simplify the design process. With the milder weather, we were able to deliver most of the plots during October 2018, with the balance delivered in March 2019.
The works included removing unwanted vegetation, cutting back the existing grassland and encroaching scrub, scarifying the top surface and distributing the species-rich seed mixture.
The following 3 years of aftercare will include a further re-seed with annual cuts. This will be followed by an annual Operations and Maintenance 'cut and collect' to reduce the fertility of the plot, as low fertility promotes the the growth of wildflowers.
Plan and Progress
We are continuing to work closely with Highways England to help them reach their target of converting 3,500 hectares, with a planned 71 hectares to be delivered on the M25.
Additional conversion areas were identified during the survey walk-overs and these are likely to be converted in future schemes.
KPIs have been applied to FY19-20 schemes.
Feedback from Highways England has been positive, and the local bee conservation specialist has indicated that the works could have a positive benefit to a rare carder bee species, which can currently only be found in two locations.
The grassland will take around two years to achieve maturity and full flowering following reseeding in May 2019. A further three years of late summer cutting will see further improvement.
We’ll take a survey of grassland species on the third year of aftercare and make comparisons between the previous and new grasslands.