An area of ash woodland on a steep slope adjacent to the B4596 near Caerleon was found to be suffering from ash dieback and was therefore becoming hazardous to vehicles and the public as trees were at risk of falling down into the road. Ecological assistance was therefore required to allow works to progress without adverse impacts on protected species or triggering legislation.
As works needed to be undertaken quickly due to health and safety issues due to the risk of falling trees, there was no time for dormouse and bat surveys to be undertaken in the woodland in advance, before removal of trees began, and therefore, a precautionary working approach was required to ensure that no protected species were negatively impacted by the works.
The works were undertaken outside of the bird nesting season (from 28th September until 8th December), which avoided negative impacts on nesting birds. Trees with potential roost features (PRFs) for bats needed to be checked on the day of felling, but as the trees were mature and on a very steep slope, this involved utilising a very large truck-mounted cherry-picker from which a licensed ecologist (with full safety gear!) could check holes, cracks, or gaps in the tree safely for bats, using an endoscope (essentially a camera with a light on the end of a long wire).
As well as aerial surveys, ground-level checks of vegetation were meticulously undertaken by a group of ecologists in areas where trees would be felled, to prevent damage or destruction of dormouse nests and killing/ injury of dormouse which could possibly be within the woodland. During one such check, an empty dormouse nest was located in an area of bramble scrub, and work in the area was immediately halted whilst a dormouse licence was applied for from Natural Resources Wales.
The dormouse licence was successfully applied for (and was returned from NRW in 6 days), and works could continue in the area under the method statement. Under the method statement, habitat corridors were retained where possible (and if this was not possible, then planting needed to be undertaken once the works were completed), and 50 dormouse boxes were installed in the adjacent woodland, which could then be monitored at a later date.
During the rest of the works, no further dormouse signs were observed, nor were any bats or bat signs found in the trees, so the rest of the works continued smoothly. Where it was safe to do so, healthy trees were left in place, and most of the ground vegetation also remained, to ensure connectivity for animals such as dormouse. Log and brash piles were also created on the slope using some of the arisings from clearance works, providing additional shelter for many species in the area.
The first monitoring check of the installed dormouse boxes was undertaken in summer 2022. No dormice were yet found to be using the new boxes (but they had been used by a variety of birds, wood mice, and shrews!) and another monitoring check will be undertaken in summer 2023.
Amy Williams-Schwartz, Senior Ecologist