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Biodiversity hotspots

Essex Field Club maps of invertebrate biodiversity hotspots in the county - can we add to these?

by Peter Harvey & Del Smith (2006)

An example map of invertebrate biodiversity hotspots for species of nature conservation significance, from records held on the authors' MapMate databases

The Essex Field Club is working with the Essex Wildlife Trust to establish a collaborative approach that ensures the Local Development Framework documents and maps currently being prepared by Essex local authorities include as much biological information as possible. This is essential to ensure the selection of County Wildlife Sites and Green Corridors reflect what we consider to be the most valuable wildlife sites, and to enable us to influence planning at an early enough stage to make a real difference.

We need to be able to supply as much information as possible in a format that can be used to achieve these aims (i.e. in computerised database form). If you can help, please contact the EFC Council and the Wildlife Trust. We are also keen to enable paper data to be computerised in a thoroughly validated way, and again, if you are interested, we will try and explore funding bids with other interested parties to help these developments happen.

Using county data in MapMate, the biological recording and mapping software that is being encouraged by both the Club and the Wildlife Trust, it is possible to produce maps showing levels of biodiversity in Essex, and we have provisionally done this with the County Recorder data for Arachnida, aculeate Hymenoptera and Diptera as well as other data resulting from our own fieldwork. Maps can be produced that summarise the data in various ways and for separate or combined taxonomic groups. Taxa can also be related to other databases listing e.g. Essex Red Data species, scoring systems to evaluate Species Quality at sites, saproxylic (deadwood) species or any other factors of significance such as habitat structure, management and so on.

The results are of very great interest at a county level. One example map is shown above that summarises invertebrate hotspots at a 1km level for taxa of nature conservation significance, using all the data we currently have available in a suitable format. Hotspots clearly exist for well known sites on the coast; the Stour Estuary; in the Epping Forest and Lee Valley region; the Dagnam Park, South Weald, Navestock, Weald Park and Curtismill Green area; the Stort Valley and Hatfield Forest; Hylands Park; the Danbury Ridge; Halstead and Sible Hedingham area. However enormously important areas stand out in south Essex near the Thames and around Colchester, and in particular these are made up of brownfield sites. Even various other €˜hotspots in the county are frequently brownfield sites in the form of old mineral extraction sites.

Despite a relative paucity of our data for the Kent side of the river in the MapMate database, our maps can also provide an indication that a similar invertebrate situation exists on the Kent side of the Thames and along the Medway. This whole situation is currently the subject of a major project by Buglife link"All of a Buzz in the Thames Gateway" supported by: English Nature, the Environment Agency, Greater London Authority and Kent Wildlife Trust. The project is carrying out research into the importance of brownfield (previously developed) land in supporting invertebrate populations, in order to secure the future of the nationally important invertebrate fauna of the Thames Gateway. "All of a Buzz" aims to influence the regeneration agenda and existing policy initiatives such as the provision of greenspace within the region. The brownfield importance for invertebrates and threats to brownfield habitats in the Thames Gateway is further discussed at these pages.

Despite good coverage for most groups so far included, this and other maps show the relative paucity of the wider Essex countryside for invertebrate biodiversity. This is perhaps not surprising, since much of the modern agricultural landscape is drastically affected by modern farming practices, and even ancient woods in the county are in the main surrounded by an arable desert. With enough evidence perhaps we can start to change things at a landscape and planning level.

Huge thanks are due to the Essex Spider Group and various workers who have supplied us with records and/or specimens to enable these maps, as well as to County Recorders Peter Hammond and Peter Kirby for identification of our beetle and bug & planthopper material, the results of which are included in the sample map. More information on the Buglife Buzz project can be found at the Buglife website link

You can also see coverage for different taxonomic groups at the Species Group Coverage page.