What’s happening in the Ecopark
The shore meadow
Along the shoreline of the beautiful Åby fjord, we’re restoring a partially overgrown expanse of meadows and hayfields. The area next to the fjord formed part of the Åby manor estate during the 1700s and 1800s, which means that it was grazed regularly.
During the restoration phase, the shore meadow is mown with a scythe and cutting bar a few times in the spring and summer to prevent the spread of reeds and rushes. This helps the less robust meadow plants, which require a lot of light. When nettles (Urtica) and meadowsweet (Filipendula) have disappeared, all that will be necessary is grazing by some of Nordens Ark’s many sheep and cattle.
In certain years we collect insects from all over the Ecopark in order to check how the different restoration practices are affecting biological diversity.
The inventory is carried out with the help of two types of trap. ‘Window traps’ are set up on trees or poles to catch mainly flying insects. ‘Ground traps’ catch both flying and ground-dwelling insects. A ground trap consists of a white, a yellow and a blue plastic bowl representing the flower colours that attract different insects. Concentrated salt water is used in the traps to preserve the insects until the traps are emptied.
Up to 80 per cent of the endangered forest insects on the Swedish Red List are dependent on dead or dying trees. The insects live in the wood, in the bark or in wood fungi that grow, for example, on decaying logs. In the Ecopark, we leave dying and dead trees where they are on the ground, and we also leave out piles of dead tree stumps and brushwood – so-called ‘fauna depots’ – for the benefit of the threatened forest insects. Some people might think it looks untidy, but once they understand the good that these fauna depots do, they see why we do it. You’ll see several fauna depots in our Ecopark.
By stacking logs of varying thickness on top of each other, different environments are created with a variety of moisture, light and wind conditions. As the logs age, fungi and moss begin to break down the wood, and new micro-habitats are created for a number of wood-dwelling species such as beetles, flies and sawflies. Research has shown that wood that’s at least five years old supports the most red-listed species.
Many birds and insects rely on dead trees with hollows and dead branches. Trees like this are rare these days because of streamlined forestry practices. At several sites within the Ecopark we’re attempting to create hollow trees more quickly than nature would, if left to its own devices. We do this by deliberately damaging or making holes in young trees. This is known as ‘veteranisation’.
Examples of veteranisation methods are:
- ‘Horse gnawing’, where the lower part of the trunk has the bark removed.
- ‘Lightning strike’, meaning the top of the tree is broken off and a large part of the trunk is damaged.
- A woodpecker hole resembling that made by a black woodpecker (our largest woodpecker).
- A nesting box is a larger hole like the cavities created naturally in older trees.
- A ‘ring-barked’ top mimics damage from lightning or extreme drought.
To protect the Ecopark’s animals in the best possible way, all the paddocks are enclosed with anti-predator fences. These have one or two extra wires closer to the ground than a normal fence.
We carry out butterfly inventories to see whether the changes under way in the Ecopark, with lands being converted to their old uses, are affecting different butterfly species. We use two kinds of trap: one for butterflies and one for moths.
These inventories in the Nordens Ark Ecopark began in 2012 (moths) and 2013 (butterflies). Fixed loops for butterflies have been set up and are checked regularly. Full-season monitoring of moths is done with the help of light traps at two permanent points. The inventories contribute to a better general understanding of these insects in Bohus county. We have already recorded several rare species that thrive in the meadows, including the Burnet moth and heath-loving specialists.
In the Ecopark we’re returning parts of the landscape to how it appeared in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Most of our energy is directed at transforming species-poor spruce plantations to species-rich pastureland. Animal and plant species that declined due to forestation or encroachment will do well in these pastures. The natural pastureland in the Ecopark covers about 100 hectares, and the restoration phase is expected to last some 15 years from its start in 2011.
The pastureland will be kept open by endangered native breeds. These are smaller than contemporary cattle but better suited to grazing on hilly terrain. At the same time as boosting biodiversity, we will be contributing to the preservation of these ancient breeds. As well as grazing on the natural pastures, they can be seen at the Nordens Ark Farm.
Pollarding of deciduous trees is an old method of creating animal fodder. Slender branches are cut off with a billhook during the summer. The leafy branches are tied in bunches and dried in a loft. In the winter, the leaves are given to the animals. Here at Nordens Ark, both fresh and dried leaves from various trees provide a nutritious feed for many of our animals.
The most common trees to be pollarded are ash, lime and elm. When a coarse ash is pollarded, the new branches can grow two metres in a year. Pollarding may also speed up the ageing process so that trees can rapidly become valuable for other species, and thus increase biodiversity. Cavities and decay often result from the pollarding, making the trees an attractive habitat for many common, as well as many endangered, species of insects, birds and bats.
Preserving meadow flora
During the autumn of 2012, a large quantity of seeds of various uncommon meadow plants were collected. The seeds were counted during the winter, and in summer 2013 they were sown on about a hundred small areas with the aim of creating larger flower-rich meadows. At more than 20 sites, we’ve also introduced mowing and clearing where small meadow remnants survived. For the ordinary visitor to Nordens Ark, we’re creating a flower meadow by the Nordic bees, starting in autumn 2013. Brown knapweed, devil’s-bit scabious, yellow rattle and other meadow plants will be planted and sown.
An initial inventory of bat fauna at Nordens Ark was carried out in the summer of 2013, both in the Ecopark and in the manor’s parkland. Bats are intriguing creatures that communicate with high-frequency sound, inaudible to the human ear. Using an ultrasound detector, the frequency can be lowered to a level that can be heard, and then the different species’ sounds can quickly be learnt, just as one can learn different birdsong.
In Sweden there are a total of 17 species of bat, but little is known about their distribution. The environment here on the lands around Nordens Ark appears to be suitable to maintain several different species, with many old hollow trees and many old buildings, barns and outhouses where the bats can both overwinter and sleep during the day. The inventory is being conducted together with the Nature Centre.