L’Ancresse Common

 Notes for Future Management

July 2013

Jamie Hooper B.Sc.

Environment Guernsey Ltd

Introduction

The future management of L’Ancresse Common is currently under review by the Vale Commons Council (VCC) with the assistance of a group known as the Vale Commons Working Party (VCWP), which is comprised of a small number of habitants with relevant experience.  In 2012, as part of this process, the VCWP sought the views of Environment Guernsey Ltd.  This brief report highlights some of the important aspects of L’Ancresse and provides a summary of the issues which have been raised.

 

Summary of the Common habitats

The Habitat Survey 2010, as undertaken by Environment Guernsey, (Fig 1.) provides an immediate impression of the variety of habitats present at L’Ancresse.  Such a wide range of vegetation types subsequently supports a rich diversity of associated invertebrates, birds, small mammals and other associated wildlife.  The ecological value of the area is reflected in its designation as a Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI).

The existing complexity of the site is due to a number of factors such as localized topography, variations in soils and geology, current use and existing and past land management.

Although much of the Common could be split into two general habitat types – grassland and scrub, there is a broad range of each type present.  Grassland habitat is predominately Dune Grassland or Amenity Grassland, the latter associated with the Golf Course, but numerous smaller pockets of other grassland types can be found, for example, around the numerous seasonally damp areas and ponds.  Similarly, the scrub habitats include Bracken, Bramble and Gorse stands.

 

Local Importance

Many of the habitats are routinely found in many other parts of the island and are therefore not particularly rare.  However, much of the conservation value of L’Ancresse is due to the large extent of these habitats and their juxtaposition.  The scale of the semi-natural landscape, from a local perspective, is unique and consequently, the associated diversity of plant and animal species recorded from the area is considerable.  Many of these species are not found anywhere else in the island and for others, the Common represents a stronghold.

Fig 1. Simplified map of habitats illustrating the complex nature of L’Ancresse Common - Guernsey Habitat Survey 2010

© States of Guernsey. Note: This map does not include the easternmost parts of the Common, extending to Fort Doyle

 

Golf Course and Horse Racing

The Common is used for a wide range of recreational activities, most of which are generally sustainable.  The most obvious users of the site are golfers with a large proportion of the land managed as the island’s main course.  Although it is accepted that golf is traditionally associated with L’Ancresse, it has led to a considerable reduction in biodiversity over the years, with managed fairways continually spreading and species-rich ‘hotspots’ such as ponds degraded through inappropriate management such as artificial drainage and over-use of chemicals.

The golf course lease was renewed in 2017for 25 years and  it was understood that they would wish to undertake a comprehensive remodelling of the course.  This is partly due to health and safety issues arising from the current need to play near to or across public roads.  This extensive project will lead to further losses of important and rare habitats and it will therefore be crucial for the VCC to work closely with the two clubs to minimize the impacts and to secure an appropriate management agreement for the future.

The recent revival of an annual horse racing event has also led to a compromise in terms of ecological value in some areas, namely the race track and the paddock/arena near the Millennium Stone.  Although it is appreciated that the track itself has to meet certain standards for its use to be approved, other areas utilized as part of the event are currently managed through the use of herbicides and heavy mowing, both of which significantly reduce ecological value.

With regards to both of these recreation groups, it is understood that the VCWP would recommend that management agreements be drawn up to help to limit the impacts of golf and horse racing over the term of their respective leases.  Such agreements are desirable as they would provide protection to many important features of the Common and would facilitate maintenance operations of the land, by the recreation groups themselves and by the VCC.

EG supports the use of management agreements and would be pleased to work with the VCC and VCWP to establish these.  The Guernsey Biological Records Centre would also be able to provide the data necessary to direct such documents.  Although it is difficult to determine the amount of EG involvement required at this early stage, experience shows that our services typically form only a very small proportion of the costs involved in the overall process.  As an estimate, to assist on an agreement with the horse racing club might incur costs of around £200 and a similar one with the two golf clubs could cost up to £1500 but might be somewhat less.  However, we firmly believe that the benefits of having such agreements in place far outweighs the costs and should provide the necessary environmental protection to large parts of L’Ancresse.

 

Overview of current grassland management

Traditionally, much of the common was managed by grazing with cattle, sheep and goats.  However, this activity has fallen out of favour in modern times and generally, the current maintenance programme now relies heavily of mechanized cutting of the various grassland areas.  There is a regular schedule of annual or twice-annual cuts and in most cases, the arisings are left to rot down in situ.

The current grass cutting operations are ecological undesirable for a number of reasons:

 

·     Wildlife closely associated with grazing is going extinct locally

·     Mechanical cutting reduces biodiversity by creating a uniform habitat structure

·     Left grass cuttings discourage plant diversity by smothering less vigorous species

·     Left grass cuttings encourage rank growth of undesirable rank species

·     Cutting large proportions of the Common in a single operation reduces invertebrate richness

 

Mechanized grass cutting is currently the best available option to manage the grassland areas.  However, it would be of benefit to the local environment to attempt other means of maintaining the habitat where reasonably possible, involving the removal of cuttings and a range of cutting dates.

 

Overview of current scrub management

Over the last decade, the VCC has undertaken a programme of scrub removal and management, whereby a number of large blocks of bracken, bramble and/or gorse have been removed mechanically.  In most cases, these cleared areas have subsequently been managed as grassland, with the mowing regime aimed at suppressing and eradicating scrub regeneration.  Some areas, particularly those dominated by gorse, have been allowed to re-grow with an improved structure.

The policy of managing scrub helps to maintain the extent of grasslands and also creates dense stands of gorse which provide nesting sites for birds such as Whitethroats, Linnets and the locally rare Dartford Warbler.  However, the proportion of different habitats which comprise L’Ancresse is crucial and an appropriate balance is required to safeguard viable populations of wildlife species associated with each habitat.

 

Grazing

As mentioned above, grazing of livestock historically played an important role in the maintenance of the area.  Grazing is currently the sole right of ‘habitants’ – residents living on or immediately adjacent to the Common.  Over the last few decades, the number of habitants exercising their grazing rights has fallen to zero.

Grazing is a highly beneficial method of managing the grassland habitats and helps to support many species which are now threatened by the lack of grazing animals.  It is also a cost-effective ie. free alternative to mechanical maintenance.

Traditionally, smaller livestock (sheep and goats) were allowed to roam free on the Common whereas cows were tethered.  Recently, there has been confusion in the media between ‘long tethering’ and outlawed ‘short tethering’ and the animal welfare issues more associated with calf stalls for example have been mistakenly applied to the more benign local practice.  However, it would still be advisable to avoid tethering and in the long term, to consider fencing as an alternative solution.  Permanent fencing could be considered aesthetically undesirable although it might be appropriate in some parts of the Common.  In more sensitive locations, permanent wooden posts placed at suitably regular intervals would provide a secure framework for temporary electric fencing to be installed by the farmer during temporary seasonal grazing.

It would be of considerable benefit to the common and its wildlife if some grazing could be re-introduced.  This would require a change to the current system and may involve a ‘freeing up’ of grazing rights to new parties such as the residents of other parts of the Vale or to grazers from elsewhere in the island.  Although this would require important changes to the rules and regulations of the VCC, new agreements could be drawn up in order to regulate the grazers and to protect the traditional rights of habitants to graze animals on the Common.

 

Involvement of Environment Guernsey

In recent years, Environment Guernsey (EG) has been involved in the management of L’Ancresse in a number of ways.  As the wholly-owned subsidiary of La Société Guernesiaise, we have helped provide advice and information as requested by the VCC.  The Guernsey Biological Records Centre is run by EG (along with the Jersey Biodiversity Centre) and has collated data to facilitate the creation of a Management Plan for L’Ancresse.  We continue to provide specific information on important species and habitats as required.

In terms of land management, EG has been managing the species-rich area of marshy grassland near the Hougue Patris and more recently, an area supporting nationally rare plant species along Mont Cuet Road.  Periodically, the VCC contracts EG to undertake path maintenance and in the past, to carry out management operations on the various freshwater ponds found across the Common.

More generally, EG has held a wider management contract with the Environment Dept to maintain the west coast path network, running from L’Eree to Bulwer Avenue.  This path system passes through the Common running roughly parallel to the coast from Les Amarreurs to Fort Doyle.  Also, EG manages the small National Trust property at Chouet and the nearby Ozanne Reserve and Vale Pond.

 

Wider responsibilities of Environment Guernsey

The company holds a range of land management and maintenance contracts with various States departments, NGOs and private individuals.  In addition to those mentioned above, these can be summarized as follows:

 

·     Island-wide green lane network (Public Services)

·     Streams and douits (Guernsey Waste Water)

·     Maintenance and wardening of the Millennium Walk (Guernsey Water)

·     La Société’s nature reserves

·     National Trust of Guernsey land

·     Assistance with island maintenance on Jethou Island

·     Maintenance of Creve Coeur (Public Services)

·     Site maintenance for various private individuals

 

EG believes it is well-placed to assist the VCC in the future management of L’Ancresse, having built up a broad range of experience since its creation in 2000.  Further, the company draws upon the wealth of knowledge and information held by its owners, La Société.

By taking advantage of its responsibilities elsewhere, EG would be able to make use of ‘economies of scale’ and provide a more flexible approach to managing the Common, which is possibly in contrast to the current system.  For example, routine mowing could be arranged over a longer period of time, allowing invertebrates and other wildlife to recover in some locations before work is continued elsewhere.  Also, we would be in a good position to make day-to-day decisions based on our knowledge of specific habitats and species, such as delaying mowing to protect ground-nesting birds and carrying out specific habitat maintenance to encourage rare and vulnerable species such as Lizard Orchids.  It is important to confirm that although this approach has been adopted in EG’s responsibilities under other contracts, in most cases EG has signed up and is committed to Service Level Agreements (SLAs).

 

Costs of management and maintenance

Through its existing involvement in maintenance and advice, EG is aware that the annual budget for all aspects of upkeep of the Common includes a large cost for contractors’ fees for path and grassland maintenance and to provide a year-round Groundsman.

EG acknowledges that a considerable amount of work is put in throughout the year by members of the VCC on a voluntary basis.  Much of this involvement consists of organizing contractors, overseeing the Groundsman and monitoring all parts of the Common.  In the long-term, it may be unreasonable to assume that this level of free assistance would continue.  In allowing for this possible requirement of a managerial and supervisory role, EG is confident that by entering into a management contract with the VCC, we would be able to offer a comprehensive level of service.

We believe that some existing costs could be reduced by combining work with our responsibilities elsewhere.  For example, path maintenance could be regularly scheduled to coincide with maintenance of other paths in the vicinity, managed under other contracts.  It is also feasible that the need for a Groundsman might be reduced so that a part time role would be sufficient, with additional EG staff utilized for seasonal work, such as the control of noxious weeds.  Conversely, some costs for upkeep may be marginally higher than current levels due to the need to undertake them in an environmentally sensitive manner.  For example, in certain situations, lighter machinery may be preferable to the use of heavy plant, in the vicinity of rare plants or habitats.  However, these higher costs would most likely be offset by savings made elsewhere.

The future

Environment Guernsey would be pleased to continue helping the VCC in its management of L’Ancresse Common and would like to develop this role further.  Some existing maintenance practices carried out by other parties and more importantly, proposed changes to the layout of the golf course in the near future represent a considerable threat to the current ecological importance of the area and provide a suitable opportunity for EG to become more extensively involved.  The local existence of many flagship species (Meadow Pipit, Guernsey Centaury etc) rely on sympathetic management and many may be driven to extinction if a ‘broad brush’ approach is applied across the entire Common.

We therefore firmly believe that EG are able to provide an excellent level of service within an agreed budget comparable to existing funding levels.  More importantly, we will do our utmost to enhance the ecological importance of the Common and to encourage sustainable recreation use of the area whilst protecting the wildlife which lives at L’Ancresse.