From the report to FML Trustees, 20th Sept 2022, by Andrew Marchant

Since 2016, Frome’s Missing Links’ Ecology Group has been monitoring and improving the ecology of the area alongside the existing path. One of their first projects was to survey reptiles along the Colliers Way, and the group submitted a report to the Somerset Records Department covering over 400 sightings of grass snakes, lizards and other reptiles in June 2017.

The Colliers Way then became part of Sustran’s Greener Greenways programme, which aimed to improve knowledge of the biodiversity and wildlife along the Greenways routes so that there could be better management of the habitats. The Sustrans project concluded in 2019.

As part of the Greenways programme, a Habitat Management Plan was issued in February 2018 (with a recommended review date of February 2023). Many of the principles of this plan were already being carried out by the FML Ecology Group.

The aim of the Habitat Management Plan was to keep the route accessible to all users, while maximising the value of the route to nature conservation by:

• Maintaining and increasing the species rich grassland habitats along the greenway

 • Protecting and enhancing the notable features and populations forming the Local Wildlife Site (LWS) designation

 • Restoring and enhancing the existing woodlands and hedgerows along the route

• Providing suitable opportunities for nesting and hibernating wildlife, especially reptiles

 • Increasing the abundance and diversity of foraging resources such as flowers, seeds, berries and insects along the route

 • Providing opportunities for local engagement with volunteers, local conservation organisations and the wider public

The value ofthe linear path is that it allows many types of habitats (grasslands, woodlands) to join up, providing a way for wildlife and plants to spread across the countryside.

Current work at Great Elm

The Ecology Group is maintaining the hedgerows, ditches and mown glades in this area, in accordance with the principles of the Habitat Management Plan. As part of the Greenways programme, a hedge was laid at the top of the ramp onto the Colliers Way, at the stone marked “Winston”. The Ecology Group intends to extend this hedge this winter and volunteers are welcome to help.

The group are now looking into sowing wildflowers at Great Elm. The management plan suggests that cutting grass and spreading the cuttings from flower rich to non-flower rich areas would be adequate, but this has not proved the case, as the seed bank has been too low. Local ecologist Sue Everett supports the need for sowing and her advice on what is right for the area can be sought. Particularly valuable seed is yellow rattle which is semi-parasite on grass.

Progress at Spring Garden / Whatcombe Fields 

The diagram shows how the ecology plan is developing at the Whatcombe Fields end of the path, near Spring Gardens. Some initial hedge-laying in this area, with some labour contributed by Duke Of Edinburgh Award Scheme students from Frome College in 2019, is now becoming established. With structures, such as fences, gates and cattle grids added by the Friday Club over the last few years , the area combines ecology with the creation of the path.

This hedge has received must less vandalismthan other areas, as the path was not initially open to the public. The plants were bigger and more established when access to the public  started. 

Future planting options

Another area where there is the potential for more planting of trees and shrubs would be at the Coalash Lane Bridge, where there is space alongside the path.  If planting could begin here in the near future, the plants would be able to mature and become robust before the public had full access.

Progression of the path

As work progresses on the path in Phase 2 (Great Elm to Hapsford House),  there is an opportunity for detailed consideration of the area’s ecology to identify existing trees, scrubs and grass areas that can be saved. At the same time, it would be valuable to asses what space is available for new planting to create varied habitats.

An ecology survey is now scheduled for early October, by Liam Russell Ecology, to document the important ecology of the area where the path is to go in the Elliot’s Lane area.

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