Chough seabird

The Military’s Overwhelming Wildlife Diversity

Churchill’s Conservation Legacy

It may seem odd to think that the vast Ministry of Defence estates, with army boots marching and tanks rumbling across them, play host to some of the most species-rich and valuable habitats in the UK…but the fact is it’s true. Perhaps Churchill would now say something to the tune of “we will conserve the waders on the beaches, and the chalk grasslands in the fields”. The need to fight to preserve our wildlife has never been so great. The growing human population and constant change in our society are having a knock-on effect on our wildlife populations. The MOD has a plan in place to avoid enemy invaders and to prevent the destruction of major habitats and combat the drop in major wildlife populations.

The MOD estate covers roughly 1% of land in the UK and has managed to avoid the scourge of agricultural improvement and intensification, leaving semi-natural habitats for wildlife to thrive in. In fact, 170 MOD sites are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI). It is a statutory obligation to enhance, prevent damage and preserve the species within these sites. This means everyone deployed on a site for defence purposes has a duty to conserve the wildlife on their military estates.

The Rich Wildlife of MOD Sites

Salisbury Plain, England

Marsh Fritillary

Salisbury plain is not only home to the largest Defence Training Estate in the UK but is also home to some of the UK’s richest wildlife habitats. As the biggest continuous chalk grassland in north-west Europe, it provides the perfect habitat for 67 rare or threatened invertebrates. The grassland environment supports the rare Marsh Fritillary butterfly. The diversity of life supported by the habitat is so great that in only one survey an ecologist on the site managed to identify 158 different species of beetle. The military owns 150 square miles of the site, which covers roughly half the plain. Around a quarter of this land is permanently closed to the public, which allows the native wildlife to flourish undisturbed.

Castlemartin, Wales

St Govan's Chapel among the cliffs
St Govan’s Chapel among the cliffs. Copyright: (2018)

Castlemartin Tank Firing Range in Pembrokeshire is an estate that covers 6,499 acres of the coastal lime plateau, with sheer limestone cliffs that offer some of Britain’s finest coastline scenery. The estate is littered with historic sites such as St Govan’s chapel, a medieval structure named after a Christian hermit which sits nestled within the towering coastal cliffs. The military site was established by the Royal Armoured Corps in 1938, but after the Second World War, the land was returned to agricultural use. It was later reactivated as a major training site for the MOD during the Korean War in 1951. Despite its brief period of agriculture, the site has remained a vital hotspot for wildlife. This is largely thanks to its use by the MOD.  A range of flora and fauna have been allowed to thrive in an area which is largely undisturbed due to its limited public access. It is home to the highest concentration of seabirds in Pembrokeshire,

and supports around a dozen breeding pairs of chough- a shy species which is now extinct in the majority of England (a small population remains in Cornwall). The rugged coastline and pockets of dry heath support a wide range of sea plants such as Thrift and Golden-Samphire. The MOD has protected and preserved the many habitats of Castlemartin and is determined to continue doing so by implementing a plan to conserve and protect the surrounding areas.

Breakdown of Legislation and MOD Policy

MOD Policy and Targets

Hitting targets

MOD land’s primary purpose is for training the armed forces and is often required to adapt to fit their current needs. Despite this, it is still subject to the same planning laws and legislation as any other development. MOD is committed to guaranteeing the sustainability of their estates to ensure they are suitable for training for generations to come. They also recognise they have a responsibility to protect the various species supported by the habitats in their charge. To ensure that all needs are met, they have devised a policy which fully integrates the environmental issues and the training requirements, providing a more holistic resolution to the problems encountered by the two.

MOD Targets are:

  • To be a leading example in the management of sites, where possible
  • To ensure natural environment requirements are met at every stage of the management of the estate
  • To actively contribute to the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, where appropriate

How Acer Ecology Can Help

At Acer Ecology we understand how important it is for the MOD to keep to biodiversity targets, especially considering that the MOD owns some of the most biodiverse lands in the UK. We can provide practical advice and solutions to help you reach your targets using our professional expertise and ensuring that every project complies with UK and EU wildlife legislation.

We provide a variety of services that may suit your needs so, with our help, your site will be outstanding for both military training and for wildlife conservation.

Services Acer Ecology Can Provide:

Contact us if you require one of these surveys or if you just need some ecological advice. We are pragmatic, professional, and passionate about the environment and our clients’ needs.

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