Sustrans seeks wildlife volunteers

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National charity Sustrans is working with local volunteers to search for mistletoe along its cycle paths in Yorkshire this month.

The seasonal search for this rare plant is part of a national campaign which aims to monitor all species along traffic-free cycle paths to make the routes more wildlife friendly, and Sustrans urgently needs more volunteers.

Volunteer wildlife champions record species each month they find along the Spen Valley Greenway between Dewsbury and Oakenshaw, as well as cyclepaths around York and Penistone. The results help Sustrans protect the eco-systems already flourishing in the area and make the route attractive for other species too.

Mistletoe is largely confined to the South West Midlands and the Welsh border area of Monmouthshire, although it can grow in parks and gardens in other parts of the country. Technically it is a parasite and it mainly grows on fruit trees in Britain, but has been recorded on up to 200 trees. In folklore it is associated with fertility during the winter months as the plant continues to grow in the winter, without the need for soil or water.

Cycle and walking routes which have trees, hedges and grasslands can be great highways for nature as well as people, and in spring Sustrans volunteers could be asked to search for signs of woodland flowers such as snowdrops and wild garlic. As the year progresses they could record hedgerow species like blackthorn and hawthorn as they burst into flower, alongside alien species such as Giant Hogweed and Japanese Knotweed.

Sustrans ecologist Bernie Higgins said: “Please come and join us to search for wildlife Yorkshire’s cycle paths. We really need volunteers to help us understand what exactly is living along the path, so we can help look after these animals and plants and make the area even richer in wildlife.”

One of the major threats to nature in the UK is the loss and breaking up of natural habitats. Sustrans traffic free routes or greenways often connect parks, nature reserves and other natural spaces, and in 2007 Sustrans produced a Biodiversity Action Plan which recognised these routes potential value for nature conservation. The Plan looks at how the network can be better designed and managed for wildlife as well as people.

Cycle and walking paths monitored for wildlife in Spen Valley Greenway include the Spen Valley Greenway, the Foss Islands path in York, the York to Selby path and Penistone to Dunford Bridge. They are part of the National Cycle Network, which was created by Sustrans. It is over 14,000 miles of cycle routes throughout the UK, many of which are traffic-free.

Anyone who you would like to help make Yorkshire’s cycle and walking paths more wildlife-friendly can contact Dave Stevens on 0113 245 0006 or visit www.sustrans.org.uk/volunteer/get-involved/wildlife-champions for more details.