Habitats present within the West Leeds Country Park

Woodland

There are significant areas of broadleaf woodland in the Country Park, particularly on the steep sides of the Aire Valley. These have survived due largely to topography, as the steepness of the slopes makes the land unsuited to development and agriculture.

The majority of these stands are broadleaved secondary natural woodlands.

Additionally, there are eleven pieces of woodland which appear in the Ancient Woodland Inventory which identifies woodland which has had continuous tree cover since at least 1600 AD.

Under this classification, woodland is classed as either –

Ancient semi-natural woodland - ancient woodland sites that have retained the native tree and shrub cover that has not been planted, although it may have been managed by coppicing or felling and allowed to regenerate naturally.

  Nan Whin Woods

  Post Hill (south)

  Swaine Wood 

  Calverley Woods

  West Wood

  Bill Wood 

  Round Wood 

  Ravenscliffe Woods

  Cragg Woods (Rawdon) 

Ancient replanted woodland - ancient woodland sites where the original native tree  cover has  been  felled  and  replaced  by planting, usually with conifers and usually this century.

  Hawksworth  Woods

  Lodge Wood

Scattered tree cover, such as that found in parkland or large private gardens, generally consists of trees which cover no more than 30% of the total land holding, and often includes large, mature and over mature native or ornamental specimens.

The major areas of parkland in the Country Park area, such as Armley Park, Horsforth Hall Park, Gotts Park and Farnley Hall Park, hold some mature and historically important trees, some of which were incorporated into Victorian and possibly Georgian planting schemes.

Whilst providing excellent wildlife habitats, these often statuesque trees also form significant features in the local landscape, contributing to the local character and for people who cherish them, a sense of place.

Scrubland

Scrub most often occurs as a transitional stage in the succession of grassland to woodland, largely where grassland has been left unmanaged, allowing natural regeneration of trees to develop. However scrub is an important habitat for an array of wildlife species, especially birds, for which it provides nesting, feeding and breeding cover.

Within the WLCP Scrub cover tends largely to be either located on the fringes of existing broadleaf woodland, and typically is representative of the  woody species present within that woodland,  or is found in small pockets of “neglected” land, which has either experienced a cessation of management, such as grazing, or are too wet to use. This enables trees and shrubs species to colonise, in particular, in wet areas, willow carr or wet wood.

Hedgerow

In general, hedgerows, or hedges, are field boundaries formed from lengths of shrubs or bushes, either of planted origin or the remnants of a previously wooded area, and are largely intended to contain stock.

Whilst often acting as a barrier to erosion they also provide character to the landscape, and may even be of archaeological importance.

Hedgerows are particularly valuable for wildlife, providing cover for birds and small mammals, as well as containing trees and shrubs which bear berries and other fruit on which wildlife can feed.

Additionally, they also act as transitional routes for wildlife and help to connect habitats, such as small stands of trees or ponds,  which may otherwise be isolated.

Additionally, hedgerows may act as a buffer to mowing and other farming practices, protecting vegetation growing adjacent to them, so often there is an associated headland of uncut grasses and wildflowers, growing in the lea of the hedge.

Grasslands

The dominant habitat present in the Country Park is lowland grassland, which in west Leeds are generally neutral or acidic in nature depending on specific location.

As with many areas of grassland on the Coal Measures, these areas are not particularly ecologically diverse (as compared with the magnesium limestone on the eastern fringe of the Leeds District), and are often associated with damp ground and grazing.

Grasslands situated in valley bottoms, such as along the Aire valley, tend to be neutral and sometimes rather wet, as they are supported by clay and loam based soils which are influenced by a high water table. They are also the most representative type of grassland in west Leeds.

Where soils are more free draining, the grassland edges towards acidic, and these areas tend to be situated on higher ground, such as that found to the north and west of the Country Park.

Grassland is essentially a man-made habitat which over the years has largely been managed or improved, but if left to its own devices would revert to scrub and finally woodland.

The historic land use of both neutral and acid grasslands in the country park has been pastoral rather than arable, resulting in mainly agricultural semi improved grasslands, with some improved areas. This means that there has been some human interference, such as ploughing, reseeding, and the application of herbicides and artificial fertiliser to provide a grass sward suited to grazing.

Reference to improved and semi – improved grassland in this context refers to agricultural practices which have been adopted in order to increase the fertility of the soil.  Such practices generally result in inferior growing conditions for wildflowers, which prefer impoverished soils and are unable to compete with more vigorous cultivated grasses.

There are also some small isolated pockets of unimproved grassland within the WLCP, though such habitats are quite rare, and consequently quite important in nature conservation terms.

In addition to these areas of semi natural grassland, there are also large tracts of amenity and highly improved grassland, such as sports pitches, roadside verges, recreation ground and some grade 2 arable land.

Wetlands

As expected, wetland areas are generally concentrated along water courses, and consist of either areas of running or static open water or their wet, inundated margins and areas of flush.

The River Aire is the most significant stretch of open water in the Country Park, and the water course and its associated floodplain dominates and influences the landscape and ecology of the Upper Aire valley in Leeds.

In recent years the water quality of the Aire has improved, although under the River Ecosystem Classification set out by the Environment Agency it is still categorised as fairly good (RE3) to poor (RE5), depending on proximity from Leeds city centre.

Under the Water Framework Directive the Environment Agency classifies the River Aire as “at risk”, in terms of pollution, and a biological classification based on various sampling sites. It falls between  E - poor biology restricted to pollution tolerant species and F - biology limited to a small number of species very tolerant of pollution.

However, recent sightings of otter and salmon in and close to the city centre would suggest that there is improvement, which is ongoing.  The development of tertiary treatment works at Esholt and the consolidation of sewerage treatment at Knostrop has contributed to these improvements.

The River Aire floodplain supports a diverse and important range of wetland habitats, none more so than within the meander which envelopes Rodley Nature Reserve. Here a collection of wetland habitats, including standing water lagoons, wet grassland, Phragmites reedbed, marsh and river and riverbank have been developed and are managed for wildlife by the Rodley Nature Reserve Trust.

There are also a number of smaller watercourses flowing through the Country Park, such as Pudsey Beck, Farnley Beck, Tyersal Beck, Oil Mill Beck and Gill Beck as well as remnant goits and mill races which served pre 20th Century industry. These streams are generally characterised by a narrow channel and faster flowing water, but due to an increase in flow, they rarely support vegetation. Their oxygen rich waters however, make these particularly attractive to aquatic invertebrates and vertebrates, which in turn attract water birds such as Kingfisher, Heron, Dipper and Grey Wagtail.

Running parallel with the River Aire is the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Lacking a flood plain, the canal forms an encapsulated watercourse, but is equally as important for wildlife, and a five mile section has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, as it is the best example of a slow flowing freshwater habitat in West Yorkshire. The canal supports a diverse range of aquatic plant species and communities, and the presence of Hair-like Pondweed (Potamogeton trichoides) in the canal is significant as it  is scare and declining in the county, whilst Ridged Hornwort and Arrowhead both have a restricted distribution, but again are present.

A number of standing water bodies exist within the WLCP, the largest of which is Farnley balancing reservoir, which is situated close to the outer ring road at Farnley. Covering an area of 6.3 hectares, the reservoir is managed by Yorkshire Water to control fluctuating water levels in Farnley Beck, but is also a magnet for waterfowl and gulls.

Biodiversity 

The wildlife associated with the various habitats contained within the Country Park is often specific to broad habitat types, but where these merge, such as on the edge of woodland or along wetland margins, the range and diversity is increased.

The presence of numerous green corridors, such as along the Aire Valley, are also particularly important to the biodiversity of the Country Park, as they facilitate the spread and help to sustain populations.

Whilst, to some extent, much of the wildlife in the Country Park is not particularly unusual, the presence of some animal and plant species, such as bats (all species), bluebells and kingfishers, which are considered endangered or threatened, means that they receive special protection due to their status.

The principal mechanism set up to afford this protection is legislation set up under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). This contains a number of specific Schedules, under which vulnerable flora and fauna and their habitats receive protection from destruction, capture and disturbance. The Wildlife and Countryside Act is also supplemented by  the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994.

In some cases, where appropriate, this can be mitigated by the issuing of licences from Natural England and / or Defra. These should be sought if habitat / access work is to take place where protected species exist, otherwise the work will be considered to contravene legislation in the Wildlife and Countryside Act, resulting in a fine.

Other legislation affording protection to biodiversity and its habitats includes the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000), the Protection of Badgers Act (1992), The Deer Act (1991).

Although widespread in Britain, with populations representing 25% to 49% of the world population, the bluebell is globally threatened. Within the West Leeds Country Park however there are a number of woodlands providing a stronghold for this iconic flower of our woodlands, including Hunger Hills and Calverley Woods.

Environment Agency - River Ecosystem Classification:

RE1

Very good quality (suitable for all fish species)

RE2

Good quality (suitable for all fish species)

RE3

Fairly good quality (suitable for high-class coarse fisheries)

RE4

Fair quality (suitable for coarse fisheries)

RE5

Fair quality (suitable for coarse fisheries)

Environment Agency -  Biological quality Classification

A - very good

Biology similar to that expected for an unpolluted river

B - good

Biology is a little short of an unpolluted river

C - fairly good

Biology worse than expected for unpolluted river

D - Fair

A range of pollution tolerant species present

E - poor

Biology restricted to pollution tolerant species

F - bad

Biology limited to a small number  of species very tolerant of pollution

West Leeds Country Park and Green Gateways

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