In 2009 Ely Wildspace acquired, through the generosity of a donor, a parcel of land 1 ha in area on the east side of the Ely Sailing Club pit. It is an area of damp woodland with numerous mature trees, but as it had not been managed for some years, there were scarcely any open areas or understorey vegetation. These conditions provided limited habitat for ground flora and for a number of species of scrub-nesting and ground-nesting birds.
The land is within the Ely Pits and Meadows SSSI, and following consultation with Natural England permission was given to coppice small trees and tall scrub to create two glades in an area of around 400 m2. Volunteers carried out the clearance, and then over two winters in 2015 and 2016 planted the areas with shrubs, mostly hazel and field maple. The shrubs were fitted with spiral guards and chicken wire cages to protect them against voles, rabbits and deer. During the spring and summer months volunteers cleared the ruderal vegetation that sprang up in the clearings. The protected shrubs have grown quickly and will benefit from pruning to increase the density of cover. On the other hand the regrowth from the unprotected coppice stools has been slower owing to browsing by deer or rabbits.
The creation of this niche habitat may benefit a number of bird (and flora) species, but the main target of Ely Wildspace is the nightingale. BTO figures indicate that since 1967 the nightingale population of Britain, which is confined to England, fell by over 90 per cent. Nightingales are present in the Ely Wildspace area (usually along Kiln Lane) almost every year but they haven’t stayed to breed for several years. They need a well-defined structure of scrubby thicket to set up their territories, bare ground for feeding and thick vegetation for the low-level nest. We hope that by providing more suitable habitat for them we may encourage them to stay.