Pic: PhilYeomans/BNPS

A team of ecologists has begun work at Blenheim to help safeguard vital wildlife habitats ahead of the £9m Lake Dredge Project, which is due to get under way in April. 

The Queen Pool, is now so shallow you can almost walk across it so a £12 million pound plan has been launched to save ‘Englands finest view’ after a report revealed the lake at Blenheim is so badly silted that it could disappear completely.

Blenheim Palace is embarking on a huge restoration of its lakes which will see a fleet of diggers dredge 400,000 tonnes of silt – enough to fill Wembley Stadium to its roof.

The radical work is urgently needed as the two lakes have become so shallow – just 12 inches in many places – that they are at risk of drying out completely.

If that happened the stability of the iconic 307-year-old Vanbrugh Bridge would be threatened and with it the landscape created 240-years-ago by legendary gardener Capability Brown.

Wildlife surveys carried out by Oxfordshire’s BSG Ecology ahead of the dredging has revealed the estate is home to a huge variety of wildlife including more than 50% of the UK’s different bat species, 36 different species types of wildfowl, water voles, badgers, otters, reptiles and a number of rare insect species.

“In preparation for lake dredging work to begin in the spring, we undertook a wildlife audit at Blenheim, identifying key species that need to be protected, said Roy Cox, Estates Director.

“Where necessary we will be setting up soft release pens and traps to move water vole populations away from any potential disturbance and we will also be providing alternative nesting boxes for bats and other species, 

“With the all-clear given from our ecologists, we have already begun removing scrub and reeds to enable access to the Queen Pool in readiness for the project to begin,” he said.  

In addition to re-locating water voles and fish, work will also be carried out to improve habitats and environments, encouraging existing species to flourish as well as attract new ones once the dredge is completed. 

“The dredge will allow us to ensure the long-term survival of this crucially important habitat and means we will be able to continue to be a haven for so many native wildlife species,” Roy added.

The project has been endorsed by Natural England who recognise that Blenheim Park is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and the lakes are one of the largest areas of open water in Oxfordshire being of regional importance for both breeding and wintering birds. 

“The Lake Dredge project will not only transform and enhance the historic environment for future generations, it will dramatically improve the SSSI condition, said Samantha Merrell, Lead Adviser at Natural England. 

“This will help us to deliver environmental improvements that benefit this regionally important site and the wildlife that depend on it; including over-wintering migrating wading birds such as gadwall, and great crested grebe, plus other water fowl including pochard, tufted duck, mallard, shoveler and teal,” she added.

Blenheim also aims to become carbon negative within five years. By 2025 Blenheim intends to have 50% of its visitors arrive in a carbon friendly way, generate double the energy it consumes through renewable production, reduce the carbon footprint of its current buildings by 25% and construct all new buildings to EPC Grade A rating. 

Blenheim will also introduce a network of cycle and pedestrian routes across its land.