Big Butterfly Count

Tomorrow is the start of this year’s ‘Big Butterfly Count‘ – a nationwide survey (and the world’s largest butterfly survey) held by the British charity, Butterfly Conservation and Waitrose, to gain an understanding of the health of our environment.  Counting butterflies helps determine natural health as they “react very quickly to change in their environment which makes them excellent biodiversity indicators“.  If we begin to see a reduction in butterfly numbers and/or species, it could warn us of other wildlife declines.

To take part, you simply have to count the butterflies that you see in any location within a 15 minute time period.  Like the Big Garden Birdwatch, if you are counting in a single area, you should count the maximum number of each species that you can see at a single time.  However, if you decide to count the butterflies you see on a 15 minute walk for example, then you can add up the number of each species that you come across.

Your results, even if you see no butterflies, will not only support the environmental health assessment, but also help the charity identify species’ trends and consequently develop protection plans.

To help you with your 15 minute butterfly count, you can download a useful identification chart from the Butterfly Conservation!  Once your sightings have been tallied up, you then simply have to submit your results online or via the free Big Butterfly Count app.

The Big Butterfly Count runs from Friday 14 July to Sunday 6 August, so if you find yourself with a spare 15 minutes, do something wild, get counting and have fun!

pb© Peacock Butterfly

Eyas Update

It is week four of the NTU peregrine falcon chicks’ development and I am honestly amazed at how quickly they are growing!  I noticed yesterday that the cameras were off for a while, so knew that it was ‘ringing time’.  It was exciting to later read that the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and NTU Sustainability team had indeed finally ringed the chicks and found out that there are three females and one male!  To ring the chicks, the team waited for the parents to leave the nest and then quickly fitted a small, lightweight, harmless, metal ring around the leg of each eyas.  Ringing birds is essential for bird conservation as it helps provide information about their movements, locations and lifespans.

Some brilliant photographs taken during the ringing process.  (Thank you for these Emily).

The images below are just a few stills from the NTU live stream that I have saved.  Archie and Mrs P have been providing a constant supply of feral pigeons and other medium sized birds for the eyases and as you can see in the fifth image, their crops have been nice and full.  Although one chick is smaller than the others (and has been nicknamed ‘Diddy’ on Facebook) all four are getting their fair share of food… I even caught one of them possibly ‘gaping’ for food whilst both parents were away, which you can see in the sixth image!

On May 13th, I noticed that all four chicks were starting to grow their flight and contour feathers, and yesterday (16th) the new darker feathers were poking through their down quite clearly (image eight).  The chicks may have changed a lot already, but we still have plenty of development to see.  At this stage they have gained a sharp eyesight and are very interested in anything that moves – whether it be a fly or blowing feather.  Their legs are getting stronger and they are a lot more active in the scrape.

In the next week or so, they will lose most of their down apart from a few tufts on their heads (hopefully – for our amusement) and will be showing off their juvenile feathers.  We may see them flapping their wings and before long, in week six, the eyases may fledge the nest for the first time!  They should remain around the nest-site for a few weeks, during which time they will become adept at flying, pursue other birds and capture their own food, but will still rely on their parents for most of their food.  Around August they will leave the nest for good… and I must say that I will certainly miss watching them!

Hedgehog Awareness Week 2017

This week (30th April to 6th May) is Hedgehog Awareness Week, an annual event organised by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.  Often called the ‘gardener’s friend’, hedgehogs are lovely, harmless creatures, but sadly since the year 2000, “rural hedgehog populations have declined by at least a half and urban populations by up to a third in the same period” across the UK.   #hedgehogweek consequently aims to highlight the problems which are causing this decline and suggest ways in which the public can help.

The declining hedgehog population in both urban and rural habitats where the pressures and changes in the environment are very different is not simple to explain, as there could be many contributing factors.  Hedgehog Street, “a campaign aimed at ensuring the hedgehog, the UK’s only spiny mammal, remains a common and familiar part of British life”, is a fantastic website with information, FAQ’s and tips for helping hedgehogs.

Some simple, instant ways that you can help hedgehogs in your garden are:

  • Ensuring there is hedgehog access in your garden – a 13cm x 13cm gap in boundary fences and walls.
  • Moving piles of rubbish to a new site before burning it.
  • Ensuring netting is kept at a safe height.
  • Checking compost heaps before digging the fork in.
  • Stopping / reducing the amount of pesticides and poisons used.
  • Covering drains or deep holes.
  • Ensuring there is an easy route out of ponds and pools.
  • Piling up some logs in the corner of your garden.
  • Putting out a dish of fresh water in hot weather.
  • Planting nectar-rich plants to encourage insects for hedgehogs to eat.

You can also spread the word about #hedgehogweek by:

  • Holding a fundraising event, such as a cake sale, coffee morning or jumble sale.
  • Displaying information in your work place, school, library, local shop, etc.
  • Writing blog posts about hedgehogs.
  • Following BHPS on Facebook and Twitter and retweeting / liking / sharing information and posts to your page.
  • Taking a selfie with the BHPS #hedgehogweek sign and sending it out via social media using the #hedgehogweek hashtag.

Each year, the week focuses on a different campaign, and this year is the ‘Strimmer Campaign’.  The British Hedgehog Preservation Society has created waterproof stickers to be sent to councils, tool hire companies, grounds maintenance teams etc. to remind them to check areas for hedgehogs before using any machinery.  You can help with this particular campaign by contacting your local council or tool hire shop to ask if they are willing to use the free stickers from BHPS on their machines – if they are, they can then contact BHPS directly on info@britishhedgehogs.org.uk.

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What are your plans for Hedgehog Awareness Week?

Bat Conservation

We are at that point in the year when bats have mainly come out of hibernation – they are hungry, active and feeding on most nights… and I have been looking forward to their return!  Last year, I attended a BioBlitz event during which I went on a ‘Twilight Bat Walk’ with the LRWT and detected several pipistrelles.  As a result, I now have my very own ‘Magenta Bat4’ bat detector and will be out and about with it over the next couple of months to see what I can detect.  At the end of January, BatLife Europe revealed that the 2016 ‘Bat species of the Year’ was the ‘Noctule’ – one of the largest British species and usually the first to appear in the evening, so hopefully I will see one!

I also adopted a bat through the Bat Conservation Trust, a fantastic charity which has been devoted to the conservation of bats and the landscapes on which they rely since 1991.  “As the authoritative voice for bat conservation” they work locally, nationally, across Europe and internationally to:

  1. Discover: To ensure scientific evidence is in place to support bat conservation 
  2. Act: To secure and enhance bat populations and their resilience in a changing world
  3. Inspire: To win the levels of support required to secure and enhance bat populations
  4. Strengthen: BCT to achieve financial stability and sustainable staff workloads. Staff and volunteers are motivated and well led.

There are many ways that you can help the BCT, and consequently help the fascinating but vulnerable bats – you can adopt a bat like I have, become a member, volunteer, even encourage them into your garden with night-scented flowers, wild sections and ponds!  Now that summer is approaching, imagine how lovely it would be if you could spend the evening sitting in your garden, “watching as daylight turns to dusk and bats begin to fill the night sky”.

Alternatively, if you are unable to turn your garden into a bat haven, trees and woodland are important to all 18 UK bat species throughout the whole year.  Signing the Tree Charter will help create more habitat for bats and other wildlife, but also visiting areas with linear features, such as hedgerows and tree-lines will give you more of a chance of seeing and/or detecting bats.

The importance of trees for bats

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© Tree at Beacon Hill, Leicestershire.

Trees provide:

  1. Loose bark for roosting
  2. Woodpecker holes for roosting
  3. Rot holes for roosting
  4. Feeding perches and protection during bad weather
  5. A linear navigation aid
  6. Cracks, splits and crevices for roosting
  7. Hollow trunks for winter hibernation (if frost-free)
  8. Dense ivy for occasional roosting

Have you made your garden bat-friendly, or know of an area where bats thrive?  If so, I would love to hear from you!

The Tree Charter

Trees and woods are extremely important – they provide clean air, absorb pollution, create a habitat for wildlife, improve mental well-being, are natural flood defences, are scientifically valuable… the list goes on.  Sadly though, with numerous threats including infrastructure development, lack of protection for ancient woodland in planning policy (only 2% cover in the UK) and increasing pests and diseases, there are just not enough trees in the UK and we are currently not planting enough to replace those that are lost each year.

However, on 6 November this year, which will be the 800th anniversary of the influential 1217 Charter of the Forest, the Charter for Trees, Woods and People will be launched!  “The Tree Charter will set out how people and trees should be able to benefit each other. The guidelines and principles it contains will be applicable to policy, business practice and individual action”.  

The Tree Charter Principles cover:

  1. Thriving habitats for diverse species
  2. Planting for the future
  3. Celebrating the cultural impact of trees
  4. A thriving forestry sector that delivers for the UK
  5. Better protection for important trees and woods
  6. Enhancing new developments with trees
  7. Understanding and using the natural health benefits of trees
  8. Access to trees for everyone
  9. Addressing threats to woods and trees through good management
  10. Strengthening landscapes with woods and trees

Over 70 organisations from various sectors are working together with the Woodland Trust to create a future in which trees and people can stand together… and you can be part of it too.  Simply sign the Tree Charter and a tree will be planted!  The more signatures, the more trees!

The Results Are In!

If you remember from My Big Garden Birdwatch Results blog post at the end of January, I took part in the RSPB’s annual birdwatch, and I am sure many of you did too!  The RSPB has been collecting and counting the results from over half a million people over the last couple of months and the results are now available here!

The top 10 birds of 2017:

  1. House sparrow
  2. Starling
  3. Blackbird
  4. Blue tit
  5. Woodpigeon
  6. Goldfinch
  7. Robin
  8. Great tit
  9. Chaffinch
  10. Long tailed tit

Over 8 million birds were counted, with some interesting results.  Goldfinch, blackbird and robin numbers have all increased over the last 10 years.  Waxwing sightings were very high this year (I wish I had seen one) due to “a lack of berries in their native Scandinavia” prompting them to travel to the UK, even as far west as Wales and Ireland!

Along with the increases though, there unfortunately had to be some decreases!  Surprisingly sightings of blue tits, great tits and coal tits were all down by at least 10% on last year’s figures.  Also since the first RSPB Garden Birdwatch in 1979, greenfinch, starling and chaffinch numbers have all dropped too (despite the latter two being in this year’s top 10).

The RSPB is a brilliant charity and by running the Big Garden Birdwatch, they not only encourage people to take an interest in wildlife and give nature a home, but also allow us to know and understand which birds are doing well and which are not.  We can then help, take action, monitor and hopefully make a difference!

The Major Oak

It has been a busy few months, but recently ‘the Green & the Wild’ has been calling… so here I am, ready to write about the beautifully fading green and welcomed wildlife of Autumn and Winter in the UK.

I awoke this past Sunday to a lovely, crisp, blue-skied morning – the ideal day for a ramble outdoors.  Hoping for a day like this, my partner Ed and I had bought some picnic food and planned to drive to Sherwood Forest after having seen the magical ‘Major Oak’ tree on television a few weeks before.  I was amazed that I had not heard of ‘Britain’s Favourite Tree’ before, and living only a 90 minute drive away, Ed was equally as amazed that I had never visited it as a child, as he had done several times.

After a simple, pleasant drive, we arrived at Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre car park, where we paid our £3 parking fee (very reasonable we thought) and headed for the map to get our bearings.  There were three different marked routes through the forest to pick from, each of varying length, so we opted for the two hour walk… but first the Major Oak!  A five minute stroll took us straight to the 800+ year old Oak, which like a wise old man full of stories and memories, stood, resting on several stilts.  I spent a good while studying it’s branches, golden leaves and aged bark, picturing the hundreds of years of change that had taken place to it and the surrounding forest – my own imagined time lapse.

“Due to its national importance, conservation measures to the tree have been carried out continually since 1908” which is very important as despite it’s age and hollow core, the Major Oak still supports a variety of insects and creatures.  Jackdaws nest there, Winter Moth Caterpillars take nutrients from the leaves and in turn provide food for Blue Tits and their chicks.  In Autumn, Squirrels forage for the tree’s precious acorns, but not only them – rangers also collect and plant the acorns “so even though the Major might be nearing the end of its life, its descendants live on” – how lovely is that!?

The two hour walk that followed was just as wonderful and awe-inspiring.  It was a pleasure spending time amongst so many veteran trees and walking across nature’s different carpets, from dark-leaf mud to freshly fallen yellow paths, all glittered with the delicate warmth and light of autumnal sunbeams.

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Find out more about Sherwood Forest and the Major Oak here.

Woodland Conservation Management

With only a couple of weeks left of my Ecology, Conservation and Habitat Management course, it is the latter, Habitat Management that I have been reading up on recently and more specifically, it is Woodland Conservation Management that I have been particularly interested in.

Woodland is extremely rich in species, but unfortunately every single one cannot be individually managed.  Certain groups of plants and animals however have become the main focal points for woodland conservation management, as they ultimately benefit many other species.  Some of the main species may use a range of habitats for example, or may even be very rare and specialised, which are equally as important.

So what are these groups and management plans?

Tree communities

There are around 54 types of tree community today in ancient woodland, and most are genetically the direct descendants of the original trees that grew.  Trees of the same type can be found in all areas of Britain, but no one individual tree will harbour all of the insect/lichen/bird/fauna species that are known to be associated with that type, or even the woodland it is in.  This is due to climatic and geographical variations in different areas of Britain.

To maintain the variety of trees and therefore species that benefit from them, it is important that semi-natural tree communities are managed through natural regeneration (the growth of trees that develop from seeds that fall and germinate on site) and/or by planting new trees of local provenance.

Ground flora

Like the tree communities, ground flora varies greatly from one woodland to another due to location variations and actually tends to be more abundant and concentrated in ancient woodland than in newer woodland.  However, the isolation of ancient woods, could in fact lead to the extinction of some plant and invertebrate species (particularly those with poor mobility), so it is important that such species are encouraged to colonise or re-colonise to avoid extinction from habitiat deterioration.  Open spaces and development of young growth are both vital for certain species.

Epiphytic flora and fungi

Plants that grow harmlessly upon another plant and derive moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and sometimes from debris are called epiphytes, and many mature trees in relatively unpolluted parts of Britain carry an interesting and huge array of epiphytic flora and fungi (including more than 70 species of lichens alone).  Particularly in the west of the country, these epiphytes are very rich and resemble those that lived in the original forests.

Epiphytes need to be conserved with methods such as partial-cutting to ensure that the mature tree communities they grow on remain in particular woodland sites and continue to naturally regenerate.

Small mammals

There are several small mammals in British woodlands that are rare and thankfully protected, and one of these is the Dormouse.  The Dormouse is an elusive nocturnal mammal which can be found mainly in woodlands in the southern counties of the UK. Over the last 100 years its distribution has declined and it is now extinct in 7 counties where it previously existed. This is mainly due to changes in woodland management and habitat fragmentation.  They feed on a combination of plant materials including flowers, fruits and nuts as well as insects, so it is important to manage sites specifically for them or any other rare species.  Good management will help increase numbers and make the site more ‘valuable’.

Management for small mammals must include the provision of nest-boxes, tracking and surveying, coppicing and the encouragement of mixed species in the woodland to ensure good food supplies.

Birds

Although birds are different to most other woodland groups in terms of being very mobile, woodlands still have to be managed to ensure a range of birds benefit.  Some species prefer mature, native trees or depend on dense close-canopy scrub, whereas others are associated with replanted areas.

Woodland management for birds is therefore concentrated on maintaining a mixture of age classes, by reducing the amount of old habitat deterioration and creating new suitable habitats.

Butterflies and moths

Many woodland butterflies and moths inhabit areas of young growth where nectar sources and food-plants for their larvae can be found.  There has been declines in several species for many years however, and this is due to many things including woods becoming isolated which in turn weakens the ability for colonisation, as well as a reduction in coppicing which would produce new growth.

Understanding the complex life cycles of butterflies and moths provides an insight into what they need from woodland habitats and could provide the answer to effective conservation.  Each stage may require a different habitat, from sheltered, warm places to areas that are plentiful in food sources, so management must concentrate on providing nectar-rich areas and suitable habitat for egg-laying and larval development.

Saproxylic invertebrates

These animals depend on dead, decaying or living wood and fungi to survive, so it is important that areas of mature trees, or even individuals are maintained and protected, to avoid dead wood being removed which would ultimately reduce or destroy the specialised habitats of many saproxylic invertebrates, including beetles and flies.  Populations of such species rely on old wood being in a specific condition, so it is vital at these sites that the continuity of prime wood and trees is considered.

 

BioBlitz 2016

Leicester City Council’s annual BioBlitz event took place at Welford Road Cemetery this year, on the 20th and 21st May.  Working together with TCV and other organisations to promote biodiversity, experts, specialists and the general public were able to record the diversity of plants, birds, invertebrates, mammals and many more species at the site in less than 24 hours.  With a target of finding 500 species, a number of trails, activities and guided walks were offered to all, two of which I attended.

Twilight Bat walk

This was a very pleasant evening, full of young and old, enthusiasts and novices alike.  Two bat experts from Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust took half of the group each, handed out some sonic bat detectors and informed us that we were likely to detect the ‘common pipistrelle’, Britain’s smallest and most common species.  They measure between 3-5cm, have a wingspan of 18-24cm and weigh about the same as a 2p coin!  We promptly tuned our detectors to 45kHz, as this is the frequency of a pip’s echolocation, and began our walk.  It didn’t take long before the detectors were ‘peeping’ and two pipistrelles were spotted against the gloaming-sky.  Further down the path we were treated to a lengthy performance by another pip, which every so often was joined by a second.  This was the highlight of the night, for we were able to hear their calls and feeding buzzes wonderfully and truly experience and appreciate this little bat.

History and Habitat guided walk

Having experienced the Cemetery in owl-light, the History and Habitat walk allowed myself and a handful of others to see the area in it’s full glory.  Now, I have always lived a stone’s throw away from Welford Road Cemetery, but have only visited it once as a child, and I must say, after attending this event and learning about Leicester’s oldest municipal cemetery, it will now be a regular spot for me to walk and take photographs.

The Cemetery opened in 1849 and covers around 31 acres of land.  Due to it’s location and beautiful views over the City, it was used by many as a ‘park’ and in fact today, it is listed Grade 2 in the English heritage Register of Parks and Gardens.  What is special about the Cemetery is that it is designated as a Local Wildlife Site and contains a number of important habitats.  At almost 170 years old, many of the beautiful trees including Cedar, Horse Chestnut and Ash provide valuable roosting sites for bats and birds.  Decaying sections of Beech trees create havens for many insects, plants and fungi.  The ‘managed’ grassland meadows are rich in plant life and home to numerous Ant-hills.  Ivy on headstones provides cover for small nesting birds and produces nectar for insects.  Although we didn’t spot any during our walk, the site is home to larger animals too, including Wild Rabbits, Foxes and even Muntjac Deer (the latter of which I am still amazed about).