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!
© Peacock Butterfly
At the end of May, my grandma was lucky enough to find a bumblebee nest in her garden… in the outside wall of her house! This may sound worrying to some, but having become a member of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in 2016 I was instantly excited and told her not to disturb it. Bumblebees are harmless and only the females will sting if they feel threatened. They do not cause structural damage as they use material which is already available to make their nests and they will only live for about 2 to 3 months, meaning nests are empty by late autumn.
It is brilliant being able to watch a living, working bumblebee colony as it is a well-known fact that our bumblebees are in trouble! There are 24 species of bumblebee in the UK but many of these such as the Great yellow bumblebee which used to have a wide UK distribution, are now less common and can only found in a few locations. Around 13 species of bee have been lost since 1900 and another 35 are considered under threat of extinction. This decline is largely due to changes in agricultural practices, the removal of flowers from the landscape, the loss of habitat and exposure to harmful pesticides. ‘Bees are vital to a healthy environment and healthy economy. Around 75% of the food we eat needs to be pollinated, and bees – wild bees, not just honey bees – are major players in that job. Bees also help keep our green spaces flourishing. That includes gardens, parks and streets, as well as uncultivated areas like woodland, heath and grasslands’ which is why it is important that we must help to save bees and other pollinating insects! You can financially help the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in many ways but also physically get involved, perhaps as part of #30DaysWild to show your support.
The Great British Bee Count has been set up by ‘Friends of the Earth’ and lasts until 30th June this year, so you still have time to take part. All you have to do is download the free Great British Bee Count app and get counting. The app will help you identify and record different species, whilst your recordings will help experts build an understanding of species, distribution and how bees are getting on in the UK in general. Eventually, the information that is collected will be shared with other expert researchers, government ecologists and ‘environmental decision-makers’, even go towards conservation programmes and of course the future protection of our pollinators!
The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has some brilliant information about how to identify bees and also has some lovely illustrations on their website of the UK’s most common bumblebees.
© I took this photograph at Middleton Lakes RSPB reserve in 2016.
Have you spotted any rare bees this year so far, or are you lucky enough to have a bumblebee nest in your garden? I would love to know!
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:
- Discover: To ensure scientific evidence is in place to support bat conservation
- Act: To secure and enhance bat populations and their resilience in a changing world
- Inspire: To win the levels of support required to secure and enhance bat populations
- 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
© Tree at Beacon Hill, Leicestershire.
- Loose bark for roosting
- Woodpecker holes for roosting
- Rot holes for roosting
- Feeding perches and protection during bad weather
- A linear navigation aid
- Cracks, splits and crevices for roosting
- Hollow trunks for winter hibernation (if frost-free)
- 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!
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:
- House sparrow
- Blue tit
- Great tit
- 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!