Big Butterfly Count 2018

If you didn’t know already, the Big Butterfly Count is once again running this month until the 12th August.

I have noticed a lot more butterflies (particularly whites) flying around this summer compared to last year, so thought the count would be a great way of noting and identifying what I see.  I chose to do my fifteen minute count on a walk around my local cemetery, which I have written about numerous times!  It is a lovely old grade II listed site, which is no longer used for new burials but is open all year round for visitors to walk around the 12+ hectares and admire the wildflower areas which are there to “maintain and protect a decreasing inner-city habitat and monitor native flora and fauna within the cemetery”.  I therefore thought that this would be an ideal area for counting butterflies!

The idea behind the survey is that you count the highest number of one species you see at the same time (if you are in one spot like a garden) or if on a walk like I was, then to add up the number of each butterfly species that you see during the 15 minutes.  I started by heading towards a large patch of lavender as I knew there would be several there and as anticipated there were quite a few, but not as many as the bees – of which there must have been at least 70!  It was a wonderful sight to see, after having seen so many struggling in the heat this year.

Anyway, the first butterfly I saw was a pretty little Common Blue, followed quickly by many Whites (my ID skills led me to settle on 14x Large and 8x Small).  These were mainly in pairs.  I then walked back via a shaded area to see what else I could count and I managed to spot 6x Speckled Wood butterflies and a further two orangey-brown medium butterflies fluttering in a spiral together, but they were too quick to identify so I did not log those.

It is a really enjoyable activity to do on your own or with others, whether it be during your lunch break, on the way to work and when you are out and about at the weekend.  City or countryside, it doesn’t matter – all you need is the free app or the handy identification chart and something to note down your sightings to log online.  If you would like to take part, you can find out more about the project here.  In the meantime, why not check out my post about last year’s results!

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#30DaysWild Days 21-30

Well hasn’t it been a fantastic #30DaysWild?  I have really enjoyed taking the time to recognise how I connect with nature on a daily basis and pushing myself to do more.  The final ten days presented us with some lovely weather, and although at times it has been ‘too hot to handle’, I made the most of it for my final random acts of wildness…
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21.  The summer solstice meant that it was the longest day of the year.  At around 10pm it was still really light outside, but I noticed the moon was bright and beautiful.  I therefore grabbed my binoculars and did some moon-gazing.  Even with a pair of binoculars you can see craters and the distinctive ‘seas’.

22. I spent some time at my Grandma’s house in the afternoon before going for afternoon tea with her, my mum and sister.  Whilst I was there, we watched her garden birds and I topped up her new bird table with seeds and mealworms (which had all gone when we returned from our tea).

23. Saturday was spent at my in-laws house.  They had blue tits nesting in one of their birdhouses this year for the first time, and throughout May their eggs hatched and we could hear the chicks chirping as the adults went back and forth with little green caterpillars.  They hoped they would see them fledge before they went away on holiday at the beginning of June, but unfortunately they didn’t time it right.  We discussed the birds, when and how the fledging would have happened and are now hoping more nest there next year for us all to see!

24. It was my mum’s 60th birthday, so we had planned a lovely garden gathering to celebrate the day.  We literally spent all day outside relaxing in the wonderful sun (protected of course).  It was a very nice day indeed.

25. About two months ago, I was gardening and found a moth pupa under an upside down plant pot that I moved.  I left the pupa where it was and found it the next day half buried in the soil.  I kept checking on it, where it remained in the soil for weeks.  I couldn’t identify it so had no idea how long it was meant to be there for or if I would ever find out what sort of moth is was…

Then, last Monday evening (25th June) I went outside to see if it was okay in the heat and noticed the pupa now on top of the soil.  I hoped a cat hadn’t fatally dug it up… but then something caught my eye on the fence about 40cm away from the case!  A beautiful olive and pink Elephant Hawk-moth!!!  It stayed still for a few minutes and then it’s wings began to vibrate (which I managed to record).  I stayed and watched it until it flew off to start it’s new life as a moth.

26. It was a very busy day at work, but I made sure I left the office and had some time outside.  I walked to the park during my lunch hour and sat in the shade for a bit, watching the trees moving lightly in the breeze.

27. I planted a few sunflower seeds back in May, but as soon as the shoots started appearing, they were eaten by slugs!  A few weeks ago I read about a clever ‘hack’ and thought I would give it a go.  I found a recycled plastic bottle, cut it in half around the middle, added some holes and then covered one of the remaining seedlings with it.  The idea was that over the next couple of weeks this would act as a little ‘greenhouse’ as well as keeping pests away… and it actually worked!  I was able to remove it on the 27th as the plant had reached the top and another had also started to grow with it.  I separated these to avoid competition, so hopefully I will have at least one sunflower by the end of summer.

28. I have a half an hour walk each way to and from work every day, which is great for my fitness but can easily become repetitive and not pleasant when there is a lot of traffic and noise on the roads next to me.  On the 28th I had the opportunity to walk in from a different direction, across a sun-dappled park and enjoyed the peace and quiet very much!

29. Another thing I noticed on my usual route home (near the main roads) was just how much litter there was hidden in the long grass alongside the pavement!  My attention was drawn to it as a teenager was kicking a plastic bottle along the floor and instead of picking it up, decided to do a final big kick into the grass.  As soon as I got home, I looked online for local litter picking groups I could join and found the #LitterHeroes via Keep Britain Tidy where you can find events in your area, get advice and support on organising your own litter-pick and access Keep Britain Tidy resources.  I have signed up and will keep my eye open for local events.

30. My back yard is canopied by a lovely big tree, so I was able to comfortably keep out of the sun and spend some of the morning doing a bit of gardening and generally neatening up the outside area.

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#30DaysWild Days 11-20

June seems to be flying by… and I have another ten random acts of wildness to write about!  The majority this time unintentionally ended up being bird-themed.

11. It had been a while since I had been on a decent walk, so my boyfriend and I visited Dovedale in the Peak District.  As soon as we started our walk, a grey wagtail hopped on the path in front of us with a beak full of midges, flew up onto a branch at eye level and stayed there long enough for us to get a good look and some grainy phone photographs (neither of us had taken our proper cameras)!!  I was very excited as it was the first grey wagtail I had seen (that I am aware of) and I had been admiring them on Springwatch the week before.  The yellow of it’s underside was so bright and beautiful!

Grey wagtails unfortunately have a red status with the RSPB – red is the highest conservation priority, with species needing urgent action.

12. I decided to have a lunchtime stroll and watch magpies!  I am very fond of magpies, their large nests, their distinctive call… and always salute if I see one on it’s own.  There are often large numbers of magpies near my work and on this particular day, I noticed that there was something unusual about one.  After a while, I realised that it looked smaller and didn’t have a long tail – it was a lovely little juvenile exploring the ground!

13. I planted some chilli seeds back in April and as they had grown into two-inch tall seedlings, I re-potted them and gave some away to my family.

14. It was a lovely hot day (the beginning of the ‘heatwave’) and I had planned to visit my friend for the evening.  I chose to walk to her house via a conservation area, one of 24 in my city.  “Conservation areas are parts of the city that have been designated for their special historical or architectural quality.  They are areas where the preservation or enhancement of the unique townscape is particularly important and they add much to the city in terms of attractive living environments, historical and cultural significance and high quality design”.  Buildings and developments are controlled to preserve their character and appearance, the demolition of buildings is controlled and I am glad that trees are also protected in the conservation areas.

15. As some of you may have seen, there was a fascinating section on Springwatch about soundscapes and acoustic niche hypothesis which you can read about here.  I thought the idea of ‘Soundscape Ecology’ was brilliant and consequently listened to the soundscape of my back garden.

16. I have loved bird-watching since 2015 when I stayed in a lovely cottage in Anglesey.  It had its own woodland, a garden full of bird feeders and as a result, lots of amazing birds, including a great spotted woodpecker and a jay!  I have since spotted and watched many birds, so decided to treat myself to a little British birds Spotting & Jotting Guide by Matt Sewell, who just so happens to be one of my favourite illustrators too!

17. It was a Wildlife Weekend at Bradgate Park in Charnwood Forest and I went bat detecting!  The park usually closes just before dusk, but it was opened up at 9:30pm especially for the 30 odd people who attended the event.  It was run by the Leicestershire and Rutland Bat Group – a voluntary organisation formed in 1984, dedicated to the conservation of bats in the two counties.  My sister and I took our own bat detectors and the group handed out several to other people.  It was a slow start, but once we reached the River Lin, which runs through the Lower Park, we picked up regular ‘calls’ and detected several common pipistrelles, soprano pipistrelles, one or two Daubenton’s bats and noctules, which I was very pleased with, particularly the latter as you may remember from my post about Bat Conservation that I wanted to see one this year.

18. I spent a nice, chilled-out day in my dad’s garden, admiring the plants, flowers and of course, birds!

19. Having seen a glimpse of several ‘fork-tailed’ birds near my dad’s house, I wanted to learn how to distinguish between swifts, swallows and martins from just a silhouette.  I found a brilliant ID guide on the RSPB website but also discovered just how much swifts are in trouble.  “Their breeding numbers plummeted by 47 per cent between 1995-2014, making them an amber-listed species on the list of Birds of Conservation Concern”.  As a result, the RSPB would like to find out where swifts are seen and where they are nesting, so if you are aware of any, let them know by submitting your sightings to the Swift Survey.

20. A slow walk home from work in the heat called for a simple but pleasant act of wildness… a bit of bird identification using the BirdUp app on my phone.

What did you do for days 11-20 of #30DaysWild?

#30DaysWild Days 1-10

It is the 10th June today, meaning we are a third way through #30DaysWild.  Like last June, it has been a relatively rainy month so far, but I have managed to do my ten random acts of wildness:

1. I signed up for two online environmental courses through FutureLearn.  ‘Extinctions: Past and Present’ which starts on the 19th June.  This course is run by the University of Cape Town and will explore how life on earth has been shaped by five mass extinction events in the distant past and the crisis that biodiversity is currently facing.  The second course is ‘Elements of Renewable Energy’ which starts later in the year with the Open University.  I will be studying renewable energy using the four Greek elements: Earth –the Earth’s renewable energy sources, Air – wind power, Fire – the direct power of the Sun and finally, Water – hydropower.  I am very much looking forward to these, particularly the latter as on the 7th June 2017 the National Grid reported that power from wind, solar, hydro and wood pellet burning supplied 50.7% of UK energy – more than half of UK electricity for the first time!

2. One of my favourite lunch-time spots to visit when I am at work is Welford Road Cemetery.  It is designated as a Local Wildlife Site and is actually listed Grade 2 in the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens, so it is used by many as a ‘park’.  I spent by lunch break walking around the cemetery, taking in the views and spotting plenty of wild animals.

3. Although I love to be outdoors, I have got to admit that I am a bit of a shade-hunter… but I decided to make the most of the sun and actually stayed out in it all afternoon painting my Grandma’s shed.  I, of course, wore plenty of sun-cream and a rather fetching hat!

4. Last year, I grew my own tomatoes for the first time and absolutely loved it!  The plants were still going strong well in to October and I ended up making tomato chutney for Christmas!  I decided not to grow any from seed this year as I only have a small yard and one suitable windowsill which has been taken up by chilli seedlings for a couple of months, but I was given some large tomato seedlings ready to plant out, so that’s what I did – replanted them in a grow-bag in my garden.

5. I have recently become a voluntary ‘Positive Impact Coordinator’ for the Environment Team at the University where I work.  As part of my role, I organised a ‘Fruit & Veg cake sale’ in my office and also volunteered on the main cake stall at the annual Sustainability Festival.  The event fell on World Environment Day and aimed to raise awareness of sustainable lifestyles whilst raising money for The Real Junk Food Project Leicester.  The main event raised £60 and I managed to raise another £40 for them from my cake sale!

cakesale

These are just some of the cakes that my workmates and I baked.  The idea was that they each contained either a fruit or vegetable and at least one fair trade or ethically sourced ingredient.  I made savoury cheese and courgette muffins and chocolate, carrot and cinnamon cupcakes with chocolate cinnamon buttercream!

6. I had quite a busy day, but managed to share some of my favourite wildlife footage from live cameras with my family and friends.

7. For a few weeks now, I have noticed a row of ants keeping busy at the bottom of some outdoor steps at work.  The numbers have gradually been increasing and on the 7th I noticed that there were a lot more than I had previously seen, so watched and studied their actions for quite a while!

8. It was raining on and off, but having not spent much time outdoors recently, I decided it was time to do a random act of wildness in the fresh air!  Luckily I managed to get out on my lunch break during a dry spell and walk around a local park.

9. A nice simple random act of wildness for the 9th.  I gave my workmate two tomato plants that were going spare.  I will definitely be asking for updates on their progress over the summer!

10. I sowed a virtual seed for Grow Wild!  Grow Wild is the national outreach initiative of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and is supported by the Big Lottery Fund.  It is the UK’s biggest ever wild flower campaign and by sowing a virtual seed we can all help raise awareness of the importance of wild flowers and their impact on our well-being.  So join me and the 20,385 other people so far by sowing a virtual seed too!

Throughout the last ten days I have also been continuing to check the NTU peregrine falcon live stream footage, which has become less active as the chicks become more and more independent and of course, I have been watching Springwatch!  It has been brilliant seeing so many animals raising their young, watching wild birds fledge (including some jays) and learning how different birds and raptors nest!  I absolutely love the kestrel nest in the side of Sherborne village church – it looks cosy, sheltered and gets lit up beautifully by the sun at times.  

(Video from the Springwatch Facebook page)

One of my favourite stories on Springwatch so far has got to be the Salisbury Cathedral peregrines fostering an orphaned chick.  It began with three peregrine chicks having to be rescued from a nest in Shropshire after the parent birds were found illegally killed!  As a result, the orphaned chicks were fostered into carefully-selected nests in the wild – two went to a nest in the Midlands, and the third chick was fostered in the Salisbury Cathedral nest, which is currently being filmed and shown on Springwatch.  The footage of the orphaned chick meeting the single chick at Salisbury Cathedral, snuggling down together, being instantly fed by the adult female and being accepted by both adults as their own was a joy to watch!  You can read more about the story here.

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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© the Green & the Wild

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