Friday, 31 May 2013

It's a Bumblebee for sure - but which species?

Common carder bee - Bombus pascourum - I think!  
If you are like me, you may well struggle to correctly identify what species of bumblebee you are looking at!
Well, help is at hand, because The Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT) has launched a new ID feature today as part of their “BeeWatch” programme, to allow users to help identify each other's photos. But don’t panic – all photos will be verified by one of their experts!
Bumble Conservation Trust also has a great website for helping sort out those more troublesome beasties and also hints for what you can do on your own land, whether it is a window box you are planting up or a large estate!
I have worked with Jo Chesworth the BBCT advisor for the south west and she has helped me run joint GWCT & BBCT events for farmers, demonstrating how we can all help to supply more flower rich habitats, which are so important for a whole host of species – not just bumblebees.
It was great to see these farmers really becoming engaged with what they could do on their particular farms to help – spurred on greatly by the fact that Jo certainly knows her bees and is great at conveying her knowledge and enthusiasm to others – a gift that not all advisors have!!
So why not see what you can do to help and at the same time brush up on those ID skills by going to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website. 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Look smart, work hard and the girls will notice!

WOW - what a good looking guy!
Hey guys, it appears that if you want to attract a female and have lots of children with her, you had better put on your best bib and tucker and feather one’s own nest as much as possible – well, that is if you are a male house sparrow!!
 An international team lead by the University of Granada has found that female sparrows will invest more energy into laying eggs according to the male's ability to fill the nest with feathers which serve to insulate the chicks from the cold and keep them alive.
Lola García López de Hierro, (what a great name!) the study's main researcher, stated “we were able to conclude that the more feathers in the nest, the more eggs the sparrows laid!"

I didn’t know that apparently 90% of sparrows mate for life and keep the same partner from one year to the next; however, numerous factors influence the choice of mating partner. For example, the size of the black patch on the males' chest, commonly known as the bib, indicates their biological quality. "The bigger the patch, the higher the quality, an aspect that females can easily select for," the scientist explained.

I’m sitting here writing this in an old pair of jeans and a jumper full of holes – so I suppose I had better go and smarten myself up!   

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Councils should make further cuts!

Verge destruction!
In these times of severe budget cuts, we are continuously told that county councils have “no slack left” to prune things any further. So why then are Hampshire County Council, along with many other councils across the country as far as I can see, spending money on cutting road verges? Fine, cut back hedges and verges at road junctions and around important signs, but why on earth are they cutting the grass along the single track lane that passes my house, destroying the wonderful display of Cow Parsley that has just come into flower!  
Not only must they destroy many bird’s nests of species such Yellowhammer and Robin which nest very low down or even on the ground, but I expect also the little round tennis ball sized Harvest mice nests too. Also smashed up are many flowers such as Cowslip, which has not yet had time to set seed, in fact with such a late spring, most are still in flower. This really is unnecessary wildlife destruction and a total waste of money, so let’s make some more budget cuts – verge cutting cuts!  

Friday, 24 May 2013

Ash dieback - showing near you soon! (probably).

Mature Ash trees - such a part of our landscape
I clearly remember as a child when “Dutch Elm” disease hit this country. I was living just outside the village of Upton-upon-Severn in south Worcestershire, where the view from my bedroom window across the river Severn’s floodplain, was dominated by numerous large elm trees. Elms, along with giant Oaks, were the trees I was most familiar with and especially in the autumn, when the elms turned a golden yellow, gave real character to the whole landscape. The loss of these tall giants in a matter of a couple of years was a devastating blow to all who lived in the area and of course, this was mirrored across the country as a whole.   
So it is with real sadness that I now read about Ash die back disease (also known as Chalara dieback disease) which already appears to have become widespread across the country. The latest confirmed findings (As of May 13th 2013) which have been recently published are: Nursery sites – 23, recently planted sites – 295, wider environment, e.g. established woodland – 182.  Total: 500. In these figures, Wales has had its first cases in the ‘wider environment’ confirmed. 
The Forestry Commission has posted a video online showing the symptoms to look for at this time of year to check whether ash trees have Chalara dieback. The new video, further information about Chalara dieback including a map of confirmed locations, and access to Tree Alert are available from the Forestry Commission.
We will all have to wait and see how this new disease changes our landscape and what impact the potential loss of such a common tree will have on our British wildlife.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Turtle dove pays me a visit!

Turtle dove on my lawn!
Yesterday I talked about the depressing report entitled “The State of Nature” which told the story of massive wildlife declines across Britain. If I had to choose a species that demonstrates this huge drop in numbers better than most others, I would probably pick the Turtle Dove as it has declined by an alarming 93% since 1970. What is more, whereas some farmland bird species, although still declining, show some signs of hope that their numbers may possibly be turned around, the Turtle Dove shows all the signs of heading rapidly towards extinction in the UK.
So, imagine my surprise when peering out of the bedroom window at 6.30am this morning, there on my lawn was a pristine Turtle dove! I am still scattering mixed corn onto the grass,  which backs onto open farmland here in Hampshire, as Yellowhammer in particular are continuing to arrive in good numbers (a dozen + at present) along with Chaffinch and a pair of Collared dove. I also had one of these stunning migrant doves last year in May in exactly the same place, but I only saw it once - I'm hoping that this one may come back having found a good food source. While we still continue to have this bird returning to our shores each spring, there is some hope that we can save it, but “urgency” is the key word here, as once lost, it is unlikely that we could ever get it back again.  I will put out plenty of extra rations onto my lawn this morning!
If you would like to find out more about this delightful bird, who’s purring song is truly the essence of a warm summer’s day, then go to “Operation Turtle Dove” which is a project set up to see if we can save this bird from extinction in the UK.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The State of Nature Report

I thought I would simply copy the press release that the GWCT put out today in response to this pretty damning report, as it really is time now that we all stop talking about what we are going to do, and actually get on with it. In most cases we do actually know what needs to be done to reverse these widespread wildlife declines, so the time for action is NOW! This is the statement:

  "We need to work together for wildlife recovery right now," says Teresa Dent, Chief Executive of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) in response to the launch of the alarming State of Nature report by a coalition of wildlife organisations today, Wednesday 22nd May.

"Bringing back our wildlife from decline demands a relentlessly positive sense of purpose from everyone involved", she urges.

"The State of Nature Report is a serious wake up call. We welcome it and we salute the wildlife organisations for revealing such dramatic declines.

"But we must seize the moment and recruit as many people as possible to play their part in turning 'feel bad' decline into 'feel good' recovery. Nothing else will succeed," Teresa Dent continues.

The GWCT has achieved over 80 years of outstanding research and understanding of the ecology of many crucial habitats including arable farmland, lowland woodlands, chalk rivers and our internationally important moorlands. We have a proven record of world class work into precious species such as the black grouse, water vole, grey partridge, woodcock, trout, salmon, lapwing and golden plover. During all this time we have worked with people who manage land and wildlife and have inspired their confidence.

"The continued decline of wildlife is frustrating and depressing for everyone involved. We simply have to harness the huge potential of farmers, game managers and foresters, along with the concerned public. If only we can unite all the good will for wildlife, we can take on this task and deliver," Teresa Dent explains.

"As an immediate contribution, we offer ten principles to achieve highly effective wildlife recovery. Stick to these, and our chances of success will soar. We're ready to play our part for wildlife right now," Teresa Dent concludes.

Ten principles for highly effective wildlife recovery:

  • Stick to objectives: only single-minded commitment to saving species will succeed.
  • Own the problem: get those who actually manage land on side and recruit local leaders on the ground to show initiative.
  • Maintain good morale: this is a tough task and a positive state of mind will be vital.
  • Get a Reality Check: farmers and land managers need to know really how bad things have got.
  • Make it local: people will respond to places they know, wildlife they see.
  • Be precise: what exactly is needed to achieve a species' recovery? Sort out the 'pinch points'.
  • Cooperate, cooperate, cooperate: we need an economy of effort and synchronised actions by all.
  • Enough resources: maximise effective conservation with realistic funding and drawing in additional support.
  • Support the ordinary: stop everyday wildlife today becoming rare wildlife tomorrow. Value it to keep it.
  • Be agile and flexible: don't let process dominate purpose: if it works, give it support.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The future is orange!

A male orange tip butterfly
I watched an orange- tip butterfly today, laying her eggs on the caterpillar food plant - Hedge Garlic (they will also commonly use Lady’s Smock or garden grown Honesty) She was careful it seemed to lay only one egg on each individual plant, placing each miniscule, slightly yellowish capsule either on the plant’s stem just below the white flower head or tucked away under one of the leaves. This seemed a good tactic, as one of the plants she chose was growing in the middle of a farm track and would be at high risk of being crushed by farm machinery. However, most were growing adjacent to the field boundary – hence a country name for Hedge Garlic being “Jack-by-the-hedge”!!
The eggs will soon hatch and the caterpillars will feed voraciously on the plant before pupating towards the end of July. There it will stay until the warm spring sun in April or May of next year entices it from its chrysalis, to once again fly down the same country track as generation after generation has done before. I felt rather privileged to witness the start of this brand new cycle.
Incidentally – it is only the male that has the orange tipped wings!  

Monday, 20 May 2013

The curious art of the "Moth trapper"!

A Great Prominent
As we finally seem to have some slightly warmer night temperatures at present, I decided to run the moth trap over the weekend, to see what was about in my garden. So far this year I have only put it out a couple of times and catches were poor, with very few moths caught. Other “Mothers” also seem to have emerged from the long winter too, as the local “Moth chat site” has started to splutter into action, with reports of improved catches.
Whenever moth trapping happens to come up in a conversation – maybe because people have heard that there is this strange guy in their midst, you nearly always get the same reaction - “you do what – trap moths?! This is often followed by “aren’t they all brown and rather boring?” My answer is quite well practised now as I tell them that in fact many moths are really beautiful and that there are around 2,400+ to choose from in Britain, whereas only about 58 butterfly species are found here! I usually add that I catch them in a specially designed light trap, record them, sometimes photograph them and then let them go un-harmed.
If you can ever get these “doubting Thomas’s” along to look at the morning contents of a trap that has run over-night, they are often spectacularly surprised. Children too, absolutely love to peer at the catch and it is wonderful to watch their faces as they marvel at a large, brightly coloured Hawkmoth perched on their hand!
As for this weekend’s catch, well I got 15 different species including two “Prominents” - a Great Prominent and a Lesser Swallow Prominent. I will up-date you on future interesting catches as the summer progresses!      

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Lapwing "over-eggs" the situation!

Lapwing's nest with 6 eggs
I was recently sent this photo by one of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (GWCT) research scientists. He had found this Lapwing’s nest in upper Teesdale and commented “Over the years I have probably found 2,500 Lapwing nests, of which only two had contained 5 eggs (4 being the norm) and this is the first ever with 6!” He goes on to say that the likelihood is that all the eggs are from the same female as the patterns on each of the eggs are very similar. The pattern of blotches and spots marking each egg are fairly unique to each bird and can vary a lot.
It is not unheard of that other birds will lay their eggs in nests that are not their own, Pheasants are particularly likely to do this, sometimes resulting in very large numbers of eggs in one nest. They are also not necessarily fussy that it should be another Pheasant's nest that they choose – a Partridge's nest for instance will do!!
The hen Lapwing that laid these 6 eggs may well find that she cannot keep all of the eggs warm as really 4 is the most she can cover properly, so it may well be that not all of these will hatch.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Only the "BEST" for your farmland birds!

Corn Bunting
I recently attended the launch of “BEST” – Bird Environmental Stewardship Toolkit – held at Syngenta’s Jealott’s Hill research centre, as they were the sponsor of this project which, in their own words is a “new decision support tool to help you make the best choice of Entry Level Stewardship options on your farm easier and more effective”. What is interesting is that you can put in your own post code and find out what to do for the birds that are in your area.
Of course I tapped in my own post code – I live in a rural part of central Hampshire – and was slightly surprised to find a richer than expected array of birds in my area, including species such as Corn Bunting which I have never seen in this locality! That said, I suppose if I travelled 3 to 4 miles as the bunting flies, I could perhaps locate one or two, so that if I created suitable habitat for them, they might find it and become a local species to my house once more.
What the site does do well is to make you think about the wide range of options even the basic Entry Level Stewardship Scheme has on offer for farmland birds, and if it manages to persuade just a few farmers to be more adventurous with their choice of options, then it has to be a positive addition to the advice package available to farmers and others.