This Week in Biodiversity News – 3rd October 2022

Climate Change

As global temperatures rise due to climate change, blue lakes in North America and Europe are likely to turn from blue to green-brown. This is mainly due to changes in algal blooms and sediments which are affected by temperature and precipitation. As well as the purely aesthetic impacts on local culture and recreation, there are important implications for water quality, particularly for lakes that are used as drinking water sources.

Termites by Aleksey Gnilenkov via Flickr.

An international study looking at the future role of termites in ecosystems has determined that their role could be much larger in a warming environment. These wood-consuming insects are important for breaking down wood and contributing to the earth’s carbon cycle, but their activities are currently concentrated mainly in the tropics. With an increase in global temperatures, they are likely to expand their ranges much further north and south.

On September 18th 2022, the Arctic reached its annual minimum extent, covering an area of 1.8 million square miles. This is approximately 598,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average minimum. Since measuring began in 1978, the amount of summer ice in the Arctic has declined significantly and 2022 was tied with 2017 and 2018 for 10th lowest in 44 years of observations.

Research

Growing hedges and perennial flower strips around intensively-farmed orchards has proven to be effective in providing wild bees with continuous forage over the growing season. The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Freiburg, found that the variation in flowering times of the hedgerows and flower strips meant that bee diversity and abundance were both improved.

Researchers from Hokkaido University have been using the fundamentals of chaos theory to study the behaviour of electronically tagged narwhals. In doing so, they have detected interesting patterns in what was previously assumed to be completely irregular diving and resting behaviours. It is hoped that this novel technique might be useful in assessing challenges to narwhals relating to climate change and loss of sea ice.

Blue Tit by Geoff Henson via Flickr.

A study looking at the impacts of the Covid-19 lockdowns on the natural world, and recently published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, has found that different bird species were affected in different ways. Many that were previously frequent visitors to parks and gardens were found to visit them less, as these spaces were increasingly occupied by people and their pets. Scavengers, however, such as gulls and corvids, were more likely to benefit from the change in human behaviour, feeding on the increased food waste that was left behind.

Conservation

A new Welsh Agriculture Bill was laid before the Senedd last week which would see Welsh farmers being paid to help to protect nature and fight climate change. Currently, farmers receive a share of public funding based largely on the amount of land they have. In the future, payments could depend on conservation work such as planting trees, restoring peat bogs and other essential habitats as well as utilising more sustainable farming methods.

A new study has shown that red kite chicks born during droughts, such as that of 2022 in England and Wales, often show permanent developmental damage which can make them smaller, more vulnerable to disease and less capable of hunting as adults. Although widely considered a conservation success story, this new research has led to concerns about the future of red kites in a continually warming environment.

Red Kite by Stefan Berndtsson via Flickr.

An updated Wildlife Comeback Report, commissioned by Rewilding Europe and published on 27th September, highlights the species that have made a comeback in Europe over the last four to five decades, and explores the situations that have allowed this to become possible. The report hopes to show that, given measures such as effective legal protection, improvement and connection of habitats, and dedicated species recovery and introductions, wildlife can both return and thrive.

The Sussex Bat Group and Vincent Wildlife Trust are working together in an urgent attempt to save a colony of endangered greater horseshoe bats discovered in West Sussex. The barn in which they live is in urgent need of repair – work which needs to be undertaken during the winter while the bats are hibernating in nearby caves. An appeal to raise £200,000 has been launched to cover the cost of the work.

New regulations introduced in the Republic of Ireland mean that basking sharks are now provided with special protection. As a result, it is now an offence to hunt or injure a basking shark, as well as interfere with or destroy its breeding or resting places. One of the largest species of shark, the basking shark is globally-threatened and faces a high risk of extinction.

On Saturday 1st October, new laws came into force which mean that beavers are now officially recognised as a native species in England and a European protected species. Studies have shown that the introduction of beavers into rivers can improve water quality, stabilise water flows, store carbon, and establish the types of habitat that are beneficial for many other species. The Wildlife Trusts are now calling for more urgency from the government in providing support to landowners involved in further reintroductions.

UK Fungus Day 2022

Image by E. Dronkert via Flickr.
What is UK Fungus Day?

UK Fungus Day takes place on Saturday 8th October and is organised by the British Mycological Society. This annual celebration of fungi is an open invitation to everyone in the UK to experience and appreciate the wonder of fungi and to find out more about these fascinating organisms. There really is something for everyone: as well as traditional fungal forays where you can join an experienced mycologist to find and identify fungi in the wild, there are also open days at UK university laboratories, special museum exhibits, talks, films, craft activities and quizzes.

Why are fungi important?

Often described as the 5th kingdom, fungi are neither plant nor animal, and our knowledge of their biology and ecology is increasing all the time. They are incredibly important to the functioning of almost all ecosystems on earth (and have even been found in space!).

One of their key roles is as a decomposer. Fungi convert organic matter from dead organisms into a form that other plants or animals can more easily utilise, making them a vital part of the food chain. They also form essential symbiotic relationships with plant roots, providing nutrients to the plant and protecting them from parasites and infection, while they themselves feed on the plant.

Although we usually think of fungi as the mushrooms that are visible above ground, they also create huge networks of strands, known as hyphae, which stretch out beneath the soil. These hyphae contribute to the structure of the soil, holding particles together and helping the soil to retain moisture where it would otherwise rapidly drain away. This underground network is considered to be so important that a project is underway to map the “circulatory system of the planet” in an attempt to protect it from damage and improve its ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide.

As well as these key ecosystem functions, we also value fungi for their role in our own diets. Whether that is by eating them directly, or utilising their ability to ferment foods such as bread or beer, they have been an important gastronomic ingredient for thousands of years. They also contribute to human health in other ways. In the 1920s penicillin was discovered, an antibiotic produced by the mould Penicillium which has since saved countless numbers of lives and changed the entire face of modern medicine.

Fungi may even have a role to play in remediating polluted environments. Current research is looking into whether they could be used to break down petroleum products, heavy metals and plastics, and even absorb radiation following nuclear disasters.

How do I get involved in UK Fungus Day?

To find out what events are on near you on UK Fungus Day, head over to the Fungus Day website where you can find a list of all the activities planned for 8th October. On their website you will also find information on how to enter this year’s photo competition, as well as quizzes, details of online film screenings and a host of other activity ideas for you to celebrate UK Fungus Day in your own home.

Further reading

Take a look at the NHBS Consevation Hub for useful guides on planning a fungal foray, identifying common UK fungi species, and identifying puffballs. Or browse some of our favourite field guides and fungi books below.

Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms & Toadstools: A Photographic Guide to Every Common Species

A superb guide that allows anyone to identify mushrooms found in Britain and Ireland. The book is illustrated with beautiful photographs throughout, featuring the species you are most likely to see. By only covering Britain and Ireland, fewer species are included than in many broader European guides.

Collins Fungi Guide: The Most Complete Field Guide to the Mushrooms & Toadstools of Britain & Ireland

Written by one of Europe’s leading mycologists and horticultural scientists, Stefan Buczacki, and illustrated by two of the world’s leading natural history illustrators, Chris Shields and Denys Ovenden, this is the ultimate field guide for mushroom and toadstool lovers.

The Fungi Name Trail: A Key to Commoner Fungi

A useful key to some of the more easily recognised fungi present in Britain’s woods and fields. For this key, fungi have been grouped according to their shape. The name trial takes you through a series of yes or no questions to help you identify your fungi.

 

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures

In this mind-altering adventure, Merlin Sheldrake introduces the spectacular and neglected world of fungi: endlessly surprising organisms that have made our world and continue to shape our futures.

Read our Q&A with Merlin Sheldrake on the NHBS blog.

Finding the Mother Tree: Uncovering the Wisdom and Intelligence of the Forest

Suzanne Simard was working in the forest service when she first discovered how trees communicate underground through an immense web of fungi. In Finding the Mother Tree, she reveals how the complex cycle of forest life – on which we rely for our existence – offers profound lessons about resilience and kinship.

Conservation Land Management: Autumn 2022

From a close look at two very different restoration projects in Yorkshire to the eradication of Japanese knotweed without the use of herbicides, the Autumn issue of Conservation Land Management (CLM) covers a variety of topics and themes relevant to those involved in managing land for nature. Below is a summary of the articles featured in this latest issue.

The first of the Yorkshire-based articles, authored by Sarah Lonsdale of the North York Moors National Park Authority (NYMNPA), describes the River Esk Restoration Project. The River Esk flows through the North York Moors and is the only river in Yorkshire to support populations of the rare freshwater pearl mussel. Agricultural pollution and sedimentation threaten the mussel’s habitat and the Esk’s water quality, however, and the Esk Restoration Project aims to address these pressures through habitat creation and restoration, farm infrastructure grants and targeted one-to-one farm advice. Sarah describes how, through this project, the NYMNPA has worked with farmers and landowners to reduce agricultural pollution via riparian habitat creation and improvements in on-farm infrastructure. This has involved, for example, the installation of in-field solar-powered water troughs to reduce riverbank erosion caused by livestock trampling and the creation of wide habitat buffers to help reduce the amount of pollutants reaching the river – Sarah describes these and other approaches in more detail, and discusses the future of the project.

Before (left) and after (right) riverbank restoration. Chris Watt (left); Sarah Lonsdale (right)

The second article set in Yorkshire is focused on peatlands. Yorkshire’s peatlands contain 27% of England’s blanket bog and support an abundance of wildlife, but changes in land management, for example through drainage and heavy grazing, have led to their degradation. In this article Jenny Sharman describes the impressive work undertaken by the Yorkshire Peatland Partnership to reverse this trend and restore and rewet Yorkshire’s peatlands. Signs of recovery have quickly become apparent, and Jenny guides us through the process of peatland restoration, which begins with initial surveys to assess the extent of the damage using satellite imagery in preparation for work on the ground where a myriad of approaches are used, from using diggers to revegetate exposed peat to installing timber sediment traps and coir logs to help slow the flow of water and retain sediment. 

Three years after peatland restoration began. Jenny Sharman/YPP

Looking now to a different habitat, Robin Pakeman discusses the management of machair, an extremely rare coastal habitat only found in western Ireland and western and northern Scotland. It develops on shell sand in exposed coastal areas, and refers to the plain behind sand dunes. Human use of machair has a long history, and traditional management combined with specific environmental conditions has produced this wonderfully unique habitat, famous for its spectacular floral displays and bird and insect communities. Crofting, a form of land tenure that only occurs in north and west Scotland, has had a strong influence on Scotland’s machair, and in this article Robin explores the management of both arable and grassland machair, and describes the diversity of wildlife associated with this habitat. 

Machair is known for its spectacular floral displays. Robin Pakeman

The infamous Japanese knotweed is a problematic non-native invasive species in the UK, and the general consensus regarding its control suggests that the use of glyphosate-based herbicides is required. Aston’s Eyot nature reserve, in east Oxford, was previously a rubbish dump, and since it was badly capped in the late 1940s Japanese knotweed established itself there, suppressing the growth of many other plants that would otherwise thrive. To combat this issue, the Friends of Aston’s Eyot, a group formed in 2010 to care for the nature reserve, decided to trial different approaches to management of knotweed. The trial area was divided into three; two of these were to be treated with glyphosate. In the third area knotweed was to be cut and its emerging shoots would be pulled out by hand. Claire Malone-Lee took responsibility for this third area, and in this article reflects on eleven years of manual control and demonstrates that it is possible, particularly on small sites or where knotweed is not overly dominant, to successfully eradicate Japanese knotweed without the use of herbicides.

When the Able Marine Energy Park project on the Humber Estuary was given the go-ahead, Roger Morris was concerned for the internationally important flock of black-tailed godwits that resided there, and the mudflats that they depended on. The final article in this issue, a viewpoint piece by Roger, asks if it is possible to create sustainable mudflats as a mitigation measure, and explains why it is difficult to stop or slow the process of mudflat becoming saltmarsh. He describes the processes behind saltmarsh and mudflat development, and addresses the different approaches that have and can be used for mudflat creation.

In this and every issue you can expect to see Briefing, keeping you up to date with the latest training courses, events and publications, and On the ground which provides helpful tips or updates on products relevant to land management. Other features, such as Review, which can include letters from readers or updates from our authors, also regularly appear in CLM.

CLM is published four times a year in March, June, September and December, and is available by subscription only, delivered straight to your door. Subscriptions start from £22 per year. If you would like to read any of these articles, back issues are also available to purchase individually (subject to availability).

If you are involved in a conservation project and think your experiences could be useful to other practitioners, we would love to hear from you. Feel free to contact us if you are interested in writing for CLM – we will be happy to discuss your ideas with you.

Author Interview with Susan Young: Wildlife Photography Fieldcraft

This unique book describes a straightforward system for how to successfully locate wildlife, the most difficult aspect of wildlife photography. Photographing the stunning natural world around us can be a challenging process. Not only does getting the perfect shot require a complex mixture of skill and luck, but there is little practical advice available on how to find the wildlife you’d like to photograph. While patience and persistence have to come from you, being equipped with the right fieldcraft knowledge, offered in this book, can increase your chances of getting the results – and the special moments – you are looking for.

Individual chapters offer guidance on how to photograph birds, mammals, butterflies and dragonflies, as well as reptiles and some of our more elusive species. Various habitat types are discussed, along with tips on equipment, technical specifications and guidance suitable to both newcomers and more experienced wildlife photographers. While sharing some of her most successful and beautiful images, Susan Young also gives useful examples of when things didn’t quite work out – reflecting on how things could have been done differently to get a better outcome.

Susan Young speaks with us about why she chose to write this book, her process for researching each chapter and why wildlife photography is so important for engaging the public with the environment and conservation.


Your new book, Wildlife Photography Fieldcraft, is a unique guide to how to successfully locate wildlife. What drew you to wildlife photography and why did you choose to write this book?

I have had a keen interest in nature from an early age. I originally took up (digital) photography for landscapes, but it was a natural progression to wildlife photography so I could keep a record of my finds. When I started with wildlife, I found it very difficult to find suitable subjects, especially the less common ones, and of course many mammals are nocturnal. I studied many books on wildlife photography, but they all seemed to concentrate on photographic techniques and gave little or no information on how to find wildlife. I had written books before on subjects not previously covered, so decided to write the book I wished I had been able to find when I was looking.

You mention in this book that a lack of knowledge on how to find wildlife to photograph may be just as risky as providing too much information, could you expand on this?

This is related to disturbance. If photographers know very little about the subject of their photographs and do not understand the sensitivity of wildlife, they could disturb a bird, for example, and cause it to abandon its nest, or frighten a deer so it runs off and becomes injured.

On the other hand, if too much information is given out, particularly of a detailed location, photographers can flock to the area in large numbers. This has happened with rare birds, for example, and the birds have become very distressed.

Ptarmigan by Susan Young

This guide is broken up into chapters covering different species groups, all of which are richly detailed, covering descriptions, diet, breeding, habitats, population estimates and more. What was your process for researching the different chapters, and why did you choose to go further to cover topics such as how to make a portable hide and thermal and dynamic soaring?

The whole focus of the information was on what factors influenced where, when and how to find wildlife. Population estimates and habitats, for example, influence where the subject might be found in a broad sense. Breeding and its rituals have a great effect on when certain species are most active and thus most likely to be seen. Description, diet and habits are more detailed indicators allowing the photographer to fine-tune the search, for example. Goldfinches like thistle seed (diet), they are often in flocks (habits) and have distinctive colouring (description), so a photographer situated near a patch of large thistles, at the right time of year, could have interesting photographs of goldfinches balancing on thistles and interacting with each other.

My process was to think of each category for different species and, based on my experience, record the facts for each species and describe how to use them to find wildlife. I then studied reliable sources to add further detail and confirm that what I already had was accurate.

Young Roe jumping by Susan Young

Hides are extremely valuable as they allow the photographer to get close to nervous or rare species without disturbance. Portable hides are particularly useful. I found it difficult to get a flexible, sturdy, inexpensive portable hide that would be comfortable if sat in for some time. My design was based on the plastic pipes I had seen on an American trip, and can be tailored to the individual very easily, and is strong but not too heavy.

Photographing birds in flight, especially birds of prey, is very difficult. By understanding thermal and dynamic soaring, the photographer is equipped to predict the best position to photograph a bird in flight i.e. when the bird is moving more slowly and at the correct height.

How important do you think wildlife photography is in increasing public engagement with the environment and conservation?

Wildlife photography is hugely important as photographs can convey an emotion or fact better than words, and in particular can illustrate features or situations in a compelling, thought-provoking way, or simply attract by their beauty.

Sand Martin and chicks by Susan Young

Your case studies provide a wonderful insight into your photography process. Are there any species that you haven’t yet photographed but would love to?

Pine Martens are at the top of the list. They are beautiful and intelligent but, at present, rare in England. Beavers are another species I would like to photograph, and hopefully, this will become easier if they are introduced to other parts of the UK.

Do you have any current or future projects that you would like to tell us about?

At present I am developing interactive online mini-courses for the Mammal Society using photographs, videos and interactive features. The aim is to attract and engage with more people to gain their support in the quest to learn more, and use the knowledge to try to halt the decline of UK wildlife. I am also developing a course to encourage the use of CCTV systems to monitor wildlife.


Wildlife Photography Fieldcraft
By: Susan Young
Paperback | August 2022 | Pelagic Publishing

 

 

 

 

This Week in Biodiversity News – 21st September 2022

Climate change

A new report shows that Australia is funding just one-tenth of its fair share of global climate action. The study by Oxfam and ActionAid Australia is calling on Australia to increase its climate finance commitments to $3bn, ahead of COP27 this November. Currently, Australia has only committed $400m a year between 2020 and 2025 for international climate funding. For Australia to meet its fair share of the dedicated $100bn fund agreed upon in 2009, its contributions must be $4bn annually from 2025.

Both wild and farmed Atlantic salmon are threatened by warming waters. The climate crisis is warming the world’s rivers and oceans. As warmer water contains less oxygen and simultaneously speeds up the salmon’s metabolism, increasing the need for oxygen, warmer temperatures are reducing salmon fitness, impacting their abilities to adapt to stressors. Studies by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization have shown that, from 2007 to 2016, only a single salmon survived its first year from 2,000 fertilised eggs, whereas prior to 1990, it would only require 1,000 fertilised eggs.

Atlantic salmon parr by E. Peter Steenstra/USFWS via Flickr

The UN has warned that the world is ‘heading in the wrong direction’ as the impacts of climate change worsen. The 2022 United in Science report has shown that there are five times as many weather, climate and water-related disasters as there were 50 years ago. The last seven years (2015-2021) have also been the warmest on record, with a 93% chance that at least one of the next five years could be hotter than 2016, the warmest year on record. To meet the 1.5°C goal set out in the Paris Agreement, current emissions reductions need to be seven times higher than they are now.

Research

A study has created a new framework to change how sharks, rays and chimaera species are considered in the design of protected areas. This will hopefully help provide the protection they need in the face of extinction. Sharks are apex predators and play a vital role in the functioning of balanced ecosystems, shaping communities and ensuring biodiversity. They’re threatened by fishing practices, either as targets or as by-catch, as well as negative public images which can lead to culls. By ensuring that the most up-to-date information is provided to governing bodies, policies and protected areas can be designed to ensure the protection of these species.

Hariotta raleighana, a long-nosed chimaera, by NOAA Ocean Exploration via Flickr

Satellites are now able to measure the thickness of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean all year round. Previously, spacecraft struggled to measure the state of sea ice in summer as the presence of surface meltwater confused instruments. Now, using ‘deep learning’ techniques, scientists are able to get reliable observations across all seasons. This will help to improve monitoring the impacts of climate change, while also aiding weather forecasting.

Researchers have found the world’s oldest heart preserved inside a fossilised prehistoric fish.  The 380 million-year-old heart was made in Western Australia and captures a key moment in the development of the heart found in all back-boned animals. Soft tissues are far less likely to be preserved than bones but the minerals of the Gogo rock formation preserved many of the fish’s internal organs, including its liver and stomach.

Conservation

A fungal outbreak is threatening the tricoloured bat with extinction in the US. White-nose syndrome, which disrupts the crucial winter hibernation of bats, is ravaging tricolour bat populations, as well as populations of a dozen other North American species, including the northern long-eared bat. Both of these species have been recommended for endangered designation by  The US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Female tricoloured bat by NABat via Flickr

Two adult grey wolves, along with two cubs, have been spotted in Oregon’s Cascade mountains, giving hope that the federal protections restored earlier this year are aiding the recovery of this endangered species. After decades of hunting across the US, Oregon recorded only 14 individual wolves at the end of 2009. Since then, following protections from the Endangered Species Act, the population has grown to 175 individuals in 2021.

Cheetahs have been released in India for the first time, 70 years after they went extinct. Eight cheetahs were flown into the northern Indian city of Gwalior from Namibia. They have been released into a fenced enclosure in Kuna National Park for their quarantine period over the next month, before being released into a larger enclosure containing natural prey. Their release into the wild is controversial, particularly as a population boom of another of India’s predators, the tiger, has led to increased conflict with people sharing the same areas.

Pollution

A Coalmine wastewater spill has turned a creek in Royal national park, Sydney, to black sludge. This is the third coal pollution incident involving Peabody Energy’s Metropolitan mine this year. The Environment Protection Agency of New South Wales have collected water samples and are conducting further assessments to determine the ecological impacts of this event. There is concern that this pollution may impact the state government’s plans to reintroduce platypuses to the area.

Great British Beach Clean 2022

2014 beach clean at the Port of Dover. Image by Port of Dover via Flickr.
What is the Great British Beach Clean?

The Great British Beach Clean is organised by the Marine Conservation Society (MSC) and takes place in September every year. During this nine day period, thousands of volunteers gather together on beaches around the UK to collect the litter they find on and above the strandline. This huge event has taken place since 1994 and occurs alongside the International Coastal Cleanup.

This year’s Great British Beach Clean runs from Friday 16th to Sunday 25th September.

What does a beach clean involve?

A beach clean has two purposes: firstly to remove potentially harmful and unsightly waste from our coastline, and secondly to gather data on the types of litter that are polluting our beaches.

During a clean, volunteers are asked to collect and record all of the litter they find on and above the strandline over a 100m stretch of beach. This information is then sent to the Marine Conservation Society, who collate and store it in a database. While collecting, volunteers also look out for other items such as tangled animals, patches of oil, or items that have originated from abroad, as these can be also be recorded.

At the end of the beach clean, bagged up rubbish is weighed and then deposited at a local collection point (with any hard, recyclable plastic kept in separate bags if possible).

Volunteers aren’t restricted to cleaning only 100m of the beach of course, but recording over a specific length of coastline makes the submitted data easier to compare.

Littered tideline at Oxwich Bay. Image by Bo Eide via Flickr.
What happens to the collected data?

The data collected during the Great British Beach Clean is as important as the clean-up itself as, without knowing what items are commonly found on our beaches, it is difficult to know where the most serious problems lie. With almost 30 years’ worth of data to hand, the MSC can now look at trends and patterns over time and make important decisions about where to focus their attentions.

The information submitted each year by volunteers is compiled and stored by the MSC who use it to campaign for better legislation relating to plastic waste, and to direct public awareness campaigns to help change consumer behaviour. To date, the MSC has been instrumental in bringing about the 5p plastic bag charge, which has seen the number of plastic bags washing up on beaches decrease by a huge 61% since 2011. They have also lobbied for wet wipes to be more clearly labelled, as they are not only responsible for massive blockages in sewerage systems, but many also contain plastics which break down into harmful microplastics in the aquatic environment.

They are currently working towards bringing in a Deposit Return System for drinks bottles and cans. The 2021 British Clean found an average of 30 drinks-related items per 100m. By making consumers pay a small deposit at the time of purchase, which is returned to them when they bring their bottle or can back for recycling, it is hoped that the number of such items ending up in the aquatic environment could be significantly reduced. A Deposit Return Scheme is due to be unrolled in Scotland in August 2023, but so far England, Wales and Northern Ireland have yet to make similar plans.

Other campaigns include the ‘Don’t Let Go’ movement, which aims to ban balloon and sky lantern releases, as debris from these items provides a significant source of pollution.

How do I get involved:

To find an organised beach clean near you, simply head over to the MSC website and search their events database. If you can’t find one, then you can always organise your own. All you need to do is register as a volunteer and then the MSC will provide you with all the information you need to get started.

If you don’t live near the coast or aren’t able to attend a beach clean, you can still help by making a one-off donation to the MSC or becoming a member.

Recommended books and equipment:

The Essential Guide to Beachcombing and the Strandline

In this handy guide you will find an in-depth account of the animals and plants that make up this rich and continuously shifting oasis of life in the otherwise harsh and hostile environment of the beach. The more we come to terms with the sensitive nature of the strandline, the more we can do to nurture and protect it.

 

The Beachcomber’s Guide to Marine Debris

This richly illustrated book serves as the ideal guide to the items that litter the world’s beaches. Forget sea shells and other fauna and flora. Here, you will find what a beachcomber is actually most likely to encounter most these days: glass, plastic, wood, metal, paper, oil and other sources of marine pollution.

 

FSC Wildlife Pack: Seashores

The Seashores wildlife pack is a presentation pack featuring 5 different fold-out guides – explore the wildlife of our coastline, from birds to seashells. The pack also includes a card-sized magnifier to help you get in ever closer to the details. Includes guides to cetaceans and seals, rocky shores, seashells, seaside flowers and summer coastal birds.

 

Litter Picker

This 82cm litter picker is constructed from lightweight, robust aluminium with an easy grip handle for comfortable use. With a grooved jaw for extra grip and a rotating head for increased flexibilty of use, it’s an ideal tool for any bioblitz, beach clean, or similar environmental event.

Equipment in Focus: Spring Frame Butterfly Net

The Spring Frame Butterfly Net is a compact net for anyone interested in studying butterflies or moths. Designed and built by NHBS in our Devon workshop, the net comprises of a short-handled frame, net and cover.

Bag, Net, Spring Frame and Instructions

Because of its lightweight metal frame, it can be folded down to fit into the supplied travel bag, neatly allowing it to be stowed away in a rucksack while out in the field. The main net is olive green and opens to a diameter of 30 cm. The short handle makes it easy to use at close quarters while trying to sample butterflies. 

When you receive your net, you will find it collapsed down inside its carry bag along with instructions for folding it back into the bag after use. To help you do this, I’ve gone through the process of collapsing the net in the steps below.

Steps to collapse your net

Start with a hand holding the open net with the bag draped below – held in the right hand.

Grip the top of the frame with your thumb ready to push from the underside of the frame.

Keep your right thumb over the screw that attached the frame to the handle.

Use your left hand to twist the frame into a figure eight. Your left thumb should help because it will be pushing from underneath the frame.

Twist almost completely with your left hand over the top of your right hand with your index finger ready to clasp the folded rim. The frame should naturally want to fold over itself.

With the frame folded, use your left hand to wrap the net around the folded frame to keep it from springing open. The net can now be safely stored in the bag provided.

Other equipment

It is also worth considering stocking up on a few supplies if this is the first butterfly net you have bought. 

A spare net: While the net is hardwearing, it is always worth considering keeping a spare net on hand. You can purchase additional nets on the NHBS website. 

 

 

A hand lens: Ideal for examining any butterflies that you have sampled. NHBS carries a selection of hand magnifiers that you can keep in your pocket. This particular lens is a 15 x magnification which is extremely good for viewing the beauty and detail of the butterfly.

Collecting pots: NHBS carries a selection of different types of pots that can be used for transferring a butterfly from the net to something you can view the butterfly with.

In the event that you wish to extend the handle, additional lengths and styles are available. For example, you can extend the handle to either 50 cm or 90 cm with the fixed length long handles such as the Professional Butterfly Net: Handle, or for a more flexible approach you can choose the Telescopic Handle that extends the range of the net between 82 cm and 125 cm reach.


The Spring Frame Butterfly Net can be found here. Our full range of butterfly nets can be found here.

If you have any questions about our range or would like some advice on the right product for you then please contact us via email at customer.services@nhbs.com or phone on 01803 865913.

Phenology Series: Autumn

Autumn is a time of great change for the natural world. Hedgerows are bursting with nuts and berries, the landscape is shedding its green lushness in favour of reds and golds, and animals large and small are beginning their preparations for winter – whether that be by storing food, getting ready to hibernate, or migrating south where the weather is warmer and food more plentiful.

Although the days are shorter and the weather cooler (and almost certainly wetter!) autumn is a wonderful time for observing nature. As our focus shifts from the butterflies and flowers of summer to the fungi and garden bird feeder, this season also brings us some of nature’s most incredible spectacles.

This is the third in our seasonal phenology series where you can explore a carefully chosen collection of ID blogs, books, equipment and events, all designed to help you make the most of an autumn outside. Check out our spring and summer blogs and don’t forget to look out for our winter blog in December.


Identification guides:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


What you might see:

• During the autumn, most of our summer migrants will begin to head off for warmer climes. Swallows and House Martins will depart on their lengthy migration to Africa, where they will spend the winter before returning to us next spring. At the same time we see the arrival of other species such as Fieldfare, Redwing and several species of ducks and geese. Many will spend the winter in Britain whilst others will stop off briefly to feed on their way elsewhere. Some coastal species, such as Puffins and Gannets leave during the autumn to spend the winter at sea.

• Peaking in late November and early December, Starling murmurations are one of the most spectacular events in the wildlife watcher’s year. These magnificent clouds of birds, swirling and turning in perfect unison, can be made up of more than 100,000 individuals. The best time to see murmurations is in the early evening – this is when the birds take to the skies to find their night-time roosting spots.
•As days shorten and temperatures cool, the natural pigments in tree leaves change, and we are treated to a final burst of colour before the leaves fall and winter sets in. Parks and deciduous woodlands are the perfect place to witness this wonderful palette of red, gold and copper throughout the autumn.

• October is the ideal time to observe the deer rut. Our three largest species of deer (red, fallow and sika) all perform this spectacular behaviour which involves rival stags roaring and locking antlers in battle in order to gain access to females, who are only fertile for around one day each year. Exmoor, Dartmoor and the New Forest are particularly good locations for observing these iconic displays.
• With the cooler weather and increased rainfall, autumn is usually the best time of year for spotting fungi. Following a spell of rain, grassland and woodland can suddenly be carpeted with an array of fascinating species. Giant puffballs and the stunning fly agaric are two easily identifiable and impressive species to spot.

• During the autumn, salmon will migrate from the open ocean back to their home rivers in an effort to reach the higher reaches of clean water where they will breed. As they travel upstream they can jump up to three metres upon encountering waterfalls or other obstacles. Although risky for the fish, as jumping out of the water makes them vulnerable to predation, these spots provide an excellent chance for us to observe the salmon run in action.


Activities:

 


Upcoming events:

Great British Beach Clean – 16th to 25th September
National Hedgerow Week – October (dates TBC)
World Migratory Bird Day – 8th October
Seed Gathering Season – 22nd October to 22nd November
National Mammal Week – October (dates TBC)
National Tree Week – 26th November to 4th December


Essential books and equipment:

Collins Bird Guide: 3rd Edition

The third edition of the hugely successful Collins Bird Guide is a must for every birdwatcher. In addition to comprehensive descriptions, illustrations and distribution maps, each group of birds includes an introduction that covers the major problems involved in identifying or observing them.

 

Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms & Toadstools

A superb guide that allows anyone to identify mushrooms found in Britain and Ireland. The book is illustrated with beautiful photographs throughout, featuring the species you are most likely to see. Extensive details on size, shape and colour are given and over 1,500 photographs help you identify each species.

 

What to Look For in Autumn

In the UK, autumn is a season of change and preparation. The air temperature starts to drop, trees change colour and the days get shorter. This book takes a closer look at hedgerow picnics, unexpected houseguests and hibernating hedgehogs as the secrets of autumn begin to appear in the world around us.

 

Kite Falco Binoculars

High performance, lightweight and compact binoculars. They produce bright images, with all lens surfaces coated in Kite’s MHR coating; a multilayer coating that allows up to 90% light transmission.

 

Defender Metal Seed Feeder

The Defender Feeder’s metal construction is tough, long lasting and offers excellent protection from squirrel damage. The base and hanger cap are all constructed from corrosion resistant solid metal alloy. The feeding tube is made from UV-stabilised polycarbonate, which will not deteriorate when exposed to sunlight.

 

NHBS Wooden Bird Nest Box

Our own range of wooden bird nest boxes have been custom designed and manufactured from substantial 2cm thick FSC-certified wood. These simple, breathable wooden bird boxes have a sloping roof and four drainage holes and are ideal for providing crucial nesting spaces for the smaller garden birds.

 

Browse our full collection for more field guides and equipment highlights.

Book Review: Goshawk Summer: The Diary of an Extraordinary Season in the Forest

Winner of the James Cropper Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing 2022. 

Chronicled in Goshawk Summer: The Diary of an Extraordinary Season in the Forest, wildlife cameraman James Aldred is given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to film a goshawk nest during the first few months of the pandemic. Having just completed a migration himself, returning home after filming a cheetah family in Kenya, he was commissioned to begin filming in the New Forest. However, after the adventures of finding a suitable nest and planning how to set up the shoot, lockdown began. The everyday hustle and bustle of everyone going about their daily lives stopped. In the spring months of 2020, with everyone staying at home, no cars on the road, the absence of aeroplane vapour trails crisscrossing the sky, an eerie quiet descended. And perhaps most importantly, lockdown meant no more visitors to the New Forest – except for James.

After harpy eagle attacks, being chased by venomous snakes, and almost being knocked out of a tree by an elephant, you’d think Aldred wouldn’t have much excitement for our native wildlife. However, the awe that Aldred has for not just goshawks but for many of our species shines through in this book. For all its named ‘Goshawk Summer’, this book reads like an ode to the threatened aspects of Wild Britain. It is a whistle-stop tour of our countryside, from instructions on the management of heathland and the place muntjac have in our ecosystems, to the plight of the Dartmoor warbler, pine martens, and the curlew, and even the cultural relationship we have with foxes.

Northern goshawk chick by Andrey Gulivanov via Flickr

The wealth of experience he has gained over 25 years of working in the industry is clear throughout this book. Passages are filled with rich tidbits of wildlife encounters, such as the time he found all six native reptile species in one morning. Each sighting and mention of a species is accompanied by a short tale or a piece of history. Often, these sightings are compared to Alred’s experiences with more exotic ones, such as the pine marten with the yellow-throated marten in Borneo, a group of tumbling fox cubs with the cheetah family in Kenya, and the goshawk as “our very own mini-harpy”. It is a welcome reminder that UK wildlife can be just as magical and mysterious as that of far-flung places.

Goshawk by Andy Morffew via Flickr

Written from field notes kept at the time, the internationally experienced wildlife cameraman dives into the wildlife of his childhood haven of the New Forest. He describes the lack of human activity and disturbance as a glimpse into paradise, which, through his engaging observations, we too can experience. The goshawks are the true highlight of this book, as Aldred gives us a window into the seemingly timeless forest away from the jumble and stress of modern life. Following the weeks and months of Aldred’s shoot, we see the day-to-day workings of a goshawk nest and the trials and tribulations of a species once hunted to extinction. While watching the development from eggs to fully fledged juveniles, Aldred tells the history of this previously highly persecuted species.

As lockdown eased and travel was allowed, the spell is broken and it seems that suddenly everyone is using natural spaces. Car parks and roads fill and forest paths become alive with walkers, music and cyclers. Unfortunately, while many reported this as the public’s increasing appreciation for our natural landscapes, Aldred has a different opinion. With the pandemic always running in the background, he documents the impacts of the sudden rush to reenter the world. From the increase in noise, litter, risky barbeques, irresponsible drivers and dog owners, the newfound peace of the New Forest seems shattered. The forest is described as a habitat that “has been abused for centuries” and Aldred reaffirms the emerging narrative that we should step back to give nature space to breathe and recover. Throughout Goshawk Summer, Aldred issues a strong call for people to be more conscious and considerate of their behaviour in nature, particularly around nesting bird season.

Returning in February 2021, almost eight months after watching the goshawk chicks fledge, Aldred once again encounters the goshawk female. He notes a feeling of elsewhereness within the forest, of outside being England and inside “somewhere much further north”. Goshawk Summer mirrors this, providing a fascinating glimpse into the perspective of a wildlife cameraman and a welcome break from the clutter of the outside world. This book was awarded the James Cropper Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing 2022.


Goshawk Summer: The Diary of an Extraordinary Season in the Forest
By: James Aldred
Paperback | June 2022

 

 

 

 

The NHBS Introduction to Habitats: Sand Dunes

Sand dunes in New Brighton, Merseyside, UK by Andrew Mason via Flickr

Coastal sand dunes are habitats created by sand, seashell fragments and other sediments that are moved by wave and wind action along a coastline or beach until they become trapped above the strandline. This usually occurs where vegetation is growing as their roots and leaves help to bind the sand together, preventing the sand from being blown away by the wind. There are several different types of sand dunes, categorised by their position on the shoreline, age, morphology and stability:

  • Embryo dunes: The youngest dunes at their earliest stage of development, usually closest to the shore and may still be covered by high tides. This area usually has high salinity and is a very dry environment with rapid drainage and a lot of exposure. 
  • Mobile dunes: These are dunes that are no longer covered by the highest tide but are still affected by wind; sand gets blown from the beach onto, over and away from these areas. 
  • Semi-fixed dunes: This is where vegetation cover has become more continuous with fewer areas of bare sand.
  • Fixed dunes: These are dunes that have very limited free space, with few areas of bare sand and almost continuous vegetation. 
  • Dune slack: The low-lying depressions between sand dunes. These areas can often become filled with fresh or brackish water, creating small wetlands known as interdunal wetlands or interdunal ponds. These areas can warm quickly as they’re often very shallow, providing an ideal habitat for many invertebrates. 
  • Dune scrub: A later successional stage, where a stable dune has been colonised with scrub species. These areas can continue to develop into dune-heath and older woodland. 

Sand dunes can be rich in wildlife and are important habitats for birds, reptiles, invertebrates, a variety of plant species, lichens and fungi. This is particularly the case in older, more stable dune habitats. They are classified as UK BAP Priority Habitat and several Priority List species have been recorded utilising sand dunes.

What species can you find here?
Flora

Differences in flora diversity can be found depending on the position, age, morphology and stability of the dunes. Sand dunes that are still inundated at high tide can be dominated by halophilic (salt-tolerant) plants, whereas dune slack areas may be filled with fresh groundwater, allowing them to support several freshwater plant species. Areas of low stability will most likely see lower plant diversity, with the community present dominated by pioneer species. More stable dunes are generally dominated by woody plants and have higher diversity.

Sea sandwort (Honckenya peploides)

S. Rae via Flickr

This is one of several pioneer species usually found in embryo dunes, as it is highly stress-tolerant. These plants allow sand to begin to accumulate, raising the top of the dune above the high tide level, while also adding organic matter to the sand through dying and decaying. This allows the sand dune to better retain water, allowing other plants to colonise the area.

Marram grass (Ammophila arenaria)

Jeremy Halls via Flickr

This is a dune building grass as it is tall and robust, with matted roots, therefore it is very effective at trapping and stabilising sand. It can help to form very high mobile dunes as it grows at a rate of 1m per year. It is usually the dominant plant on mobile dunes and is a familiar sight on many of our coasts. By stabilising the sand and adding nutrients through its dead leaves, this plant can allow sand dunes to be colonised by many other plant species.

Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia)

Aecole2010 via Flickr

As sand dunes become more fixed and vegetation cover becomes more continuous, the area can be very species-rich. Many wildflowers, including harebells, can be found there, providing a food source for species such as invertebrates. Due to the wide range of environmental factors in these habitats, such as wind, salinity levels and availability of shelter and fresh water, there is often a huge variety of wildflowers.

Harebells, also called bluebells of Scotland, are tough and resilient plants, living in dry, open areas such as sand dunes.  While their flowering period can vary, it’s usually from July to November in the British Isles, providing a vital source of nectar for bees during the autumn.

For more examples of wildflowers, check out our guide to UK wild flower identification.

Silver birch (Betula pendula)

Andrew Gustar via Flickr

The final successional stages of sand dunes include colonisation by woody plants, creating dune scrubs and, finally, deciduous woodland. These woodland are often lower in species diversity, as woody species out-compete others, but the habitat will remain stable for extended periods, barring any disturbance. The type of vegetation present in the climax stage is determined by a number of factors, such as climate, exposure, soil pH, grazing level and management type. Birch trees are one of the woody species that can colonise sand dunes, particularly acidic dunes with open areas for young birch trees to grow.

Fungi

While fungi are usually associated with damper habitats, there is a variety that can be found in sand dune habitats, such as the earthtongue fungus (Glutinoglossum glutinosum), dune stinkhorn (Phallus hadriani) and several puffball species. There are also rare species that can only be found in sand dunes.

Dune waxcap (Hygrocybe conicoides)

Lukas Large via Flickr

This species of waxcap occurs mainly on short grass in coastal sand dune habitats, such as on the edges of dune slacks. Waxcaps, fungi in the genus of agarics, or gilled fungi, are usually brightly coloured fungi with dry to waxy caps. They are mainly associated with unimproved grasslands, though outside of Europe they are more commonly found in woodland. Dune waxcaps resemble the blackening waxcap (Hygrocybe conica) when young, but older dune waxcaps only darken slightly, usually just on their stem, unlike the blackening waxcap.

Collared Earthstar (Geastrum triplex)

Yankech gary via Flickr

While collared earthstars are most likely found in woodlands, particularly those with a high level of leaf litter, they can also be found on sand dunes. This star-shaped fungus initially looks like a ball, similar to a puffball, before splitting open. Other earthstars, including the dwarf earthstar (Geastrum schmidelii), can also be found in sand dune habitats, particularly mature sand dune systems. They’re often found in colonies with several fruitbodies growing together.

Fauna

Sand dunes support a diverse range of fauna species, many of which are specifically adapted to live in these dynamic habitats. Similarly to shingle beaches, which will be covered in another article, this area is a key habitat for several ground-nesting birds, such as the Ringed Plover and Skylarks, grazing species such as rabbits, and invertebrates such as bees, digger wasps and other insects.

The red-banded sand wasp (Ammophila sabulosa)

Volkmar Becher via Flickr

Sand wasps reproduce by hunting caterpillars, paralysing them using their sting and burying them in burrows with the sand wasp’s egg. The females dig their burrows in sandy ground, with a nearby area of vegetation that would support their prey. Areas of sand dunes can be rich in invertebrate species, particularly where diverse vegetation is present.

Northern Dune Tiger Beetle (Cicindela hybrida)

David Tyler via Flickr

This rare beetle hunts on bare sand, preying on ants, spiders, moth larvae and flies. As they need areas of open, moving sand, they are less likely to be found in older, more stabilised sand dunes. Therefore, lack of management allowing succession and reduced sediment deposition due to development or flood defences reduce the availability of suitable habitats. Conservation efforts to restore mobile sands and remove areas of scrub are helping to provide more habitats for the northern dune tiger beetle. 

Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis)

xulescu_g via Flickr

Sand dunes support a variety of vertebrate species, including the sand lizard, one of the UK’s rarest reptiles. Their distribution is restricted to a small number of sites, such as protected heathlands and sand dunes. They require sunny habitats with vegetation for shelter and undisturbed, open sand to lay their eggs. Their numbers are impacted by habitat loss but there are several conservation efforts working towards increasing their populations. These involve a combination of habitat restoration, monitoring, reintroduction and encouraging beneficial policies and practices.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

Female. Andy Morffew via Flickr
Male. Caroline legg via Flickr

Several birds of prey use sand dune habitats as hunting grounds due to the presence of ground-nesting birds, lizards and some grazing species such as rabbits. Sparrowhawks can be found across Britain and Ireland, mainly in gardens, woodland and urban settings, but they can also be found on sand dunes, particularly if woodland is close by. They prey mainly on small birds, but they have also been recorded taking bats.

Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)

gailhampshire via Flickr

Once extinct in Britain, Choughs now have a growing population on the Cornish and Welsh coasts, as well as a few other spots around the UK. They hunt invertebrates and larvae in the exposed sandy soils of sand dunes, using their long, curved bills. With only a small population in the UK, it is important to maintain suitable areas of habitats, therefore a number of projects are reintroducing grazing species to dunes. These species help to maintain areas of open ground and short grass, preventing sand dunes from becoming scrubland.

For more information on other species that may occur in sand dune habitats, including reptiles, coastal birds, waders and other mammal and bird species, check out some of our other guides to UK species identification.

Threats

The main threats to coastal sand dunes are development, recreational use, flood defences, falling water tables, climate change, invasive species and poor management. The development of housing, industry and areas such as golf courses can result in the damage or destruction of sand dune habitats. This, along with recreational use, such as excessive pedestrian and vehicular use, can increase levels of erosion and modify vegetation. Fragile sand dune habitats can be altered, reducing their stability and their ability to support diverse wildlife.

Poor management allows encroachment by shrubs and trees that, if left unchecked, could turn sand dune habitats into woodland areas, which can impact their suitability for specialist species. Flood defences can impact the natural processes of sediment removal and deposition, which can prevent sand dunes from developing or growing. These areas can become depleted if there is not enough sediment deposited to replace the amount removed by wind or wave action. The creation of harbours and other coastal structures can also disrupt natural sediment processes. Alternatively, these structures can also prevent sediment removal, causing a build-up of sediment.

Further threats include invasive species, such as cordgrass (Spartina anglica), which can dominate sand dunes, reducing the abundance and diversity of native plant species and reducing the number of animals that the area can support. Climate change can also threaten this habitat, as increasing intensity and frequency of storms can impact how sand dunes are formed. Sea-level rise, in combination with development, can also reduce the amount of area available for this habitat to form; this is termed coastal squeeze.

While grazing is used as a method for controlling over-stabilisation and succession, overgrazing can also impact sand dunes. It can reduce the development and spread of vegetation, preventing sand stabilisation and, therefore, reducing the diversity and abundance of the species the habitat can support. This also allows sand dunes to become depleted by wave or wind action, particularly where structures such as flood defences and development have reduced sediment deposition.

Conservation

To manage the impacts of these threats, many sand dune areas have been given Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) designations, which control the amount of development that can occur. Soft engineering approaches to flood defences including beach replenishment, the restoration of stabilised sand dunes and managed realignment, where areas are allowed to be inundated by the sea, can often be a more natural approach to reducing the impacts of waves compared to hard engineerings, such as sea walls and breakwaters. These can allow the natural process of sediment removal and deposition, facilitating the development of new sand dune environments.

As mentioned, sand dunes are subject to natural habitat succession, often ending in a stable deciduous woodland habitat. To maintain sand dune habitats, encroachment by woody species must be controlled and areas of open, mobile sand should be created as this prevents soil development and, therefore, over-stabilisation.

Areas of significance

Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, Northumberland

Braunton Burrows, North Devon

Holkham NNR, North Norfolk

Kenfig NNR, Glamorgan, South Wales

Forvie NNR, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Further reading

The Biology of Coastal Sand Dunes

Coastal zones are becoming increasingly topical as they face relentless pressure from a number of threats. This book provides a comprehensive introduction to the formation, dynamics, maintenance and perpetuation of coastal sand dune systems.

 

Sand Dune Conservation, Management and Restoration

This book deals with the development of temperate coastal sand dunes and the way these have been influenced by human activity. Options for management are considered and the likely consequences of taking a particular course of action highlighted.

 

Field Guide to Coastal Wildflowers of Britain, Ireland and Northwest Europe

This field guide covers more than 600 species of wildflowers and other coastal flora found in Britain and Ireland, and coastal mainland north-west Europe. Detailed species accounts describe the wildflowers, grasses, sedges and rushes that occur on the coast or in abundance within sight of the sea.

 

Wildflowers of the Sefton Coast

This book describes the typical wildflowers associated with each of the Sefton Coast’s main habitats from the saltmarshes and ‘green beaches’ to the sand-dunes; the latter showing a sequence of successional stages running inland, from the newly-formed strandline and embryo dunes, through mobile and fixed-dunes to older woodland and dune-heath.

 

Beaches and Coasts

A new edition of a unique textbook that provides an exhaustive treatment of the world’s different coasts, with a focus on climate change sea-level rise. Seeking to better educate students and readers about the sustainability of coasts and coastal environment, this exciting book offers enlightening coverage of coastal geology, processes and environments.

Beach and Dune Restoration

This new edition continues the theme of the first edition: the need to restore the biodiversity, ecosystem health, and ecosystem services provided by coastal landforms and habitats, especially in the light of climate change. This will be valuable for coastal scientists, engineers, planners, and managers, as well as shorefront residents

 

Sea of Sand: A History of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

The Great Sand Dunes sprawl along the eastern fringes of the vast San Luis Valley of south-central Colorado. Sea of Sands is the definitive history of the natural, cultural, and political forces that helped shape this incomparable landscape.