This Week in Biodiversity News – 18th September 2023

Policy and diplomacy

The House of Lords will debate mandatory Swift bricks in England. New homes may be required to build Swift bricks into new homes if the amendment is passed in parliament. The hollow bricks are unobtrusive and are relatively easy to install. The presence of these bricks in new homes would help to revive a rapidly declining Swift population and other red-listed cavity-nesting species such as House Martins and Starlings. Swift populations have declined by more than 60% since the mid-1990s.

Swift bird perching on a barbed wire in the air
Swift perching on a wire. Image by Jo Garbutt via Flickr.

The UK government is preparing to revoke the ban on new onshore windfarms, according to reports. New guidance will require action from developers on the concerns and suggestions of residents, and council approval will depend on community support. The new rules will also give local authorities more discretion over the location of new onshore projects. Since 2015, there has been a de facto ban on new onshore windfarms as only a single objection is needed to prevent construction.

African leaders demand more support and financing as the first Africa Climate Summit opens. Africa has a population of 1.3 billion people and is projected to be worst hit by the effects of the climate crisis, despite contributing relatively little to the problem. Consequently, frustration has mounted in some countries at being asked to develop in cleaner ways than richer, more polluting countries.

Leaders meeting in front of flags at a summit.
African leaders meeting at a summit. Image by Embassy of Equatorial Guinea via Flickr.
Climate crisis

Respiratory illness patients are most at risk from climate change, according to an expert report. People with conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Higher temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events will likely lead to an increase in airborne allergens, air pollution, humidity and mould. Babies and children, whose lungs are still developing, are thought to be particularly at risk.

Groundwater depletion rates could triple in India as climate warms, according to researchers. A recent study by researchers at the University of Michigan has revealed that rising temperatures have led to an increase in the withdrawal of groundwater for irrigation by farmers in India. This could result in tripled groundwater loss by 2080, posing a threat to food and water security, as well as the livelihoods of over a third of India’s population of 1.4 billion.

Tractor and farmers with a big pile of hay on a road with green vegetation around it
Indian farmers close to the city of Madurai. Image by Surajram Kumaravel via Flickr.
Science and Technology

Scientists have discovered a technique for turning plastic waste into tiny bars of soap. The researchers found that it was possible to “upcycle” plastic waste into high-value surfactants. Surfactants are a key ingredient in a range of products from lubricants to soaps and detergents. Only around 10% of plastic waste is recycled and so experts are increasingly exploring solutions for turning waste into valuable materials. The technique only produces tiny amounts of surfactant at a time, but the hope is that the process can be scaled up in the future.

Extinction Risk

St Kilda has seen a dramatic fall in seabird numbers. Since the previous census in 1999, there has been a 64% decline in seabirds on the remote archipelago west of Scotland. The National Trust for Scotland conducted the first full survey in 24 years, finding a steep decline in the numbers of Fulmars, Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes. Kittiwakes were found to have fallen by 84%, Razorbills and Guillemots by more than 35%. Fulmar numbers dropped by over 45,000 on the islands. The dramatic declines are thought to be due in part to climate change and reductions of natural prey.

Guillemots sitting on the ledge of a cliff
Guillemots at Blackers Hole, Dorset. Image by Donald Macauley via Flickr.

Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest continues to decline according to Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE). This marks the fifth consecutive month of decrease in deforestation in the region. The INPE’s deforestation alert system DETER showed that there was a 66% decline in forest clearing compared to the same month last year. The system has likewise shown a 43% decline in deforestation in the first eight months of 2023 when compared to the previous year. This follows commitments by Brazil’s president Lula da Silva to curtail the enormous forest losses seen over the past four years under the previous administration.

Read More

See our previous biodiversity news stories covering topics from bee-killing hornets to an flooding-earthquake disaster in California.

Interview with Jan Collins: Bat Surveys for Professional Ecologists 4th Edition

Purple cover for Bat Surveys for Professional Ecologists with lots of images of bats.The 4th edition of Bat Surveys for Professional Ecologists: Good Practice Guidelines is the latest update of the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) Guidelines and features new content on biosecurity, night-vision aids, tree surveys and auto-identification for bat sound analysis. Several key chapters have been expanded, and new tools, techniques and recommendations included. It is a key resource for professional ecologists carrying out surveys for development and planning.

Portrait image of the author Jan Collins

Jan Collins is the Head of Biodiversity at the Bat Conservation Trust and a former ecological consultant. Her fascination in bats began when participating in a bat biodiversity survey on a Vietnamese expedition in 1999 and she has worked in bat conservation ever since. She has been in her current role for the last 10 years and has played a central role in the editing and refining of the BCT Guidelines.

In this Q&A we had the opportunity to speak with Jan about some of the key aspects of the 4th edition of the BCT Guidelines and its consequences for ecologists.

What led you towards a career specialising in bats?

From a young age I was interested in being outdoors and engaging with nature. My studies followed this route, with a degree in Environmental Sciences and a Masters in Ecology and Management of the Natural Environment. I was first introduced to bats on a Frontier expedition to Vietnam in 1999 where we were trapping bats as part of a biodiversity survey. I was immediately hooked (what an amazing group of animals, with unique behaviours, and so very diverse!) and sought both voluntary and paid work involving bat conservation upon my return. I was an ecological consultant specialising in bats for over 10 years before joining Bat Conservation Trust in my dream job as Head of Biodiversity almost exactly 10 years ago now.

Grey long eared bat flying with wings spread at night with leaves in the background
Grey Long-eared Bat (Plecotus austriacus).

Could you tell us briefly about the work that the BCT does?

BCT is a dynamic, influential and growing national charity. We are the leading non-governmental organisation in the UK devoted solely to the conservation of bats and their environment. Our work represents the gold standard in bat conservation providing a lead for the rest of the world. We work to ensure that bat conservation is acknowledged as an integral part of sustainable development. Our work ranges from best practice guidance, advice and training through to engaging wider audiences so that we can get more people to understand the importance of bats and their conservation. A lot of our work also involves working with partners on the ground, local bat groups play a huge role in all aspects of our work. More information about all of our work can be found in the most recent annual review, found here or take a look at the Bat Conservation Trust Website here.

The 4th edition of Bat Surveys for Professional Ecologists: Good Practice Guidelines is due to be published in September 2023. What have been some of the key challenges in getting this ready for publication?

One of the key challenges for this edition was gaining consensus from the Technical Review Board on some of the recommendations. This included the continued use of transects for bat activity surveys and how tree surveys for bat roosts should be carried out, acknowledging the various limitations, and how approaches should be adapted to different types of projects. Another challenge has been how much to include on night vision aids such as infrared cameras. BCT are planning a kick-off meeting for a working group to develop separate night vision aid guidelines in the autumn (to include infrared and thermal imaging cameras) and therefore many aspects are still to be discussed and decided. We will also run a public consultation on night vision aids to help us to understand current practice and expectations from new guidelines on this topic.

Infrared camera setup in foreground pointed at a house in the background for bat survey
Infrared camera setup. Photo and setup by Richard Crompton.

How has the outlook for bat populations in the UK changed since the last edition of the Guidelines?

Data from the National Bat Monitoring Programme indicate that populations of the bat species we monitor in the UK are stable or recovering. However, it should be remembered that these trends reflect relatively recent changes in bat populations (since 1999 for most species). It is generally considered that prior to this there were significant historical declines in bat populations dating back to at least the start of the 20th century. This suggests that current legislation and conservation action to protect and conserve bats is being successful, and it is vitally important that this continues. Detailed information on trends for the 11 species monitored can be found in our National Bat Monitoring Programme reports here. We are also seeing signs of regional variations that deviate from the overall positive trend at the national level and we want to gain a better understanding of those. More data would help this process so we would encourage everyone to join in with one or more of the National Bat Monitoring Programme surveys. There are surveys that are suitable for anyone regardless of experience or equipment.

What are some of the key changes in the Guidelines?

A number of chapters have been expanded and new tools, techniques and recommended best practice incorporated. Below are a few of the changes but we will be developing a webinar in the coming months, detailing all of the changes so readers should watch out for that!

  • A new section on Biosecurity has been added to Considerations for Bat Surveys chapter, recognising that precautionary approaches are needed to protect both ecologists and bats from potential health risks.
  • Chapter 6 on Surveying Trees and Woodland for Bat Roosts has grown from five pages in the 3rd edition and now includes details of newer technologies and sources of information such as night vision aids, motion activated camera monitoring, The Bat Tree Habitat Key and the Bat Roost Tree Tag Project as well as updated guidelines for categorising the suitability of potential roost features.
  • Chapter 7 focuses solely on dusk emergence surveys, with dawn re-entry surveys removed as a standard approach due to the improved quality of emergence surveys with night vision aids and the variability in the time that bats return to their roosts.
  • Chapter 10 on Data analysis and Interpretation incorporates information on auto-identification systems and has a new section on data science which includes details on elements such as tidy data, minimal data requirement and data standardisation. There are also case studies to help illustrate key points.

How will the new Guidelines improve the way ecologists approach bat surveying?

The guidelines are the key resource for professional ecologists carrying out surveys for development and planning. The Biosecurity section in the 4th edition will ensure that ecologists carry out their work in a safe way, minimising health risks to both themselves and to bats. The latest edition acknowledges the constraints involved in surveying trees for bat roosts and offers different approaches to surveys depending on the nature, scale and timeline of the project. A new categorisation system for Potential Roost Features (PRFs) and trees reduces the subjectivity in initial assessments of trees. Dawn re-entry surveys are no longer recommended as there are questions around their efficacy for presence/absence and because emergence surveys can be vastly improved by the use of night vision aids. A stepwise approach is offered to those using auto-identification systems to analyse acoustic datasets and the section on Data Science aims to standardise approaches to data management. The guidelines also make reference to a wealth of resources that can be used to improve surveys and, in particular, interpretation of survey data.

Horseshoe bat hanging from a rock by its feet with its face facing the camera.
Horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum).

Nocturnal survey equipment such as night vision, thermal imaging and infrared cameras are becoming more important in bat survey with the 2022 Interim Guidance Note providing clarification of their role. How will the 4th edition of the Guidelines impact the way ecologists conduct bat surveys using these types of equipment?

The 4th edition supercedes (but is consistent with) the Interim Guidance Note published in May 2022. It emphasises that surveys should usually be carried out with night vision aids and that if they are not used this should be justified in reporting, with reasons provided (e.g. at known roosts when bats are known to emerge early or in situations/locations with higher levels of natural or artificial light). Dawn re-entry surveys are no longer recommended as a standard approach because the use of night vision aids vastly improves the quality of emergence surveys, when used properly. The new guidelines state that a still shot must be taken at the darkest point of the survey to show the field of view and that appropriate illumination has been used. They suggest that the use of night vision aids can be used to reduce the number of surveyors but only if the cameras/lighting reliably match or exceed what a surveyor can achieve, with evidence provided. See the 4th edition for more information on use of this equipment!

BCT are planning a kick-off meeting for a working group to develop separate night vision aid guidelines (with much more detail) in the autumn (to include infrared and thermal imaging cameras) and therefore many aspects are still to be discussed and decided. We will also run a public consultation on night vision aids, to help us to understand current practice and expectations from new guidelines on this topic.

Bat Surveys for Professional Ecologists: Good Practice Guidelines is now available to pre-order from

The Autumn 2023 issue of Conservation Land Management

The Autumn 2023 issue of Conservation Land Management (CLM), out soon, is filled with an informative mix of articles, including the management of conifers for saproxylic invertebrates as part of our Habitat Management for Invertebrates series; the advantages and disadvantages of wildflower seed sowing; assessing and mitigating the disease risk associated with conservation translocations; and the story of Lower Bridge Meadow and how it is managed today. Read on below for a more detailed summary of what you can expect to see in this issue.    

‘Wildflowers’ sown in an urban park near Harrogate, North Yorkshire. Kevin Walker

The sowing of wildflower seeds has increased over the past few years, and we now often see colourful wildflower displays in urban greenspaces or along road verges. These mixtures, however, are often made up of non-native species, and so their value can be questioned by botanists and ecologists. Dr Kevin Walker, Head of Science at the BSBI, discusses some of the key issues related to wildflower seed sowing, and looks at the advantages and disadvantages that this can have for native plants and other wildlife.  

Approximately 129 species of beetle are associated with pine in Britain, 44 of which are specialist species of old-growth pine forests, but the ecology of saproxylic invertebrate assemblages associated with pine and other conifers remains poorly known. In the third article of the Habitat Management for Invertebrates series, Keith Alexander describes the features of conifer woodlands that are vital for saproxylic invertebrates, key considerations for landowners involved in managing areas with coniferous trees, and areas where new research is needed to improve our understanding of how to manage these habitats for dead-wood invertebrates. 

Conservation translocations refer to the movement of animals or plants from one location to another for the purposes of conservation. One important aspect to consider during translocation is the risk of disease; the movement of an animal also includes all the viruses, bacteria and parasites it may carry. Sophie Common and Tony Sainsbury, who are both involved with the Disease Risk Analysis and Health Surveillance project, part of the Institute of Zoology at the Zoological Society of London, describe the impact that introduction of a novel pathogen can have on a translocated animal itself and also on other wildlife, and provide some UK-based case studies, such as the treatment of tapeworm in Hazel Dormice and the screening of the pathogen Crithidia bombi in Short-haired Bumblebees prior to their reintroduction, to illustrate how the risk of disease is assessed and managed.  

Quarantining and screening protocols were used to ensure that translocated Short-haired Bumblebees were free from the pathogen Crithidia bombi. DRAHS

Bucklebury Common, in West Berkshire, is a 340ha stretch of land and the largest open heath in the county. Used as a truck depot in the Second World War, the common is now in part designated as a Local Wildlife Site for its heathland, veteran trees and woodland. The heath is an important habitat for rare birds such as Nightjars and Woodlark, and a necessary part of its management is to control colonisation by Silver Birch from surrounding secondary woodland to prevent it from dominating the heath. After several methods, such as weed-wiping and hand pulling, were attempted with mixed success, an excavator was brought to the site with three different attachments (a flail head, a root fork and a grab) to trial an effective and possibly novel technique for removing birch seedlings. In this article, Alex Cruickshank describes the success of the different methods that were tested, and outlines how management of Bucklebury Common might develop in future. 

The nine-tonne excavator with a rotating selector grab. Alex Cruickshank

The final article in this issue focuses on a much smaller fragment of land. Lower Bridge Meadow is a 0.86ha Local Wildlife Site in Herefordshire, designated as such for its diversity of wildflowers. Interestingly, the meadow has a long-recorded land-use and management history, and here James Marsden and Helen Woodman describe both past and current approaches to management and speculate what the future may hold for this species-rich grassland. Lower Bridge Meadow is likely to be just one example out of hundreds of small sites that are set aside for the wildlife, but the failures and successes of their management are seldom shared among landowners. CLM is an ideal place to share these experiences – if you are managing a slice of land for wildlife, no matter how compact or inconsequential it might seem, we would love to hear about it. Feel free to get in touch with us to find out more about writing for CLM.   

Hay cutting at Lower Bridge Meadow. James Marsden

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). 


Book reviews in volume 34 of British Wildlife 

Ever since the very first issue back in 1989, British Wildlife has featured book reviews of the most important new titles in natural history publishing, from nature-writing bestsellers to technical identification handbooks, and every review included in the magazine since 2018 is available to read on the British Wildlife website. These reviews provide in-depth critiques and are all authored by experts in relevant subjects, ensuring an honest and insightful appraisal of each book featured. Here is a list of the book reviews included in volume 34 of British Wildlife, all with links to take you directly to the full review.

  1. The genus Cortinarius in Britain by Geoffrey Kibby and Mario Tortelli

“This monograph has keys, descriptions and notes for every species, but its crowning glory is the pictures: coloured drawings by Geoffrey Kibby combined with colour photographs taken in situ by Mario Tortelli.” 

– Peter Marren, BW 34.1 October 2022. Read the review here. 



2. Land Healer: How Farming Can Save Britain’s Countryside by Jake Fiennes

“Fiennes is forthright, his arguments stocked with enough facts and figures to baffle all but the most diligent reader. Yet for me they convince because they resound with first-hand experience and learning…” 

– James Robertson, BW 34.1 October 2022. Read the review here. 



  1. Concise Flora of the British Isles by Clive Stace

“I cannot imagine anyone with more than a passing interest in the British flora not having this book, and I suspect that many may now rely on this much cheaper alternative as their British Flora of choice.” 

– Fred Rumsey, BW 34.1 October 2022. Read the review here. 



  1. Impacts of Human Population on Wildlife: A British Perspective by Trevor J. C. Beebee

“This is a well-written account by a very well-informed British naturalist of the way population affects wildlife. It is written without recourse to technical jargon, but also with a careful, precise and temperate use of language, and with the balanced judgements which you would expect in a small-circulation scientific series published by Cambridge University Press.” 

– Peter Marren, BW 34.2 November 2022. Read the review here.  


  1. The Secret Life of the Adder: The Vanishing Viper by Nicholas Milton

The Secret Life of the Adder is very readable and richly illustrated with some excellent photographs, which, coupled with box features exploring specific sub-topics, will help the book appeal to a broad range of readers.”    

– Howard Inns, BW 34.2 November 2022. Read the review here.  



  1. Peter Scott and the Birth of Modern Conservation by Chris Moore

“This new biography would be the perfect reading for someone who, after visiting the new museum at Slimbridge, wanted to know more.”   

– Peter Marren, BW 34.3 December 2022. Read the review here.  




  1. The Flow: Rivers, Waters and Wildness by Amy-Jane Beer

“Add to that a generosity of spirit in wanting to share nature with as many people as possible and the result is a warm and immersive book. It flows along like its watery subjects, from one captivating story to the next. It was a pleasure to read.” 

– Ian Carter, BW 34.4 February 2023. Read the review here.  



  1. The Hen Harrier’s Year by Ian Carter and Dan Powell

“The Carter and Powell duo have triumphed again. This book is informative and relevant, and a delight both to read and simply to look at.” 

– Keith Betton, BW 34.5 April 2023. Read the review here.  




  1. When the Kite Builds: Why and How we Restored Red Kites across Britain by Mike Pienkowski

“His book deals with all aspects of the work, from early discussions about whether [the Red Kite reintroduction programme] would succeed (many thought not) to the practicalities of establishing a team, choosing the first release sites and then collecting, rearing and releasing the birds.”   

– Ian Carter, BW 34.6 May 2023. Read the review here.  


  1. One Thousand Shades of Green: A Year in Search of Britain’s Wild Plants by Mike Dilger

“Mike Dilger is an amiable and enthusiastic companion, describing the pleasures and pitfalls of flower-finding with a smile, a presenter who loves his subject and longs to tell you all about it.” 

– Peter Marren, BW 34.6 May 2023. Read the review here.  



  1. Plant Atlas 2020: Mapping Changes in the Distribution of the British and Irish Flora (2-Volume Set) by Peter A. Stroh, Kevin J. Walker, Tom A. Humphrey, Oliver L. Pescott and Richard J. Burkmar

“To suggest that Plant Atlas 2020 is a formidable achievement of British and Irish field botany rather undervalues it. It has left me breathless.” 

– Peter Marren, BW 34.7 June 2023. Read the review here. 


  1. The Lost Rainforests of Britain by Guy Shrubsole

“Shrubsole has written a stimulating book, and shown himself to be a powerful advocate for nature. Time will tell how far he gets with his stated ambition ‘to find Britain’s lost rainforests and bring them back’.” 

– James Robertson, BW 34.7 June 2023. Read the review here. 



  1. Trees and Woodlands by George Peterken

“The book is a timely reminder of the enormous diversity of British woodland types and of the need to respect the individuality of the woods themselves.” 

– Rob Fuller, BW 34.8 August 2023. Read the review here.  




  1. The Biodiversity Gardener: Establishing a Legacy for the Natural World by Paul Sterry

“I thoroughly enjoyed this well-designed, informative and utterly different wildlife gardening book and as a keen observer of my own (much humbler) garden I can wholeheartedly recommend it.”   

– Brett Westwood, BW 34.8 August 2023. Read the review here.  


Since its launch in 1989, British Wildlife has established its position as the leading natural history magazine in the UK, providing essential reading for both enthusiasts and professional naturalists and wildlife conservationists. Individual back issues of the magazine are available to purchase through the NHBS website, while annual subscriptions start from just £32 – you can subscribe online or by phone (01803 467166). Visit for more information.   


Author interview with Arnold Cooke: Tadpole Hunter

In Tadpole Hunter, author and conservationist Arnold Cooke provides us with a personal and unique insight into the history of amphibian conservation and monitoring within Britain. As well as telling the story of amphibian natural history since the 1960s, it also provides a very human perspective on how we got to where we are today and how our knowledge of amphibian populations and dynamics has progressed over the second half of the 20th century. Packed with wonderful photographs along with charts and tables representing monitoring data, this accessible book will appeal to anyone interested in amphibians and the history of conservation in Britain.

Arnold Cooke was a researcher and advisor for the the Nature Conservancy and Natural Conservation Council for 30 years. Since leaving English Nature in the late 1990s he has continued to pursue his interests in amphibians, birds and deer and has published widely on subjects as diverse as the status of Britain’s amphibians and reptiles, pollutants in birds and the environmental impacts of introduced species of deer. His previous book, Muntjac and Water Deer, was published in 2019.

In this Q&A we chat with Arnold about his work with amphibians in the UK, the changes he has seen during his years working in conservation, and his hopes for the future of amphibian populations.

Although working with amphibians and their conservation has been a key part of your career, you have also dedicated a lot of your free time to recording and monitoring them and adding to the general body of knowledge regarding their populations. What is it about amphibians that you find so fascinating?

Amphibians have always appealed to me particularly because they can be relatively easy to catch – at least for vertebrates. However, they could be quite scarce where I grew up, and as a boy I was more interested in birds, flowers and invertebrates. When, in 1968, I joined the Nature Conservancy team studying the impacts of pesticides on wildlife, there were indications that frogs had declined, possibly because of pesticide use. An attraction of such a project was that there were significant gaps in knowledge about the natural history of frogs and other amphibians. This meant I had a fairly blank canvas at the beginning and I needed to undertake basic studies to try to understand what made frog populations tick, as well as doing pesticide studies. Later, I joined the Nature Conservancy Council, and became involved with conserving amphibian species nationally. By then I had started studying amphibians in a personal capacity, and was able to adapt or start local projects to inform issues of national interest, such as developing monitoring methods and investigating population stability and responses to impacts of various kinds. As information from these studies became available, it could be fed back into the system to conserve amphibians – and so helped me do my job more effectively. Once started, I became increasingly hooked and often found it difficult to stop the various strands of work.

You mention how, early in your career, you were faced with the challenge of discovering how populations of amphibians had changed in the distant and recent past and that, given the lack of empirical field data, sending questionnaires to suitable candidates was the best way to gather information about this. Do you think that conservation initiatives for amphibians are still limited by accurate population/distribution data?

When I started to work on the common frog more than 50 years ago, there was no hard information on how the national population had changed, but several well-informed individuals considered that declines had occurred. I felt I needed to be sure that there was a problem before doing too much work on pesticides and should find out whether, where and when decreases might have occurred. I targeted those people in the British Isles who had observed frogs (and common toads) in their local ponds and this resulted in information from several hundred sites. To increase cover I asked biology teachers in schools about changes in their local populations. The consensus was that there had been widespread decreases for both species during the 1950s and 1960s. This technique had obvious flaws, but its overall conclusion seems broadly accepted. However, it is wise to acknowledge the drawbacks of the method and not to place too much credence on the resulting information, especially on reasons that might be offered for change. Where ponds were destroyed (or created) in an area, then there are tangible reasons for change. However, this is often not true for suggested contributions such as from collection, road mortality or, indeed, pesticides. Because of the population dynamics of amphibians, substantial changes occur naturally and loss of some individuals does not necessarily translate into population decline.

During later decades of the twentieth century, several similar studies were undertaken, but since the turn of the century an attempt has been made to set up a statistically sound monitoring system for the widespread amphibians and reptiles. Unfortunately, number of sites covered initially was insufficient to provide a completely satisfactory basis for the scheme to go forward in that form. Consequently some modifications and compromises were needed, and a new approach has now started. Progress is being made employing novel field, laboratory and computer methods. And I am hopeful that herpetologists can continue to tap into citizen science projects on other animal groups, particularly birds, where huge numbers of competent individuals might be organised to gather additional data on amphibians.

I should also say that knowledge of the much rarer natterjack toad is exceptionally good. All known colonies are recorded regularly, and some have been monitored continuously for 50 years. This has allowed fine tuning of conservation action at specific sites and more broadly. And the very rare pool frog receives constant attention at its introduction sites.

As someone that worked at the forefront of conservation for many decades and has seen a huge number of changes, both in the natural world and in the human organisations and councils that are charged with protecting them, are you broadly hopeful for the future of British wildlife?

Thank you for the compliment, but I’m not sure how long I’ve spent at the ‘forefront of conservation’ – especially during the last 25 years when I’ve deliberately busied and buried myself in the detail of my own interests. Throughout my life, I’ve worked as a specialist in a range of disparate areas, rather than as a rounded generalist, so I’ve tended to focus on specific issues within the broad spectrum of wildlife conservation.

It’s true, however, that I’ve seen huge changes over the last 55 years. Some changes are of great concern – no one 50 years ago saw global warming coming. I remember there was talk about 40 years ago of the possibility of another ice age being just round the corner. The changes in biodiversity over that time have of course mainly been losses. On the other hand, there have been other types of change providing hope that British wildlife does have a reasonable future. I am thinking, for instance, of the numbers of professional people and volunteers now involved in conservation, the knowledge that has accrued, the conservation methods that have been shown to work and the legislation that has been passed. I’m aware that successive governments haven’t necessarily dealt kindly with environmental issues (or conservationists), but many peoples’ attitudes have changed markedly and younger generations are especially concerned about the environment. Just as conservationists in the past achieved more than might be expected because of their dedication, so should conservationists of the future – and there will be many more of them.

The wildlife communities and their distribution will, though, probably look very different in the future. I have lived for 55 years on the edge of the Cambridgeshire Fens. That area doesn’t sound very promising for wildlife, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover in 1968 that there were several nature reserves within easy reach including three important National Nature Reserves. However, I soon realised that reserves were like currants in a cake, there being very little of interest between them. When my wife and I drove to Norfolk to visit three other NNRs, we only managed to find one of them, despite knowing their grid references – and we had to negotiate a barbed wire fence to get into that. A permit was required for access in those days. The situation is of course very different now: visitors are generally welcomed. And reserves are increasingly being connected up, as is occurring in my area with two of the NNRs. I don’t doubt that much of our biodiversity will in future be experienced inside landscape-sized areas. I just hope it works. I regret that kids today don’t have the freedom that I had to explore and find things out for myself. Presumably, however, accessibility of knowledge will continue to increase. No need for children to learn and remember much, just use the phone app. Not wishing to be too cynical, surely enough youngsters will be captivated to become the dedicated conservationists of the future?

As regards amphibians, I believe we have more or less stopped the declines of the twentieth century and recoveries have started for some species. The future is uncertain but there are reasons to be hopeful.

Your working life has been incredibly fascinating and varied. Are there any parts of it that you remember with particular fondness or that stand out in your memory?

I’ve been very lucky with what I’ve been allowed or managed to do during my working life of more than 60 years – that’s using the word ‘working’ very loosely. I still have a reasonably good grasp of what I did and when I did it because I’ve usually written up (but not necessarily published) my observations and thoughts in some form or other. When I’ve been able to study wildlife, there has been very little that I haven’t enjoyed. There have been stand-out moments such as: in 1962 when I found my observations demonstrated that birds in suburbia were more approachable than those in the countryside; in 1982 when I watched breeding newts by torchlight for the first time; and in 1994 when I realised I could put out tempting vegetation for muntjac in a wood and find it had been consumed by the following morning. Each of these moments led to the development of field monitoring techniques.

Then there have also been periods that have been memorable for different reasons. The five years 1968-1973 with the old Nature Conservancy at Monks Wood were marked by an extraordinary level of interest in our work shown by the public, politicians and even royalty. In contrast, the last couple of decades have been spent quietly at home pottering around doing as much fieldwork as possible and sorting out what results meant. My qualifications are in chemistry and biochemistry and, had things turned out differently, I might have been more of a lab worker. But working outside has always been my preference. When working for English Nature in the 1990s, we were required to fill in risk assessment forms when away from the office, including when working outside normal office hours. Some years, I filled in nearly 200 such forms, revealing how much fieldwork I did as well as providing an illustration of why I was glad to leave behind modern management methods in the late 1990s.

What would be the main message you would give to the conservationists and ecologists that are following in your footsteps?

Because of my rather blinkered working experience during the current century, I think the most appropriate message is simply to say, ‘good luck and thank you’. Everyone needs some luck in order to have a satisfying career and I genuinely appreciate what present and future generations are doing and will continue to do to help understand and conserve wildlife.

Finally, what is occupying your time at the moment? Do you have plans for further books?

My main task this year has probably been seeing Tadpole Hunter to fruition, so it’s good to have it published at last. I’d wanted to review some of the topics in the book for many years, but they’ve only appeared in book form because of the Covid pandemic. My wife and I needed to shield during the lockdowns, so I started to review a couple of subject areas in March 2020. Later that summer, I realised that I had the basis for a book, so roughed it out and continued writing. I don’t intend writing another book, in part because of the time commitment. While writing Tadpole Hunter, I published several items on deer and have vague plans for other articles once the dust has settled from the book.

I have occasionally tinkered with bird behaviour in a very simple way and may revisit data collected in the 1980s. Earlier this year, I was surprised and very pleased to be invited to contribute my historic data to a global database of avian ‘flight initiation distances’, which precipitated a dive into material I hadn’t looked at for many years. Another line I might pursue concerns citizen science. I’ve participated in a number of such projects over the years, recording birds in particular, but also mammals and trees. At the moment, I’m interested in what an individual participant could get out of it? If repeated annually, it can provide useful monitoring information on species at your location. In some instances, I have carried on recording for long after the citizen science project finished.

Although I’m now doing very little fieldwork, I still have ideas to explore, but I’m sure there won’t be another book unless……….

Tadpole Hunter: A Personal History of Amphibian Conservation and Research was published by Pelagic Publishing in August 2023 and is available from

This Week in Biodiversity News – 28th August 2023

Science and Research

Mountain treelines are ascending due to climate change. Scientists at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, used remote sensing technology to analyse mountain tree cover. The results show that 70% of mountain treelines moved upwards during the period between 2000 and 2010. Trees are moving fastest in the tropical regions at an average of 3.1 meters a year; the movement is accelerating with time. The changes in tree distribution could be catastrophic for some species. Alpine species are especially at risk of being crowded out by the treeline moving uphill.

River with trees and mountains in the background
Alaskan treeline. Image by Peter Rintels via Flickr.
Climate crisis

Earthquake and rare tropical storm Hilary strike southern California at the same time. The storm brought rains of 10 to 12cm and caused power outages, flooding and mudslides across the region. Southern California, which usually experiences persistent drought, is vulnerable to rainstorms. Flash floods and mudslides hit the region while a 5.1 magnitude earthquake struck near Oxnard north of Los Angles. No immediate reports of damage were reported.

Broken trees with muddy landscape after a mudsline
Devastation after a mudslide. Image by Governor Jay Inslee via Flickr.

Canada deploys its military forces to tackle extreme wildfires in British Columbia. 35,000 people have been evacuated in the western province in what has been described as a “extraordinarily serious situation” by the country’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Fires are also raging in Canada’s Northwest Territories with its capital city, Yellowknife, under threat and having been evacuated. The world has seen an unprecedented summer of wildfires with sweeping fires in Hawaii and the Mediterranean, prompting calls for action on the climate crisis.


Ecuadorians have voted against oil extraction in Yasuní National Park in a nationwide referendum. 5.2 million people voted to prevent further drilling of crude oil in the National Park with 3.6 million voting against. Excavations have been underway since 2016 with 57,000 barrels of oil being produced per day. The protected area is home to a delicate rainforest ecosystem and indigenous communities. Oil spills, road construction and drilling provoked a fierce response from many indigenous and environmental groups culminating in the recent referendum victory. State oil company Petroecuador now has one year to withdraw from the region. Advocates for the drilling including some indigenous communities have argued that stopping the drilling will arrest development in the region and deprive the country of $1.2 billion in revenue.

Waterfall dropping over a cliff into a pool in the middle of a hilly rainforest.
Waterfall in Yasuní National Park, Ecuador. Image by Alan & Flora Botting via Flickr.

Mexico announces the creation of 13 new protected areas with three more expected to be declared by the end of the month. The six new national parks and seven protected areas cover 17,918 hectares ranging from the Mexican states of Baja California and Baja California Sur to Oaxaca and Guerrero. The new additions bring the total number of federally protected areas in Mexico to 200.

Kielder conservation efforts see 11 young ospreys fledging this year. The Kielder Osprey Project in Northumberland National Park has helped 114 osprey chicks take their inaugural flights in 15 years. The success comes after ospreys were extinct in England for most of the 20th century. The recently fledged chicks will practice their hunting and flying skills over the next few weeks as they build up body fat reserves before they begin a 3,000-mile migration to Africa for the winter.

Osprey bird gliding through the air with a fish between its talons.
Osprey with its typical prey – a fish. Image by texaus1 via Flickr.
Extinction risk

Reports of bee-killing Asian hornets have risen to their highest point yet in the UK. The invasive hornet kills and dismembers its prey and presents a significant threat to native UK bee species. The hornet species first arrived in Europe in 2004 and has since caused havoc in France where they have devastated national honeybee populations. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in the UK has launched an eradication program in response to sightings in the UK. Once the hornets have become established, they are nearly impossible to eliminate. Some success has been seen in the Channel Islands where an army of volunteers are working to counter the hornets, employing techniques like triangulation and tiny radio tags to find and destroy hornet nests. However, there are doubts about how effective this action would be over a much larger area like that of the UK. A total of 39 have been spotted in the UK with 16 of those sightings occurring this year including locations as far north as Newcastle upon Tyne.

Close up face of a Asian hornet.
Male Asian hornet (Vespa velutina). Image by Gilles San Martin via Flickr.

A tiny river fly has been brought back from the brink after a successful breeding scheme. The critically endangered insect, the scarce yellow sally, is a type of stone fly that was thought to have become extinct in the UK decades ago. However, after several of the flies were discovered in the River Dee, a successful breeding programme was launched at Chester Zoo. Scientists plan to release the tiny insect in the future, but concerns remain about the health of Britain’s rivers. The tiny stonefly requires pristine conditions to survive, however, only a small percentage of Britain’s waterways are considered to be at Good Ecological Status within the Water Framework Directive.

Read More

See our previous biodiversity news stories covering topics from beaver reintroductions to falcon trafficking.

European Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Group (EBHL) Annual Conference

From Tuesday June 20th to Friday June 23rd, NHBS attended the business meeting of the European Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Group, or EBHL for short. This annual conference brings together librarians from academic libraries and herbaria for several days of talks and behind-the-scenes tours. For NHBS, this is always a valuable occasion to meet and speak to some of our key customers in person, both from Europe and the USA. This year, the meeting took place in London and was co-organised by four institutes: The Natural History Museum, London; The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; The Linnean Society of London, and The Royal Horticultural Society. So, what happens at such a meeting?

A Wardian Case on display at Chelsea Physic Garden

This year’s theme was “plant humanities”, resulting in an eclectic mixture of talks from, not just librarians, but also historians and arts and humanities scholars. For example, medieval historian Isabel Davis talked about digitisation of collections and the drawbacks and advantages that come with dealing with scanned documents rather than the originals. Mark Nesbitt and Kiri Ross Jones both related the experience of Kew in developing an interdisciplinary research programme with external partners in fields outside of botany. A recurrent theme in several of these talks was how botanical gardens are dealing with their origin and history as colonial institutes, and the legacy of their collections that have been built with objects taken from other countries. Given today’s discussions and debates around decolonisation, this is, understandably, a topic that requires serious attention, and humanities scholars and historians can often bring new perspectives and ideas to the table. Palace of Palms author Kate Teltscher, for example, spoke about a new project she is working on that will reexamine the history of Kew, which might just result in another book.

The Royal Botanic Garden, Kew now has a permanent treetop walk in its garden offering stunning views across London.

This conference also saw a break-out session, chaired by Dr Anna Svensson from Uppsala University, on a topic of particular interest to archivists: the presence of pressed plants, or traces thereof, inserted in old books. She is studying these as part of a three-year research project to identify why people did this, how it relates to the development of early bound herbaria (books known as horti sicci, the plural of hortus siccus), and what conservation challenges they pose for archivists and librarians.

The Linnean Society has a rare collection of documents and books that belonged to Karl Linnaeus, including early editions of his works that he annotated while developing his system of biological nomenclature.

Alongside this busy programme of talks, during the afternoons the organisers had arranged behind-the-scenes tours around parts of the collections of all four institutes that are normally not accessible to the public. As such, on Tuesday I was able to marvel at Sir Hans Sloane’s collection of bound herbarium books that are held at the NHM in London. Not only did he put together some of these himself, later in life he bought or inherited collections of other people, resulting in over 200 large volumes with pressed plants from around the world. In the evening, I stood right next to a Wardian case during a tour of the Chelsea Physic Garden. Wednesday I admired some remarkable archival material at Kew (and enjoyed their treetop walk), while on Thursday I marvelled at the large collection of original manuscripts and books from Carl Linnaeus that are held in the basement room of the Linnean Society. This included a copy of an early edition of the Systema Naturae that has his handwritten annotations all over the margins. Friday the whole group took a coach to RHS Wisley, just outside of London, where we toured both the original research buildings and the brand-new library and herbarium of this remarkable horticultural institute.

The new library at RHS Wisley has been awarded several prizes for its architecture and offers views into the garden throughout the building.

We would like to thank the organisers of this year’s conference, in particular Isabelle Charmantier and Will Beharrell who headed it all up. NHBS is looking forward to next year’s meeting and welcomes opportunities to develop closer ties with some of the professional and amateur organisations that we count amongst our customers, whether through attendance or sponsorship. Do not hesitate to reach out to us.

Author interview with Mark Avery: Reflections

cover for the book reflections with hillsides covered with animals and flowersReflections is a passionate commentary on the state of nature and conservation in the UK. In it, Dr Mark Avery explores the current condition of wildlife, why wildlife conservation is failing and what can be done to reverse its plight. He examines the role NGOs, land owners and government have in its failure, and crucially examples of successes too. Reflections is a valuable resource for those wondering what exactly is going wrong in nature conservation and what action can be taken to remedy this.

Picture of mark avery

Mark Avery is an author, blogger and former director of conservation at the RSPB where he worked for 25 years. His previous works include Inglorious where he examines grouse shooting in the British uplands, and Remarkable Birds, a compendium showcasing the extraordinary wonders of the birds that share our world. We had the opportunity to speak to Mark about how he came to write Reflections and some of the key themes from the book.

Could you tell us about how you came to write Reflections?

I guess there are at least three reasons for writing a book. First, that you have a great imagination and can tell scintillating stories. Well, that’s not me and I write non-fiction, though I have wondered about a fictional book about nature conservation and nature conservationists. Second, you have some amazing experiences that you want to share with the world. That’s not me either. Third, you think you have ideas about the world that will be useful to others, and that’s the category that Reflections is in. I have worked in wildlife conservation for over three and a half decades and so I’ve lived the issues about which I write, but I’m not writing about my experiences, I’m writing about my thoughts, ideas and take on the world. Those ideas were bubbling up so much that I thought I’d write them down. It felt a bit like a pressure valve being released. The good thing from my point of view is that it seems that lots of other people relate to my thoughts. That’s thrilling for any author.

How do you think people’s attitudes towards, and awareness of wildlife have changed in your lifetime?

I was a teenager 50 years ago so looking back to then, animal welfare concerns, which aren’t quite the same as conservation concerns but are mixed together in all of our heads, have grown enormously. That affects how people think of field ‘sports’, predator control, snaring etc. I welcome many of those changes in attitude. Climate change has come along and dominates, rightly, the environment scene, and that has implications for wildlife conservation. I sometimes think that nature conservation is a bit squeezed between welfare issues and hard environmental ones. But over that period conservationists have moved from playing in small nature reserves and chasing people persecuting wildlife, to a greater force having some influence (not enough!) on big public policies such as farming, forestry and fisheries. We need to develop more strength in those political realms if we are to see nature recover.

red kite raptor flying in the air
Red kite numbers have bounced back in the UK following a long-running protection programme. Image by José Manuel Armengod via Flickr.

You talk in Reflections about situations where considerable gains in wildlife conservation can be obtained in exchange for small losses in profit from land use activities. How do you think land managers can be convinced to take the hit to their profits for the benefit of wildlife?

With respect, I don’t accept the premise of the question. It is utterly pointless to try to get a vested interest like agriculture (house building, private forestry, shooting etc.) to act for the public good. Our wildlife conservation bodies are too timid and nice to realise that is a dead end. One has to jump over the heads of such industry representatives and persuade the decision-makers directly to implement public policies that deliver public goods. Focus effort on the decision-makers!

In the book you frequently mention the trade-offs between the state of wildlife in the UK and living standards. How do you think we can we balance the need for government investment in wildlife conservation and in critical public services like the NHS?

I’m glad you noticed that – we live in a complex human world and most people don’t give a stuff about wildlife. The partial answer to that question is that spending on wildlife conservation is tiny – that’s why it doesn’t work very well. It could increase many times over and still be tiny compared with other expenditures. It would be a false dichotomy to say we can have either a thriving wildlife or a thriving NHS, but I concede at the moment neither is thriving. Another partial answer is that governments should use more regulation (‘thou shalt not’s) rather than spending money on persuasion. They are cheap for the public purse. And of course, there are real benefits, that have economic valuations, in having wildlife-rich landscapes that flood less (or less damagingly), store more carbon and make people happier. But it’s a big subject. Give me a list of government spending across departments and I’ll cross a few things out (I might start with nuclear warheads) but your list would be different from mine, I guess.

You mention that the number of people actively interested in wildlife conservation is relatively small. How can we get more people to care about wildlife in the UK?

This is what our wildlife NGOs would call recruitment, or growing their memberships. The trouble is, it’s easier to recruit members than committed members interested in nature conservation. The National Trust’s five million members are arguably a weaker force for good that Wild Justice’s zero members but 35,000+ newsletter readers (but I’m maybe biased there). I think we could get more nature conservation done, particularly more impact on government policies, by getting existing members more mobilised than we could by getting more members. We have a small army of devoted conservationists – it’s just that they aren’t well armed with facts and tasks. Having more badly equipped troops isn’t a great recipe for success, I feel.

Do you think it is likely that we will see an improvement in the state of wildlife in the UK?

I can’t say that it is likely but it is certainly possible – but impossible with business as usual. We, and this means our largest wildlife charities, need to get much better at influencing land use policies. That’s entirely feasible but needs a change of mindset. I hope Reflections will encourage that change of mindset.

Do you have any plans for further books that you can tell us about?

I always have ideas, I have two at the moment, but sometimes they come to nought, so I’m not telling! Watch this space!

author holding book

Reflections by Mark Avery is now available in hardback and paperback from

This Week in Biodiversity News – 14th August 2023

Science and Research 

Scientists in the US have achieved net energy gain in a nuclear fusion reaction for a second time. This comes after a successful initial breakthrough test in December of last year. Nuclear fusion involves using heat energy to fuse two elements into forming a larger element and in the process releasing a burst of energy. If successful, this process could open the door to a potentially near-infinite supply of clean energy. However, scientists have cautioned that the technology is far from solving the climate crisis as significant hurdles remain before fusion power plants can be up and running. 

nuclear power plant by a river
Nuclear fission plant. Image by Tony Fischer via Flickr.

Researchers are using machine learning to help identify underground fungal networks. Mycorrhizal fungi form an interface with plant roots and play an important role in nutrient and water transfer from the soil. They are also an important carbon store with a predicted 13 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide moving from plants to mycorrhizal networks each year. The Society for the Protection of Underground Networks (SPUN) is working to map mycorrhizal fungal networks across the world and, to aid this, they are employing a combination of remote-sensing technology and machine-learning algorithms. The algorithms are used to predict zones of high mycorrhizal diversity which researchers can then survey and take samples for laboratory analysis.

Climate Crisis 

Oceans have hit their hottest temperature yet spelling dire consequences for marine biodiversity. Temperatures reached 20.96°C beating the 2016 record according to the EU’s Copernicus climate change service.  Changing ocean temperatures can cause shifts in marine species distributions, impacting marine food webs. There has also been widespread coral bleaching as a result of changing temperatures. Rocketing ocean temperatures come after global average temperature records were broken on multiple occasions last month.

Bleached coral. Image by National Marine Sanctuaries via Flickr.

Wildfires have swept across the island of Maui with close to 100 deaths and many more missing. The town of Lahaina with a population of almost 13,000 was mostly destroyed in the worst Hawaiian natural disaster in more than 60 years. The incident comes after a wave of wildfires hit the South of Europe in July. Scientists have warned that climate change is creating conditions which make it much more likely for wildfires to spread. Wildfires are common in parts of Hawaii, but the scale of the recent blaze is largely unprecedented.


Three baby beaver kits have been born in Somerset according to the National Trust. The kits were born on two different National Trust sites on the Holnicote Estate near Minehead. Beavers were initially introduced to the site in 2020, more than 400 years since beavers were last seen on Exmoor. The presence of beavers has considerably altered the water levels at the sites encouraging other species such as water voles, amphibians, fish and otters. 

Beaver by a river staring at the camera
Beaver. Image by Deborah Freeman via Flickr.
Extinction Risk

Falcon trafficking has soared in the Middle East driving a decline of wild populations in the region. Falconry is a popular sport in the oil-rich gulf countries of the Arabian Peninsula where there is a high demand for wild peregrine and saker falcons which are prised for their hunting abilities. Trade in wild falcons is restricted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). High poverty rates in Syria, Iraq and Jordan, however, have driven many to the lucrative trade where enforcement by authorities is a low priority following decades of civil war and conflict.

saker falcon on falconers glove
Saker Falcon. Image by Ferran Pestaña via Flickr.

Scientists have found two new types of mole in eastern Turkey. Talpa hakkariensis and Talpa davidiana tatvanensis were confirmed by DNA analysis to be biologically distinct from closely related moles. The two new types of moles live in the mountainous terrain of eastern Turkey surviving extreme temperatures and weather conditions. 

South American frogs may be communicating with each other through the bioluminescence of their skin according to scientists. Fluorescence was first shown to be naturally occurring in amphibians in 2017 which initiated further research into the phenomenon. Researchers captured 528 frogs in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru and found that all 151 frog species tested showed some degree of fluorescence. Fluorescence may make for a more noticeable display during mating calls in low light conditions. Green fluorescence is present in the vocal sac region of the frogs, and as the frogs call this region expands and contracts. Orange fluorescence could act as a warning signal to predators or serve as camouflage.

Read More

See our previous biodiversity news stories covering topics from white-tailed eagle reintroductions to North Atlantic right whales.

Conservation Volunteering at Prawle Point with Buglife

The NHBS team are passionate about nature and conservation, and to help them to get involved with local volunteer schemes, NHBS encourages colleagues to apply for up to three paid days each year to volunteer with a conservation project or organisation of their choice. Catherine Mitson, Assistant Editor for British Wildlife and Conservation Land Management, tells us about her time volunteering with Buglife and the bee species she is surveying.

The Long-horned Bee Eucera longicornis truly lives up to its name. The males sport bizarrely long antennae, and this in combination with their large size makes them instantly recognisable. Female Long-horned Bees, however, lack these oversized antennae and are more robust compared to the males, and can sometimes be confused with Anthophora (flower bees) species. Although the Long-horned Bee is a type of solitary bee and each female will dig her own nest hole, they tend to nest in aggregations in a variety of habitats, such as woodland rides and clearings, brownfield sites and coastal meadows. Here, however, we are focused on the south-facing soft cliffs along the South Devon coastline.

Long-horned Bee. Catherine Mitson

Prawle Point SSSI is a fantastic site for invertebrates, including the Long-horned Bee which can be found nesting in the cliff face or foraging on plants such as clovers, Bird’s-foot-trefoil and Narrow-leaved Everlasting-pea along the cliff top. What makes Prawle Point even more special is that it is the only site in the UK where the Long-horned Bee’s cuckoo, the Six-banded Nomad Bee Nomada sexfasciata, is known to be found. Like the bird, cuckoo bees lay their eggs in the nest of another bee, the host, and once hatched the larvae will eat the food stores that had been gathered by the host for its own larvae.

Prawle Point SSSI. Catherine Mitson


The Six-banded Nomad Bee is arguably the UK’s rarest bee, and relies on a healthy, viable population of its host. Sadly, due to the loss of flower-rich grassland, the Long-horned Bee has declined dramatically; once found in most southern English counties, its range is now restricted to the south coast of England and Wales with a few scattered inland sites. But a new project is hoping to turn the tide for the Long-horned Bee, the Six-banded Nomad Bee and many other rare invertebrates along the South Devon coast.  

Six-banded Nomad Bee. Philip Strange

Life on the Edge 

Life on the Edge, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, is an exciting new partnership with South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Buglife, National Trust, Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust, and the South West Coast Path Association. Focused on the South Devon coast between Berry Head and Wembury, Life on the Edge is aiming to restore viable populations of some the UK’s rarest invertebrates, including the Six-Banded Nomad Bee, by expanding and reconnecting the vital coastal habitats on which these species depend. There are 30 invertebrate species that this project will support, such as the Moon Spider, Great Green Bush-cricket, Mediterranean Oil Beetle and the Devon Red-legged Robberfly, but of course, by improving and expanding the habitats used by these species, a plethora of wildlife will benefit. 

Great Green Bush-cricket. Catherine Mitson

Buglife will be working alongside its project partners to create opportunities for local communities, landowners, parish councils and schools to get involved via volunteer days, habitat management and creation workshops, wildlife gardening and species monitoring. The project is currently in its development phase and is focused on public consultation and species and habitat monitoring – this work will help to secure funding for the next phase of the project.

NHBS conservation volunteering day 

My role as a volunteer is to undertake surveys throughout the flight season of both the Long-horned Bee and its cuckoo between May and July and record the number of individuals seen along this stretch of coast, with a particular focus on known nest aggregation sites and the coastal path between Gara Rock and Mattiscombe Sands. The survey consists of slowly walking along the coastal path, stopping to count Long-horned Bees when I see them. I record the number of males and females, the location/grid reference, and any extra information that may be useful, such as the plants that they are feeding on.

It was wonderful to see so many Long-horned Bees foraging along the cliff top throughout the day. As mentioned above, they tend to favour plants such as Bird’s-foot-trefoil, clovers, Narrow-leaved Everlasting-pea, brambles and Kidney Vetch, and there are sections of the coastal path where these can be found in abundance. Unfortunately, these plentiful patches are in short supply, and Buglife hopes to identify the key areas for habitat enhancement to support the population of Long-horned Bees, which will in turn benefit the Six-banded Nomad Bee.  

The Long-horned Bee forages on plants such as Bird’s-foot-trefoil. Catherine Mitson

The highlight of the day was watching one nest aggregation in particular, a site that we have become quite familiar with over the years. It is always a bustling hub of activity and is primarily where the Six-banded Nomad Bee has been recorded in the past. Female Long-horned Bees were repeatedly flitting in and out of the nest entrance holes, with the occasional male patrolling the nest entrances in search of a mate. Sadly, I did not see the Six-banded Nomad Bees this time but was pleased to count a total of 75 Long-horned Bee sightings throughout the day.  

I have been involved in monitoring this site since 2017 and so it was wonderful to have the support of NHBS to spend some time at Prawle Point to contribute to this year’s records. It is vital that monitoring along this stretch of coastline continues, especially as our records of the Six-banded Nomad Bee are so few. To find out more about Buglife, the conservation projects they are currently involved in and how you can get involved, visit 


Saunders, P. 2018. Conservation of the Long-horned Bee in Cornwall. British Wildlife 29: 321–327.  

Falk, S. & Lewington, R. 2018. Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britian and Ireland. Bloomsbury, London.