Author Interview: Peter Eeles, Life cycles of British & Irish Butterflies

NHBS recently attended Butterfly Conservation’s 2019 AGM in Shrewsbury. The event was highly enjoyable, with many excellent speakers, and we were excited to unveil the brand new NHBS Moth Trap at our stall; lookout for a blog post on this new product shortly.

During the day we also caught up with Peter Eeles, creator of the UK Butterflies website and author of the ground-breaking Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies to talk about his fascination with Lepidoptera and the process of writing this incredible book. Peter was also kind enough to sign a number of copies of his book which are now available to purchase here.

1) Could you tell us something about your background and how you first became interested in butterflies?

I grew up on the southern side of Cheltenham, on the edge of the Cotswolds, an area rich in butterflies and other wildlife. It was all rather idyllic and I remember with some fondness the time spent out in the countryside with my fellow explorers! My father and my ‘uncle Fred’ encouraged this interest, but it was watching a Garden Tiger moth emerge from its chrysalis, and seeing scores of Red Admiral feeding on rotting plums, that tipped me over the edge and into a butterfly-filled life.

 

2) How long did it take you to put Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies together?

Two years to write, 20 years to obtain the photos needed, and a lifetime of study! I should say that the book would not have seen the light of day were it not for the contributions of many others, especially members of UK Butterflies (a website that I set up in 2002), the team at Butterfly Conservation, and various experts in their chosen field, such as David Simcox, project manager of the Large Blue reintroduction programme.

Life cycles of British & Irish Butterflies

3) In your introduction to the book, you detail its aims in relation to Frohawk’s landmark text, Natural History of British Butterflies. You say that Frohawk is one of your heroes: was his work the driving force for you wanting to take on your own project?

I wouldn’t say it was the driving force, but it was certainly a huge inspiration in terms of understanding the ‘art of the possible’, and the amount of field observation and research that would be needed. The driving force was a desire to produce something different yet useful, especially a work that would contribute, in some small way, to the conservation of our butterfly fauna. Something ‘clicked’ when I read several research papers that relied on the identification of a particular larval instar (the period between moults), and I realised that anything that could help the army of butterfly recorders identify each instar and the immature stages more generally would be a great help, with the potential to open up a whole new dimension of butterfly recording.

 

4) What was the most challenging butterfly lifecycle to document?

That’s a harder question to answer than you might think! Chequered Skipper was challenging due to the amount of travel involved, although a work placement in Glasgow for two years, on and off, really helped! Mountain Ringlet was a challenge due to the remoteness of its sites, its short flight period and its tendency to disappear deep into grass tussocks in anything other than very bright conditions. The Large Blue, which spends most of its life in an ant nest, was always going to be a challenge, and my thanks go to David Simcox, Jeremy Thomas and Sarah Meredith for their help with this tricky subject.

Chequered Skipper life cycle – Life cycle of British & Irish Butterflies

5) There is evidence that butterflies are already being influenced by climate change – what worries you the most about this? Are there any species that you will be excited about seeing more frequently in the UK in the future?

My biggest concern is with less mobile species that are unable to move to suitable patches in our increasingly fragmented landscape, as their habitat becomes unsuitable, or is lost due to development or agriculture. Conversely, it would be nice to see semi-regular visitors, such as the Long-tailed Blue and continental Swallowtail, gain a foothold, just as the Red Admiral and Clouded Yellow can now be considered resident, with records of successful overwintering each year in southern England.

 

6) Have you any new book projects in mind for the future?

No plans as yet, but never say never!

Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies
Hardback,  Sept 2019,  £29.99 £34.99

With detailed descriptions and photos of the adult, egg, caterpillar and chrysalis of each species, this book reveals in detail the fascinating life cycles of the 59 butterfly species that are considered resident in – or regular migrants – to Britain and Ireland.

Signed copies available, while stocks last.

Browse all our books covering insects and other invertebrates.

Biodiversity News

In a Twist of Fate, Ant Expert Discovers Distinct New Species in His Own Backyard

Jack Longino is a well known ant expert who has a talent for discovering new species of ant in remote locations around the world. This time, he barely had to leave his front door to discover a new species. In August 2018, after dark, Longino caught a glimpse of four ants in his garden that looked a bit odd. After further examination, he discovered more unusual ants which he thought were introduced through commercial potting soil. After continued analysis, he later realised he had discovered a new species of ant in his back garden.

 

Humpback whales in the South Atlantic have recovered from near extinction

After being almost hunted to extinction, the South Atlantic population of humpback whales has bounced back. It is estimated that 25,000 humpbacks now live in the western South Atlantic, between South America and Antarctica. The lowest this population reached was 440 in 1958 however commercial whaling banned in 1986. Since then, this population and others began to recover. Advances in genetic data collection and analysis allowed scientists to determine that this population of humpback whales has good genetic variation, enough to consider them healthy. These recovering whales now face threats such as climate change and marine debris.

 

‘Lost’ Species of Mouse-Deer Spotted in Vietnam After 30 Years

Through the use of motion activated camera traps, a rare mousedeer has been found again after being presumed extinct. The silver-backed chevrotain is a small even-toed ungulate found in the forested Annamites region of Vietnam but hadn’t been seen since 1990. This discovery has lead scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and other institutions to push for immediate conservation efforts for the hoofed mammal. Efforts are now focussed on finding more information about these elusive creatures to further conservation efforts.

Author Interview: Richard Mabey, Turning the Boat for Home: A Life Writing about Nature

Richard Mabey is often referred to as the father of modern nature writing. His latest book is a retrospective of occasional writings compiled by the author over the last couple of decades. In the author’s words; ‘a sketchy reflection of a life’s work does emerge‘  He has taken time to sign copies of his latest book and answer our questions about fifty years of nature writing.

 

1. Could you tell us a little about your background and how you got interested in nature?

I was one of that generation of kids allowed to run wild out of doors. We had a hundred-acre abandoned landscape park at the end of the garden, and in it, I saw my first barn owls, smelt my first storm-splintered wood and ate my first hawthorn leaves. Later I was a boy-birder, and by my teenage years began attaching huge symbolic importance to them. The first chiffchaff had to sing in a particular ash clump, the first swifts had to appear on May Day, and I held my blazer collar for luck on the walk to school to will them back. I did my first nature scribblings then, essays and over-romantic poems, shamelessly aping Richard Jefferies and Dylan Thomas.
I went to Oxford to read biochemistry despite never having done a mite of formal biology- but recoiled in horror from the curriculum and changed to philosophy and politics in my first fortnight. I’ve never regretted the change, for the perspective it gave me, or for the fact that school made me just about scientifically literate.

2. Your new book looks back over a life’s work and features a collection of ‘occasional writing’; how did you decide which works to include?

I realised I had got a good portion of the work already done. Over the past 20 years, I’ve done a fair amount of writing – essays, introductions to other writers’ books, radio programmes – which contain autobiographical elements. So, a long think piece I wrote for the Guardian about the history of foraging in Europe contains an account of how I came to write my own contribution, my first book, Food for Free. A BBC Radio 3 talk I delivered live from Bristol (as part of a Nature and Music festival) became an exploration of the relation between birdsong and human music. I worked a lot on most of the pieces, extending them and cutting out overlaps, and strung them together so that they made a rough sketch of a working life.

3. Is there one ‘nature writer’ that has been an inspiration to you?

There are dozens. But the one who struck most sparks is Annie Dillard. Her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) uncoiled new mycorrhizal links between imagination and the physical world. Pilgrim is a poetic interrogation of evolution, done through an acute contemplation of the natural life of a remote Appalachian creek. Why should anything – light, love, leaf – be the way it is? Dillard’s style is mischievous, gleeful, explosive- just like creation itself. I’ve long been a fan of American nature writing- Barry Lopez, Gretel Ehrlich, Gary Snyder, back to the master Henry Thoreau. The States’ vast untrammelled landscapes seem to nourish a similar freedom in its writers, in contrast to our own corseted acres. The British writers who have most inspired me tend to be radicals who set themselves against this ordered and orderly back cloth; eg John Clare and his poems of solidarity with commoners of all species; Kenneth Allsop, firing broadsides through conventional “country writing” in the 1970s.

4. Do you think the genre of nature writing has changed during the time you have been writing?

I’ve been writing for more than fifty years, so have the luxury of a long view. But I think the idea that the nature writing of the last ten years is in some essential way “new” suggests a great forgetting of our tradition. Current nature writing is a very broad church, from lyrical science to introspective memoir. Yet even the most conspicuous trait – the personal “journey” – has deep roots. I’m no fan of his work but think of Gavin Maxwell in the 60s or John Buxton in the 40s and WH Hudson at the beginning of the 20th century. One of the most exciting trends is the emergence of fiction with strong affinities to the agendas of nature writing, as in Richard Powers’ astounding epic The Overstory (but this too was happening in pre-WW2 fiction).

5. You have won awards and many accolades for your writing; what is your proudest achievement as a nature writer?

I think it would have to be Flora Britannica (1986) not least because it incorporates the voices and stories of many thousands of contributors as well as my own. When I set out my plan to try and survey where wild plants stood in our culture in the late 20th C, I was met with heavy scepticism at first. “Nowhere” was the implied response. When the contributions began to pour in from the general public they were heart lifting, not just for their passion but their diversity. There was very little of the rehashed Victoriana usually passed off as “folklore”. Instead we had deeply felt personal stories from individuals, families, children’s gangs, about the importance of wild plants in their lives: plants used in weddings, and tossed onto a parent’s coffin; outrageously inventive playground games with invasive aliens; favourite local trees used as landmarks, hideaways, sites for lovers’ trysts.
The four years I spent working on this book were certainly the most rewarding of my writing life. I toured the UK meeting contributors, looking at locations, and then in the long writing process (it is a quarter of a million words long) trying to relate these contemporary experiences to the plants’ social histories and ecologies.

6. The loss of nature seems to be more prominent as a newsworthy subject; do you think nature writing can help towards restoring nature and if so how?

The language of loss is as hard to create as to read. I know I’m far from alone in finding that my head and my heart can pull in opposing directions. My intellectual understanding of the terrible collapse of nightingale populations cannot co-exist with the rapturous in-the-moment experience of listening to its song. But I’m encouraged by what has been happening in the last couple of years when the crises of climate change and extinction seem to have revealed not just the vulnerability of the natural world but a new appreciation of its resilient vitality. To paraphrase Amitav Ghosh is his powerful book The Great Derangement (about the implications of ecological catastrophe on writing) it is as if the improbable events that are happening to us have brought about a recognition that humans have never been alone, but live alongside beings who share with us elements we have always assumed were uniquely ours: sentience, will and above all agency. The challenge writers face is how to express this more-than-human agenda in human words.

7. Have you got any future projects planned that you can tell us about?

Age creeps on, and ideas are scarcer fruits. I have no particular plans but hope I’m not written out. Maybe I’ll do a short philosophical meditation on the concept of human-nature “neighbourliness” which I begin to explore in Turning the Boat for Home. Ideas from readers most welcome!

 

We have a limited amount of signed copies available of Turning the Boat for Home: A Life Writing about Nature

Turning the Boat for Home: A Life Writing about Nature
Hardback, Oct 2019,  £15.99 £18.99

Due to be published in 2020

Birds Britannica
Hardback, due March 2020,  £42.99 £49.99

Fifteen years after the very successful first edition, Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey return for the second edition of Birds Britannica, paying homage to the strong bond the British have with birds.

 

Browse all our Richard Mabey’s books.

 

 

NHBS: In The Field – Bushnell CORE DS Low Glow

Bushnell CORE DS Low Glow

Bushnell trail cameras have always been popular among ecologists and researchers alike, but their famous Aggressor range of cameras has become outdated as trail camera technology has advanced. New for 2019, the Bushnell CORE range features four high specification trail cameras with the latest technology (more about the differences between the four cameras can be found here). We wanted to test one of these new cameras to see how it performed.  

We tested the Bushnell CORE DS Low Glow Trail Camera (DS standing for ‘dual-sensor’). Bushnell’s dual sensor system promises better day and night photos/videos, with one sensor dedicated to each. A 30MP image size and 920×1080 HD videos also indicate sharp, high-quality footage, but this is not always the case. The best way to see the true image/ video quality is to view sample footage from the camera.

Setting Up

We set the CORE up at a badger latrine in a wood in Devon. The camera was simple to set up, and the colour viewing screen came in very handy when trying to get the best angle. Without this feature, it can be very difficult to ensure that the camera is pointing in the right direction. The screen also displays a simple and user-friendly settings menu which was easy to navigate and check. The settings we used in this instance are as follows:

Mode: Video
Video Size: 1920×1080 (30fps)
Video Length:  15 seconds (the videos below are trimmed from originals)
Interval:3 seconds
TimeStamp: On
Video Sound: On
Sensor Level: Auto
Camera Mode: 24 hrs

As we were leaving the camera in a public woodland, we secured it in place with a compatible Python cable lock. The No Glow equivalent might also be a camera to consider if you are setting a camera up on public land and you want extra security.

What we found

The Bushnell CORE caught several videos over the one evening that it was set up. These clips can be viewed in the video below. The black and white IR footage was very impressive. We found it beautifully clear and very smooth, even at 30 fps (the camera has an option of 60fps). The IR flash illuminated the subject without any wash-out whilst remaining bright enough to reveal plenty of detail.  The low-light and day colour footage wasn’t as crisp but was still lovely and smooth. The fast trigger speed was especially apparent in a clip showing a herd of deer running across the river. The first deer are barely halfway across the screen before the video starts, despite the speed at which they were running. 

Our Opinion

We were impressed with the Bushnell CORE DS Low Glow Trail Camera, especially with the night videos. The front-facing colour screen was a key feature that made set-up and camera positioning much easier and is something that we think can either make or break a filming session. The dual sensor is definitely worth the price difference for the night videos. The colour videos were not as crisp but the camera is still excellent quality with an outstanding trigger speed and perfectly suitable for the needs of most researchers and ecologists.

 


The Bushnell CORE DS Low Glow is available on the NHBS website.

To view the full range of Bushnell CORE cameras, along with other ranges of trail cameras, visit www.nhbs.com. If you have any questions on camera trapping or would like some advice on the best camera for you then please contact us via email at customer.services@nhbs.com or phone on 01803 865913.

Celebrating 30 years of British Wildlife!

With the publication of the October issue of British Wildlife, the magazine has reached 30 years in print. British Wildlife found its home here at NHBS in February 2016, but it owes its existence to founders Andrew and Anne Branson, who first brought it to press back in 1989. In our 30th anniversary issue, we were delighted to learn more from Andrew about the earliest days of the magazine.

Andrew Branson, founder of British Wildlife magazine

A shortened version of Andrew’s piece, ‘British Wildlife – how it all began’, is included below. To find out how to read the full article, see here.

Taking ‘the path less travelled’ has often been a failing of mine. In early 1988, after another week of commuting up to London as a publisher for a large multinational publishing house, I came to the conclusion that there must be a more enjoyable way to earn a living. Perhaps not such an unusual thought, but what surprised colleagues were that I then effectively headed off into the ‘undergrowth’ of rural Hampshire to set up British Wildlife Publishing, with the support of my wife, Anne. My work had allowed me to spend days in the field with some great naturalists, and through discussions with those it became obvious to me that there was a need for something different that captured the expertise of some of our best field naturalists, provided up-to-date information on the rapidly changing world of conservation and, importantly, was also a first-class read. 

First published in 1989, the covers have remained largely unchanged

In the 1980s it was still the case that, by and large, people were much more blinkered in their interests. For example, birdwatchers seldom took note of other groups of animals and plants and the entomologists were generally a small, tight-knit group of specialists. I was looking for something that would break out from this bunker mentality and act as a showcase for the great work being done in British natural history.

There were, of course, numerous scattered membership magazines and journals for the various specialist societies, each promoting its own agenda, but how could you find out what was happening with wildlife around the country? Sometimes the journals reported on events years after they had happened. And remember, this was before the days of emails and social media. Communication was all about telephone calls and letters; networking was down to attending conferences and field meetings. In the end, I worked from the premise that, if it excited me and I would buy it, then others, too, would do the same.

I was also increasingly aware of the work of the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC), not only in advising the government on contentious issues but also in producing detailed research documents. At an early stage in planning the magazine, therefore, I visited this important hub of expertise in Peterborough. A good working relationship with this team was critical and I received a warm welcome from Philip Oswald, the communications boss, who introduced me to several people who became key contributors.

Bringing all this together in 1988, I decided to create a completely new magazine that would cover all aspects of wildlife and nature conservation in Great Britain and Ireland, and that, despite its broad geographical remit, it would be called ‘British Wildlife’. The watchwords of the publication were to be accuracy, independence of view and quality. The proposed contents were to include a mix of articles and news which deliberately juxtaposed information on subjects as diverse as bryophytes and birds, flies and flowers, conservation news and reserve management. Planning the potential contents was relatively straightforward, but coming up with a team of people that would put it together was another thing.

The first issues

The first issue of British Wildlife went to print in October 1989

The first issue of British Wildlife came out, after a long hot summer (one computer caught fire!), in October 1989. We printed 5,000 copies and initially sold just under 2,000, but within a few years, they had almost all been sold. In addition to the various in-depth articles, the first issue included the wildlife reports, pretty much as they are today, with, extraordinarily, still some of the same contributors: here we find the butterfly news written by Nick Bowles, moths by Paul Waring and flies by Alan Stubbs. Peter Marren, then working for the NCC as a writer, and his inimitable column ‘Twitcher in the swamp’, appeared in the fourth issue and there he has remained, with the odd holiday, right up to today. After struggling at first to find a hero to take on the herculean task of sifting through newspaper cuttings and press releases to produce ‘Conservation news’, Sue Everett came to the rescue in 1991 and has ever since been ably riding the waves of news, including, more recently, the tsunami of information that now floods the internet.

Herein lies one of British Wildlife’s great strengths: a reliable team of highly knowledgeable and talented contributors that have been with the magazine, through thick and thin, for decades. I take my hat off to them all.

Some great names and articles

Happily, many people understood what British Wildlife was trying to achieve, and we soon had articles from some of the seminal voices of the time. Derek Ratcliffe first wrote for the magazine in its second issue. This was a stinging rebuke to the government concerning the breaking-up of the NCC (BW 1: 89–91) – I can still remember the fire in his eyes as he described what was going on. Later he authored two masterful articles on ‘Upland birds and their conservation’ (BW 2: 1–12) and on the ‘Mountain flora of Britain and Ireland’ (BW 3: 10–21). Chris Mead, of the British Trust for Ornithology, was a great voice for birds and conservation, and enthusiastically backed British Wildlife from the start, contributing the birds report until his untimely death in 2003. Another important commentator on conservation was Colin Tubbs of NCC/English Nature. He took a much wider view on matters than most, and several of his contributions in the 1990s introduced a more international flavour to the magazine.

The familiar white cover first appeared in 1992, at the start of volume 4, and has remained more or less unchanged ever since.

Often, important topics were being raised in British Wildlife years, if not decades, before they became part of the general discourse of the national media. A good example of this is a superb article by Alan Rayner published in 1993 on the ‘Fundamental importance of fungi in woodlands’ (BW 4: 205–215), in which Alan explains the intricate nature of the relationship between such things as mycorrhizal fungi and woodland health. We published an article on ‘Climate change and British Wildlife’ back in 1994 (BW 5: 169–179). An early article that caused much controversy was one on woodland management, ‘Biodiversity conservation in Britain: science replacing tradition’, by Clive Hambler and Martin Speight (BW 6: 137–147). British Wildlife has always been open to occasionally ‘stirring the pot’, but this piece boiled over into a debate that reached the national newspapers. It precipitated several excellent articles in response, including from Martin Warren, who had regularly written on the conservation of butterflies from the first volume. Also gathering impetus in the early 1990s was the idea of creating ‘wilderness areas’, as opposed to using more traditional farming practices. Contributions from Tony Whitbread and Bill Jenman (‘A natural method of conserving biodiversity in Britain’, BW 7: 84–93) and a reply from Colin Tubbs (BW 7: 290–296) are an example of an early skirmish from almost a quarter of a century ago.

It was pleasing to introduce Robert Burton, with his regular column, ‘Through a naturalist’s eyes’, in 1995. Each of his columns is a wonderfully crafted piece of natural history observation. Bill Sutherland, now Miriam Rothschild Professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Cambridge, first started the ‘Habitat management news’ section back in 1992 and his renowned evidence-based approach to wildlife management was clear even then. Some of the identification articles have been illustrated by Richard Lewington’s wonderfully accurate artworks and, indeed, were occasionally a testbed for some of the field guides that we were later to publish.

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Discover British Wildlife here.

Natural History Museum, London: Publisher of the Month

The Natural History Museum opened on its current site in 1881 and now employs more than 300 scientists working in their earth and life sciences departments. The collection houses over 80 million specimens and publishes over 700 scientific papers a year with international collaborators.  Books published by the Natural History Museum, London are inspired by the Museum’s pioneering scientific work and sales help support their scientific research, educational programmes and conservation programs around the world.

NHBS are pleased to announce Natural History Museum, London as our Publisher of the Month for November and December, with some great offers on iconic publishing such as Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

 

 

 

 

Each year the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is seen by millions of people throughout the world and Portfolio 29 displays the full collection of 100 images awarded in the 2019 competition.

We have previous portfolios that are still in print on special offer – the perfect opportunity to be inspired by the amazing photography and the fantastic flora, fauna and diverse environments that make Wildlife Photographer of the Year such an iconic event.

Browse all Wildlife Photography of the Year portfolios

Bestsellers

As well as Wildlife Photographer of the Year portfolios, Natural History Museum, London publish a variety of natural history titles and we have included our top five titles below:

The Secret Life of Flies

Paperback | April 2018| £7.99 £9.99
Combining a deep knowledge and love of flies with a wonderful knack for storytelling, we  peer – amazed and captivated – into the secret life of flies

 

Moths: Their Biology, Diversity and Evolution

Paperback| October 2019 | £11.99 £14.99
An accessible introduction to the stunning diversity, life habits and evolution of moths

 

The Handbook of Bird Families

Paperback| Oct 2017| £15.99 £19.99
Discover all the key facts about the orders and families of birds found around the world with this ultimate handbook

 

Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs: The Theropods

Hardback| June 2019| £22.99 £29.99
Packed with fabulous illustrations, this book is a great introduction to these fearsome dinosaurs.

 

Trees of Britain and Ireland

Hardback| June 2011| £16.99 £19.99
A celebration of the trees of Britain and Ireland including the history of their development, man’s relationship with them, and portraits of all the major native species.

Forthcoming from Natural History Museum, London

Natural History Museum, London, have more publications due in 2020, most notably: The Inside Out of Flies a guide to the anatomy of flies and the science behind their unique adaptations, from the same author of the bestselling The Secret Lives of Flies.

Browse all Natural History Museum, London titles, old, new and forthcoming here

 

 

Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat Project Q&A

Recently we spoke to Helen Parr from the Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat Project about the wonderful work that is done in our local area for this rare species. Helen Parr also details the importance of conserving the Greater Horseshoe Bat, how we all can help ensure its survival and shares her hopes for the future.

 

  1. For those who haven’t heard of the Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat project before, can you summarise what it is?

Our project works with local communities to secure a future for Greater Horseshoe Bats in Devon, their northern European stronghold. It is a partnership project of 18 organisations led by Devon Wildlife Trust and is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, as well as other funders. The priority areas for the bat team are 11 maternity roosts around the county.

The countryside near the breeding roosts must provide everything that the bats need to survive and raise healthy young for the next generation. Their favoured foods are moths and beetles so they need good foraging and hunting grounds such as hedges, orchards, meadows, woodland edges and streams. Sadly we have lost 50% of our hedgerows and 98% of wildflower meadows in recent decades, so there is lots to be done! Working with landowners and farmers is a vital part of what we do.

 

2. What role do you play in the Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat project?

Helen Parr at a Buckfastleigh Bat Event

I’m the Community Engagement Officer on the project. Raising awareness and getting people involved is crucial so that when our project ends in autumn 2020, all the great work currently being done to help the bats will continue into the future.

My work with schools is one way to do this – children can work towards a series of Bat Buddy awards. They are always fascinated to learn about the Greater Horseshoe Bat; as a rare animal living on their doorstep, it has local relevance to them and they can make a practical difference at home or in their school grounds. Some of the children may be inspired to become our future conservationists!

I also support people in towns and villages in their efforts to become accredited as a ‘Bat Friendly Community’. For example, after some training and buying of bat detectors, local volunteers have arranged bat walks to introduce people to the world of bats.

Helen on location in Avon Valley

Managing our website www.devonbatproject.org along with social media allows us to spread the message to a wider audience, and during the summer months, there are plenty of events such as bat walks to introduce people to the magical world of bats.

 

3. What’s your favourite thing about the Greater Horseshoe Bat?

Credit: Mike Symes
Greater Horseshoe Bat, Credit: Mike Symes

do love their funny horseshoe-shaped noses, it’s where they get their name from. They use these amazing looking noses for their echolocation – emitting sounds to find their way around in the dark and catch their prey. It’s an amazing technique honed over millions of years of evolution! People are always surprised and intrigued when they see images of this bat and hear their echolocating sounds.

 

4. Can you tell us why the project focuses on the Greater Horseshoe Bat in particular?

Greater Horseshoe Bats are an important indicator of great habitats; if they are present in an area you know that the surrounding habitats will be good, not just for bats but other wildlife too. However, their numbers have gone down by 90% in the last 100 years, and they remain under threat from habitat loss and declining insect numbers. Therefore if we can improve things for Greater Horseshoes, over time the whole biodiversity of an area will increase.

5. There are many ways to survey bats, what techniques and technology do you use for the project?  

Song Meter SM4BAT FS Bat Detector

Devon Bat Survey is our Citizen Science project involving hundreds of volunteers each year – we use 20 SM4 Bat detectors for this to get as wide a coverage as we can across the county. People borrow the equipment for 3 nights; as well as collecting valuable data on Greater Horseshoe, all other bats are recorded too. Once the data has been returned and run through specialist software, reports are produced. Anabat Express detectors are also used to survey the land of some of the farmers we work with.

Helen with a new microphone

We have placed an infrared camera in one of the roosts – this is fascinating to watch during the breeding season. On bat walks, we use the Magenta 5 handheld detectors so people can hear the bats, along with the Echo Meter Touch detector so we can record and identify what we find.

 

6. How is the data that is collected used?

The data is sent to Devon Biodiversity Records Centre. From there it can be used by local authorities, conservation bodies, developers and communities to enable them to make informed decisions that might impact on bats. In addition, we have had a University student use the data to undertake habitat modelling to better understand landscape use by Greater Horseshoe Bats.

 

7. At this year’s National Bat Conference, there was talk of potentially using trail cameras to survey the emergence of bats from their roosts. If the right technology exists, do you think the Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat project could make use of it? 

Browning Strike Force HD Pro X

As we are in the final year of our project, we won’t have the time or funding to take advantage of this, but I think trail cameras sound like a great idea for any future projects like ours. Advances in technology will always be useful in bat conservation. As the Echo Meter Touch or similar technology becomes more affordable in future, I often imagine how amazing it would be to see everyone using their smartphones to gather and upload bat data – the ultimate citizen science project!

 

8. How can readers get involved with the Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat project?  

  • Look out for Devon Bat Survey which starts again in April 2020
  • Do some bat friendly gardening – even the smallest garden can be a home for insects – great food for bats
  • If you have a piece of land (large or small) you could use our Management Guides to improve it for bats
  • Keep an eye on our website for any events with us or our partners –especially September 2020 which will be our busiest month of events ever with around 30 events for our final Bat Festival.

 

9. What trends are being suggested by the project – how is the Greater Horseshoe Bat doing?

It’s too early to say as a lot more detailed analysis will need to be done, and the measures put in place by towns, villages and individual landowners will take time to show an effect. The Devon Bat Survey will not really show population changes but can indicate changes in distribution. Work being undertaken by the Bat Conservation Trust will allow us to see the changes over time of the work that we have done. However the general consensus is that populations are stabilising and starting to increase, but I don’t think we can be complacent as the loss of one maternity roost could have a dramatic effect on the population numbers. 

 

10. What is being done to support the population in the future?

Throughout the project, the team has aimed to spread the word about these amazing little creatures and to encourage good habitat management for bats. We hope that once the project comes to an end that the people who share their spaces with these bats will care for them in the future, with a realisation that all species will benefit from actions to improve biodiversity across Devon, including humans!

 

Autumn Hedgehog thoughts

Three’s a crowd?

The noise that a hedgehog makes when crunching dried cat food is surprisingly loud… and when you have two or three sharing the same plate, as I sometimes do, they produce quite a din! Such a din in fact that I can hear their munching and squabbling from my bedroom window – even with the windows shut. But what a satisfying racket! It is a real privilege and a delight to have hedgehogs using your garden. By feeding them and making your garden hedgehog friendly you can take comfort in the knowledge that you are doing your bit to help these beleaguered animals.

In the 1950s, there were possibly as many as 30 million hedgehogs living in the UK, but today there could be as few as 522,000 – that’s a reduction of 97%. Suggestions as to why the population of these enchanting animals has taken such a nose dive include: the intensification of agriculture and the loss of hedgerows (which are important wildlife corridors), the alarming decline of the invertebrates on which hedgehogs feed (almost certainly due to the use of pesticides) and another, perhaps surprising factor, is predation by badgers. It turns out that wherever badgers thrive hedgehogs struggle, especially in areas where there is limited cover. Moreover, we are sadly all too familiar with the sight of squashed hedgehogs on our roads and it is thought that many thousands meet their end in this way each year. Although hedgehogs are very urbanised, their road safety skills remain poor!

Hedgehogs are also struggling with the current trends of homeowners who are turning their gardens into “garden rooms”. By covering our gardens in decking, patio, artificial lawn or tarmac we are reducing their wildlife value including foraging opportunities for the hedgehog. The erection of impenetrable garden fencing only adds to the problem because it does not permit egress from garden to garden. Hedgehogs may roam about 2km and visit up to 20 gardens every night to seek out food sources.  Although surveys suggest that urban hedgehogs might actually be doing better than their rural cousins – these current gardening fashions are not doing anything to promote their cause. Our most popular mammal favours an untidy garden with fences full of holes.

So, what can we do to help the hedgehog?  As I write this blog we are marching through autumn, but hedgehogs are still out and about, trying to put on weight for hibernation. November 5th is approaching and this is a dangerous time for hedgehogs as they often seek shelter within bonfire piles, so please check for hedgehogs before setting yours alight.

You and your garden can become hedgehog friendly by just providing some or all of the following:

  • Make sure that hedgehogs can gain access in and out of the garden. Holes in fences only need to be 13cm square and they will soon be found and used on a regular basis. If you want to neaten off the hole, then consider the Eco Hedgehog Hole Fence Plate which is made from 100% recycled plastic and available at NHBS.
  • Include compost heaps and overgrown areas in your garden as these are a great source of invertebrate prey
  • Do not use slug pellets and pesticides in your garden.
  • Provide a water source for hedgehogs such as a pond with a gently sloping edge, or a simple bowl

    Hedgehog House
  • Provide areas where hedgehogs can spend the daylight hours, hibernate and even produce their young. This can be a simple wood or leaf pile, or if you prefer you could purchase a hedgehog house or shelter of which there is a large range of choices within our catalogue and on the website
  • Make hedgehogs safe; as well as checking your bonfire piles, be careful with the use of lawn mowers and strimmers and make sure that netting cannot cause entanglement – for example, the bottom edge of fruit netting can be raised from ground level.

Of course, hedgehogs also appreciate some help in food sourcing and are quick to make use of our generosity. Feeding becomes particularly important in periods of pro-longed dry weather (such as we had this year) when soft-bodied invertebrates like slugs, snails and earthworms are less likely to be at large. It is also important to put out food towards the end of summer and beginning of Autumn when late born hoglets need all the help they can get in putting on enough fat to sustain them through the winter months. It is worth remembering that a hedgehog needs to weigh about 600g at the start of the hibernation period in order to survive until the following Spring.

Feed hedgehogs on wet or dry cat food and this can be supplemented with items like sunflower seeds, nuts and live or dried mealworms. There are also proprietary brands of hedgehog food available which provide a good balance of the nutrients that they need. But never put out bread and milk! Hedgehogs are intolerant to lactose and bread doesn’t provide the nutrition they need.

Hedgehog Bowl

Put the food out in a bowl or saucer in the same place every night and hedgehogs will soon learn where it is located. Of course, this food may also be found by neighbourhood cats and foxes, so you could try to protect the food by placing it within a shelter.

Browning Strike Force HD Pro X

It is great fun to put out a trail camera positioned near the food source so that you can obtain images and videos of your garden visitors – this is how I discovered that at least three visited my garden!

As winter sets in be on the lookout for hedgehogs that are out and about in daylight. An animal that is showing this unusual behaviour is likely to be a late autumn born youngster and probably starving. These animals need help and should be taken in and fed. It is best to contact your local wildlife hospital or rehabilitation centre for advice in this situation.

Hedgehogs are fantastic little mammals whose ancestors first appeared on this planet at least 52 million years ago. By giving some thought to the ones in your garden you can take comfort in the fact that you are contributing to their continued survival. It is very rewarding to have hedgehogs in your garden and certainly worthwhile putting up with their noisy nocturnal snacking.

 

Author Interview: Adele Brand, The Hidden World of the Fox

In The Hidden World of the Fox, Adele Brand shows us how this familiar yet enigmatic animal has thrived in ancient wildwood and adapted to life in the supermarket car parks and busy railway stations of our towns and cities.

 

© Gillian Brand

Ecologist and author, Adele Brand has devoted much of her life to studying foxes and has a wealth of knowledge and first-hand experience to share about these often misunderstood animals.

 

 

© Adele Brand

1. Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got interested in foxes?

The Surrey countryside is an education of its own. I grew up there, learning that the hills I loved were home to more than people. Foxes have always been around me: loping across roads at dusk, hunting for voles near the local horses, and every glimpse into their lives cemented my interest. Their vivid personalities, their incredible adaptability in coping with nearly any habitat, the complexity of their social lives – foxes always provide rich study material. I am now an ecologist who has worked with mammals from Mexican jaguars to Surrey dormice, but I continue to monitor my local foxes and the landscape in which they live.

© Adele Brand

2. People often have polar-opposite opinions of foxes: why do you think foxes evoke such an emotional response?

Foxes touch human emotions. Of all our wild mammals, they are the easiest to get to know as recognisable individuals, and observing the ups and downs of their lives builds strong empathy. Many people who feed and watch garden foxes give them names and feel that they are an important part of their lives. On the other hand, some people have a strong ideological view that foxes (and sometimes wildlife in general) simply doesn’t belong near civilisation. When foxes behave in ways which would be reprehensible in a human – killing multiple chickens, scattering rubbish, etc. – they are often judged as they are indeed human. In my experience, a person’s attitude towards the fox is likely to reflect their general beliefs about nature; someone who has experienced damage but considers wildlife of intrinsic worth is actually likely to be more tolerant than a person who dislikes them on principle but has never experienced harm.

© Adele Brand

3. If anybody wanted to observe foxes, how would they go about it and what equipment, if any, would they need?

To see a fox, to an extent you need to think like a fox: the voles, blackberries and rabbits that it seeks are particularly abundant in woodland edges and rough grassland. Foxes are very much creatures of edge habitats so scanning these places – plus hedgerows – with powerful binoculars (I use 10 x 50) is a good start. While foxes can be active at any hour, they are most frequently crepuscular, so dawn and dusk are good times. Fields that are intensively grazed or have heavy recreational pressure are less promising sites. I would also recommend a good tracking book because being able to identify fox footprints, fur and scat will greatly increase understanding of how they are using the landscape. Additionally, it is worthwhile to keep alert even in unconventional places for wildlife watching. I have often seen rural foxes while travelling by train, for example.

© Adele Brand

4. Do foxes pose any ‘real’ danger to humans and pets?

There is an undercurrent of concern about foxes posing a risk to people. It is worth remembering that they are smaller than they can appear at a distance and in general have no interest in approaching us. A fox that sits down and watches is not ‘bold’ or ‘brazen’; it is assessing the situation and will bolt for a gap under the fence if it feels threatened. That said, trying to ‘tame’ them with hand-feeding or encouraging them indoors can lead to problematic encounters. I would always encourage people to enjoy watching their local foxes, but also to keep them wild.

Pets are a mixed issue. Clearly, rabbits, guinea pigs and chickens need to be kept in secure pens. Cats and foxes typically ignore each other, but kittens and very elderly cats are more vulnerable to everything in the outside world.

© Adele Brand

5. Despite the best efforts of humans, foxes are survivors; however, do you think their future is secure?

Interesting question. The conservation status of red foxes globally is secure, but with caveats. Foxes have become extinct in South Korea due to poaching and habitat loss, while in the USA, the Sierra Nevada subspecies is critically endangered. There is some evidence that the British population is declining, although they remain widespread. They have survived the industrialisation of farming, but they are not unaffected by it. A rural landscape that has thick, species-rich hedgerows, wildlife margins in arable fields, and less fragmentation from development would benefit foxes along with many much rarer species.

© Adele Brand

6.While writing your book and observing foxes; was there one surprising fact or discovery that you didn’t know previously?

The unlikely relationship between foxes and Mediterranean hackberry: seeds from this plant germinate earlier and are much more likely to survive if they pass through the intestinal tract of a fox and are excreted in its droppings.

  1. Do you have any new projects in the pipeline that you’d like to tell us about?

At the moment, I’m continuing to study how foxes are affected by the changing land uses in the Surrey Hills. I’m particularly interested in how the intensity of grazing from livestock and horses changes their habitat use.

The Hidden World of the Fox
Hardback,  Oct 2019,  £9.99 £12.99

Adele Brand shines a light on one of Britain’s most familiar yet enigmatic animals, showing us how the astonishing senses, intelligence and behaviour that allowed foxes to thrive in the ancient wildwood now help them survive in our cities and towns.

Browse all our books covering Foxes, Wolves, Dogs and other Canids

 

 

 

 

Our time at Wembury BioBlitz 2019

A local primary school braves the wind on Wembury beach!

As I walked across the Wembury beach car park something caught my eye, a small brown leaf blustered and bumped across the tarmac, battered by the fierce wind. As I focused, I realised it wasn’t a leaf, it was a butterfly! I caught up with the little insect that had temporarily come to halt, and I saw that it was a somewhat ragged looking small copper. Soon it was caught by the wind again and somersaulted unceremoniously onward across the car park.

Minutes later I found myself at the data collection point at Wembury Marine Centre.
“Have you got small copper butterfly yet?”, I asked.
“Not yet”, came the reply “Not many butterflies have been found in this weather!”
The butterfly was faithfully noted down, just like all species would be over the next 48hrs. For this was Wembury BioBlitz 2019.

You may recall that a BioBlitz is a coming together of professionals and a whole host of other interested parties, from school groups to amateur naturalists. The goal is to engage in a period of intense biological survey in order to record as many species that exist within a particular location as possible. As advertised by Emily Price and her interview with Nicholas Helm in a recent NHBS blog, the Wembury Bioblitz 2019 took place on September 27th and 28th and NHBS had been invited to attend.

This was the 10th Anniversary of the first Wembury BioBlitz and also the 25th Anniversary of the Wembury Marine Centre. An extra special occasion for the partnership of organisations that came together to organise the event especially the Devon Wildlife Trust, Marine Biological Association and the National Trust.

Wembury boasts a spectacular stretch of South Devon coastline which is renowned for supporting a rich diversity of wildlife and as such is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and a Voluntary Marine Conservation Area, so it is an great place for a Bioblitz!

On the morning of Friday 27th September the BioBlitz began and a host of organisers, volunteers and stall holders gathered to start the day’s proceedings, the BBC were there too, filming for Countryfile (the story goes out on October 13th). The weather did not look promising with driving rain and an unrepentant wind threatening to lower everyone’s spirits. However,  everyone pressed on unperturbed with great enthusiasm and as the first eager local primary school groups arrived the day was up and running!

Our beautiful stall

NHBS was there to set up a stall of useful equipment and books such as invaluable field and FSC guides which, like the other stalls, was soon inundated with excited school children. They were particularly impressed with our loan out of hand lenses which were immediately to put to good use! Others gathered around tables that gave the opportunity to peer down microscopes at a range of marine organisms or handle a whale’s rib or a dolphin’s skull!

The BioBlitz included a series of surveys across the key habitats that the Wembury locale offers including, of course; the rocky and sandy parts of the shore, but also ancient woodland, a stream, meadow, the coastal path and cliffs and parkland. Experts led parties out into the blustery conditions to scrutinise these zones and gather as much data as they could.

Hattie using a Video Endoscope to explore a rockpool

Down on the beach, my colleague Hattie had fun with a nice little gadget called a Video Endoscope to take pictures of rock pool life.

Back in the base camp Marquee, we soon discovered that we could contribute to the data collection ourselves as a host of crane flies, rove beetles, pill lice, spiders and earwigs began to explore the stall! News of rock pool discoveries reached us too, including brittle and cushion stars, snake locks anemones, gobies and five bearded rocklings!

By mid-afternoon the school groups had departed and it was time to pack up for the day, although for some there were many more hours of computer data entry and even nocturnal surveys ahead.

A snakelocks anemone and coraline algae found in a rockpool (image taken with Video Endoscope).

The following day the weather conditions initially seemed to have calmed and even the sun made an appearance! We were ready for Day 2. During the night, moth and bat surveys had taken place to boost the figures, but word came through that the overnight species count was a somewhat lowly 120 and a big push was needed if the target of 1000 species was to be achieved. With no school parties around to help this time, this was a day for families to get involved and once again the surveys commenced.
By 3.30 that afternoon, just as the weather vehemently turned for the worse again, it was time to call a halt to the BioBlitz and everyone began to gather for prize giving, species total announcements and chocolate cake in the shelter of the Marine Centre.
At the time of writing this blog, 840 species made the list for the 10th Anniversary BioBlitz a figure which is comparable to the number of species found in 2009.

Taking part in a BioBlitz is a fantastic way to engage in citizen science. They are great fun but are also a brilliant way to collect important data that can be used to gauge how our local biodiversity is coping with all kinds of environmental pressure including climate change and habitat loss. If you get the chance to get involved in one, I urge that you do so ……. and just ignore the weather!

Edit: We’ve received some highlight findings from the events organisers:

  • 2x Giant Gobies were found during the night time rockpool safari
  • Many sightings of a bird called the Cirl Bunting, a once rare species that is now on the up near Wembury!
  • Gannets were seen diving off the Mewstone.
  • The St. Pirrans Crab was found; Wembury is the only UK location outside of Cornwall where they’ve been found!
  • Conger Eel were found during the diving surveys