This Week in Biodiversity News – 3rd October 2022

Climate Change

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

Termites by Aleksey Gnilenkov via Flickr.

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

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

Research

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

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

Blue Tit by Geoff Henson via Flickr.

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

Conservation

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

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

Red Kite by Stefan Berndtsson via Flickr.

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

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

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

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

UK Fungus Day 2022

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

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

Why are fungi important?

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

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

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

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

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

How do I get involved in UK Fungus Day?

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

The Fungi Name Trail: A Key to Commoner Fungi

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Great British Beach Clean 2022

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

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

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

What does a beach clean involve?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do I get involved:

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

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

Recommended books and equipment:

The Essential Guide to Beachcombing and the Strandline

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

 

The Beachcomber’s Guide to Marine Debris

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

 

FSC Wildlife Pack: Seashores

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

 

Litter Picker

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

Phenology Series: Autumn

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

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

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


Identification guides:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


What you might see:

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

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

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

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


Activities:

 


Upcoming events:

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


Essential books and equipment:

Collins Bird Guide: 3rd Edition

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

 

Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms & Toadstools

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

 

What to Look For in Autumn

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

 

Kite Falco Binoculars

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

 

Defender Metal Seed Feeder

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

 

NHBS Wooden Bird Nest Box

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

 

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

The Species Champions Project

2022 is a big year for politics and nature. Following on from COP26, which was largely concerned with climate change, the end of this year will see the convening of COP15 in which the world’s nations will come together to discuss the preservation of global biodiversity. Now more than ever, it is important for conservation and biodiversity to be at the forefront of politics.

With this in mind, we are taking a look at the Species Champions Project, which involves MPs and wildlife organisations working together to improve the future for our most threatened species.

What is the Species Champions Project?

The Species Champions Project aims to bring political support to the protection of threatened species by pairing Members of Parliament (MPs) with a particular species. MPs are often linked to species that are of local importance in the region that they represent, or they have a particular interest in.

The project began in 2016 and, to date, more than 50 MPs in England have gotten involved. They represent a diverse range of species including European salmon, curlew, glow-worms, marsh fritillary and natterjack toads. Similar initiatives are also in place involving MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Who runs this project?

The project is run by Rethink Nature, a partnership of seven wildlife organisations which include: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife and the RSPB. The Angling Trust, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society provide further support.

Debbie Abrahams, Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, is the Species Champion for the marsh fritillary. Image by Chris Parker via Flickr.
What do Species Champions do?

Species Champions are responsible for raising awareness of their assigned species, both within their constituency and in Parliament. They work towards changing policy and legislation in a way that benefits the species and the habitat that it requires to thrive.

During 2022 there are several key areas that Species Champions will be working on: October 31st is the deadline for targets to be set for the Environment Act, and it is vital that these are ambitious enough to serve both wildlife and their supporting habitats. The COP Convention of Biological Diversity is a key event at which the UK should be fighting hard for a strategy to reverse biodiversity loss over the next few years. Finally, the Government’s promise to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030 needs to be supported and upheld.

Why is this project important?

The majority of conservation efforts happen on the ground and in the field. While this work is crucial, there also needs to be work done at the political and legislative level, so that policies and environmental laws show a commitment to protecting the species that need it most. Britain is home to a huge number of species that are currently under threat due to a combination of land-use changes, intensive agricultural practices, habitat loss/fragmentation and pollution. Bringing these issues into Parliament and to constituents is the main aim of the Species Champions Project.

Where can I find out more?

For a full list of the MPs involved in the Species Champions Project and the species that they are twinned with, visit the Species Champions website. Is your MP on the list? If not, then why not get in touch with them and encourage them to get involved!

White-clawed crayfish in the UK

The UK is home to a single native species of crayfish – the white-clawed crayfish Austropotamobius pallipes. This attractive freshwater crustacean has a bronze-coloured body and white-undersides to its claws, for which it is named. They require clean freshwater habitats such as streams, rivers and lakes where they can rest under stones and rocks during the day and then spend the night foraging for food. Their diet is omnivorous and they feed on a range of foods including plants, carrion and invertebrates. They will also eat other white-clawed crayfish when the opportunity arises!

Image by David Gerke via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
Threats to native UK crayfish

The white-clawed crayfish was once widespread and common throughout England and Wales, but since the 1970s populations have declined by 50–80%. Without intervention it is expected that they will become extinct over the next 20 years. Their decline is in large part due to the introduction of the North American signal crayfish which outcompetes the native crayfish for food and habitat. The signal crayfish also carries ‘crayfish plague’, a fungal disease that the white-clawed crayfish has no natural resistance to. Declining water quality and loss of suitable freshwater habitats have also contributed to their decline.

How are crayfish protected in the UK?

White-clawed crayfish are fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations (2017). As a result, it is an offence to kill, injure or disturb them and their habitat cannot be destroyed or damaged. Any development which will, or is likely to, impact white-clawed crayfish and their habitat will only be allowed if it provides a net benefit to the crayfish through a combination of mitigation, compensation and enhancement strategies. This may involve habitat restoration projects or the modification of existing freshwater areas to make them more suitable for crayfish to survive and thrive.

When and how are crayfish surveyed?

Crayfish surveys are required if a development is being planned in an area that currently supports, or has the potential to support, white-clawed crayfish. They can be surveyed using a variety of methods including relatively new eDNA technology, which analyses water samples to detect the presence of DNA specific to the white-clawed crayfish. eDNA studies, however, cannot provide information on population size and so follow-up surveys are usually required should eDNA be detected. Most commonly crayfish are surveyed by manually searching likely refuges. If this isn’t possible due to access issues or water depth then crayfish traps can be deployed. These traps are of the live-catch variety – trapped individuals are returned to the water unharmed once they have been recorded.

What else is being done to conserve the white-clawed crayfish?

As well as being afforded a high level of protection in UK legislation, there are a number of conservation projects which aim to conserve or bolster existing populations of white-clawed crayfish. As part of the South West Crayfish Project, Bristol Zoo are breeding white-clawed crayfish in captivity which can be used to boost existing populations or establish new ones. They are also valuable in educating zoo visitors about their plight.

Control of introduced crayfish is also being carried out in certain areas through trapping or the use of biocides. Similarly, the control of plague and other crayfish diseases is of paramount importance. All waterway users should be aware of how easily plague spores are carried between sites and make all reasonable efforts to stop it spreading via their clothes and equipment. Download the Crayfish in Crisis information sheet for more information.

Recommended reading and equipment

Crayfish Conservation Manual

Full of guidance and practical advice, this large, full-colour manual is the first conservation handbook for England’s crayfish. This manual provides best practice advice and guidance in one easy-to-follow publication, with references, case studies and examples.

 

Management of Freshwater Biodiversity: Crayfish as Bioindicators

Integrating research into freshwater biodiversity and the role of keystone species, this fascinating book presents freshwater crayfish as representatives of human-exacerbated threats to biodiversity and conservation.

 

Trappy Funnel Crayfish Trap

This robust all-plastic crayfish trap is very easy to handle and quick to set and re-bait.

 

Aluminium Crayfish Refuge Trap

This simple refuge trap is safe for use where water voles and otters are present.

 

Snowbee Granite PVC Chest Waders

Snowbee Granite waders are manufactured from a heavy-duty, reinforced laminate PVC which is extremely tough and hard-wearing while also being soft and flexible for ease of movement.

Book Review: Fen, Bog & Swamp by Annie Proulx

Fen, Bog & Swamp, from Pulitzer Prize winning author Annie Proulx, is a wide ranging book that meanders through the subject of wetlands on a journey which encompasses history, biology, language, culture, art and literature. Written in a passionate and lyrical voice, the book is not only a thorough exploration of these ecosystems, but also a war cry in their defence, although one that at times feels dampened by the assumption of inevitable defeat. This is echoed in a statement in which she describes her intentions behind the writings and research: “Before the last wetlands disappear I wanted to know more about this world we are losing. What was a world of fens, bogs and swamps and what meaning did these peatlands have…”.

The book is arranged into four loose parts: an introduction of “discursive thoughts on wetlands”, followed by individual chapters covering fens, bogs and swamps. Beginning the text with a description of a fond yet distant memory of walking through a swamp with her mother as a child in 1930s Connecticut, which she describes as her “first thrill of entering terra incognita”, Proulx goes on to bemoan the disinterest of modern humans in “seeing slow and subtle change” and the “slow metamorphoses of the natural world”. In our fast-paced lives in which speed and efficiency are hailed as the twin gods of progress, there are few who can, or desire to, repetitively observe the same flowers, trees or waters, week after week, season after season, or to appreciate the myriad yet microscopic ways in which they change. For this reason, evidence for a warming climate and its impending crisis have been easy to ignore until the impacts are so visible that they can no longer be shuffled under the carpet.

Strumpshaw Fen. Image by Michael John Button via Flickr.

As a reader based in Britain, I found the section on fens to be of particular interest, despite the fact that their story is ultimately one of destruction and decline. These days it is hard to imagine a Britain in which 6% of the land was wetland, all of which provided a  “source of wealth that could hardly be surpassed by any other natural environment”. Now, in modern Britain, less than 1% of the original fenlands remain: a mere fragment of this once great and diverse habitat.

Proulx’ wonderful descriptions of the people who lived in the fens and how an intimate knowledge of its creeks, rivers and mudflats allowed them to thrive in this challenging landscape are particularly pleasing. Using descriptions of artwork and quotations from literature (such as the Moorlandschaften photographs of Wolfgang Bartels and Gertrude Jekyll’s wonderful vignette on the use of rush-lights) Proulx paints a vivid picture, not only of the historical landscape, but also of the lives of the people inhabiting them.

In fact, these diversions into the lives of the people who have impacted and been impacted by wetlands occur frequently throughout the text, and are used to great effect to provide an insight into changing minds and cultures. From stories of the 16th century Spanish explorers to those of naturalist Henry Thoreau and botanist William Bartram, the book is littered with potted biographies that tell the stories of the people who were fascinated by these landscapes, as well as the darker sides of exploitation and greed.

Through the telling of these stories, it becomes apparent that fens, bogs and swamps have long been derided by humans. This is exemplified by the pre-15th century British fen dwellers who were “literally and metaphorically looked down on” by the upland people in a manner that was reflected in their view of the fenlands themselves. Also mirrored in the attitude of European settlers in the US who despised the swamps for slowing down movement and progress and limiting productive agriculture, wetlands throughout the world have consistently been viewed as ‘waste, unproductive’ areas, in need of ‘improvement’.

Time and time again we have blundered around in the name of progress, attempting to drain, farm, reforest and develop these regions with little knowledge of how to maintain them afterwards, or even whether this is possible. Indeed, as is now apparent in areas such as New Orleans and Chicago, where the water is slowly taking back the land, the fight against nature is likely to be a long drawn-out game that we are unable to win.

New Orleans swamp. Image by ataelw via Flickr.

As you might expect from someone whose life has been concerned with words, Proulx pays a lot of attention to the language surrounding fens, bogs and swamps. Highlighting such examples as the equally pleasing Pocosin (swamp) or Muskeg (bog), she also draws parallels between the loss of these habitats and the loss of the language that we can usefully use to describe them. In a manner that has also been highlighted by writers such as Robert MacFarlane in Landmarks and The Lost Words, it seems that this is a two way street: as we lose the habitats, we also chip away at the list of nouns and adjectives that are used to describe them; but equally, with the loss of this nuanced language, we also begin a process of forgetting and dismissing the landscapes themselves.

I came away from reading this book with a new appreciation of fens, bogs and swamps, but also saddened by the fact that, as Oliver Rackham stated, the long history of wetlands is ultimately a story of their destruction. As Proulx simply states in her final lines, in an echo of those words from Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, perhaps the time is coming when we will all be “haunted by waters”.


Fen, Bog & Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis is available for pre-order from NHBS and is due for publication in September 2022.

A Summer of Dragonflies

Seeing dragonflies swoop over water is a quintessential sign that summer is upon us. When in flight their movements are mesmerising – using their two sets of wings either in synchrony or beating separately, they are able to fly in any direction they choose, altering their speed and movement instantly in mid-flight to create a dance that is unlike any other organism. But while the flying adults are frequently seen during the warmer months, many of us know very little about their life during the rest of the year.

In this article we will take a look at the dragonfly life cycle, explore how climate change and other threats are affecting dragonfly populations globally, and offer some tips on how to attract dragonflies to your garden.

Dragonfly life history

Dragonflies belong to the order Odonata within the sub-order Anisoptera (meaning ‘unequal-winged’). This order is also home to the closely-related damselflies (sub-order Zygoptera). Although at first glance dragonflies and damselflies appear similar, dragonflies are usually larger and bulkier with significantly larger eyes when compared to the slightly built and rather delicate damsels. When at rest dragonflies hold their wings open whereas damsels keep theirs closed, next to the body.

There are three distinct phases in the dragonfly life cycle: egg, nymph (larva) and adult.

Dragonflies breed in or on water bodies such as marshes, swamps, ponds, pools and rivers; after mating the female will lay hundreds of eggs over the course of several days or months. Some species lay their eggs inside plant material, either on the surface of the water or submerged. Others encase their eggs in a jelly-like substance and deposit them directly into the water. Eggs usually hatch within a few weeks, although some remain in the water throughout the colder months and hatch the following spring.

The first larva that hatches from the egg is known as a prolarva, and this very quickly moults into the first proper larval stage. The larvae, or nymphs, then proceed to moult a further 514 times – typically taking place over 12 years, although it can be as long as five years in species such as the Golden-Ringed Dragonfly. Nymphs continue to live in the water and are voracious eaters, feeding on insect larvae, crustaceans, worms, snails, tadpoles and even small fish.

Southern Hawker undergoing the final moult from nymph to winged adult. Image by John Copley via Flickr.

Unlike many other flying insects, such as butterflies and moths, the final moult of the dragonfly does not feature a pupal stage – known as incomplete metamorphosis. This moult takes place out of the water where the winged adult emerges from the nymph skin, leaving behind an exuvia, or skin cast. A period of time is then spent feeding away from the water before the adult dragonfly returns to breed and begin the cycle again. Life expectancy of the adult dragonfly is short – typically only 12 weeks, although some will live for up to 56 weeks.

Conservation and climate change

An IUCN update in December 2021 stated that the destruction of wetlands is driving a worldwide decline in dragonflies. Despite their high ecological value, marshes, swamps and boggy areas continue to be degraded by intensified agriculture and urbanisation and, along with longer periods of drought, this is vastly reducing the amount of habitat in which dragonflies and damselflies can survive.

Clean water is also paramount for dragonfly nymphs – so much so that their presence is regarded as an useful indicator of wetland health. Pollution of waterways and water bodies by pesticides and effluent are problematic and are compounding the issue of habitat loss.

In their favour is the fact that dragonflies are highly mobile and appear to colonise new habitats relatively rapidly. With global temperatures on the rise, we are already seeing species shift to higher latitudes and altitudes. Even in the UK, Mediterranean migrants are being recorded with increasing frequency.

Which dragonflies are you most likely to see?

There are just under 30 species of dragonfly living in the UK. Identification of these is primarily achieved using the patterns and colouration of the thorax and abdomen, although a few similar species require the finer details, such as leg colour, to be examined.

Take a look at our article The NHBS Guide to UK Dragonfly Identification for ten of the most common and widespread species you are likely to spot in the UK.

Or why not check out this interactive map from the British Dragonfly Society where you can search for good places to look for dragonflies near you. You can also filter the results by species if you’re looking for something specific.

Dragonflies can often be found perching in a sunny spot in the morning, warming their wing muscles before their first flight. Image by Ian Preston via Flickr.
How to attract dragonflies to your garden

Water is an integral part of the dragonfly life cycle, so having a pond in your garden is by far the best way to attract them. If you only have a small outdoor space then sinking a bucket or trough into the ground is a low-cost and space-efficient solution. A larger pond with both floating and emergent vegetation, however, will provide dragonflies with somewhere to lay their eggs and for the nymphs to live once they have hatched. It is important to have some vegetation which extends out of the pond as this will allow nymphs to leave the water when they are ready to undergo the final moult into their adult, winged form. Ponds with carnivorous fish or those used by waterfowl will be less useful as these will both prey on the dragonfly larvae.

Having a variety of flowers and herbs growing nearby will help to attract other insects which the dragonflies will feed on. Providing some canes or small stakes will also give them a place to perch – this is particularly important in the morning when dragonflies need to spend time basking in the sun before their wing muscles are warm enough for flight.

Fun facts

• Dragonflies see the world in colour and can detect ultraviolet as well as blue, green and red.
• Dragonflies have been around for 300 million years. Their ancestors were some of the largest insects ever to have existed – some had wingspans of up to 80cm!
• Dragonflies are true acrobats and can fly both upside down and backwards.
• Although they can live for up to five or six years, dragonflies only spend a tiny portion of this time – between a week and two months – as the colourful flying adults that we recognise. The majority of their lives are spent in the water as nymphs (larvae).

Further reading and equipment

Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Britain and Europe

A superb identification guide with identification texts and distribution maps as well as an introduction to larvae identification. Each species is lavishly illustrated with artworks of males, females and variations, as well as close-ups of important identifying characters.

 

 

Britain’s Dragonflies: A Field Guide to the Damselflies and Dragonflies of Great Britain and Ireland

Written by two of Britain’s foremost dragonfly experts, this excellent guide is focused on the identification of both adults and larvae. It features hundreds of stunning images and identification charts covering all 57 resident, migrant and former breeding species, and six potential vagrants.

 

Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies of Britain

This handy and affordable fold-out guide from the Field Studies Council features 28 dragonfly and 16 damselfly species and is a useful aid to identifying them in the field, often while in flight. It is a perfect size to pack into a bag while out and about and is a great choice for beginners.

Phenology Series: Summer

For those of us living where there are four distinct seasons, summer is the period of long, warmer days where the skies, fields, lakes and mountains are alive with the busy activities of plants and animals at the peak of their growing year. Most of the animals that have hatched or been born earlier this year will be beginning to fend for themselves, while many plant species will be coming to the end of their flowering period and preparing to produce seed in an effort to ensure their survival and proliferation.

The combination of warmer weather and longer daylight hours makes this the perfect time to get out and about and experience the beauty and complexity of the natural world.

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


Identification guides:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


What you might see:

• Hedgerows and verges are still home to lots of flowering plants, although the frothy drifts of cow parsley are now coming to an end. Honeysuckle can be seen blooming from June, providing a night-time food source for moths such as the Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor).

• Bee orchids (Ophrys apifera) will flower briefly in June and July on dry, chalk and limestone grasslands, while sea cliffs will be adorned with the delicate blush of sea thrift (Armeria maritima) from April to October.
• Auks, such as Razorbills (Alca torda), Guillemot (Uria aalge), Puffins (Fratercula arctica) and Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), come to their cliff nests in spring to lay their eggs. They can still be seen (and heard!) throughout the summer as they make frequent trips out to sea to catch food for their young. Further inland, summer visitors such as Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus), Wood Warblers (Phylloscopus sibilatrix) and Pied Flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) are wonderful to catch a glimpse of.

• June to August is an important time for ladybirds. During this period, mated females will lay their eggs which then hatch into larvae and form pupae through a series of four stages, or ‘instars’. Adult ladybirds emerge from the pupae in August.
• Wasps, bumblebees, honeybees and butterflies are all active in the summer and will feed as much as possible while the weather is fine. Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) and Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterflies can both be frequently seen around nettles where they like to lay their eggs.
• Frogs and toads spend their days keeping cool in damp and shady areas and are often found in overgrown areas of the garden during the summer. This year’s froglets and toadlets will remain in the water until late summer.

• The summer months are a great time to spot bats hunting for insects during the dusk and dawn hours. Female bats give birth to their young in June and within three weeks these juveniles will be learning to fly themselves. By August the youngsters will no longer need their mother’s milk and will be hunting for their own food.


Activities:


Upcoming events

Big Butterfly Count – 15th July to 7th August
British Dragonfly Week – 16th to 24th July
National Marine Week – 23rd July to 7th August
International Bat Night – 27th to 28th August


Essential equipment and books:

Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland

This beautifully illustrated and comprehensive field guide shows moths in their natural resting postures. It also includes paintings of different forms, underwings and other details to help with identification.

 

 

Britain’s Reptiles and Amphibians: A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Great Britain, Ireland and the Channel Islands

This detailed guide to the reptiles and amphibians of Britain, Ireland and the Channel Isles is designed to help anyone identify a lizard, snake, turtle, tortoise, terrapin, frog, toad or newt with confidence.

 

The Wild Flower Key: How to Identify Wild Flowers, Trees and Shrubs in Britain and Ireland

This essential wild flower guide is packed with identification tips and high-quality illustrations, as well as innovative features designed to assist beginners. The text aims to be as useful as possible for those working in conservation and includes a compilation of the latest research on ancient woodland indicator plants.

 

NHBS Moth Trap

A lightweight and highly portable trap, tested and approved by Butterfly Conservation. This mains-powered trap runs a single 20W blacklight bulb (included) and comes supplied with a 4.5m power lead with UK plug.

 

Kite Ursus Binoculars

These affordable binoculars have been designed for everyday use and have a robust housing, great field of view and produce a bright, colour-balanced image.

 

Magenta Bat 5 Bat Detector

A handheld super-heterodyne bat detector with an illuminated easy-to-read LCD frequency display. This fantastic entry-level detector converts ultrasonic bat calls into a sound that is audible to humans, allowing you to listen to and identify the bats flying around you.

 

 

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

Help! I Need an Ecologist: Advice for Homeowners

Most development projects will require an environmental survey. Image by John K Thorne via Flickr.
When and why you might need an ecologist

You’re likely to need to employ an ecologist if you are planning to build a house or add to or alter an existing building. An ecologist will conduct the surveys necessary to assess the possibility of the project impacting any ecosystem or habitat which is home to a protected species.

You will need a survey if the site includes or is adjacent or connected to any of the following, although your architect, planning agent or local planning authority should be able to advise you on this:

  • Woodland, hedgerows or scrub
  • Lakes, ponds, ditches or other bodies of water
  • Meadow, pasture or parkland
  • Heathland
  • Coastal habitat
  • Large rural or suburban gardens
  • Complex tree structures, caves or cave-like spaces
  • Existing derelict buildings, farm buildings or timber buildings, particularly those with access into roof spaces.

The first step in the process is usually a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal. This survey will identify evidence of any protected species or habitat suitable for supporting a protected species. If any are found then this will inform what further protected species surveys or vegetation surveys are required.

It is important to talk to an ecologist as early as possible in the planning process. Image by Rebecca Siegel via Flickr.
What is a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal?

A Preliminary Ecological Appraisal is conducted by an ecologist and usually involves both a desk-based study and a walkover/habitat survey. The desk-based study looks at local records to see if there is current evidence of protected species being present up to 2km away from your site. It will also look to see if the project has the potential to impact any nationally or internationally protected areas. The walkover survey (sometimes referred to as a Phase 1 or Extended Phase 1 survey) will assess what types of habitat are on and around the area as well as the likely presence of any species that are currently protected. It will also look at the value and significance of the habitat.

Once these are complete, the ecologist will compile a report for you that will include this information, as well as an assessment of how the project might impact the surrounding habitat/protected species and any legal issues that might be raised by the development. If no evidence of protected species is found, no further surveys will be required. However, if they find that the site of your project is home to one or more protected species, or that the habitat is likely to support them, then further species-specific surveys will be required.

The report may also make recommendations as to how the local biodiversity can be improved upon during and following the development in line with Biodiversity Net Gain guidelines. This national policy aims to improve biodiversity by creating or enhancing habitats in association with development, so that the environment is left in a better state than it was before the project began.

Further species-specific surveys may include surveying for bats using passive recorders.
What further surveys might be required?

If your Preliminary Ecological Appraisal suggests that there are protected species or their supporting habitat present on or around the development site, then more detailed protected species surveys will be required. Commonly referred to as Phase 2 surveys, these may include botanical surveys, as well as those for bats, great crested newts, hazel dormice, reptiles, water voles, badgers and breeding birds. All of these types of surveys will involve the ecologist(s) conducting at least one, but more likely a series of, site visits. There may be seasonal constraints as to when they can do this.

Once all surveys are complete, the ecologist will compile a report (usually referred to as an Ecological Impact Assessment report or EcIA) which presents their findings as well as the likely impact of the project on protected habitats and species. It will take into account your building and landscape plans including details such as proposed drainage and lighting. The report will also recommend the measures that can be taken to avoid, mitigate or compensate for the impacts, as well as how the local biodiversity could be enhanced.

For sites that might impact a European protected site, such as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Areas (SPA) and Ramsar sites, an additional survey known as a Habitats Regulation Assessment might be required. This must be submitted by a competent public body (usually the local planning authority), although the work will most likely be carried out by a consultant ecologist. This will assess whether the project is likely to impact the site due to factors such as increased recreational pressure on the area, or significantly increased noise, light and water pollution.

Great crested newt surveys must be conducted during the spring. Image by Chris H via Flickr.
How to find an ecologist

There are numerous ecological consultancies located throughout the UK and Ireland, ranging from small or sole traders up to companies that employ large numbers of ecologists with multiple offices around the country. An internet search will show you if there are any based near to you, although the larger consultancies, in particular, will often undertake work over large geographical areas.

Alternatively, you may wish to search the database on the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) website. CIEEM is the professional body which represents and supports ecologists and environmental managers in the UK, Ireland and parts of Europe. Their members have proven that they are able to work to CIEEM’s professional standards and regularly undertake training to continue their professional development. Using their online members’ directory, you can search for ecologists within certain geographical areas or for specific services. Furthermore, should you have any complaints or concerns over the work conducted, CIEEM has an official complaints procedure that you can use.

When looking to appoint an ecologist, it is worthwhile getting several quotes for comparison. At this point, it is helpful to provide the ecologist with as much information as possible, such as the scope of the project (including detailed plans if these have already been drawn up), the proposed timescale you are hoping to adhere to and any advice that you have already been given (i.e. by an architect or planning agent). Providing them with a map of the area to be developed can also be extremely helpful.

Useful questions to ask at this point are:

  • What is included in the quote and, should additional surveys be required, what are these likely to cost?
  • How long is the work likely to take?
  • Would it be possible to see a draft report and what will be the timescale for this?
  • Are there likely to be other expenses that aren’t covered in the quote, such as mileage or sample analysis?
Important things to consider

• Many protected species surveys have seasonal constraints and can only be conducted at certain times of the year. Because of this, it is important to discuss your requirements with an ecologist as early as possible in the planning process so that you can plan ahead and avoid unnecessary delays.

• Don’t feel like you will be able to ‘get away with’ not conducting the required surveys. Failure to conduct or comply with the appropriate environmental surveys is punishable by law.

• Remember that survey data is not valid indefinitely. Most will be fine up to a duration of 12 months, and some even longer. But any that is more than three years old will definitely need repeating to account for any changes that may have occurred in the interim. If in doubt, it is best to discuss this with your ecologist, planning agent or local planning authority.

Summary

To summarise, when constructing a new building or adding to or modifying an existing one, an ecological survey (or surveys) is usually required to assess its impact on the surrounding habitat and any protected species that may be present. The report(s) generated by these surveys will need to be submitted to your local planning authority as part of the planning process.

To avoid delays with your project it is best to get your ecologist involved as soon as possible so that any necessary surveys can be completed on time – remember that many can only be conducted at certain times of the year.