The Week in Review – 10th October

Will our cities be the salvation of these vital insects? Picture by Rakib Hasan Sumon

News from outside the nest

We watched this inspiring film from Mosaic about the Urban Pollinators Project and learned how our cities may be the last refuge of some of our most vital pollinating insects.

And from the very small to the very large, we witnessed the US government sign a contract which saw debt owed by Indonesia to the United States swapped for rhino protection and conservation measures.

We listened to the great podcast “Costing the Earth” which, this week, looked at the impacts of climate change on small Caribbean Islands and their probability of future survival.

This fascinating research from the University of San Diego on cross-species vocal learning in killer whales showed us how these amazing mammals learned to communicate like bottlenose dolphins.

We were excited by the release of the GoPro HERO4.

And finally, we listened to what would happen if the pattern of birds perched on electrical lines were transformed into musical notes.

New arrivals at the warehouse

The new Spypoint SMART Trail Camera utilises Intelligent Triggering Technology which alters the number of photographs taken or length of video based upon the movement pattern detected – now available for pre-order.

These mobile Dino-Lite digital microscopes provide a portable, computer-free microscopy solution

Twenty-eight years following the first edition, the long awaited second edition of the Birds of New Guinea is now in stock

The latest in the New Naturalist series looks at Nature in Towns and Cities


The Week in Review – 3rd October


These once common garden visitors are now a rare sight in the UK. Image by Milo Bostock

News from outside the nest

With news that world wildlife populations have halved in the last 40 years, we were keen to find out which British wildlife species have been most affected.

On a brighter note, we learned all about solar power: from the UK’s first floating solar farm, and solar sunflowers to solar powered beer.

We were fascinated by this video of a rare purple siphonophore, discovered by marine biologists in the Gulf of Mexico.

As many of our summer bird visitors leave for warmer climates, we have been keeping an eye on the radio-tagged cuckoos on the fantastic BTO cuckoo tracker and were excited to observe the first arrivals in the Congo rainforest.

And with birds in mind we listened to Mark Avery talk about the last passenger pigeon and autumn bird migrations.

And finally….we ventured to the hedgerows to stock up on home-made sloe gin.

New arrivals at the warehouse

The Ltl Acorn cameras were an exciting addition to our trail camera range.

Now in stereo – the new Batscanner from Elekon.

The Vascular Plant Red List for England presents, for the first time, a comprehensive list illustrating the status of native plants and archaeophytes in the region.

A Feathered River Across the Sky tells the story of how our passenger pigeons became extinct.


Ladybirds: an interview with Helen Roy, Ecological Entomologist at the BRC

Ladybirds jacket imageHelen Roy, Ecological Entomologist at the Biological Records Centre, is one of a team of authors who have been involved in the revision of this classic Naturalists’ Handbook.

I see from your professional history that throughout most of your career you have been involved in research with ladybirds. What originally drew you to these fascinating insects? Does it stem from a childhood interest?

Ladybirds are fascinating beetles. I can remember, as a small child, observing ladybirds as they emerged from their pupal cases on the vegetables in our garden on the Isle of Wight. Simply magical and I was entranced. Throughout my childhood I pursued my passion for natural history and have been so fortunate to continue to do so through my working life.

What do you feel are the biggest pressures on UK populations of ladybirds at present?

There are many factors that contribute to dynamics of insect populations. In recent decades the effects of environmental change on insect populations has been the focus of my research. It is widely recognised that invasive alien species, climate change and habitat destruction are all major players in the declines of many insects. Ladybirds are no exception. However, there are so many questions that remain unanswered. It is important that we address these questions with robust and rigorous research. We have so much to learn about the many subtle and complex interactions between insects, other organisms and the environment.

Ladybirds internal imageIn your book you state that winter is a very critical period for ladybirds and, during this time, they survive entirely on their own fat reserves. How severely do you think ladybird populations in the U.K. will have been affected by the very long and cold winter we have recently experienced?

Every year winter conditions result in the death of ladybirds – winter is a tough time for ladybirds in Britain. However, they have many amazing adaptations for surviving the adverse winter conditions. Ladybirds recently began to wake up from winter and I am reassured by the observations I am receiving from people across the country, through the UK Ladybird Survey.

The arrival of the Harlequin ladybird in the U.K. has obviously been a very big concern and has been covered extensively in the media. How serious a threat do you feel this is to our native species and are there any viable steps that could be taken to halt the spread?

The harlequin ladybird, Harmonia axyrdis, is an invasive alien species which is predicted to cause problems for a number of insects. It is a voracious predator and not only has the potential to outcompete other insects but also eats the other insects. The 2-spot ladybird, Adalia bipunctata, was a widespread and common species during my childhood. Not so now. I worked with a team of scientists, using the observations received through the UK Ladybird Survey from many, many people (an inspiring number of volunteers), to look at how the distribution of native ladybirds is changing in response to the arrival of the harlequin ladybird. A number of species appear to be declining and the 2-spot more than most. Unfortunately there is nothing that can be done about the harlequin ladybird but it will be interesting to continue to monitor this species and its interactions with other species in the coming years. Additionally the harlequin ladybird has demonstrated the effectiveness of people at recording alien species, and with the rate of new arrivals increasing rapidly people can play an extremely important role in surveillance and monitoring. I invite people to submit sightings through a recording form developed for species surveillance (including alien species) at the BRC.

Ladybirds plateFor any amateur naturalists who are interested in ladybirds and wish to get involved or help in some way, what would you suggest is the best way to do this?

I have been utterly inspired by the contributions that people from across the country make to the UK Ladybird Survey, and indeed many other wildlife surveys, by reporting the ladybirds they see wherever they may see them. Biological recording is a wonderful way to get involved with natural history. I often receive detailed observations from people who have been recording ladybirds in a particular location on a regular basis. This information is incredibly useful. Some people have even been recording the parasites they see attacking ladybirds. Natural history studies are fun, rewarding and an invaluable source of information. Professor Mike Majerus wrote the first edition of this book and we open the revised version with his inspiration: “Biological Science must stand on its foundations in basic observations of organisms in the field: what they do, when they do it, why they do it, and how they have come to do it.” Majerus, 1994

Do you have any plans for further books?

I have a passion for writing. As a teenager I contributed to the newsletter of my local natural history society – I enjoyed writing and I hoped that people would enjoy reading what I wrote. Writing, coupled with my love of natural history, remains very important to me. I will definitely be writing another book… perhaps the parasites of ladybirds, which are almost as charismatic as their hosts, would be worthy of attention?

Ladybirds available now

Buy a copy of Ladybirds

Record your ladybird sightings at the UK Ladybird Survey

Pick up your free copy of the new NHBS Ecology & Biodiversity Equipment Catalogue 2013 which includes survey kit for entomologists