Herpetofauna Workers’ Meeting 2020

Wind farms, conflicts in conservation, and the use of photo identification as a population monitoring technique were amongst the many themes covered at the 2020 Herpetofauna Workers’ Meeting. Running for over 30 years, this popular event attracts ecological consultants, academics, students, and conservation organisations from far and wide. As the weather worsened with the arrival of Storm Dennis, we settled in for a jam-packed two days filled with presentations, workshops, and poster displays.

Scout Moor wind farm, image by Stephen Gidley via Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)

So how is a talk on wind farms relevant at a herpetology conference? Wind farms cover a large expanse of land and, as Jeanette Hall from the Highland Biological Recording Group explained, could provide a conservation opportunity for Adders Vipera berus. Birds of prey are typically the main predator of Adders, but these predators are present in low numbers on wind farms. If managed correctly, wind farms could offer a suitable refuge for Adders. To test this Jeanette and her team used clay snake models to measure avian attack rates both within the wind farm and on a control site roughly a kilometre away. The models were made to roughly the same size as a yearling Adder, and the attacks were recorded by the presence of talon marks on the clay models.

Despite observing raptors in both sites, they found that attack rates were significantly lower on the wind farm. Interestingly, attack rates were higher in areas where grazing sheep were present.

Sheep grazing, image by David Pics via Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)

With grazing and habitat management in mind, could these vast areas that wind farms cover offer an opportunity for reptile conservation? 

 Clay snake models are one simple but effective approach for measuring attack rates. Suzanne Collinson, from the University of Cumbria and the Cumbria Amphibian & Reptile Group, discussed another interesting technique that she used when studying Slow Worms Anguis fragilis. She used photo identification to study the size and dynamics of a Slow Worm population in a churchyard in Dalston, Cumbria. Slow Worms are a UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species and protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 due to their overall decline, therefore this population in the village of Dalston is of great interest, especially to the locals. Due to their morphology and cryptic behaviour, mark and recapture is a difficult method to use to survey Slow Worms. In addition to this, the markings on the neck and chin of a Slow Worm are unique to the individual and so, photo identification could offer a viable monitoring method.

Slow Worm, image by Bernard Dupont via Flickr,(CC BY 2.0)

In order to take a photograph of an individual, the Slow Worm would be placed on a clear tray, enabling photographs of the Slow Worm’s ventral surface to be taken quickly. The Slow Worms were found at various shelters or ACO’s (artificial cover objects) that were positioned across the churchyard. Suzanne also measured the body length of each new individual that she photographed and recorded the ambient temperature and the number of ant nests and snails present at the ACO. Suzanne counted 25 individuals in total (the original population estimate was 18) and found that as temperatures increased, Slow Worm encounters decreased. Ending on this note, Suzanne discussed the potential implications of climate change and how future monitoring will be necessary to understand what these future impacts could be on the population. 

 On both days there was a choice of five different workshops, all on very different topics, that we could take part in. On the first day, we attended ‘Managing habitats for conflicting species’ led by Jim Foster and Andrew Hampson from the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust. Faced with a real-time scenario, we discussed in small groups the potential conflicts that could arise and what approach should be used to move forward – our scenario was based at the dunes of Sefton coast, and focused on the population of Natterjack toads that reside there. This was an interesting opportunity to hear what lessons had been learnt from previous conservation projects and how this knowledge can be used for effective conservation planning in the future. 

Sand dunes on the Sefton Coast, image by Natural England, Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)

Of course, this is just a snapshot of the range of topics discussed over the duration of the conference. Hearing first hand what organisations such as the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust and Amphibian and Reptile Groups of UK are doing to conserve reptile and amphibian species in the UK, plus the ongoing research on both British species and those of other countries was fascinating. 

Catherine on the NHBS stand, image by Catherine

You can visit the NHBS website here to browse our selection of herpetology books, as well as a range of equipment required for the surveying or monitoring of reptiles and amphibians 

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – NHBS Results

This year’s Big Garden Birdwatch took place from 25th to 27th of January, and having recruited some enthusiastic NHBS volunteers to take part, we thought we would provide an update of our results. We encouraged family members to join in, sat down with binoculars, tea, cake and crumpets and counted the birds that we saw in our gardens. We saw a wide range of species, with blackcap, marsh tit and nuthatch being particular highlights. House sparrows were our most commonly seen bird in terms of numbers, which aligns us with the overall Big Garden Birdwatch results from previous years, and blackbirds were seen in the most gardens. Great tits were more common than blue tits, however, and starlings were only seen in a particularly rural garden. We all thoroughly enjoyed taking part, in spite of the drizzle outside and would highly recommend this as a great activity to introduce children to some of the species visiting their garden.

The most commonly seen species as an average per garden as counted by NHBS staff

Individual Results

Nigel

Nigel had some willing helpers in the form of his three children, who thoroughly enjoyed helping with the count (with some crumpets)

Photo by Nigel Jones

Robin: 2
Wood pigeon: 2
Collared dove: 2
Great tit: 2
Blue tit: 2
Dunnock: 2
House sparrow: 1
Blackbird: 2

 

Catherine

Catherine’s was the only garden to feature a pied wagtail, a very good spot.

Great tit: 6
Blue Tit: 1
Chaffinch: 1
Magpie: 2
Wood pigeon: 3
Blackbird: 4
Pied wagtail: 1

Elle

Elle’s garden produced the only blackcap record and was the only garden with no blackbirds.

Robin: 1
Blue tit: 1
Blackcap: 1
Wren: 1
Wood pigeon: 1
House sparrow: 2

Steve

Steve’s results easily outstripped all our other gardens in terms of numbers and diversity of species. He counted with his very enthusiastic family and the results indicate that this is a garden that is obviously perfect for wildlife. They also contributed a great fantastic marsh tit photo.

Marsh tit by Steve Powell

Blackbird: 1
Blue tit: 6
Chaffinch: 2
Coal tit: 4
Collared dove: 1
Dunnock: 2
Great tit: 3
House sparrow: 5
Long-tailed tit: 7
Magpie: 2
Robin: 1
Nuthatch: 1
Marsh tit: 1
Great spotted woodpecker: 1

Oli

Oli’s garden seems to be very attractive to corvids, being  the only garden to feature jackdaws and crows. He also took a rather nice picture of a wood pigeon.

Wood pigeon by Oli Haines

Wood pigeon: 3
Blackbird: 1
Jackdaw: 2
Crow: 2
Great tit: 1

 

 

 

Simone

Simone recruited her two young children to help and they greatly enjoyed watching the birds and using the binoculars (often upside down). They had some trouble understanding why they should try and be quiet. The garden is very rural but small and was the only garden to feature starlings.

Photos by Simone Webber

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

House sparrow: 10
Collared dove: 4
Blackbird: 2
Chaffinch: 2
Robin: 2
Starling: 2

Simone’s results displayed by the RSPB website after entering the data

BIAZA Field Conservation and Native Species Conference at Chester Zoo

Greeted by the trumpeting of elephants across the otherwise silent car park, we arrived at Chester Zoo. With a quick glimpse into the rhino enclosure, we turned away from the main entrance and headed towards the lecture theatre (passing an impressive and colourful bug hotel) for the start of the BIAZA conference. The theme for this event was to be rewilding – an extremely topical and exciting subject in the current world of conservation.

Professor Alastair Driver

It seemed fitting that the event began with a talk by the highly esteemed conservationist Professor Alastair Driver, who is also the director of Rewilding Britain. It was amazing to hear how much popularity the concept of rewilding has gained, with many landowners now approaching Rewilding Britain, searching for advice on how best to rewild their own land. Dr Daniel Hayhow, the main author of the State of Nature report published in October 2019, followed with a discussion of the key findings of this pivotal report to paint a picture of how nature is faring in the UK. Jo Kennedy with the Manchester Mossland project brought the first session of the day to an end, demonstrating how collaborations such as the one that exists with themselves and Chester Zoo have been a vital aspect of captive bred reintroduction projects. The successful reintroduction of the Large Heath butterfly to the Manchester Mosslands Special Area of Conservation is a great example of this.

Toni on the NHBS stand

As the attendees patiently queued for their cups of tea and bourbon biscuits, we stationed ourselves in the adjoining room by the NHBS stand. We had brought with us various pieces of kit that are used for species surveys and monitoring, an important aspect of assessing the success of rewilding projects. Our selection of trail cameras were a popular talking point in particular, attracting interest from keen naturalists eager to investigate the wildlife in their back garden, to professional researchers and conservationists in charge of species reintroductions.

Manchester Mossland project display

In the same room you could also marvel at the amazing models on the Manchester Mossland project display that show the species that they are working with at their sites. Or perhaps explore the insect collection brought by the Tanyptera Project, who seek to promote the study of invertebrates in Lancashire, Merseyside, Cheshire and Great Manchester. There was also a raffle where a lucky winner had the opportunity to win a NHBS voucher or a British Wildlife gift subscription!

The next session featured a rather lively talk from Philip Turvil of Kew Gardens, who told us how 4 million people have been engaged by the Grow Wild mission, and certainly entertained all of us with a ‘Wildflower rap’ video (not performed by Philip I hasten to add!). BIAZA also used this opportunity to launch ‘Grab that Gap’, an initiative to encourage BIAZA members to transform a section of their site (the edge of a car park for example) into a wildlife haven and calls for participants to use social media to share their story #GrabthatGap2020.

Chester Zoo’s nature reserve

After lunch we were all taken outside to explore Chester Zoo’s very own nature reserve. We were taken through the history of the reserve, the types of species to be found (14 species of dragonfly at the last count, and over 20 butterfly species) and management techniques in place. It struck us how much vandalism occurs at the site; many Malaise traps had been destroyed and there was evidence of graffiti. But the staff at Chester Zoo are extremely dedicated and have big visions for the future.

Catherine, hedge laying

We were also given an opportunity to pitch in and help. Dead hedges are used not only to stop the little ones from running down the hill and straight into the pond, but also to provide a habitat for invertebrates and birds as the hedge starts to rot down. Our job was to top up these hedges with new branches (and to not slip down the muddy hill of course).

 

 

Then back to the warmth with an interesting line up of talks to finish the day. This session had a species reintroduction theme covering mammals, birds and insects, starting with the reintroduction of Pine Martens to the Forest of Dean. It was fascinating to hear of all the measures involved to ensure that there is a genetically diverse reintroduced population, minimal stress to the animals and the prevention of the spread of disease. The focus was shifted to a rare invertebrate, the Pine Hoverfly Blera fallax – the adults of which have not been seen in the wild for seven years. Dr Helen Taylor from RZSS discussed the captive breeding programme put in place to ensure there is a viable population for future reintroductions and the associated challenges with this approach.

Chris Sandom

Next we heard about the Red-billed Chough, the flagship species for the Birds On The Edge project, and their reintroduction to Jersey following a successful captive-breeding programme at Jersey Zoo. The session was drawn to a close with the final two talks of the day, the first of which reviewed the native bat species recorded at Knowsley Estate and their habitat use, followed by Will Mallard describing his PhD research project on the Barberry Carpet Moth.

The take home message? Rewilding is a step in the right direction to restore ecosystems and habitats to a state where nature can take care of itself. It isn’t just about wolves and bears.

With each day we were all generously given a free ticket to enter Chester Zoo, so of course we had to nip in before we left!

Toni and Catherine at Chester Zoo

 

 

 

 

 

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2020

For over 40 years the RSPB has been running one of the largest citizen science projects in the world, the Big Garden Birdwatch. Data is submitted by nearly half a million volunteers who have counted birds in their gardens, allowing a unique and important picture to emerge of changes in abundance and distribution of some of the UK’s most popular bird species. Anyone can sign up online to take part and submit data using a simple online or paper form, and then you can sit back with a cup of tea and enjoy watching the birds in your garden or park, whilst contributing to this amazing project. This year the Big Garden Birdwatch is being run from 25 – 27th January, with results expected to be published in April.

Long-tailed tit: Airwolfhound: www.flickr.com

How to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch
You do not have to be an RSPB member to participate and process for signing up, counting and submitting records is easy.

  1. Sign up through the RSPB website for either a free postal pack or online results submission
  2. Find a good spot to watch the birds in your garden or a local park and choose an hour between between Saturday 25th and Monday 27th January
  3. Have fun identifying the species visiting your garden during that hour and count the maximum number of each species you see at any one time. For example, if you see a group of three house sparrows together and after that another one, the number to submit is three. This method means it is less likely you will double count the same birds and makes data analysis easier. Make a note of any other wildlife that you spot as well
  4. Submit your results, either on the Big Garden Birdwatch website, or by posting a paper form. Even if you don’t see anything, that’s still useful information
  5. Look out for the results and take pride in having contributed data from your patch

Which species am I likely to see?
The RSPB website has some fantastic guides detailing how to identify the species that you are seeing and once you have signed up, you can download a chart with the most common species and identifying features. Alternatively NHBS stocks a range of bird ID guides that are ideal for beginners and more experienced birdwatchers. One of the first thing to consider is where you are seeing the bird and how it is feeding as this makes it easier to distinguish between ground feeders such as chaffinches, dunnocks, blackbirds and robins, and feeder users such as blue and great tits and goldfinches. If you can hear the birds then listening to the calls they are making is also a really good way to help with identification. The top eight species from last year gives a good idea of some of the species you are likely to see in your garden.

The most commonly recorded species in the 2019 Big Garden Birdwatch. All images from www.flickr.com

Big Garden Birdwatch Results
Over the course of its 40 year history the Big Garden Birdwatch has developed an invaluable database of the numbers and composition of species visiting our gardens and parks. This has allowed the RSPB scientists to identify critical population trends such as a 77% decline in song thrush and starling numbers since 1979, and a 56% decrease in the number of house sparrows since the study started, although this decline has slowed in the last 10 years.

All images from www.flickr.com

With the increase in people feeding birds in their gardens, the diversity of species visiting our parks and gardens has increased. Coal tit sightings have increased by 246% since 1979, goldfinches only began to be sighted in the early 2000s and siskins, bullfinches and bramblings are increasingly common in gardens.

The 2019 results have house sparrows as the most commonly sighted bird for the 16th successive year, with over a million sightings. Starlings and blue tits maintain their second and third places respectively, and the rest of the top ten was also fairly consistent with previous years’ results, featuring blackbirds, woodpigeons, goldfinches, great tits, robins, chaffinches and magpies.

 

All of this vital analysis of our wild bird populations is only possible thanks to the time and enthusiasm donated by the volunteers who take part.

 

Greenfinch and goldfinches on a seed feeder:  Nick Holden – www.flickr.com

How can I encourage more wildlife into my garden?
It is well documented that increasing our interactions with nature can not only benefit the wildlife around us but also improve our own physical and mental wellbeing. Participating in the Big Garden Birdwatch can help you understand how wildlife is using your garden and also give you some insights into how you could make your outdoor space even more attractive to animals.

Improving your garden for wildlife can be as simple as leaving a patch of long grass, providing native trees or plants that are good for pollinators such as lavender, buddleja and verbena, or leaving a woodpile for insects to shelter in. You can also supply nest boxes for birds, bat boxes for summer roosting bats, access panels and shelters for hedgehogs, shelter for frogs and toads and of course bird feeders, which will bring a multitude of species to your garden.

Recommended Products

Opticron Oregon 4 PC 8 x 32 Binoculars

£109.00 £119.00

With Phase Coating for improved sharpness of images, these are fantastic entry level binoculars

 

Hawke Optics Endurance ED Binoculars

£209.00 £229.99

These binoculars have ED glass for brilliant colour rendition

 

 

 

 

Defender Metal Seed Feeder

£15.95 £17.50

Defender Metal Peanut Feeder

£12.95 £14.99

Strong metal feeders with good squirrel resistance

 

 

Britain’s Birds: An identification guide to the birds of Britain and Ireland

£19.99

 

 

 

 

 

Collins BTO Guide to British Birds

£19.99

 

 

 

 

 

RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds

£6.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guide to the ‘Top 50’ Garden Birds

£3.99

The History of a Ray Society Publication: ‘The Handbook of the Bees of the British Isles.

 

In October 2018, the Handbook of the Bees of the British Isles – ‘Bees’ -was published by the Ray Society. This book is a thorough, authoritative account of the current state of knowledge of bee fauna. It is the culmination of more than forty years of study by George Else, a now-retired entomologist at the Natural History Museum London (NHM) and Mike Edwards, a professional ecologist, along with many other naturalists and professionals over the years.

The Handbook of the Bees of the British Isles, Volume 1 and 2

Here, along with quotes from the authors – Nick Evans, Mike Edwards and George Else, we recount the challenging production of ‘Bees’ from when it began in the 1970s to its publication in 2018.

“Many years of study, preparation and collaboration lie behind the production of major and definitive works. This history of ‘Bees’ gives an insight into the production of a major monograph as well as a case study of the problems and setbacks for other similar projects.”

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The idea for a handbook of the bees of the British Isles was first conceived in the 1970s when at the time, there were few works dealing with British bee species. Initially, the brief was to produce a Royal Entomological Society (RES) Handbook using revised and updated keys.

“The initial brief (as suggested by Paul Freeman, the then Keeper of Entomology [at NHM]) was to take earlier keys, add further information to these and publish as a Royal Entomological Society of London (RES) handbook.  However, as the work developed it became clear that it would not fit into the format of a typical RES Handbook.”

Originally, the publication of the Handbook of Bees of the British Isles was set for 1989. However, after problems identifying species and researching their biology, the deadline was missed. At this point, the NHMand the RES stepped away from the project but thankfully, ‘Bees’ was picked up by The Ray Society in 1994.

“The Ray Society, a registered charity, was founded in 1844 by George Johnson to make available works which, although being valuable scientifically, would not otherwise be published as they would not be commercially viable. This meant that the Ray Society was able to take on this type of work and tolerate the problems involved. The project was accepted by the Ray Society and the sole author at that time, George Else, and other collaborators, in particular, Mike Edwards, whose involvement had started in 1974, continued to work on The Handbook of the Bees of the British Isles.”

Page 354 – Handbook of the Bees of the British Isles

As research for ‘Bees’ was initially conducted before the internet, progress was slow. Literature had to be sourced and studied in person and the examination of museum collections required travelling across the country. The creation of the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Scheme in 1977 and the reciprocal society (BWARS) in 1995 coordinated the focus of professional and amateur bee workers, thus assisting in the research for ‘Bees’.

 

With research developing, the time to illustrate key features began.

Bumble bee – Handbook of the Bees of the British Isles

“The work involved the production of many figures featuring bee genitalia and other anatomical features. In the early stages of ‘Bees’, the only available method for producing these was as line drawings. These had to be produced to a high standard providing illustrations of the key characteristics for identification.”

Peter Skidmore, a former entomologist at Doncaster Museum was able to produce drawings for the handbook regularly to a high standard. After Skidmore’s passing in 2009, the production of illustrations stagnated until technological advances were made in the 1980s.

“Focus-stacked images (automontage) were taken, using Helicon Remote and Helicon Focus software with a Canon D5 v3 camera on a Leica M7.5 binocular microscope. However, learning how to achieve a good image took time and practice; three years working mostly on Sundays.”

Key from the Handbook of the Bees of the Britsh Isles

Keys were developed and produced in parallel to the images and illustrations, informing their creation. It was intended for ‘Bees’ to be accessible to naturalists as well as specialists so the keys were later submitted to the public domain for development and feedback.

However, the production of ‘Bees’ wasn’t without its obstacles, two external events further slowed the progress.

 

“The first was a major and definitive revision of world bee genera undertaken by Charles D. Michener -The Bees of the World published by The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London […] finally published in 2000.”

This revision had to be incorporated into ‘Bees’ to ensure accuracy. This delayed publication until Michener’s study had been published in the early 2000s.

“The second event was the planning and move of the Museum’s [NHM] Entomology Department staff and collections from the Entomology Building to a new building in South Kensington. The decanting of the entomological collections from the old building prior to its demolition was in summer 2005 and their move into the new building was completed in 2009.”

During this time, the collections were unavailable and Else, along with his colleagues at the NHM had to help with the move, delaying ‘Bees’ significantly.

In early 2000, work began on designing and constructing ‘Bees’, now a two-volume set. Ten years later, the Ray Society became actively involved in the production of ‘Bees’. Eventually, the Handbook of the Bees of the British Isles was ready for publication in 2018 and was launched at the Amateur Entomologists’ Society fair on 6th October of that year.

Launch of the Handbook of the Bees of the British Isles – Oct 2018

“The Handbook of the Bees of the British Isles represents the culmination of over 35 years of work and, as this account records, was a collaborative project involving a wide range and number of contributors, both specialist and non-specialist, professional and amateur.”

The Handbook of the Bees of the British Isles is the result of a wide range of sources and extensive contributions and collaborations from experts and naturalists alike; it is consequently a definitive work on the bee fauna of the British Isles and we are grateful for contributions from Nick Evans, Mike Edwards and George Else to assist us in celebrating the anniversary of this great work here on the NHBS Hoopoe.

We currently have special offers with up to 50% off on a selection of Ray Society titles. 

 

 

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.

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

Wembury BioBlitz 2019- Interview with Nicholas Helm

 

Some NHBS nets in action, rockpooling.

A BioBlitz is an intense period of biological survey of all the living creatures in a specific area, bringing together volunteers, scientists and naturalists to discover as many species as possible in a precise time frame. This year is the 10th anniversary of the UKs first marine and coastal BioBlitz and it returns to the first location- Wembury Bay. This year’s event is being organised in partnership with the Devon Wildlife Trust, the Marine Biological Association of the UK and the South Devon AONB.

One of the organisers, Nicholas Helm has taken time to speak with us about this year’s event.

  1. The BioBlitz has taken place in different locations across Devon and Cornwall, UK for the last 10 years, what makes this BioBlitz different to other years?

The first BioBlitz we ran in 2009 was at Wembury and was the first public, marine BioBlitz in the UK. Since then we have run one or more events each year for 10 years, several of which have partnered with Devon Wildlife Trust. Returning to Wembury 10 years on allows us to observe what has changed in that time as well as providing a great opportunity to celebrate the milestone. It also coincides with the 25thanniversary of Wembury Marine Centre, which provides a fantastic backdrop to the event.

 

  1. Can you tell us about Wembury Bay and what makes it a great location to explore?

Wembury Bay is a unique and special place. Due to its aspect and location, the shore is home to many southern species, not found anywhere else in the UK outside of Cornwall. The Bay incudes a whole host of habitats, from sand and seagrass in the mouth of the Yealm Estuary to the diverse rocky reefs stretching from Wembury Point – where they are exposed at low water – down to deeper, subtidal ledges beyond the Mewstone. These ledges are home to corals and a huge diversity of fish. The area provides nursery areas for sharks and feeding grounds for basking sharks, sea birds and marine mammals. As well as a diverse marine environment, the bay is fringed by fascinating and biologically diverse woodlands and coastal heathlands, home to rare birds, insects, reptiles and mammals, making it perfect for an event of this kind!

 

  1. What’s your favourite animal you’ve ever found at Wembury Bay?

Personally, my favourite animals in the bay are the giant gobies (Gobius cobitus) which is a large goby, protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and not found anywhere in the UK outside of Cornwall. It is common in the upper shore pools of Wembury and is always an exciting find.  The other star is the ‘St Pirran’s crab’ – a colourful hermit crab thought to have disappeared from the area in the 1960s but making a return in the last few years and now fairly common. Again, Wembury is the only site in the UK outside of Cornwall where this species has been recorded. I also love finding the stalked jellyfish and colourful nudibranchs that can be found in abundance in pools and under rocks if you know where to look!

 

  1. This year, the BioBlitz is returning to Wembury after 10 years. How do you think the types of creatures found this year will compare to the first Wembury BioBlitz?

I expect we will observe a lot of changes, in particular there are likely to be a number of new introduced species and several species which have extended their range into the area as a result of climate change. We will also hopefully record the St Pirran’s crab (Clibanarius erythropus) which, in 2009 was not found in the area.

 

  1. What happens to the data that volunteers, scientists and naturalists will collect at Wembury BioBlitz 2019?

All the data collected will be archived in DASSH (the national data archive for marine and coastal species and habitats) and made publicly available through the National Biodiversity Network Atlas. It will also be taken and held by Devon Local Records Centre and summarised in a final event report, which will be freely available online.

 

  1. How can readers get involved with the activities available at Wembury BioBlitz 2019?

There are lots of ways to get involved, as a volunteer, species recorder or as a participant in the many activities we have scheduled throughout the event. Visit www.mba.ac.uk/bioblitz for more information.

NHBS BioBlitz Essentials List

British Dragonfly Week – Author Interview with Dave Smallshire

Broad-bodied Chaser

In order to celebrate Dragonfly Week (13th – 21st July 2019), we interviewed Dave Smallshire, the renowned dragonfly expert and co-author of the excellent Britain’s Dragonflies field guide. Dragonflies and damselflies form the order Odonata and are some of our most iconic insects, with a fascinating life cycle. Damselflies are weaker fliers than dragonflies and have four almost equal length wings that they usually fold up when at rest.

Dragonflies have shorter hind wings and tend to keep their wings out when at rest. Primarily associated with glittering, iridescent glimpses at ponds and wetlands, dragonflies actually spend the vast majority of their lifetime (up to five years) as nymphs in rivers and other water bodies. Both the adult and nymph forms are ferocious predators. Adults are able to move each of their four wings independently and have exceptional vision, giving an astonishing aerial ability that allows them to select a single insect from a swarm.  Meanwhile the nymphs are able to jet propel water behind them and use their extendable hinged jaw (labium) to capture prey at lightning speed.

Johanna Huber

Dragonfly week is organised by the British Dragonfly Society and offers a range of activities designed to celebrate these amazing insects, including the Dragonfly Challenge where you can search for six species and submit your records to the BDS.

Interview with Dave Smallshire by Nigel Jones

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

As a child I have fond memories of playing around water: dipping into ponds and canals and later fishing (without much success). As a teenager, birds became a passion (they still are), but other things with wings began to attract my attention, notably butterflies and dragonflies. Working in an agricultural entomology department in the 1970s, I was conscious that insect identification keys were useless in the field and it wasn’t until half-decent field guides appeared that I really got to grips with dragonflies and had seen most species by the mid-80s. Soon after, my colleague Andy Swash and I started leading a long series of weekend courses for the Field Studies Council in Surrey/Sussex. When Andy and Rob Still began producing the first of the WILDGuides ‘Britain’s Wildlife’ series, it was a natural progression for us to start work on a field guide to dragonflies.

Banded Demoiselle Copyright 2019 Sarah Clarke

2. Can you give a brief insight into the time and work that goes into producing a field guide such as Britain’s Dragonflies?

First and foremost, writing and producing such a complex book as Britain’s Dragonflies takes twice as long as you think it will! In addition to drafting all the text, we had to source all the images, which for the first edition (2004) meant viewing hundreds of slides and scanning the best. For subsequent editions, it’s been equally laborious to search the internet and choose the most suitable from many thousands of digital images. Then we had to get permissions and high-resolution files from the photographers. I spent many days with Andy editing the text so that it is absolutely clear and concise – not an easy task! On the publication side, Rob Still was guided through his production of both the illustrations and the amazing photomontages. It’s been hard work, but a real honour to be able to be involved in producing one of the best series of field guides available anywhere.

3. Dragonflies are iconic and familiar insects; how are they faring in terms of population numbers and distribution in the UK?

Until recently, we only had occasional atlas maps to show changes in range, but the British Dragonfly Society, in conjunction with the Biological Records Centre, has worked on a method to use ad hoc records from observers to produce national trends using occupancy modelling. We knew that climate change was aiding northerly spread of some species within Britain and colonisation attempts by species from continental Europe (which makes for exciting times to be out watching dragonflies), but we had little objective information on how our ‘resident’ species were faring. The latest analyses support the obvious increases in species such as Migrant Hawker and colonisers such as Small Red-eyed Damselfly, but also much less obvious decreases in ‘northern’ species such as Black Darter. There seem to be more winners than losers, but next year will see a full analysis for a State of Dragonflies 2020. The generally improved water quality and increase in the extent of wetland creation has no doubt helped many species – a general picture which is in stark contrast to the fortunes of other insects, and wildlife in general.

By Sensei Minimal

4. What actions could people take, either within their gardens, or in the wider community to help maintain or increase dragonfly numbers?

In gardens, the obvious answer is to dig a pond – I have two in mine, and they are a constant source of pleasure! Supporting the creation and ongoing management of wetlands in general is also important, so supporting local and national conservation bodies is a good thing. It’s also very important to gather records of dragonflies and help to monitor them, and everyone can help by submitting their sightings (the BDS website gives information on how to do this, as well as how to create a pond for dragonflies).

5. What was your most surprising discovery whilst researching Britain’s Dragonflies?

I have been astonished at how many images on the internet and in social media are misidentified. Even the experts get it wrong sometimes! Take care not to believe everything, and of course buy a good identification guide to help ….

Banded Demoiselle Copyright 2019 Sarah Clarke.

6. What is the biggest challenge when studying dragonflies in the field?

That’s hard to pin down, because I’m aware of so many potential pitfalls! Correct identification is fundamental. Finding out where to see the scarce species to expand your skills is hard, but easier with modern communications. Dragonflies are wary and not easy to approach, so close-focus binoculars and/or a camera are vital – the advent of good quality digital cameras has been a huge benefit. I’ve used a sequence of zoomable Lumix ‘bridge’ cameras over the last 10-15 years to help study wildlife of all kinds, both in the field and back at home. The British weather can be challenging too: a warm, sunny day makes all the difference!

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

Andy and I have been working for about five years on Europe’s Dragonflies – which is now close to completion and is due for publication next spring. Like all the WILDGuides books, it’s based around high-quality images – in this case over 1,100 of them! It will be presented in a similar way to Britain’s Dragonflies but cover an extra 77 species.

 

Britain’s Dragonflies by Dave Smallshire and Andy Swash is available as part of our Field Guide Sale. For more reading on Dragonflies & Damselflies, browse our Odonata books

Britain’s Dragonflies: A Field Guide to the Damselflies and Dragonflies of Britain and Ireland
Paperback | August 2018
Focuses on the identification of both adults and larvae, highlighting the key features.
£12.99 £17.99

 

Atlas of Dragonflies in Britain and Ireland
Hardback | May 2014
Represents five years work by volunteers and partner organisations to map the distribution of damselflies and dragonflies in Britain and Ireland
£28.99

 

Our top picks for observing dragonflies in all their life cycle stages

Opticron Discovery WP PC Binoculars 

  • Free shipping for this item
  • Great value waterproof binoculars
  • Ideal for close focus work
    £169

 

Kite Caiman Binoculars

  • Exceptional close-focus
  • 15 year warranty
  • Entry-level binoculars with all-round performance
    £249.95

Professional Hand Net with Wooden Handle (250mm Wide)

  • Sturdy yet light and easy to use
  • Available in a variety of mesh sizes
  • Conforms to Environment Agency specification
    £61.99 £62.94

 

NHBS Pond Dipping Kit

This kit contains everything you need to collect freshwater aquatic life in one easy package. £31.99 £38.15 

 

Invertebrate Survey: Moth Trapping

Many of us delight at butterflies visiting the flowers in our gardens, be it the drunken admirals of autumn or the spritely orange-tips in spring, yet some of us still seem to shudder at the thought of dingy moths bothering our windows at night or worse still munching our clothes to dust in our cupboards. In the middle of June, armed with two moth traps and a couple of trusted field guides, I attended an open garden in Somerset ready to join the #Mothsmatter conversation initiated by Butterfly Conservation to dispel the moth myths and encourage a fascination for these insects.

All the essentials for cataloguing a moth catch!

Setting up a Skinner moth trap in a covered porch over a couple of cold nights, I wasn’t entirely sure what species would be flying, but sure enough in the morning as I lifted the lid and slid the egg boxes out, there were some delightful species to see. Visitors in the garden were suffice to say, in awe of the moths the light brought in; the Poplar Hawk-moth and the Eyed Hawk- moth, the Fox Moth with his rabbit ear antennae and the remarkable Buff-tip.

We are becoming well aware that UK moths are in decline with an overall decrease in numbers by 28% since 1968, and over 60 species becoming extinct in the 20th century. Moths are a key indicator of environmental health and, as vital as they are to other creatures as a food source (their declines are impacting on breeding birds and bats) they are also vital for the pollination of native flora, an essential element to the tapestry of wild life. There is also evidence to suggest that climate change is shifting the habitable ranges of many of the moths that call the UK home, and while this can produce some spectacular species visiting from continental Europe, many of the species that have relied on the temperate climate in the UK are being forced out northward.

With a recent trend in wildlife gardening and more strict rules on chemicals used in agriculture, there is hope however that we can retain and rebuild some of the moth populations that are so vital in our countryside. Butterfly Conservation have a wealth of information available on their website about the trends of moth populations and, very importantly, what you can do to take action, join the conversation and promote moths at https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/why-moths-matter

If you are interested in learning about which moth species are visiting your garden or local wild places, light trapping is simple and loads of fun. At NHBS we supply a range of moth traps suited for a number of habitats and a wide selection of amazing field guides to aid in identifying the moths you find. Below we have listed some of our favourite traps and provided a little more information on the differences between them, however if you wish to see our full selection of moth traps please visit our website.

Robinson Moth Traps

These large traps are renowned among lepidopterists because they offer the highest attraction and retention rates available. These traps are fitted with either mercury vapour or actinic electrics. Mercury vapour bulbs offer greater brightness than actinic bulbs and consequently they will often attract more moths. However actinic electrics may be favourable in areas where the brighter bulbs may cause disturbance; they also run cold and do not need to be shielded from rain, unlike mercury bulbs which are likely to shatter when used without a rain guard.

Heavy Duty 125W MV Robinson Moth Trap

 

* Price: £465.00 inc VAT
* Dimensions: 50 (h) x 60 (w) cm
* Weight: 7.9kg
* Electrics: 240V mains electric
* Also available with actinic electrics

Skinner Moth Traps

These traps are precursors to the Robinson, and as well as being a more economic choice, they allow the catch to be accessed while the trap is running. They feature a plastic or wooden box with a light fitted to a cross member above a long slit through which moths fall and become trapped. A highlight of this box are the transparent panels that make up the trap lid. These can be removed to access the catch while the trap is running, which is great for real-time surveys and demonstrations. These traps can be easily collapsed down for easy storage and transport.

Compact 20W Skinner Moth Trap (240V)

* Price: £179.00 inc VAT
* Dimensions: 32 (h) x 35 (w) x 35 (d) cm
* Weight: 3kg
* Electrics: 240V mains electric
* Alternative battery-operated units also available.

 

 

Heath Moth Traps

These traps are favoured for their lower cost and compact design which makes them highly portable (excellent for use in remote areas) and easy to store; some are even small enough to fit into a rucksack. They are usually battery powered and feature a low wattage light source of between 6 and 20 Watts (however some mains operated traps can reach 40 Watts), and consequently these traps have lower catch sizes and retention rates than Skinner or Robinson models.

Compact 20W Actinic Heath Moth Trap (240V)

 

* Price: £149.00 inc VAT
* Dimensions: 47 (h) x 25 (w) x 25 (d) cm
* Weight: 3kg
* Electrics: 240V mains electric
* Also available as a battery-operated unit.

 

 

Suggested books on Moths


Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland

Paperback | Nov 2018| £27.99 £34.99
A comprehensive guide with full colour illustrations and up-to-date information on the taxonomy, ecology and distributions of the UK’s macro-moths.

 


Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland
Paperback | Oct 2018| £13.99 £16.99
This compact guide features full colour illustrations and concise descriptions for almost all British and Irish species of macro-moths

 

Emperors, Admirals & Chimney Sweepers | The Weird and Wonderful Names of Butterflies and Moths
Hardback | May 2019| £24.99 £29.99
A beautifully written book that seeks to explore the origins and meanings of the names of our butterflies and moths.

 

The Moth Snowstorm | Nature and Joy
Paperback | Apr 2016| £9.99
Drawing on a wealth of memorable experiences from a lifetime of watching and thinking about wildlife and natural landscapes Michael McCarthy presents a new way of looking at the world around us.

 

Please note that prices stated in this blog post are correct at the time of publishing and are subject to change at any time.