The weekend of the 29th-30th August was the 24th International Bat Night. Organised by Eurobats, this annual celebration of bats saw events taking place all around the world in an effort to educate and inspire people about these fascinating flying mammals.
To mark International Bat Night, a small team from NHBS ventured out to an area of local woodland with a selection of bat detectors. The site we visited has been managed for the past two years by Steve and Tamara Davey, with the aim of maximising biodiversity. They are also ensuring the continued provision of habitat for certain species including seven recorded bat species, Nightjars and Woodcock. (Read more about how they are supporting nature in our recent interview or on the Woodland Wildlife website).
We arrived at the woods just before 7pm and were treated to a brief tour of the woodland as the light faded. Steve showed us the areas where the conifer plantation had been thinned, allowing more light to enter. In these areas there have already been increases in native plants and there were many seedlings present from native trees. He also showed us where he had planted a hedgerow boundary, with the intention of creating more commuting corridors for both bats and other wildlife. The second part of the woodland consisted of immature sitka spruce trees, some of which have now been cleared to make way for native trees, shrubs and plants.
In the two years that Steve and Tamara have been managing the site, the biodiversity of the plot has increased and the area is abundant with birds, small mammals and insects. Following advice from the Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat Project, they have also created three ponds, and this is where we spent most of our time on International Bat Night.
We used a selection of bat detectors including the Song Meter Mini static recorder, which was useful as it could be left to record while we kept our eyes on the skies watching bat movement and behaviour. We also used some handheld detectors including Magenta Bat 5s, an Anabat Scout and an Echo Meter Touch 2 which was extremely popular with the group due to the visual representation of the sound along with the incredibly useful auto-ID function.
During the evening we detected common pipistrelles, soprano pipistrelles, Noctules and Leisler’s as well as a suspected Nathusius’ pipistrelle and a Barbastelle that are awaiting ID confirmation from recorded files. Although the night was chilly, there were lots of moths and other flying insects that the bats were feeding on, and we enjoyed listening to pipistrelle feeding buzzes and watching them hunt and catch insects above us in the tree canopy.
The evening was extremely enjoyable and it was a great opportunity to see the work that Steve and Tamara have been doing on their land. The range of bat species we heard is testament to the quality of habitat that they have created and it was a great place to celebrate the 2020 International Bat Night.
CIEEM’s summer conference this year discussed the urgent need to address the interlinked climate emergency and biodiversity crisis for the sake of the planet, the species and habitats it supports and for future generations. Due to lockdown and social distancing restrictions, the conference took place online, with speakers and participants attending from their homes via Zoom.
Wildlife Equipment Administrator Claire Graham attended the conference and has summarised her experience of the event and the talks below.
Logging into Zoom to take part in my first online conference, I couldn’t help but wonder if this is going to be the future of large events for a while… But, given the topic of the CIEEM conference ‘Climate and Biodiversity Crises: Professional Approaches and Practical Actions’, maybe there are positives to this! Certainly, creating a way to hold important conferences, without the need for everyone to have to travel (often long distances by plane or car) has its upsides.
So, with everyone speaking and listening from home, the day began with an introduction from Max Wade, the president of CIEEM. Following a quick mention of the unusual circumstances being dealt with by everyone this year and a reference to the growing importance of issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss, it was time for the first talk.
Diana Pound from Dialogue Matters opened with the keynote presentation: ‘Seize this Moment and Get Fresh Momentum’. She took us straight into a positive and inspiring talk, encouraging people to shift from an attitude of fear and doubt to one of optimism and hope. Diana asked us to highlight strengths instead of problems in conversations and dialogue, as a more effective way of motivating people to change, rather than focusing on everything that is being done wrong. Diana stated that the world is starting to wake up and a recent survey showed that 97% of those surveyed thought climate change was serious and 70% thought it was very serious. It also showed that 77% of people believe we should make as many lifestyle changes to stop climate change as we are doing to stop Covid-19. Overall, we were reminded to remain hopeful and be inspired to action; a quick poll demonstrated the power of this.
This led us into the next talk by John Box (from the CIEEM Action 2030 group) which discussed the actions that CIEEM are taking to deal with the interlinked climate emergency and biodiversity crisis. He provided lots of advice about offsetting carbon emissions and explained that CIEEM aim to achieve net zero carbon emissions in all its activities by 2030. John also emphasised the importance of environmental organisations sharing knowledge and building relationships.
Penny Anderson (a member of the Action 2030 group and Ecological Restoration and Habitat Creation SIG) followed with a talk about ‘Habitats and Carbon, Storage and Sequestration’. She explained that, to meet the latest 2050 net zero target, the Committee on Climate Change have recommended tree planting, peatland restoration and green infrastructure. Penny explained that around half of emissions from human activity are absorbed by land and oceans and the rest in the atmosphere. Surprisingly, there is globally 3-5 times more carbon in soils than in vegetation and 2-3 times more than in the atmosphere. All semi-natural habitats hold more carbon than arable or improved grassland and these types of habitats are also better for biodiversity. Therefore, we need to concentrate on diversity within habitats and not just think about trees; there is a simultaneous need to protect remaining habitats and minimise losses in soil while also undertaking habitat creation or restoration.
The next talk was by Ben McCarthy, the Head of Nature Conservation and Restoration Ecology with the National Trust. He explained the role the National Trust are going to play in the climate change and biodiversity crises, as well as the challenges they face as the largest land-owning NGO in Europe. Ben explained the organisations plan to repurpose farmland and create 20,000ha of new woodland and 25,000ha of new priority habitat, including restoring peatlands – a big challenge, but one they are determined to achieve! The National Trust recognise the significance of their land which is home to 44% of UK species including 737 that are threatened with extinction. Half of their properties have priority habitats that are highly sensitive.
Continuing on the subject of peatland restoration, the next talk was by Clifton Bain from the IUCN Peatland Project Programme. His talk on ‘The Peatland Code: Business Funding and Environmental Assessment’ discussed the importance of peatlands and their many benefits and gave an overview of the Peatland Code. The Peatland Code is a voluntary certification standard that helps to gain funding for peatland restoration projects by giving assurance to buyers; they fund the projects in exchange for climate benefits and mitigation. He compared the ecosystem services in healthy vs damaged peatland and discussed how damaged peatlands emit carbon rather than acting as a carbon sink. He also mentioned the loss of unique biodiversity that comes with damaged peatlands.
After lunch we jumped back into the next talk with Richard White from NatureBureau with his fascinating talk ‘Blue Carbon – The Sea, the Coast, and the Climate Crises’. Richard discussed ocean warming and acidification, sea level rise, shifting species distribution and methods of mitigation. He reviewed the role that ocean and coastal ecosystems have in the carbon cycle and the link between protecting and restoring marine biodiversity and mitigating our carbon emissions. Seagrass beds and saltmarshes act as globally significant carbon stores but only 21% of these habitats are currently protected by our Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). There is a need to work to protect these habitats and support restoration projects.
Richard Lindsay from East London University continued with more information about the importance of peatlands with his talk ‘Peatland Restoration and Carbon: Sphagnum, Carbon and Timescales’. He advised that, despite many peatlands and blanket bogs being damaged and emitting carbon, restoration projects can sometimes be challenged as successful carbon mitigation due to them being thought of as slow-growing systems. However, Richard discussed the use of adding Sphagnum to peat restorations due to it being a significant carbon sink and advised that it can be grown rapidly in optimum conditions.
The next talk was David Holland from Salix on ‘Soft Engineering Approaches to River, Wetland & Swale Projects’. He talked about the high carbon cost and negative ecological impacts of traditional hard engineering techniques and discussed low carbon solutions that can be used instead. Using natural materials and processes, rather than materials such as concrete, rock or metal, generates less waste, needs less future maintenance and improves the water quality and habitat, as well as providing vegetation that will continue to absorb carbon and benefit the environment.
The closing talk of the day was by Lee Dudley, Head of Environmental Carbon with the Woodland Trust and focused on ‘Carbon and Woodland Creation’. He explained that the Woodland Trust aim to conserve, restore and re-establish trees; their vision is a UK that is rich in native woods and trees for wildlife and people. The fact that woodland creation is now being recognised as a cost-effective method of climate change mitigation enables the potential for more woodland creation projects. Lee also discussed the importance of matching the right species to the right sites for the best outcomes and reminded us that it is not just about trees, but about the whole environment.
The day was wrapped up with a quick conclusion from David Parker from CIEEM. He thanked the speakers for all their extremely important and interesting talks and with that the event was over. My first experience of an online conference was positive all round; the talks were fantastic, and everyone enjoyed them from the comfort of their own homes with few technical difficulties. Hopefully the next conference can be attended in person but, if not, this experience has demonstrated there are definitely ways to keep talking and learning about these important issues.
The Big Butterfly Count is an annual citizen science survey organised by Butterfly Conservation. This project, which is the world’s biggest survey of butterflies, aims to assess the health of our environment by counting a selection of our most common butterflies (along with a couple of day-flying moths).
Butterflies respond very quickly to changes in the environment and, as such, are useful biodiversity indicators. They can also provide an early warning system for environmental factors that may go on to impact other wildlife. Since the 1970s, numbers of butterflies and moths in the UK have decreased significantly. Monitoring this decline and any future change is an important step in studying the effect of the climate crisis on our wildlife.
The Big Butterfly Count 2020 will run from Friday 17 July to Sunday 9 August.
During the 2019 survey, more than 100,000 counts took place. On average, people saw 16 butterflies during the 15 minutes; this was higher than the 2018 average of 11 and the second highest number recorded since the survey began.
2019 was also notable in that it was a ‘Painted Lady year’. Painted Lady butterflies migrate over successive generations from north Africa to central and northern Europe. A Painted Lady year happens about once in a decade, and is when unusually high numbers of this migratory butterfly arrive in the UK. In 2019 they were the most numerous species spotted during the Big Butterfly Count; they accounted for more than a quarter of all butterflies reported and were more than two times as common as the next most abundant species (the Peacock).
Other increases seen in 2019 included the Peacock, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell while the Large White, Small White and Green-veined White all decreased in comparison to 2018.
How to take part
To take part, all you need to do is spend 15 minutes counting butterflies on a sunny day between 17th July and 9th August. You can conduct the count from anywhere you like; in the garden or park, in the woods or fields or wherever you find yourself outdoors.
If you are counting from a fixed position, count the maximum number of each species that you can see at a single time. For example, if you see three Red Admirals together then record it as 3, but if you only see one at a time then record it as 1 (even if you saw one on several occasions) – this is so that you don’t count the same butterfly more than once. If you are doing your count on a walk, then simply total up the number of each butterfly species that you see during the 15 minutes. You can do as many counts as you like, even if these take place in the same location.
Submit your results online on the Big Butterfly Count website, where you can also download a handy butterfly ID chart. Or, carry out the survey and submit your count all in one go using the free smartphone app, available for both iOS and Android.
Butterfly identification resources
On the NHBS blog you will find a handy butterfly ID guide, helpfully split into different habitat types. Or why not take a look at one of the popular field guides below:
This comprehensive guide describes and illustrates about 440 species, depicting both males and females and – where there is significant variation – subspecies. Distribution maps accompany every widespread species.
Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland #245485
This handy pocket-sized book has become the essential guide to identifying the butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland. It contains over 600 superb illustrations of the life stages of each species, together with beautiful artworks of butterflies in their natural settings.
Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland #245262
The illustrations in this guide, from originals painted by Richard Lewington, show 58 British butterfly species. The paintings are a quick identification aid to the butterflies most likely to be seen and all are drawn to life-size.
Hedgehogs are abundant in urban and suburban areas and can frequently be found in gardens, as these provide safe, accessible spaces for them to forage and rear their young. They are most active between April and September with the main mating season occurring between May and June. Female hedgehogs give birth during June and July, although some will go on to produce a second litter later in the summer. All of this means that now is a great time to look for hedgehogs – and if you’re taking part in the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge, then this will also contribute to your month of wild activities.
If you’re lucky enough to have hedgehogs in your garden, why not take the time to record their behaviours for Hedgehogs After Dark. This project, organised by Hedgehog Street, aims to learn more about the ways in which hedgehogs are using our gardens and the behaviours that they are showing through the spring and summer. Until Sunday 26th July you can submit your observations to their website and have the chance of winning an exclusive hedgehog hamper in their prize draw. Visit their website for lots of information about the different behaviours they are interested in and how to submit your findings (you will need to register as a Hedgehog Champion to do this).
Keep reading for some top tips on making your garden attractive to hedgehogs and how to watch them, either with or without a trail camera.
Is your garden hedgehog friendly?
There are several things that you can do to make your garden more attractive to hedgehogs:
• Improve access – Gardens are only useful for hedgehogs if they can access them. Plus, hedgehogs move long distances throughout the night to find enough food, so creating networks of gardens that they can move between is important. By cutting a 13cm diameter hole in the bottom of a fence or removing a brick from the base of a wall, you can help to provide access and link your garden with surrounding ones.
• Provide shelter – Try to keep some areas of your garden wild and overgrown, as this will provide secure nesting and feeding spaces. An artificial hedgehog home will also provide a safe and warm space for hedgehogs to overwinter and for a female to birth and raise her young in the spring and summer. Try not to use pesticides or slug pellets in the garden, as these are poisonous to other animals as well as slugs.
• Provide food – Make sure that there are lots of worms, beetles and earwigs in your garden by growing wildflowers and providing log piles. Leaving areas of the garden which are overgrown or making a small wildlife pond will also help to encourage a diverse range of invertebrates. (Make sure your pond has sloping sides or piles of rocks to allow any animals to escape.) You could also provide a shallow dish of fresh water along with good quality hedgehog food, meaty dog or cat food, or dry cat biscuits.
Tips for watching hedgehogs
Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so the best time to watch them is during late evening. Throughout the night they can travel up to 2km searching for food and/or mates. (This great video shows radio-tracked hedgehogs moving between gardens in a suburban area of Brighton). If you have a suitable window looking out onto your garden, then you can watch them from the warmth of your home. Make sure that you turn any inside lights off and keep noise to a minimum. If there is no illumination from street lights, visibility will be best at twilight (before complete dark) and around the time of the full moon (provided it isn’t too cloudy).
If you can’t watch the garden from a window, then wrap up warm, get into stealth-mode and venture outdoors. As with any wildlife-watching endeavour, the most important thing is to be still and quiet. It might also help if you can get low to the ground which will provide a hedgehog-level view of their activities. Don’t be tempted to try to get too close to them, however, and never attempt to pick them up or interfere with their natural movements.
Using a trail camera to watch hedgehogs
One of the best ways to view the hedgehogs in your garden is using a trail camera. If you’re lucky enough to own one of these, then setting it up to record at night is a great way to see if any hedgehogs are around and, if so, what they’re getting up to. Here are some tips to maximise your chance of getting great footage:
• When siting your camera, think about where the hedgehogs are likely to be moving around. If you have a hole cut in your fence and you know that hedgehogs are using it to access your garden, then you might want to point your camera towards this. Similarly, if you have provided any food or water, then setting your camera up near to this is a great way to capture footage of them feeding.
• Position your camera low to the ground. Think about the size of the hedgehog and where it is most likely to trigger the infrared beam.
• Set your camera to the highest sensitivity setting. If you find that it is triggering far too much, particularly in the absence of any animals, then you can always reduce this later.
• As you’ll be recording hedgehogs mostly in darkness, having a camera with invisible night vision LEDs could be a bonus, as these will not startle the animals. Plus, models with adjustable night-time illumination (or which adjust automatically) will give you the most control over your image quality.
[The Browning Strike Force HD Pro X is one of our bestselling trail cameras for hedgehog watching and is used by lots of great projects, such as London Hogwatch. For more information or advice about trail cameras, please get in touch with us and chat with one of our experienced ecologists.]
Maybe you don’t have a garden, or you have one but haven’t seen any hedgehogs using it. You can still view lots of great hedgehog videos on the Hedgehog Street YouTube channel. Or, if you use Facebook, why not watch this talk by ecologist and hedgehog fan Hugh Warwick, recorded for the Summer Solstice ‘Wonderland’ Festival this spring.
Looking for some inspiration for activities during 30 Days Wild? Why not take a stroll around sunset and see if you can find some bats. If you have a bat detector then you can also listen to the ultrasound calls they produce and have a go at working out which species you’re seeing and hearing. Plus, an evening walk also gives you a chance to see what other nocturnal animals are out and about – owls, foxes, badgers and toads are all more active at night and, if you’re lucky and in the right place, you might also be fortunate enough to hear a Nightjar.
What you need:
• Bat detector – For beginners, a heterodyne detector is a great choice as they are economical and easy to use. Simply tune it to the frequency that you want to hear and then listen through the speaker or with a pair of headphones. If you want something a little more advanced, the Echo Meter Touch 2 connects directly to your phone and lets you view and record the bat calls, as well as suggesting the most likely species that you’re listening to. (If you don’t have a bat detector, you can still go for a walk at dusk and look for bats flitting beneath the trees and across the surface of the water). • Torch – Not for seeing the bats but for finding your way safely in the dark!• Warm clothing and sensible footwear – Make sure you have enough warm clothes for when the temperature drops after sunset, and footwear that’s suitable for the chosen terrain. A thermos with a hot drink is also a good idea! • Guide to bat frequencies – If you’re less familiar with bat detecting then a list of the frequencies at which you are most likely to receive the strongest signal for each species is a good thing to have with you. This simple pdf can be printed out to carry with you, or why not take a look atthis guide from the Bedfordshire Bat Group for more detailed information on identifying bats using a heterodyne detector. The FSC Guide to British Bats is also a good choice and provides lots of information on identifying bats in flight.
When to go:
Bats are most active from April to September and the best time of day for seeing and hearing them is around sunset. If you’re walking to a location where you will be using your bat detector or hoping to see bats, then make sure you set off with plenty of time to get there before the sun sets. And don’t forget your torch – even though it will be light when you set out, you’re likely to need it on the way home.
Where to go:
Parks and woodland, especially those with aquatic areas such as ponds and lakes, are great places to find bats. If you can find a walk that covers a variety of habitat types then this will increase your chances of seeing/hearing more than one species. Make sure that the route you choose is safe and accessible and that you know where you’re going – places can look very different at night than they do in the day and it’s easy to lose your sense of direction if you’re not on a clearly marked path.
If you don’t want to venture far from home, then you can also look and listen out for bats in your garden. Near hedges or trees is usually a good place to focus your attention.
What to do:
Once sunset is approaching, simply turn your bat detector on, keep as quiet as you can and watch and listen for any bats. The earliest species to emerge tend to be the pipistrelles and noctules. Of these, common and soprano pipistrelles are the most frequently seen. For this reason, it is worth setting your detector to 45 or 55kHz (or switching between the two periodically) to see if you can pick up any sounds. If you can see bats flying but don’t hear any sounds at these frequencies, then try scanning through all frequencies slowly to see which produces the most significant and clear response.
If you are near water and see bats skimming the surface, then these are likely to be Daubenton’s bats. As with the common pipistrelle, Daubenton’s bats produce the strongest echolocation signal at around 45kHz. (They also tend to emerge later than pipistrelles, so you may have to wait until later in the evening to catch a glimpse of these!).
Once you become used to using your detector, you will become accustomed to the different types of noises produced by different species and, in combination with where and how the bats are flying, will become more confident in deciding which species you are looking at and listening to.
Find out more:
If you want to find out more about bats, the Bat Conservation Trust website is a great resource and offersinformation on all 18 species of bat found in the UK. They also provide a list of local bat groups and coordinate the National Bat Monitoring Programme. Surveys cater to different levels of experience and knowledge and are fun and rewarding to carry out. Some don’t require any equipment, so you can take part even if you don’t own a bat detector.
The RSPB website is a great place to hear common bird songs and will help you to distinguish between different types of owls. The most common species you are likely to come across are Barn Owls and Tawny Owls. You can also hear an example of a Nightjar call on the website.
This fold-out guide includes 16 species of bats that live and breed in Britain and has two parts: a guide to identifying bats in flight using bat detectors, flight patterns, size, habitat and emergence time after dusk; and a key labelling the different body parts of a bat for identifying them in the hand.
This book takes the reader through both the theoretical and practical aspects of the use of the bat detector and covers all aspects of bat identification in the field, including `jizz’, flight style, foraging behaviour, roost finding, echolocation, and basic survey technique. As each topic is explained, references are given to the relevant tracks on the CD.
Covers topics such as the properties of sound; how bats use sound; bat detection methods; recording devices; analysis software; recording techniques and call analysis. For each species found in the British Isles, information is given on distribution; emergence times; flight and foraging behaviour; habitat; and echolocation.
(a) n51_w1150 from the Biodiversity Heritage Library via Flickr
Throughout June, thousands of people will be taking part in The Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild. Designed to improve our health and wellbeing, as well as being good for the planet, this annual challenge tasks us to do one wild thing a day for the whole month. Sign up on the Wildlife Trusts website and receive a free downloadable pack of goodies to help you plan your activities.
Here at NHBS we rarely need an excuse to get outside for a spot of wildlife watching. And as lots of us are currently working from home, we’ve been enjoying the opportunity to take stock of the nature that’s much closer to where we live. We’ve also been sharing our wildlife photos, all taken in gardens or on local walks. Scroll down for some of our favourites from the past month.
Why not let us know in the comments about what activities you get up to in June – we’d also love to see some of your photos!
Oli has been busy in the garden with his moth trap – a recent catch included this oak beauty, a couple of early greys and a stunning puss moth. A felt refuge tile also attracted a lovely group of slow worms.
While dismantling an old shed in her garden, Natt discovered this cheeky creature. She also captured an image of a vibrant brimstone moth.
Toby came across this group of hungry mouths in his stables.
Phil was excited to see that his solitary beehive had attracted some inhabitants.
After creating a hole in his fence to help hedgehogs move from garden to garden, Paul was rewarded with this welcome visitor. (With drastic reductions in road traffic, hedgehogs are one of the species that are expected to be benefiting from the lockdown!)
Chris discovered this nest, packed with eggs.
Luanne caught some great moths in her garden in north Wales – including this eyed hawk moth and buff tip.
Tabea took this lovely picture of a stonefly while on a local walk.
Angeline captured some great images of insects enjoying the local flora.
Nigel found this tiny slow worm in his garden and also discovered a bumblebee nest in his compost bin.
While working from home, Elle has been enjoying watching the birds visiting her collection of feeders.
Finally, Guy captured this charismatic shot of some of the frequent visitors to his local rooftop.
Have you spotted anything exciting in the garden or while on walks this spring? If so, we’d love to hear about it and to see your photos!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Nigel had some willing helpers in the form of his three children, who thoroughly enjoyed helping with the count (with some crumpets)
Wood pigeon: 2
Collared dove: 2
Great tit: 2
Blue tit: 2
House sparrow: 1
Catherine’s was the only garden to feature a pied wagtail, a very good spot.
Great tit: 6
Blue Tit: 1
Wood pigeon: 3
Pied wagtail: 1
Elle’s garden produced the only blackcap record and was the only garden with no blackbirds.
Blue tit: 1
Wood pigeon: 1
House sparrow: 2
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.
Blue tit: 6
Coal tit: 4
Collared dove: 1
Great tit: 3
House sparrow: 5
Long-tailed tit: 7
Marsh tit: 1
Great spotted woodpecker: 1
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Sign up through the RSPB website for either a free postal pack or online results submission
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.