Take part in the Big Butterfly Count 2020

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.

2019 Results

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:

Collins Butterfly Guide
#173624

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.

30 Days Wild Activities – Hedgehog Watch

Hedgehog at Night by Mark Wheadon

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 meaty dog or cat food, some chopped unsalted peanuts or sunflower hearts.

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.]

No hedgehogs?

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.

Further reading

Hedgehog
Pat Morris
#235985

An all-encompassing study of the hedgehog and its habitat, shedding new light on conservation efforts crucial to the survival of this charming creature.

 

The Hedgehog
Pat Morris
#212733

This booklet presents general information on biology and behaviour of the hedgehog.

 

 

RSPB Spotlight: Hedgehogs
James Lowen
#239043

A lively, readable and well-illustrated account of one of Britain’s most loved but most vulnerable animals.

 

 

A Prickly Affair: The Charm of the Hedgehog
Hugh Warwick
#241371

In this glorious book, Hugh sets out to answer our questions about hedgehogs, from the practical to the sublime.

30 Days Wild Activities – Bat Walk

The hours around sunset are the best time to see and hear bats. Image by O Haines.

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:
The Echo Meter Touch 2 connects directly to your phone or tablet.

• 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 at this 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:
Woodlands, parks and gardens are all good spots to look for bats. Image by O Haines.

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:
The Magenta Bat 5 is ideal for bat walks

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.

Daubenton’s bat. Image (a).

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 offers information 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.

Head over to nhbs.com for our complete range of bat detectors and take a look at our blog post for more tips for beginners

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. 

Further reading:

A Guide to British Bats
#129064

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.

 

The Bat Detective
#79534

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.

British Bat Calls
#181961

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.

 

Image credits:
(a) n51_w1150 from the Biodiversity Heritage Library via Flickr

30 Days Wild – Our local wildlife photos

Image by O Haines

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.

Oak beauty – Image by O Haines
Early grey and puss moths – Image by O Haines
Slow worms – Image by O Haines

While dismantling an old shed in her garden, Natt discovered this cheeky creature. She also captured an image of a vibrant brimstone moth.

Common frog – Image by N Mawson
Brimstone moth – Image by N Mawson

Toby came across this group of hungry mouths in his stables.

Chicks – Images by T Drew

Phil was excited to see that his solitary beehive had attracted some inhabitants.

Solitary bee – Images by P Horswell

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!)

Hedgehog – Image by P Williams

Chris discovered this nest, packed with eggs.

Robin’s nest – Image by C Cooper

Luanne caught some great moths in her garden in north Wales – including this eyed hawk moth and buff tip.

Eyed hawk moth and buff tip – Images by L Wilkes

Tabea took this lovely picture of a stonefly while on a local walk.

Stonefly – Image by T Troya

Angeline captured some great images of insects enjoying the local flora.

Images by A Rietveld

Nigel found this tiny slow worm in his garden and also discovered a bumblebee nest in his compost bin.

Slow worm and bumblebee images by N Jones

While working from home, Elle has been enjoying watching the birds visiting her collection of feeders.

Sparrow on feeder – Image by E Mason

Finally, Guy captured this charismatic shot of some of the frequent visitors to his local rooftop.

Gulls – Image by G Freeman

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!

 

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. 

 

 

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