Earlier this year we were contacted by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) who were interested in working with us to make a bespoke aquatic survey net.
Their specifications required the net to have a square frame with a four point bridle and connections for a flow meter. It also needed to have a diving vane which would ensure that it could be towed stably at a set depth, and a screw on cod end with a bag made from 53µm and 250µm mesh. Following these guidelines, our engineer and seamstress got to work and within a couple of weeks a detailed specification was agreed. The nets were then manufactured and two were sent to ZSL in February.
Several months later we were delighted to receive some photos from Anna Cucknell, who manages ZSL’s work on fish conservation in the Thames, showing the nets in use.
“It was great to work with NHBS, who listened to our specific needs to design bespoke sampling nets for juvenile fish, and used their experience to adapt our designs to fit our needs. Our juvenile fish surveys on the Thames are the first of their kind, in scale and resolution and we hope the results from which will be applicable in the Thames and further afield to help drive conservation and better management of our estuaries for all fish species”. Anna Cucknell, Thames Project Manager, Zoological Society of London
Fish Conservation in the Thames
The nets we made for ZSL are being used for an ongoing project to monitor the use of the Thames by juvenile fish.
The Tidal Thames is home to more than 100 fish species including many that are commercially important such as Dover sole and European seabass. It also provides critically important habitat for rarer species, including European smelt and European eel.
Like most estuaries, the Thames provides invaluable spawning, migratory and nursery grounds but, despite this, the region is poorly studied. The ZSL project hopes to remedy this by providing essential information about the health of fish populations in the estuary, and to assess how these are affected by water quality and local developments.
The project, funded by Tideway, involves both boat-based and foreshore sampling and, excitingly, also provides an opportunity for volunteers to get involved via its citizen science scheme. Volunteers can help with a variety of tasks including measuring, identifying and counting the fish.
For more information about the Tidal Thames fish conservation project, head over to the ZSL website.
Foraging was my first introduction to the natural world.
While sounding slightly trite, this statement is non-the-less true. I grew up in a town, like most of us do, and before I started foraging for nothing more exciting than blackberries I didn’t pay much attention to ‘nature.’
So, what did foraging teach me about the natural world that climbing trees and making dens couldn’t? Simply the realisation that blossoms provide pollen to pollinators such as bees, enabling the trees and shrubs to produce fruit. Eureka! So, that’s what bees are for! Then there are the seasons: not just for influencing the contents of the wardrobe, seasons were the on/off or pause for everything. I began to get excited, I discovered wild mushrooms, I was twelve and I’ve been foraging ever since.
Are we foraging too much?
Foraging is quite a controversial issue. There are lots of passionate arguments for and against it and a quick browse of the subject on the internet will tell you more. Like many, I am concerned that professional foragers can damage the natural environment. It seems logical that stripping out all the mushrooms or sea kale from a small area will damage that environment in some way. Surely foragers just need to abide by good practice, it’s the practitioner’s actions not the practice itself that can cause problems. Then there is the notion of sustaining oneself with ‘wild food.’ At best this notion is romantic, more likely delusional. My love of foraging is wholly based on getting outdoors and learning about nature – foraging is not an alternative to going to the shops.
Is it dangerous?
Firstly, you do need a book, especially if you are foraging for mushrooms; mis-identification can and does have dire consequences. You need to be careful and acquire knowledge with experience. You discover a sought-after Boletus edulis, considered the king of all mushrooms and totally delicious (I can vouch that they are). However, before you enjoy your gourmet mushroom, make sure the stem doesn’t turn blue when cut, otherwise you’re eating Boletus erythropus and are in for an unpleasant stomach ache. More serious consequences can occur from eating the morbidly named destroying angel, Amanita bisporigera, or the death cap, Amanita phalloides. Please be very familiar with both before you eat wild mushrooms. A book will suffice as a identification checklist, but the best way is to find a specimen and take note of all its pertinent features, cross-referencing with more than one book if possible. Once you can confidently identify a destroying angel or a death cap, you can be confident the mushroom you are planning to eat isn’t one of them.
Away from the more well documented mushroom poisoning, you might find yourself spending your evening taking the tiny stalks out of every single elderberry in the clusters you’ve picked – the leaves, twigs, branches, stalks, seeds, and roots of Sambucus plants can contain a cyanidin glycoside, so it’s best to be safe. Oh, and you need to cook the berries too. You don’t have to take risks though, as the Woodland Trust has planted many community orchards in towns, resulting in enough blackberry and apple jam to last you a whole year.
Which books should I use?
There are lots of books available and we have compiled a short list here for you to browse. In no particular order, the following contain interesting and practical information on foraging:
Being outside in all weathers, learning about nature, connecting with the natural world, acquiring more and more knowledge and experience: whether you are in town, country or even the city there will be plants growing everywhere that you can eat. It’s fun, slightly dangerous and can give children their first and lasting experience of connecting with nature. It did that for me and has stayed, and will stay with me all my life.
The accumulation of stacks of pallets is an unavoidable part of working in a fast paced and varied retail environment. So when we were contacted by Keith Grant from the Slapton Ringing Group to ask if they could take some off our hands, we were both delighted to agree and eager to learn about the site where they would be put to use.
The Slapton Ringing Group is based at the Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve. This beautiful site is located on the south coast of Devon and contains the largest lake in the south west, separated from the sea by just a narrow shingle bar. Its location, together with the unique habitat conditions, makes it an extremely important place for local and migrating bird populations.
The Slapton Ringing Group have been surveying birds at Slapton Ley since the 1960s, and for the last six years the site has been designated as a BTO Constant Effort Survey (CES) Site.
A regular rotation of willow cutting is undertaken at the site, which maintains the vegetation and helps to avoid major changes in species composition. A carefully constructed pallet walkway allows access to the ringing rides for the volunteers that meet here regularly throughout the ringing season.
The pallets salvaged from NHBS were used to replace old ones which have an obviously limited lifespan due to the constantly wet conditions. It is a pleasure to know that some of our “waste” is being used to support such a fantastic and long-running project.
The BioEcoSS TubeTrap is a new product for ecologists and researchers conducting mammal surveys. The innovative design is the work of data consultant Simon Poulton, who told us more about his company and his revolutionary new small mammal trap.
Tell us a little about your organisation and how you got started. BioEcoSS Ltd is a consultancy specialising in all aspects of ecological data handling and analysis. I became a consultant after taking voluntary severance from ADAS, which was the scientific and advisory arm of the old MAFF – precursor to DEFRA, for the youngsters among you. I had worked for them for 14 years, developing from basic wildlife advice through to coordinating the national monitoring of Environmentally Sensitive Areas and other agri-environment schemes. Change was in the air, with ADAS becoming a “Next-Steps Agency”. So, I decided to go it alone, allowing me to concentrate more on the practical side of database design and statistical analysis – rather than managing teams and editing their reports. It also allowed me to select my clients to focus more on the taxa that I was interested in – primarily mammals and birds.
Why the name? Well, when I set up as a consultant I had a very loyal spaniel call Bess. Struggling to come up with a descriptive name that had “ecology” and “statistics” in it, a mischievous friend took one look at the adoring dog at my feet, and suggested BESS. So, I became Biological & Ecological Statistical Services! Bit of a stretch – but it caught on. Then when I converted to a limited company five years later, I thought I’d better have something a bit more respectable – so BioEcoSS Ltd was born.
Over the last 18 years, I’ve had a good number of clients, including universities, NGOs such as the Mammal Society, Vincent Wildlife Trust & BTO and government departments such as Natural England, CCW and JNCC. My work has generally fallen into two types:
a) ecological database design, and
b) statistical analysis of existing datasets.
However, in all my projects, I’ve tried to emphasise the importance of incorporating these aspects at the project planning stage – very often they’re not! So, it’s not unusual for clients to turn up with a dataset that’s been stored in a spreadsheet, riven with errors, and with a survey design that just doesn’t give them the power they need to detect change or spatial variation. I do what I can, but it would be so much better if these aspects were considered more carefully at the outset as part of an integrated design – sorry, that’s a bit of a lecture!
What was the original inspiration behind the TubeTrap?
About six or seven years ago, when I was on the council of the Mammal Society, we were discussing the setting up of a national small mammal monitoring scheme. The then chair, Dr Johnny Birks (very well-known to all mammalogists), lent back in his chair and sighed “It’s such a shame we don’t have a good trap at a reasonable price!”. We all agreed that we would have to focus on non-invasive methods for a large-scale, mass-participation survey – which is not a bad thing anyway – but there was still a need for trapping to provide high quality data.
On the train home I started thinking about this idea. Database design is a very creative and practical process –understanding the requirements of the user and combining these with practical and intuitive solutions. And I felt I was fairly practical – good with wood and I seem to be forever re-plumbing my house! As the son of an engineer, I thought I might be able to come up with a good design for a mouse trap. After all, I had been using the trusty Longworth and even some old Shermans for over 25 years, so I knew their faults and limitations.
So over the next 18 months I set out to build a prototype. I was certain that injection moulding was the answer to producing large numbers of cheap traps and I was very lucky to get some financial help from the, now sadly defunct, Manufacturing Advisory Service. I also fell on my feet by finding two incredibly helpful and innovative small companies in the West Midlands; an injection tool-making company (BFT Engineering) and an injection moulding company (BTF Polymers). (The names are purely coincidental – they’re not related in any way – but they continue to cause me total confusion!) These guys were enormously helpful in designing the tools and producing prototypes for testing. So – TubeTraps are entirely British made!
How does the TubeTrap compare to other small mammal traps on the market?
Well! What do you expect me to say – pretty good I reckon! Seriously –I think there are three primary aspects to the efficacy of a small mammal trap:
1) How well do they catch?
2) How humane are they?
3) How practical are they to use?
In the UK the main competitor is, obviously, the Longworth. This has remained virtually unchanged over the last 50 years so, in an evolutionary sense, it must be pretty well adapted to what it does. I’ve carried out some comparative trials (as have six or seven users) which shows that TubeTraps catch just as well as Longworths. As the number of trials increases, there’s even some evidence that they are better at catching very small animals such as pygmy shrews and harvest mice. I’m hoping that two students from UEA will be trialling the traps this autumn to provide enough data to show this is statistically significant. I’ve not compared them directly with Shermans or Trip Traps, but people have told me, anecdotally, that TubeTraps have a higher capture-rate.
Part of the design was to make a trap that was as humane as possible. Obviously, the correct setting and use of traps goes a long way to ensure the survival of captured animals – in particular, live invertebrate food for shrews is essential, as is regular checking. But I wanted the TubeTrap to help prevent exposure of animals, so the use of plastic and the double-walled nest-box provide much better insulation. I’ve also had a bit of a theory about shrew deaths. A very light animal (say a pygmy or juvenile common shrew) enters a trap without tripping it, scoffs all the food and then leaves. Along comes an adult shrew, trips the door and finds a trap with no food. Result – starvation. So I think the very sensitive and stable mechanism of TubeTraps will help prevent this situation.
The practicality aspects of the design were very important, especially setting the trap and cleaning. The nestbox and tunnel parts of the trap snap together very intuitively and are virtually impossible to pop open accidentally – unlike a poorly set Longworth. The smooth, cylindrical profile of the trap makes it very easy to push into dense vegetation and remove for emptying. Again – in the past, I’ve popped open Longworths when pulling them out of hedgerows as the corners of the nest box or the hook of the pin hinge catches on a bramble. The TubeTrap’s white doors are very easy to see, even in poor light, so it’s much easier to check when they are closed. So too with the pre-bait lock – it has a very visual appearance, so it’s much more difficult to leave a trap locked open by mistake. The round profile of the nestbox and the flat base of the tunnel with no side-walls make them very easy to clean. Finally – and possibly most importantly, all parts of the trap snap together, so it’s very easy to replace any damaged parts. I always carry a few spare triggers (which can get chewed) and the elastic springs for replacement in the field.
Development of the TubeTrap is continuous and I’m pleased to say that NHBS is stocking the new Mark II version. This has a more stable trip mechanism, which is counter-balanced, making it much more difficult to accidentally trip when knocked or jolted. This also makes it easier to set TubeTraps in awkward places or above-ground attached to branches or poles. There was an issue in the original design with surface-tension from rainwater holding the doors open, but a number of modifications in the new Mark II trap have addressed this.
How and where have TubeTraps been used and what is the most interesting species you have caught?
TubeTraps have been used by a number of universities, county mammal groups and wildlife trusts. As far as I know, they are being used for mammal research, survey and monitoring. Also, I know that the trusts have used them for training and open-days, so they’re proving versatile.
As you may have gathered from some of the time periods I mentioned earlier, I’m getting a bit long-in-the-tooth! But, a few years ago I finally started the PhD (at UEA) that I’d never got around to doing. I’m looking at altitudinal variation in small mammal communities in the central Himalayas of Nepal – using 120 of my traps of course! I’ve done three seasons’ fieldwork and caught 795 animals at altitudes from 1300m to 4200m. The traps have performed very well and have been catching hundreds of tiny shrews, as well as some pretty hefty rats weighing over 100g. The CarryCases have also been fantastic, not just for carrying the traps, but as dissection and dinner tables! There’s no doubt in my mind that the best animal I have caught is a tiny shrew called Episoriculus leucops – only 5g in weight, but with the longest tail you’ve ever seen (pic above).
What do you consider the most important achievement of your organisation in recent years?
That’s a tricky question! I think just because of the size of the project and its subject – the Environmental Monitoring Database for Natural England. I’ve worked on this for over ten years, bringing together into a single database all the agri-environment monitoring data carried out since 1987. There are over 4.25 million data items in this database, which makes it a unique resource. But how can I not mention the work I’ve done with excellent conservation organisations such as the Mammal Society (scoping and setting up the national small mammal monitoring scheme with Phoebe Carter and Johnny Birks) or the Vincent Wildlife Trust (analysing their fantastic dataset on batbox usage collected by the tireless Colin Morris and his colleagues).
But, I also hope I’ve made a real contribution in Nepal, mostly by giving young ecologists hands-on experience of fieldwork, statistical advice and training that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. I should say that this has been a two-way process and I’ve had fantastic support from them (Hari Basnet, Sagar Dahal, Hem Kathuwal and others). I would also like to mention my friends and colleagues, Laxman Poudyal, Sujan Maharjan, Hem Sagar Baral, Sharad Singh and Dibesh Karmacharya – who have all helped in this reciprocal process. And – most importantly – the porters, whose superhuman efforts at carrying traps, collecting water and wood, cooking amazing food and generally remaining completely cheerful made this work possible.
What is your most memorable wildlife encounter?
Another tricky one! I’ve had a long-lasting love affair with India and Nepal, so I should say the tigers I saw in Kanha and Ranthambore National Parks, or Indian one-horned rhinos in Kazirangha or the fantastic nilgai in Sariska. But, actually, the most thrilling was probably five years ago at 3500m in Nepal when my colleagues and I came across a very (I mean VERY) fresh set of prints of himalayan black bear only a few meters from our camp-site. That certainly caused a stir amongst the porters! Then again – the most sublime moment was probably during that expedition, being out just before dawn, when the koklass pheasants started calling. Their harsh cries carry for hundreds of metres through the gloom – the Nepalis’ literal interpretation is “How are you, Uncle?”. It’s a spine-tingling memory just thinking about it.
Any new inventions in the pipeline?
I might have! Actually, a client from Ireland recently asked if I could produce traps with shrew holes. It had been on my mind for a while, so I made 30 doors with shrew holes for her. She’s trialling them now and if they work well, I’ll make them generally available. The benefit of putting the holes in the doors is that you can easily snap these out and replace them with standard doors if you don’t want the shrew holes.
I do have another idea, but I’m keeping my cards close to my chest at the moment. Suffice it to say – if it works it could revolutionise small mammal trapping – I’m saying no more!
As part of their Heritage Ability project, Living Options Devon recently hosted the UK’s first ever Deaf-led bat walk at the Love Parks event, in Cockington Park, Devon.
NHBS are delighted to have been able to loan them an Echo Meter Touch bat detector from Wildlife Acoustics, which allowed the attendants to view live sonograms on an iPad – whilst receiving further information in British Sign Language from the guide, Alasdair Grant.
This fantastic event was part of a whole day of activities helping to make heritage sites more accessible for disabled and Deaf people.
Alasdair, Deaf Alumni Programme Manager for Deaf Unity, who is working towards his bat license, led an inspiring bat walk which one participant said was “a memorable and unique experience”. The walk included watching soprano pipistrelles and lesser horseshoe bats exiting their roosts in outbuildings in Cockington Court, and common pipstrelles, serotine and noctule bats feeding in the park and lakes area.
The walk provided a unique opportunity for Deaf people to see and learn more about the lifestyle of our British bats and how to identify different species using bat detectors with visual sonograms rather than by sound. The Echo Meter Touch connects to an iPad to provide an excellent and very accessible visual display of bat calls in real time.
Living Options and Deaf Unity very much hope to run further bat walks in the future and would be delighted to advise other organisations and bat groups on how to lead bat walks for Deaf people.
The Heritage Ability Project supports heritage sites in South West England to improve accessibility for disabled people. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project is currently piloting different approaches with partner sites including museums, country parks, nature reserves and historic houses.
Best bat detectors for bat walks
Echo Meter Touch
This tiny ultrasound module connects directly to your Apple device and lets you listen to bat calls in real time as well as viewing a live sonogram on your screen. Ideal for bat walk leaders, the Echo Meter Touch provides you with plenty of real time information to share with your group, as well as letting you record and classify calls so you can provide a later update of all species heard during the walk.
The Batscanner is one of the simplest bat detectors on the market – simply turn it on and listen. The device will automatically tune to the frequency of the bat call nearby and will display this frequency on the LCD screen whilst playing the sound back at an audible level.
The SSF Bat2 cleverly scans all frequencies simultaneously and will jump to the peak (loudest) frequency at the touch of a button. Pre-programme up to four fixed frequencies and view a small spectrogram of the received call. Ideal for beginner or seasoned bat walkers.
Magenta Bat 4 and 5
The Magenta Bat 4 and Magenta Bat 5 are our most popular detectors for beginners. Affordable to buy and simple to use, they convert the call produced by the bat into a sound which is easily heard through the speaker. Simply tune to the required frequency using the large dial on the front of the unit. The Bat 5 also has a digital display which makes tuning the detector even easier.
The bat survey season is just beginning and since our last update in November 2015 many of the new bat detectors have arrived in stock and we have received some customer feedback and updates on specifications from manufacturers. The total count of new bat detectors now stands at six – three passive full spectrum recorders from Elekon, two passive recorders in the Song Meter family from Wildlife Acoustics, and the handheld Anabat Walkabout from Titley Scientific.
We have had the Wildlife Acoustics SM4BAT FS in stock on and off now for the last few weeks (supplies have been limited) but we now have plenty on the shelves. We are really impressed with these units – they are smaller, lighter and easier to programme than the old Song Meters and have massively improved battery life (up to 45 nights for the FS and 70 nights for the ZC). They come in a strong lockable enclosure that can easily be chained to a tree and include a 3m microphone cable when purchased with the SMM-U1 microphone. The ZC units have not arrived yet but are expected in early April. The SM4BAT detectors also include an incredible three year warranty (excluding the microphones).
Wildlife Acoustics have also announced that they are phasing out the EM3+, the SMZC and the SM2BAT+, which are being replaced by the Echo Meter Touch, SM4BAT ZC and SM3BAT / SM4BAT respectively.
Elekon have now released three new passive bat detectors within the last few months which are based around the very highly regarded Batlogger M handheld bat detector. The Batlogger C is probably the highest specification bat detector on the market today – it has everything you would expect from a high end passive detector including programmable recording schedules, fully weatherproof enclosure, and high quality full spectrum recordings as well as many extras. These include optional sms and/or email messages reporting the status of the unit and the number of recordings made as well as the amount of power remaining. Furthermore, because the Batlogger C also has in-built GPS it can send you an alert if the unit is moved. A wide range of power options are available: a 50 hour rechargeable battery is included and there is space for a second. Mains power is also an option as is solar power which requires the addition of the Batlogger C solar panel. When used with two 50 hour batteries, just half a day of sun in every 10 days should be enough to keep the Batlogger C powered indefinitely.
Also from Elekon, the Batlogger A family – the A and the A+ are new miniaturised passive bat detectors. Both are programmable, are housed within a small weatherproof enclosure and include a Knowles FG microphone on a 2m extension cable. The Batlogger A will record for up to 30 hours on eight AA batteries (e.g. three 10 hour nights). The Batlogger A+ was created after a customer contacted Elekon to say that the Batlogger A looked perfect for installing up trees and in other inaccessible location but that ideally, the battery life should be longer. In response the team at Elekon quickly created the new Batlogger A+ which is slightly larger than the Batlogger A but includes the same rechargeable lithium ion battery used in the Batlogger C. This will power the A+ for up to 70 hours. Stock of both models are fairly limited so please contact us soon if you would like to place an order.
A few software glitches delayed the release of the Anabat Walkabout in 2015 but this incredible new bat detector has now been in stock for several months. The touch screen Android tablet based bat detector not only records any passing bats but also lets you view the sonogram in real time in both full spectrum and zero crossing formats. A GPS, lux-meter, thermometer and humidity sensor are all in-built so not only will each call be geo-tagged but you will also be able to collect the full range of environmental data for each transect without needing any additional tools. A fully charged unit will last for around eight hours. The Walkabout bundle will soon also include a copy of Analook Insight analysis software to allow you to view and analyse full spectrum and zero crossing recordings.
If you would like any help, advice, or a short loan of one of our demo bat detectors please get in touch with our Wildlife Equipment Specialists on 01803 865913 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The newt survey season is almost upon us and NHBS has been working hard through the winter to increase the range and quality of newt survey products we sell. Read on for a selection of our most exciting new products and news of some old favourites.
Newt survey nets and bags
We now sell a specially designed newt net with a 300mm wide head, 300mm deep bag of soft 2mm mesh fabric, and 1.2 metre wooden handle. The net is attached over the frame unlike our standard professional pond nets to ensure that newts cannot get caught between the frame and bag.
Dewsbury Newt Trap
NHBS is the exclusive distributor of the Dewsbury Newt Trap. The Dewsbury trap is safer for both newts and surveyors. Fewer traps are required per pond and the clever design allows the newt to either seek shelter at the bottom of the water column or rise to the surface to breathe even if the water level within the pond changes during the trapping period.
We also manufacture the traditional bottle traps. This is not a fun job so allow us to save you a lot of time and effort with our standard 2l bottles sold with the head cut off and inverted. We also sell bamboo canes for securing the traps at the edge of the pond and Virkon disinfectant tablets for sterilising the bottles between ponds.
We now sell an even wider range of torches suitable for newt survey.
Traditionalists can buy the classic high powered Cluson CB2 lamps with either a lead acid battery or a lighter longer lasting lithium ion battery. We also sell the new CB3 lamphead allowing you to increase the light output and battery life of your old CB2, and a new range of powerful hand torches from LED Lenser that are more than adequate for newt surveys and considerably less bulky than the Cluson lamps.
Waders and Gloves
Generally the aim is to stay out of the water but occasionally it may be necessary to enter a pond to retrieve lost traps or to access difficult sites. NHBS sells a wide range of waders including both thigh waders and chest waders.
We also sell some excellent new neoprene gloves with a nylon jersey knit palm material allowing the gloves to be worn without compromising dexterity and a thick neoprene back to provide extra warmth.
Walkie Talkies and Whistles
Newt surveys are not without risk and the best way to mitigate these risks is to have appropriate safety equipment. NHBS sells Two-Way UHF Radios so that you can keep in contact with colleagues, and emergency whistles to attract their attention if you do slip into the water. We also have waterproof first aid kits that will stay dry no matter how wet you get.
Winter woodland has a bare, skeletal charm all of its own, and a walk in the woods is a good time to try to put names to those familiar trees.
Suddenly leafless but not as anonymous as we sometimes think, with a little practice it is surprisingly easy to begin to place those barren winter twigs.
Here is a quick, and by no means definitive, guide to identifying six of the UK’s more common deciduous trees in winter, chosen at random on a midwinter ramble in my local woods.
Oak (below): A rugged twig with fat, oval orange-brown alternate buds, and a characteristic cluster of buds at the tip. The twig of the sessile oak is less rugged than pedunculate oak, but be careful the two species often hybridise and it can be tricky to tell the difference.
Ash: A twig that looks as if it means business, with black buds in opposite pairs and an unmistakable, fat terminal bud covered in black scales.
Beech: A slender, rather delicate twig with long, alternate and markedly pointed brown buds. Hornbeam is very similar but the buds hug the twig rather than point outwards, and the twig is noticeably more zigzagged.
Hazel: The twig is downy all over – although you may need a hand lens to see this clearly – with alternate, pale green to reddish-brown, smallish buds. Catkins are not at the end of the twig, unlike in birch species.
Field maple: Hairy twig and buds – again a hand lens is useful – with tiny reddish-brown buds, always in opposite pairs. The terminal bud often has smaller buds on either side, sometimes appearing to be a triple end bud.
Sycamore: Another sturdy twig, with plump pale green buds in opposite pairs. The large green bud scales on the terminal bud are easy to see.
I use an elderly copy of the Forestry Commission’s Know Your Broadleaves for Christine Darter’s fabulous drawings of winter twigs; David Streeter and Rosamond Richardson’s similarly dated Discovering Hedgerows has a useful key.
The stand out recent work is Dominic Price and Leif Bersweden’s Winter Trees: A Photographic Guide to Common Trees and Shrubs one of the Field Studies Council’s AIDGAP Guides, which covers 36 of the common broadleaved tree and shrub species likely to be found in the UK, as well as a few rarer ones. With pictures of bark as well as twigs, and notes on habitat, winter tree-ID suddenly seems much easier. Author royalties from the book go to the Species Recovery Trust.
The possession of a hand lens is one of the defining characteristics of a naturalist.
We use them for everything from peering at beetle genitalia and examining floral characters, to examining the arrangement of teeth in small mammal jaw bones. There are a wide variety of hand lenses on the market so how do you decide which lens is best for you? This article contains all the information you need to make an informed choice about which hand lens is most appropriate.
Glass versus plastic lens?
The optical lens in a hand lens can be made from glass or plastic – the plastic lenses are generally more affordable and lighter but are of lower optical quality and more difficult to clean. Good plastic hand lenses, such as the Plastic Double Magnifier, are perfect for youth groups and schools.
How many optical elements?
An element is an individual piece of glass within a lens. When you look through a high quality camera lens you will typically be viewing what’s in front of the lens through four to six lens elements, as well as other elements used for focusing and zooming (see image below right).
Hand lenses are constructed with one (singlet), two (doublet) or three (triplet) lens elements. Each element is specially shaped to correct for a particular type of optical distortion so the more elements, the higher quality the image.
A 10x magnification hand lens will be more than adequate for most purposes. Higher magnification lenses tend to be harder to use but are very useful for viewing extremely small objects. If you are unsure of which magnification you need, or think you may need several different lenses, you should have a look at the x10 and x20 Duel Singlet Loupe or even the x3, x4 and x5 Triple Loupe.
Large diameter lenses provide a wider field of view which means that they are easier to use but they are slightly more expensive to produce.
How hand lenses are named
Hand lenses are named like binoculars, with both the lens diameter and the magnification included in the name. e.g. the Opticron Hand lens, 23mm, 10x magnification has a 23mm diameter lens and provides 10x magnification.
Using your hand lens
Finally, a quick note on hand lens technique. To use your hand lens correctly (this is particularly important when using high magnification lenses) hold the lens close to your eye and then either a) move the subject closer to your eye until it comes in to focus or b) move your head (and the hand lens) closer to the subject until it comes into focus. It’s easy with a little practice so don’t get put off if you find a new hand lens difficult at first. Expect to get close up to what you’re examining – it’s quite common to see naturalists crawling around on the ground to get close to a plant they’re identifying.
Keeping your hand lens safe
It can be very hard to find a much-loved hand lens dropped in long grass or woodland. To prevent this traumatic experience, we recommend a lanyard for your hand lens – this has two functions: a) if you have it round your neck you won’t drop it, and b) if you put it down somewhere the bright blue lanyard is easy to spot.
The table below provides a guide to the hand lenses sold by NHBS. More information and specifications of each can be found on the website.
It has been estimated that the kingdom of Fungi consists of more than five million species ranging from single-celled microorganisms up to the largest living organism on the planet. Fungi are a crucial part of the food web in many habitats and play a vital role in many commercial activities, including the production of pharmaceuticals and food products.
Most fungi grow as microscopic filaments called hyphae which extend to form a large network or mycelium. The part we observe above ground, the mushroom or toadstool, is the fruiting body whose purpose it is to spread spores. These fruiting bodies are only produced when conditions are favourable which means that, at most times, we are largely unaware of the mass of fungal life that is living beneath our feet and in our surroundings.
Where and when to look for fungi
The best time to look for fungi in the UK is during late summer, autumn and early winter, when the relatively mild yet damp weather provides ideal conditions for the production of fruiting bodies. Both deciduous and coniferous forests can host an impressive range and number of fungal types. Meadows, parks and moorland are also great places to look.
What you need to find and identify fungi
Conducting a fungal foray is a wonderful pastime, not least because there is very little equipment you really need. A stout pair of shoes and sharp pair of eyes will go a long way – but if you would like to maximise the chance of identifying your finds, then a few additional things may come in handy.
• Basket or box – Traditional fungi collecting baskets are flat bottomed and woven from willow. However, any sturdy box, tub or crate will do so long as it is relatively easy to carry and will prevent your collection from being squashed.
• Paper bags – Useful for storing individual specimens. Don’t use plastic bags if you can help it as they are not breathable and your fungi will become sweaty and slimy.
• Penknife – For lifting specimens from the ground whilst keeping the stem and root intact.
• Hand lens – A lens with 10x magnification is useful for looking at the finer details of your fungi. Try the Opticron 23mm 10x lens which has a robust stainless steel case and a loop for attaching a lanyard.
• Pencil and paper – For making notes of what you find and where it was spotted.
• Field guide – A field guide will help you to identify the fungi that you find. Useful both in the field and for when you get back to your home or classroom. For a small fold-out guide try the FSC Fungi Name Trail. Or for a more comprehensive book take a look at the beautifully illustrated Collins Fungi Guide by Stefan Buczacki or the wonderful photographic guide, Mushrooms, by Roger Phillips.
• Microscope – When used with the Microstand Adapter, the Opticron Gallery Scope can be used for looking at specimens at a greater magnification while you are out and about. When back at home you can also make slides of spores and look at them through a higher powered microscope (x400 – x1000 magnification) – the shape will be a useful aid to identification.
• Camera – For specimens that you want to leave in situ, taking some photographs will be a useful way to aid your identification efforts. A photo of a mushroom you have collected can also help remind you of the habitat and conditions where it was picked.
What are the key identifying features of fungi?
When collecting or spotting fungi it is useful to make as many notes as you can, as this will improve your chances of identifying your specimen. Try to get information about as many of the following as possible. (Diagrams to help you with terminology and typical types of mushroom morphology can be found in most field guides).
• Date and location
• Habitat – On the ground, on dead/living wood, in leaf litter
• Situation – Was the specimen solitary or growing in a group. If found in a group, were individuals spread out, in a circle, crowded together?
• Cap – Colour, texture, size and smell
• Gills – Colour, size, type (i.e. crowded, spaced)
• Stem – Length, diameter, texture, colour. Does it have a ring or a shaggy appearance?
• Root – Shape, presence of volva
• Spores – The colour and shape of the spore is a key identification characteristic. Spore colour can be easily studied by making a spore print as described below.
How to make a spore print
Spore colour varies significantly between different species of mushroom, and this colour is another identifying feature which will help you to determine which fungi you are looking at. Making a spore print of a fungi that has gills or pores is a very simple process and can be easily accomplished with very basic equipment.
First you will need to remove the stem as close to the cap as possible using a sharp knife. Place the cap, gill/pore side down onto a piece of paper and leave it to sit undisturbed overnight covered with an upturned glass or bowl. When you remove the cap from the paper you should see a pattern of spores where they have dropped onto the paper. Try using different coloured paper or using a piece which is half black and half white to see which shows the spores best. To preserve your print you can coat it with artists spray or even hairspray.
Where to go to learn more
Many local wildlife groups or country parks run public fungi walks during the autumn. Why not check out local events in your area to see if there is anything happening? The British Mycological Society also has a network of recording groups around the country which consist of volunteers that are working hard to share their knowledge and improve awareness of mycology and conservation.
Please take care if you are picking fungi to eat. Many edible species are easily mistaken for inedible or poisonous ones. Consult an expert if you are in any doubt.