Big Butterfly Count 2017

The peacock butterfly, with its striking eyes on the hindwings, is a common visitor to British gardens. Inachis Io by Maja Dumat is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The 2017 Big Butterfly Count, organised by Butterfly Conservation, runs from 14th July to 6th August.

This nationwide survey, launched in 2010 and conducted annually, is the world’s largest survey of butterflies; in 2016 over 36,000 people took part! The survey aims to investigate trends in butterfly and moth species and will help guide conservation efforts within the UK.

Taking part is easy – simply set a timer for 15 minutes and then count the butterflies you see during this time. Counts are best undertaken on a dry, sunny day and good places to conduct the survey are in your garden or in a local park or woodland.

If you are counting from one place, count the maximum number of each species that you can see at a single time. (This ensures that you don’t count the same butterfly more than once). If you are doing your count while walking, then simply total up the number of each species that you see during the 15 minutes. The final step is to submit your results online or via the iOS or Android app.

For lots more information, head over to the Big Butterfly Count website where you can download an identification sheet, submit your sightings and view the 2017 results map. Check out the video below for an great introduction from Nick Baker.

NHBS stocks a full range of butterfly survey equipment, including nets, binoculars, collecting pots and field guides. Need some advice? Contact our customer services team on +44 (0)1803 865913 or email customer.services@nhbs.com

 

 

The Importance of Nest Sites for Birds and Bees

Changes in land use can result in strong competition between species that have historically survived alongside eachother, such as goldfinches and chaffinches. Goldfinch by Tony Smith is licenced under CC BY 2.0.

Over the last century, land use in the UK has changed drastically. Small mixed-crop farms, traditionally separated by lanes, hedgerows and wild meadows have been replaced with larger, more specialised facilities. At the same time, the density of grazing animals such as sheep and cattle has also risen substantially. This combination of land-use change and agricultural intensification has contributed significantly to habitat degradation and biodiversity loss, and has led to huge, often dire, changes for the wildlife that call these places home.

Understanding these processes is of huge importance to conservationists, and a considerable amount of research has been conducted into the broad scale effects of land use changes on biodiversity. It is less well understood, however, why seemingly similar species can be affected to a different extent by local changes in their habitat.

A recent study, conducted by Dr Andrew Higginson at the University of Exeter, suggests that competition for nesting space may be a key factor in the differences observed. His study used a mathematical model to predict the likely outcome when populations of birds and bees are faced with a reduction in suitable nesting sites. Results indicated that larger, earlier-nesting species tend to fare better in these conditions, but at the expense of smaller, later-nesting species who, in the real world, would either fail to find a nesting site or be forced into using a poor quality or risky location.

Dr Higginson’s results illustrate that, whilst two or more similar species can co-exist together very happily when there are sufficient nesting spaces available, as soon as these become limited, competition and conflict become inevitable. In severe situations, species that have historically thrived in the same environment may suddenly find themselves battling for survival.

A key message from the study was that conservation efforts should ensure that priority is given to the creation and maintenance of suitable nesting sites. Conservation practices often focus on provision of food for wildlife, such as planting wildflowers for bees and providing food for our garden birds. Preserving and creating safe and accessible places for these animals to nest, however, is just as critical if we are to ensure their continued survival.

Head over to www.nhbs.com for our full range of bird nest boxes and insect nesting aids, or download our full nest box price list.

 

The NHBS Guide to Moth Traps

Flatpack Skinner Moth Trap with Electrics
The Flatpack Skinner Moth Trap is made from FSC timber and is easy to assemble.

In this brief guide we will take a look at the main types and designs of moth traps. We will also address many of our most frequently asked questions, including why you will no longer find Mercury Vapour traps for sale at www.nhbs.com

Robinson Moth Traps

Twin 30W Actinic Robinson Moth TrapRobinson Traps are the preferred choice amongst many serious entomologists because they offer the highest retention rates. On a very good night you may catch in excess of 500 moths. They tend to be more expensive that other types of trap, however, and they are also quite large. They also cannot be collapsed down for storage or transport. The Robinson Trap is available with twin actinic bulbs and is powered by 240V mains electricity.

Skinner Moth Traps

Mobile 15W Actinic Skinner Moth TrapSkinner Moth Traps will attract a similar number of moths to Robinson Traps. However, they are less efficient at holding the catch. The main advantages of Skinner Traps are price and portability, and they also let you access your catch whilst the trap is running. Skinner Traps collapse down quickly and easily when not in use, making them very easy to store and transport. They are available with actinic electrics and can be provided with either 240V (mains powered) or 12V (battery powered) control panels. Lucent traps have a clever design with all components fitting neatly into a suitcase-style case.

Heath Moth Traps

6W 12V Portable Heath Moth TrapThe traditional Heath Moth Trap has a small actinic tube mounted vertically within three vanes that work together to attract and then deflect moths downwards into the holding chamber below. The traps are very lightweight and portable and are usually powered by a 12V battery or generator, although mains powered traps are also available. Variations on the Heath Trap design include the “Plastic Bucket” model which allows the trap to be packed away and carried conveniently. Although catches from Heath Traps tend to be less than for Robinson and Skinner traps, due to their lower wattage bulbs, their affordability and portability makes them great choices for beginners or for use in the field.

Moth Collecting Tents

Moth Collecting TentMoth Collecting Tents provide a unique alternative to traditional style moth traps and are ideal for educational use or group trapping events. They consist of a large white fabric structure which is fitted with a UV light source. Moths which are attracted by the light settle on the white fabric and can be observed or collected for study. As the collecting area is large and accessible, it is easy for many individuals to view the specimens at the same time. However, tents and sheets do not have the same retention rates as traditional box-type traps.

Moth Trapping FAQs

What kind of trap is best for garden or educational use?
The design of the Skinner Trap means that you can access the catch without having to switch off the bulb. This is particularly useful if you are looking at your catch over the course of the evening, rather than leaving the trap all night and returning to it in the morning. Skinner Traps also have the added benefit of collapsing down, making them easier to store.

Which trap is best for unattended trapping?
The Robinson Trap is the only trap that will retain the whole catch after dawn. Some moths will escape from other trap designs.

Which trap is most portable?
Heath Traps are the smallest and easiest to transport. They can also run off a 12V battery, allowing them to be used in remote sites. The Safari and Ranger Moth Traps are the smallest and lightest traps we sell, so are ideal for travelling, however, they do require mains electricity (or a generator) to run.

Why can I no longer find Mercury Vapour traps on your website?
Mercury Vapour bulbs have recently been phased out as part of the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive. Therefore, we have removed the traps from our range and are now focussing on actinic replacements. If you have a Mercury Vapour trap and would like to convert it to run with actinic electrics, please get in touch with us to have a chat about this.

What are actinic bulbs?
Actinic bulbs product a small amount of UV light alongside the visible light which makes them more “attractive” to moths. They are not as bright as Mercury Vapour bulbs but because they don’t get as hot they are much safer to use, particularly for public and attended trapping events. They are also much less of a disturbance to neighbours if you are using the trap in your garden.

What is the difference in catch rates between the different traps?
The Robinson Trap and Skinner Trap will attract a similar number of moths but the Robinson has the highest retention rate of the two. Heath Traps will retain fewer moths but will still attract the same range of species. You can therefore obtain similar results trapping for a longer period or over several nights in the same area.

Do different traps attract different species?
No, all traps using actinic electrics will attract the same range of species. However, species of macro-moth from different families have been shown to vary in the extent to which they are attracted to a light source. This means that care must be taken when estimating local abundance from the relative abundance of species in your trap as some species will be attracted from a wider area than others.

A full range of moth traps and other entomological equipment is available at www.nhbs.com

Butterfly Conservation shop finds a new home at NHBS

Butterfly Conservation and NHBS have recently launched the new Butterfly Conservation online shop in partnership. You can browse and buy from a fantastic range of books, gifts and equipment. Every sale raises funds to support conservation work to protect vulnerable butterflies and moths across the UK.

Butterfly Conservation shop at NHBS
The brand new Butterfly Conservation shop, hosted by NHBS

The popular Butterfly Conservation Christmas Cards are available now. Spread some festive cheer this Christmas and help protect butterflies and moths at the same time. All the cards are printed on FSC recycled card and are blank inside so you can add your own greeting.

Butterfly Conservation 2016 Christmas Cards
Butterfly Conservation 2016 Christmas Cards

About the Butterfly Conservation and NHBS partnership

Butterfly Conservation is the UK charity dedicated to saving butterflies and moths. Butterflies and moths are key indicators of the health of our environment. They connect us to nature and contribute to our wellbeing. With over 30 nature reserves across the United Kingdom, Butterfly Conservation works in many ways to conserve butterflies and moths and improve their habitats, creating a better environment for us all.

Butterfly Conservation:
“NHBS offer the world’s largest selection of wildlife, science and conservation books, and have expanded their range to include ecology and biodiversity survey equipment and gifts. They have a fantastic reputation for customer service and quality items, and we are thrilled to be able to offer our members and supporters the chance to purchase a wider selection of items whilst still being able to raise vital funds for our conservation work.”

Visit the Butterfly Conservation shop

Naturalist, artist and author Steven Falk on his new field guide to bees

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and IrelandNaturalist and wildlife artist Steven Falk has had a diverse career with wildlife and conservation, including working as an entomologist with Nature Conservancy Council, and as natural history keeper for major museums. He is now Entomologist and Invertebrate Specialist at UK invertebrate conservation organisation Buglife. His new Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland will be published by British Wildlife Publishing next month.

Tell us about your role at Buglife.
At Buglife, I have quite a diverse role. I provide information and advice to colleagues, external enquirers and a plethora of external organisations. I’ve been particularly involved with overseeing the production of new red lists for assorted invertebrate groups, also providing feedback to the various national pollinator strategies, new agri-environment schemes, plus helping to develop projects for some of our most endangered invertebrate species. We also have a consultancy now, Buglife Services, which carries out and coordinates invertebrate surveys all over Britain. We’ve just done an exciting survey of the A30 and A38 in Devon and Cornwall. We need more understanding of road verge invertebrates, especially pollinators.

How did you come to write this landmark identification guide to all the bees of Britain and Ireland?
I was approached by Andrew Branson in 2012 and was initially quite reluctant, because you cannot use a traditional field guide approach for bees, as many cannot be identified to species level in the field (they require the taking of a specimen for critical examination under a microscope) and it is crucial that we keep the national dataset (run by BWARS) clean and reliable by being honest about where the limits of field identification lie. So I agreed to write it on the basis that it covered all 275 species, had reliable keys, and could appeal to both hardcore recorders and general naturalists. I knew this was feasible, because we had faced the same challenge with the seminal book British Hoverflies (Stubbs & Falk, 1983, 2002). So it is a field guide in the loose sense – it will help you to recognise much of what you see in the field, but also indicate at which point you need to take specimens and put them under a microscope. But you don’t need to collect bees or have a microscope to enjoy the book – we made sure of that.

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and IrelandThere is growing concern about the conservation status of bees – how are our bees getting on, and how might the publication of this book help them?
Yes, we need to be concerned about bees. We have already lost 25 species and several more are teetering on the edge of extinction. Good bee habitat continues to be lost. Brownfield land came to the rescue last century, but most of that has now been developed or lost its flowery early successional stages, which is what so many bees need. The research being carried out on pesticides such as neonicotinioids is also pretty disturbing – check out the work by Prof. Dave Goulson at Sussex University. It seems to be affecting bee numbers in many parts of the country. The national pollinator strategies being published by UK member states are a call to arms – let’s get monitoring bees. But the emphasis is on developing citizen science to achieve some of this, because there is little funding. High quality amateur recording is part of this plan, and Britain’s strong tradition of this makes it a realistic proposition. But the last comprehensive coverage of British bees was Saunders, 1896, and it has been the lack of modern ID literature that has held bee recording back. Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland, and the supporting web feature (embedded in my Flickr site) will hopefully fix this!

Your career as a wildlife artist began early – you worked on the colour plates for Alan Stubb’s guide to British Hoverflies when you were just a teenager. How did this collaboration come about?
I pinned some bumblebees I had caught near my home in North London when I was 12. Half of them turned out to be bee-like hoverflies, and that started a fascination with hoverflies. The following summer holiday, I went out with a net almost every day, and seemed to find a new type of hoverfly daily. I was totally hooked on them, and I painted things that fascinated me, including those hoverflies. I exhibited some hoverfly artwork at the 1976 AES Exhibition in Hampstead, and met Alan Stubbs who told me he was writing a new guide to hoverflies. I said I wanted to do the artwork (I was only 14), and the rest is history. It took 3 years of evenings, and I think I was 17 when I finished it. I’m very proud of those plates, and you can see how my style develops (plate 8 was the first and plate 7 was the last – you can see a lampshade reflection in the early ones!).

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and IrelandDo we see any of your artwork in this book?
Sadly not, my eyesight is not great these days and I do very little drawing and painting now. But the British Wildlife Publishing ‘house artist’ is the great Richard Lewington, and he’s done a magnificent job. The bumblebee plates in particular, are just stunning, the best ever produced.

What sort of techniques do you use to produce your artwork – which is strikingly realistic and very detailed?
I painted birds a lot as a young child and was very aware of the bird artists of the time and their styles, people like Basil Ede, Charles Tunnicliffe and Robert Gillmor. I particularly liked the detail and photo-realism of Basil Ede’s work and became aware that he used gouache. So I started to use gouache and preferred it to watercolour. I’d often start with a black silhouette and build up the colour and texture on top of this, which is the opposite of watercolour painting. But others, like Denys Ovendon and Richard Lewington, show what can be done with watercolour, so it’s just a taste thing. For really intense or subtle colours, I’d need to use watercolours, because they produce a much larger colour pallete than gouache. Richard knows his watercolours – you need to if you want to tackle butterflies like blues, coppers and purple emperors. I’m possibly more proud of my black and white illustrations than my colour work. Here I was most influenced by the likes A. J. E. Terzi and Arthur Smith, house artists for the Natural History Museum. Their use of cross-hatching and stippling is so skillful, and I’ve tried to emulate this in my pen and ink artwork. Never use parallel lines in cross hatching!

Any future interesting projects coming up that you can tell us about – artistic, or conservation-based?
There are many more books I’d like to write, especially for wasps and assorted fly groups. It’s not just the subject, it’s the approach. I like getting into the mindset of the beginner and finding the right language and approach. We need to get more people recording invertebrates. I like the double-pronged approach of books plus web resources, and I have a popular and ever-expanding Flickr site that greatly facilitates the identification of many invertebrate groups. On the conservation front, I’m keen to continue promoting understanding of pollinators and to increase the effectiveness of agri-environment schemes. Invertebrate conservation is in my blood and I’ll be pursuing it to the very end in one form or another. I might even try illustrating again one day if I can find the right glasses!

Order your copy of the Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland
Visit Steven Falk’s website

Recording Orthoptera using a bat detector

Great Green Bush Cricket
The Great Green Bush Cricket is the largest of the UK Bush Crickets. This beautiful image of a female cricket was taken by Charlie Jackson, from Flickr Creative Commons (CC by 2.0).

 

The order Orthoptera consists of the grasshoppers and crickets. Although most suited to warmer climates where they are incredibly diverse, in Britain we have 27 native species, as well as a number of non-native, naturalised species. From a very young age we are aware of these beautiful creatures as the sounds they produce fill our countryside with noise.

The characteristic Orthoptera song or “stridulation” is produced either by rubbing the wings together (observed in most of the grasshoppers) or by rubbing a hind leg against a wing (a method used by most crickets). The sound produced is an important part of the courtship ritual and is also used for other types of communication. As the sound created by different species varies significantly, studying these calls is an excellent way of surveying Orthoptera, and is helpful for finding individuals which can then be identified visually.

Stridulation produces a sound which covers a variety of frequencies – the sound made by grasshoppers is usually audible, but many species of cricket produce a higher ultrasonic frequency which cannot be heard by most humans. The use of a bat detector to listen to these higher frequency songs is an excellent way to listen to those species that we would not ordinarily be able to hear, such as the Speckled Bush Cricket. It also allows us to increase the range at which we can hear the audible ones. Bat detectors are also of use to older surveyors, whose ability to hear higher frequencies has naturally declined.

A simple heterodyne detector is perfect for listening to grasshoppers and crickets – one such as the Magenta Bat 4 or the Batbox IIID is ideal as it allows you to tune it to a specific frequency (as opposed to some of the more “intelligent” detectors which will alter it for you). The detector should be set to a frequency of 35-40kHz then all you need to do is sweep it around in different directions until you pick up your subject. It is best to stand in one place while surveying as the noise produced by your footsteps and clothes moving will produce background ultrasound noise which can confuse what you are hearing. The best days for surveying are warm and sunny; crickets are generally crepuscular (active during twilight) whilst grasshoppers are usually active throughout the day.

Unlike bat detecting, where the peak frequency is a key diagnostic feature for determining species, this information is less important for Opthoptera. Of more importance is the pattern and type of sound produced. The Environmental Records Centre of Cornwall and Scilly has a great guide to identifying Orthoptera including a useful information sheet on the use of bat detectors. They also have a collection of sound files of grasshoppers and crickets that you can use to recognise the typical calls produced by many of the species found in Britain.

Why not take along a leaflet or book to aid your identification: The FSC guide to British Grasshoppers and Allied Insects is a handy fold out guide with a useful key. For those looking for a more in depth guide, try the Photographic Guide to the Grasshoppers and Crickets of Britain and Ireland or the Pocket Guide to the Grasshoppers, Crickets and Allied Insects of Britain and Ireland.

Books

Want to know more? Visit the website of the Grasshoppers and Related Insects Recording Scheme of Britain and Ireland where you will find lots of information and can submit your survey results. Or why not download the iRecord Grasshoppers app which is available for iPhone and Android devices.

 

Sweden’s first regional dragonfly atlas – interview with author Tommy Karlsson

Tommy Karlsson, author of Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
Tommy Karlsson, author of Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
Congratulations on the book and on publishing the first regional distribution atlas for dragonflies in Sweden. What is your background in natural history? Have you always been interested in dragonflies?
Thank you very much! I am a biologist and work since 2005 at the department of Nature Conservation at the County Administrative Board of Östergötland, mainly with action plans for threatened species. I have always been interested by natural history, and as a kid I liked to collect larvae of dragonflies, stoneflies, mayflies and other limnic insects. However, my interest for imago dragonflies and identification of species started during my biology studies, about 2002-2003.

For those who may not be familiar with the natural history of Sweden, what sort of place is Östergötland in terms of biodiversity and landscape?
Östergötland is situated in south east Sweden and covers 14,500 km sq. It is situated in the boreonemoral vegetation zone and can be divided into four natural geographic regions: the southern woodlands, the plains, the archipelago, and the northern woodlands. The woodlands and the archipelago mainly consist of coniferous forests, while the plains mainly consists of intensively cultivated agricultural land. The woodlands have great numbers of lakes and mires, while the plains are very poor in water. The main part of Östergötland is lowlands, but in the southern woodlands there are considerable areas above 200 m.a.s.l. The bedrock in the county is mainly acid but in the western part of the plains there is an area of Cambro-silurian calcareous rock. During the last glaciation, calcareous material was dispersed southwards, resulting in calcareous soils in some parts of the southern woodlands with granite bedrock. As a consequence of bedrock and soils you find mainly oligotrophic and dystrophic waters in the northern woodlands, eutrophic waters in the plains, and a mix of oligotrophic, dystrophic and mesotrophic in the southern woodlands. Östergötland, along with other southeastern regions, is one of the most species-rich regions in Sweden considering invertebrates due to its relatively warm and dry summers. It is well known for its considerable areas with hollow oaks and the saprolyxic fauna and flora associated with them.

Onychogomphus foripatus description and distribution map from Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
Onychogomphus foripatus description and distribution map from Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
How do you co-ordinate a project like this, with 150 volunteers over the course of five years (2008-2012), and what were some of the highs and lows?
It worked out very well since all was based on voluntarism. After getting initial information about surveying and identifying dragonflies, the participants could work quite independently. Most of the communication with the participants was made through e-mail. In addition, several activities were organized: kick-offs every spring, survey courses and excursions during summer, and reporting courses during fall. Many of the participants had no experience of surveying dragonflies before, and the fact that we managed to get so many volunteer amateurs out surveying dragonflies was one of the highlights of the project. Furthermore, the participants were a heterogenous group in terms of age and gender, and not only older men which is common in entomological contexts.

In the study you make comparisons with 10 other regions in Europe. What conclusions have you been able to draw through these comparisons?
Yes, I compare Östergötland with some other European regions where dragonfly surveys have been performed. Most of the regions have more species than Östergötland because they are situated south of Östergötland. On the other hand, Östergötland has two species which generally are missing in the other regions: Coenagrion johanssoni and Aeshna serrata. When comparing the species the regions have in common, the frequency for some species differs a lot between Östergötland and the other regions. Östergötland is distinguished by the fact that species classified as red-listed and/or decreasing in Europe occur more frequently in Östergötland than in most of the other regions. Particularly Coenagrion armatum and Leucorrhinia caudalis can be pointed out as much more common in Östergötland. Thus, Östergötland has both a national and international responsibility for these species, together with A. serrata, Aeshna viridis and Nehalennia speciosa. The reason for this is that important habitats for these species, such as bog ponds and mesotrophic lakes are naturally more common in Sweden, and that the exploitation of waters in Sweden has not been as severe as in central Europe.

Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
What were some of the other significant findings of the project?
Probably because of global warming there is an ongoing change in the European dragonfly fauna where several southern species have expanded rapidly northwards and some northern species have retreated. In Östergötland the establishment of Lestes virens and Ischnura pumilio has been documented during the survey. L. virens was observed for the first time in the county in 2005 and, during the period 2008-2012, was found at several new localities every year. I. pumilio was first noted for the Östergötland in 2012.

And what is next for you and for the Östergötlands Entomological Society?
This year I have got the assignment to co-ordinate Sweden’s monitoring of the dragonflies species listed in the EU’s habitat directive. It will be very nice to work professionally with dragonflies and I have learned a lot about these species and dragonfly monitoring during the survey in Östergötland. I started this work last week with a field study of Ophiogomphus cecilia, a species only occurring in some few unregulated rivers in the very far north of Sweden. Concerning the Entomological Society in Östergötland, we have discussed the possibility of starting up another voluntary survey of some other easy identified insect group, e.g. shield bugs or grasshoppers, but nothing is ready to start yet.

Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland] is available now from NHBS

BugDorm: Insect survey and rearing equipment

BugDorm Title Image

BugDorm have been supplying equipment for entomological research and teaching since they were established in 1995. Their products have become firm favourites with both professional and amateur entomologists and they are continually being developed to address the challenges encountered by field and lab workers everywhere. NHBS is proud to be a distributor of the BugDorm range.

Bugdorms
BugDorm Cages and Tents are available in a range of styles and sizes

For breeding and rearing insects, the BugDorm range of cages and tents offer a solution for every situation. Available in a wide range of sizes and mesh apertures, most have both entrance sleeves and zippered doors for convenient access. All pack flat for storage and transport. For rearing and studying insects in situ, insect rearing sleeves and bags allow you to contain leaves and branches within a temporary enclosure.

ez-malaise
The ez-malaise trap is quick to erect

For field sampling, BugDorm offer malaise and migration traps, berlese funnels, emergence traps and bait traps. The ez-malaise and ez-migration traps use shock-corded poles to create a frame to which the net is clipped making them quick and easy to assemble. The ez-migration trap is cleverly designed with two collection areas, each with their own collecting bottle so that flight direction can be determined.

Slam Trap
Slam traps can be used on the ground (left) or suspended at height with the optional bottom collector attached (right)

The innovative Slam Traps work on the same principle as the malaise traps, but can also be strung in a vertical chain to sample at different heights in the canopy. When used with the bottom collector (available separately), they will also collect insects such as beetles, that drop when they hit the trap. A four-headed version allows you to study migration patterns by collecting insects entering each of the four quadrants into separate collecting bottles.

Insect net
Create an insect net to your own specifications from the BugDorm range of frames, bags and handles

The BugDorm range of insect net sets let you create your own net from a selection of frames, bags and handles. Net frames are collapsible and handles are telescopic with the longest options extending up to 530cm in length; ideal for sampling in the canopy.

Browse the full range of BugDorm products on the NHBS website.

 

On the importance of pollinators in East Africa: an interview with Whitley Gold Award winner Dino Martins

Dino MartinsDr Dino Martins is an entomologist and evolutionary biologist with a PhD in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology from Harvard University. He is also well-known in his native East Africa where he works to educate farmers about the importance of the conservation of pollinators. It is this work that recently won Dr Martins the prestigious Whitley Gold Award presented by the Friends and Scottish Friends of the Whitley Fund for Nature. His book, The Pocket Guide to the Insects of East Africa has just been published by Random House Struik. What’s more, he takes great photos, the majority of those in the book being his own.

Congratulations on winning the award – how did you become involved in entomology, and what does this award mean to you personally?

I am very honoured and deeply humbled – I take this award as recognition for the immense contribution by pollinators (mainly insects) and small-scale farmers in rural areas around the world to biodiversity. So I am receiving it I feel on their behalf. My earliest memories are of insects, as I spent a lot of time watching and chasing after them as a child. This award will enable me to scale up our work on the conservation of pollinators in East Africa, and also raise further awareness among farmers, school children and the general public on how this important ecosystem service puts food on our plates and nutrition in our bodies.

You  work extensively with the East African farmers, educating them about the importance of pollinators for healthy crop yields – what is your main message to them?

Cuckoo wasp and lycaenid butterfly on coriander flowers in Turkana, Northern Kenya – photo credit: Dino Martins
Cuckoo wasp and lycaenid butterfly on coriander flowers in Turkana, Northern Kenya – photo credit: Dino Martins

Our main message to farmers is to celebrate the biodiversity that underpins the life support systems of the planet. Farmers are our greatest allies in the conservation of biodiversity in East Africa. Most of the forest habitats, for example, are surrounded by small-scale farmers whose actions can go a long way to either protect or degrade the forests, and of course the many endemic species they are home to. We want to get farmers and everyone to understand the connection between their own lives, food production and wild insects. We do a simple experiment where we bag one flower and leave one open to insects, then watch what develops over the next few days or weeks depending on the crop. It is always uplifting to see the moment a light goes on in the farmers’ eyes when they see the connection between insects visiting the flowers and the yields they enjoy. Working to help conserve pollinators and restore habitats has seen yields increase up to ten-fold on some crops, such as passionfruit and watermelon.

Entomology may be perceived as a less glamorous area related to wildlife conservation, but it is so essential globally – what is the appeal, and the importance of your field for world biodiversity?

Honeybee on the blackjack weed (Bidens pilosa) in the Kerio Valley Kenya - photo credit: Dino Martins
Honeybee on the blackjack weed (Bidens pilosa) in the Kerio Valley, Kenya – photo credit: Dino Martins

As Professor E. O. Wilson stated so eloquently some time ago: “Insects are the little creatures that run the world”. This is more true than ever in Africa where the large mammals are important, but also depend on insects that pollinate wild plants, disperse seeds, help build soil and recycle nutrients through the whole ecosystem. Understanding biodiversity is essential for sustainable development and conservation in Africa today. I feel that we are uncovering a previously ‘hidden’, somewhat unrecognised sphere of biodiversity: that of the rural farming landscape. When farmers create hedgerows of natural plants, protect patches of forest or grassland, or work together to create on-farm habitats we are finding that some of these landscapes are especially rich in pollinators. For example, on one mango farm in the Kerio Valley we have recorded over 1,000 different species of flower-visiting insects. This farmer harvests up to 12,000 mangoes weekly that earn him thousands of dollars. Without pollinating insects there would be no income on this farm. Watermelon farming brings in over 10 million US $ annually to just one county (Baringo) in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Scaling this up globally means that a huge part of our food production and especially high-value crops like nuts and berries are dependent on wild insects.

Do you feel confident that enough is being done to protect our pollinators?

There is a lot of interest in pollinators today that has come about from regional initiatives, including the Global Pollination Project managed by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations. There is also an on-going assessment of pollinators by the IPBES (I am a coordinating lead author for one of the chapters). Locally, many farmers, gardeners, beekeepers and enthusiasts are working to create habitats, provide nesting sites and learn about the pollinators around them. This is very inspiring and heart-warming to see. In East Africa, where we have a huge diversity of bees and other insects, one of the challenges is actually just identifying them, and this is where we are working with farmers – so that they can recognise that the diversity on their farms is of direct benefit to them and their families. Major challenges remain in terms of better understanding and managing pesticides and also farming in ways that are compatible with nature while scaling up food production worldwide.

pocket insects east africaWhat is coming up for you next, following this award, and the publication of your book, Pocket Guide to the Insects of East Africa?

I am back in Kenya now after an amazing few weeks in London. I am very much looking forward to getting back into working with farmers and completing a number of other books including ‘The Bees of East Africa: A Natural History’, and ‘The Butterflies of Eastern Africa’ with Steve Collins. A book we launched digitally on pollinators is also due to be printed shortly, but can also be downloaded here.

The Pocket Guide to the Insects of East Africa is being very well-received here and abroad, and I have had hundreds of messages saying how exciting it is to finally have a book on insects for the region. On the work front I have just been appointed the Director of the Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia, Kenya and am looking forward to getting more entomology projects going there.

The Pocket Guide to the Insects of East Africa is available now from NHBS

Our ten favourite (and free) apps for wildlife lovers

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These days there’s an app for everything and everyone. For those of us with a passion for nature and the outdoors, they provide a fantastic way to improve our knowledge and identification skills, record and share our findings and even contribute to scientific research. We’ve compiled a list of our ten favourite (and free) apps for wildlife lovers. Most of these are designed for UK users, but if you’re based in other countries, have a dig around at the App Store or on Google Play; there’s bound to be something there to inspire you.

All of the apps listed are available for iPhone and Android and they’re all free. So if you’re needing some inspiration to get outside and start exploring, look no further.

Project Noah

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Project Noah

Explore and document wildlife wherever you are in the world with this educational app. Discover new organisms, record and share the specimens you find and help scientists collect important ecological data.

Birdtrack

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Birdtrack

Produced by the British Trust for Ornithology, BirdTrack lets you create logs of your bird sightings and create year and life lists. View your local hotspots and see what species have been seen in your area.

BatLib

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Batlib

The BatLib app contains ultrasonic calls of the most common European bat species, transformed to a sound that you can hear. Extremely useful to compare with the sounds heard using your heterodyne detector and a great tool for those new to bat detecting.

Nature Finder

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Nature Finder

The Nature Finder app from The Wildlife Trusts is a brilliant way to plan your wildlife excursions and learn about the animals you see while you’re there. It includes a map of more than 2000 nature reserves, lists of events, information on UK wildlife species and a directory for all 47 Wildlife Trusts.

Mammal Tracker

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Mammal Tracker

Identify and submit your records of mammals when you’re out and about with this mammal tracker app and contribute to the Mammal Society’s mammal population map of the British Isles. Submit a photograph if possible so that mammal experts can verify your sighting.

iGeology

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - iGeology

Discover exactly what’s beneath your feet and how the hidden geology affects the landscape you see with this app from the British Geological Society. Includes over 500 geological maps of Britain, available to view in 3D or from a birds-eye view.

Roger’s Mushrooms

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Rogers Mushrooms

With detailed descriptions of over 1500 species of mushrooms and fungi across Europe and North America, Rogers Mushrooms app is a must for both beginner and expert mycologists. It includes multiple images of each species in different stages of maturity, along with a detailed description. Choose between the free Lite version or the Pro version for a price of £2.50.

ForestXplorer app

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Forest Xplorer

Find out more about the trees around you with this app from the Forestry Commission. As well as a picture gallery and tree identifier you can download trail maps, see events happening in your local woodland and share your findings with your friends via Facebook or Twitter.

PlantTracker app

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Plant Tracker

Join forces with the Environment Agency, the University of Bristol and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to help map some of the UK’s most problematic invasive plants. Learn how to identify these species and submit geo-tagged photographs whenever you come across them.

OPAL Bugs Count

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Opal Bugs Count

Be a part of the nationwide bug hunt with this Bugs Count app. Learn about common groups of bugs, contribute to scientific research by taking part in a Species Quest and view the beautiful gallery of bug images from the Natural History Museum.