An interview with Derek Gow: Bringing Back the Beaver

Derek Gow has written an inspirational and often riotously funny firsthand account of how the movement to rewild the British landscape with beavers has arguably become the single most dramatic and subversive nature conservation act of the modern era.

Derek has taken time to answer a few questions about his new book and the role beavers can have in restoring nature.

Derek Gow © Chris Robbins

Could you tell us a little about your background and where the motivation for this book comes from?

I was born in Dundee in a council house. My grandfather’s generation had been farmers but my parents were not. I have always had a huge interest in nature which developed as I grew older. In time I began a career in farming and while aspects of this life were appealing, I became less enamoured with the impact of farming on the natural world and the savage repercussions of its consequence. I read all Gerald Durrell’s books when small, attended his field course on Jersey in 2000 and from that point on, initially as a manger for several wildlife centres focused on native wildlife and then ultimately, on my own farm, began to pioneer opportunities for wildlife restoration.

You have a clear affection for beavers; will a more emotive dialogue help spread the idea of restoring nature to a broader base, or do you think the science will win hearts and minds?

I think it’s a combination of both. You need science to back a case for their sentient restoration on the back of all the credible good they do, but you also need people to feel emotionally linked. They are the most wonderful of creature’s – creators of landscapes which are brim-full of life. They are caring for their offspring and while savagely territorial with other beavers, are commonly as individuals, largely benign. We did appalling things to them in the past and in effort to forge a better future I see no harm in explaining to people just how critical it is that we consider other species as individuals of worth and importance with characters as well.

There are so many organisations involved; some still going, some now inoperative: DEFRA, IUCN, SNH, EN, NCC, CLA etc. How do you manage to reach a consensus across all those organisations, and do you think the voice for restoring nature needs streamlining?

Yes it needs streamlining, but we need to be much bolder and much less deferential. In the commercial world if individuals or organisations perform poorly then they are dismissed or they disappear as entities. In nature conservation we are way too good at ignoring duffers and making excuses for their mistakes. This situation however uncomfortable is simply no good and at a time of ecological crisis potentially fatal. We must be bullish in our approach to progress while still retaining what reasonable allies there are. The pace of restoration should be swift rather than slow. There is no reason whatsoever for delay.

The activities of beavers such as: felling trees and potentially flooding arable land sound quite alarming to a lot of people. How are those issues addressed when proposing to reintroduce beavers?

Simple. We published a management handbook in 2016 which you chaps help sell and promote. Beavers are a very well understood species in both continental Europe and North America all we need to do is co-opt the sensible programmes of management and understanding which have been applied there to here, stop gibbering and making up excuses and move on. There is nothing they do which we can’t counteract if we wish to do so. A wider programme of education to promote better understanding is an essential first step.

Beavers seem to be a benchmark to define our future relationship with wild creatures. Does your campaign stop at beavers, or would you like to see other ‘lost’ species reintroduced to Britain?

I think that lynx should be restored with reasonable haste if living space which is suitably large with an adequate abundance of prey sufficient to maintain a viable population exists. I think wildcats must be restored in England and in Wales. Other candidates would be species like the great bustard, wild boar, golden, white tailed eagles and common crane; in a wider range, the burbot, black stork/more whites, vultures and many other amphibians, reptiles and insects. I think a dialogue should begin about learning to relive with the wolf now. If we want to have future forests which the deer can’t destroy we will need this predator very much.

Does Brexit and the eventual demise of the Common Agricultural Policy offer any hope for a more nature sensitive approach to farming in the UK?

Yes it does. We can do it our way now but we must recognise that very much good has come from the EU habitats directive and that our way should seek to exceed and surmount this legislation and not just become a tawdry box ticking exercise in excuse manufacturing and prevarication.

With beavers now established in Devon on the River Otter, how do you see that project developing in the next five years?

The beaver population there will expand for sure to number many 100’s over time. Many other rivers should become the focus of further reintroductions as a result of the excellent field work and research carried out on the Otter by a broad range of partnership bodies. The project and its results demonstrate quite graphically that beavers are entirely tolerable in a modern cultural English landscape with a degree of low level intervention and that their engineering activities enable an abundance of other wildlife to flourish.

Have you any projects you are currently involved in, or planning that you can tell us about?

Together with a range of other organisations I am working to form a wood cat project which will culminate in the reintroduction of the wildcat in Devon. The old English name was the wood cat and those of us involved think therefore that this is a more appropriate escutcheon. Next year I will be releasing white storks on my farm and rewilding over 150 acres of land which I own. In March 2021 I will complete work on a new book for Chelsea Green titled The Hunt for the Iron Wolf which will detail the history of this species in the UK.

Bringing Back the Beaver: The Story of One Man’s Quest to Rewild Britain’s Waterways
By: Derek Gow
Hardback | September 2020| £19.99

Derek Gow’s inspirational first-hand account of beaver reintroduction across England and Scotland.

 

Derek Gow © Chris Robbins

Derek Gow is a farmer and nature conservationist. Born in Dundee in 1965, he left school when he was 17 and worked in agriculture for five years. Inspired by the writing of Gerald Durrell, all of whose books he has read – thoroughly – he jumped at the chance to manage a European wildlife park in central Scotland in the late 1990s before moving on to develop two nature centres in England. He now lives with his children, Maysie and Kyle, on a 300-acre farm on the Devon/Cornwall border which he is in the process of rewilding. Derek has played a significant role in the reintroduction of the Eurasian beaver, the water vole and the white stork in England. He is currently working on a reintroduction project for the wildcat.

Browse more books about this keystone species

Oxford University Press: September Publisher of the Month

Oxford University Press are NHBS’s  Publisher of the Month for September.

Founded in the mid-17th Century, Oxford University Press (OUP) have published some of the most influential environmental books. Nearly 400 years later, OUP continue to release important works as the largest university press in the world.

Oxford University Press, highlights and forthcoming in 2020

We have great prices on selected bestselling professional and academic titles from OUP until 31st September and have showcased our top ten below:

Handbook of the Marine Fauna of North-West Europe
Edited by: Peter Joseph Hayward and John S Ryland
Paperback| Feb 2017| £42.99 £52.99
Authoritative guide to the accurate identification of the common components of the inshore benthic invertebrates of the British Isles and adjacent European coasts.

Essential Ornithology
By: Graham Scott
Paperback | September 2020| £27.99 £34.99
This concise introduction to ornithology returns in a second edition, highlighting new developments in the avian fossil record, urban ecology, and climate change.

 

The Biology of Soil: A Community and Ecosystem Approach
By: Richard D Bardgett
Paperback | September 2005| £34.99 £43.99
Part of the excellent Biology of Habitats Series  which provides information on the habitat, its biodiversity and the types of organisms present

 

The Sensory Ecology of Birds
By: Graham R Martin
Paperback | Feb 2017| £33.99 £36.99
Ranges widely across species, environments, and behaviours to present a synthesis that challenges previous assumptions about the information that controls the behaviour of birds.

 

Biology and Conservation of Musteloids
Edited by: David W Macdonald and  Christopher Newman
Paperback | Oct 2017| £37.99 £47.49
Suitable for graduate level students as well as professional researchers in musteloid and carnivore ecology and conservation biology.

 

Wildlife Conservation on Farmland (2-Volume Set)
Edited by: David W Macdonald and Ruth E Feber
Hardback | July 2015| £85.99 £107.50
Examines the most important challenges facing farmers, conservationists, and policy makers, using examples of real-life, linked studies from a farmed landscape

 

The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory: Why Did Foragers Become Farmers?
By: Graeme Barker
Paperback | Jan 2009 | £44.99 £54.99
Addresses one of the most debated and least understood revolutions in the history of our species, the change from hunting and gathering to farming.

 

Bumblebees: Behaviour, Ecology, and Conservation
By: Dave Goulson
Paperback | Sept 2009 | £39.99 £50.99
An excellent review of bumble bee biology and behaviour by leading bumblebee biologist, Dave Goulson

 

Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words
By: Jeremy Mynott
Paperback | April 2020 | £13.99 £16.99
The many different roles birds played in culture: as indicators of weather; for hunting, eating and  medicine; as pets and entertainments; and as omens and intermediaries between the gods and humankind.

 

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
By: David Reich
Paperback | Feb 2019 | £8.99 £10.99
Ancient DNA is rewriting most of what we thought we knew about human history. David Reich explains what the genetics is telling us about ourselves and our complex and often surprising ancestry.

 

The Gratis Books Scheme

One of our most rewarding collaborations with OUP  has been the Gratis Books Scheme. Since 1999, with support and assistance from the British Ecological Society, this scheme has been sending free copies of books to conservationists in developing countries who would otherwise be unable to obtain them.

There are currently three books available in the Gratis Book Scheme, all from OUP. They are: Freshwater Ecology and Conservation,  Social Science Theory for Environmental Sustainability and A Practical Guide for Genetic Management of Fragmented Animal and Plant Populations.

 

Browse all Oxford University Press titles

 

 

 

Red Sixty Seven: A Collection of Words and Art Inspired by Britain’s Most Vulnerable Birds

Red Sixty Seven features our most vulnerable bird species, beautifully illustrated by some amazing wildlife artists. All of the publishers profits from the sale of this book will be donated to BTO and RSPB to further their work on red listed birds.

Contributors include Chris Packham, Ann Cleeves, David Lindo,  and Patrick Barkham.

This book should not exist.

In an ideal world this book, and the official Red List of the most vulnerable birds in the UK it is based on, would not be needed. But the world is far from ideal and our bird populations are declining at an alarming rate. In the past few years alone the once widespread Wryneck has ceased breeding in the UK altogether and has dropped off the list completely. Which species will be next?

Editor, Kit Jewitt has taken some time to answer a few questions about the Red Sixty Seven book project and the list itself.

Hen Harrier: Jane Smith

Of all the birds on the Red List which do you think is most vulnerable?

If I had to choose one, it would be the Hen Harrier. Not only do they have to deal with all of the natural challenges they face, they also have to contend with persecution from criminals within the grouse shooting industry, which evidence now suggests is the main cause of their decline in numbers. The fact that 72% of tagged Hen Harriers are confirmed or considered likely to have been illegally killed is a national disgrace. However, in terms of the recent rate of decline I would also suggest Turtle Dove is a species of highest concern.

Herring Gull: Crow Artist

Many people will be surprised to see herring gull on the list, could you expand on how this seemingly ubiquitous bird has made the list?

Herring Gull populations in coastal areas have dropped by over 50% in my lifetime. This is largely due to the lack of food at coastal sites, with overfishing of UK coastal waters and warming seas caused by climate change likely to be the main reasons for the reduced amount of food available to gulls and other seabirds. They are adaptable, intelligent birds though, so moving to inland areas, or areas where humans create waste for them to eat has been a way for some populations to survive.

Merlin: Natalie Toms

Have any birds managed to move away from the Red List to Amber over the last year or so, and which birds are the most recent additions?

Nineteen species were added to the red list for the first time when it was last updated in 2015, and one species, Merlin, moved back onto the list. Breeding seabirds, such as Puffin, Kittiwake and Shag are now included, and with the additions of species such as Woodcock, Nightingale and Pied Flycatcher there are now more woodland birds on the list than any other habitat. Two species, Bittern and Nightjar, have moved from the red to amber lists thanks to the creation and management of suitable habitat, stimulated by species action plans.

White Fronted Goose: Szabolcs Kokay

We know how we as individuals can help garden birds, but the list contains a high proportion of iconic water birds. How can we as individuals help preserve the many waders and ducks that are on the list?

Many projects being conducted by BTO, RSPB WWT and others help waders, seabirds and ducks, so fundraising for these is vitally important. My main motivation behind the Red Sixty Seven project was to do something to help these declining birds, by spreading the word and raising money for conservationists on the ground. By highlighting the red list far and wide, more people will care and will then hopefully start their own fundraising for BTO’s Operation Wader or Curlew appeal, or WWTs Black-tailed Godwits appeal, or whichever scheme chimes with them. I can’t run marathons or undertake extreme endurance like my friend Jonny Rankin, who has raised over £19,000 for Turtle Doves, so I had to think of a different way of fundraising!

Corncrake: Robert Vaughan

Farmland bird species also make up a large part of the list. Can you see any hope for securing the future of our most rapidly declining farmland species?

The change in farming and land management practices over the last 40 years, including the use of pesticides and changes in crops grown have ultimately reduced the amount of appropriate habitat, and food sources for our farmland birds. Post Brexit, there is an opportunity for the government to make changes to policy to help our farmland wildlife. I just hope they take full advantage of it.

Lesser Redpole: John Threlfall

We love the idea of using the power of beautiful words and paintings to deliver a conservation message. Do you think that engaging the reader emotionally can result in more concrete conservation actions being taken?

I hope so! As well as raising funds for crucial work to help red-listed species, I hope Red Sixty Seven brings the list and the plight of these birds to a wider audience, inspiring other people to take action themselves, whatever that might be. The artwork and stories within the book bring home the message in a very accessible way, and you are left under no illusion that we must do something. There is a poignant sting in the tale at the end of the book; an ‘In Memoriam’ section devoted to the birds we have lost as breeding species in recent years. This book is a call-to-arms.

All of the publisher’s profits from the sale of this book will be donated to BTO and RSPB to further their work on red listed birds.

Red Sixty Seven: A Collection of Words and Art Inspired by Britain’s Most Vulnerable Birds
Hardback,  published February 2020              £19.99

Red Sixty Seven is 67 love letters to our most vulnerable species, each beautifully illustrated by some of the best wildlife artists around.

 

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

Supporting Conservation: National Museum of Brazil

On 2nd September last year, a terrible fire destroyed the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. Alongside the vast collection of irreplaceable natural history specimens, the fire also destroyed books and equipment used by the Museum’s researchers for ecological research and wildlife conservation.

Thankfully as museum curator, Débora Pires, wrote shortly after the incident: “The brains did not burn; we are working with a positive agenda!”

A selection of books kindly donated

NHBS were approached by our former director Alan Martin, who provided a list of products which the malacology, arachnology, entomology and lepidoptera departments needed to get back on their feet. Alan, now secretary of the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest Trust (BART) has close links with many researchers at the museum.

Following this, we decided to coordinate an effort to provide the items that are most critical to their research. We contacted suppliers asking them to contribute and we agreed to supply our own manufactured products, and cover shipping costs of all donated items.

The response from suppliers was fantastic, as the majority were happy to donate all, or most of the items requested. We would like to give huge thanks those who have donated so far: Elsevier, BIOTOPE Parthenope, Brunel Microscopes Ltd, BugDorm, CABI Publishing, Harvard University Press, the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Watkins & Doncaster and finally EntoSphinx. So far, we have received just over £2,000 worth of items, with more to follow.

A selection of items that are being sent in the first shipment.

“I’m really sorry to hear such devastating news. This is truly awful and it’s good to see you are providing such great support to them. We would be happy to send out the [requested] book gratis.” – Linda Jackson, Elsevier

Are you a supplier, publisher or manufacturer and would like to donate books or equipment to this worthy cause? Please contact ruddin@nhbs.com

Visit our Supporting Conservation page for more ways NHBS help wildlife, ecology and conservation across the world.

Oxford University Press: Publisher of the Month

Oxford University Press are NHBS’s  Publisher of the Month for February 2019.

Founded in the mid-17th Century, Oxford University Press (OUP) have published some of the most influential environmental books. Nearly 400 years later, OUP continue to release important works as the largest university press in the world. Their diverse repertoire consists of The Selfish Gene, Conservation Drones, Birds in an Ancient World and many more.

Oxford University Press and Natural History Publishing

OUP’s biology and natural history lists can be traced back to the early twentieth century, when a series of classic academic texts from scientific luminaries such as John Haldane and Julian Huxley firmly established OUP as a science publisher. Its reputation grew  with classic titles including Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene.

OUP’s current book list covers a whole host of biology topics from a variety of ecosystems and across the entire taxonomic spectrum, from viruses to humans. It has a particular strength in the fields of evolutionary biology and animal biology and a growing presence in the fields of ecology, epidemiology, biostatistics, conservation biology, aquatic biology and plant science.

Great prices on recent bestselling professional and academic titles

Until 31st march, get great prices on selected bestselling professional and academic titles from OUP.

 

 

 

 

Oxford University Press, highlights from 2018 and forthcoming in 2019

2018 was a great year with titles including: Birds in the Ancient World, illustrating the many different roles birds played in culture; Skeletons: The Frame of Life, diving into how the tiniest seed shrimp through to the gigantic dinosaurs evolved; Conservation Drones, looking at the use of drones in mapping and monitoring biodiversity; an excellent introduction to the many solutions organisms have evolved to see their world, with Eyes to See and a fascinating account on how ancient DNA is rewriting most of what we thought we knew about human history with Who We Are and How We Got Here.

2019 looks just as exciting, with the following titles due soon:

Origins of Biodiversity, due Apr 2019

Making Eden, due Feb 2019

The Smart Neanderthal, due Feb 2019

Carnivorous Plants, paperback due Feb 2019

Browse all Oxford University Press titles

Special Offers on Oxford University Press titles in Backlist Bargains

Discover the numerous OUP titles in our biggest sale of the year – Backlist Bargains, where you can discover great prices on everything from field guides and good reads to monographs and other academic titles.

The Gratis Books Scheme

One of the most rewarding OUP-NHBS collaborations has been in the form of the Gratis Books Scheme. Since 1999, with support and assistance from the British Ecological Society, this scheme has been sending free copies of books to conservationists in developing countries who would otherwise be unable to obtain them.

There are currently two books available in the Gratis Book Scheme, both from OUP. They are Freshwater Ecology and Conservation and  Social Science Theory for Environmental Sustainability.

 

 

 

 

NHBS Field Sessions: Waterway Surveys for Daubenton’s Bats

NHBS’ staff members are wild about wildlife! To showcase this, we are encouraging our team to write blogs about their experiences with nature.

During the Summer months, Jon Flynn, a member of NHBS’ Wildlife Equipment Team attended a number of Waterway Surveys for Daubenton’s bats (Myotis daubentonii). Read more about his survey experiences below:

Stretch of the River Teign captured by Westcountry Rivers Trust via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
Stretch of the River Teign captured by Westcountry Rivers Trust via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

“On Monday 6th July I took part in a Waterway Survey for Daubenton’s bat along a stretch of the River Teign in Devon. The survey is completed twice per year in conjunction with the Bat Conservation Trust and is part of an ongoing data collection programme for bat species around the UK. The lead for this particular survey was John Mitchell who has been surveying this particular length of the Teign, near Teigngrace, for a good number of years. It was my third survey there.

The survey was due to start 40 minutes after sunset, so we met at 9.00pm and made our way along the edge of a maize field to arrive at our first stopping point. This was to be a transect survey which meant walking a length of the river bank and stopping at ten predetermined points to record bat activity at each one. We stood at the river’s edge and immediately noticed that the river level was a lot lower than it was during our last visit a year or so ago. We recorded air temperature and cloud cover and, as we prepared, various species of bats could already be seen zooming around the trees and openings as they commenced another night of nocturnal foraging. The air was very warm, still and humid, and flying insects were everywhere including a host of moths and some less welcome biting species.

As the light faded it was time to start. With bat detectors switched on and earphones in place, we directed a torch beam on the river’s surface and awaited the arrival of the first Daubenton’s.

Looking for bats at twilight by Nic McPhee via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
Looking for bats at twilight by Nic McPhee via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

The Daubenton’s bat is a species which typically occupies riparian woodland.  They often roost in trees along the river bank and hunt by skimming low over the surface of the water for insects. They can take prey from the water’s surface using their feet or tail membrane.

As bats skimmed through the torch beam we were able to count them. We counted the number of passes that we observed and for this a clicker counter is always useful! The bats that we heard but did not see were also recorded as additional information. I set my Magenta 5 at 50hz and listened whilst John relied on his trusty and more accomplished Bat Box Duet.

After four minutes on the stopwatch we finished counting, compared counts and wrote down results. At stop number 1 there were certainly bats present, but they were swooping around quite high above the water surface and not showing the typical behaviour of Daubenton’s – John was dubious that they were our target species so we recorded them only as potential sightings.

Using GPS devices and torches we left for Survey Point 2 further down the river bank and repeated the same process as before. At this location there was no denying that these WERE Daubenton’s bats, as the torch beam caught their pale almost white ventral fur, confirming their identity. Our detectors were full of noise too, including the typical intense zap as a bat homed in on prey.

A close-up of a Daubenton's bat. Image captured by Gilles San Martin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
A close-up of a Daubenton’s bat. Image captured by Gilles San Martin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

On we progressed with eight more stopping points to go. Occasionally our river bank scrambles took us through thickets of invasive Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glanduliferaand Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) a sobering reminder of how our countryside is changing. The night remained still and warm and it almost felt like we were in a different country.

After eight more stops my watch said 11:20pm. It was good to see that bats were in profusion that night, as John stated ‘It was one of the best ever totals, with one stopping point recording over 50 passes!‘.

Two weeks later and we repeated the process. But this second night felt noticeably cooler and there were fewer insects on the wing. Nevertheless bats were still out and about in reasonable numbers and an average score was calculated between the two Waterway surveys.  Overall there were encouraging signs that the Daubenton’s bat continues to do well along this particular stretch of the Teign.”

To find out more information about the various bat detectors available, go to our website. To find out more about how you can help bats in your local area, have a look at our handy guide.

If you like the idea of taking part in Waterway Surveys (or other kinds of bat surveys) then contact the Bat Conservation Trust or have a look at their website here. It’s great fun and you can put your bat detector to important use!

Conservation Volunteering at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary

NHBS’ core purpose is to support conservation. To this end, all NHBS staff members can apply for up to three days of paid time during each calendar year to spend on practical conservation projects of their choice. This month, customer services advisor Alice Mosley spent some time working at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary. Read all about her experiences below:

The Cornish Seal Sanctuary not only rescues and rehabilitates seal pups, but is also home to a variety of other marine animals who live there all year round.

“Earlier this month I had the pleasure of volunteering at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary in Gweek as part of NHBS’ conservation volunteering scheme. As well as seal rescue and rehabilitation, the sanctuary has a huge focus on education of marine pollution, sustainability and how everyone can contribute to cleaning up our oceans.

The sanctuary at Gweek opened in 1975; the founders, Ken and Mary Jones had already been rescuing injured and abandoned seal pups at St Agnes for 17 years and needed a bigger site. It is nestled on the bank of the Helford River, at the entrance to the Lizard Peninsula, a Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Now owned by the charity The Sea Life Trust, the sanctuary focuses on the rescue and rehabilitation of seals from all over the UK. On average, 60-70 pups are rescued each winter but the last year saw over 80 successful rescues. It costs around £2000 to rehabilitate each seal pup, so you know exactly where your donations are going!

A number of seals are resident at the sanctuary all year round and require ongoing care.

The sanctuary has a fantastic rehabilitation success rate of around 98%, but some animal’s ongoing health problems or individual circumstances mean that they can never be re-released. This means that there are a number of resident seals that require care all year round. The sanctuary has also become a home for other animals and birds which have needed moving or re-homing for various reasons; it is home to nine Humboldt Penguins (conservation status: Vulnerable), four sea lions and two Asian short clawed otters (also classified as Vulnerable).

As a member of the animal care team for two weeks, most of the work I undertook was daily husbandry tasks for the animals, such as cleaning, food prep, feeding and enrichment. I was also introduced to the husbandry training that most of the resident animals undergo, which allows staff to look in the animals’ mouths, ask them to lift a flipper or tail for physical health checks, or voluntarily enter their transport cages. All training the resident animals undergo is beneficial to their overall health, while also keeping their mind active. This was particularly interesting to me as I will soon be studying both captive and wild animal behavior at University.

Alice performs a routine health check on one of the sanctuary’s residents.

While it was the wrong season for rescue and rehabilitation (pup season is September to March), I learned a great deal about working in the field of animal care while at the sanctuary. I was impressed by the dedication of all the staff, and the obvious happiness and wellbeing of the resident animals. If you are in the area, or need any more reasons to visit the stunning rugged coastlines of Cornwall, I’d highly recommend a visit to the Cornish Seal Sanctuary”.

The Cornish Seal Sanctuary is located in Gweek Village in Cornwall (TR12 6UG). It is open 7 days a week (except Christmas Day) from 10am – 5pm (last admissions 4pm).

The Marine Biological Association’s 10th Annual Bioblitz

On the weekend of the 13th – 14th July, a small team of staff from NHBS attended the Marine Biological Association’s 10th Annual Bioblitz which took place at Newton Ferrers and Noss Mayo on the Devon coast.

View of Newton Ferrers from Noss Mayo Harbour. Image by Oli Haines.

This stunning area, which features a tidal estuary with its many associated creeks, secluded beaches, cliffs and woodland, has long been celebrated as an area of beauty and natural diversity and is designated as an Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB). In recognition of the area’s diverse and high-quality habitats, the Yealm estuary is also a Special Area of Conservation, all of the intertidal mudflats and the woodland around the coastal path are classed as Priority Habitat and a proportion of the region has also been selected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

This year’s Bioblitz featured a huge range and variety of activities for children and adults of all ages; including whale and dolphin watching, reptile, butterfly, bug and fish surveys, stream dipping, nocturnal walks looking for bats, owls and glow worms, moth trapping and much more.

Keep reading for accounts from NHBS team members Kat, Soma and Bryony about the activities that they enjoyed over the weekend.

Editorial Assistant Kat Clayton took part in a crabbing competition on Friday evening:

“As the sun began to lower it was time for the crabbing competition. Conveniently situated on a pier by The Ship Inn at Noss Creek, this event sure was popular with the locals! The aim of the game was to catch the biggest crab and, along the way, survey the population of the Green Shore Crab (Carcinus maenas) around the pier. Children were wet-suited up and were not afraid of swimming off with their bait to find the best spot. After depositing their bait, they quickly swam back to the pier to reel in their catch. A twist on the mark-capture-release method was used, where the marking consisted of a dab of lipstick on the carapace of an unsuspecting crab. Bacon was flung as bait, children were dripping on the recording sheets and lipstick found itself on most peoples’ fingers and t-shirts. This organised chaos was much loved by all and I’m sure it will become a regular annual event. As this was a BioBlitz however, other species were recorded too, such as the sea slater (Ligia oceanica). Secretly, we were all hoping to see the crab parasitic barnacle Sacculina – which this year remained elusive”.

As well as the popular woodland walk, the list of activities included a dusk bird and bat walk. Image by Oli Haines.

Marketing Coordinator Soma Mitra-Chubb went along to the Bioblitz on Sunday with her children to take part in the Ancient Woodland walk:

“On Sunday, we joined in an Ancient Woodland walk. Ancient woodlands are those which have existed since the early 1600s and are the UK’s richest land-based habitat for wildlife. Our aim was to spot as many different types of trees and plants as possible, so off we went armed with our recording sheets.

Our walk took us through the beautiful Newton Woods running alongside the river Yealm. Fiona, our guide, set the younger children (and some adults) the task of collecting as many different leaves as possible which were gathered in a pile. We spotted leaves from cedar, ash, pine, oak, and a host of smaller plants including a nettle which was collected by one brave child. (There were, alas, no dock leaves to be found, triggering a discussion on why, in nature, you often find both poison and antidote growing next to each other). Some unusual finds included wild strawberries, and a herb named Robert.

It was a delightful walk, helped by the brilliant weather and congenial company. Unfortunately, as the walk overran, we were forced to turn back at the halfway point. We will be returning to Newton Woods to complete the walk at a later date!”

Bryony stands ready to help at the NHBS stall. Image by Oli Haines.

Wildlife Equipment Specialist Bryony attended the Bioblitz, both to take part in the activities and to provide a friendly face behind the NHBS stand, which offered a great range of wildlife survey equipment and identification guides for sale at the event:

“The MBA’s BioBlitz was a fantastic event to be a part of! It aimed to encourage more people to get involved in nature conservation and raise awareness of the abundance of wildlife on their doorstep.

Children, ecologists, naturalists and enthusiasts all got involved, no matter the age or the background. Activities were constantly on the go, wellies marched onwards to location after location on the search for more species; buckets, field guides and nets in hand. Marine, land-based, air-borne and tidal were all explored and examined.

Having the NHBS stall at such an active event was brilliant as we were able to provide inspiration to children, ecologists and families. We sold all manner of items enabling everyone to get closer to nature and to experience it first-hand. Our Educational Rock Pooling Kits and Pond Dipping Kits were a great success, along with bug magnification pots and pooters. Ecologists loved the new books that we had, aiding identification of all manners of sponges, seaweeds and lichens.

We were also able to answer questions, show children how to use the equipment and partake in the activities ourselves.”

The Bioblitz Research Hub. Image by Oli Haines.

Photos and highlights from the BioBlitz will be showcased in a celebration of the diversity of life along the Yealm at an event in the WI Hall in Newton Ferrers on Saturday 13th October. Everyone is welcome to drop in between 11am-4pm, with tea and cake being served.

The Bioblitz was organised by the Marine Biological Association and was supported by the Royal Society of Biology, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Yealm Waterside Homes.

Conservation Volunteering at Ambios Farm and Wildlife Fayre

At NHBS, all members of staff have the opportunity to partake in conservation volunteering days as part of the company’s philanthropic initiative to carry out nature conservation locally. As part of this initiative, I recently chose to volunteer at an event for a cause that is close to my heart nearby in Totnes.

On Friday 8th June, I volunteered at a Farm and Wildlife Fayre run by Ambios, an organisation that provides education and volunteering opportunities in nature conservation in the UK and abroad. Set in the beautiful Sharpham Estate, with the river Dart and rolling hills surrounding the farm, it was the perfect setting to engage others in nature conservation. This place is special to me, as this is where my initial nature conservation training began before I joined NHBS in 2017. Below is a video of the Wildlife Fayre filmed by Ross Gill of Fresh Ground Films.

At the Wildlife Fayre I worked alongside conservation volunteers, knowledgeable experts in the field and the charity, United Response, who provide a range of support services for individuals with physical and learning difficulties. The aim of the event was to get a wider audience of people involved in nature conservation by allowing them to take part in accessible activities that help individuals to get up-close and personal with local wildlife. More than 200 children and young adults from special needs schools and colleges attended, in addition to young families from the local area.

Engaging and educational activities drew in crowds, including bug hunts, bird box making, forest school sessions, green woodworking and plant identification. The air was filled with excitement as children and adults alike rushed around with their newly carved spatulas and bird boxes. Footsteps hurried as groups rushed between activities with freshly picked produce from the farm in their hands.

Photo by Ross Gill of Fresh Ground Films

Photo by Ross Gill of Fresh Ground Films

The farm office was transformed into a wildlife information hub, which hosted an array of interesting finds. Through microscopes you were transported into another world where you could view bumblebees and Garden Chafer Beetles at close range.

Tanks held Palmate Newts hiding amongst curtains of pond weed and field guides lay next to plaster-cast footprints of creatures who had visited the farm. In one corner, a table was covered with flora found locally for anyone wishing to test their plant identification skills. In another, an array of uncommonly seen finds were lined up including the skulls of animals and tightly woven dormouse nests.

Something that really drew me in were the screens in the wildlife information hub which displayed stories of the wild residents of Sharpham, including nest box inhabitants and various small mammals. You could watch a timeline of Blue Tits building their nest and sitting on eggs. Later you saw the chicks being fed, strengthening their wings and finally fledging!

My responsibilities whilst volunteering at the event revolved around providing support and an extra pair of hands. I helped groups to move between activities and demonstrated how to use tools and equipment such as nets and pooters. At NHBS I work as a Wildlife Equipment Specialist, so it was great to be able to show others first-hand how to use the equipment that we have access to every day. It was lovely to see how excited the children got about using the equipment to get closer to nature.

Photo by Ross Gill of Fresh Ground Films

The Farm and Wildlife Fayre was a fantastic success! The event proved to be a brilliant way of captivating young minds and introducing them to the natural world. By partaking in accessible activities, each person felt confident enough to try something new and learnt a great deal along the way.

Photo by Ross Gill of Fresh Ground Films

Ambios Director and Farm Manager said,

“Our farm and wildlife fayre was a huge success – we are delighted! We had nearly 200 people over the day, from all walks of life experiencing what we do at lower sharpham farm, and getting up close and personal with wildlife as well as getting to know our farm animals. Our farming practice aims to prioritise wildlife, and we are delighted to share our work and our story with a wide audience. Our next event will be a barn dance in the late summer, so watch this space!”

Photo by Ross Gill of Fresh Ground Films

It was great to be involved and I love to think that if this event has inspired just one person to appreciate and protect nature a little further, then it was all worth it!

Stay tuned for more volunteer event posts from my colleagues at NHBS as they embark on their own conservation volunteering days.

To find out more about NHBS’s approach to philanthropic work, please follow this link. For more information about the work that Ambios does, please follow this link.