Equipment in Focus: Royal Entomological Society Bug Hunting Kits

Shows the bug kit- containing a net, ID guide, pooter and collecting pots

The Royal Entomological Society (RES) is an organisation dedicated to advancing the field of insect science. Through encouraging open communication, research and publication, the RES hopes to enrich the world with entomology 

Developed in collaboration with the RES, the Royal Entomological Society Bug Hunting Kits provide naturalist users with the tools to safely capture, observe and identify British insects. Kitted with sweep nets, collecting pots and a pooter to capture your insects, you will also be provided with a hand lens, ID guide and optional forceps for identification of species you find. 

Suited for aspiring entomologists, The Royal Entomological Society Educational Bug Hunting Kit includes a copy of A Naturalists Guide to The Insects of Britain and Northern Europe. The Royal Entomological Society Advanced Bug Hunting Kit provides a technical alternative for more experienced naturalists, with additional pointed forceps and the Collins Complete Guide to British Insects. Here we take a closer look at what’s included in these exclusive kits.  


A hand holding a net, sweeping in a bush of nettles.

As seen on Countryfile, the Standard Sweep Net provides users with a simple, lightweight (280g) net for catching invertebrates. The short, 15cm handle has a foam grip for improved control and a lightweight aluminium frame. The net itself is made in the UK and features a soft calico bag attached via Velcro to the frame, making it easy to remove for washing.

 

A hand holding a pooter- a plastic chamber with two long plastic tubes used to entrap invertebrates

At the core of this kit is the NHBS Insect Pooter. Expertly designed and manufactured at our facilities in Devon, this piece of kit can safely capture a wide range of invertebrates. Affordable and simple to use, this item allows the user to observe specimens in a see-through chamber. The chamber is topped with a 2.5× magnification lens for easy viewing and identification. The pooters components can be removed and cleaned for sanitation between sampling.  

 

An alder fly in a collecting pot on a page of an identification guide showing species of flying insects

Each kit comes with five 60ml Collecting Pots for specimen handling and collection. The collecting pots have secure screw-on lids, made with see-through polypropylene for easy, clear viewing.  

 

A hand holding a magnifying hand lens over a ladybird on a leaf.

The handy Double Loupe Hand Lens provided with this kit is only 30mm in diameter, comprising two silicate glass lenses, 5× and 10× magnification. The lenses of this sturdy pocket magnifier fold into a protective casing, keeping them clear from scratches between use. Lightweight and compact, this hand lens is highly portable and is ideal for people of all ages. 

 

a pair of metal forceps with a beetle on a muddy tree stump

Made from a non-magnetic stainless-steel alloy, the Super Fine Pointed Forceps are manufactured with fine points for precision use. Included with the Advanced Bug Hunting Kit, these precise forceps are not serrated to minimise damage to delicate specimens, and at 11cm are a handy size for transportation and use in-field.  

 

Front cover of the Collins Complete Guide to British Insects

Provided with the Advanced Bug Hunting Kit, the Collins Complete Guide to British Insects is a photographic field guide to common and unusual insect species across Britain. This extensive work covers over 1,500 species, providing descriptions and detailing where, and when, to observe them. With detailed photographs for each species, differences between similar organisms are highlighted to aid identification. This book covers a range of insects, from bugs and bees to moths and mayflies.  

 

Front cover of a Naturalists guide to the insects of britain and northern europe

A Naturalists Guide to the Insects of Britain and Northern Europe is provided with the Educational Bug Hunting Kit. This easy-to-use ID guide is ideal for nonspecialist naturalists, with high quality photos of over 280 insect species. A description of appearance, associated habitats, habits and conservation status are outlined for each species. The guide also includes life cycles and describes the conservation of the group.     

 


The mission of The Royal Entomological Society is to enrich the world with insect science- doing this through events, books and supporting young people in gaining skills in entomology.

The Royal Entomological Society receives 10% from the sale of this kit to support their cause.

Author Q&A with Simon Barnes: How to be a Bad Botanist

 

Author Simon Barnes gazing out over a river.

An exploration of botany for beginners, How to be a Bad Botanist is a must-read that opens our eyes to the world around us. Through this charming and inspiring work, Barnes takes us on a fascinating journey on the complex nature of plants, and enthrals us with tales to help us appreciate the diversity and wonder of the natural world. 

Simon is an author and journalist who has worked on a number of nature volumes, including the bestselling Bad Birdwatcher trilogy and Rewild Yourself. He is a council member of the World Land Trust, a patron of Save the Rhino and honorary vice-president of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.   

We recently had the opportunity to talk with Simon about how plants caught his attention, the importance of botany and how we can all learn to be Bad Botanists. 


How to be a Bad Birdwatcher, published in 2004, rapidly became a birdwatching classic and this year was republished as a 20th anniversary edition. What prompted you to turn your attention to plants for your latest book? 

It all began with a damascene experience on Orford Ness. This is a place where military and natural history collide. On the same visit I was able to see a Great White Egret and the casing for an atom bomb. It was, I read, about the same size as the one they dropped on Hiroshima.  

My brain was somewhat scrambled by this. After a while I sat on the beach, my mind full of life and death and memories of a visit to Hiroshima, pretending that I was having a bit of a sea watch. It was then that I noticed a colony of plants. Growing in the shingle. Which is impossible. But there they were. Growing. Living. And the extraordinary way that life seeks to live, even in the most difficult circumstances, really rather got to me. These strange plants seemed to make sense of this strange, awful and wonderful place.  

I worked out that the plants in question were Sea Pea, Sea Kale and Yellow Horned Poppy: and my own life was better for doing so. Soon, I would be looking at old plants with new eyes. 

 

How to Be a Bad Botanist is a fantastic exploration into the world of plants and botany itself. Where is a good place to start for aspiring botanists?  

What’s required is a subtle but drastic mental shift. After my Orford Ness moment, it was clear that plants were now something to do with me. Something personal. I was doing what I wanted aspiring birders to do when I wrote How to be a Bad Birdwatcher. Only with plants. 

And the first thing I wanted to do was to be introduced. To know the name. Always the first step towards greater intimacy. So, when I saw a tree, I found myself asking, what sort of tree? I made the delightful discovery that I knew more than I thought – oak, conker, holly. It wasn’t the hardest thing in the world to learn a few more – and all at once the adventure was gathering pace.  

An illustrated yellow horned poppy growing in shingle.
Yellow Horned Poppy by Cindy Lee Wright.

 

One of the first things that struck me about the book was how funny it is (I particularly enjoyed “my sitting was devoid of porpoise” when lamenting the lack of marine mammals spotted during a period observing the sea). Do you think humour and levity are important in providing a gateway into a topic that might originally seem highly specialist?  

I’m glad you liked the porpoise joke. It’s one of those lines you know you really ought to cut, but haven’t the heart. 

And yes, humour is essential. It’s essential to almost everything. Humour doesn’t compromise seriousness. Humours enriches life. There is humour in the greatest art – Ulysses, A la recherche du tempts perdu, Hamlet, The Waste Land, Metamorphoses. Humour humanises, bringing meaning and proportion to all we do. At a funeral, what touches us most deeply are funny stories from the life of a person we have lost. 

Humour doesn’t make things trivial. When appropriate, humour makes things profound… in a funny sort of way. 

 

Why do you think that botany is important and what can it bring to our lives?

Everything starts with plants. Plants are the only things that can eat the sun: the power of the sun allows them to make their own food, and that feeds everything else that lives (unless you live in a hydrothermal vent at the bottom of the sea, of course). Lions couldn’t live without plants: they just eat them at one remove.  

Those of us who like nature tend to have areas of specialisation, and that’s only natural. But nature itself isn’t about separation: it’s about the way everything fits in together. You can’t really get a handle on your own specialist subject, no matter what it is, without understanding the way it’s driven by plants. 

An illustrated Oak tree
An illustrated Oak tree from How to be a Bad Botanist. Illustrated by Cindy Lee Wright.

 

The final chapter relates to a decline of the natural world – what more could we do to support our native wildflower populations in the UK?  

The first thing to do is to look after any piece of land you have control over and make it richer and wilder. Sometimes neglect – what conservationists call “minimum intervention” – is the best policy, and it’s assiduously practiced at our place in the Broads.  

The second is to support good organisations: your local county wildlife trust (and yes, there’s one for London) and the excellent Plantlife.  

And after that, just show people wonderful stuff: here come the waterlilies, this pretty stuff on the riverbank is Purple Loosestrife and Hemp Agrimony, and round the next bend there’s an Aldercarr with nesting herons. By doing so, you enrich people’s lives as well as your own.  

 

Other than buying your book, can you tell us one tip that you give to an aspiring ‘bad’ botanist? 

Just look. Look, and seek a name. These days you can use phone apps like Pl@ntNet which will have a decent shot at identifying plants from flowers, leaves, even bark. But mostly it’s about that mental shift: making it personal. Last year it was a nice little yellow flower, this year it’s the first Lesser Celandine of spring and your heart can rejoice. 

 

How to be a Bad Botanist is available to order from our online bookstore.

Book Review: Dinosaur Behaviour

**** Handsomely illustrated and accessible

Front cover of dinosaur behaviour showing a group of large dinosaurs.

 Reconstructing how dinosaurs behaved from just their fossilised bones might seem like science fiction but is very much science fact. In Dinosaur Behavior: An Illustrated Guide, veteran palaeontology professor Michael J. Benton joins forces with palaeoartist Bob Nicholls to do what it says on the tin: write a richly illustrated introductory book on dinosaur behaviour that is well-suited for novices.

In Dinosaur Behaviour, Benton takes the reader through five main topics: physiology (which sets the pace for everything else), locomotion, senses and intelligence, feeding, and social behaviour (which includes courtship, reproduction, parental care, and communication). One or several ‘forensics’ boxes in each chapter introduce the basic gist of certain methods.

Reading through this book, it becomes abundantly clear that our understanding of dinosaur behaviour relies on two approaches. Though Benton does not mention it as explicitly as in his previous book The Dinosaurs Rediscovered, the first of these is new high-tech toys and tools. Examples include computed tomography (CT) scanners, normally used in hospitals, to make detailed X-ray scans of fossilised brains (so-called endocasts) and so determine brain anatomy. Or finite element analysis normally used in engineering to model forces and stresses on jaws and teeth and so determine e.g. bite force. The second approach is ‘old-fashioned’ comparative anatomy and ethology: it pays to have a good knowledge of natural history when you are a palaeontologist. One example is the histological study of fossil dinosaur bones. Cutting thin bone sections and examining these under a microscope shows that some dinosaurs closely resemble mammals and birds, supporting the idea that smaller species were endotherms (‘warm-blooded’, i.e. generating their own body heat). Or take the microscopic study of melanosomes (pigment-containing organelles) in fossil feathers to determine colour in life. A final example is the comparison of footprints made by modern running birds with fossil tracks to determine things such as gait and running speed. 

If you are well-versed in (popular) palaeontology, much of what is presented here will be familiar. Even so, I picked up interesting titbits. One example is a recent study of Psittacosaurus that describes a cloaca, the multipurpose orifice also seen in birds where the digestive, urinary, and reproductive tracts all open to the outside world. This suggests that dinosaur sex, for at least some species, was a matter of the appropriately named cloacal kiss rather than the brandishing of reptilian genitals. Other insights fell into the embarrassing ‘I should have known this’ category. We tend to think of walking on two legs as something advanced because our mammalian ancestors walked on all fours, but for dinosaurs, it was the reverse; they started out bipedal and quadrupedality only evolved later in e.g. the large sauropods. Particularly interesting is the study by Kat Schroeder and colleagues who looked at fossil communities of theropods and noticed a so-called carnivore gap: there is a lack of medium-sized ones in the fossil record, even though there are medium-sized herbivores. One explanation could be that dinosaur eggs had an upper size limit, meaning that young carnivores hatched small and had an awful lot of growing to do. As they did, ‘they passed through a whole range of feeding modes, each step along the way acting like a different species’ (p. 137), effectively plugging the ecological niche of medium-sized carnivores.

Despite the broad range of topics, there are some curious omissions. The chapter on feeding e.g. discusses jaws, teeth, and the use of isotopes to determine diet, but not microwear analysis of teeth. What I found most surprising is that Benton does not introduce the concept of trace fossils or ichnology, their study. Yet, examples such as trackways (some possibly showing long-distance migrations), coprolites (fossil poop), and nests are all discussed here. Another surprising omission is that the two-page bibliography does not include most studies mentioned in the text, even though it references other technical articles.

Dinosaur Behavior is mostly very suitable for readers with little to no background in palaeontology. Benton explains even basic terminology (physiology, cannibalism) as he goes, though there is the occasional curveball. One example is the morphospace diagram showing a principal component analysis on page 131, which, I hope those with a background in statistics will agree, is a rather abstract way of visualizing data that requires a bit more explanation than is given here. Though the book is published by Princeton University Press, it has been produced by UniPress Books who can be considered the spiritual successor to popular science publisher Ivy Press. What this means is that information is accessibly presented in bite-sized sections on one or several page spreads, with long sections further divided using subheadings. The downside is that this restricts how thoroughly topics can be explored. Leafing through e.g. Naish & Barrett’s Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved shows more nuance in its chapter on behaviour.

Finally, I have to mention the excellent colour and black-and-white artwork by Bob Nicholls that livens up the text. I loved the drawing of courtship in Confusiusornis on pages 168–169. Despite the overlap in topic, this is all-new artwork compared to Locked in Time. Other diagrams have all been carefully designed or redrawn, using colours where appropriate. The only design element that did not work for me was the choice of sans-serif font which made e.g. the letters a and o hard to tell apart. 

Serious palaeontology buffs might find the contents here somewhat superficial, but overall, this is a handsomely illustrated book that offers an accessible introduction suitable for novices and possibly even curious high-school pupils. It would also make for a great gift. 

Front cover of dinosaur behaviour showing a group of large dinosaurs.

Dinosaur Behaviour: An Illustrated Guide is available from our online bookstore.

The biodegradable dormouse tube trial

Hazel Dormouse by Frank Vassen via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
The dormouse nest tube problem

At NHBS, the environmental impact of our products, both in terms of their manufacture and eventual disposal, is at the heart of our manufacturing business. Of equal importance is the practicality of their design and how fit for purpose they are for their users. With this in mind, we are always looking for ways to both design new and improve existing products based on current research and feedback from our customers.

Last year, we began to apply this thinking to our dormouse nest tubes. We had some concerns about any tubes that might be left behind at survey sites, thus polluting woodlands with unwanted plastic. We were also thinking ahead to the disposal of tubes that, following years of use outside, are no longer fit for purpose and which must then be thrown away.

With this in mind, our manufacturing team began developing an alternative, biodegradable version of our dormouse nest tubes.

The current plastic dormouse nest tube
A new environmentally friendly design

Dormouse tubes consist of a plastic sleeve into which slides a wooden tray that also serves to seal one end when in place. These tubes create a dark and narrow enclosure that is ideal for dormice to build their nests. By strapping a number of these tubes to horizontal branches in a suitable woodland, they can be used to determine the presence of dormice by periodically inspecting them for evidence of nests and/or inhabitants. As this is a standard survey technique within the UK, our new, environmentally friendly dormouse tubes would need to be able to be used in the same way.

Our new design would use the same wooden inserts in combination with a modified sleeve constructed from Earthboard. Earthboard is a plastic-free biodegradable material, often used to make tree guards. It is coated with a non-toxic water repellent coating which makes it suitable for use outside, lasting for up to two years before decomposing naturally. Critically, being plastic-free, Earthboard does not shed microplastics into the environment.

Its relatively slow breakdown means that Earthboard would be ideal for our purposes. It would last for more than a single survey season in the field and, if accidentally left outside, would decompose naturally over time. Any tubes that fell to the ground would take around 16-20 weeks to break down and, at the end of the season, they could be recycled in the same way as cardboard (although they are not suitable for home composting due to their relatively slow rate of natural decomposition).

In 2023, our manufacturing team produced a number of Earthboard sleeves that were compatible with our existing wooden inserts. These were sent to several of our customers and associates who kindly agreed to undertake some field tests during the 2023 survey season.

Initial field tests

At the end of the dormouse survey season, our field testers helpfully provided us with lots of feedback. Unfortunately, not all of it was good. While most were broadly positive about the intention of the product, there were some significant problems.

The most serious of these was that, after a short amount of time in the field, deterioration by the elements meant that the tube was no longer a good fit for the wooden insert. The top of the plastic tube became curved, thus creating a space into which light, draughts and moisture could enter, making the tubes much less desirable to dormice as a nesting location. Similarly, the relatively pale colour of the Earthboard meant that the interior was not as dark as that of the original plastic tubes, again making it less attractive to dormice.

After a period in the field the Earthboard tube proved a poor fit for the wooden insert and allowed light and draughts to enter the nesting space.

A further concern related to how dormouse tubes are generally used. It is typical for ecologists to collect all of their tubes at the end of the survey season and re-use them in subsequent years. It is unusual for tubes to be left in the field, unless they cannot be located for any reason. Equally, there is a cost factor involved. Although Earthboard is suitable for recycling with cardboard via kerbside waste collections, which makes their disposal preferable to traditional plastic tubes, the need to purchase new sleeves at the beginning of each season isn’t an attractive option for most ecologists.

So, what next?

Due to the lack of positive feedback, along with concerns about the practicalities and economics of these biodegradable dormouse tubes, we have decided not to continue with their development. Despite the fact that this particular project didn’t ultimately lead anywhere, however, we are incredibly proud of our continuing endeavours to improve our products and make sure they are as user friendly and environmentally responsible as possible.

We would like to thank everyone that was involved in field testing this product and taking the time to provide us with such valuable feedback. It is only through constant communication and cooperation with our valued customers that we can continue to design, manufacture and provide such high-quality products and support conservationists worldwide.

Echo Meter Touch – Upgrading for iOS

Wildlife Acoustics recently announced that the Echo Meter Touch (Standard and Professional versions), can now be upgraded so that they can be used with Apple iOS devices. There are a few important steps to take when upgrading. 

Which Apple Devices can be used? 

Wildlife Acoustics have stated that only new Apple devices that have a native USB-C connector on them will work. This means that any lightning connector-based devices will not work with the upgraded EMT even if you have a lightning to USB-C cable. If you have an iPhone 15 (all versions) or later you can use the upgraded Echo Meter Touch. 

How to upgrade your Echo Meter Touch

Firstly, make sure you have the EMT with the USB-C connector. Micro-USB will not work with this upgrade specifically for Apple devices. Here are the steps you have to take: 

1. Check to make sure you have the latest Wildlife Acoustics app installed on your Android Device. When you update the app it should display an announcement telling you that Apple is supported.

2. Plug your EMT into the Android device.

3. Using the menu found in the top left corner of the screen (displayed as three horizontal bars). Select Settings.

4. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the Settings menu, and select Advanced Settings. 

At this stage the app will tell you what version of firmware you have on your EMT. If it is version 2 or later, then you do not need to update to get iOS compatibility. However if there is a new firmware update, even if your device has version 2.0 or later, you should update the EMT to get the best possible experience from the EMT. 

5. If the EMT is shown as having version 1.3 the app will offer you a later version of firmware.

6. Select Update Module Firmware – DO NOT UNPLUG YOUR EMT Device

7. Let the app perform the upgrade and is will display the notice saying a firmware upgrade has been successful. 

8. Once, this appears, remove your EMT from the Android device, and re-insert it to double check the device is updated. 

Now that you have accomplished the firmware update you should insert the EMT into your Apple device. If you have downloaded the Wildlife Acoustics app to the Apple device it should function correctly. 

 

Spring Exploring: Equipment for Wildlife Watching

As spring emerges, naturalists across the UK are dusting off their kit to begin exploring the great outdoors. From bird watching to bug hunting, we have equipment to help you explore. Below, we have compiled a list of must-have equipment for wildlife watching this spring. 


Viking Cygnus Monocular 

Young boy looking through a monocular in the woods.
The Viking Cygnus Monocular in-field.

Excellent optics combined with a grippy, rubberised armour make this handy monocular the ideal companion this spring. At only 287g, The Viking Cygnus Monocular is a lightweight, showerproof monocular with a small form factor, designed for easy handling for any hand size. Created for quick access and target acquisition, this monocular features a smooth action barrel adjuster for precise focus adjustment and a larger objective lens for high colour imagery.  

For a smaller, even more lightweight alternative weighing only 140g, the 8×25 MK2 magnification monocular is ideal for quick and easy use, where a smaller objective diameter lens is counteracted by its handy size. 

Opticron Explorer Compact Binoculars 

Black binoculars.

The Explorer Compact Binoculars by Opticron would make an excellent addition to any naturalists kit this spring. A fully armoured, roof prism body provides comfort and extra grip for comfortable carrying infield. With a weatherproof, fold-down design, these are ideal for transport, and can be stored easily due to their size and weight (195g). The ribbed focus wheel and twist-type eye cups ensure a good field of view with easy focusing, and the use of multicoloured lens and high reflection coated prisms provide bright, crisp images. Available in 8 x 21 and 10 x 21.  

Nikon Sportstar EX DCF Compact Binoculars 

Black binoculars

Available in 8×25 and 10×25, these high-quality, pocket-sized binoculars are waterproof and fog free. Turn and slide rubber eye cups allow for easy positioning, and multilayer coated lenses deliver a high optical performance with great clarity and well-balanced colour. The field of view is ideal for observing large landscapes, and partnered with a good close focusing distance, these compact binoculars also work great with insects. Weighing only 300g, these ultra-lightweight binoculars are ideal for travelling or working infield.  

Crushable Pocket Butterfly Net

A hand holding a butterfly net

Designed with a spring steel frame, this Crushable Pocket Butterfly net can twist for an easy collapse and can be folded down to pocket-size. This foldable, yet robust design allows for easy transportation and storage whilst in-field. The net is supplied with a short, brass handle but can also be used with telescopic and push-fit net handles if you wish to extend its reach.  

Walkstool Basic 

A black and grey folding stool.

Designed and manufactured in Sweden, the Walkstool Basic is a simple, 3-point stool made for outdoorsmen of any kind. Suitable for home use and in-field work, this compact resting stool weighs only 725g, making it ideal for packing and transporting. Available in 24”, the Walkstool Basic is designed with comfort and sturdy support in mind. This highly portable stool has plastic foot ends and telescopic, extendable legs to account for uneven terrain. The sturdy aluminium frame and durable polyester seat make this stool a worthy addition to any explorers kit this spring.  

Pocket Guide to the Bumblebees of Great Britain and Ireland 

A hand holding a small book with a bumblebee on the front.

This handy, pocket-sized guide to the naturally occurring bumblebees of Great Britain and Ireland is a richly illustrated work accessible to beginners and more experienced naturalists alike. Each species has a dedicated double page spread, detailing its characteristics, habitat, distribution and sex differentiation, among others. This portable pocket guide provides an ‘at-a-glance’ guide to species. Ideal for exploring this spring, this handy book provides an informative peak into the world of bumblebee identification.  

Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland  

A hand holding a guide to butterflies with a background of grass

Another publication in the Bloomsbury Wildlife Guides collection, the Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland features over 600 detailed illustrations on each species and their life stages. Detailing species information, distribution and life history, this pocketbook provides an accessible, easytouse guide to butterflies in Britain.   

Field Studies Council Fold-out Guides  

Identification guide showing seaweed species

The Field Studies Council Fold-out Guides are ideal for days where full-size field guides are cumbersome. These handy species identification charts cover an eclectic range of themes, from mammal tracks and woodland plants to seashells and jellyfish. These weatherproof guides are a practical accompaniment to a spring stroll, find the full collection here 

No Mow May: A Celebration of Wildflower Power

This spring, traditional British lawns are out. Throughout the month of May, Plantlife urges us to let our gardens be wild with #NoMowMay. This exciting initiative encourages us to embrace a wild lawn this spring, providing plants, invertebrates and other wildlife the opportunity to make our gardens a home. No Mow May could transform your green spaces into a colourful kaleidoscope of flowers you never knew were there. From buttercups to bee orchids, here at NHBS we have had an astonishing array of wildflowers in previous years, and we are hoping that this year will be the same!

Knowing when, and how, to mow your lawn to encourage wildflower growth and minimise grass domination can be confusing, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to supporting native wildlife. In anticipation of May, we outline the important things to consider when maintaining your lawn over the coming seasons.


Tightly manicured garden lawns are unable to host the diverse communities associated with a natural space. The artificially constructed environment, with uniform grass length and limited species, prevents our native wildflowers from blooming and our vital insects from settling. Lawn feeds and fertilisers often used to maintain our lawns can result in unnaturally high levels of soil fertility. Such levels can unintentionally diminish the diversity of flora within our gardens, since native wildflowers are adapted to low-nutrient conditions. Associated with higher carbon emissions, time consumption and overall cost, many are steering clear of a high maintenance lawn this spring. 

A spring-flowering lawn provides a whole host of benefits for the wildlife within our gardens. Opting for a wild, native lawn provides essential breeding habitats, food sources and physical protection for a number of species. These spaces give wildflowers a chance to bloom and set seed, benefitting both insects, and the predators who rely on them.  

 

A bee orchid in the centre, in front of a wild lawn
Our Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera) from #NoMowMay 2022. Image by Oli Haines.

So, how and when should we mow?   

Less is more! Switching up your mowing routine, or refraining from a mow in some areas, is a great way to maximise diversity in your garden. After a short time, your outdoor spaces can flourish into a haven for wildlife. From voles to vetches, and even British reptiles, watch your garden transform from monoculture to a wild refuge.  

Varied grass length, wild edges, or longer patches of lawn are great for attracting local wildlife to your garden. You may find orchids, ox-eye daisy and knapweed in these longer areas, which also provide cover for small mammals that may be wandering through, and shorter areas can boost pollen availability from low-lying flowers, like buttercups and clover. Plantlife advocates for a varied mowing approach with longer patches throughout the garden, alongside shorter areas (aiming to mimic grazing pressures of different herbivorous species in the wild). For instance, you might decide to maintain shorter pathways and areas around patios, but allow other areas of your green spaces to grow freely.  

It is important to remove cuttings after lawn maintenance to prevent excess nitrogen in the soil, thus reducing nitrophilic plants (species with a preference for nitrate rich habitat, typically from fertilisers and the decomposition of organic material) in your garden. ‘Cut and rot’ management can be counterproductive when cultivating wildflowers, as low levels of soil nutrition are preferred by many and will harbour the most diversity. In fact, frequent fertilisation and additional nutrition can result in an overall decline of wildflowers, leading to a dominance of nitrophilic plant species.   

A garden during No Mow May with varied grass length, wildlife corridors and vegetable patches.
A garden with varied grass length during No Mow May. Image by Allan Harris via Flickr.

Knowing when, and how, to mow during the year is key to maximise flowering of wildflower species, while simultaneously preventing grass domination: to do this, it is generally recommended to mow three times a year; early spring, late summer and in autumn.  

A 3-inch, early spring mow is beneficial to kickstart the season, promoting early growth and blooming.  An early mow can also help to tackle nitrophiles, like nettles and cow parsley. This can help to prevent competition, allowing wildflowers to grow undisturbed. However, be wary of mowing too early, as this can prevent wildflower seeding and will impact your gardens growth next year.  

A summer mow in late July, or August, removes the previous growth, encouraging the bloom of wildflowers later in the season. As far as insects are concerned, the later the mow, the better. Insect species tend to hatch in the warmer parts of spring and summer, so a mow in late August will prevent harm to hatching individuals. 

Around late November, an autumn mow can help to promote reseeding and encourages germination in the following spring. Allow the wildflowers in your lawn to finish flowering and let them go to seed, a mow after this allows the seedheads to disperse seeds into your lawn. An autumn cut can also keep grass growth under control, further encouraging germination.  

There are also certain considerations to be wary of when forming wild areas in your garden. These habitats will attract a great number of species, who may make your lawn a home. Best practice involves leaving an area of your lawn untouched to house these species, but if you are looking to tidy up your garden after No Mow May, wildlife must be considered. Wildlife in our lawns can be harmed in the process of tidying up our outside spaces. It is recommended to disturb, or walk through patches to be maintained to shoo species from the area. On the first mow, start with a higher cut to give smaller animals a chance to escape. When mowing the lawn, start with garden paths and areas of high footfall, working toward the edges of the garden. This, again, provides wildlife with an escape route through the boundaries of your garden. If your garden has fences or hedgerows, a wildlife corridor along your borders is another way to support visiting animals. Untouched, or lightly managed, strips along these areas can provide a safe space for travel around the garden, providing cover and protection from predators.  

hedgehog looking out from a bush
Hedgehog by Kalle Gustafsson via Flickr.

How can we prepare for No Mow May?  

If you currently use fertilisers, lawn feed, moss killers or pesticides, abandoning the use of these additives in your garden will allow the soil to recover from these harmful chemicals. This can provide microscopic and invertebrate soil communities a chance to recover, improving the overall health of your soil.  

For some of us, early bloomers may already be present in our gardens. Cowslip, violets and primroses may be popping up on our lawns, showcasing the first few flowers of the season. You may consider allowing these to go undisturbed, giving them a head start for spring. Having said that, the best way to prepare for No Mow May is a 3-inch April cut to encourage a strong period of spring growth.  

Whether or not you decide to mow the lawn this spring, consider leaving an area of your garden wild. Whether this be a natural lawn or rough borders, we hope you feel inspired to take part in this year’s #NoMowMay! 

 

This Week in Biodiversity News – 15th April

Environment 

The UK’s first national assessment of earthworms has revealed that their populations decrease by 2% annually, and overall earthworm population numbers have fallen by a third over the past 25 years. This study, conducted by an ecologist at the British Ornithology Trust (BTO), also concluded that the largest decline in this species has been observed in broadleaf woodland ecosystems. This may now be having detrimental effects on other species, such as woodland birds, who have seen a subsequent population decline of 37% since 1970. Barnes’ study concludes that, if these results are found elsewhere, the long-term decline of this keystone species could affect our ability to grow crops, as worms aid the growth of 140m tonnes of food a year. It may also have catastrophic effects on soil health, ecosystem structure, function, and above-ground wildlife.

Earthworm diving into the soil between some blades of grass with leaves on the floor.
20060131 earthworm dives by schizoform, via flickr.

Global rainforest deforestation continues at a rate of ten football pitches per minute. Despite widespread efforts to minimise deforestation across the Brazilian and Colombian Amazon, new data has revealed that 37,000 sq km was still removed from previously undisturbed rainforests in 2023. Large increases were noted in Bolivia, Laos and Nicaragua, which has now offset the positive progress made by other countries in the reduction of deforestation. Experts have warned that governments are unlikely to meet their climate and biodiversity commitments due to the continuation of mass deforestation, with many going against the COP28 agreement to halt and reverse the loss and degradation of forests in the next six years. This puts the 2030 zero-deforestation target even further out of reach. 

New research has revealed that national parks are failing to tackle the biodiversity crisis, despite these important areas covering 10% of England and 20% of Wales. Due to lack of government funding, the direct grant set aside for national parks has been cut by 40% since 2010, resulting in poor peatland condition, no change in woodland biodiversity in a 5-year period, and a significant decline in river and lake health. Aside from a lack of funding, national parks are not restoring nature as only 13.7% of the land is publicly owned, with the remaining 86.3% privately owned and often intensely farmed. Campaign for National Parks is calling for a new deal that ensures the government sets a clear mission to increase nature protection and restoration in the UK’s national parks, and subsequently double core national park grants to reinstate this vital funding to its 2010 level. 

Dartmoor landscape with cloudy sky but sun shining on the grass, with the moors in the background and a tor stone in the foreground.
Dartmoor by dreamgenie, via flickr.

Discovery and reintroduction 

One of the world’s most elusive moles has been sighted in Australia. The Northern Marsupial Mole, or Kakarratul, lives in one of the most remote parts of Australia and is only sighted a few times each decade. Due to their rarity, authorities are still unsure of their population size and these creatures remain a mystery to most of the world. However, the Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa Martu rangers discovered the rare, blind Northern Marsupial while working in the Great Sandy Desert, making this the second species sighting in six months. 

Progress has been made in the first ever shark translocation project, which aims to reintroduce Zebra Sharks to the Raja Ampat archipelago in Indonesia after the species was declared functionally extinct due to overfishing and habitat degradation. This is the first initiative attempting to translocate shark eggs from an aquarium to a hatchery before releasing them into the wild. Two sharks have recently hatched on the island of Kri and will be kept in tanks until they are strong enough to be released into the wild. The project aims to release 500 Zebra Sharks by 2032 in the hope of creating a genetically diverse breeding population that will aid long-term species recovery. If successful, this rewilding project will set a strong example of how to re-establish endangered species populations in marine ecosystems and would be a breakthrough for future conservation efforts. 

Zebra Shark swimming in the sea over a rocky seabed with fish swimming above it.
Zebra Shark by Daniel Sasse, via wikimediacommons.

Climate crisis 

A record hot March leads to fears of faster rates of climate change. Last month was the hottest March on record, reaching 1.68°C warmer than in pre-industrial times. This marks the tenth record breaking monthly temperature in a row, and scientists are concerned that they may not temporarily fall, as expected, after the El Niño period due to the warm weather experienced at the end of 2023. Researchers are now trying to ascertain whether the changes in El Niño are a phase shift or just an anomaly in long-term climate trends. Although they are unsure how conditions in the Pacific Ocean will evolve over the coming months, current predictions suggest it could be replaced by a full La Niña cooling phase. 

Q&A with Matt Larsen-Daw and Alana Scott: Celebrating 70 years of the Mammal Society

The Mammal Society, founded in 1954, is a UK charity formed to support evidence-based mammal conservation in Britain and Ireland. The Mammal Society is involved in promoting and enhancing conservation initiatives working to restore mammals and their habitats, with the overall mission of securing thriving populations of native species.   

The Mammal Society will be celebrating their 70th anniversary in 2024, which will be the focus of this year’s annual mammal conference. The conference will focus on the past challenges and successes of mammal conservation, and discuss opportunities for future work.  

Matt Larsen-Daw is the CEO of the Mammal Society. Having worked with WWF for some time leading education programmes, Matt is now working with the local mammal groups at the base of the Society’s work. Alana Scott works as communications officer for the Society, with a strong history in conservation biology and ecology. She also has significant achievements in the reintroduction of Water Voles in southern Cornwall.  

In anticipation of the upcoming National Mammal Week (22nd 28th April), we recently had the opportunity to talk with Matt and Alana about the successes of The Mammal Society, their upcoming 70th anniversary and goals for the future. 

Small dormouse resting on a branch in front of leaves.
National Mammal Week is an annual event encouraging awareness and conservation of mammals. Image by The Mammal Society.

Firstly, could you give us a brief insight into how The Mammal Society came into existence back in 1954? 

Seventy years ago, in 1954, The Mammal Society was formed under the name of The Mammal Society of the British Isles (TMSBI), following a meeting of prominent zoologists, naturalists and the Zoological Society of London. The aim was to link amateurs and professionals in promoting the study of mammals, and by doing so to power conservation of mammals at a time when an alarming decline in the populations of several species was already being observed. 

Three years later the society started to deliver on its remit when it published its first book – A Field Guide to British Deer. Perhaps some well-thumbed 1st editions of this vintage text are still sitting on shelves? More likely readers may have one of the beautifully illustrated 4th edition copies of this handbook, published to coincide with another significant anniversary – the 60th year of the British Deer Society – in 2023. The British Deer Society is one of several organisations (including the Bat Conservation Trust and SeaWatch) that started their lives as subgroups within The Mammal Society, until their objectives became sufficiently ambitious and broad in scope to warrant a separate charity. This highlights one of the key roles that The Mammal Society has played over the past seven decades. By acting as a lightning rod for discussion and research around the big issues in mammal science and conservation, the Society has convened experts and enthusiasts to foster collaboration and initiate vital projects at all levels of mammal conservation. From collaborative research projects to species-focused organisations and grassroots local groups, the work of the Society has helped shape the mammal conservation sector we see today.  

What do you think has been the key to the enduring success of The Mammal Society? 

A key factor in the ongoing success of The Mammal Society is the community of mammal specialists and nature enthusiasts that has formed around it in the form of our members and local groups network. The staff team at the Society has never been big – in fact we are often assumed to be much bigger than we are, due to our vibrant social channels and the large influence we have on policy and practice. Our Council of Trustees, our Committees, and our ever-growing community of local mammal champions are just as important in the achievement of our aims. We are nothing without our members, and we hope that we give plenty back to those who join us in our mission to support and protect British mammals. Members receive our acclaimed seasonal magazine Mammal News, receive substantial discounts on our trainings and events, and have the opportunity to influence the priorities and projects of the Society. Why not join, or gift membership, today?!  

At the hub of this thriving community of volunteers and supporters, the staff team arranges forums, events, training, campaigns and research projects that channel the huge energy and expertise in the wider community, while ultimately strengthening and energising that same community. 

Our small size has allowed us to be agile and respond to urgent challenges quickly and efficiently – such as the discovery of the non-native Greater White-toothed Shrews in Britain in 2022. It also means our overheads as a charity are low – ensuring that we can put every penny of membership fees and donations to good use in our work to ensure a bright future for mammals. 

A group of people smiling in a field with a wheelbarrow.
ARK (Action for the River Kennet) participants of a Harvest Mouse Survey, 2023.

The world has changed a lot in the last 70 years. Have the key purposes and goals of the charity evolved during this time to adapt to this changing world, or have they broadly remained the same? 

Conservation science is powerless without first being able to answer the questions ‘what to conserve?’ and ‘where to conserve?’; to do this we need to know, for each species, how large the population is, where it is (and was) distributed, and its status, threats and requirements. This science is exactly what The Mammal Society has been promoting since its inception, seeking to ensure that whatever the approach needed, it is undertaken in the right way – informed by science and data. 

This central remit has certainly not changed. However, the role of The Mammal Society in the conservation sector was a hot topic of discussion in the first few decades. In 1963, a resolution was passed at a meeting that the Society should be ‘a scientific body to which those in authority can turn for factual information about mammals and mammal biology’, upon which to base a judgement of the conflicting claims of different champions. To be accepted as such a body, the Society should not itself become involved in any way with […] controversial matters. In other words, The Mammal Society should gather and present scientific facts but not campaign for any particular action to be taken. This perspective shifted within ten years, with members wanting the Society to be prepared to call for action where it was scientifically justified. Nowadays we certainly consider ourselves to have a key role not only in establishing scientific evidence, but also in ensuring it is seen, understood and acted upon to bring positive outcomes for mammals. Communicating the science and advocating for its application are as important as the science itself if we want change. 

The other facet of our work that has become more important in recent years is communicating the importance and wonder of mammals to public audiences, in order to build public support for mammal conservation and encourage more engagement with life sciences – especially among younger people and communities currently under-represented in conservation. This objective is part of our remit to strengthen and energise the conservation sector. For example, our annual Mammal Photographer of the Year competition allows us to spotlight photographers who have captured beautiful and surprising images of mammals in the wild and inspire others to share in their wonder and excitement at spotting our elusive wild neighbours going about their everyday lives.  

In 1995, The Mammal Society entered a new phase when it established a network of local groups that could monitor the state of mammals in their area and respond to local issues while playing a key role in contributing to a better national picture of mammal populations. Through this process of evolution, The Mammal Society moved from connecting amateurs to professionals in mammal conservation, to providing anyone concerned about the decline of mammals with ways to get involved and directly help tackle the key issues. 

Some of these original groups are still going strong, and others have joined in the nearly 30 years since then. Led by volunteers, these groups provide opportunities for nature-lovers from all walks of life in their community to support citizen science activities that provide essential data and insight to inform mammal research, conservation practice and landscape management policy. 

Now we have more than 30 local mammal groups in the network, and their contribution to projects such as the Mammal Atlas, the Harvest Mouse Survey and many other projects cannot be under-estimated – as well as the profound impact many have had on mammal populations locally through their targeted efforts. The Mammal Society have sought to guide and support these groups over the years, but we feel there is much more we could do. 

Our new Local Mammal Groups Strategy (reflected in our new Local Groups Handbook) sets out how we intend to invest in growing, strengthening and diversifying the community of local mammal champions that participate in mammal conservation at the grassroots level through the local groups network. 

Red squirrel peeking out from behind a Silver Birch tree on the right and directly looking at a Bumblebee flying towards the tree.
The Squirrel and the Bee. Image by Garry Watson, winner of the Mammal Photographer of the Year competition, 2024.

Biodiversity loss and the climate crisis are key issues for everyone involved in conservation at present. What are your main goals for the coming years and decades?

Seventy years on, the challenges that need to be overcome to ensure a bright future for wildlife and people are just as daunting. This means that over the decades to come, our role as convener and mobiliser in the world of mammal conservation will be more important than ever. There is no doubt that reversing the loss of nature will require work from everyone, and the more joined-up those efforts are, the more positive the impact for wildlife and people. 

As we move into our eighth decade, we continue to do everything we can to foster collaboration and inclusion in mammal conservation. We aim to bring the scientific insight and expertise of our committees, members, council and staff to strengthen and support any initiatives that can help address the threats faced by our native mammals. As an active member of Wildlife & Countryside Link, we are already adding our voice to those of varied stakeholders across the nature sector to call for urgent action to address issues and redress shortcomings in policy and practice. Via European Mammal Conservation Europe, we have strengthened joint challenges on issues such as the protected status of wolves in the EU. We are active contributors to the RSPB-led UK State of Nature Report, and members of coalitions and steering groups on various species recovery strategies. We continue to engage with government to ensure that policy and priorities are informed by science. 

Our commitment to ensuring that everyone understands the importance of mammals, and can play a role in monitoring and protecting mammals, is reflected in our reinvigorated approach to supporting local groups – including an equipment loan scheme, free training for local groups, and an ambitious plan to see at least three new groups in currently under-represented urban areas by 2025. Alongside this our new school programme launches this year, creating opportunities for young people to explore and support mammals, and prioritising schools in areas of deprivation and serving communities under-represented in conservation. 

 

A group of children sat at a school desk dissecting owl pellets.
Owl pellet dissection as part of the new school programme.

Seventy years as a successful charity is an incredible achievement, not to mention the research, support and training you have undertaken and provided during this time. How are you marking and celebrating this important milestone? 

We’re spending 2024 looking back, and looking forward. We want to celebrate what’s been achieved over the past 70 years but also to take the opportunity to look at the challenges ahead and how we can all play a role in meeting them. 

To help us highlight this significant milestone, talented illustrator Silvie Tonellotto has designed our beautiful 70th anniversary badge, which will feature on communications throughout 2024. You can see more of her work on Instagram (@silvietonelottodesigns). 

An illustrated dormouse sat inside the number 70.
The 70th anniversary badge, designed by Silvie Tonellotto.

One of the key things we are focusing on is celebrating the people whose actions are key to ensuring a bright future for mammals, and especially to show the rich diversity of people and variety of roles people can play in supporting mammal conservation. We have therefore marked this 70th year with the launch of a new awards scheme – Mammal Champions. NHBS generously supported the prizes for the 2024 awards, and we’re delighted to have been able to shine a spotlight on some incredible volunteers, campaigners and thought leaders. 

National Mammal Week (celebrated in the autumn in previous years, but now moving to a new home in the spring) is 22nd to 28th April 2024. We’ll be celebrating the wonderful individuals shortlisted for Mammal Champions Awards, while also providing loads of opportunities for anyone in Britain and Ireland to find ways to become mammal champions in their own lives and communities. 

Learn more and get involved through The Mammal Society website.   

NHBS Guide to Newt Survey Equipment

Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) – CC Leonora (Ellie) Enking via Flickr

Great Crested Newts are the UK’s most strictly protected amphibian, requiring licensed ecological surveys if a development may affect them. As the first signs of spring emerge, ecologists are preparing for the start of this year’s newt survey season. Below, we have compiled a list of the most common newt survey methods and the equipment needed for each, so that you can ensure you have everything you need as the survey season approaches.

Netting
NHBS Traditional Amphibian Net

Netting for adult and larval newts can be a useful tool in both survey and relocation. Here at NHBS, we have designed an amphibian net specifically for the safe and efficient capture of newts. The net bag is attached by a wide velcro collar which prevents newts from becoming caught between the frame and the bag. The bag can also be removed from the frame to be disinfected between sites. The seams have been carefully placed so that they do not come into contact with the front edge of the net, and the material of the bag is a soft 2mm mesh. The net head is 300mm wide and comes with a sturdy, wooden 1.2m handle. We also sell a diamond-shaped amphibian net that comes in either standard depth or deep. Its shape is ideal for easy and safe capture for amphibians and is also available in a collapsible frame for easy transport between sites.

Dewsbury Trapping

The Dewsbury trap is an innovative design of newt refuge trap that is exclusive to NHBS. The clever design of this trap ensures that any trapped newts have access to both fresh air at the top of the trap and a thermally stable refuge at the bottom of the pond. They can be easily deployed from the edge of the pond meaning that not only is this trap safer for newts, but it is also safer and more convenient for surveyors too. In preliminary trials the Dewsbury trap was found to be more effective at catching newts than traditional bottle trapping methods and can be left unattended for up to 24 hours meaning night visits are not necessarily required.

Please note: we recommend that you contact your national licensing authority (Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, etc) before you purchase this trap. The Dewsbury Newt Trap is not included within either the Level 1 or Level 2 Natural England Class Survey Licence and a separate licence is required

Bottle Trapping

Bottle trapping is a popular method of surveying for both detecting and assessing populations. It can, however, become quite labour intensive, especially if you are looking to cut bottles into traps yourself. To save yourself some valuable time, we sell pre-cut bottle traps with the head inverted and ready to deploy. These can be bought in packs of 40 or 120 and are cut from 2L PET bottles with a 28mm neck diameter. Alternatively, we sell the whole bottles if you would rather cut the traps yourself.

Torching

Torching is a less invasive and effective method of counting/observing newts without the need for capturing them. Torches are recommended to be between 500,000 and one million candlepower and need to ideally last several hours at a time. The Cluson CB2 range is very popular among ecologists and provides 1 million candlepower with long lasting battery life and an easy-to-use pistol type grip. 

Drift Fencing

Fencing can either be used to temporarily exclude or contain newts in mitigation projects. It can also be used to aid the capture of newts for relocation and is typically a short barrier with the base buried underground. Our Tristar Newt Fencing comes in rolls of 100m, is made of UV stabilised polythene sheeting and tinted green. It is designed to resist weather damage and has a life expectancy of 5 years, making it ideal for temporary mitigation projects during development works. It is easy and simple to put up and can be fixed into place with our soft wood stakes.

Pitfall Traps

Often, pitfall traps are used alongside drift fencing in order to trap and translocate newts in relocation projects. They consist of a container that is buried underground often flush with the edge of drift fencing. Both rectangular buckets and round buckets have been shown to be effective and we supply several options depending on your preferences.

Recommended Accessories

Light & Dry Micro First Aid Kit

Bamboo Canes

dialMax Vernier Dial Caliper

Snowbee Granite PVC Thigh Waders

Snowbee Lightweight Neoprene Gloves

Replacement Amphibian Net Bag

Broad Spectrum Disinfectant Tablets

Breaksafe Thermometer

A note on licensing

Please note that Great Crested Newts and its habitat are protected by law. Any Great Crested Newt survey work must be undertaken by a licensed ecologist. Different levels of license are required for different survey and mitigation methods. For more information, please visit https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/great-crested-newt-licences#great-crested-newt-survey-and-research-licences