Sharpham Wild for People: an Interview with Jack Skuse

The beautiful and historic Sharpham Estate runs alongside the River Dart just outside Totnes in South Devon. Beginning this year, a three-year project called Wild for People, run by the Sharpham Trust under a National Lottery Heritage Fund project, will begin to enhance the biodiversity of this 550-acre area, aided by a passionate team of conservation trainees. Working with Ambios Ltd, who are based on the Estate, this project aims to turn more of the Sharpham Estate organic, re-wild significant parts of the landscape and encourage more people to interact with the nature there.

Jack Skuse, director of Ambios, recently took the time to chat with us about the Sharpham Wild for People project. In this inspiring conversation we talk about the practicalities of rewilding working alongside food production, how the Covid pandemic has affected the first year of the project, and his tips for people wanting to get into a career in conservation.


Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the Sharpham Estate and how the land is currently used?

Sharpham is an ancient landscape. People are known to have lived here from at least 1260. The landscape as we currently see it was designed this way during a period when the estate was owned by Philamon Pownell. He was a sea captain who captured a Spanish galleon laden with treasure from South America. With his wealth he set about transforming Sharpham, building the Palladian villa (designed by famous architect Robert Taylor) and creating the Sharpham Parkland – sweeping away hedgerows to open up vistas from the main carriage drives across the estate and into Totnes, and planting trees to accentuate and frame the views. Since his death the estate has had different owners, however, the parkland has remained largely intact, with the vineyard being the main alteration to this landscape in more recent times. Today Ambios rent and manage part of the estate (80 acres) and have recently signed the lease for a further 50 acres for rewilding and nature conservation training, and in partnership with United Response provide a care day service for adults with learning difficulties and disabilities.

What are your current trainees busy with at the moment?

Ambios offer three-month traineeships for people looking for a career in nature conservation, alongside other nature training opportunities in the UK and EU. Our current crop of trainees have been here since early July, having been through an early Covid-19 quarantine period. The first part of the traineeship is about building confidence in nature, often supporting the academic education many would have had at university with practical skills and applied knowledge – the skills the sector demands. This includes species ID (birds, plants, bats, etc), technical language training, practical skills including basic carpentry and land-based work, as well as engaging with the public through online platforms. Now that they have developed some of these skills, the central part of the placement is about taking ownership of a project that relates to rewilding. As this is our first year rewilding, there are many baseline surveys the trainees are carrying out with our team of trainers supporting their work. Surveys include grasslands, crickets and grasshoppers, river birds, butterflies. One of our trainees has also taken on the task of producing content for our website around rewilding and linking with other projects/information so that people looking at our site can network into the world of rewilding – a learning resource. This is in collaboration with Rewilding Britain.

How has the Covid pandemic affected the project this year?

It is impossible to imagine a year like this one and, as with all businesses, we have been significantly affected. The day service in partnership with United Response closed, and only now we are beginning to reopen. This meant much of the day-to-day work of the farm had to be reappointed to our long term volunteer team – right in the middle of our lambing and calving period! Many of our trainees come from the EU, and our traineeships saw reduced numbers. Our risk assessment put in place some strict measures to ensure everyone was safe and followed protocol. Some of our staff were furloughed meaning our work had to simplify and streamline, and some of our training content moved online (our Effective Camera Trapping Course for instance). Meanwhile, we have been working to enter into a comprehensive agri-environment scheme for our new land to rewild (50 acres) to subsidise our farming practice and allow us to prioritise wildlife. Given the land is listed historic parkland this is not without its complexity – see below!

One of the aims of the Wild for People project is to help more people engage with nature on the estate. Is the area open to the public and/or do you host events that local people can get involved with?

In partnership with Sharpham Trust we have been awarded £177,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to run a comprehensive public programme of education and events alongside our rewilding. This naturally has had a slower start than originally planned due to the pandemic but the funding has allowed us to offer fully subsidised placements on our traineeship. Alongside this we will start up a new volunteer day later this year to allow hands on engagement with rewilding. The process over the next three years – the duration of the Lottery project and the first three years (of five) of our tenancy and agri-environment countryside stewardship programme – will be to reinstate the historic parkland at Sharpham, which is in a degraded state, and convert the land to organic status. This will involve planting 140 trees in their original location from over 200 years ago, repairing the bridge over the Sharpham Marsh and allowing permissive access to the historic viewpoint with the installation of kissing gates. It will also allow us to fence the perimeter of the holding to allow stock to freely roam across the full 50 acres, choosing where to forage, dung and rest uninterrupted, passing between the two parcels of land either side of the public access farm track with the aid of gates. This work programme will sit with our public invitation volunteer days, our nature conservation traineeship and the work programme for the people United Response support. Sharpham Trust will also run a series of public events and school visits, culminating in an annual Bioblitz where we can study the impact of our rewilding over an intensive 24-hour wildlife survey period.

In terms of rewilding, do you feel it is important to strike a balance between the land being ‘productive/useful’ and leaving it to nature?

In terms of the balance of farming and wildlife, my feeling is that we need to view the role of the countryside through a very different lens to the one we have been viewing it through. The countryside provides many different things to us; from the food we eat and the employment we gain to our recreation and wellbeing, to other ‘ecosystem services’ including flood defence, carbon capture and of course for wildlife. We have become very efficient at food production, but this has been to the detriment of wildlife, where we have seen the catastrophic decline in species number and diversity since the industrial revolution. In order to halt this decline we need a fundamentally different set of priorities and management approaches for the countryside, that encourage and importantly fund wildlife friendly initiatives. Rewilding is, I believe, the best, most sustainable, most captivating and acceptable approach to wholescale land management for wildlife.

Productive agricultural land should, in my view, have food production as its main objective. However, I believe that marginal land, under a skewed farm subsidy model that pays for land to be farmed regardless of its productivity, should have a different value placed upon it, and should be (un)managed accordingly. A great example is our land at Sharpham. Many of the uplands, steep sided valleys and unproductive farmland could see a regeneration in wildlife that should be supported by a different farm subsidy model and diversified economies that would provide employment, bring people back to the countryside and connect people in a deeper way with nature. And whereby the cumulative benefit would be seen not just in increased wildlife, but in our collective effort to become carbon neutral with thriving ecosystems and connected communities. Our small project is part of this and with a public engagement agenda we hope to share these values with as wide an audience as we can so people can see the true, intrinsic value of nature and the role the countryside has on all our lives.

What is the greatest challenge of the project?

There are many challenges to our project, aside from the obvious and immediate Covid-19. Brexit will see a different relationship with the EU, and the ability of European trainees to study with us to share good practice and learn about rewilding across the continent may be compromised. The values I mentioned above should be supported under the new, post-Brexit ELMS farm subsidy scheme that will replace countryside stewardship in the coming years. However, as we enter a recession the budget available to support these initiatives may be reduced and turn landowners away from wildlife-friendly practices towards more intensive agriculture. These economic factors are very relevant to our long term aspirations and in inspiring and motivating other local landowners in joining the wildlife resistance.

The landscape at Sharpham that is being rewilded has a significant cultural and historic value already – it is an iconic landscape, set within the South Devon AONB and has a grade 2* listing for its historic importance, as well as a national cycle route passing through it. The changes we will see under the new rewilding regime will change the way this landscape will look and feel. Our initial work to restore the historic parkland aims to honour its heritage; our ongoing rewilding will give it a new and relevant role long into the future, and will be part of its story. We hope to be able to share this story so that people can see the value of it, and balance these different values.

We have learnt from the Knepp Estate (a large rewilding project in the east of the UK set on a lowland farm) some of the challenges that rewilding sites face. Indeed, in running our existing holding we have seen dog attacks on our livestock and littering, with livestock eating waste left by people enjoying the dramatic walks and views of the Dart Valley. Our mixed stocking will bring their own challenges when interacting with people, but we have measures in place to manage this risk. Newborn calves for example are very cute to look at, but their mothers can be very protective and feel any proximity to their offspring as a threat. We are definitely not taking these challenges lightly, however, we know that the majority of the public are aware of and respect the countryside.

The training scheme offers the trainees a great range of practical field skills and conservation experience. What advice would you give to a young (or not so young!) person who is wanting to get into conservation as a career?

Most of the employers we engage with say that that experience is key. This is however the challenge that prospective employees face – employers requiring experience and employees finding it increasingly difficult to gain valuable experience. I’d say keep going! Find creative ways to gain experience, whether it’s practicing your ID skills in your garden or out on walks. When you get the chance to apply or make it through to interview show enthusiasm, be genuine and authentic – the people interviewing you are human too – and try to use good, relevant examples to prove your passion. Also try to be true to yourself – if the job you are applying for isn’t necessarily the one you would hope to do long term, be honest with yourself about it, and don’t give up!!!

In the meantime, keep linked with job advertisers like Countryside Jobs Service and environmentjob and build your network on professional/social media platforms (like LinkedIn) with employers – nature conservation is a small world. Aim to use relevant examples related to the job advertised; even if the experience you’ve had is small, don’t big it up; be honest and, most importantly, detailed – tell employers exactly what you have done, when, where, for how long and who with. Also, don’t be afraid to ask employers what training they offer – they don’t need you to be the finished article but they want evidence of your awareness of the world and the role you’ve applied for and that you have adaptable skills and are willing to learn. Its become a cliché to an extent, but whereas your education will prove a level of understanding of your subject, what employers also want to know is how good you are at some of the softer skills like teamwork, flexibility, creativity, application and dedication, and having good examples of these to hand will be invaluable.

The post-Covid employment landscape will make job hunting even more challenging, so keep an eye on current government initiatives and any opportunities that may pop up over the next 12-18 months. The government has promised to invest in a green economic recovery and this may well see new training opportunities that could be the key to you gaining relevant experience.

Finally, have a look at our blog page. Here, members of the Ambios team offer more advice, support and top tips on how to get a career within the conservation sector.


Find out more about the Wild for People project on The Sharpham Trust website or connect with them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For more information about Ambios Ltd, visit their website. They can also be found on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Enjoy a wonderful birdseye view of the Sharpham Estate as it currently exists today in the video below:

An interview with Erica McAlister

Entomologist Erica McAlister is the senior curator for Diptera at the Natural History Museum, London. In 2017, she authored the very successful book The Secret Life of Flies which looked at their diverse lifestyles. Now she returns with The Inside out of Flies, which is a great popular science book marvelling at their anatomy.

We took the opportunity to ask her some questions about why flies matter to us all.

First off, tell us a little bit about how you got started. Why study flies? Having read your book now, I agree that they are fascinating and beautiful, but presumably, you did not know this when you started?

I have always been interested in nature, but I was more fascinated by the smaller creatures – the ones everyone else seemed to ignore. Insects were an obvious choice and I combined my love for them with my love of ecology from the beginning. Although I had worked with ants and beetles, it was the flies that properly tickled my fancy as they were the most diverse in life cycles and ecological function, and so the most interesting. They got everywhere, they did everything and they were wonderful to observe. I have a liking for all things natural – from decomposing dung heaps to parasitic lifestyles – both of which involve the fabulous flies.

You are quite involved in public outreach, speaking on radio programmes and giving public talks. Most people regard flies with a certain amount of disgust. Do you find it is easy to change people’s perceptions? 

Generally, yes. Most people just think about one or two examples of the thousands of species of flies such as the nuisance fliers or the transmitters of disease. So when I  tell them about the hoverflies, the bee flies, the chocolate pollinators, the forensic detectives, the scuba divers and so on, that opens up a whole new world to most people, and when I go on to talk about their gardens being alive with these beneficial creatures, you can see a change in many folks. Flies are animals and are essential for many ecosystems – it is odd that many naturalists seem to want to forget this!

The Inside Out of Flies spread 1After two decades of researching them, has your own attitude towards them changed?

Nope. In fact, I feel that I have got worse in my obsession with them as I realise that I have so much to learn and not enough time. Initially I was fascinated by their ecology, then their looks, then their behaviour, but there is also their genetics, their mechanics and many more other areas that we need to explore and understand. The more I have read and studied the more I realise that we have still so much to learn.

Your 2017 book The Secret Life of Flies was very well received. The design of your new book The Inside Out of Flies suggests it is a companion to the first book. Why write a second book?

Because there is so much more to write about them. We have thousands of books about mammals and there are just over 6100 of them. There are more flies in the UK than that and living in more extreme environments – the flies have adapted to all sorts of weird and wonderful habitats with a whole range of morphological changes to help them not just cope but thrive. The first book focused on their feeding ecology, this one is about their morphology, but there is still much, much more that I have left out from both of these subjects (I get emails all the time telling me so!)

The Inside Out of Flies spread 2You mention many people seem to think adult flies lack brains, this misconception being fuelled by watching them fly into windows again and again. This may seem like a very mundane question but why, indeed, do they do this?

This is a common question – but the answer is not really known. Firstly, the glass could be disorientating the flies as it blocks out UV-B which are used by the flies to help them navigate. The actual glass may be perceived as something different to them – they would realise that it was some form of wall due to the change in air currents, but we don’t know as yet what and presumably it could be multiple factors. There are many footprints of previous insects that have crawled across that pane and maybe there are hints about food sources (flies taste with their feet) that further distracts them. There is still so much about these creatures that we don’t know.

As you go through each body segment of a fly’s body in this book, you show that there is astounding variation in traits, and you back this up with some fantastic photography. One striking example was of a soldier fly species, Platyna hastata, whose abdomen is almost as wide as it is long, you affectionately call them fat-bottomed flies. Is this another example of sexual selection run rampant?

In flies – there are so many examples of extreme sexual selection and I discuss this throughout the book – from eyestalks to flags on their abdomen to hidden internal modifications. One of my favourites is the fly Drosophila bifurcata that has sperm that is 5.8 cm long and the actual adult male is but a few millimetres!

The Inside Out of Flies spread 3You explain how insect taxonomists use morphological details such as the position and numbers of hairs on their body to define species. I have not been involved in this sort of work myself, but I have always wondered, how stable are such characters? And on how many samples do you base your decisions before you decide they are robust and useful traits? Is there a risk of over-inflating species count because of variation in traits?

Ahhh there is the dilemma that many a taxonomist has faced – is it a true species??? The NHM collection has many thousands of species but often the specimen that the species was described from is the only specimen that anyone has of that species! Only time will tell if it is a true species. However, many of these characters are very stable with many of the bristle arrangements having been around for thousands of years. There is a risk of over-inflating species but then again there is a risk of under-inflating – and taxonomists fall into two groups – the splitters or the lumpers depending upon what they feel are important characters. What we do know for certain is that the sexually derived characters – the genital structures change at a faster rate and so this is why we appear to be obsessed with such things!

There are some fantastic examples in this book of the applied aspects coming out of dipterology as a field of study, with forensic entomology and miniature robotics being good examples. What are some of the most exciting applied developments that you think will make a splash in the near future?

Oh, what a question! I feel that we are on the cusp of many exciting developments – especially in aeronautics and medicine. Personally, I am loving the development of smart needles – the idea of bending these around sensitive structures is incredible and so very useful. But as technology develops so does our ability to look at these creatures and try to mimic their millennia-old adaptations.

The Inside Out of Flies spread 4
I imagine some aspects of entomology rely on decades- and centuries-old methods from when the field got started. Simultaneously, like most academic disciplines, the field has benefited from technological advances. How have new technologies changed how you work and the sorts of questions you ask? 

Yes, absolutely. I can ask so much more from the specimens in the collection at the Natural History Museum now, even though the flies may have been dead for hundreds of years. I can image them inside and out and in doing so I can see what pollen is in their guts or around their mouthparts; I can analyse their DNA and see how the populations developed or when insecticide resistance developed; and I can transfer all of this information around the world in seconds – no longer is research hindered by physical distance or financial constraints as much as it once was. And on a general level, I and many others have the resources of millions of people making observations and taking photos which massively adds to our knowledge. New technologies have made scientists out of all of us.

One of the more remarkable and little-appreciated things you draw attention to is that flies are an important group of pollinators worldwide. There has been much public concern regarding bees, pollination, and the future of our crops. Do we have reason to be concerned about the ecological function provided by pollinating flies?

We need to care about flies as much as all of the other insects that are more commonly talked about. Not only are the adults amazing pollinators but the larvae of many of these species are also carrying out key ecological roles such as predation or decomposition. And often it is only the flies that are the pollinators, especially in the more extreme habitats or crops. If you don’t look after the flies, you will find the world bereft of many food products that everyone loves such as chocolate.

Lastly, has the pandemic influenced your work and that of those around you? 

I would say yes. Hopefully, more people have realised how important the natural world is. I have spent the last couple of moths answering questions and identifying flies that folks would not have spent time observing before, and I have seen appreciation grow in all things fly. I think we have realised that we need to work more in balance with our environment and so the work that I, and millions of other entomologists undertake, is now seen with a new appreciation – we are not just going around looking at pretty flies, but are trying to help understand our climate and the impact the changes are having on it, our food security, and the impact of disease and vectors to name but a few examples.

The Inside Out of FliesThe Inside Out of Flies
By: Erica McAlister
Hardback | September 2020| £12.99 £14.99

 

 

All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

An interview with Iolo Williams

Iolo Williams in Snowdonia

Iolo Williams was born and brought up in mid Wales. After gaining an ecology degree he worked for the RSPB for almost 15 years as Species Officer for Wales. In the late 1990s Iolo left the Society to work full-time in the media, presenting in both Welsh and English.  He co-presented Springwatch 2020 and is a tireless campaigner for wildlife and conservation.

We caught up with Iolo and asked him a few questions on: lockdown, rewilding, Brexit and the future for nature.

Wales has a variety of landscapes and environments; do you have a favourite habitat?

With Chris Packham in the Cairngorms

I was born and brought up in mid-Wales and grew up in a small village called Llanwddyn (Lake Vyrnwy), which was a fantastic area with a mixture of habitats. But, where I am happiest really is up on the high ground: up on the mountains, up on the moorland, enjoying not just the solitude and the scenery, but some of the amazing wildlife, such as: black grouse, merlin and hen harrier. You have also got sundews, butterworts, and bog asphodel; all amazing and well adapted to these harsh conditions. So that’s where I’m happiest really – when I want a day by myself, away from everyone, that’s where I head for.

Do you think ecotourism and nature capital have a role to play in wildlife conservation?

Iolo with two rare Welsh clearwing moths

I think ecotourism is absolutely vital for the future survival of our wildlife and our habitats, and ourselves too. It’s only when we educate people, it’s only when people see what’s out there, it’s only then that people grow to appreciate it and will then fight to ensure that it survives for their children and for future generations. So, I do believe it’s a vital part of conservation and education.

But of course ecotourism does involve travel, which is a dilemma. I travel a lot less than I used to and off-set it as much as I can, but I learned a lesson whilst visiting Chitwan National Park in Nepal and lamenting my carbon footprint involved to get there. The head ranger heard me and said, ‘Listen, if you didn’t come here, there wouldn’t be a national park. The government wants the wood, wants to log these trees you see here. It wants to drain this wetland to grow cash crops. But it’s only because of the money you bring in that we are able to protect and enhance this national park: the Indian one-horned rhino, the Asiatic elephant, the tigers and all the other wildlife that’s here.’ So, it is a dilemma, but to stop that overnight would be disastrous for wildlife worldwide.
The pros, do out-weigh the cons – as long as we are sensible about it; we need to stop needless travel, we need to utilise public transport wherever we can, and in a rural area like mid Wales it’s often not even possible – more often than not I have to take the car. A change must come from individuals, but more than anything the change has got to come from government – we need a better public transport system.
Ecotourism can also provide sustainable jobs. I’ve just come back from Mull; the eagles bring in a huge amount of capital every year. Mull would probably grind to a halt without ecotourism. Yes, you have agriculture there and farming, but by far the biggest employer in Mull is green tourism. People come to Mull to see eagles, to see otters, to see minke whales, basking sharks, and all of these charismatic species. Morally, we shouldn’t have to put the economic argument forward, we should be looking after wildlife for its own sake. But when you are dealing with developers and ministers, you have to put the economic argument forward.

Are you a supporter of rewilding and do you think it is a sustainable use of land?

Hen harrier chick in the nest

I am in principle, but say ‘rewilding’ to a lot of people and they say, “ah, they’re going to bring back wolves and bears, and I don’t want wolves and bears. My children will be mauled” etc. While that’s not true it’s also not true that’s what rewilding is all about. It’s really about the restoration of habitats, it is about what Isabella Tree and her husband have done at Knepp, which works fantastically well. Places like the Cambrian Mountains have fantastic wildlife like pine martens, goshawks, red squirrels etc, but vast areas of the Cambrian Mountains are a green desert. So, the potential for rewilding; just a few trees, maybe restoring the lost peat bogs etc. is vast and the knock-on effects for capturing carbon and preventing flooding all makes so much sense. But of course, the people in power want to make more money for themselves and their acquaintances and a lot of them don’t want to consider embracing this approach.

Does Brexit and the end of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) present any opportunities?

Firstly, I voted against Brexit, I think it will be an unmitigated disaster. It was the tabloid papers stirring the pot of xenophobia that prevented the real issues being properly discussed. Most of the farmers around me here voted for Brexit because they were fed up with what they saw as European bureaucracy. Of course, now the reality is biting, many farmers I speak to now wish they hadn’t, especially now as their MP has voted to allow cheap, low standard foods from the US into the country. Despite what we sometimes read, the food standards in the UK are very high and to lower those standards is stabbing farmers in the back.

However, in the long-term Brexit can offer an opportunity. If we had a better government in power, I would be optimistic about those opportunities because there is no doubt the CAP has been a most destructive policy from an environmental point of view. It really should have been reformed at least twenty years ago and now is an opportunity to do that, but with the current government’s track record with the environment makes me believe not much will change. We are up against a very powerful agricultural lobby. The big fertiliser companies, the big pesticide companies, the big machinery companies all of these are a massively powerful lobby and this government will listen to their argument not the environmentalist’s.

Has lockdown presented people with an opportunity to connect with nature?

I hear people saying how wildlife benefitted hugely from lockdown, and I think temporarily it did. One simple example is far fewer hedgehogs killed on the roads, of course now lockdown is eased I’m seeing dead hedgehogs on the roads all over again. Also, roadside verges not being mown or mowed late had a knock-on effect that was huge!! Flowers, bees, butterflies all in abundance. Some councils have seen this, taken note, and said – okay fantastic, we are going to reduce mowing from now-on. Others have carried on mowing and mowing, which is an absolutely dreadful policy for wildlife. Lockdown has really tested people, especially from a mental health point of view, but during lockdown the birds, flowers and butterflies have brought so much joy to families. Nature has been there for us through this traumatic time and we must remember that when these restrictions are over.

The one long term benefit I’m hoping lockdown will have is that a seed has been planted in a lot of youngsters and adults where they will think: remember last year when we walked this lane and there was all those flowers and we saw that lovely white and orange butterfly, let’s go and see if it’s all there again. So, hopefully for many people that seed has been planted.

 

Discover Iolo’s favourite ‘Wild Places’ in these two titles from Seren Books

Wild Places UK: The UK’s Top 40 Nature Sites
By: Iolo Williams
Paperback | December 2019| £15.99 £19.99

From Hermaness on Shetland to the London Wetland Centre. Iolo Williams picks his favourite forty wildlife sites in the UK

 

Wild Places: Wales’ Top 40 Nature Sites
By: Iolo Williams
Paperback | October 2016| £15.99 £19.99

Naturalist Iolo Williams picks his favourite forty from the many nature reserves throughout Wales

 

All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

All photographs © Iolo Williams.

Author Interview with Benedict Macdonald and Nicholas Gates: Orchard: A Year in England’s Eden

The orchard has been a traditional component of the British landscape for many centuries. However, subsidies have led to the destruction of  older traditional orchards to make way for more intensive farming and now only a fraction remain.

The value of these orchards for wildlife has long been underestimated. Ben Macdonald and Nick Gates spent years visiting a traditional orchard across all seasons observing its imperilled and overlooked abundance of life.

Ben and Nick have taken time to answer our questions about their book and this remarkably fertile habitat. We also have a limited amount of signed bookplates – available while stocks last.

Could you tell us a little about your backgrounds?

Nick Gates

Nick Gates (NG): I grew up in West Sussex, and could usually be found building a dam across a stream or out catching grasshoppers and slow worms on the Ashdown Forest somewhere. I ended up reading Natural Sciences at Cambridge and, similar to Ben, have now found myself making wildlife documentaries. But I adore spending time in the field, and am forever looking for new areas to explore, new behaviours to interpret and new species to learn about.

Benedict McDonald

Benedict Macdonald (BM): I grew up north of Bristol, and my fascination with nature began with raising butterflies at school, which then took me onto my great passion for birds. I took a different route to Nick, studying English at Oxford to improve my journalistic skills before moving into the natural history film industry. The love of birds remains – and it was indeed the search for breeding lesser-spotted woodpeckers for the BTO’s Bird Atlas that, one magical morning, led me to the Orchard.

Where did the motivation for this book come from? Are Orchards a subject that you have been wanting to write about for some time?

NG: The project actually started as a photographic record, nest-box project and field diary. We certainly didn’t envisage when first visiting the orchard that one day we’d be able to convert our passion for it into a book. As the years went by, and we uncovered more of the orchard’s stories each season, we realised we had built up a library of magical stories about this special place – and the book idea was born.

You divided the book into chapters by each month; was this something you planned all along and why did month-by-month fit the narrative of the orchard so well?

BM: As any pair of naturalists will tell you, the skills you have are similar but often complimentary. In January, for example, much of the expertise lies in tracking small mammals around the orchard, and reading prints etched in the snow – one of Nick’s favourite past-times. May is all about birdsong and concealed nests, and spoke deeply to my own love of birds. But make no mistake – every month is special in the orchard. The players are always on the move.

NG: Having spent six years visiting the orchard across all seasons, it was clear that its stories were deeply rooted around the lifecycles of the apple and perry pear trees – which themselves have a very defined year. Once the book idea became a reality, it seemed the most natural way to introduce our audience to the orchard world. As Ben and I both often travel abroad on our respective filming trips, it also worked really well when dividing the chapter structure, as we each had unique experiences from certain months that we wanted to share.

The neighbouring orchard is run intensively and very differently to the orchard you studied; what would you say are the practical advantages of being less intensive?

NG: The major benefit appears to be maintenance. Spraying an orchard many times a season requires expensive inputs in machinery, as well as the manual labour required to continually prune each tree to a very defined shape to make the spraying as efficient as possible. In an unsprayed orchard, many different age classes of trees can thrive alongside each other. If an elderly tree is lost to a storm, it is easy to leave some of the deadwood and replace it nearby with a new young specimen. But the biggest benefit is that with an intact food chain, your costly pesticide inputs are replaced with spotted flycatchers and redstarts, which arrive for free each year and willingly hoover up all manner of insects that enjoy nibbling fruit trees!

BM: The summer migrants are critical to the success of the orchard – but the residents play an invaluable role. Throughout the winter, various species of tits, finches and woodpeckers, especially lesser-spotted, are all rooting out potentially harmful insects from the bark of the orchard’s trees. And as Nick puts it, treecreepers act as tree ‘dentists’, removing lots of tiny insects that could eventually end up reducing the lifespan of the trees.

The orchard you observed rewarded you with plenty of surprising stories and scenarios. Was there one single episode that stood out for you?

BM: For me, it was when we finally solved the mystery of the goshawk’s larder. Our generation has grown up with the idea that goshawks are limited to big woods and often those dark, silent plantations. The idea a goshawk could be hunting our orchard didn’t even occur to us at first, even after we found pheasant after pheasant neatly plucked. It was only when the pair decided to display right overhead one March that, like an Agatha Christie novel, it all came together.

NG: I have been out in the field looking for interesting stories in the natural world for as long as I can remember, so it is always rewarding coming across something unexpected. The best thing about the orchard, is that this just seems to happen so regularly! But if I had to single out one, I’d say my biggest surprise was the day I excitedly returned to photograph the coal tit family nesting in a pear tree, only to find the entrance to their nest firmly blocked with a rather unfortunate wood mouse. Having most likely scoffed the nest contents, it couldn’t fit back through the hole it had entered through. It was one of the most extraordinarily bizarre things I’ve yet chanced upon in the natural world.

Do you think a separation from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) can create any opportunities for wildlife and biodiversity?

NG: Yes. The CAP model has ample opportunity for reform, and I hope that this is reflected in whatever system is adopted post Brexit. A model that rewards land owners for improving the biodiversity on their land is long overdue, as is a system that recognises carbon capture. There are certainly massive opportunities for British biodiversity – it is now up to those in positions of decision making to ensure they chose the correct advisers to inform these new policies.

BM: The Common Agricultural Policy has paid for enormous destruction of the countryside, and even models such as orchards that should be profitable to farmers – not just wildlife. In my view, we actually need a specific orchard subsidy. It seems mad that we can continue to pay for sheep grazing to denude hillsides and accelerate the flow of water off the hills, yet we cannot pay our farmers to grow apples. But this subsidy has to happen soon: orchards are vanishing fast.

Installing a wildlife pond is often sited as being the best way to add biodiversity to a garden; for those lucky enough to have the space, would you recommend planting an orchard for a similar reason?

NG: Absolutely. With something like a pond, you tend to see the rewards within just a few months of installing it, as the first newts and dragonflies arrive to breed in the new water source. Whilst fruit trees can take a few years to start blossoming and become increasingly valuable for your local wildlife, they mature incredibly quickly relative to most other tree species. Apples and pears are usually producing blossom and a crop in five to seven years, and by 40 years of age are well on their way to becoming an ‘ancient orchard’. Also, fruit trees, particularly those grafted to dwarf rootstock, don’t actually need a lot of room – and considering it only takes half a dozen trees to be called an orchard – most public green spaces could host a small wildlife orchard that would be of great help to local biodiversity.

After a well-earned rest, are there any plans or works-in-progress that you can tell us about?

NG: Ben and I have a few ideas for co-authored projects in the future but our next respective titles will both be individually written. I am currently working on a book about an urban wildlife garden…watch this space!

BM: As I approach the end of writing my third book, Cornerstones – for Bloomsbury (published January 2022), I have to be honest that a writing break is in order. Both writing and publicity are fantastic to be involved in but they do take a lot of time. Perhaps I can put my feet up and read Nick’s wildlife gardening book!

 

Orchard: A Year in England’s Eden
By: Benedict Macdonald and Nicholas Gates
Hardback | August 2020| £16.99 £19.99

Ben Macdonald and Nick Gates spent years visiting a traditional orchard across all seasons observing its imperilled and overlooked abundance of life. If we can favour traditional methods and harvesting, the benefit will not only be for wildlife but for people too.

All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

 

Improve your UK field skills with online ID resources

Image by Oli Haines

During this year’s lockdown and social isolation, many of us have been appreciating how important nature is to our happiness and wellbeing. It has also given us an opportunity to connect with local wildlife and develop or brush up on our identification skills.

While a good field guide is invaluable for this, there are also a huge number of really useful online resources available to help with identifying wild plants and animals. In this article we have listed a few of our favourites, covering plants, butterflies and moths, amphibians, birds, mammals and invertebrates.

We have also included links to ongoing citizen science projects for each; if you’re regularly taking note of the species you find then why not contribute this information to an organisation that can use the data to monitor biodiversity and inform conservation decisions.

At the end of the article you will find a couple of apps that can be used to record, identify and share your general wildlife findings.

Image by Andrew Coombes via Flickr

PLANTS

Identification

Plantlife’s Plant and Fungi Species – Allows you to select the time of year, flower colour and habitat to narrow down your search.

Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) Flora Search – A more in-depth key that allows you to select information relating to the plant’s location, habitat and structure in order to identify your specimen.

Makaques UK/Irish Flora Key – A new interactive key to the flora of the British Isles, this in-depth database includes information on 3221 native and introduced species.

Citizen Science Projects

BSBI New Year Plant Hunt – Start the year with a plant hunt, and help the BSBI to study how our wild and naturalised plants are responding to changes in autumn and winter weather patterns.

National Plant Monitoring Scheme – This habitat-based plant monitoring scheme provides robust and much-needed data on changes in our wild plants and their habitats.

Plantlife Wild Flower Hunt – Record the wildflowers you see while in the town, woodland or countryside and help Plantlife to map wildflowers throughout the country.

Image by peterichman via Flickr

BUTTERFLIES AND MOTHS

Identification

Butterfly Conservation’s Identify a Butterfly – Search the database using criteria such as location, size, colour and markings or search using an A-Z list of species names.

UK Butterflies Identification – Includes an extensive database of butterfly photographs, including those of immature life stages.

Butterfly Conservation’s Identify a Moth – Search the database using criteria such as location, size, colour and markings or search using an A-Z list of species names.

UKMoths – A comprehensive database of 2261 moth species found in the British Isles.

Citizen Science Projects

Butterfly Conservation Recording and Monitoring – This Butterfly Conservation page contains details of all of their current volunteer monitoring projects.

National Moth Recording Scheme – Covering over 900 species of macro-moth, this scheme hopes to benefit nature conservation, public understanding and ecological research.

Image by Erik Paterson via Flickr

AMPHIBIANS

Identification

ARG UK Identification Guides – Download a helpful range of ID guides covering amphibians and reptiles, including guides to eggs and larvae.

Citizen Science Projects

National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme – Includes a range of different surveys suitable for volunteers.

Amphibian and Reptile Record Pool – The Record Pool allows users to submit UK herpetofauna sightings and makes the data available, locally and nationally, for conservation purposes.

Image by ianpreston via Flickr

BIRDS

Identification

RSPB Identify a Bird – This bird identifier lists 406 species of UK bird and allows you to search the database using a combination of physical and behavioural characteristics.

BTO Bird Identification Videos – This series of videos will help you with identifying some of the trickier species.

Xeno-canto – A comprehensive database of bird sounds from all over the world.

Chirp! Bird Songs UK & Europe – This app will help you to identify and learn bird songs. (Available for iPad and iPhone only).

Citizen Science Projects

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – Take part in the world’s largest wildlife survey and help the RSPB to find out how our garden birds are doing. Takes place annually in January.

BTO Volunteer Surveys – On this webpage you will find a list of current BTO surveys, schemes and projects, available to suit a wide range of skills and expertise.

Image by John Campbell via Flickr

MAMMALS (including bats and cetaceans)

Identification

Mammal Society Species Hub – Find out more about the UK’s 90 species of mammal, including bats and cetaceans.

Bat Conservation Trust UK Bat Information – Learn about the 18 species of bat found in the UK and download species information sheets for each.

Citizen Science Projects

Mammal Society Record Submissions – Report your mammal sightings on this page or using the Mammal Mapper app.

PTES Living with Mammals Survey – Record your sightings of mammals and help to protect their future.

PTES Water Vole Monitoring Programme – Survey a regular site or report a one-off sighting of a water vole and help protect the UK’s fastest declining mammal.

PTES Mammals on Roads Survey – Submit sightings of any mammals (dead or alive) that you see on the roads.

Image by fen-tastic via Flickr

INVERTEBRATES / BUGS

Identification

Buglife’s Identify a Bug – Handy questionnaire to help you identify and find out more about your invertebrate specimen.

Freshwater Habitats Trust Freshwater Creatures – Learn more about our freshwater creatures (also includes information about aquatic mammals, amphibians, fish and birds).

Citizen Science Projects

Buglife Surveys – Get involved in one of Buglife’s projects, including surveying for wood ant nests and oil beetles and recording invasive species found in pot plants.

UK Glow Worm Survey – Submit your glow worm sightings using this online form.

PTES Great Stag Hunt – Help guide future conservation action for stag beetles by recording your sightings.

Riverfly Partnership Projects – Find out more about all of the Riverfly Partnership’s ongoing monitoring projects. Options are available for a range of skill and experience levels.

Apps

iSpot – Created in collaboration with the Open University and the OpenScience Laboratory, iSpot is a community-based app that allows you to record and share your wildlife sightings and get feedback from other users regarding any identification queries that you might have.

iRecord – This app enables you to get involved with biological recording by contributing your species sightings along with GPS acquired coordinates, descriptions and other information. Data is then made available to National Recording Schemes, Local Record Centres and Vice County Recorders (VCRs) to help with nature conservation, planning, research and education.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 17th August

The government announced it will allow England’s first wild breeding population of beavers to remain in Devon. After five years of groundbreaking work by Devon Wildlife Trust, they celebrate their success story. 

In an analysis for Mongabay, agroforestry expert Patrick Worms suggests that while news reports show forests burning in many places, trees are in fact retaking busily vast swaths of farmland globally through agroforestry. 

A butterfly once extinct in the UK has been reintroduced to another part of the Gloucestershire countryside. The successful breeding means it is the first time in 150 years the large blue butterfly – the largest and rarest of all nine British blue butterflies – has been recorded at Minchinhampton and Rodborough Commons.

Bird Photographer of the Year 2020 – in pictures. The Bird Photographer of the Year 2020 received more than 15,000 entries. Take a look at a selection of photos from the winners here. 

Experts and volunteers scramble to save Mauritius’s wildlife after oil spill. International experts and thousands of local volunteers were making frantic efforts on Sunday to protect Mauritius’s pristine beaches and rich marine wildlife after hundreds of tonnes of oil was dumped into the sea by a Japanese carrier in what some scientists called the country’s worst ecological disaster.

Woodland Wildlife: Managing Woodlands for Biodiversity

Steve and Tamara Davey

In 2018 , while still running a taxi business, an opportunity arose to purchase a few acres of local woodland on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon. Completed within a matter of weeks, Steve and Tamara Davey became proud custodians of their very own woodland!

When they discovered an impressive range of wildlife on their woodland site, they decided that the management of the area would be based on the continued provision of habitat for certain species, including seven recorded bat species, the visiting Nightjar and Woodcock. 

We caught up with Steve to ask him about how they are supporting nature through their project Woodland Wildlife

Can you tell me a little about your backgrounds.

Both Tamara and myself had childhood holidays in the Scottish Highlands as children, and there is no better place to develop an affinity with nature. It’s a place that holds a permanent residency within our hearts, those childhood memories imprinted on our futures. Mine were on the West Coast of Scotland opposite the Isle Of Skye. We used to stay in these old caravans that leaked and were powered by calor gas. The smell of the matches and gas appliances echoes those memories for me. The area was only a few miles up the coast from where Gavin Maxwell wrote his best-selling book Ring of Bright Water. As a family we spent a lot of time down at Sandaig ( in the book it was Camusfearna), Gavin’s books were really the only ones I read due to my interest in nature and love for Scotland. Above his hearth he had inscribed in Latin the words “non fatuum huc persecutus ignem” meaning, “it is no will o the wisp that I have followed here.” This phrase is very apt and resonates with our Woodland Wildlife project.

Aside from Scotland both Tamara’s and my childhoods involved getting out in nature with family walks, especially on Dartmoor. Also, similar to the book and film Kes, aged twelve I had a female kestrel to look after. My father converted the garden shed, and I remember rushing home from school every day. We looked after a tawny owl for a while too.  Myself and our son also volunteered at a local bird of prey centre – these memories, and the knowledge you gain from an early age all lie dormant until the right opportunity presents itself later in life.

 

 

 

 

What motivated you to embark on the Woodland Wildlife project?

From the Spring of 2018 we made regular trips to the woodland because we couldn’t keep away and used to come up with loads of excuses to the selling agent on why we were visiting so often. We completed the purchase at the end of the summer. During the first twelve months we were staggered by the volume and diversity of the wildlife within our little plot and it was this that spurred us into creating Woodland Wildlife.  I couldn’t believe that the domain woodlandwildlife.co.uk was available so I snapped it up. I then asked the web company that had recently rebuilt my taxi website to work on a website for Woodland Wildlife. They came up with the current logo which I really liked however the squirrel was grey and so I asked them to change it to red as that signified hope to me! At that point the future focus was more on the development of guided visits. In August last year we set up the Facebook page and that is seeing a steady increase of followers. We post on there most days and this time of year we may be posting up to eight times in one day, purely because of the observations – we are always finding new species to photograph. Through the winter months the posts are more project focused as that is the time of the year when most of the manual work is done.

Coppiced sweet chestnut protected from surrounding deer damage
Felled young sitka used as dead hedging around boundary line

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What has been the biggest challenge in returning the woodland back to nature?

The nature was already there, nothing has needed returning as far as we are aware. But with small sized plots sensitive management is vital, for instance; if you don’t manage that important grassy ride, over time succession will take hold and that habitat (in our case) would be overrun with bramble and bracken, therefore the grasses would die off and displacement of species will happen. Our grassy rides are alive with insect life and as far as we are concerned these areas are a priority within our plot. When you see how small an area our grassy rides are and you see how many species they are supporting such as: leaf hoppers, beetles, bees, hoverflies, moths, grasshoppers, crickets, butterflies you can then understand how vitally important these small areas are. I would say our biggest challenge is still ahead of us. In 2012 the main plot was clear felled and in 2013 the holding company planted over 2000 young sitka spruce trees. These are now over eight years old and growing rapidly in amongst the birch, sweet chestnut, beech and a few other species. Being on an easterly facing slope (after all it is Devon) we are giving careful consideration to future extraction of timber and to what extent the damage would be. We are mindful not to ruin everything that we have done over the years. so the plan will be (in conjunction with the Forestry Commission) to convert over to native woodland. We will still retain some sitka for the goldcrests and siskins, but these will be in the area towards the top of the plot, whereby future extraction damage will be minimal.

Sitka are awful trees to work on as they are very prickly to handle. Even though they are only young it’s incredibly hard work felling them and dragging them around to produce dead hedging. Our adjoining plot is a mature stand of Douglas fir of 3.5 acres and that has recently been thinned. The remaining stems will grow on for a further 5 to 10 years, with the extra light they will grow in girth and not height. We have tagged a random 30 stems and will monitor their growth rate annually. This is one commercial aspect to our project, we plan to nurture a healthy self seeded understory within this stand and re plant where necessary in the future when it’s felled.

Was there a particular plant or animal that you wished to see return to the woodland?

Yes, the nightjar, they are in the area this season which is great, last summer they were on our plot and we regularly saw two of them. Having your own woodland is one thing but having nightjar in your woodland is a priceless dream. We spent many summer evenings there watching them, calling them in with a recording of their call (yes that works). On a couple of occasions early in the nightjar season, June I think, they landed in front of us on a tubex shelter, attracted to anything white due to the males having white markings on their wing and tails. Our sleepy dogs got their attention and flew in to check us out. The video is on the website, it’s not brilliant as it was recorded on my phone, but a wonderful experience nonetheless. We observed them through to the end of July and on each occasion the sightings consisted of a brief checking us out and churring away like they do. A truly amazing bird that due to its nocturnal habits has not been an easy species to study. They like young plantations up to approximately ten years of age as after that the canopy has closed in. They also like birch and sweet chestnut, both of which we have in abundance. We are coppicing the sweet chestnut which will give a more diverse structure to the woodland and also has many benefits to other wildlife as well as giving longevity to the tree itself. The nightjars arrive in May and have normally disappeared by the end of August and sometimes into September. Once the young have fledged they will migrate. Our thinning works of the Douglas fir overran into May and we are certain that that level of disturbance  (the sound and vibration of over 200 mature fir being felled) made them look elsewhere for a suitable nest site for this season. High hopes for next year!

 

 

 

 

 

In what ways can you draw an income from the project and how do you ensure that those ways are sustainable?

Part of the plot is mature Douglas fir, so over the years there will be an income from the felling of those but there also comes obligation and costs to re-plant. This area is 3.5 acres and we are hoping that at least 20% of that area will self-seed and will therefore not need re-planting. After 14 years of running a taxi company we have decided to pass it on to someone else as we want to concentrate on our woodland which will also involve craft sales. We plan to sell at an occasional local market, selling wooden products such as pendants, necklaces, key rings, hand made cards, Christmas decorations and fairy houses. All of the wood used will be from the bi product of our habitat work and therefore very sustainable. We are not skilled wood turners, I would describe our woody crafts as rustic. We also hope to offer guided visits for small groups of people who either want to immerse themselves into an incredibly diverse 8 acre plot of woodland that doesn’t have any public access( that’s called forest bathing nowadays), or groups and individuals that would like to visit to look at our management practises, it could also be for specialist groups to study bats, birds, butterflies etc. Although the craft sales will be necessary we do hope that the tours can be a success too as we will have great pleasure in sharing this unique place in South Devon.

Woodland Wildlife crafts to be sold on-site or at craft markets
Sustainable felling and logging of Douglas fir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What would you say has been the project’s biggest success story so far?

This has to be the three small wildlife ponds created in the spring of last year. Our philosophy has always been that our work creates a biodiversity gain. The ponds are a totally new feature to the wood and therefore a totally new habitat with the nearest water course being in the bottom of the valley.
The ponds are host to pond skaters, diving beetles, water boatmen, frogs, toads and a few species of dragonfly. The mosquito larvae they produce is a food source for the seven recorded species of bats that we have there. The frogspawn and toadspawn this year was amazing. This is boosting the sites biodiversity and that feels great. The Devon Wildlife Trust’s, Batworks Grant,  helped with the costs of the ponds which was very welcome indeed, because so far we have funded all the costs ourselves. The top pond was also designed with a very shallow gradient at one end so that any feeding nightjar can swoop in and get a drink on the wing.

Creating the pond by removing old stumps from a previous timber crop.
The pond getting established early in 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other success is our plantings, since Nov 2018 we have planted over 400 additional trees, shrubs and hedging. From scots pine to broad leaved privet, all-in-all over 20 new species have been planted. The hedging area consists of field maple, hazel, dog rose, dog wood, crab apple, blackthorn and hawthorn, and is growing well, albeit slowly. Once mature this will provide an incredible food source and habitat for many species. We also sought advice from a consultant ecologist on behalf of Butterfly Conservation, they recommended planting broad leaved privet, wild privet and alder buckthorn all of which will provide a valuable food source for many species of butterflies, insects and moths. The alder buckthorn being the food plant for the brimstone butterfly caterpillar.

Young Juniper planted and meshed around to protect from rabbit and deer grazing
Coppiced Sweet Chestnut, stems cut on an angle to prevent water from rotting them

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you offer any advice to anybody wanting to undertake a similar project?

There is a misconception that when you purchase some woodland in the UK that you are legally bound to manage your plot, but this is not the case. Currently you can do as much or as little as you want, there are legalities regarding volume of timber that you are allowed to cut down, and rightly so. Personally speaking I think there should be some sort of stewardship course involved with any woodland purchase, but generally speaking people who buy woodland do have the environments best interests at heart. Neither myself nor Tamara are formally qualified in land management or woodland management, but what we do have in bucket loads is the passion, and when it is your passion you absorb information like a sponge. If you are interested in purchasing some woodland please make sure you do a lot of reading up first, SWOG ( small woodland owners group) is a great resource. Think about things like how far are you willing to travel to get to your woodland, our journey takes 25 minutes but I know of some owners who live a couple of hours away and then that restricts those little journeys when you just want to go there for an hour or two. Think about public access and rights of way, access, species of trees on site, how neglected the woodland is because that may dictate how much physical work maybe required. I know owners that have a couple of acres of plantation and therefore their management work is negligible. Think about orientation, diversity and age of species and the potential value of the timber there. Getting a flat site is not easy and virtually impossible in Devon, some come with streams etc. You would need to appoint a solicitor as the conveyancing is similar to house buying but much more straight forward.

We would say to anyone interested in purchasing some woodland to definitely do it, it is an amazing thing to do, yes we can buy fancy cars and gadgets and go on expensive holidays but owning your own little piece of nature is a priceless thing to do. It’s more like guardianship than ownership, but you will have a lot of control over the future of that plot.
Love nature, it will never fail you.

 

 

 

 

Do you have any long-term plans for the future of Woodland Wildlife?

Well where do we start here? If money was no object we would like to deer fence large parts of our woodland to allow natural regeneration to occur unhindered. But money is an object so we will improvise and mitigate the grazing as much as possible. Luckily we are not overrun with roe deer but there are a few around. The damage they do to new growth is staggering.
Over time we would like to see part of our main plot restored back to its natural former state which was wooded heath. Around 1800 the wider woodland was mapped as a Down which would correspond with our small patches of heather and large amounts of gorse and bracken. Dry lowland heathland is a scarce habitat these days and we would like to re-nature that habitat along with keeping the coppiced sweet chestnut, birch and beech. The plan will be for the main plot to remain an open woodland with pockets of heath and grassy rides. We will keep some sitka on the higher parts of the plot.
This winter will involve widening the lower part of the North to South ride which is quite overgrown, creating a ride that will traverse the contours from the West to East ride. This will involve the felling of a lot more young sitka but it will kick start the project of connecting up some of our micro habitats. We are keen to provide a suitable site for the migrating nightjar and the wintering woodcock and this will involve a lot of physical work. Any major works such as this needs careful consideration for the future resilience of the woodland. All of our plantings have been carefully selected with the future in mind for example, the scots pine (although slow growing) is a fantastic tree that supports a large amount of wildlife plus once established will cope well with periods of dry weather. We have also planted some juniper and these trees will also cope admirably in dryer conditions and therefore the challenges of climate change. The naturalised species such as birch, beech, gorse, heather, bramble and bracken will naturally cope with dryer summers.

With regards to Woodland Wildlife as a business, we hope that the occasional small group or individual will continue to visit to experience this magnificent site. We aim to continue with the craft sales into the future. We aim to continue to document our species and our works. The emphasis will be on small groups as we are keen to prevent compaction of soils.

All photographs courtesy of Woodland Wildlife © Woodland Wildlife

Woodland Wildlife

To find out more about Steve and Tamara’s fascinating project you can follow them on facebook and visit their website

Further Reading on managing woodlands for wildlife and people.

Managing Your Woodland for Wildlife
By: David Blakesley, Peter Buckley and Tharada Blakesley
Paperback| May 2016| £12.99
From conserving deadwood to putting up bat boxes: this book will appeal to small woodland owners wishing to improve woodland for wildlife.

 

Woodland Creation for Wildlife and People in a Changing Climate: Principles and Practice
By: David Blakesley and Peter Buckley
Paperback | July 2010| £5.99 £24.95
This book presents a comprehensive and richly-illustrated guide to the principles and practice of woodland creation for wildlife and people.

 

A Journey in Landscape Restoration: Carrifran Wildwood and Beyond
Edited by: Philip Ashmole and Myrtle Ashmole
Paperback | June 2020| £16.99 £18.99
An inspirational account of the rewilding of Carrifran Wildwood, showing what can happen when locals take charge of landscape restoration.

 

The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood
By: John Lewis-Stempel
Paperback | March 2019| £9.99
A lyrical diary of four years spent managing three and half acres of mixed woodland in south west Herefordshire.

 

All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 3rd August

Small Crustacean can fragment microplastics in four days, study finds. Environmental scientists at University College Cork (UCC) Ireland studying the 2cm-long amphipod Grammarus duebeni unexpectedly found that microplastic beads are fragmented incredibly quickly into nanoplastics. The finding is significant as harmful effects of plastic might increase as particle size decreases. 

New native Hawaiian land snail species discovered, first in 60 years. Pacific island land snails are among the world’s most imperilled wildlife, with more recorded extinctions since 1600 than any other group of animals. Scientists  have now discovered a new native land snail species, sounding a rare, hopeful note in a story rife with extinction.

Quarter of UK mammals ‘under threat’ according to the first Red List of UK mammals – a comprehensive review of the status of species, including wildcats, red squirrels and hedgehogs. 

‘Plan bee’ for cities: new report sows seeds for insect-friendly urban areas. Research published by the scientific journal Plos One suggests that urban gardens, parks and roadside verges play a vital role in boosting bee and other pollinator numbers thanks to their diversity of blooming plants and absence of pesticides.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 13th July

First signs of success in bid to reintroduce pine martens to England. The first pine martens to be reintroduced to England have had kits, marking a milestone in efforts to boost their recovery, conservationists said. Conservationists say at least three females have produced offspring in the Forest of Dean. 

Growing evidence suggests that native bees are also facing a novel pandemic. Researchers at CU Boulder have found there is growing evidence that another “pandemic,” as they call it, has been infecting bees around the world for the past two decades and is spreading: a fungal pathogen known as Nosema.

Rare Gunther’s toad sighting highlights farms as biodiversity hotspots. The sighting of the rare Gunther’s toad in the rock pools of farmlands in Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh puts the focus on the presence of diverse species in farmlands. Experts say it is time that these lands are seen as systems that contribute to ecology rather than just areas for food production.

Almost a third of lemurs and North Atlantic Right Whale now critically endangered – according to the most recent update of the IUCN’s Red List. This update completes a revision of all African primate assessments, concluding that over half of all primate species in the rest of Africa are under threat. This update also reveals that the North Atlantic Right Whale and the European Hamster are now both Critically Endangered.

This Week in Biodiversity News – June 29th

This Phillipine butterfly had a mistaken identity for years, until its ‘rediscovery’. A pair of scientists have discovered a new subspecies of butterfly whose only known habitat is at the peak of a potentially active volcano in the central Philippines.

Koala’s will be driven to extinction before 2050 in New South Wales, major inquiry finds. State parliamentary investigation finds the biggest threat to the species’ survival is habitat loss – but logging and clearing has continued.

Forest loss escalates biodiversity change. New international research focusing on biodiversity data spanning 150 years and over 6,000 locations, published in the journal Science, reveals that as tree cover is lost across the world’s forests, plants and animals are responding to the transformation of their natural habitats, revealing both losses and gains in species.

Dolphins learn how to use tools from peers, just like great apes. A new study upends the belief that only mothers teach hunting skills, adding to growing evidence of dolphin intelligence, experts say. It is the first known example of dolphins transmitting such knowledge within the same generation, rather than between generations.