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.

 

CIEEM Online Conference Review

CIEEM’s summer conference this year discussed the urgent need to address the interlinked climate emergency and biodiversity crisis for the sake of the planet, the species and habitats it supports and for future generations. Due to lockdown and social distancing restrictions, the conference took place online, with speakers and participants attending from their homes via Zoom.

Wildlife Equipment Administrator Claire Graham attended the conference and has summarised her experience of the event and the talks below.


Logging into Zoom to take part in my first online conference, I couldn’t help but wonder if this is going to be the future of large events for a while… But, given the topic of the CIEEM conference ‘Climate and Biodiversity Crises: Professional Approaches and Practical Actions’, maybe there are positives to this! Certainly, creating a way to hold important conferences, without the need for everyone to have to travel (often long distances by plane or car) has its upsides.

So, with everyone speaking and listening from home, the day began with an introduction from Max Wade, the president of CIEEM. Following a quick mention of the unusual circumstances being dealt with by everyone this year and a reference to the growing importance of issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss, it was time for the first talk.

Diana Pound from Dialogue Matters opened with the keynote presentation: ‘Seize this Moment and Get Fresh Momentum’. She took us straight into a positive and inspiring talk, encouraging people to shift from an attitude of fear and doubt to one of optimism and hope. Diana asked us to highlight strengths instead of problems in conversations and dialogue, as a more effective way of motivating people to change, rather than focusing on everything that is being done wrong. Diana stated that the world is starting to wake up and a recent survey showed that 97% of those surveyed thought climate change was serious and 70% thought it was very serious. It also showed that 77% of people believe we should make as many lifestyle changes to stop climate change as we are doing to stop Covid-19. Overall, we were reminded to remain hopeful and be inspired to action; a quick poll demonstrated the power of this.

This led us into the next talk by John Box (from the CIEEM Action 2030 group) which discussed the actions that CIEEM are taking to deal with the interlinked climate emergency and biodiversity crisis. He provided lots of advice about offsetting carbon emissions and explained that CIEEM aim to achieve net zero carbon emissions in all its activities by 2030. John also emphasised the importance of environmental organisations sharing knowledge and building relationships.

Penny Anderson (a member of the Action 2030 group and Ecological Restoration and Habitat Creation SIG) followed with a talk about ‘Habitats and Carbon, Storage and Sequestration’. She explained that, to meet the latest 2050 net zero target, the Committee on Climate Change have recommended tree planting, peatland restoration and green infrastructure. Penny explained that around half of emissions from human activity are absorbed by land and oceans and the rest in the atmosphere. Surprisingly, there is globally 3-5 times more carbon in soils than in vegetation and 2-3 times more than in the atmosphere. All semi-natural habitats hold more carbon than arable or improved grassland and these types of habitats are also better for biodiversity. Therefore, we need to concentrate on diversity within habitats and not just think about trees; there is a simultaneous need to protect remaining habitats and minimise losses in soil while also undertaking habitat creation or restoration.

The next talk was by Ben McCarthy, the Head of Nature Conservation and Restoration Ecology with the National Trust. He explained the role the National Trust are going to play in the climate change and biodiversity crises, as well as the challenges they face as the largest land-owning NGO in Europe. Ben explained the organisations plan to repurpose farmland and create 20,000ha of new woodland and 25,000ha of new priority habitat, including restoring peatlands – a big challenge, but one they are determined to achieve! The National Trust recognise the significance of their land which is home to 44% of UK species including 737 that are threatened with extinction. Half of their properties have priority habitats that are highly sensitive.

Continuing on the subject of peatland restoration, the next talk was by Clifton Bain from the IUCN Peatland Project Programme. His talk on ‘The Peatland Code: Business Funding and Environmental Assessment’ discussed the importance of peatlands and their many benefits and gave an overview of the Peatland Code. The Peatland Code is a voluntary certification standard that helps to gain funding for peatland restoration projects by giving assurance to buyers; they fund the projects in exchange for climate benefits and mitigation. He compared the ecosystem services in healthy vs damaged peatland and discussed how damaged peatlands emit carbon rather than acting as a carbon sink. He also mentioned the loss of unique biodiversity that comes with damaged peatlands.

After lunch we jumped back into the next talk with Richard White from NatureBureau with his fascinating talk ‘Blue Carbon – The Sea, the Coast, and the Climate Crises’. Richard discussed ocean warming and acidification, sea level rise, shifting species distribution and methods of mitigation. He reviewed the role that ocean and coastal ecosystems have in the carbon cycle and the link between protecting and restoring marine biodiversity and mitigating our carbon emissions. Seagrass beds and saltmarshes act as globally significant carbon stores but only 21% of these habitats are currently protected by our Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). There is a need to work to protect these habitats and support restoration projects.

Richard Lindsay from East London University continued with more information about the importance of peatlands with his talk ‘Peatland Restoration and Carbon: Sphagnum, Carbon and Timescales’. He advised that, despite many peatlands and blanket bogs being damaged and emitting carbon, restoration projects can sometimes be challenged as successful carbon mitigation due to them being thought of as slow-growing systems. However, Richard discussed the use of adding Sphagnum to peat restorations due to it being a significant carbon sink and advised that it can be grown rapidly in optimum conditions.

The next talk was David Holland from Salix on ‘Soft Engineering Approaches to River, Wetland & Swale Projects’. He talked about the high carbon cost and negative ecological impacts of traditional hard engineering techniques and discussed low carbon solutions that can be used instead. Using natural materials and processes, rather than materials such as concrete, rock or metal, generates less waste, needs less future maintenance and improves the water quality and habitat, as well as providing vegetation that will continue to absorb carbon and benefit the environment.

The closing talk of the day was by Lee Dudley, Head of Environmental Carbon with the Woodland Trust and focused on ‘Carbon and Woodland Creation’. He explained that the Woodland Trust aim to conserve, restore and re-establish trees; their vision is a UK that is rich in native woods and trees for wildlife and people. The fact that woodland creation is now being recognised as a cost-effective method of climate change mitigation enables the potential for more woodland creation projects. Lee also discussed the importance of matching the right species to the right sites for the best outcomes and reminded us that it is not just about trees, but about the whole environment.

The day was wrapped up with a quick conclusion from David Parker from CIEEM. He thanked the speakers for all their extremely important and interesting talks and with that the event was over. My first experience of an online conference was positive all round; the talks were fantastic, and everyone enjoyed them from the comfort of their own homes with few technical difficulties. Hopefully the next conference can be attended in person but, if not, this experience has demonstrated there are definitely ways to keep talking and learning about these important issues.

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.

The NHBS Guide to UK Seaweed Identification

Seaweeds by Windel Oskay via Flickr

Seaweeds, or marine macroalgae, are plant-like organisms that live in coastal areas, usually attached to rocks or other substrates. They are divided into three taxonomic groups: brown, red and green. Broadly speaking, species fall into the group that most closely matches their colour. However, the groups also differ in more complex structural and biochemical features, such as their photosynthetic pigments and cell structure. While green and red seaweeds are classified in the Kingdom Plantae, which also includes all of the world’s land plants, brown seaweeds belong to the Kingdom Chromista and are more related to algae, diatoms and protozoans.

British and Irish seas are home to more than 600 species of seaweed; this is more than 6% of the known species globally. They are incredibly important ecologically and provide both food and shelter for numerous other creatures. In fact, one of the great pleasures of studying seaweeds is the many other species that you find along the way.

If you find yourself enjoying your seaweed studies, why not contribute to the Natural History Museum’s Big Seaweed Search. It only takes around an hour and will provide valuable data that can be used to research the effects of environmental change on our seashore communities.

When and where to find seaweed

Seaweed is present all year round. At low tide, more of the shore will be exposed which means that you are likely to find a greater range of species. This is also the only time that you are likely to spot a glimpse of those seaweeds that thrive in the lower intertidal zone. Sheltered shores tend to provide a better location for many species, as most cannot survive the battering of the waves in more exposed locations. However, there are a few species that are specially adapted to live on exposed shores so it’s always worth a look there. Similarly, as most species require a firm substrate to anchor to, rocky shores will be home to more seaweeds than sandy or muddy ones.

Ten common species to look for

Brown seaweeds:

Bladder wrack (Fucus vesiculosus)
Bladderwrack from the Dr. Mary Gillham Archive Project via Flickr.

ID notes: An olive-brown seaweed that has branching fronds with smooth edges. Paired air-filled bladders run along the length of the fronds on either side of the central rib. 15-100cm in length. The number of bladders present is related to the exposure of the shore; in very exposed places this species may grow without any bladders and will also be much reduced in length.

Distribution: Found on rocky shores between the high and low water line.

Knotted wrack (Ascophylum nodosum)
Knotted wrack from the Dr Mary Gillham Archive Project via Flickr.

Also known as: Egg wrack

ID notes: This yellow-brown seaweed has long fronds reaching up to two metres in length. Single large air bladders appear at regular intervals along its length.

Distribution: Found on the mid-shore on sheltered rocky coasts. Knotted wrack is very long-lived (up to 15 years) in comparison to other algae; this allows it to become dominant on many sheltered coastlines. When the tide goes out it often forms huge piles.

Spiral wrack (Fucus spiralis)
Spiral wrack from the Dr Mary Gillham Archive Project via Flickr

Also known as: Twisted wrack

ID notes: Spiral wrack is generally a pale olive-brown and grows up to 40cm. As the name would suggest, fronds are generally (although not always) twisted and have smooth edges and a distinct central rib. When mature, fronds have yellowish, paired swollen tips; these are the reproductive structures.

Distribution: Found high on the rocky shore, just below the high-water mark.

Serrated wrack (Fucus serratus)
Serrated wrack by aka CJ via Flick

Also known as: Toothed wrack or saw wrack

ID notes: This brown seaweed forms branched fronds 50 to 80cm in length. Edges are serrated.

Distribution: Found on sheltered and semi-exposed rocky shores just above the low water mark. Fucus serratus is often the dominant algal species found at this point on the shoreline.

Oarweed (Laminaria digitata)
Oarweed by Leslie Seaton via Flickr

ID notes: Oarweed has dark brown-green fronds that are up to two metres in length and split into long finger-like blades. Attaches to the rock with a claw-like holdfast which allows it to survive in rough subtidal conditions.

Distribution: Grows in dense beds in the lower intertidal and shallow subtidal zones (at a depth of up to 20m). Often all that can be seen of this species are the tops of the fronds during low tide.

Sugar kelp (Saccharina latissimi)
Sugar kelp by brewbooks via Flickr

Also known as: Sea belt

ID notes: Forms long undivided blades that are yellow-brown in colour and have ruffled sides. Grows up to five metres in length.

Distribution: Found on the lower shore and in deep rock pools. Mostly on sheltered shores and can be found up to a depth of 30m.

Green seaweeds:

Sea lettuce (Ulva lactua)
Sea lettuce by seaspicegirls via Flickr

ID notes: Sheet-like light green seaweed which grows up to 25cm in length and 30cm in width. Very delicate and almost translucent; almost like floppy lettuce leaves.

Distribution: Found attached to rocks or floating in rock pools.

Gutweed (Ulva intestinalis)
Gutweed by AuT CRONE via Flickr

Also known as: Grass kelp

ID notes: As the Latin name would suggest, gutweed resembles the intestines of mammals and consists of inflated hollow fronds which have bubbles of air trapped along them. Bright green and grows up to 40cm in length.

Distribution: Occurs in a wide range of intertidal habitats including rockpools and on sand or mud. Can also be found growing on shells or other seaweeds.

Red seaweeds:

Carrageen (Chondrus crispus)
Carrageen from the Dr Mary Gillham Archive Project via Flickr

Also known as: Irish moss

ID notes: Dark reddish-purple branching seaweed which appears iridescent when submerged. Turns green with exposure to bright sunlight.

Distribution: Rocky shores and estuaries, on rocks and in pools in the lower intertidal and upper subtidal zones.

Purple laver (Porphyra umbilicalis)
Purple laver from the Dr Mary Gillham Archive Project via Flickr

ID notes: Forms fronds of variable shape which are thin and membranous. Olive to purple-brown in colour and up to two metres in length.

Distribution: Found in the mid to upper shore, generally on mussel-covered rocks. Common on exposed coastlines.

Further reading

A Key to Common Seaweeds
#118696

This laminated guide from the FSC will help you to identify 36 of the most common seaweeds.

 

Seaweeds of Britain & Ireland
#235692

This photographic guide aims to demystify seaweed identification for the non-specialist. Over 235 species are described in detail, with colour photographs, information on habitat, distribution and confusion species.

 

Editor Interview: Tim Burt, Curious About Nature

Curious About Nature provides a passionate voice in support of fieldwork and its role in ecological research. Comprising a series of chapters written by forty diverse contributors, this inspiring book hopes to encourage both new and seasoned ecologists to pursue outdoor learning and research as often and fully as possible.

Tim Burt (who edited the book alongside Des Thompson), recently took the time to answer some of our questions.


Editor Tim Burt, in the field.

Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about your backgrounds and how you came to be collaborating on this book.

We have both been involved with the Field Studies Council since 2006 when Des joined the Board of Trustees (I have been a trustee since 1982), but we had worked together before then, for example, a conference on the future of the British uplands held in Durham in 1999.

What are your first memories of fieldwork?

As I note in my essay in Curious about Nature, I came under the spell of an inspirational teacher at secondary school, Jim Hanwell. My first memory of fieldwork is being sent to measure the width of the main road outside the school gate to compare with the width of the red line printed on the OS map. Not something that would be done these days given health and safety concerns, but nevertheless I was hooked! Jim’s main influence was in physical geography, geomorphology especially, with many field trips to the Mendips and even an expedition to Spain and Portugal.

Some of the most well-known and respected scientists in history have had an incredibly varied range of interests and passions. Take Darwin, for example, who not only studied plants and animals, but also geology, anthropology, taxidermy and medicine. Do you think that, in modern times, we no longer celebrate or respect the ‘generally curious’ and instead expect people to be much more specialist in their areas of expertise?

Specialist research is inevitable in these very competitive days; departments compete via research assessment rankings and individuals must build their CVs to gain promotion. But in my experience, the best academics retain a breadth of interest; in physical geography this invariably combines fieldwork with other skills back at the department.

Editor Des Thompson

You currently hold the positions of President (Tim) and Chairman (Des) of the Field Studies Council and, as such, must both feel passionate about the education of field skills. With increases in health and safety concerns alongside reduced funding for outdoor activities, have you observed a change in child and youth education over the past decades in terms of the amount of fieldwork that takes place?

Health and safety concerns can (and must) be sorted out; it is continued funding that puts field trips at risk. The value of outdoor education is important for all sorts of reasons, not just academic knowledge and understanding. There is a real threat at the moment, with next year’s focus on getting schoolchildren back in the classroom. Senior administrators must be convinced of the value of investing in fieldwork, otherwise it is an easy cost to cut. But at what eventual “cost”?

Editor, Tim Burt

At NHBS we sell a lot of equipment that is purposely designed to limit the amount of time that researchers and naturalists have to spend in the field – such as motion-activated trail cameras. While these are the preferred choice for many researchers, do you think that there benefits to traditional, observational fieldwork that cannot be replicated by collecting data remotely?

Field equipment has always been necessary, even in the days of clockwork mechanisms and pen-and-ink chart recorders. Today’s digital equipment expands the possibilities, not limits them. But it is still vital to be out in the field, curious about what is happening and what you can see – this is how new ideas are generated. There is no substitute for standing on a hillside, thinking about the landscape in front of you, especially if you happen to be somewhere very different to England like the badlands of southern Utah!

Do you have a favourite fieldwork pioneer (included in the book or not) whose story you find particularly inspiring?

People always think of Charles Darwin as a biologist, but he was equally a geologist on the Beagle, and his geological observations during his circumnavigation of the globe remain fascinating to read, for example, his thoughts about the formation of coral reefs and atolls. He was very much a follower of Charles Lyell in his appreciation of the dynamic nature of the Earth’s surface.

Finally – what are you each working on currently? And do you have plans for further books?

We do have plans for a further book together, an elaboration of Curious about Nature, with a working title In the footsteps of Gilbert White. For my part, I have been drafting chapters for Durham weather and climate since 1841, to be published by OUP. Last year I co-authored a book (with Stephen Burt, no relation) about the weather records at the Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford, so the new book is complementary to that, with much the same structure, but clearly a different regional focus. I ran the Oxford weather station for 10 years and have been in charge of the Durham station since 2000.


Curious About Nature is edited by Tim Burt and Des Thompson and is published by Cambridge University Press. It is available from nhbs.com in paperback and hardback.

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.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 15th June

The UK’s barn owl is growing in numbers thanks to humans. Up to 80% of these distinctive birds now nest in man-made boxes, though encouraging them to set up home takes time. 

New research by an international research team at Kobe university finds eels can act as comprehensive surrogate species for biodiversity conservation in freshwater rivers. It is hoped that conducting activities to restore and protect eel populations will contribute greatly to the recovery and conservation of freshwater ecosystems.

Conservationists successfully track red pandas in the mountains of Nepal by satellite. The mammals are endangered, with numbers down to a few thousand in the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China, find out more here about the factors driving them towards extinction. 

Thousands of tons of microplastics are falling from the sky. New research helps unravel how vast amounts of plastic particles travel both regionally and globally by wind. 

Research finds hummingbirds can see diverse colours humans can only imagine. A research team trained wild hummingbirds to perform a series of experiments that revealed that the tiny birds also see combination colors like ultraviolet+green and ultraviolet+red.

This Week in Biodiversity News – June 1st

The discovery of a new breeding pair raises hope for the survival of the world’s rarest primate, the Hainan Gibbon. Ravaged by deforestation and poaching, the ape now lives only in a patch of forest on China’s Hainan island. A comprehensive rescue programme was put in place, including patrols and monitoring, research into the apes’ ecology and behaviour, and the planting of thousands of trees to provide food and shelter.

Scientists have discovered a new behaviour amongst bumblebees that tricks plants into flowering early. New research reveals that when pollen is in short supply, bumblebees damage plant leaves in a way that accelerates flower production.

Can video games make people care about wildlife conservation?  Eager to use his tech skills for wildlife conservation, Shah—a National Geographic explorer—founded a game company called Internet of Elephants in 2016. The Kenya-based start-up designs digital experiences to tell real conservation stories based on real data.

Rare UK wildlife thriving in lockdown, reveals National Trust. The National Trust is reporting that emboldened wildlife, from raptors and warblers to badgers, otters and even orcas, appear to be enjoying the disappearance of humans from its gardens, castles and waterways across the UK.

This week, the Wildlife Trusts launched their 30 day wild campaign, encouraging thousands to take part in daily “random acts of wildness”. Find out more and how to get involved here