Sunday, 20 August 2017

Rewild: The Art of Returning to Nature - By Nick Baker

In recent years my understanding of nature conservation is shifting. It is being moved by a growing groundswell that seems to postulate a new approach. The old movements of the 1980's and 1990's for nature conservation with neat heavily managed nature reserves protecting a collection of core species is starting to make way for larger ideas surrounding ecosystem services and rewilding.

A brand new approach to conservation and its relationship to society seems to be entering gestation and it is unclear if this still a rather nebulous idea will grow and flourish or arrive, forgive the imagery, stillborn.

The concept of rewilding has been of immense interest to me since I first read about the reintroduction of Wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the US. It led me to read the excellent book, Feral, by George Monbiot back in 2014 and reviewed here on this blog. So it was with some interest that I saw a review of a new book in the BBC Wildlife - ReWild: The Art of Returning to Nature by Nick Baker.

Nick Baker has always been a favourite presenter and ecologist of mine. I remember him from his time on the Really Wild Show and have loved many of his many series. His love of all kinds of creature is instantly relatable and his enthusiasm, knowledge and passion shine out brightly. I quickly ordered the book and finished it today.

To start off I must confess the book wasn't exactly what I was expecting. From the title, I assumed there was more information on the case studies of rewilding and the natural approach to nature conservation and this was indeed referenced but it wasn't the main thesis of the book. Nick used rewilding as an 'in' to discuss firstly how detached how we as animals are detached from the wild life around us and then to reintroduce us to them by taking us step by step through our five senses and explaining how they can be tuned or rather re tuned to nature.

He extols the virtues of silence, the night, walking, tasting, hearing and listening; and yes listening and hearing are two different things. As I worked through the book some chapters resonated better with me than others, but Nicks charm filled style of writing carries you along and his anecdotes and personal accounts colouring each section. It got me thinking that an autobiography of his travels would be interesting as, if you count up the countries he mentions throughout the book you'll very nearly have the full UN membership. In fact, I cannot find an autobiography but hope fervently that one day he will catalogue his experiences.

The book overall then despite not being what I expected was a joy to read for the most part. It is more a  book for a dabbler in conservation or perhaps for those that have completely lost touch with their wild side rather than an expert or experienced nature lover. Nevertheless, it encouraged me to sit more and watch and has some excellent ideas for improving fieldwork.

You can buy the book from all good bookshops - and Amazon

A Moorhens Tale

Autumn is starting to show its hand, the Robin's song has changed and there is a different quality to the air in the morning. Bird-wise we have entered a lull between the seasons. The Saxon Mill was remarkably quiet, a lone Chiffchaff sang its song and the Whitethroats have all left for Africa and in the skies, the Swallows were starting to gather in swooping clouds.

Adult Moorhen

Sat beside the river waiting for the Kingfisher to show I found myself watching a juvenile Moorhen. At this time of the year, they have lost the cute a cuddly black fluff and are now something of a drab black and brown bird. It pottered along the edge of the water in a skittering careful manner, it was joined by a second and I heard a third unseen to my right. I began to think about how successful this bird actually was on my patch, more so perhaps than the other ubiquitous waterbird, the Mallard.

Mallard are common on the river; more so in the winter than the summer when they pair up to mate. However, ducklings last only a very short time on the river. Each year I see one maybe two broods and they rapidly diminish. 1st Year juvenile survival is 0.518 and appears much higher on my patch. The river is a dangerous place for small nestlings, struggling to survive to fledging. Under the water the river is teeming with Pike whilst above ground there are two pairs of foxes in the area, Mink frequent the area and Otter have been seen as well. They are not safe from their own kind either, Kestrels and Sparrowhawks are common on the site, but these are unlikely to present to much of a threat instead their avian foe is the Grey Heron. All these predators would make short work of either a duck or moorhen chick but it seems that Moorhens at least have a greater survival rate on the river.

Mallard with large brood at the mill, most of these ducklings won't make it another week


Mallard clutches tend to be larger than Moorhen and their food sources and predators are the same and yet the Moorhen seems to do better. This could be due to the ability of the Moorhen to have two broods compared to the Mallards one. This would certainly boost numbers and aid survival but whilst watching the juveniles I began to think that perhaps behaviour and morphology have a part to play.

Moorhens are more cryptic in behaviour than Mallard, yes females have excellent camouflage but once hatched the young are more vulnerable for longer. Newly hatched chicks of both species are highly vulnerable in the first couple of weeks but as they grow the ducklings remain more vulnerable. The Moorhen juveniles become more mobile, they are more wary on the water and faster on the land. They skulk in the shadows instead of being visible on the water. At the Saxon Mill where there are abundant predators it is the Moorhen that has greater flexibility in both hiding and evading predators and so their breeding success is greater.

Moorhen with Chick - less than a week old


If you compare the breeding on the river to that on the canal survival between the Moorhen and Mallard is more even with many more ducklings evident and predators are fewer.

It’s interesting how even the commonest of birds can have such interesting lives.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Recent Camera Trap Sightings

With the change from my old Bushnell Camera Trap to the newer version, I have lost several weeks of data and I am still trying to obtain the best location height for it. At the moment the field of view on the new camera is smaller than the old one and so does not catch the animals quite as well as it used to. Tomorrow I am going to attempt lowering it a bit although this does present a risk...

On the whole, the animals are used to the camera as it is, they rarely concern themselves with it although occasionally making eye contact. Occasionally, however, some animals will take an interest a prime example occurred this week when an unknown animal, possibly a badger took a good sniff of the camera.

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Still on Badgers, this week their activity increased a little and a possible cub was sighted. An interesting clip, shows a badger using its incredible sense of smell to locate food underground and then use its powerful claws to excavate the prey. It follows up by marking the site.

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In other clips Half-Tail the Fox made a single appearance and 3 separate muntjacs have been identified. A small youngster, a full grown female and a full grown buck. All were seen separately and represent individuals, they are possibly a 'family' that post breeding have gone their separate ways.


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Young Muntjac

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Hind


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Buck

Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Beauty of the Small Copper

In the past couple of weeks, I have seen several Small Copper butterflies. They are deceptively small butterflies that are in the middle of their second flight period of the year. Whilst, not a rare species nationally I rarely see many each year and each sighting is a treat if you can wait long enough for one to land.

Like many British butterflies, their predominant colour is orange. They have striking speckled patterns on the fore wings and a beautiful band of orange on the edge of the aft wing.


This individual was probably newly emerged as its colours were still vibrant and the wings were perfect with no scale loss. Eggs are laid on dock plants and it is on this abundant plant that the caterpillars feed.

The beauty of the species can only be seen when settled.


Only then is it possible to see the gently striped black and white antennae ending in a black top dipped in yellow/orange.   Close up you can see that the majority of the butterfly is chocolate brown punctuated, like the orange, by black spots. A frill of fine silvery hairs edge both sets of wings.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Trying out a Moth Trap

For my birthday this month, I got a Moth Trap. I have been toying with the idea of getting one for some years now. Moths are a taxa that I am not particularly familiar with. I spend much of my wildlife time in daylight and so do not really come across them.

They are fascinating species and have a wide range of morphologies and life cycles. In fact, there are far more species of moth in the UK than there are Butterflies. After a bit of research, I asked for a portable 6 watt 12 volt Actinic Bulb Heath Trap - http://www.nhbs.com/title/160780/6w-12v-portable-heath-moth-trap

The trap arrived in good condition but needed a separate battery for operation. It is simple to assemble and well constructed. Metal panels make it durable whilst plastic funnels and veins direct moths into the collecting chamber whilst also keeping out the rain.

After reading up a little and watching a few you tube clips I set up the trap last night on the patio in my garden. I left it on over night and with some trepidation, I checked it this morning. I was hesitant as on some clips traps had attracted hundreds of moths and I did not think I was up to such identification challenges. As luck would have it the trap contained only a few moths.

As I carefully removed the egg boxes I managed to trap and/or photograph 12 moths. Only three managed to escape one Macro - the largest in the tap and two micro.

Of these 12 moths, five were Macro Moths and 7 Micro Moths. I then began the task of identifying them - I used: UK Moths and  British Moths and Butterflies. Below are the ones I have identified, most of the micros are too difficult for me and if you think I have something wrong let me know, I am very much a beginner at this.

Plume Moth - Amblytilia acanthadactyla 

Riband Wave - Ideae aversata 
Possibly a Black Owlet - Scythris grandipennis


Single Dotted Wave - Ideae dimidata

Cabbage Moth? -Mamestra brassicae

Large Yellow Underwing - Noctua pronuba

Common Carpet - Epirrhoe alternata

These are the micro moths I have been unable to identify:






I look forward to repeating the procedure next weekend and then venturing down to my land to increase the species list down there.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Could Micheal Gove save conservation in the UK?

A little under a year ago I reported on this blog my response to a letter I sent to our new Secretary of the Environment Andrea Leadsom. Twelve months have passed and we now have a new Secretary Michael Gove. I have to admit to rolling my eyes when hearing about his appointment. I work in education and so am familiar with his work, I have also, however, been assured of his razor intellect and ability to focus on important issues.

Farming is Mr Gove's First Target


I had the feeling his appointment was nothing but a political move in order to get a possible ally or enemy into the cabinet to prop up a post election unstable government. I saw him as a stop gap and so decided not to write to him this time. This week, however, I have readjusted my view, could Gove actually achieve something for nature conservation?

Mr Gove made his first speech this week and some of what he said filled me with encouragement. I have talked about my apprehension about the loss of environmental protection during Brexit as well as my hope that this will be a new chance for improvement and this speech seems to suggest that the government might also think this way.

His speech outlined his plans for a ‘green brexit’ and he extolled the virtues farming in partnership with conservation and even commented on his ‘deep regret’ that America has pulled out of the Paris Climate Change Agreements.

The key thrust of Gove’s speech which he reiterated on Radio 4’s Today programme was a need to shift the emphasis of the subsidy programme to farmers. These subsidies come from the EU Common Agricultural Policy. Over the years this scheme has come under fire, yes it helped create some protection for the environment but it also led to problems with the execution of the subsidies where in fact many landowners could be compensated for doing very little.

Gove’s new plans suggest a more rigorous approach to ensure that pays to protect. This harks back to the old adage of the ‘polluter pays principle’. I m not against farming, they truly are the guardians of our countryside but as a total industry, they can be lacking. Farming is a hard job but by offering proper financial incentives to effective measures would be very beneficial. This is the perfect time to restructure the payment structures to link subsidies to the burgeoning field of ecosystem services and whilst I am yet to be fully sold on the commodification of the ecosystem a more focused system can only be good.


Mr Gove’s tenacious nature also bodes well, he pushed through reforms to standards in teaching against the large teaching unions and so his ability to get things done cannot be questioned the actual question is what do we want him to get done? As nature conservationists or concerned parties, we need to get in at the ground form so that other lobbies don’t change the path. Perhaps it is time for us all to write to Mr Gove and encourage him to pursue this ‘green brexit’ vision and to do so with the backing of the science behind.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Commas everywhere

Today out on my patch the Comma butterflies were out in force. I recorded over 10 feeding on the extensive bramble flowers. All were vibrant orange, still glistening in their newly emerged form.



Comma -  Polygonia c-album

Bivoltine - March to End of April, July to Early October

First Sighting date in the Patch.

2003 -                                  13th July
2004 -                                    4th July
2005 -                  26th June
2006 -                                    2nd July
2007 -                                     8th July
2008 -                                     7th July
2009 - 10th May
2010 -                                    4th July
2011 -                                   2nd July
2012 -                                   8th July
2013 -                                 14th July
2014 -                29th June
2015 -                  7th June
2016 - 8th May
2017 -                                 10th July

Alongside the Comma's there were several Ringlets, a Meadow Brown and several Large Skippers.So far this season had been poor for butterflies but now seemed to be picking up.

The first of the Brown Hawker Dragonflies were on the wing and unusually I heard the first grasshopper -  Field Grasshopper whose orangy red abdomen caused me some confusion for some time.