Monday, 23 March 2020

Atlas of Britain and Ireland's Larger Moths - Book Review

This month saw the publication of the long awaited Atlas of Britain and Ireland's Larger Moths. This mighty tome is published by Pisces  The publications is curated by a range of top entomologists and supported by all the local record centres and county recorders, produced by Butterfly Conservation and Moths Ireland.

The atlas contains a detailed account of the recording, analysis and layout of the distribution maps and trends. The results are complex and look at species richness and long-term distribution and abundance trends. These is an extensive section on causes of distribution changes and of conservation measures.

The species accounts cover every major larger moth species, this amounts to 893 species. Each have a colour photo of the moth in question and a graphic of the flight period.
The maps cover all of the UK and Ireland and clearly shows three levels of temporal information, pre-1970s, 1970-1999 and 2000 on wards. This enables the reader to identify distribution and range ranges over the last fifty years.

I have bought this volume to aid in my growing foray into Moth recording. Alongside identification guides it gives a useful perspective on the distribution and rarity of the species I am likely to discover.

The writing style is functional and informative and the layout excellent. The maps are clear and the photographs are exceptional. The paper quality is is strong gloss, bringing clarity to the images and longevity. The book is hard back with solid quality binding.

This is a first rate publication for any nature lover.

Priced at £38.50 it is available from all good book shops.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Antlers on the bridge

I have recently purchased a new brand of wildlife trail camera. I usually use Bushnell exclusive and have a couple of Ltl Acorns but decided to try out the Browning. There is a fallen tree across a brook that has silted up creating a little bridge across for all sorts of animals to use. I decided to place the camera here to look at the passage of mammals and get a better look at individuals that use the area.

The number of Roe Deer sightings have increased in the past year or so and there seems to be a small herd of perhaps 4 individuals. I have caught fleeting glimpses of these deer in the distance, they always see me before I see them and move away quickly in typical bounding gait flashing their white rumps at me.

Last year I identified a pregnant female and later a fawn and so I know that the breed in the area. With this new camera I m starting to get an idea of the population. In the clip below we have a fine example of a Roe Deer buck.

The individual seen appears to be a buck in his prime. He has a set of fine antlers which you can see have the standard 3 points and is still covered in velvet.

Roe Deer are generally solitary but form small groups in the winter and the Buck is accompanied by a smaller buck whose antlers only have one point, one of which is strangely longer than the other.

In future weeks I hope to bring you some shots of Roe Deer does as a comparison. Whilst the does are probably still in a group at the moment the eggs that were fertilised in the rut in July/August will have implanted in January. This means the females are likely pregnant in May/June.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Whats a mostela?

Over Christmas and after the exciting sightings of weasels on my site I decided I had to improve my understanding of the various smaller mustelids that were present on my site.

Weasel crop up occasionally and an in April 2015 I observed two Stoat playing in the undergrowth bit nothing since. In recent years Otters have been more evident with the latest record being just the end of the tail captured by my trail cam last month and in January 2015 saw a single shot of a disappearing Polecat. There are of course my resident Badgers who continue to do well. Mink seem to be very much on the decline, I haven't seen one in years but their footprints are still evident.

I began to look through the web at ideas of how to improve my understanding of these species. The large mustelids are pretty simple, they show up on my main camera trap quite well  but weasels tend to move so fast that good images are hard to get. In my research I came across some information on the Vincent Wildlife Trust about their work using a Mostela to look at weasels, stoats and small mammals (Vincent Wildlife Blog).

The mostela is a Dutch invention designed by Jeroen Mos of the Dutch Small Mustelid Foundation. I read through this wealth of information and downloaded the specifications for this intriguing device.
A mostela is essentially a box with a guttering pipe entrance in which a camera trap is placed. Details of the design can be found here: Design.

From the plans I ordered some marine plywood from WoodSheets, they are a bit pricey but they cut the wood to shape and delivered. I ordered a section of guttering, hinges and clasps. I put it all together but didn't make as much of the interior, leaving the camera free.

Next came siting the mostela. I took it down last weekend and put it in place, setting the camera and covering it in leaves.
I came back this weekend to swap out the camera card and see what I had got.

Whilst I didn't get any weasels or stoats I did get another of the sites under recorded species - the Common Shrew. I hear these regularly in the summer but rarely see them but these curious mammals certainly had a look around. A single shrew visited on three separate nights.Wood Mice also visited on three nights and during the day it recorded a nosey Wren snooping about. (Ignore the date stamp I foolishly set it to 2019 and not 2020).

This is all good news as it looks as if it will help monitor the other small mammals, I m interested if it will pick up the vole species I know are present but this might mean relocation, which is difficult given the recent storms as there are few places I could leave the mostela where it wouldn't get swept away by rising flood water. The rodent and insectivore visits are good news as well because their scent trail should encourage the other predator species to investigate.

I plan to move the mostela about every few weeks and will leave it unbaited. I need to check camera positioning and focus but for the time being I am pleased with results. I will keep you all posted on what I find.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Weasels abound

Over the last month I have seen an increase in Weasel sightings on my trail cam. I know weasels frequent the site as do all the other mustelids, I have records of badger, otter, stoat, mink and polecat, but there is something about the weasel. The badger will always be my favourite animal but there is something about the character of this tenacious beast that interests me.

It always surprises me how small weasels are, between 175 and 248 cm and they can move like lightening. Due to their frenetic foraging pace getting a photo of a weasel is difficult. I stumbled upon one in 2014 which hid in a tiny hole in the trees and managed to get a few shots as he watched and waited for me to leave.

Mostly diurnal their daily activity occurs in periods of 12-130 minutes. Its high metabolism and hunting style means that it must eat up to a third of its body weight a day. Foraging is usually done undercover and quickly presenting two problems for camera trapping. In fact reviewing my records shows that all sightings have been in September and November or March April.

The first clip shows the weasel in the bottom right moving out of shot and then running back around the field of view.

Earlier on the 7th November I got a good clip showing the Weasel climbing a tree, showing of its agility. Weasels are primarily predators of small mammals and this particular tree is a favourite of Wood Mouse who forage around it and themselves climb it. Interestingly the mice are never seen before it is fully dark so it is possible that the weasel is following a scent trail.

It might seem the weasel is adept at climbing but two days later on the 9th it had less success at climbing as captured in the third clip.

To finish with a statement about what this means. Recent sightings represent a significant increase of presence for this species. It suggests, that given weasels  foraging distance of between 549 and 840m often with preferred foraging areas within 100m of the den suggest that at least over this winter an individual has taken up residence. With the vegetation gone this means that further sightings maybe be made or this could be an individual dispersing through this area and will be gone soon. It will be interesting to see.

To finish I leave you with my picture taken back in 2014. Note the barbed wire to give you some sense of scale of this enigmatic creature.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

The General Election and the Environment

With just 11 days until Election Day I thought it was about time I had a look at the environmental policies of the three main parties.  I went through each manifesto and tried to extract the relevant policies and statements. The Labour manifesto was the easiest to read with their whole first section entitled 'A Green Industrial Revolution', this was a promising start and laid down an early marker, very few parties put the environment so high on their agenda.

The Liberal party had the most environmental policies and whilst the Conservative manifesto was harder to decipher had some very good policies. Interestingly there are several points on which two or more parties agreed. Some of the policy areas are bold statements of legislation or action but many are vague notions of hopes and wishes and we all know what they can turn into.

I have laid out the findings in the grid pictured below:

Overall this hasn't made my decision of who to vote for any easier. Only labour categorically plans to cancel the Badger Cull and no party talks of rescinding HS2 both of my two big policy areas. The Conservatives mention reviewing the HS2 but early details show that HS2 will continue. The Liberals have good biodiversity plans and labour is better on Climate with the Conservatives better on Plastics and Marine protection.

I know the environment will not be the only policy area of interest to most people but it is important that it is considered. With Brexit possible there is a massive opportunity to strengthen our environmental laws and equally as big of a risk of them being watered down or lost.

Take time to read the manifestos and take time to look at the environmental policies. We need action now and our government whatever colour it maybe needs to act. They have all laid out their plans for us to see and now it comes down to reading, understanding them and forcing them to enact them when elected. The last sombre point I will make is trust, many parties renege on their manifesto pledges, we should not allow this, we should hold them to account. The time of faith in our politicians seems to be over and so evaluating which party is to be trusted to work for our environment and planet is up to each individual.

Good luck in your deliberations and I hope this analysis helps you in small way. Take your time, think and vote intelligently.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

State of Nature - Is there a disconnect in nature conservation?

This week saw the start of another one of the BBC Natural History departments flagship programmes helmed by our national treasure, Sir David Attenborough. ‘Seven Worlds, One Planet’ looks at the planet’s natural resources continent by continent with the BBCs usual blended of stunning cinematography, ecological measures and dramatic storytelling. These programmes are something we in this country do well and Sir David himself has done so much to spread the word of what is happening to our planet.

Common Darter
Here at home however things are not as rosy as they seem. Earlier this month the annual State of Nature Report was published. This yearly stocktake of our own natural capital paints a mixed picture and raises an interesting question, why are things still so bad in this country.
The report highlights some staggering results, species abundance has fallen by 13%, 41% of terrestrial and freshwater species show decreases. Of species classified as critically endangered 111 vertebrates, 440 fish, 232 fungi and lichens and 405 invertebrates are at risk of extinction. Our protected spaces do not all have favourable conditions, and many are not managed exclusively for nature. Whilst pollution has declined the effects of climate change are not being mitigated. Woodland cover is increasing but management is not keeping track. We have lost 1000 hectares of wetland between 2006 and 2012 although some there has been some great post-mineral extraction remediation. As for invasive species 10-12 non-native species are establishing in the UK each year of which 10-20% cause serious adverse impacts.
If we look at the Aichi Targets, the measures we have committed to on the international level and should meet by 2020 however the UK government has assessed that as a country we are only on track to meet 5 of the 20 targets.

These are gloomy statistics many of which most conservationists are more than aware of. Day to day those on the frontline see the changes in fortune for all our species, and there are a lot of conservationists out there. The UK has a strong tradition of voluntary support for nature conservation and the public invest large amounts in conservation charities. The RSPB has 18,000 volunteers and more than a million members, the National Trust has 5.6 million members and the Wildlife Trusts have a combined membership of over 800,000. There may be a degree of overlap between the organisation, but this is a substantial voting and lobbying block. The report shows that volunteering has increased by 46% since 2000 which is also reflected in the rise in entries to the National Biodiversity Network. Financially the public sector has seen a decline in spending in the UK but over the same period spending on international biodiversity has increased by 111%.

What does this all say? To me it says there is a fundamental disconnect in the way we view nature in this country. The BBC flagship programmes give us a vital understanding of the nature of the world and their spectacular sights force us to address the problems that we see. Perhaps we view those problems a little imperialistically, many of the countries with the richest biodiversity and most in need are the poorest and our donations ‘help’ them make the right decision, whereas we as a rich country have nothing to fear from our perhaps less eye catching wildlife. Its easier to sell a majestic lion or magnificent elephant than the elusive pine marten or humble hedgehog. I am not saying supporting world biodiversity is wrong nor that the BBC has the wrong focus, just that our ability to translate this into local action. Volunteering is increasing and membership is blossoming, but nature is still declining. We need to use this State of Nature report as a wake-up call, cull out the dry statistics and try and convert it into a call for action. Saving the rain forests is important but so are lowland wetlands in the UK. This is not an either-or situation, local and international need to work in tandem. The challenge for all conservationists is to convert this public culture of involvement and support into actual action, action at the ground level and at the governmental level. Balanced with this we need to extol the positives to avoid the negative becoming too overwhelming and promoting green fatigue.

The State of Natures is sombre reading and Seven Planets, One world is a marvel lets use both to inspire and motivate all to turn things around.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

A Visitor to the Mill

Things have been remarkably quiet the last few weeks. We are somewhat in the doldrums of birding on the site, the summer visitors have left and any of the possible winter visitors have yet to arrive. Mild weather however has kept the insect populations alive and well. Even today I still recorded a Red Admiral and there are multiple species of dragonfly present.

I have been having some difficulty with these larger dragonfly, this late in the year I usually see the odd Brown Hawker and the abundant Common Darter but over the last few weeks I have been seeing a number of greenish blue dragonfly. At first I assumed these were Emperors however their flight behaviour and size didn't seem to fit. I tried getting closer views but none seemed to help.

If they weren't Emperors which I only see in small numbers in high summer then that left perhaps Common Hawkers or Southern Hawkers. Then today I came across a pair of dragonfly locked together in mating in perfect sight. I took several photos and even a short video clip.

The images were perfect for identification showing clearly the eyes, thorax and key colours on the abdominal segments.

 A careful exploration of my guidebooks revealed that these dragonflies were Migrant Hawkers. It is known as a species of late summer and autumn and only became a British species since the 1940's and is continuing to expand north and westwards. In the south-east populations are still buoyed by migrants from the continent.

Its hawking pattern following a pattern is similar to that of the Emperor but it periodically breaks off and will hunt higher and deviate more from its path, fitting the behaviour I had noted. This is the first time I have managed to confirm a new dragonfly species on the site and I will have to review my notes from last year to see if some mis-identifications may have crept in.