The People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) is running a pilot programme to monitor hedgehog populations (NHMP). For this programme, a large number of cameras are deployed at specific sites across the country at specific dates, with 5 sites having been selected in Wiltshire this spring/summer. Volunteers are needed to help deploy the trail cameras at the site and check the images obtained. The Tisbury and District Natural History Society has its own independent trail camera project (more info here) but we would like to assist two neighbouring areas with their participation in the PTES pilot project.
If you would like to take part in the camera deployment aspect, take note of the dates and get in touch with us so we can coordinate our participation with the organisers of the sites.
Deployment day Thursday 4th April
Collection day Saturday 4th May
Barford St Martin
Deployment day Saturday 20th July /Sunday 21st July (TBC)
Collection day Monday 19th August/ Tuesday 20th August (TBC)
If you would like to help with image checking (identifying animals in the pictures taken by the trail cameras), please follow these instructions:
1. Register in the portal MammalWeb first.
2. Following registration in MammalWeb, please fill in this PTES form, using the same email address that your MammalWeb account is linked to. This will register you as a PTES NHMP volunteer, and you will receive instructions on how to take part.
For image checking, you don’t need to wait until the camera season is over, as there are already images from 12 previous sites across the country.
As the weather warms and the days lengthen so we begin to see more wildflowers in the country and along the roadside. After the spring equinox is referred to as the vernal period. Late winter before the equinox is referred to as prevernal. Classic prevernal flowers are those that bloom before trees and bushes come into leaf and throw shade over the plants. An example is the primrose which we will find blooming in woodlands and under hedges before the leaves break.
The primrose spreads its leaves in a rosette against the ground around the flowers. This allows it to maximise the light that they can absorb while the sun remains relatively low. This gives them a competitive head start, allows the flowers to be fertilised and set seed early in the year before other taller plants shade it out. At this time, its bright yellow flowers are hard to miss and are a welcome source of nectar for any early emerging insects. Later in the year the leaves become pallid and die back.
Another flower providing nectar at this time of year is Coltsfoot. This plant looks like a small dandelion but in contrast to the primrose, it flowers before its leaves appear. Each composite flower is held on a short scaly stem; quite different to the dandelion’s smooth one and similar to sedum flower stems. As the flower’s centre is dense, it also looks like a large all-yellow daisy. It is a creeping perennial weed of rough ground and field edges and as it spreads by rhizomes underground if it gets into your garden, it can become a pest. The leaves emerge after the flowers have died back and are shaped like a heart or horse’s hoof, hence the name. Historically it was used as a remedy for coughs and colds.
(c) Natural England (male hen harrier)
The talk last week given by Flemming Ulf-Hansen and Sofia Muñoz from Natural England was illustrated with photographs and videos from their project headquarters near Salisbury Plain where their captive hen harriers from France have spent a year acclimatising to their new location, surrounded by species rich grassland. The deliberately low maintenance management of the land on Salisbury Plain makes this location ideal for hen harriers as it is richly populated with voles and farmland birds like corn buntings, linnets, pipits and skylarks, which are the mainstay of their diet.
Hen harriers nest on the ground, preferring deep heather on moors or tucked down amongst high arable crops. It is thought that 50-60% of the young die in any year as they are vulnerable to predators such as foxes, badgers and stoats. Early harvesting in arable fields also brings danger if the nests remain undetected. The captive hen harriers in France and Spain have typically been rescued as fledglings from abandoned nests.
Male hen harriers are polygynous so they may need to supply several females with food, which adds another precariousness to their young’s chances of reaching adulthood. With 5-10 journeys to each nest per day, bringing food in the first 15 days, a male hen harrier has the sole responsibility for nourishing the chicks before the female begins hunting for supplementary food. With no parental lessons in hunting given, the juveniles have to adapt fast to survive when the time comes to leave the nest. Since hen harriers like to return to their natal area, it is hoped that any juveniles born this year will provide the breeding stock for the future.
For further information about this interesting breeding project and Natural England’s outreach work with gamekeepers and the farming community, please go to their Project blog.
Wiltshire is an important stronghold for the Duke of Burgundy, the UK’s fastest declining butterfly. Although many of the butterfly’s populations are small and medium sized those in southwest Wiltshire are faring better than elsewhere as there are still connections between populations. The Shaston Ridge (the ridge running south of the A30 between near Donhead St Andrew and near Burcombe) is one of its strongholds. However, our knowledge of its distribution and population sizes there is far from complete!
We have records from all along the ridge, but they have not been collected in a consistent manner. Nor have sites with potential, or all locations which previously held the species been visited recently. We’d like to recruit a team of volunteers to help undertake timed counts for Duke of Burgundy. This is a simple method of recording a single species and involves walking a set area and counting the number of Duke of Burgundy butterflies seen. All training will be provided, no experience is necessary just and interest in conserving a charming little butterfly speciality of our local area.
The more recorders we can recruit, the more sites we will be able to cover with this consistent recording system. Would you like to be involved? The survey will take place between Mid-May and Mid-June and we’ll run some training before the flight season starts. Sites will be split and allocated across the team of volunteers, and I will be able provide ongoing support to build-up skills and share information about individual sites.
If you would like to take part, please contact me in the first instance via the Contact form and I will be in touch.
Water vole (c) Steve Deeley
The Wiltshire Mammal Group have sent us information about an event showcasing the projects in Wiltshire for controlling American mink, as part of a wider Water vole recovery strategy. The event is being held at the Wiltshire Scout Centre, Potterne Wick, Devizes on Wednesday 27th March. Doors open at 18:15 hrs for refreshments and 18:45 - 21:00 is the timing for the presentations.
Professor Tony Martin of the Waterlife Recovery Trust will be their keynote speaker, sharing his experiences and successes. This will be followed by a series of rapid-fire presentations from projects within Wiltshire, providing a platform and route for potential volunteers to get involved, and for projects to learn from each other.
Full details about reserving a free ticket can be found here
You can listen to the interview Debbie and Andrew Carter gave on TisTalk episode 4 for 2024, about the Lifetime Achievement Award they received from Wiltshire Wildlife Trust in December. Tune in at
We are running another hedgelaying session at the Community Field (below the Nadder Centre and Skatepark) on Sat 10th Feb starting at 9:30am and finishing at 11:30am. We shall be providing tools and guidance. Just bring a pair of tough gardening gloves and weather appropriate clothing! No prior experience necessary. We'd love your help...
Ravens are beginning to breed this month; usually laying eggs in late February.
By the beginning of the 20th Century, persecution had reduced the distribution of ravens to the coastal and upland districts of the west and north of the UK. Where I grew up in Weymouth, ravens were a rarity only occasionally seen on the Purbeck coast. Similarly, when I lived in Essex and Berkshire before moving to Tisbury, I just never saw them. So, their obvious presence was one of the things I first noticed on our arrival here. The raven's range has increased again, spreading south and east, with Tisbury well within the area recolonised during the last 50 years. Nationally, there has been an estimated population increase of 40% in the last 25 years. As that growth has taken place, so nesting has expanded beyond the cliffs and crags previously favoured, to tall trees.
For nesting sites, they seem to prefer wooded areas with large expanses of open land nearby, which sounds like a fair description of our local landscape. They currently avoid urban areas, although in earlier centuries when they were more common, they frequented cities, alongside other birds such as kites.
The raven is distinguished from its cousins, the crows, by its greater size – comparable to a buzzard – and by its larger, heavier, black beak and shaggy feathers around the throat. Its entirely black plumage has a purple iridescent sheen when seen close up. It also has a longer, wedge-shaped tail which shows up well in flight. This involves less wing flapping and more soaring and acrobatics than crows. Indeed, they seem to enjoy goofing around in the sky, often in pairs, flipping over to fly upside down, closing wings to drop steeply and engaging in mock battles with their mate.
Their call may grab your attention before you see them: a deep croak of “cronk cronk” or “pruck pruck” may alert you to a pair circling high above the village or in woodland treetops.
They are long-lived birds and live for 10 -15 years or more in the wild although some at the Tower of London have lived beyond 40. They mate for life, usually nesting in the same location once paired.
Ravens feed mainly on carrion but are omnivorous and opportunistic. When available, they’ll eat grains, acorns, berries and fruit as well as invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals and birds. The raven’s brain is among the largest of any bird species. They are intelligent and show problem solving skills. This may have contributed to its ability to find food which has helped the speed of its recolonisation.
Supposedly, the kingdom will not fall to a foreign invader as long as there are ravens (presently captive) at the Tower of London. It is not clear where this idea comes from, although it may be another romantic invention of the Victorian era. It does, though, offer people a chance to get up close to these magnificent birds.
(c) Caroline Legg
On Thursday 8th February, we start our evening earlier with the AGM at 7.00pm. Doors and the bar open at 6:30pm. We hope that all our members will be able to attend the AGM.
Sofia Muñoz and Flemming Ulf-Hansen from Natural England (see below) will start their talk on the Hen Harrier Southern Reintroduction Project at 7:30pm. They will share updates about the conservation breeding programme for hen harriers and how the project team are working with local farmers, landowners, game keepers and conservation groups to alleviate concerns about hen harrier recovery in the region.
Having disappeared from the mainland as a breeding species by the late 19th century, hen harriers recolonised naturally in the uplands from the northern isles, but continuing illegal persecution of these birds of prey has hampered recolonisation in the south. In August 2022, ten captive hen harriers from a rescue centre in France were transported to the UK and they have spent the last 17 months settling into their new home and adapting to each other. It is hoped that in 2024 these hen harriers will breed and their progeny will be released wild into the arable landscape of Wiltshire.
If you'd like to read up about their project in advance, please see the Project's blog
Flemming Ulf-Hansen, Lead Adviser Salisbury Plain and Hen Harrier Southern Reintroduction at Natural England [B.Tech. Environmental Science, MSc Plant Science, PhD Ecology]
Sofia Munoz, Senior Adviser Hen Harrier Southern Reintroduction Complex Case Unit [BSc (Hons.) Biology, specialization Zoology, MSc Biology Conservation]
Photo: Avocets (Izzy Fry)
The headers display photos taken by our members. Do get in touch via the Contact Form if you'd like to submit a photo for selection.