We shall be starting earlier than usual at 6:45pm at the Victoria Hall, Tisbury High Street for mulled wine, mince pies and nibbles before hearing from the world-renowned botanist Dr John Akeroyd.
John always loved plants, even before he was taught at school by the famous botanist Oleg Polunin. He graduated from the Universities of St. Andrews and Cambridge, and held fellowships at the Universities of Trinity College, Dublin and Reading, researching European flora. Lecturer, tour guide, writer and editor, he co-founded Plant Talk, the first global magazine for plant conservation.
He has written or edited seventeen books, including the best-selling Collins Wildguide:Flowers and The Encyclopedia of Wildflowers and many articles on plants, people and places.
Everyone is welcome at the Tisbury Community Orchard this Sunday 10 December from 10.00am to 12.30pm. Come and find out about pruning fruit trees! Please bring your own refreshments.
Any queries about this free event email: Tisburypc@gmail.com
The Peoples’ Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) collates and analyses any records sent in from many counties and sites which are part of the National Dormouse Monitoring Project (NDMP). The registered sites record any nests found in the boxes and the abundance, sex, weight and breeding condition of any dormice found in them, or the lack of them. The sites in the project are checked by people who hold a licence to do so, mainly volunteers. The licence is a requirement from Natural England, as dormice are classified as ‘Vulnerable’.
I started a dormouse monitoring site about 15 years ago in Oysters Coppice and Gutch Common, with new boxes being added progressively. We check the 173 boxes once a month from April to November and the records are sent to PTES. We had none in Oysters Coppice but a few in Gutch Common wood this year.
On 11th November, I attended the 2023 Dormouse conference in Reading. Here are some of the notes I took.
Ian White, from PTES, gave an up-to-date report about the state of Britain’s dormice (you can read the full report here). They have declined by 70% in monitoring sites since 2000 and are on the verge of being reclassified as ‘endangered’. However, they are known to live along roads and railways, in dense scrub and in conifer forests, so there may be more than are known.
In the last century, there were dormice in all but two counties in England and Wales. In this century, they have become extinct in twenty counties. Some captive bred dormice have been reintroduced successfully in some of these. Reasons for the decline in dormice:
How to survey for dormice? Survey methods frequently used:
What can we do for dormice? Here is a list of some conservation efforts:
Most of these facts come from the Dormouse conference but some opinions are mine (Debbie Carter 2023). Ed.: Our society has two dormouse survey licence holders and are willing to assist any local prospective surveyors in starting out a new surveying or monitoring project.
Many of us will soon be putting up our Christmas trees for the festive season. Decorated trees are a tradition imported from Germany by the royal family in the 19th Century. For me, the traditional species is Norway Spruce, but that has gradually been replaced by the Nordman Fir, which loses its needles less quickly. They are generally around 10 years old when cut and, with 6-8 million trees sold in Britain each year, most of which are grown here, their plantations cover a considerable land area.
Conifer plantations have had a bad press. There was a drive to create a national reserve of timber, after woodland cover reached an all-time low after the First World War. This resulted in large-scale afforestation of areas where soils were poor, often in ugly rectilinear blocks of single species. While young plantations had a short-lived boost in biodiversity, as the canopy closed, these woodlands often became lifeless. As conifers produce an economic yield up to 6 times faster than deciduous trees, and as the softwood they produce is in high demand for a huge number of uses, we do need these trees. However, management is very different today, large monocultural blocks are a thing of the past. More diverse mixes of species, planting which takes more account of drainage and landform, and the retention or creation of open habitat areas within the forest have become the norm. A number of conifer stands in an existing deciduous wood may increase diversity, while improving commercial viability. Many ancient woods have survived on this basis which might otherwise have been lost as woodland habitat.
More forests are now being managed on a continuous cover approach. This seeks to avoid extensive clear felling – taking out all the trees in an area at once – but to create more structurally diverse forests with a greater range of species under a continuous canopy. This avoids sudden changes in habitat conditions, to which wildlife finds it difficult to adapt, reduces erosion and could make the forest more resilient to risks from disease and changes in climate.
Obviously, this approach cannot be applied to the Christmas Tree plantations. However, as the trees are spaced to let the light get in, to create the conical trees we love, they can still provide a home for wildlife, especially if pesticides are avoided.
It is estimated that artificial trees generate 7 - 20x more carbon than a natural tree. So, if you do have one, it is essential to reuse it as many times as possible. But those of us sticking with natural trees can reduce the carbon footprint by sourcing it locally to keep down the tree miles and by disposing of it thoughtfully. A tree bought from a superstore may have been brought all the way from Scotland (and might have been felled weeks ago and so be ready to drop its needles as soon as you decorate it). The worst option for disposal is to send it to landfill; chipping, burning, or composting all result in lower carbon emissions. Wiltshire County Council will collect old trees from residents with green bins and compost them, or there are charities which collect them for recycling in return for a small donation.
Dr Phil Baker, from Reading University, gave us a fascinating talk on hedgehogs recently.
We learnt that there are 4 species of hedgehog in Europe, with slightly overlapping ranges in some areas, although there is only one native wild species in the UK (in addition to pet hedgehogs which are of a different species). Hedgehogs belong to the order Insectivora but are actually omnivorous and a highly adaptable species, which evolved in woodland edge habitats about 15 million years ago. They usually have 1 litter a year, although occasionally have two, and hibernate through the winter prompted by cold temperatures. Their main food sources are earthworms and insects, but they can also eat some terrestrial molluscs and eggs of ground-nesting birds. Their average life-span is 3 years although the record is of a 16-year-old hedgehog.
It is very difficult to know exactly how many hedgehogs there are, the extent of their decline and the reasons for their decline but there are a few known facts known through different sources. However, Phil pointed out more research is needed on all aspects.
Hedgehogs were abundant in the past, and were particularly favoured by the Enclosures Acts, which created lots of hedgerows, in the postmedieval period. Hedgehog populations started to fare badly with the popularisation of game shooting, and as possible predators of ground-nesting game bird eggs and chicks, they were routinely killed by gamekeepers. They could have gone extinct if it hadn’t been for WW1. Since WW2, numbers of hedgehogs have steadily decreased (estimates range between a 50 and a 90% reduction).
A series of circumstances are liable to the decrease in the number of hedgehogs and their admittance to rescue centres (which on average have a 50% rehabilitation success):
Over the last few years, a series of charities and conservation organisations have promoted measures to promote hedgehogs, such as hedgehog houses and hedgehog tunnels. These have had mixed success, while it shows some people are really enthusiastic about hedgehog conservation, it is not enough people and significant achievements have not been obtained. Wildlife rehabilitation centres are increasing in number and capacity and there is evidence that they can be a factor in slowing down the rate of decline. Thus, hedgehogs may actually go extinct if we don’t change enough decline factors.
To end on a positive note, I want to highlight the following positive actions out of Phil’s talk:
A reminder that we'll be showing the award winning RiverBlue documentary on Thursday 23rd November in the Victoria Hall at 6pm. It is free for under 21s and £1 per ticket for everyone else. Please spread the word. It is open to everyone.
River conservationist Mark Angelo infiltrated the fashion industry to reveal the destruction of some of the world's most vital rivers through the dumping of toxic chemical waste, affecting the people and wildlife who rely on these rivers for survival.
RiverBlue acts as a demand for change in the textile industry and offers solutions of hope for a sustainable future.
The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is an environmental charity which aims to increase our knowledge of birds and other wildlife and, using data gathered by volunteers, seeks to inform decisions on government policy, land use and conservation priorities.
To do this, it organises a range of recording schemes through which volunteers gather data about birds’ numbers, distribution, habits, breeding success, and more. One of these schemes is the Wetland Birds Survey (WeBS) which counts the UK’s internationally important non-breeding waterbirds. This includes wildfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) waders, grebes, cormorants, and herons. Since it started in 1947 this scheme has grown and now over 3000 volunteers monitor 2,800 sites. Each volunteer adopts a location to count once a month, with the core counting season between September and March as this is when the numbers of many species peak.
The largest aggregations of waterbirds are at our estuaries. But inland lakes and wetland areas are favoured by certain species so cumulatively they also contribute. Locally, Fonthill Lake and Wardour Castle Lake are monitored, but as waterbirds can be very mobile, and one can often see wildfowl flying between these two areas, there is a risk of double counting. So, one Sunday a month is designated as the core count day, so that all counters can visit their sites on the same days. Records over decades for these sites show significant changes in the balance of species seen and their annual peak counts. Unfortunately, most of these changes show a downward trend.
Collecting all the information together from all sites across the country allows the BTO to generate indices and trends for each species. As many of the species that overwinter in the UK breed elsewhere, in Europe or the Arctic, changes in abundance relate to conditions across large parts of the world.
Monitoring these bird numbers help us to assess how wildlife populations are responding to environmental change. The efforts of all those volunteers contribute to documents such as the recently published State of Nature report which provides a benchmark for the current status of our wildlife. It doesn’t make happy reading, but one can be assured that it is based on the best data available.
15 members and friends gathered on the car park at Lodmoor on a bright, sunny but slightly chilly morning. Andrew started out by describing how the marshland of Lodmoor had been designated an SSSI in 1952 but had still suffered from being used as the municipal rubbish dump until the 1970’s. Mercifully, only about a quarter was infilled but this is still evidenced by the vents allowing gases from the landfill to escape – into the car park. Nice.
Lodmoor lies on the east side of Weymouth the earlier parts of which lie on slightly higher ground which separates Lodmoor from Radipole Lake to the west. As the area drains south eastward toward the sea, the freshwater marshes become progressively more brakish until, close to the sea wall and the sluices which control the flow of water between the moor and the sea, it becomes saltmarsh.
The flat nature of the area means that reeds, rushes, and other vegetation can obstruct clear views, but we walked along the perimeter paths which gave good visibility out over some of the pools. There were plenty of birds to see including numerous Canada Geese, Lapwings, Teal, Mallard, Shoveller and Gadwall as well as a variety of gull species. The highlight was a flock of around 40 Golden Plover which occasionally got up and flew around together in the sunshine, alternately showing their white undersides and speckled golden upper parts as the swooped around in the blue sky. There were also plenty of Grey Herons as well as several Little Egrets and at least three Great White Egrets. Unfortunately, the Spoonbills which often show up at Lodmoor were not present. These, as well as Egrets, were very unusual birds on Lodmoor 30 years ago but are now relatively commonplace as they colonise the south of the country.
There were relatively few wader species to be seen. In addition to about a score of Black Tailed Godwits there were a handful each of Dunlin and Snipe.
After being a bit irritating by only showing briefly above the reeds a Marsh Harrier eventually made a decent, very visible flight across the moor. This is another bird, once vanishingly rare in Weymouth which is now resident and breeding and which can usually be seen at Lodmoor and Radipole.
After lunch we went over to Radipole Lake which, like Lodmoor, is now managed by the RSPB as a nature reserve. Very different to Lodmoor, visibility is much more restricted by the dense reed beds which make up so much of the reserve. In summer these are full of Reed and Sedge Warblers but throughout the year you can hear the distinctive, and very loud, call of the Cetti’s Warbler. We had our ears peeled for the distinctive call of the Bearded Tit or Bearded Reedling as it is now known (because technically it isn’t a Tit) because this beautiful but elusive bird is more often heard than seen. Unfortunately, we were unlucky although we did hear the unmistakable squealing call of the Water Rail, another rarely seen resident of the reed beds.
At the top end of the loop path known as Buddleia Walk, we had views out over the open water where we added Pochard and Tufted to our list of ducks. By the time we dispersed from the car park at Radipole we had seen or heard 40 species of birds, which included Swallow, several of which were flying over on their way south throughout the day.
As an ambassador for Dark Sky International, Steve Tonkin gave us a comprehensive talk on the importance of doing all we can to reduce nocturnal light pollution. Not only does it cause a disruption to the normal life of a wide range of animals, but it is having a long term effect on species numbers. Bright lights at night cause confusion, leading to death on roads, predation by larger animals and fewer opportunities to mate.
We heard examples about robins who get exhausted, mistaking artificial lights for daylight, as they sing through the night and migrating birds who are disoriented by lights and fly into buildings. There are parts of the world where already crops have to be pollinated by hand; for instance, in parts of Canada for their blueberry crops and in parts of China for their apples because insect colonies have vanished.
Steve warned that we still have a way to go in further decreasing the light pollution across the AONB, otherwise we risk losing our dark skies designation. The light pollution over Tisbury was a particular concern to see when he showed us the satellite imaging of the AONB.
So how can we help? https://darksky.org/ shows the way with guidance on how to assess your own home lighting, particularly in making sure that any outdoor light is appropriately placed with motion sensor activation and downward facing beams in warm not blue tones, to minimise disruption to wildlife. We can also look around our own community to see whether there is unnecessary lighting on public buildings and seek to persuade decision makers to implement changes.
Andrew Graham has organised our last trip of the season to these two RSPB reserves in Weymouth. The focus will be on resident and migrant birds. Bring binoculars if you have them. No dogs.
Meet at the Nadder Centre car park at 09:00am or at the Beach car park at Lodmoor DT4 7SX, just to the west of the entrance to the Lodmoor reserve, at approximately 10:30am.
Distance, Difficulty and Footwear : The combined distance at these two separate locations will amount to approximately 5 km/3 miles on flat gravel paths which may be a bit muddy after rain. Good stout shoes should suffice rather than wellingtons.
Bring a packed lunch and refreshments. There is no limit to numbers on this visit, but it will help if we know how many people to expect. Either use the Contact form here or send us an email to the address mentioned in the members' newsletter.
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.