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.
The day was sunny with that slight September chill in the air and we marvelled at the greenness of the trees in Savernake Forest for this time of year. After a wet May and then regular bouts of rain, the trees were showing fewer signs of stress and had kept their leaves longer. Keith Lea had prepared a fascinating day of study and exploration for us as we went off the main paths and visited different sections of the forest.
One of the first tips he shared was the way to differentiate pedunculate from sessile oaks by inspecting the way the leaves and acorns attached to the twigs. Our alliterative aide memoire of sessile-stalk will hopefully stick with us, where the sessile oak has long stalks to its leaves, whereas the pedunculate oak has the leaves forming from barely visible short stalks.
We had lively discussions about fungi, having spotted Shaggy parasol, Chicken in the woods, Beefsteak, Earthball and these tiny translucent white parasols perched up high on branches whose name we didn’t know. There were majestic ancient trees to marvel at and glades where trees formed circles round beaten down leaves and mast, or around grassy pastureland in the more open sections. Shifts in the scents of the forest and temperature surges were noticeable as we moved through the different sections.
We had a truly immersive day in the life of the forest and Keith was an excellent leader, sharing his knowledge of the trees and wildlife.
The end of summer always brings lots of wasps to interrupt our picnics or irritate us in pub gardens. Another member of the wasp family, the Asian Hornet has been in the news lately because of concern about its potential to colonise the UK. It was accidentally introduced into southern France, probably off a container ship, in 2004, since when it has spread rapidly across Europe and towards the Channel.
The Asian Hornet is a very effective predator of insects, including honeybees and other pollinators. It can cause significant losses to bee colonies, and potentially other native species. As one hornet can consume up to 300 bees a day the species could have a devastating impact on our bees if it becomes established. As a result, much effort has gone into publicising the threat and encouraging people to report any sightings. There is even an “Asian Hornet Watch” app to help you to do this. It provides useful photos of the Asian Hornet and other species with which it could be confused. This includes the continent’s only indigenous species, the European Hornet. You can use the app to report a sighting, ideally with a photo.
The way to identify an Asian Hornet in three steps is to ask: 1) does is it look mostly black; 2) has it a wide orange stripe on 4th segment of the abdomen (body or “tail”); and 3) do its legs look as if they have been dipped in yellow paint? Taken together these factors clearly separate it from other candidates.
Our European Hornet, which has is quite common in the south of England, is a handsome insect slightly larger than the Asian Hornet and about twice the size of a wasp. It has similar markings to the wasp but is chestnut brown and yellow rather than black and yellow. It is not nearly as aggressive as the wasp and will only sting humans if threatened. Indeed, males do not even have a sting. Like other wasps they make paper nests of chewed up wood or bark, often in hollow trees.
We may see them foraging in good weather throughout the autumn before the newly mated queens go into hibernation ready to start a new nest in spring. The rest of the colony, including the old queen, dies by winter. You may see the queens stocking up on nectar from flowers prior to hibernation.
Since 2016, nationally there have been 52 confirmed sightings of Asian Hornets and 45 nests destroyed. Most sightings have been in Kent and although there have been a few in Dorset and Hampshire, there have been no sightings in Wiltshire yet.
It is certainly important to prevent the spread of the Asian Hornet, but we shouldn’t allow our concern to lead us to unnecessarily persecute our native, and largely harmless hornet species.
Meet at the Nadder Centre car park on Sat 3rd June at 10.30am or approximately 1 hour 15 minutes later at the Westhay Moor Reserve BA6 9TX. The car park is at OS ST 456 437, just north of the junction between Westhay Moor Drove and Dagg’s Lane Drove, between the villages of Westhay and Godney.
Distance, Difficulty and Footwear: Approximately 5 km/3 miles on flat gravel paths which may be a bit muddy if there has been recent rain. Good stout shoes should suffice rather than wellingtons. Bring a packed lunch and refreshments.
This Field Trip has limited numbers. There may still be places if you've not yet signed up and want to come. Equally please let us know if you're on the list, but can no longer make the date. We are now using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org for organising lists for events, so please contact us there.
The committee have been enjoying a conflab on beetles. Dick found an interesting looking beetle near his house in bright sunshine, about 30mm long with a distinctive scaly pattern on its back and he sent an email around for suggestions on its species. And then did manage to track it down himself on the internet as the meloe proscerabaeus (Black Oil Beetle). Peter then passed on Tracy Adams’ nugget which she’d given to the Nadder Valley Cluster Group that “Black Oil Beetles have a fascinating but slightly gruesome life cycle which involves the larvae or the bizarrely named 'triungulins'. They climb up onto flowers & hitch a ride on the back of a solitary mining bee who take them into the nest & where they eat all the bee's eggs & pollen & nectar stores. The larvae develop in the burrows & emerge in spring as an oil beetle ready to mate & start the cycle again. They are a declining species so it is important to submit any records.”
Andrew remarked “I get Oil Beetles on the wild bank in my garden and have been advised that you need to get a good look at the shape of the thorax to separate out the Black from the Violet Oil Beetle. I can't make the shape out from the pic and though there is certainly some violet there and the antennae are a bit bent both are features of both a Violet and a Black Oil Beetle. The Violets have a western distribution so it could be.
I haven't seen any in my garden yet this year but saw one walking down Weaveland Road on Monday - well I was walking down the road, the beetle was walking down the pavement...”
Andrew has added a photo of his own and finds it hard to decide whether his was a Black or a Violet. A green poo pellet graced the photo too, so we have further natural history findings to pass on! Andrew has also shared a useful factsheet link from BugLife about Oil Beetles.
Our AGM will start at 7.00pm for a brief run through of the minutes of last year’s meeting and the 2022 accounts. We urge as many members as possible to come along. The hall should be open half an hour before we start, so this year you can even enjoy the proceedings with a glass of wine in hand.
The talk will start at 7:30pm and we shall hear from Sarah Barnsley on 'Why hedgerows matter'. Sarah is Hedgerow Officer for the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, and a huge hedgerow enthusiast, working to promote these humble countryside heroes.
Hedgerows form a key component of our natural heritage and provide many vital ecosystem services and functions. They connect up our countryside and provide essential food and shelter for much of our wildlife. From nesting birds to hibernating hedgehogs, well-managed hedges can provide abundant resources for animals, birds and all manner of insects. Yet, to maintain a healthy hedgerow network into the future, we need to manage hedgerows according to their natural lifecycle.
Talk notes: Managing the NT hillforts and chalk grasslands for both archaeology and nature conservation
Clive Whitbourn, National Trust Ranger, started his talk with a focus on Hambledon Hill, the 47 hectare hillfort which came to the National Trust in 2014. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a photo from 1940 showed how bare the hillfort was 80 years ago. Now the hillfort is managed lightly, with scrub kept low and any erosion kept at bay with terrace reshaping to preserve the profile of the ramparts.
Clive showed us the methods they use with wooden frameworks buried deep to support hessian bags full of chalk, which bulk out any damaged areas, with turf from the ditch placed on top. The chalkland grasses grow through and thrive. He mentioned that the south and south-west ramparts of Hambledon Hill are best for butterflies.
Cattle scraping for minerals – they can go on binges to self-medicate - and visitors wearing down paths, all play their part in erosion. Roboflail, a mechanical AI cutter, is being used on some of the NT sites to great effect to keep the scrub low and save the man hours for other tasks. The NT relies on volunteer help on many of their conservation projects.
Hod Hill is Dorset’s largest Iron Age hillfort and is unusual because it has a Roman fort nestled within, built at a time when the invaders needed to defend their capture of this Durotriges stronghold. Clive showed us how the framework and hessian bag method was also used to repair a bridleway here.
In terms of nature conservation, Texel sheep are good grazers and White Park cattle are brilliant for rough pastures. Yellow Rattle, which suppresses coarse grass growth, is doing well at Winn Green and there are plans this year to brush-harvest the seed from there and broadcast it to the newly purchased Clubmen’s Down, a 30 acre piece of arable.
Across Clive’s patch and the various Downs and hillforts, uncommon species are being noted: Bee and the Great Butterfly orchids, and the unusual Autumn Lady’s Tresses; Waxcap fungi; Marsh, Silver-spotted and Danville Fritillaries, Grizzled Skippers, Small Blue and Adonis Blue butterflies; Great Green Bush-crickets and Glow worms.
Clive’s talk gave us plenty of inspiration for visiting these places, particularly in the spring and summer!
A cutting of Erigeron daisies taken from my courtyard released a curious flatworm later in the day at its new home. Thankfully it was spotted and isolated, while the two thin red stripes and features were pored over. The RHS later had to come to our rescue with the identification (thank you, Lynne, for your help with this) and this is what they said. It's worth knowing about in case other people make similar discoveries, because these flatworms should be destroyed.
"I think that it is likely that the flatworm you have found is Kontikia ventrolineata. This is a non-native flatworm, with origins probably to Australia and/or New Zealand, whilst some records indicate also the Indo-Pacific region. It is a small flatworm with a dark coloured body. This flatworm species is thought to have been introduced in 1840 and has several UK records. It can feed on small invertebrates that it can catch, including small snails but it also appears to be a scavenger.
Once it has arrived in a garden there is really nothing effective that can be done to reduce their numbers. Destroying any that you find hiding underneath pots or stones will remove a few, but this is likely to be only a small proportion of the population in your garden. There are no pesticides available that will control flatworms.
Kontikia ventrolineata, is listed under Schedule 9 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 with respect to England and Wales and it is an offence to release it or allow its escape to the wild. You should endeavour to avoid spreading the flatworm to new areas that are as yet free of flatworms. They spread to new areas through the movement of growing plants, compost or soil, so you should be careful about giving growing plants to other gardeners.
More information about flatworms can be found at https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=975 "
Rebecca Twigg started her talk last week by stressing the relative unimportance of honey bees compared with wild pollinators such as solitary bees, bumblebees, moths, butterflies, hoverflies and beetles. She gave several examples of solitary bee species that are commonly found in gardens such as the Ashy and Tawny mining bees, as well as the recently arrived Ivy bees, and explained interesting details about their lifecycles and habitat requirements. Later, she gave us examples of the best garden flowers for pollinators, natives as well as exotics.
She stressed the importance of having flowers blooming all year round, with Heathers from late winter, Lungwort in early spring and continuing right through to early winter with Mahonia, for example. Rebecca explained how she restocks her garden by swapping plants, growing from cuttings and collecting seeds rather than buying from
Rebecca pointed out how planting in drifts is so important, so the bees don’t have to waste energy flying between individual flowers, making sure there’s a variety of flower types, e.g., Foxgloves for long-tongued bumblebees and daisies for short-tongued hover-flies.
Rebecca then spoke about creating different habitats in gardens, to provide for the diverse requirements of different pollinators. Drilling holes between 5 and 8mm and pencil length into wooden panels, logs or posts placed in warm, sunny situations can provide valuable nesting sites for solitary bees. The importance of having areas of short and longer (flower rich) grass in a lawn to cater for mining bees, which need warm soil to complete their lifecycle, was emphasised.
We recommend walking the Salisbury Bee Trail which Rebecca is responsible for laying out and for which she won an award.
by Peter Shallcross
This month we welcome Rebecca Twigg, founder of Salisbury's Secret Garden.
Rebecca is an organic gardener with a passion for the natural world who received a DEFRA award for the Salisbury Bee Trail project. She has now started a new community garden at the Five Rivers Health and Well-being Centre and an additional ‘green space kick start’ scheme for those wanting to take on a patch of ground themselves.
“Exploration outside is absolutely in my heart, there is something magical about immersing yourself in nature …these interactions shape our values and abilities to manage in an ever-changing world too.”
As last month, the Victoria Hall bar will be open from 7:00PM to serve wine, beer and soft drinks before the meeting.
We plan, as usual now, to live-stream Rebecca’s presentation over Zoom for anyone not able to attend in person; I’ll send out the Zoom link to members a few days before.
Attending our meetings is free for members and anyone under 21; adult visitors are asked for a £2 contribution. If you are not a member but would like to come along, please get in touch via the contact form. The Victoria Hall is on the High St, Tisbury, opposite the garage.
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.