Apologies to Debbie and Andrew Carter for being late in uploading these great photos of one of their swifts on the move from their special swift box home on 20th July. Andrew has caught the exit flight so well.
Poppy Roou from the Chase & Chalke Landscape Partnership has contacted us to spread the word about needing trainees for their Chase & Chalke short River Ebble Training sessions next week. All equipment will be provided.
The sessions with the Wessex Rivers Trust and the Chase & Chalke team are open to all ages and it is a great opportunity for skills development and for our river habitat health.
Unfortunately, if they don’t have more trainees they will need to re-schedule the sessions.
Thursday 19th May
3pm - 4.30pm / 4.30pm - 6pm
Register here for training:
If you or potential trainees have any questions please email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Poppy on PoppyRoou@cranbornechase.org.uk.
More information and background to this training is here: https://cranbornechase.org.uk/chaseandchalke/a-crystal-clear-ebble/
Liz Nash has reported that she saw 5 swifts yesterday afternoon from her garden off High St, Tisbury.
As Elizabeth Forbes mentions in her newsletter to supporters of the swifts campaign, now is the time to turn on the player for swift calls if you have one with your swift nest box.
"There's no need to check on the boxes, other than to note if any have come loose in the winter gales. Any problems: let me know and we'll try to sort.
This year, we're hoping to record the outcome of our campaign in terms of nesting activity. If you would like to help in this way, please just keep an eye open and a notebook and pencil handy, because we'd be really grateful if you could make a note of activity around nests/boxes:
Elizabeth is happy to be the first port of call for any queries or reports, so if you don't know her email address, please use the contact form and we'll pass them on to her.
The following request has been submitted by Jessica Perry of the RSPB Volunteer Monitoring Farm Wildlife project.
"The RSPB Volunteer Monitoring Farm Wildlife (VMFW) project aims to provide a match up service for volunteer surveyors and farmers. The project objectives are to provide a wildlife surveying service to farms, offer opportunities for people to get out into nature and use the collected data to create useful outputs that will help farmers to adapt to nature friendly farming practices.
This is currently a pilot project so many aspects are in development. The taxa surveys taking place in Wiltshire this year are pollinators, butterflies, and bumblebees. We hope to take up more taxa in future years, such as birds and plants. The surveying methods are all citizen science based, so are easy to learn and conduct, but with practice can become a valuable skill.
We try to match volunteer surveyors to farms within a reasonable travelling distance. We may be able to reimburse some travel expenses. Once a match is agreed we send the surveyor the contact details to get in touch with the farmer.
First there is a 'Meet & Greet' session where you agree with the farmer where and what to survey and do a risk assessment. Then surveys are conducted throughout the spring and summer. Results are submitted online by the surveyor. At the end of the year, we will turn those results into useful outputs for the farmers.
It is completely up to you, which taxa to survey, although sometimes a farm might express an interest in a specific type. You can do more than one taxa if you wish and you can do more than one farm if you wish. We cannot always guarantee that a farm is nearby, however we do occasionally run training sessions and encourage our volunteers without farms to practice their skills at their local green space.
The surveys differ a little in how often they are done, bumblebees can be monthly or 3 surveys throughout the surveying season (now until Oct), pollinators are monthly (now until Sept) and butterflies are fortnightly (now until Sept).
Bumblebee transects are 1-2km. For butterflies you select up to 5 areas to survey and pace evenly through that area for 15 minutes recording species. For pollinator surveys the surveyor observes an area of target flowers e.g. clover, for 10 minutes, recording the pollinating insects that visit the flowers.
We currently have several farms in south Wiltshire who need volunteer surveyors. There are two farms in the Tisbury area, one in the Semley area and one east of Gillingham. If anyone is interested in being involved in the project or to help us cover these farms please contact me at email@example.com"
This striking photograph of a Dark-edged Bee-fly was taken recently by Dick Budden, as it rested on a clothes peg of his washing line. The Dark-edged Bee-fly is the most common of the bee-fly species and can be seen mainly in April and May as it feeds with its long straight proboscis on the nectar from spring flowers in gardens and hedgerows.
It is parasitic in behaviour. The female deposits her eggs into mining bee nesting areas by hovering a few inches above, then giving a sharp twist of her body as she flicks her eggs out with a covering of dust that she’s collected specially for the eggs’ protection. Upon hatching, her larvae will then burrow down and lie in wait to feed on the host bee’s larvae when they mature.
You can contribute to Bee-fly Watch on the Dipterists Forum of the Biological Records Centre, where they would welcome accounts of your sightings.
Gareth Harris of the Wiltshire Bat Group has sent us an update on The South Wiltshire Greater Horseshoe Bat Project which was launched in October 2020. As Gareth remarks in his update, “a considerable volume of work has been achieved” including the enhancement of roosting sites, hibernation counts and large-scale bat detector & dung beetle surveys.
Further information from Gareth
“During 2021, over 50 locations were surveyed for bats using static bat detectors, recording around 700,000 sound files, over 376 nights of survey, generating records of 13 species of bat. Notably this included many new records of foraging Greater horseshoe bat, as well as other rarer species of bat such as Barbastelle bat, Leisler’s bat and Lesser horseshoe.
The map below illustrates the spread of locations surveyed in 2021, and then specifically which of these recorded Greater horseshoe bat. Given the importance of the Nadder valley, hosting Chilmark Quarries SSSI for example, it is unsurprising to see this area recorded such a high activity of Greater horseshoe bat.
The project also initiated landscape-scale surveys for dung beetles; dung beetles are a major food source for adult and juvenile Greater horseshoe bats throughout the year (including during the winter months). Surveys were undertaken close to roosting sites of greater horseshoes as well as the wider landscape. This work feeds into partnership working with local farmers, promoting the importance of dung beetles in soil health, carbon sequestration, and also in managing livestock endoparasites. There is growing evidence that a diverse dung beetle assemblage may reduce the requirement to use livestock worming products which decimate the wider soil invertebrate community, including dung beetles.”
The Wiltshire Bat Group will be releasing further updates on their website in due course, so you’ll be able to find out more about the impacts of their bat and dung beetle surveys there.
Slugs and snails have a true champion in Imogen Cavadino, an entomologist who is carrying out research for the RHS. We were treated to a wealth of information with up-close-and-personal photography of these oft-maligned creatures.
Slugs evolved from snails as they simplified their coiled shells and diverged into different families. There’s even such a thing as a semi-slug, one that can’t retract into the shell it carries on top. Some slug species still have a visible pale mantle under the surface, marking their vestigial shell which serves as storage for calcium salts.
The majority of snails have shells which coil to the right, developing asymmetrically via torsion, so that both their respiratory pore and anus end up on the right side of their heads. They are so dependent on moisture that if deprived, they can create an epiphragm to seal themselves in and succumb to a dormant state. Quick to revive if the conditions improve, Imogen told us that a snail was once stuck on a postcard as an exhibit in the British Museum (before they knew about their dormancy behaviour) and stunned everyone by making an escape.
For a researcher, the slime colour can be useful for identifying the species. Slugs produce two types of mucus for defence and movement. We heard that the netted field slug (deroceras reticulatum - above on the left) is the most harmful to our agricultural activities, making a feast of root vegetables in the autumn, but the cellar slugs (Limacus sp. - on the right) feed on rotting material, fungi, lichens and algae and are therefore blameless.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has been campaigning, with Imogen heavily involved with their media activity, to dispel the myths that all slugs are enemies of the gardener. The last big slug survey was done in the 1940s and the RHS’ recent research has been aided by a formal survey conducted by 60 chosen participants around the country, who performed scheduled slug counts, with the glorious total of 21,000 slugs collected and identified in one year.
They discovered that non-native species were becoming more dominant, no doubt hitching rides on plants from other countries. New varieties are also being discovered, like the ghost slug (Selenochlamys ysbryda - above centre) with no eyes, first identified in Wales in 2014.
Finally, that all important question – how do you euthanise a slug? Obviously, only the types which are eating your veg – please identify them first! The most ethical way is to put them in a sealed container and place in the freezer. Or if you are wanting to maintain their colours for identification purposes, you can drown them in carbonated spring water.
On a more positive note, the RHS welcomes recordings from anyone who wants to get involved. You will find information from Imogen on our Wildlife Recording page, about helping to record slug and snail activity.
Dr Tristan Bantock is presenting a talk for the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust on Hemiptera (true bugs) for which he is a national expert.
Michael New, the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's Ecological Officer,
has previously been to a couple of Tristan’s presentations and he says that they really get you enthusiastic about this interesting group. Tristan also runs the recording scheme.
The meeting is on March 22nd and starts at 7pm. Please can you let Michael know if you are interested in attending and he will send out Zoom meeting details for you. firstname.lastname@example.org
We know from the survey undertaken last year further up the Nadder near Weaveland Farm, that this area is phenomenally popular with bats.
Then, 5297 passes were recorded from a total of 10 identified species, over a month.
This year, Peter G Thompson (who gave us our first Zoom talk last Autumn) placed a static bat monitor on one of the bridges over the Nadder in Dick Budden's patch for five nights in early July. It recorded 10,000 hits, i.e. 2,000 each night on average, with 13 different bat species = 75% of all the species resident in UK! The species were:
Barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus)
Brandt’s bat (Myotis brandtii)
Brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus)
Common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus)
Daubenton’s bat (Myotis daubentonii)
Greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum)
Leisler’s bat (Nyctalus leisleri)
Lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros)
Natterer’s bat (Myotis nattereri)
Noctule (Nyctalus noctula)
Serotine (Eptesicus serotinus)
Soprano pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus)
Whiskered bat (Myotis mystacinus)
The survey on this stretch of the Nadder is part of a programme Peter is working on to map the bat population along the Nadder from Tisbury all the way to Barford St Martin by the end of this summer.
Hopefully we’ll get him to share with us the results in due course.
Meanwhile, these tiny creatures do sometimes live the most extraordinary lives. The Guardian reported that a Nathusius's Pipistrelle (we have only the Common kind) weighting just 8g (I don't think my scales would even weigh that little), flew 1,200 miles - and ended up being killed by a cat.
Life isn't fair, for bats any more than it is for humans.
Organiser: Debbie Carter
Following Tom Morath's talk in April about the Hawk Conservancy Trust's history, we visited the trust near Andover. The Trust does exciting work with species worldwide but also has a number of research and conservation projects focused on kestrels and tawny owls - whose populations are now 'of concern' - and barn owls and the impact of declining prey populations such as rabbits, almost wiped out by mixomatosis.
More encouragingly, banning organochlorine pesticides seems to be helping recovery.
Photo: Barn owl
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.