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.
Mid-March into early April is the time of a “blackthorn winter”: a cold spell when the blackthorn is in bloom. This is perhaps because the combination of different strains of the species and the varied micro-climates of their growing locations mean that you can find blackthorn in flower somewhere for more than a month, during which it is likely that there will be at least one cold spell. Or perhaps it is that blackthorn scrub, with its clouds of flowers at their peak, look like the bushes have been covered with snow.
The small white flowers bloom on short stalks from buds along the spines and do so before the leaves appear. En masse, the bloom provides a welcome early source of nectar for insects. These pollinate the flowers, which then develop the distinctive blue-black sloes.
The tree grows naturally in scrub, copses, and woodland, and is commonly used to form a cattle-proof hedge. It favours sunny positions, and when left uncut can develop into considerable thickets, such as those in the Oddbrook valley. Mature trees can grow to a height of around 6–7m and live for up to 100 years. The deep brown bark is smooth, and twigs form distinctive, straight, side shoots which develop into thorns. Its trunk and stems form a dense wood which is good for burning and straight stems have been used for walking sticks, including the Irish shillelagh.
The foliage provides food for the caterpillars of several moths. The dense thickets provide sheltered nesting sites for birds, which then feast on these caterpillars, and later on the sloes.
The scarce brown hairstreak butterfly lays its eggs on blackthorn. This is the largest and brightest of the hairstreak butterflies, the female looking a gorgeous golden colour in flight. However, in common with other hairstreaks, it is quite a small butterfly and notoriously easy to overlook. They spend most of their adult lives perched in the tops of trees, out of sight, lapping honeydew from the leaves. If you are lucky, you might see a female when she descends to lay eggs, nearly always on blackthorn twigs in hedges or bits of sheltered scrub.
Our knowledge of the local distribution of this butterfly is improving all the time, due to the efforts of a small number of lepidopterists who tirelessly search suitable locations for these tiny eggs. Correctly identified, these are a reliable indicator of presence, although not necessarily breeding success, but gets around the difficulties of spotting an adult on the wing. The population appears to be spreading westwards from the area north-east of Salisbury. As eggs have been found in the vicinity of Grovely Wood, who knows, they may be present hereabouts without being recorded. Eyes peeled this August/September.
by Andrew Graham
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.
Important: we shall not be at the Victoria Hall in Tisbury for this month's talk on Thurs 17th March due to Covid precautions and the talk will only be available via Zoom. Members, please refer to your emails with the details of the link.
Our speaker Imogen Cavadino has tested positive, yet has kindly confirmed that she is well enough to deliver her talk via Zoom. Due to the rise in cases locally we feel that it's wise for us all not to gather. If you still want to join as a guest for this talk (£2 per ticket for guests) please use the contact form and we shall send out the link to you.
We are delighted to share the news that Peter Shallcross was announced as the winner of the Conservation Project of the Year at the Wiltshire Life Awards 2022 ceremony last Friday for his Disease Resistant Elm Project. Well done, Peter!
As a token of our gratitude to past committee members, Peter Shallcross presented ‘Plants and Us’ by John Akeroyd to Pete Thompson and Pam Chave at the AGM on 17th February and to Val Hopkinson afterwards, as they were on the very first committee 40 years ago.
Elizabeth Forbes was also presented with an 'Earth from the Air' book by the photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, for her work with the Swift project.
At 7:30 pm this coming Thursday in the Victoria Hall, Imogen Cavadino is coming to share her knowledge about slugs and snails.
Imogen is an entomologist currently carrying out research funded by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) to help in identifying their species, and to discover which ones are responsible for damaging plants, whether in gardens, on farmland or in the wild.
She aims to inform pest management strategies so that only those slugs and snails that are actually damaging plants are targeted, reducing control costs as well as potential harm to other wildlife.
We've made a few changes to the leaders of the field trips and so there's now an updated file loaded for the programme on the website. Letting you know just in case you've already printed yours out for the year!
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.