Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Summer summary: 2016

I've really dropped the ball on blogging this season, so this is a round-up of our busiest summer yet on the project.

   Firstly. some BIG news....

We did it!!

Gatwick Airport Ltd has won the 'Client Award' catergory in the CIRIA BIG Biodiversity Challenge. Our biodiversity project has been running for 4 years now, with thanks to great support from key people and various departments at Gatwick, plus the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership. The CIRIA certificate is another brilliant collaborative milestone and sits nicely alongside The Wildlife Trust's Biodiversity Benchmark Award, which we continually work to uphold.

Hannah Deacon, myself and Tom Simpson

The organisation CIRIA firmly believes that the construction industry, business and infrastructure can all do their part in preserving the UK's biodiversity. In the midst of unprecedented species decline and the loss of British countryside, this is becoming of vital importance in conservation.

Betony in flower along the River Mole, North West Zone (July 2016)

Summer conservation and habitat works:

We are incredibly grateful to all of our volunteers who have visited the sites and got stuck in this summer, as without you we would not have half a project! We've spent days with local businesses and Gatwick staff controlling Himalayan Balsam along rivers, managing glades in ancient woodlands and helping to fortify the woodland footpaths.

Himalayan Balsam flying through the air

Working along the River Mole in Gatwick Airport's North West Zone

Kevin Lerwill's regular team of Gatwick Greenspace volunteers make a great contribution to our sites, along with Tom's regular helpers, Harry and Robert, who are incredibly helpful on more technical tasks. Here they have installed a shiny new biodiversity information board, over at the Land East of the Railway Line.

Under no circumstances may we put any staples for posters in the new oak frames


At the North Terminal Staff Memorial Garden; our pollinator friendly plants are filling out the spaces nicely, with signposts in place displaying information about each plant. Next year we will begin recording the pollinating insects here for the Sussex University LASI 'Plants for pollinators' study!

Jubilee Staff Memorial Garden - planting for pollinators

Tom Simpson with Sussex Wildlife Trust conservation trainee Bruno

Bumblebee on Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum)

Ecological monitoring:

Two new surveys conducted this year were clearwing moths and Purple Emperor Butterflies. Clearwing moths can be tracked down with the use of specific pheromone lures, which we bought from Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies.

Our first crack at using clearwing moth pheromones

It was rather challenging to even find a sunny afternoon in June and July! After a few attemps, our work experience placement student Ellie was our lucky charm and behold, after just 5 minutes the Sallow Clearwing Moth did appear!

This tiny moth is a very scarce (Nationally notable B) and likely under-recorded species. At first glance it looks like an ichneumonoid wasp...

Sallow Clearwing Moth (Synanthedon flaviventris

We had no joy trying to tempt down Purple Emperor Butterflies from Oak canopies, despite using some incredibly stinky shrimp paste (apparently the males love to feed on noxious substances). However, with keen-eyed ecology volunteers like Ellie and Ryan, you don't always need a lure...

A White Admiral perhaps? But we can just make out two tiny eyespots... 

Thanks to Ryan's netting skills (and a local resident for supplying an extendable pole and gaffer-tape), we were able to get a closer look to confirm our identification...

Large indicative eye spot on the underside of the upper wing

Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) female, one of Britain's biggest butterfly species

This is another fantastic record for the airport! Finger crossed that next year we hope to photograph the male.

Happy surveyors

Not only have we had new invertebrate species this year, but vertebrates too! Our very first Slow-worm has turned up in the Land East of the Railway Line. This is a bit of a landmark moment, as in over 4 years of continuous monitoring the only reptile species recorded at Gatwick has been Grass Snakes. Wildlife photographer David Plummer visited our site last week, turned over the first reptile mat he came to and found a new species!

A coppery flash...

Slow-worms are neither worms, nor particularly slow! I've seen this little lady hanging around a few times since now; each time she nipped off quicker than I could get a picture...

Slow-worm (Anguis fragilis) 'The Flash', eventually caught yesterday by myself and Ellie

Back to Gatwick's Grass Snakes, and we've had good results on our surveys this year, with several more sightings of these incredible melanistic (all black) specimens...

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) melanistic form

Juvenile with the barest hint of a yellow collar, but otherwise entirely black.

The DNA samples we collect will be sent off to Bangor University for further analysis. Their study will be looking at relatedness of unusually coloured Grass Snake to other populations around the UK and the European sub-species.

Martyn Cooke of Surrey Bat Group has also sent off samples for DNA testing, from droppings collected at the bat roost in Charlwood Park Farmhouse. He was able to confirm they are Whiskered Bats (Myotis mystacinus), which are one of several species we've been detecting along the River Mole corridor.

Sleepy Brown Long-eared Bat (Plecotus auritus) waits patiently while having his box cleaned out

After our final bat box checks for 2016 (I think we now have around 75 boxes in total), we have confirmed Brown Long-eareds, Common Pipistrelle and Soprano Pipistrelle all in residence.

Ellie and Ryan on a beewalk survey along the River Mole

Rina Quinlan assisting on our reptile surveys

Tom Forward and Ellie on our breeding bird survey

We've hosted a wildlife week, a wildlife day, monitored a whole suite of protected species, recorded declining invertebrates, conducted ecology training courses and natural history group meetings, with many experts giving up their valuable time to help uncover Gatwick's diversity of species. As we go into autumn the work doesn't stop, with more ecological monitoring and habitat works yet to come!

A final big thank you to Royal Holloway University Ecology placement student Ellie Stradling for all her time, commitment and wildlife charming skills this past summer. Please come back again soon!

Ellie and a Southern Hawker Dragonfly (Aeshna cyanea)

Friday, 5 August 2016

Plants for pollinators

Pollinating insects are incredibly important to our well-being, as are places where people can go outdoors and connect with nature. We felt that the Memorial Garden at Jubilee House could do with a little TLC, so we put a shout-out on the internal communication network for Gatwick staff to come and join in with a gardening day. 
The memorial garden is a space dedicated to Kevin Ayling, Jamie Cadman and Glen Browning, and we hope they would approve of their new pollinator friendly plants.
Specially selected plants for our citizen science project

With help from Professor Ratnieks at Sussex University and Tom S and Kevin at Gatwick Greenspace Partnership, we managed to get over 200 new plants on site for Wednesday, ready to go!

The next morning it was down to business......we made great progress, fuelled by Katherine's homemade flapjacks and some complimentary coffees from the Charlton House restaurant. We removed the non-flowering shrubs, retaining what we could and giving some away for rehoming. 

Photo by Wendy Crowhurst

The top layer of gravel was scraped off and new plots marked out, then each plot dug over...

The hardest part complete, it was just before lunchtime when the first plants went in...

Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina)

Photo by Wendy Crowhurst

Professor Ratnieks provided us with a selection of posters, each containing useful information on each type of bee-friendly plant. These will eventually go on display in the flower beds.

Time for a wee break for lunch (and a chance for some Gatwick honey tasting!) 

Back to work; more plants going in, with a number of staff nipping over to help out in between their meetings...

Its really coming together now, and a few people who helped earlier in the morning were able to pop back out and help us with the final push...

As we finished up, the office staff had to down their tools to dash off for their finals meetings. The rest of us pottered around a little bit longer, collecting up spare pots, watering everything in...

Once these plants get growing, they will really fill out the spaces in these beds. As the flowers come into bloom, we will be observing which of the plants attract the most pollinators.

There are still a few finishing touches to implement, such as installing edging boards and staking out the colourful posters, so on Thursday August 11th we are holding another task day in this space. If any staff wanted to pop along again on lunch break to lend us a few minutes, you are most welcome! Just contact myself or Tom through this blog.


Many thanks to Charlton House, Glendale Landscaping Services, the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership, our volunteers and all of the Gatwick Airport Ltd staff who have helped make this project happen at very short notice. Now we can look forward to seeing it bloom!

Our final list of bee-friendly plants:
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Buddleia (Buddleia davidii)
Catmint (Nepeta sp.)
Dahlia Bishop of Llandaff (Dahlia sp.)
Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica)
Helenium Sahin’s Early Flowerer (Helenium sp.)
Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum)
Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantia)
Lavender (Lavandula x intermedia)
Marjoram (Origanum vulgare)
Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
Sunflower Lemon queen (Helianthus annuus)
Verbena (Verbena bonariensis)
Wallflower ‘Bowles Mauve’ (Erysimum linifolium)

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Turf wars

This is an long overdue blogpost is all about the brilliant bunch of botanists (an official collective noun?) who visited the Gatwick Stream site, east of the railway line back in May of this year.

Ragged Robin (Silene flos-cuculi) along Gatwick Stream
(Photo by Brian Pitkin)

This was no turf war (see what I did there?), but instead a meeting of two friendly botanical recording societies - Surrey and Sussex. Gatwick falls slap-bang in the no-man's-land of two differnet types of county border; modern county Sussex, vice-county Surrey (VC17). More details on county boundaries and biological recording can be found here:

Gatwick Airport's biodiversity sites

Watch out you Sussex lot, Arthur has a stick and knows how to use it

The Gatwick Stream flood attenuation (adjacent to Thames Water Sewage Treatment Works) is a section of re-aligned river and excavated flood plain, created for the retention of huge amounts of water (around 186,000 m3 apparently) in major flood events. The site was artificially seeded 3 years ago and is being managed as an area for wildflowers and wetland plants.

The re-aligned section of the Gatwick Stream, June 2015

Having so many eagle-eyed botanists on site meant the gang was able to pick out even the tiniest specimens, resulting in a brilliantly comprehensive species list to add to our growing database at Gatwick!

Riparian vegetation grows well on the silt bars. Linda photographs in-channel vegetation

Pond Water-crowfoot (Ranunculus peltatus)

An important thing to note is that this area was artificially seeded and planted; many of these species might not have been found here naturally, and several sub-species from the continent have been accidentally introduced into the mix. While continuing to settle, it is still a very interesting site with winter waters eroding banks edges and rich silt deposits allowing new life to colonise.

The following are a selection of excellent photographs taken on the day by Jon Wilson and Linda Pitkin...

Narrow-fruited Watercress (Nasturtium microphyllum) (stamens dehiscing outwardly)
Photo by Jon Wilson

Grass Vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia)
Photo by Jon Wilson

Smooth Tare (Vicia tetrasperma)
Photo by Jon Wilson

Ragged Robin (Silene flos-cuculi)
Photo by Linda Pitkin

Fodder Burnet (Sanguisorba minor ssp. balearicum)
Photo by Jon Wilson

Fodder Vetch (Vicia villosa?)
Photo by Linda Pitkin

Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga)
Photo by Jon Wilson

Lesser Trefoil (Trifolium dubium)
Photo by Jon Wilson

Last year's ecology placement student Elliott rejoined us for the day; always rewarding to see the return of a familiar face! Today he was learning about using a loupe hand lens, what features should be examined more closely between similar species... and, bless him, HYBRIDS!

...Docks can do what?!

A sudden scramble over the fence by Caroline and her crew; they must have spotted something pretty interesting here...

Wild Service Tree (Sorbus torminalis). 
A relatively rare find and useful indicator of ancient hedgerows

Finally, a few non-plants from the day:

Small Heath butterfly (Coenonympha pamphilus)

Striped Oak Bug (Rhabdomiris striatellus)

Froghopper (Philaenus spumarius) cuckoo-spit on Fodder Burnet

Furrow Orb-weaver (Larinioides cornutus) - a common spider usually found near water

Thank you to all of you who attended, it was a real privilege to spend the day with such a collective of knowledgeable folk. We hope to see you again sometime!

Final species list:

Agrostis stolonifera
Creeping Bent
Ajuga reptans
Alnus glutinosa
Alopecurus geniculatus
Marsh Foxtail
Anthoxanthum odoratum
Sweet Vernal-grass
Anthriscus sylvestris
Cow Parsley
Arctium minus
Lesser Burdock
Bellis perennis
Bromus hordeaceus
Callitriche stagnalis
Common Water-starwort
Carex flacca
Glaucous Sedge
Centaurea nigra
Common Knapweed
Cerastium fontanum
Common Mouse-ear
Cerastium glomeratum
Sticky Mouse-ear
Cirsium arvense
Creeping Thistle
Cirsium vulgare
Spear Thistle
Crataegus monogyna
Cynosurus cristatus
Crested Dog's-tail
Dactylis glomerata
Digitalis purpurea
Digitalis purpurea
Epilobium parviflorum
Hoary Willowherb
Epilobium tetragonum
Square-stalked Willowherb
Festuca rubra
Red Fescue
Galium aparine
Geranium dissectum
Cut-leaved Crane's-bill
Glechoma hederacea
Glyceria declinata
Small Sweet-grass
Glyceria fluitans
Floating Sweet-grass
Heracleum sphondylium
Holcus lanatus
Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Juncus bufonius
Toad Rush
Juncus conglomeratus
Compact Rush
Juncus effusus
Juncus inflexus
Hard Rush
Lathyrus nissolia
Grass Vetchling
Lathyrus pratensis
Meadow Vetchling
Leucanthemum vulgare
Oxeye Daisy
Lolium multiflorum
Italian Rye-grass
Lotus corniculatus
Common Bird's-foot-trefoil
Medicago arabica
Spotted Medick
Moehringia trinervia
Three-nerved Sandwort
Myosotis arvensis
Field Forget-me-not
Odontites vernus
Red Bartsia
Plantago lanceolata
Ribwort Plantain
Plantago major
Greater Plantain
Poa annua
Annual Meadow-grass
Poa trivialis
Rough Meadow-grass
Polygonum aviculare agg.
Populus tremula
Prunella vulgaris
Prunus spinosa
Pteridium aquilinum
Quercus robur
Pedunculate Oak
Ranunculus acris
Meadow Buttercup
Ranunculus repens
Creeping Buttercup
Rhododendron ponticum
Rorippa palustris
Marsh Yellow-cress
Rubus fruticosus agg.
Rumex acetosa
Common Sorrel
Rumex conglomeratus
Clustered Dock
Rumex crispus
Curled Dock
Rumex obtusifolius
Broad-leaved Dock
Rumex sanguineus
Wood Dock
Rumex x pratensis
R. crispus x obtusifolius
Sagina procumbens
Procumbent Pearlwort
Schedonorus arundinaceus
Tall Fescue
Scrophularia nodosa
Common Figwort
Senecio jacobaea
Common Ragwort
Silene dioica
Red Campion
Solanum dulcamara
Sonchus asper
Prickly Sow-thistle
Sorbus torminalis
Wild Service-tree
Stellaria graminea
Lesser Stitchwort
Stellaria holostea
Greater Stitchwort
Tamus communis
Black Bryony
Trifolium dubium
Lesser Trefoil
Trifolium pratense
Red Clover
Trifolium repens
White Clover
Typha latifolia
Veronica chamaedrys
Germander Speedwell
Veronica serpyllifolia
Thyme-leaved Speedwell
Vicia hirsuta
Hairy Tare
Vicia sativa subsp. nigra
Narrow-leaved Vetch
Vicia sativa subsp. sativa
Common Vetch
Vicia tetrasperma
Smooth Tare
Vicia villosa
Fodder Vetch