Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Long haul (of lifers)

There is a secret society, an underworld some might say, within ecology. These people can look just like any nature lover you've met before; in fact, you have probably even passed them on the street...

There is an easy way to find them out though, as on a warm summer evening twitter feeds will light up with the phrases such as 'good haul!', and 'lifer!' or 'moth bonanza'! These are the moth recorders, and now and then, I join in to live life vicariously as a moth trapper.

Common Bird's-foot Trefoil and Meadow Vetchling, River Mole Grasslands

First off is some sweeping of the vegetation with nets, which turns up a few species which wont come to the light trap. I couldn't believe my luck with I spied this critter in the bottom of my net - an immaculate Six-belted Clearwing Moth (again something I have only ever seen before on other people's twitter feeds!)

Six-belted Clearwing (Bembecia ichneumoniformis
Nationally Scarce B. A good mimic of a parasitic wasp

We are lucky to have Jake Everitt leading us; he is the warden at Warnham Local Nature Reserve and has been running moth traps at Gatwick for around 4 years now. It sounds like this was a pretty exceptional summer night along the River Mole, as together he and Laurie Jackson counted 448 of 98 different species.

Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa) - a common but lovely moth

This excellent field guide is the ultimate companion for any mother. (Jake has another guide like this which is devoted specifically to the micromoths!)

Macromoth identification is very visual and doesn't often require a entomological key 
(unlike the micromoths)

Blood-vein (Timandra comae) my personal favourite

Jake's highlights were the 13 Elephant Hawk-moths, 2 Southern Wainscott, the Dotted Fan-foot (a lifer for him) and Nephopterix angustella, which is a rare and distinctive little micro.

Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) Another common species, the caterpillar 
feeds on willowherbs, fuscias and Himalayan Balsam

Ecology student Connor with his new Elephant Hawk pal

A rather poor photo of a Dotted Fan-foot (Macrochilo cribrumalis)
(Nationally Scarce B)

I felt pretty guilty that I had to leave at midnight, as Laurie and Jake were still out emptying and packing up the traps after 1.30am! What an incredible time of year to be out though, often I don't even want to go home...

Friday, 2 June 2017

BBC and the Plight of the Long-horneds

On Wednesday, the BBC Natural History Unit were here filming a piece for The One Show about our colony of rare Long-horned Bees, and despite the variable weather, we managed to find them a stonking number of both male and female Eucera longicornis.

Long-horned Bee nesting site, North West Zone (just north of the runway)

Along this section of the River Mole are some decent patches of Meadow Vetchling, where the males can be found nectaring, and a large clay mound, which is one of our main solitary bee nesting sites. We could even see females jostling each other at burrow entrances.

Long-horned Bee (Eucera longicornis) male

Female burrow with fresh excavations

The wildlife camera guy Tom had his work cut out though, as these bees are bloomin' hyperactive when the sun is out, then can disappear again in the blink of an eye as clouds roll in!

Wildlife filmmaker Tom Hartwell

This tiny fella is ready for his close-up

My part (if not so terrible that they decide to edit me out), was to carefully handle a male Eucera, holding it by two of the legs in order to avoid damaging him. I said a few things to the presenter George McGavin about them, which I really hope now wasn't a load of woolly crap.
   In any case, what a fantastic opportunity to air the plight of this species, and to show off the support they get here at Gatwick. Perhaps this sort of exposure can galvanize other landowners into looking after their pollinators, as many of these species are truly on the brink.

Entomologist and TV presenter George McGavin, the BBC natural history unit, Stephen from Gatwick Communications, and my coolbox of mysteries

In fact, I dug around online for literature on Eucera longicornis and was really taken aback to hear how rapidly this bee is declining, particularly after reading this worrying report form Cornwall by Kernow Ecology (...around 75% loss of colonies at the important Cornish sites?!! That's truly awful).    

River Mole grassland wildflowers: Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), Grass Vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia), Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis)

Our only other species of Long-horned Bee in the UK, (Eucera nigrescens), is effectively extinct, and there are no guarantees that our longicornis friends will stick around. We already know habitat loss is a huge problem, but there are almost certainly hidden dangers too, such as potential effects of pesticides and fungicides (as being researched by University of Sussex.) 

Fortunately here at Gatwick, what we do have is the right habitat and the means to manage it well! The seeded wildflower mix along the River Mole contains an abundance of plants from the Fabaceae and Lamiaceae families, which are hugely important to Eucera, as well as raised banks of bare clay for nesting. .

I hear that the piece might air in 3 weeks or so, but the One Show schedule is very much subject to change. When I find out I'll do a 'heads up' on Twitter.

The plant species we have seen being used as forage by Long-horned Bees at Gatwick include:
Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis)
Grass Vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia)
Common Vetch (Vicia sativa
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
Bugle (Ajuga reptans)
Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
Common Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

Gatwick receives conservation advice for this species from organisations such as Sussex and Surrey Wildlife Trusts, Buglife and BWARS (Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society).