Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Lockdown wildlife listing

A blogpost on getting to know the wildlife in your garden, out on your doorstep or around the neighbourhood, through the incentive of wildlife recording / listing.

We all keep hearing about how we need to 'connect more with nature'. Its a bit of a vague term isnt it? My interpretation of that is to observe wildlife, perhaps draw it, photograph or even paint it. Then there's another, slightly more primal approach.... chase it down!

My front garden (2.5m x 1.5m)

There are good reasons for identifying and listing wildlife; keeping records builds a picture of what is happening to wildlife populations in the countryside (and our gardens, and urban environments). Also putting a name to something, or 'labelling' it, opens up of world of curiosity around that organism, invariably leading to further questions; what does it do, what does it need, how many different types are there (which you can easily find answers to these days in books and online). Suddenly you are now marvelling at nature on a new, intricate level.

So what things do you need to become a wildlife lister?

Not a lot really. I would say your main kit is a pen, paper and maybe some kind of a container or jar. Ok you might not have a butterfly net handy, but you could make do with that old pond net shoved in the back of the shed. You can involve the whole family, sending your minions (children or other-halfs) out to hunt things down for you and pot them up.

Starting off easy with a Garden Snail (Cornu aspersum)

Or use the stealth approach and take pics on your phone. The person with the best handwriting (not me) can then write everything down, or you can keep your list on handy apps like iNaturalist or iRecord.

Don't try to catch birds obviously - just make a note of them

White-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) on Hyacinth

The iNaturalist app is good for beginners as it helps match your photo to a species...

Then the record is added to the list on your phone...

However you don't need a photo for everything; just the species name, date and location are the essential details for a wildlife record

Ok but what if you don't have a garden? Well you can perhaps start a list for your local park, or even an individual tree or shrub can be a draw for all sorts of wildlife. I heard a talk by wildlife photographer Jeremy Early about the multitude of insects he was recording around an old laurel hedge, which he had considered getting rid of (he since changed his mind). It seems while the sun is on it, its waxy leaves make perfect basking pads for flying insects...

My next door neighbour's laurel bush

Here's a few of the things I've recorded on next door's laurel over the past two days...

Basking hoverfly

Turned out to be the Tapered Dronefly (Eristalis pertinax)

I think this little lady is Gwynne's mining bee Andrena bicolor (carrying pollen on her back legs means its a she)

Looking at the underside of the leaves... hidden away was this tiny Noble False Widow (Steatoda nobilis), one of our most common garden spiders in Brighton

Red Mason Bee (Osmia bicornis) male netted from the laurel

A tiny bee on Dandelion, I think this one is the Yellow-legged Mining Bee Andrena flavipes

Mum and Dad's fridge list which I had started just before lockdown... Have you been updating this guys?

Here are a few online resources to help you have a go at identifying things:

Or if you get really stuck you can email me with your pics, as I seem to have a bit more time on my hands! 

Its not just about listing wildlife though, we should also endeavour to help it where we can.
You can thank your local wildlife (and encourage them more into your garden) through these handy tips by the Wildlife Trust
Also see what's happening in Michael from the Sussex Wildlife Trust's garden via the Corona Wildlife Diary 

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Gatwick's Annual Biodiversity Review 2019

Gatwick's Annual Biodiversity Review 2019 is now available to download from this link:

The report includes lots of incredible species highlights and new initiatives in 2019, and we have had a huge number of contributors so I would like to thank single one of you. I’m looking forward to the 2020 field season and catching up with you all again!

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Gonna need an even bigger boat - Autumn and winter habitat conservation 2019/2020

Boardwalks continually being built by volunteers headed up by Gatwick Greenspace Project Officer Tom Simpson. These help to protect delicate woodland ground flora

Back when I was relatively new to the job, I wrote a post about how incredibly wet our sites were in February 2013; that was back when I hadn't known what to expect. Now seven winters later I do know, and it is abundantly clear from the state of our woodlands that this has been the wettest February on record.

Upper Picketts Wood is our lowest-lying woodland on site

It is a worry that our winters are getting observably wetter and warmer. Many organisms, such as plants and fungi need a consistently cold period during the life cycle to trigger certain developmental processes. Others need to hibernate, such as mammals like the Hazel Dormouse, all reptiles, and many invertebrates such as Brimstone butterflies, spiders and beetles. They need the cold in order to fully enter hibernation, and warm winters can badly interfere as they repeatedly wake up, sapping precious energy reserves which are supposed to last until spring.

Impacts on delicate woodland groundflora and microhabitats

Other impacts are immediately obvious, such as the widening of footpaths and increased poaching of soils due to people, dogs and even the deer avoiding the wettest parts. Tom Simpson's handy work installing boardwalks and 'slubbing out' woodland ditches is fortunately helping to alleviate this in the worst effected areas.

Sussex University students site visit; shoe aftermath

It is safe to say then that our contractors and conservation volunteers have really been up against it this winter. I've mostly been indoors writing up data for our annual review, nipping out only for short periods to carry out site checks. This intrepid lot have doggedly carried on, often for several rainy days in a row!

Gatwick Airport's I.T Team: re-lining the old Rolls Farm pond

Gatwick Greenspace Wildlife Rangers edging the pond with translocated native plants 
(Photo by Tom Simpson)

A special thank you to all of our teams who have persevered through the relentless rain and bloody awful ground conditions. You do fantastic work and compared to seven years ago, many of our habitats have never been in such a good state.

Gatwick's Volunteer Reserve Managers - Harry, Phil, Robert and Chris 
(Photo by Tom Simpson)

We now have the fantastic Volunteer Reserve Managers (VRMs), a team of veteran Gatwick Greenpsace Partnership volunteers who are well versed in the more sensitive habitat management tasks, often in difficult to access sites. 

Photo by Tom Simpson

Chris and Phil (pictured above) have been busy in Goat Meadow, pushing back the scrub encroaching on the wildflower-rich grassland. Like the large herbivores which would have roamed freely around our sites long ago, they create patch disturbance, helping to maintain a dynamic system of constantly regenerating habitat.

Glendale Landscaping Services are the grounds maintenance contractors at the airport; they have had the unenviable tasks of clearing dense thorn scrub along neglected fencelines. This hard cutting and scalloping of scrub will open new areas along our survey transect routes, benefitting our sun-basking reptiles and invertebrates.

Myself, Glendale manager Jon Eglin and our bat surveyor Martyn Cooke have been dodging the rain showers to install bird nesting boxes around our woodlands, just in time for spring. These bespoke design boxes are to encourage rare and declining species we know to be breeding nearby.

Scrub west of Brockley Wood (Photo by Ben Lee)

Roots Upwards Ltd have continued the Blackthorn scrub management in the North West Zone, essential for regenerating growth for the rare Brown Hairstreak butterflies, while benefiting our wildflowers and pollinating insects. They have also been helping to move and replace our bat boxes using ropes and harnesses, collecting up reptile matts and shifting logs and habitat piles.

LERL Pond 3 chipping willows on the bank

Opening up an area on the southern edge of the pond to allow in more light (Photo by Ben Lee)

What a bunch of gosh-darn heroes you all are. Very muddy heroes. Now go in the garden, get under the hose, then you're allowed in the house.

Common Frog spawn at Land Eats Pond 3 (Photo by Ben Lee)

No complaints from the frogs and other amphibians though.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Gatwick's butterfly transects - 2019 (Year 2)

The two transects under the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) commenced at Gatwick in 2018 and have been continued in 2019. These intensive surveys are brilliant at providing an in-depth picture of butterflies on our sites, but also results in a weekly site walkover covering a large area, providing a good opportunity to collect additional species records throughout summer.

River Mole, North West Zone

Upper Picketts Wood, Land East of the Railway Line

2019 was the first full year for weekly transects in the Land East of the Railway Line (LERL), which had first begun mid-way through 2018. Across both the North West Zone (NWZ) and LERL, the average survey temperature was 18.7 °C, with sunlight at 73% in NWZ and 78% in LERL. 24 weeks out of 26 were completed in the NWZ; two were missed due to inclement weather early in the year. 21 weeks out of 26 were missed in LERL, again due to inclement weather but the final two weeks there was no access to this site.

Purple Hairstreak (Favonius quercus), LERL

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi), NWZ

The highlight of the year for all of us must have been seeing Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae) in the NWZ for the first time since 2016; this is a Section 41 species of principal importance under the NERC Act in England. It typically occurs in small colonies, and on our well-recorded site it seems this species may occasionally fall under the observational threshold.

Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae)

Grizzled Skipper - aberrant form

Another surprise was finding Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) in the Land East transect along the Y-lagoon footpath; it is likely to have blown over from the Gatwick Stream floodplain. We have many records of this species along the stream banks and the River Mole.

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) seemed to do better than last year (with only 2 spotted in the NWZ in 2018). This year in NWZ, 6 individuals were seen in the first week with the odd individual spotted throughout the summer. A single individual was reported on 3 separate occasions in LERL.

An influx of Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) showed up in LERL toward the end of June, with a peak count of 8. In NWZ there was another influx as 10 individuals were counted in mid-August. Vince then confirmed breeding on site when he discovered caterpillars feeding amongst thistles.

Painted Lady caterpillar

Painted Lady

Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus) and Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) were missing from the NWZ transect this year.

White-letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album) was seen just outside of LERL transect in 2018 and counted as a roving record, but was missed entirely from the site this year. The species is often recorded on the northern section of the River Mole, which is off the NWZ transect. Purple Emperors (Apatura iris) have been previously seen here too; a lone female was seen egg-laying in 2016.

Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages) typically occurred in good numbers in the NWZ (a peak count of 10 were seen on one day). Roving records have previously picked up this species in LERL 2016, but it has not been seen since.
Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae) occurred on both transects again this year, however in slightly lower numbers (a peak count of 2 compared to 5 in the NWZ in 2018).

Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia) were in good numbers in LERL in this year, with a peak count of 9 in mid-July. Also good numbers of White Admiral (Limenitis camilla) were seen along the woodland glades in LERL, although most were just outside of our transect.

River Mole grasslands

Out of a potential 33 species, 30 species in total were recorded across the transects this year, not inclusive of the White-letter Hairstreak in LERL which counts as a roving record. A peak count of 633 individual butterflies occurred in the NWZ on July 1st 2019 - that was a long day! The highest species count on any one day was 20 in LERL on July 16th. The species total for NWZ was 28 (one less than last year) and 27 for LERL.

The below table shows the last recorded year of all butterfly species in the biodiversity areas at Gatwick, based on our butterfly survey data and roving records from 2012 to present day

Common name
Species name
Gonepteryx rhamni

Brown Argus
Aricia agestis
Brown Hairstreak
Thecla betulae
Clouded Yellow
Colias croceus

Polygonia c-album
Common Blue
Polyommatus icarus
Dingy Skipper
Erynnis tages

Essex Skipper
Thymelicus lineola
Pyronia tithonus
Green Hairstreak
Callophrys rubi

Green-veined White
Pieris napi
Grizzled Skipper
Pyrgus malvae

Holly Blue
Large Skipper
Ochlodes sylvanus
Large White
Pieris brassicae
Marbled White
Melanargia galathea
Meadow Brown
Maniola jurtina
Anthocharis cardamines
Painted Lady
Vanessa cardui
Inachis io
Purple Emperor
Apatura iris

Purple Hairstreak
Neozephyrus quercus
Red Admiral
Vanessa atalanta
Aphantopus hyperantus
Silver-washed Fritillary
Argynnis paphia
Small Copper
Lycaena phlaeas
Small Heath
Coenonympha pamphilus
Small Skipper
Thymelicus sylvestris
Small Tortoiseshell
Aglais urticae
Small White
Pieris rapae
Speckled Wood
Pararge aegeria
White Admiral
Limenitis camilla

White-letter Hairstreak
Satyrium w-album

Total no. species
NWZ = 28
LERL = 27

Species previously recorded but not detected on one or both transects in 2019

Common name
Species name
Gonepteryx rhamni
Clouded Yellow
Colias croceus
Dingy Skipper
Erynnis tages
Purple Emperor
Apatura iris
White Admiral
Limenitis camilla
White-letter Hairstreak
Satyrium w-album