Follow that Frit!

Who needs to jump in a taxi and have a car chase, when one can dash after butterflies on a nature reserve (and elsewhere)? Not me, that’s for sure!

The week began in Cambridge with a moth trap and Matt leaving for work, reminding to go through the moth trap before the wasps got it. I believe that my response just a grunted. I don’t really do communication when I’m still mostly asleep. Nonetheless, I managed to get up and go to the moth trap at a reasonable hour.

There were some absolute beauties in and around the trap – including my first (and second and third!) Swallow-tailed moths (Ourapteryx sambucaria). They really are gorgeous! I have been hoping to see one ever since I properly got into moths last year, particularly when my mother found one in the bathroom at their house. There was definitely some moth-jealousy going on that day (not helped by the fact that she had also recently seen two Jersey Tigers (Euplagia quadripunctaria) in the garden, and I hadn’t seen that species yet!).

A return to RSPB’s The Lodge was a lovely day out for me. Whilst Matt was busy doing his work stuff, I had a couple of meanders around the reserve – counting butterflies, watching wasps and generally having a nice time. I also met up with fellow AFON member, Lizzie Bruce, who has just started her new role as Warden for the Lodge. It was fabulous to finally meet her in person and we had a lovely chat about AFON, nature and, of course, the reserve.

I also took the opportunity to sit down and finish off working out my pan-species list! This is a list of all the species (across all taxon groups) that I have seen in the UK, from spiders to snakes, from lizards to leptidoptera. It has taken quite a while to go through all the groups, and I have to admit, I have left out bryozoans, mosses and lichens – because I honestly can’t remember which ones I have seen! So I am starting again with those. As of today (26/07/15) my list stands at 661 (661 = Common Toadflax, Linaria vulgaris), though I know that I have a couple of moths left to identify. In calculating my list, I have half-ticked off one of my 2015 Wildlife Resolutions! The other half being to set myself a target to reach by the end of 2015. It’s ok if I don’t reach the target, but the act of setting the target will tick off that resolution completely. Thus I am thinking that the 1k mark would be good one to aim for and break through. Can I reach 1000 species in the remaining 5 months? That’s around 15-16 species per week I think. You will just have to keep following my blog to find out!

Despite having ticked off the resolution to see 2 new butterfly species this year, and then seeing a couple more new species, I still wanted to try and see more. I am rather getting into this butterfly spotting lark! Though of course, to me, butterflies are basically moths, ha! I was tempted to try and see some hairstreaks species in some Cambridgeshire woodlands. We didn’t go to the reserve recommended by the local wildlife trust, but ended up stopping off at Gamlingay Wood on the commute home. It was such a wonderful stroll, examining flowers in the dappled sunlight and listening to the birdsong above.

Ambling down a woodland ride, I suddenly stopped. An orange butterfly! My inner pessimist said gloomily, “It’s probably a Comma” (not that there is anything wrong with a Comma of course). But wait, it had landed on a leaf some distance away … I quickly zoomed in with my camera, and then excitedly called to Matt: “It’s a Fritillary! And it’s not a Comma!!” With no butterfly guide to hand, I wasn’t sure of the species but luckily Matt knew it – a Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia)! A lifer for me! And what a beautiful lifer to achieve! Such a large butterfly, and there were at least 6 of them flitting about and feeding on the bramble. At one point, two of them flew along the ride – one looping and circling around the other, a courtship ritual perhaps. I declare, I was so full of happiness then. There is something about butterflies, and in fact, nature as a whole, that enables me to forget my constant exhaustion and associated mild depression, which drag behind me every day.

Back at work and the rain had set in – just in time for a family activity at Lorton! Luckily the families who came along were up for heading out despite the weather. We didn’t have to go far, just across the track to the pond. Sheltering in the open barn, we dashed out every now and then to dip in the pond. The theme of the activity was dragonflies, so we were concentrating on the dragonfly and damselfly nymphs. However, we also caught a water stick insect (Ranatra linearis), which we don’t catch very often, and plenty of the usual suspects such as freshwater hoglouse (Asellus aquaticus) and whirligig beetle (Gyrinus substriatus). I made up a game off the hoof – each family had to replicate the movement of a dragon/damselfly nymph/adult, and the others had to guess what it was. It worked surprisingly well! Once we were thoroughly soaked through and pond dipped-out, we came in to dry off and for a cuppa, and some craft activities. Vicky had recently shown us a neat dragonfly craft activity and I showed the children (and parents) how to make it.

The kestrel chicks were unimpressed by the weather, spending the day fluffed up and huddling together, with only a couple of food drops from the parents! (NB, in the video you can only see two of the chicks, but there are still four) The kestrels can be viewed LIVE, but be quick if you want to watch them, I think they will fledge in the next week or so!

The weekend dawned clear and sunny, blue skies above and sunshine filling the reserve. After the day before, it was a welcome weather change. During the quiet moments, I popped outside to watch the butterflies. The reserve as a whole is superb for butterflies, but even just by the centre there are a couple of excellent spots. A large buddleia bush by the picnic benches, and a sunny patch of bramble just by the lane. Again, the very act of observing these creatures and being outside filled me with joy. I felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest. Particularly when a Comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) landed on me – I hardly dared breathe! Fortunately for my lungs, it darted off again after a couple of moments.

Taking advantage of the sunshine, with the knowledge that more rain was on its way for Sunday, I headed over to Portland after work. I wanted to visit somewhere new, the Perryfields Quarry, a nature reserve owned by Butterfly Conservation. A small but sweet little reserve, it was full of flowers and flutterings. A bit of breeze swept across the reserve, so the butterflies were keeping a low-profile. I still spotted a fair few as they rested in the grasses. No new lifers, or even year ticks, but I was happy nonetheless as I wandered about and photographed them. I’m repeating myself, but gosh I love having my camera back!

As the evening started to draw to a close and the sun sunk lower in the sky, I made my way to my usual Portland hangout – the Portland Bird Observatory of course! I do so love to spend a bit of time there, discussing recent wildlife sightings with staff and visitors. As you may remember, last week’s venture there resulted in directions to see a Puss Moth caterpillar (Cerura vinula)! This week it was advice on a good nearby spot for seeing the Grayling butterfly (Hipparchia semele) – a species I still haven’t seen despite spending plenty of time in the quarries. I went down to the advised spot, the eastern cliffs of the Isle, just below the lighthouse. However a chill was setting in, so I didn’t have much luck. Mind you, I saw plenty of birds and flowers, so I can’t complain. More so as I was joined by local naturalist and good friend, Sean Foote, who is a very useful person to have around as he can identify lots of things – resulting in two new plant species to add to my pan species list! Maybe soon I’ll be able to add Grayling to the list, or maybe I’m destined to forever dip it (i.e. miss it).

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).

Challenge Accepted – my Vision for Nature blog

This post originally appeared on A Focus On Nature‘s blog as part of their #VisionforNature series in the run-up (and just after) the general election 2015. Amongst the questions asked to prompt thoughts were: What do you want the natural world to look like 2050, and how do we get there? What is special about the relationship between young people and nature? 

I was incredibly honoured to be asked to co-ordinate this series of blog posts, and associated social media promotion, and it was greatly inspiring to receive so many fantastic pieces of writing from a variety of AFON members. I had originally thought I would write about engaging people with wildlife for my topic – after all, that’s what I do with my blog and my paid work. However with the Tory win for the election, I took inspiration from others (such as Georgia Locock and Matt Shardlaw) to look at their manifesto and what their win would be for wildlife and their environment. 


So the votes are in, and the Tories are here to stay for another round. Whatever your views on this, at least we can all take a moment to breathe a sigh of relief that all that election bumph is over … until next time.

Right then, back to business. I will start with laying something out clearly – I am not going to analyse these political results too deeply. After all, they say to write about what you know, and I am very much a beginner when it comes to understanding politics. However, I will try to get my head around what this means for wildlife and our environment. I do hope it won’t be too depressing to read.

To begin, I shall refer to Georgia Locock’s excellent post on her own blog where she analyses the different manifestos offered up by each main political party – and let us look specifically at what she found for the Conservatives. Here’s a link to their full manifesto.

From Georgia Locock's blog

There are some positive actions in that list, I’ll give them that. I am thrilled that they are supportingcharging 5p for plastic bags. In Wales, this has been in place for a number of years already and is proving to be very effective (note: that link doesn’t provide very recent data). Of course, I would like to see further actions taken – ultimately a ban on plastic bags, but that is a long-term goal and the 5p charge is a realistic and feasible step in reducing plastic usage / waste.

I am encouraged by their aim to tackle international wildlife trade. I’ve been to South Africa and watched in awe as elephants and rhinos have wandered past on their daily business, these animals are magnificent and wondrous – but they are dying in their thousands. I hope that the Tories also plan to focus on the less well-known animals being trafficked – lorises, pangolins, birds and more. These species also need our help.

I’m intrigued by their Blue Belt plan. However, considering that the last government failed to fully implement the Marine Conservation Zones, designating only 27 when many more were actually recommended – I don’t hold out high hopes for our marine areas and associated wildlife to receive the true protection that they need.

Ok, I’ve had enough of being positive … time to look at those actions which make me wince. Although wince is a mild word – more like they make me want to shout at people and hit cushions in anger!

Opportunity to repel the Hunting Act?! What on earth are they thinking? Do they have no compassion for our wild animals? Don’t get me wrong, I do support some hunting – i.e. when it is (a) needed in order to feed people and (b) done sensibly with minimal distress to the animal. However, I don’t believe it is that hunting foxes, chasing hares, or using dogs is acceptable.  To me, it is just cruel and morally wrong.

Then there is going ahead with HS2. There are a variety of reasons why I don’t agree with HS2 – the demolishing of listed buildings, damage to the chalk aquifier system (and thus affecting water supplies in North London, which is where I’m from!) and so on. The main reason I don’t agree is that the HS2 proposal threatens 83 ancient woods (according to the Woodland Trust) – cutting straight through the heart of some woodlands. I am a big fan of ancient woodland, these habitats are rare and wonderful, full of spectacular species. There is no point in discussing biodiversity offsetting here, one’t can replace ancient woodland by planting new trees – the clue is in the name! Ancient woodland is ancient! Also, by supporting the HS2, they are surely contradicting their pledge to keep forests in the trust of the nation?

Now onto that topic which is well and truly controversial – culling badgers to control bTb. As Georgia Locock has pointed out:

In the UK badgers are one of the most protected species under The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 however they are the most persecuted.

I’m sure that we are all in agreement that something does need to be done to tackle the issue that is bovine Tb and it’s terrible effects on both the cattle and farmers. The scientific evidence suggests that culling badgers is not the best way – in fact, it could lead to worsening the problem. Why do the Tories support this action which will actually result in a worse outcome? It just isn’t logical, and whilst we waste time and money on it, numerous badgers are suffering as a result, often inhumanely. We need to use common sense and our morals here, listen to the evidence and act accordingly. In my own opinion, formed from what I have read, I believe that increase biosecurity measures and vaccination programs are the way forward.

I would quite like to write a bit about the Conservatives views on hen harriers here … but aside fromprotecting shooting, hunting and fishing as previously mentioned, I am not sure what they are.

I know I haven’t covered everything – unfortunately there is just so much to worry about! Declining pollinators, climate change (and all that relates to it), nature deficit disorder, pollution of water sources and more. To write about all of them would take an awful long time, more than the hours I have available today.

Let us be honest. Overall, it is all rather depressing. As an eternal optimist, that is quite a hard thing for me to say. There are hints of good things occurring, but it’s just not enough. We need to mobilise ourselves and make sure that our wildlife, our environment and our natural world as a whole are protected. And by “we”, I don’t mean just the A Focus On Nature network. I don’t even mean just conservationists and naturalists. By “we”, I mean everyone. We all need to get involved. It’s a big ask I know, and likely not realistic, but I like to dream big and optimistically.

How do we go about doing this though? How do we go about getting our voices heard? I am afraid I don’t have the answers – I’m still learning about politics and campaigning, it is going to be something I discover in the next couple of years, you can be guaranteed that I will try my best to get my voice heard (if you’ve met me in person, you know that I am not exactly quiet/unopinionated!).

We need to let the politicians know that they, and society as a whole, will suffer if they make bad decisions. Our Vision for Nature blog series is just the beginning. The Vision for Nature report is coming together, the material from the focus groups, surveys and more is being collated and analysed as I type! Of course, we will be sending it the government and making sure that they know we are determined to protect what belongs to us all.

It is going to be a challenge and a half, but I accept that challenge, do you?

Some posts concerning the election that are worth a read:

Some tweets from fellow young conservationists that have been inspiring me today:

Megan Shersby is an aspiring naturalist and science [particularly nature] communicator. She is currently based in Dorset, working as a Seasonal Assistant for Dorset Wildlife Trust at two of their centres. She is passionate about inspiring others to explore the natural world, and can usually be found in nature reserve examining the local wildlife. If that fails, look for the nearest moth trap, as she’ll probably be peering into its depths for the latest catch. You can follow her on Twitter at: @MeganShersby, or via her blog at: