Category Archives: Flora & fauna

PIONEERING NEW APPROACHES TO EXMOOR’S INVASIVE SPECIES PROBLEM

Castration and electrocution are two ground-breaking new ways of tackling invasive plant and animal species being trialled in Exmoor National Park, highlighted as part of Invasive Species Week recently.

Japanese and Himalayan Knotweed are two of Britain’s most invasive weeds and they have caused extensive damage to several of Exmoor’s most precious watercourses, such as the Lyn, Heddon and Barle – all Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

A ten-year collaboration between Exmoor National Park Authority, the Environment Agency, Natural England and the National Trust to try to control the problem has proved highly successful, with the plant now being managed across an area the size of six Wembley football pitches, thanks to the support from local landowners.

Exmoor is now among a handful of UK sites where a pioneering new method of control is being trialled, involving electrocuting the weed’s root system. It is hoped the new approach will avoid the need for repeat spraying with herbicides, which can impact the environment, although not nearly so much as the plants themselves.

Elsewhere on Exmoor’s waterways, another non-native invasive species is being dealt a tough blow. An estimated quarter of a million North American signal crayfish inhabit the River Barle, with potentially devastating consequences for our native wildlife.

The River Barle Crayfish Project is now tackling the problem in an innovative new way never before tried outside of captivity – by castrating the larger, more dominant male signal crayfish. After this harmless procedure, they are returned to the river where it is hoped they will continue to outcompete smaller males to control breeding.

Later this year findings are due to be published on the project – which exists as a partnership between Exmoor National Park Authority, the Environment Agency and the River Exe & Tributaries Association.

Ali Hawkins, Wildlife Conservation Officer at Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “It’s great to be trialling innovative new techniques like these that could potentially help with the problem of invasive species on Exmoor, without further damage to our delicate ecosystems.

“Many of the habitats here are protected for their uniqueness and scientific value, so it’s vital that we do all we can to safeguard them from these foreign invaders. We’d love more volunteers to come forward and help us stop the spread by signing up to one of our training days, or reporting sightings of invasive species through our website.”

People wishing to volunteer for these two projects and others like them can find out more at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/get-involved.

SOMERSET WILDLIFE TRUST’S ‘WILDLIFE GARDENS’ BACK FOR A SECOND YEAR

Some of the county’s most beautiful and inspiring wildlife gardens are to open to the public to fundraise for Somerset Wildlife Trust, and inspire us to use our own gardens to help wildlife on our own doorstep. These include gardens close to Greater Exmoor and some a little further afield.

After its huge success last year, Somerset Wildlife Trust is delighted to be bringing  ‘Somerset’s Wildlife Gardens’ back for a second year – an initiative that will see eight of Somerset’s finest examples of gardens specifically designed to support our county’s best-loved wildlife open their doors for the public to enjoy.  The gardens, which are spread across the county, as well as being stunning in their own right, each showcase unique features that provide special homes for our best-loved species – from small mammals and pollinators, to birds and pond-dwellers.

With many of our much-loved species facing challenges to find the habitats they need to survive – hedgehogs, bats and sparrows to name a few – making our gardens wildlife-friendly is more important than ever to help many of our species survive. In the UK there are approximately 16 million gardens – a vast amount of habitat available to wildlife. Somerset Wildlife Trust hopes that people who visit these inspiring gardens will feel empowered by them to make their own gardens more wildlife-friendly.

From putting bird feeders up in your garden and leaving parts of your garden wild, to creating your own pond and putting up nesting boxes – there are lots of ways that we can all protect Somerset’s amazing and diverse wildlife by making our own gardens, local green spaces, school playgrounds, or office gardens a secure home for wildlife.

Emma Jones, Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Community Fundraiser, explains: “Many of our much-loved and well known garden species are under threat, in part due to habitat loss. Hedgehogs, for example, have experienced a decline of 30% in the UK over the last ten years, and are disappearing from our countryside as fast as tigers worldwide. This brings home to us the fact that our garden wildlife needs our help. This is why it is so inspiring to see that so many people have dedicated time to create beautiful wildlife havens to support wildlife, and not only that but they are opening them up to the public to inspire other to do more for wildlife too.

“For those who are looking for some inspiration on how to make their gardens wildlife-friendly or fancy a wonderful awe-inspiring day out – don’t miss out on these gorgeous gardens. These events are also fundraisers for Somerset Wildlife Trust as all hosts of the gardens will kindly donate the proceeds to the Trust to support its work across the county.”

The entry fee is £4 per adult (free for children aged 16 and under). Tea and cake is available too, at a small extra cost. No booking is required but if you have any questions please email Emma Jones at events@somersetwildlife.org. For more information on the gardens, such as parking, accessibility and dogs please visit: www.somersetwildlife.org/wildlifegardens.html

Hillcrest Wildflower Meadow and Ponds (pictured)
Friday 13 April 11:00 – 16:00
There is a wildlife rich meadow and also a stunning garden that will be full of spring flowers… a perfect spot to revive after the long winter, something we all need! This is the first time Hillcrest has opened in the spring.
Where: Hillcrest, Curload, TA3 6JA

Bracondale Garden
Friday 18 May 11:00 – 16:00
Bracondale is a fabulous example of a garden that we can all try to create. There is a small meadow and pond attracting all kinds of wildlife. A calm space to sit and ponder.
Where: Bracondale, Staplehay, Taunton, TA3 7HB

Hillcrest Wildflower meadows and gardens
Saturday 26 May 14:00 – 17:00
Hillcrest has stunning gardens and a beautiful meadow created and looked after by passionate wildlife gardeners. It is an essential wildlife haven that attracts and protects the local species that in turn gives so much joy to everyone that visits!
Where: Hillcrest, Curload, TA3 6JA

Henley Hill farm
Wednesday 6 June 11:00 – 16:00
Come along to the inspiring Henley Hill Farm to see wild flower and grass rich meadows and pastures with incredible views. The meadow has been studied by experts from Somerset Wildlife Trust who could not believe just how many species of flora and fauna they found. Beautiful!
Where: Henley Hill farm, Haybridge, (near Wells), BA5 1AL

Model Farm Gardens
Sunday 17 June 11:00 – 16:00
Model Farm shows how much nature can create a sanctuary within a decade. The gardeners have made Model Farm a beautiful garden bursting with wildlife, a joy to spend time in.
Where: Model farm, Perry Green, Wembdon, TA5 2BA

Millers Pond and Garden
Saturday 30 June 11:00 – 16:00
This is a jewel for wildlife. Last year, a top garden designer came to visit when the garden opened for Somerset Wildlife Trust and was absolutely full of praise! Why not combine your visit with a trip to Nunney Castle.
Where: The Miller’s House, Nunney, BA11 4NP

Badbury Flower Farm
Sunday 22 July 12:00 – 15:00
Visit this wonderful flower farm… the owner is a flower farmer! Using the beautiful blooms, bouquets and arrangements are created for all occasions. Come and see how they are made and get the chance to create your own posy to take home.
Where: Badbury Dairy House, Isle Abbotts, Taunton. TA3 6RS

Elworthy Cottage
Thursday 26 July 11:00 – 17:00
An inspiring, peaceful wildlife garden full of bumbleebees, butterflies and bird song. After your visit, treat yourself to a beautiful cottage garden plant from the nursery
Where: Elworthy Cottage Plants, Elworthy, TA4 3PX

ACEARTS AND SOMERSET WILDLIFE TRUST LAUNCH OPEN WILDLIFE ART EXHIBITION

ACEarts is working in partnership with the Somerset Wildlife Trust on an Open Wildlife Art Exhibition, and is seeking submissions from artists and creators.

The submissions are now open and will be judged in May by a panel which includes Wildlife Broadcaster and Patron of Somerset Wildlife Trust Simon King OBE; Stewart Geddes, President of the Royal West of England Academy; Katie Arber, Director of Fundraising and Marketing, Somerset Wildlife Trust; Nina Gronw-Lewis, Curator of ACEarts; and Frank Martin, Trustee of ACEarts. The exhibition will take place at ACEarts between 6 October and 3 November 2018.

Nina Gronw-Lewis, Curator of ACEarts, said, “This is a really exciting opportunity for local creators of every discipline to be part of an exhibition of wildlife art. We’re really looking forward to seeing the artwork which is submitted, and are grateful to Simon King OBE and Stewart Geddes for agreeing to be part of the judging panel.”

Katie Arber, Somerset Wildlife Trust, comments, “Britain’s wildlife inspires many artists. Working in partnership with ACEarts we hope many more people will become aware of just how special Somerset is for wildlife and understand how important it is to safeguard our local wildlife and wild landscapes.  It will also help us and ACEarts raise the critical funds needed to continue to carry out our work.”

Interested artists can find out more details by visit ACEarts’ website www.acearts.co.uk, emailing aceartssomerset@icloud.comor visiting their Facebook page.

Somerset Wildlife Trust has been protecting vulnerable wildlife and preserving Somerset’s wild places for over 50 years and, with over 18,000 members, it is the largest conservation charity in the county.  Alongside its members and volunteers the chariety works year round to protect wildlife, transform landscapes and put nature back into people’s lives.

Top: ‘Launch’, by Kaye Parmenter

SNOWDROP VALLEY 2018

In 2018 the valley will be closed to traffic from Saturday 27 January to Sunday 25 February. During the road closure the lanes into the valley (Drapers Way and Steart Lane) are closed by a legal road closure order and any vehicle entering the valley without an authorised Vehicle Pass will be reported to the Police.

For walkers there is a marked walking route down into the valley from the long stay car park at the livestock market, the walk is about a mile and takes around 30 minutes. On Exmoor the weather can change quickly so all visitors should make sure that they wear appropriate clothing and footwear for winter walking. Walking boots, or at the very least a good pair of wellies, are essential as the walking routes use local footpaths and bridleways, and there are always some muddy areas. For the more intrepid there are additional, longer walking routes offered, taking between 45 minutes and 3 hours; full details and maps are on sale in the Wheddon Cross car park.

During the middle two weeks, Saturday 3 February to Sunday 18 February, access is via the Park and Ride buses, run by AtWest, which leave from the village car park at Wheddon Cross, next to the Rest and Be Thankful Inn. Buses run regularly from 10.30am to 3.40pm with the last bus back from the valley at 4.30pm. The return bus journey costs just £6 for adults, £5 for senior citizens, and £2 for children aged 5-15, with children under 5 travelling free. There are tail lifts for anyone with mobility issues or using a wheelchair – please ring or email in advance to let the organisers know you are coming. Long-stay parking for cars and coaches is provided at the livestock market 150 yards further down the road from the buses towards Dunkery Beacon. Coach parties must be pre-booked with the co-ordinator.

During the scheme many members of the local community get involved and there is a great team of volunteers who help to run the Snowdrop Café, in the Moorland Hall, providing delicious teas and cakes to support local charitable organisations. There are great meals and teas to be found at other businesses in the village such as the Rest and Be Thankful Inn and the Exmoor House Hotel, as well as a wide variety of accommodation options from self-catering cottages to B&Bs and more to extend your winter trip to Exmoor.

Full information, as well as regular updates throughout the scheme can be found at www.wheddoncross.org.uk/snowdropvalley.htm. For coach bookings and disabled access please contact the Co-ordinator, Gemma Parry, on 07507 797169 or email snowdropvalley@googlemail.com and don’t forget to like Snowdrop Valley on Facebook!

Written with the help of Ros Simons, an artisan, writer and teacher of the old ways ~ you can find out more about her and her work at www.ros-simons.co.uk.

PHOTO: Late winter light in Snowdrop Valley by Andy Stuthridge, as published in our article on snowdrops by Rosemary FitzGerald in the spring 2015 issue of Exmoor Magazine. Photograph copyright Andy Stuthridge.

WATCHET PESTICIDE FREE ACTION GROUP

A group of locals have recently started The Watchet Pesticide Free Action Group and set up a Facebook page having discovered that Watchet Town Council was contracting out the spraying of a glyphosate-based weedkiller on the town’s pavements and pathways and in the council-run resident’s car park in West Street where they also rent out allotments.

Ione Harris, who lives in West Street, first noticed plants around the car park dying in 2016 and because the poison had been sprayed within feet of the allotment rented to her by the Town Council she asked what had been used. The council said it was Glyphosate and a complaint was made that such a chemical should not be used next to land rented for the growing of food.

When she noticed again the distortion of the leaves and the death spreading across the car park in late May of this year, and as the full area of dead plants became clear it was even nearer the allotment than the year before, she again made a full complaint to the Council.

PHOTO AT TOP: The car park after the application of weedkiller and (below) some images of it beforehand.

It became apparent over the next couple of weeks that the entire length of West Street had also been poisoned and eventually the resulting death could be seen across the entire town. The Glyphosate had been sprayed up against peoples houses and garden walls near the river basin, the slipway to the beach, the edge of the marina, near the children’s play area on the Memorial Ground, etc and more residents started to lose poppies, daisies and other wild flowers from outside their houses and more voiced their concern at the use of a hazardous chemical without warning and without regard for the safety of their children and pets.

Glyphosate products carry many warnings to stay away while its wet.

Following many complaints made to the Council, this use of weedkiller was discussed at a Council meeting.

A resolution was passed and the Council agreed to remove West Street Car Park bordering the allotments from the contract and to look into alternative methods to use around town.

However, the contract continues for a ‘treatment’ twice yearly and this October the Council’s contractors were again due to spray the pavements and pathways with Glyphosate.

The Watchet Pesticide Free Action Group has been formed by concerned residents to try and end the Town Council’s use of pesticide . They have looked into various alternate methods of controlling unwanted plant growth and is raising awareness of the issue in the local area.

It has been pointed out to the Council that the use of weedkiller does not clear the unwanted plant growth away and that the carcasses of poisoned plants remained across town for many weeks after treatment. That the town looks worse in fact. The group suggest hand weeding would be the best solution in most areas and would enable the cleaning away of any build up of dead plant matter and earth rather than the spraying of pesticide that increases the build up and less desirable, vigorous weeds are more able to set seed.

The group believe that hand weeding (which many residents already do outside their own properties), together with other methods in specific problem areas, could be used and could well work out to be cheaper.

The group also believe that using such a harmful chemical in public places without warning is not good practice and that Watchet could rather be an example to other towns to end the use of pesticides, to be more environmentally friendly, to increase the diversity of flora and fauna and to be more visually pleasing for residents and visitors alike.

The group are aiming for a pesticide-free town and are formulating a plan to actively enhance the bio-diversity of the area by introducing more wild flowers to otherwise unused grass verges and banks. They envisage a wealth of flowers, all native and found within a mile or two of Watchet; a celebration of the beauty of the area in which they live.

Glastonbury has gone pesticide-free and other towns are working towards it.

The group believes this to be an achievable aim and seems the obvious way forward for such a pretty coastal town.

 

 

SOMERSET WILDLIFE TRUST LAUNCHES ‘SAVING SOMERSET’S BATS’ APPEAL

Guest post from somerset Wildlife Trust

To support its on the ground efforts to secure the future of the county’s bats, Somerset Wildlife Trust is pleased to launch Saving Somerset’s Bats – an urgent appeal to raise £30,000 to strengthen habitats in three key areas in the county which support important bat populations – in particular several rarer species that we stand to lose in Somerset entirely unless action is taken now. The Trust is asking wildlife lovers across the county and beyond to swoop into action and help ensure Somerset remains a thriving stronghold for UK Bats.

Did you know… 16 out of the 17 breeding species of UK bat call Somerset home?

Thanks to the diversity of habitats we have here in Somerset, we are able to offer safe homes to suit nearly every kind of bat currently found in the UK, as well as provide a rich variety of food sources. Changes in our land use over the past few decades, however, such as urban development, more intensive agriculture and changes to farming practices have led to habitat loss, fragmentation and the destruction of roosts – all are having an impact on our bats.

Michele Bowe, Director of Conservation, explains why it’s important that the public get behind our bats and support the appeal: “Because of their nocturnal nature and less than cuddly reputation, people don’t always realise that bats do have another role to play apart from being the focus of a Halloween party piece!  Bats are in fact great indicators of the state of our environment. They are top predators of nocturnal insect life – making them experts at natural pest control – and they’re very sensitive to changes in land use practices.

“Bats rely on a good mix of habitats and healthy numbers of a range of insect species throughout the year. If certain bat species aren’t doing well, this may be because of changes in their preferred habitat or insect prey. As our natural environment continues to come under pressure, now is the time to ensure we do everything we can to make sure the remaining habitats we have are in the best health for bats.   I hope that as well as raising essential funds, the campaign also lifts the lid on how much we need these special animals.”

Funds raised from the appeal will go towards three key areas:

On our Mendip Reserves we urgently need to secure the diminishing population of the greater horseshoe bat by managing species-rich grassland habitats, grazed well by cattle and, in some places, the extensive removal of scrub and bracken. Cattle grazing is critical as cattle dung attracts important food sources such as dung beetles – the larvae of which are particularly important for young bats that are making their first feeding flights. We also need to improve hedgerows, which act as linear route maps, to enable greater horseshoe bats to hunt for food and urgently need to repair Wadbury Bat House – a critical roost for greater horseshoes in this area.

In the Blackdown Hills we need to conserve and enrich our woodland habitats for our woodland specialist bats such as the noctule and brown long-eared bat by regular coppicing work and maintaining rides and glades. The Blackdown Hills is also one of only six known roosting locations for Bechstein’s bats in the UK, so it’s of primary importance that we ensure the protection of dense, native ancient, deciduous woodland in this area, which best supports these special creatures – which are also rather partial to woodpecker holes as a first choice for a summer roosting site!

Protecting our urban bat populations is just as crucial as those in more rural areas. Our county town of Taunton plays host to significant populations of common species such as pipistrelles, but it also has a confirmed population of the Leisler’s bat, and also lesser seen species such as the serotine bat. Taunton is the South West’s fastest growing town and is undergoing significant change. We are working with planners and developers to ensure that bats can navigate safely across the newly designated garden town to feed and breed. Connecting the town’s green spaces and waterways creates and enriches habitats to host healthy urban bat populations.

For more information on the appeal, Somerset’s bats and to make a donation online please go to: www.somersetwildlife.org/savingsomersetsbats

You can also make a donation by phone on 01823 652 429.

PHOTO: Pipistrelle bat © Amy Lewis

ONE WEEK TO GO: SOMERSET WILDLIFE TRUST CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN TO CREATE A BUZZ AROUND BEES

Since the 1930s in the UK we’ve lost 97% of our wildflower meadows, and with them our critical pollinators such as bees and butterflies. To help reverse this decline, and to support the creation of a beautiful expanse of meadow to support Somerset’s bees and butterflies, Somerset Wildlife Trust has created the Perrymead Wildflower Project – which aims to harvest seed from flower rich areas and sow it on species poor areas to create enriched habitats to support more pollinators.

To help fund this work the Trust has launched its first ever crowdfunding campaign to raise £5,000 by 31 August and is hoping that people across the county who care about our bees and pollinators will donate to the fund.

Mark Green Reserves Manger, South Somerset, Somerset Wildlife Trust gives a bit more detail: “Insects pollinate our crops and help provide one in every three mouthfuls of our food.  That bowl of strawberries or pint of cider you had wouldn’t exist without them – and they do it all for free! Collecting seeds from our flower-rich fields at Babcary Meadow Nature Reserve and sowing it onto a species-poor field at Perry Mead Nature Reserve is something that we can do to have an immediate impact in the area in terms of supporting our county’s pollinators.   We really hope that the public get behind the crowdfunding campaign so we can raise funds to carry out this work.”

For pledge a donation please visit /www.crowdfunder.co.uk/perry-mead . Any donation, large or small, will make a difference. Thank-you! If you want to tell others, and have a Twitter account use the hashtag #PerryMeadPollinators
PHOTO: Buff-tailed bumblebee by Jon Hawkins.

EXMOOR WILD WATCH: WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED SO FAR

Exmoor is home to a fantastic array of wildlife and to prove it so far this year Exmoor Wild Watchers have submitted more than 200 sightings of everything from red kites to tree bumblebees.
Ben Totterdell from Exmoor National Park says: “We are always grateful to people that take the time to let us know what they have seen and this year we were delighted to receive 83 sightings or sounding of a cuckoo and it’s been a bit of a surprise that people have reported seeing more red kites (24) than kestrels (15).

“Now in its third year, Exmoor Wild Watch is an opportunity for you to join us in finding out more about some of the species that are particularly characteristic of Exmoor. We would still love to hear from you if you see any of the species listed below. Some are nationally rare and others we simply do not know enough about.”

In the next month or so keep a special eye open for golden-ringed dragonflies, red admiral butterflies, adders, grey wagtails and tree bumblebees.

To submit a record simply visit www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/Whats-Special/exmoor-wildwatch and click on a species to find out more and to report a sighting. If you are inspired after taking part in this survey you may want to join in one of the family-friendly events or get involved in an Exmoor Wild Watch training event: www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/get-involved/events-and-training . These include one off Discovery sessions to longer term surveys.

Handy spotter guides and family wildlife leaflets can be picked up from National Park Centres at Dulverton, Dunster and Lynmouth.

PHOTO: Red kite in Valley of Rocks, photographed by Jack Clegg of Exmoor Photography, as seen in our winter 2016 magazine in a piece by the late Trevor Beer. Jack’s images have often accompanied pieces written for us by Trevor – here is another back from autumn 2011, all about this magnificent bird! Click on the image to enlarge.

JOIN THE NIGHT FLIGHT AT FREMINGTON NATURE RESERVE

Join wildlife experts on a ‘Night Flight’ and find out what fascinating bats and moths live at Fremington Nature Reserve.

A special evening walk is planned at the nature reserve on Thursday 24 August starting at 8pm. During the walk participants will have the chance to find some bats using bat detectors and investigate moth traps to see what they can find.

The free event has been organised by North Devon Council, Fremington Parish Council and North Devon Biosphere Service and is suitable for all. Participants should meet at Fremington Village Green and park at Fremington Long Stay Car Park (beside the medical centre). It is recommended to wear sensible sturdy shoes and bring a torch.

Executive Member for Parks and Leisure, Councillor Dick Jones, says: “The ‘Night Flight’ is a great opportunity to explore Fremington Nature Reserve at night and find out all about it from our local wildlife experts. I encourage anybody who enjoys the nature reserve by day to come along and see it differently by night, you never know what you might find.”

Local ward member and Fremington Parish Council Representative for the Fremington Environment Group, Councillor Tony Wood, says: “This is a unique experience which is very exciting, these events are always popular and I am sure you won’t be disappointed.”

Tom Hynes from the North Devon Biosphere Service, says: “The bat and moth walk is an regular fixture at the reserve but this is the first year we have tried it at Lovells Field so we are excited about what we might find.”

Follow North Devon Council on Facebook to keep up to date with news and other upcoming events.

 

MARINE INTERNSHIP AT LEE BAY

Hannah Hereward surveying. Photo by Benjamin Cowburn

Hannah Hereward is a Marine Biology Masters student, from the University of Plymouth and Marine Biological Association. She is also a marine intern with A Rocha UK. A Rocha UK work in partnership with Lee Abbey Devon to conserve wildlife and habitats at this Christian conference centre on Exmoor National Park’s North Devon coastline.

The first aim of Hannah’s studies was to identify the diversity of habitats and species at Lee Bay, Lynton. Hannah found 17 habitats and 110 species. Secondly, she identified the seasonal patterns of growth rates and abundance of a large, brown seaweed (oarweed, Laminaria digitata) and its UK primary grazer, the blue-rayed limpet (Patella pellucida). The oarweed’s peak growth was in May, with maximums of 2cm per day! The blue-rayed limpet abundance peaked in the summer, with maximums of 47 on one oarweed.
Oarweed & blue-rayed limpets. Photo by Hannah Hereward.
Seaweed habitats are critical for carbon absorbtion and as habitat for many species. Reducing pollution on the coast and mechanical damage are important conservation measures.
Why not head down to the coast this summer, at low tide, to explore the wonders of this marine forest and surrounding rocky habitats.
PHOTO at top: Lynmouth Bay kelp beds (photo: Hannah Hereward)