Category Archives: Flora & fauna

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)

WILDLIFE TRAINING EVENTS WITH ENPA

The fifth wildlife training programme for Exmoor is now under way. As with previous years the range of topics is diverse – from bats to bees and butterflies – as is the level of training provided. From wild flower identification for complete beginners to advanced mire vegetation monitoring, there is sure to be something for everyone.

Some of the events provide specific survey training, including surveys for nightjars, marine mammals or glow worms. Formal surveys carried out by trained volunteers provide valuable information for the conservation of Exmoor’s wildlife. We are immensely grateful to all volunteers for the time committed to this important work.

In contrast, some of the events are ‘discovery’ sessions which aim to provide an introductory insight into some of Exmoor’s fascinating but perhaps less well recorded wildlife, such as dragonflies, lichens and fungi. Although there is no formal survey to follow these discovery sessions, Exmoor National Park hopes that participants will feel inspired by their new knowledge and will continue recording wildlife on Exmoor.

The events delivered through the training programmes have proved very popular so, to avoid disappointment, make sure you book your place early. To find out more about the training events or to book a place visit www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/get-involved/events-and-training

Wildflower training event- photos by Bea Davis

WILD GARDENS: MY BLUEBELL HEAVEN

As it is that time of year, we thought people might like to re-read Rosemary FitzGerald’s article about bluebells, which appeared in our spring issue last year. Rosemary contributes articles about gardens and ecology to most issues of the magazine. And you can read all about her here.

An archetypal scene – ‘Bluebells’ from a set of British flower stamps issued in 1979 (designer: Peter Newcombe).

In 2002 the conservation charity Plantlife organised a national poll for people to vote for their ‘County Flower’.  Somerset’s, unsurprisingly, is the Cheddar Pink, but the Bluebell votes were so many that it became specially rated as ‘Britain’s Favourite Flower’.  It has iconic status in the British flora, and is clearly deeply loved, so it is surprising to find that its nature and existence are beset with problems and, although it seems common, it is seriously threatened in global terms.

Even its botanical name seems hard to interpret. Hyacinthoides non-scripta, a hyacinth without writing on it?  The origin comes in the ‘not-many-people-know-that’ category – Linnaeus, the great namer of plants in the eighteenth century, had the kind of classical education rarely acquired now, and knew the touching myth of the god Apollo’s cry at the death of his lover Hyacinthus.  The heartbroken sound is transcribed by the letters Ai, visible, with a little imagination, in flowers of the true Hyacinth, so he named our unmarked Bluebell, which is in the same family, ‘without writing’.

Barton Wood about half way between Rockford and Watersmeet, a mile or so upstream from Watersmeet House on the East Lyn River. Photo by Andrew Wheatley.

Bluebells grow throughout Britain and Ireland, in woods and hedgerows, on cliffs, among bracken, in permanent pasture, on roadsides and railway banks, in a wide range of habitats (only really excluding fens and bogs).  We are used to seeing flashes of blue from trains and motorways, as well as close to home, and think the species abundant, and it is, still, in these islands.  But there is a scary aspect to this abundance, because we have more than half of the world’s Bluebell biomass, and are crucially responsible for its future.  Bluebells are a real oceanic species, loving our damp Atlantic climate.  They are found in parts of France and the Netherlands and in cooler corners of Spain and Portugal.  The distribution forms a thin band across Europe, just reaching the Italian border but not dropping south of the Mediterranean or extending north into Scandinavia, and Britain and Ireland have much the most substantial populations.

So we can be deservedly proud of our national favourite, but we also need to become more conscious of its threatened status, and do
what we can to sustain healthy populations.  The dangers are various, but the biggest general heading must be ‘management’.
Bluebells are hardy plants, with populations surviving for years in stable situations.  In fact, they are thought to be allelopathic, producing chemicals at bulb level which discourage competition from other plants.  They endure wind and cold, and can even manage years with inadequate light levels.  Deciduous woodland with plenty of light in early spring is ideal for them, but they flourish under management such as coppice rotations where growing trees make increasing shade for years and the ground flora has to wait for a clear-felling phase to bring proper daylight back.  Bluebells in such
woodlands can endure 17-year cycles or even longer, making spectacular appearances when the shade is removed.  So the species does what it can to help itself survive, but an insidious modern threat is lack of management.

Bluebells also thrive on coastal cliffs, such as this site looking down and across into Watermouth Harbour with Widmouth Head centre shot, Burrow Nose tucked behind and the Hangmans in the distance. Photo by Craig Joiner. This was our cover photo for spring issue 2016.

A common misapprehension about nature conservation is that ‘leaving it to nature’ is the best idea, but plants like Bluebells have flourished throughout history, since shortly after the ice sheets retreated, with a great deal of intervention from humans, and our actions have become important to their survival.

A highly publicised threat in recent years is the possible corruption of ‘pure’ Bluebell woods with strains of garden hybrid origin.  This can happen (though for me suitable management must always be the most crucial factor).  Plantlife really raised the matter, in 2003 and 2004, and were very successful in making a wider public aware of ‘Bluebells In Need’.

Being ‘hybridised out of existence’ sounds wonderfully apocalyptic, and gave a dramatic focus, but all too often the biggest danger is ignorant and careless management by landowners, and equally ignorant and uncaring management by intensive farmers.  Many such people would claim to be in favour of keeping their Bluebells, but traditional management costs money, and has to be properly understood to be effective. Sites can sadly be lost or damaged by default rather than deliberate destruction.

Spot the difference: the true Bluebell has deep blue narrow bells (by Bob Gibbons, Natural Image).

The hybrid question can arise because in the seventeenth century nurserymen, especially in London, were importing many plants from the Continent.  One of these was Hyacinthoides hispanica, the Spanish Bluebell, which proved easy to grow and popular.  It has a sturdier stem than our native, with wide-open flowers which look outwards rather than having the graceful droop of wild Bluebells.  Colours are variable, with many shades of blue, and white and pink occurring quite commonly.  Many old gardens had it, and bees do buzz, and a fertile

But Spanish and Garden Bluebells have paler, outward-facing flowers with light-coloured anthers (by Bob Gibbons, Natural Image).

hybrid H. x massartiana (sometimes called the Garden Bluebell) readily occurs.  Both the Spanish and Hybrid varieties are vigorous, and almost impossible to get rid of once established, so near Bluebell woods there is often some introgression, but a sudden dramatic takeover is unlikely!  A bulldozed ancient hedgebank, or a once-managed woodland now choked with brambles or laurels, are much more probable disasters.

There is another threat of which gardeners in particular need to be aware.  The ‘wild’ gardening style is hugely popular now, and a little Bluebell wood in the shrubbery is a delightful thought.  We are all learning not to take the descriptions in bulb catalogues as gospel, but in this case the ambiguities can be twofold.  The bulbs you get will often not be Bluebells in fact, but the Hybrid, and even if you get the real thing, can you be sure that the bulbs are ethically sourced?  Cases of wholesale robbery of woodland bulbs, dug to sell, are becoming rarer as the Wildlife and Countryside Act begins to show some teeth, but it’s legal to dig wild plants with the landowner’s permission, so there is still a wide loophole for dirty deeds. Please consult the RHS Plant Finder for reputable sources of genuine Bluebells and, indeed, for ‘wild’ Snowdrops, and Wild Daffodils.

Be aware!  Watch over your favourite Bluebells, and speak up for them if you think they are in danger.

TOP PHOTO: Room Hill with Lyncombe Hill in the middle distance (by Andrew Wheatley).

EXMOOR WILD WATCH SIGHTINGS SO FAR

Following the recent request for wildlife sightings, there have been more than 60 recorded on the Exmoor National Park’s Wild Watch pages.

Ali Hawkins from Exmoor National Park says: “Many thanks to everyone who has joined in with Exmoor Wild Watch and recorded their findings so far. The earliest cuckoo recorded this year was on 11 April, one day earlier than last year, so please let us know if and when you hear one as they should be calling for a few more weeks yet.

“Places to hear cuckoos on Exmoor usually include Croydon Hill, Alcombe Common, Ley Hill and Webber’s Post, but wherever you hear or see one, please record your sightings.

“Also spotted for the first time on Exmoor was a tree bumblebee, so please keep an eye out and let us know if you see one of these and where you saw it. As it gets warmer, another species to look out for is the beautiful gold-ringed dragonfly, the largest insect in the country.”

The place to record any sightings of these species and more is by visiting www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/Whats-Special/exmoor-wildwatch where you can also get involved by joining a Wild Watch training event.”

Spotter guides and a family wildlife leaflet can be picked up at National Park Centres at Dulverton, Lynmouth and Dunster.

PHOTO: Golden-ringed dragonfly by Nigel Stone.

NATURE RESERVES FUND RETURNS TO SAFEGUARD SOMERSET’S WILD PLACES AND BEST LOVED WILDLIFE

Somerset Wildlife Trust is pleased to present the return of its successful Somerset Nature Reserves Fund. Launched in 2016, the Fund was established to raise money to safeguard some of Somerset’s most iconic landscapes and precious wildlife, and has already helped achieve some enormous gains for wildlife across the county. The Trust hopes that this year it will be able to do the same with the help and support of wildlife lovers across Somerset who will hopefully kindly donate this year.

Tim Youngs, Director of Land Management, explained, “In Somerset we are incredibly lucky to have some amazing habitats from internationally renowned wetlands and ancient woodland, to species-rich grassland and magnificent meadows, each requiring specific conservation programmes in order for the unique biodiversity to not only survive, but thrive.

“Our nature reserves within these special places are the bedrock upon which we are able to deliver critical conservation work and, to ensure these special places are kept healthy, an incredible amount of planning and resource is involved – our reserves cost nearly £2,000 a day to maintain, which is a significant outlay.  As the seasons and weather change, we have to continually adjust and fine-tune our work and habitat programmes, such as grazing management – with the failure to provide the necessary feeding and breeding grounds at certain times potentially having detrimental consequences for species the following year.

“Having extra funds not only means that we can continue with our practical conservation work on our reserves, but helps us to be prepared for what the future may hold. We will be able to respond faster and provide on the ground solutions when we are faced with unforeseen challenges – such as ash dieback.”

The Fund last year supported some amazing results for wildlife and was critical in conserving habitats for populations of some of Somerset’s most charismatic wildlife, from otters to dormice. The county is now the stronghold for Bittern, with five booming males recorded last year on Somerset Wildlife Trust’s National Nature Reserve Westhay Moor, thanks to the restoration of their reedbed habitat. And the Trust’s Green Down Reserve now holds 36% of the UK population of Large Blue Butterfly.

Katie Arber, Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Director of Fundraising and Marketing, added, “It is very clear from the response we received last year that Somerset Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves are held dear by many people. Somerset’s wildlife is part of what makes living, working and visiting the county so special. Our members and supporters have been always been generous and we hope that they will give what they can again for what is a very important fundraising initiative for the Trust.  We also hope the wider public and local businesses who value their green spaces, and understand and appreciate their value in their lives, will support the Fund and help us ensure Somerset remains a wildlife rich county.”

For more information on the Fund and some examples of where monies raised will be spent, please visit Somerset Wildlife Trust’s website: www.somersetwildlife.org/reservesfund

Any gift given to The Somerset Nature Reserves Fund will go directly to wherever the need is greatest on Somerset Wildlife nature reserves, ensuring that they are kept in the best possible condition to support wildlife and our conservation goals.  You can donate securely by card on our website (link above) or by telephoning 01823 652429. Every donation, whatever the size, will make a difference.

PHOTO: Hazel dormouse by James Maben.