Category Archives: Flora & fauna

SOMERSET WILDLIFE TRUST LAUNCHES #WILDLIFEWINDOW SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN TO LET WILDLIFE HELP OUR WELLBEING DURING SELF ISOLATION AND SOCIAL DISTANCING

Somerset Wildlife Trust has launched a social media campaign called #wildlifewindow across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to encourage people in Somerset to share the wildlife they see outside their windows and in their gardens, as well as share positive actions they are taking for nature while at home during the covid-19 outbreak.

With so many people now working from home, self-isolating or social distancing, the campaign #wildlifewindow aims to continue to get people to connect with nature and wildlife, even though it is currently more difficult to go outside, and demonstrate that their spaces, large or small, are homes to wildlife where they can make a difference. Somerset Wildlife Trust hopes this will help keep morale high, reduce feelings of isolation by allowing people to communicate with a community of other wildlife-lovers, and reduce the feelings of being ‘trapped’, bored or like they can’t do anything to help wildlife when indoors.

They want you use the hashtag #wildlifewindow across the social media channels in order to share what wildlife you can see out of your window whilst in isolation, or what you are doing for wildlife while at home or in your garden – whether that’s getting around to making that hole in your fence for hedgehogs or putting water out for the birds.

Head of Communications, Kirby Everett said, “Evidence shows that connecting with nature helps people feel happier and healthier, improving both physical and mental wellbeing. We hope that by encouraging people to enjoy and value the wildlife on their doorstep and through their window, the current distancing or isolation measures will be easier to withstand and may even create a great sense of community online in a difficult time. We also hope that it might lead to positive changes in terms of how people value of nature after isolation ends, and also drive more people to act for it at a time it needs us the most.”

As at 18th March (please check the Trust’s website for latest info) Somerset Wildlife Trust nature reserves currently remain free and open to all and are excellent places to unwind with wildlife, get fresh air, clear your head and exercise away from any crowd, if you are not in government advised self-isolation. However, they do recommend you take sensible precautions, taking into account the health and safety of yourself and others if you do choose to enjoy the reserves during this time.

Somerset Wildlife Trust will be sharing the #wildlifewindow images and posts they receive, as well as hoping to share short videos, images and interesting wildlife facts to keep us all entertained. You can follow them on Facebook on Somerset Wildlife Trust, Twitter on @SomersetWT and Instagram on @somersetwt.

Photo by Ben Hall.

SOMERSET WILDLIFE TRUST LAUNCHES APPEAL TO PREVENT THE POSSIBLE EXTINCTION OF THE COUNTY’S DORMICE

Somerset Wildlife Trust has announced an urgent appeal for £35,000 to help secure a positive future for the county’s dormice in the face of possible extinction.

Despite once being common, in the last 100 years the native hazel dormouse has become extinct in 17 English counties, with recent UK reports showing that their numbers have declined by 51% in just 18 years. Somerset could easily be the next county to lose its dormouse populations unless positive action is taken now to make their habitats safe, and to provide the best conditions in which these vulnerable, and adorable, little mammals can thrive, now and in the future.

Somerset Wildlife Trust is urging wildlife and nature lovers in Somerset and beyond to donate what they can to support additional woodland management and monitoring programmes needed in the county, before Somerset’s dormice are lost without a trace.

Dormice declines are linked to the loss of habitat and decreasing traditional woodland management practices. Across Britain, just 3% of woodlands are today being managed using traditional management techniques such as coppicing and hedge-laying, while in the 1940s, that figure was almost 50%.

Senior Reserves Manager, Chris Eyles explains, “Dormice need well-managed, connected woodlands through which they can safely move to find food, breed and have secure places to hibernate – something that is already becoming increasingly problematic for them as we continue to see the impacts of a warming climate. Milder winters can sometimes cause dormice to waken from hibernation before adequate food sources are available. Woodland habitats are disappearing all over the country, so dormice populations are becoming fragmented and their future in Somerset looks uncertain.”

“Traditional techniques such as coppicing, thinning and hedge-laying enable us to maintain a balance of healthy habitats in our woodlands, and provide the perfect conditions within which dormice can thrive. But we have a huge amount to do.  We need your help to do more and faster.”

Monitoring their populations to keep them safe: Through regular surveying we know dormice are present on several Trust nature reserves, including Langford Heathfield and Black Rock, but there are plenty more with great potential which are currently not being surveyed! In fact, there are currently only 28 dormouse survey sites across all of Somerset, which is not sufficient to get enough baseline data to understand the true health of the county’s dormouse population. With more funds, we can install more dormouse nest boxes and train new volunteers to regularly survey these sites, so dormice have the best chance of breeding success in the years to come.

Chris continues, “Donations to the Dormouse Appeal will help us create ideal dormouse habitat, enable us to install more nest boxes and train more volunteers to carry out regular dormouse surveys to collect vital data about their health, so please do help if you can.”

“Every donation, whatever the size, will make a real difference. To donate to the Dormouse Appeal, please visit the Somerset Wildlife Trust website at www.somersetwildlife.org/dormouse-appeal or telephone 01823 652429.”

 

COUNCIL CONTRACTORS BECOME ‘HEDGEHOG HEROES’

Contractors working for North Devon Council are helping to save hedgehogs by placing special warning stickers on all of their grass-cutting machinery.

In conjunction with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, the council have provided free stickers to be placed on all grass-cutting machinery which warns contractors to check the area for wildlife before using the equipment.

Leader of North Devon Council, Councillor David Worden, says: “Hedgehogs are in decline in the UK, so we are delighted to partner with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and Tivoli Group Ltd to help prevent injuries to these lovely animals by reminding our grass cutters to ensure there are none around before they start work.”

Fay Vass, Chief Executive of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society says: “We are pleased to welcome North Devon Council as the latest group to join our Hedgehog Heroes roll of honour, after fitting our warning stickers on their contractors’ cutting machinery to help hedgehogs. Raising awareness of the problem is half the battle, long grasses and the bottom of hedges are both places hedgehogs are likely to be found; a quick check before work begins can literally save lives.”

Brad Cole, Tivoli Regional Director, commented: “Hundreds of hedgehogs are injured every year, sometimes fatally, as a result of grounds maintenance work. Working in partnership with North Devon Council, Tivoli are proud supporters of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, making sure all our operatives are aware of the dangers that mowers, strimmers, hedge cutters, etc. can pose to wildlife. These dangers can be avoided by carrying out a thorough visual check of the area before work commences. By attaching the BHPS stickers to our equipment and raising operator awareness, our aim is to reduce the number of hedgehog injuries and deaths caused by grounds-maintenance activities.”

Contact the British Hedgehog Preservation Society for more information at info@britishhedgehogs.org.uk or email the NDC parks team at parks@northdevon.gov.uk.

Photo: British Hedgehog Preservation Society

BUTTERFLY POPULATIONS BOUNCE AS LOCAL PROJECT IS CELEBRATED IN NATIONAL AWARDS

A project working across Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor has been shortlisted for a national award following exceptional work to rescue butterfly populations in the South West.

All the Moor Butterflies from Butterfly Conservation is one of six projects to be shortlisted for the prestigious 2019 Park Protector Award and the very first Year of Green Action Award for National Park projects from the Government’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Jenny Plackett, South West Regional Manager at Butterfly Conservation, said: “Butterfly Conservation is absolutely delighted to be shortlisted for this Award for our work to improve the fortunes of our declining fritillary butterflies across Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor. We have been working alongside dedicated farmers and landowners to increase the quality and extent of suitable breeding habitat, and it would be wonderful if our partnership efforts were to be recognised with this Park Protector Award.”

The project fought off stiff competition to be within touching distance of the Awards, the results of which will be announced in a parliamentary reception this month. This year saw the most applicants apply in the competition’s history!

“The projects are each making an outstanding difference in some of the most famous countryside in the world; they are more vital than ever, when the natural world is under threat like never before and in the year of the National Parks’ 70th anniversary no less!”

“From introducing asylum seekers to the Yorkshire Dales to rescuing endangered butterflies, it’s testament to the power of the National Parks that they are inspiring people to make our countryside a better place for all,” said Corinne Pluchino chief executive of Campaign for National Parks.

Launching the competition, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, the Government minister for National Parks, said: “From my experience travelling the diverse and beautiful landscapes of the Parks I know that there is work to be done, whether that is work to enhance nature or introduce more people than ever to the glory of the countryside. But I also know that very challenge is being embraced by projects up and down the country.”

The six shortlisted projects are:

LOCATE – New Forest National Park

 

 

This project is mapping precious archaeological sites in the New Forest, training volunteers in the specialist skills this requires. This project has helped to map Neolithic long barrows, Iron Age hill forts and Roman pottery kiln sites!

 

People and the Dales– Yorkshire Dales National Park Enabling people from a truly diverse range of backgrounds, including asylum seekers, disabled and inner city youths, to have life changing experiences in the beautiful countryside – improving community relations and introducing thousands to the National Park.

 

SWEPT – Pembrokeshire Coast National Park This project is training citizen scientists to go out and collect vital pollution data in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. This data has led to clean-up events and has shone a light on the relationship between land and marine environments.

 

 

Skill builder – Peak District National Park Skill builder is engaging offenders on probation in conservation work across the Peak District, teaching them new skills, improving the offenders’ health and wellbeing and helping their rehabilitation. They boast that no participant has re-offended with the project.

 

Carlton Marshes – Broads National Park An ambitious restoration of 1000 acre landscape for wildlife alongside Lowestoft, one of the UK’s most socially deprived towns. Carlton Marshes is proving that people and wildlife alike can benefit from conservation and has been supported by the likes of Sir David Attenborough.

 

All the Moor Butterflies – Exmoor & Dartmoor National Parks. This project by Butterfly Conservation is rescuing butterfly populations from collapse in South-West England. Through working with farmers and other organisations the project aims to save six threatened species of butterfly and moth.

 

Stephen Ross, of the Ramblers Holiday’s Charitable Trust, which sponsor the Park Protector Award, said: “This year we’ve had an unprecedented number of high quality applicants, judging has been exceptionally tough and because of that I know what we have here are some of the very best projects run by the most passionate people. I wish there was a way to award every project. “

The winning projects will be announced at a parliamentary reception on 10 July 10. The winner of the Park Protector Award will receive a £2,000 grant towards their work, while the winner of the Year of Green Action Award will receive £1,500.

The annual Award is generously supported by Ramblers Holidays Charitable Trust.

Additionally, supported by Breedon Group.

PHOTO: A marsh fritillary, one of the species at the centre of conservation efforts. Photo credit: Tom Cox

WARNING OVER ASH DIEBACK IN EXMOOR NATIONAL PARK

Around 800,000 trees in Exmoor National Park may be at risk from ash dieback, the National Park Authority has warned, as work to clear potentially hazardous infected trees from land it owns gets underway in Simonsbath this week.

The estimate comes from a Forestry Commission report produced on behalf of Exmoor National Park last summer*. It follows a University of Oxford study last month predicting a nationwide cost of £15 billion to the British economy linked to ash dieback**.

Ash is the second most common native tree species in Exmoor National Park after oak. It’s estimated that at least 95 per cent of ash trees in the UK will be killed by ash dieback over the next 20-30 years.

Graeme McVittie, Exmoor National Park Authority Senior Woodland Officer, said: “The trees being felled in Simonsbath next week are on Exmoor National Park Authority land and will be the first of many that will be sadly missing from the Exmoor landscape in years to come. We always conduct a thorough check for nesting birds and if possible delay any tree work to avoid disturbing them. But because this disease progresses so rapidly we have to act quickly before trees become too hazardous.

“Many of the diseased trees won’t need removing and may even provide temporary benefits to wildlife – for example populations of woodpeckers and stag beetles peaked following Dutch elm disease in the 1980s. Yet the longer-term loss in terms of public benefits such as clean air and water and carbon storage is likely to be significant.

“We are committed to the government’s national action plan on ash dieback, which focuses on building resilience and encouraging tolerant species of ash and are happy to provide expert advice to anyone with concerns. It is always the landowners’ responsibility to deal with any diseased trees that may present a risk to the public.”

Ash dieback disease is caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. It causes leaf loss and crown dieback and once infected a tree will usually die, often as a result of the infection weakening the tree so it becomes more susceptible to attack by other pests and diseases.

There is no requirement to notify Exmoor National Park Authority about ash dieback but the Forestry Commission is collecting data about this and other tree diseases at www.forestry.gov.uk/treealert.

Exmoor National Park Authority has recently set up a new CareMoor Tree Fund for people wishing to donate towards replacing any cherished tree that has been lost from the landscape for any reason. Find out more at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/caremoor.

* National Forest Inventory statistics for Exmoor National Park, Forest Research, July 2018, Online at: file://srvfs-app1/userdirs/astevens/VM_redirect/downloads/FR_NFI_Exmoor_Report_2018.pdf

** The £15 billion cost of ash dieback in Britain, Current Biology, Louise Hill et al, May 2019, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2019.03.033

About ash dieback: www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/Whats-Special/woodland/working/Info-for-woodland-owners/ash-dieback-disease

AWARD FOR EXMOOR’S WOODLANDS

Exmoor National Park has won a prestigious Royal Forestry Society (RFS) Excellence in Forestry Award for its sustainable approach to woodland management and involvement of community groups*. It complements a new Government accord announced last week that aims to expand and enhance woodland in National Parks**.

Moor Wood near Minehead is being slowly transformed by the National Park’s woodlands team using a technique called Continuous Cover Forestry, which harnesses the ability of woodlands to naturally regenerate.

The small temporary gaps created when carefully selected trees are felled  provides a stable habitat for a variety of woodland species, such as birds, butterflies and fungi, whilst allowing commercially viable amounts of timber to be harvested sustainably. This avoids the need for large-scale felling, which takes several decades to regenerate and generally involves uniform plantations that are more vulnerable to environmental pressures.

Graeme McVittie, Senior Woodland Conservation Officer for Exmoor National Park, said: “It’s great to get this kind of recognition for the work we’re doing to make Exmoor’s woodlands more resilient in the face of modern day threats from pests, disease and climate change. We’ve witnessed the loss of elm and larch in our woodlands, and are now losing horse chestnut and ash. Storms and drought have caused further damage and other diseases threaten our oaks and sweet chestnut. So it’s vital that we do all we can to prepare these places for the future.”

The Certificate of Merit was also awarded for the National Park’s commitment to creating opportunities for local communities enjoy and benefit from Exmoor’s woodlands.

Woodcombe Community Woodland is a project initiated by Forum 21, an environmental group in West Somerset.  It leases an area of woodland from the National Park to produce seasoned firewood to help local people in fuel poverty, with the help of local volunteers.
Graham Boswell who leads the project for Forum 21, said: “It’s great to see our idea for a community woodland brought to life through our ongoing partnership with the National Park. The next few years will be crucial in terms of developing a workforce with the necessary woodland skills, but we’re all up for the challenge and excited by the potential benefits for the whole community.”

Rob Wilson-North, Head of Conservation and Access at Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “Exmoor’s diverse woodlands are truly special, providing a rich haven for nature, from some of the country’s rarest birds, butterflies and bats, to seldom seen lichens, liverworts and mosses. But they’re also an important part of the local economy, providing timber and recreational opportunities, along with a host of public benefits, including educational opportunities, carbon storage and flood alleviation. Balancing these priorities isn’t always easy, but this award is a sure sign we’re on the right track.”

Presenting the Awards, RFS President Andrew Woods, said: “The Excellence in Forestry Awards have once again revealed a rich seam of excellence in woodland management – from some of the most prestigious estates in the country to some of the smallest of woodlands. As landowners and woodland managers look to an uncertain future with increasing climate and environmental challenges, these are all woodlands we can learn from.

“It is also uplifting to see the fantastic work that is being carried out among communities to encourage forestry and woodland skills. These projects tap into the enthusiasm of those who will be planning, planting and managing our woodlands in the future as well as looking at how timber can be used in construction for generations to come and deserve the recognition they receive.”

CHASING THE GHOST BY PETER MARREN

We are proud to have Peter Marren among our expert panel of writers. Here is a little review of his latest book – as featured recently on Radio 4 – which his friend and fellow contributor to our mag, Rosemary FitzGerald, penned for us. The book is available locally in Number Seven Dulverton and from Brendon Books in Taunton. If you, too, are a local bookseller and you stock this title please let us know and we will mantion you also, as we struggled to obtain a list of local sellers.

Peter Marren, Chasing the Ghost (2018). Square Peg. 286pp. £16.99.

Most of us who love the countryside have this strongly grounded in
childhood memories, and many, like me, retain a gently competitive
collector’s instinct about nature. Special sightings of bird or animal, the earliest date for catkins or frogspawn, seeing a new species of wild flower – all these are notable, small treasures added to a lifetime store, and it’s a wild flower quest which inspired this delightful book.

Readers will remember Peter Marren’s ‘Fungi at Your Fingertips’ (Exmoor Magazine, Autumn 2017). An admired and respected natural history writer, he is a good friend of many places and people in Somerset. His fascinating memoir (Where the Wild Thyme Blew) showed the sometimes hard road to becoming a dedicated naturalist. Chasing the Ghost shows his deep knowledge and love of plants, and a great capacity for fun! A lucid style and a quirky, entertaining viewpoint make it a great adventure story. Imagine The Famous Five Go Botanising and you’ll get the mood of this most original quest.

However, the subtitle may mislead at first glance. In fact, the author has already seen almost all of them, but decided to challenge himself to finish ticking off his final 50 never-seen species in one year. The framework of that bold decision comes from a significant West Country connection. Probably the most influential popular flora publication ever, The Concise British Flora in Colour, was by a Devon vicar, W. Keble Martin, and was illustrated with his exquisite watercolours. First published in 1965, it was a best seller, and drew countless people to wild flowers. The British flora has around 1,500 species, and ‘Keble Martin’, as the book is affectionately known, deals with a solid core of them, excluding the more difficult reaches of subspecies and varieties. Peter always used his copy to tick off plants new to him, youthful family holiday finds progressing to the wide range seen when working in plant conservation. Feeling he had time to spend on an extended adventure, he decided to hunt down the final tantalising rarities shown in this seminal book. This challenge gives the structure for this charming story.

Each plant has its own section, with an elegant line drawing and gripping account of each particular search. Some days were easy and sunny with good company and the plant located and looking perfect. Others involved terrible times, in frightening thunder on a mountain, being stuck on a Hebridean island through the pain of family bereavement, a diagnosis of serious illness – but the author’s good humour and spirit, and the wonderful nature of the quest, make this book both exciting and inspirational as one follows Peter’s every step, willing the target plant to be in flower for him that day!

Among the adventures there are some powerful conservation messages. Our threatened flora needs informed supporters, and Chasing the Ghost seems a wonderful way of encouraging serious thought in the guise of a perfect holiday or bedtime read. It’s a delightful book.

Rosemary FitzGerald

PHOTO: Editor’s own.

RSPB SAY ‘GIVE GULLS LOVE, NOT CHIPS’

News release issued by the RSPB

Gulls consistently get a bad press, but the RSPB is calling on people this summer to take a more understanding view of this most misunderstood of creatures. The RSPB and the RSPCA is offering practical advice to address the problems that sometimes occur between urban gulls and people.

Morwenna Alldis, spokesperson for the RSPB South West, said: “Personally I love gulls – I like a bird with a bit of personality and gulls have that in spades. They’re bombastic, cheeky, incredibly adaptable, opportunistic, intelligent, and if there was a prize for ‘bird parent of the year’, protective urban gull parents would win. However, our urban gull is often misunderstood. We need to change the way we behave around gulls and try to live harmoniously alongside them.”

The RSPB and RSPCA both cite examples of where relations have broken down. Last summer the RSPCA appealed for information after a gull was discovered on an industrial estate in St Austell with a crossbow bolt through its body. The injuries were too severe for the gull to make a recovery and it was put to sleep to prevent further suffering. This sort of attack is not an isolated incident.

Llewelyn Lowen, RSPCA Scientific Officer, explains: “Every year we receive calls about gulls which have been persecuted and the victims of abusive attacks. Many have stones thrown at them, others are left homeless after their nests are illegally destroyed and they may become the target of people taking pot shots at them with airguns.

“Gulls and their nests are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and it is illegal to intentionally kill, take or injure wild birds and action can only be taken against them under licence.”

The RSPB says one of the main issues people have with gulls is linked to the birds’ nesting behaviour. Morwenna continues: “May to July is prime gull-nesting season and during this period they can be quite noisy, which is an understandable annoyance if they’ve chosen a roof near you. But keep in mind that this period is short-lived.

“Gulls are also incredibly protective and proactive parents; they have to be as their chicks are quite worrisome. Before they fledge, gull chicks start to explore their rooftop homes, which can lead to them falling from the roof and sometimes even injuring themselves. When a chick is away from the nest, gull mum and dad will swing into action, protecting their vulnerable offspring from all possible harm – and that includes us.

“If a gull feels that you’re too close to its youngster, and so a potential threat, it will fly over you at great speed and alarmingly close – rarely making contact the first time. This is a warning – it’s meant to frighten you into backing off. If you encounter an anxious gull parent protecting their young, perhaps in your garden or place of work, the best advice is to walk carrying an unfurled umbrella. Again, this is just a temporary measure until the chick has fledged.”

The RSPB say that second main area of concern for people is the way some of the birds feed, but warn much of the problem is of human origin. Morwenna continues: “For years many people have openly fed gulls from their own hands – fish and chips on the beach were often shared with the gull eagerly pacing at people’s feet. Many people still leave bin bags of ripe-smelling food waste on the pavement (not in a bin or gull proof sack), again an easy snack for a gull. And, with the discarded curry containers, soggy burger buns and half eaten kebabs scattering the street outside many local takeaways – it’s little wonder that gulls see us as their free meal ticket. A gull can’t discern between a sausage roll dropped on the floor (free-pickings) and the one you’re unwrapping for lunch in the local park, humans have inadvertently taught gulls that our food is their food. We must all stop feeding gulls both in inland and seaside towns and in our gardens if we want to recondition their current behaviour.”

RSPCA’s Llewelyn Lowen said: “Unfortunately many see these birds as pests, but all it takes is a little care and understanding to minimise any inconvenience caused by gulls. The RSPCA believes that deterrents and non-lethal methods of control are the best way to reduce gull-related problems. Not feeding the gulls, disposing of rubbish properly, and limiting gulls’ nesting opportunities in urban environments will help to reduce any problems.”

PHOTO: Editor’s own.

FROG AND TOAD SIGHTINGS ARE DRYING UP: HOW WE CAN HELP

Survey results released in the last week of more than 174,000 UK gardens reveal that sightings of frogs and toads have declined.
Disappearance of garden ponds and pools has long been a factor linked to the declining numbers.

The RSPB is challenging families to take part in the Wild Challenge by getting outside and creating a simple pond or DIY pool in their outdoor space.

Results from the RSPB’s wildlife survey, which is part of the Big Garden Birdwatch, show that frogs had been seen in more than three-quarters of gardens across the UK. Despite being the most common non-bird garden visitor, seen at least monthly in close to 40% of gardens, this was 17% fewer regular sightings than the last time they were surveyed in 2014, when they were observed monthly in around 46% of gardens.

This pattern was similar for toads, which were seen in 20% of our outdoor spaces on a monthly basis, an alarming 30% fewer gardens than the 28% of gardens in 2014.

At a quick glance, a nature novice may not be able to spot the difference between a frog and a toad. Frogs hop, their skin is smooth and moist and they have a pointed nose, whilst toads crawls, their skin is warty and dry and their noses are rounded – almost semi-circular in shape.

Dr Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist, said: “Most people remember seeing tadpoles at the local pond or a toad emerging from under a rock while they were growing up – these first experiences with nature stay with us forever. Unfortunately, the sights and sounds of wildlife that were once common to us are sadly becoming more mysterious.

“There are lots of simple things we can all do in our outdoor spaces to make them perfect for wildlife. Frogs and toads are amphibious creatures, meaning that they need a source of water close to their homes to survive. Creating a small pond in your garden, or a pool using a washing up bowl is so simple to do and could make all the difference.”

Other results from the survey revealed a small increase in the number of recorded sightings of hedgehogs. Despite the UK population suffering widespread declines in recent decades, 65% of people spotted one in their gardens over the past year.

Foxes remained one of the other most common garden visitors, with one being spotted in 72% of our gardens and outdoor spaces, while more secretive creatures such as moles and great-crested newts escaped much of the nation’s gaze.

Dr Karen Haysom, Species Programmes Manager at Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, said: “Frogs and toads face many pressures, including the loss of habitat like ponds. Helping these fascinating creatures by making wildlife habitat in your garden or taking part in species recording and monitoring schemes so we understand how nature is faring is fun and can make a difference.”

Big Garden Birdwatch is the world’s largest garden wildlife survey and takes place each year on the last weekend in January. The RSPB asks people to count the birds in their garden or outdoor space over the course of one hour at any point in the weekend to get an idea of how our feathered friends are getting on.

With the wildlife on people’s doorsteps becoming increasingly elusive, the RSPB is calling on families to spend more time outside this summer, discovering the nature that surrounds them and seeing how they can give it a helping hand.

By taking part in the RSPB’s Wild Challenge, families can have fun engaging in activities ranging from building a pool for amphibians to bug safaris, taking their first steps on their own wild adventure. There are 24 activities to choose from that will take you from your own back garden to exploring towns, cities, woodlands and even the coast.

Martyn Foster, RSPB Head of Education, Families and Youth, said: “Getting outside and discovering nature is important for every child. The Wild Challenge gives families the chance to turn the weekend walk into a wild flower foray or make the most of their school holidays by meeting the amazing minibeasts in their own outdoor space. And, as well as getting up close to some amazing wildlife, you’ll be helping to give nature a home.”

The RSPB’s ambition is for Wild Challenge to help more families across the country reap the benefits of spending time outside in nature. Research has shown that children who have a healthy connection to nature are more likely to benefit from higher achievement at school, better mental and physical health, and develop stronger social skills.

To learn more about the RSPB Wild Challenge and to see how you can take your firsts steps on your own wildlife adventure, visit www.rspb.org.uk/wildchallenge

Photo: Common Frog Rana temporaria, adult in pond covered in duckweed, by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)

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.