Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Birds strike a blow for wind farms

Signs like this seem to popping up all over the country
Back on the 30th June I blogged about the rare White-throated Needletail that met its demise following a collision with a wind turbine on Harris, in the Outer Hebrides. Well, maybe this is much more of a common happening than previously thought, as new research from the United States indicates that bird deaths from wind farm collisions may have been underestimated by up to a massive 30 per cent!
A new study just published in the United States has estimated that around 573,000 birds were killed by wind turbines in 2012 (including 83,000 birds of prey), an increase of 30 per cent on a previous estimate by the US fish and Wildlife Service in 2009. Bats are even worse hit, says author K Shawn Smallwood, and probably top 888,000 killed per year.

Clearly this has serious implications for the renewable energy industry, which bases much of its investment and publicity on the safety and environmental sustainability of the machines. Smallwood also believes his figures are underestimated, owing to the incompleteness if reports of bird and bat deaths from different states, in particular Texas.
As I travel around the UK countryside, there does seem to be an increasing number of posters against more of these wind farms being erected and these sort of numbers coming out of the States can only add to the dislike of these turbines.  

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Bizarre battle between Bat and Burdock - Burdock wins.

I came across this odd spectacle while out walking today of a dead pipistrelle bat held fast amongst the clasps of a Burdock plant. I imagine that the bat had been hunting around the Burdock plant, which is a great nectar source loved by many insects, for small moths feeding on the purple coloured flowers, when it became entrapped amongst the hooked clasps of the forming seed heads.
I’m sure that most of you are familiar with the burrs that easily attach themselves to your clothes as you brush by, and sometimes completely cover long haired dogs resulting in time consuming grooming to remove them all! However, when the burrs have only just finished flowering, as in this case, they are still firmly attached to the main plant, so that the struggling bat would not have been able to pull free from the hooked clasps, but instead would have become more and more entangled in the plant.
 It is ironic that a plant which relies on animals (and us!) to spread its seeds around the countryside, lands up actually killing a small mammal, just because it was not powerful enough to break free from the “trap” designed only to hitch a lift, not to kill.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The Julian Gardner photographic awards

Competition winner Martin Munn with his wife Kelly and winning photo

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) runs a photographic competition each year and the winners for 2013 were announced a few days ago at the Game Fair, held at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire. Laurie Campbell, the internationally acclaimed wildlife photographer is the senior judge and he said that this year’s winning photo’s, from both the senior and junior entrants, were “incredibly impressive”. 
The competition was made possible by a kind donation from the family and friends of Julian Gardner, a farmer, countryman and lifelong supporter of the trust, who was tragically murdered while working on his farm in Sussex. What was very special about the awards this year is that seven family members and friends had travelled up from Sussex to the fair so that they could watch the presentations take place. Richard Benyon, who is the DEFRA Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries, very kindly made space in his hectic schedule, to come to the GWCT stand to present the trophies.
The winning photo titled “Lady in red” of a ladybird inside a Tulip flower was unanimously chosen by all three judges as the number one shot, even before we came together to discuss which photos should be placed in the last three – and that doesn’t happen very often! The winner Martin Munn and his wife Kelly duly turned up at the GWCT stand, having driven up from Surrey the night before, to stay just eight miles away. I say just eight miles away, but it took them two hours to travel these last few miles on the Saturday morning – they began to panic that they might actually miss the presentation!
Unfortunately, the winner of the 16 and under competition, Christopher Page of Orpington, Kent, who took a glorious picture of an autumnal woodland scene, could not make the fair. However, this was more than compensated for by the young lady who came third, who attended the presentation with her photo of a superbly atmospheric winter landscape. Eloise Rux Burton who is only 9 years old, (incidentally she would  like to be an actress when she grows up rather than a photographer!) was presented with her enlarged photo by Richard Benyon – a memory which will surely stay with her for years to come!
It was a lovely occasion, bringing together people who closely observe our surroundings and capture that particular moment for all to enjoy. I hope that the winners enjoy having the “hare” trophy on their mantel piece for the year, before handing the trophy over to next year’s winner.
 If this year is anything to go by – the standard will be high – but don’t let that put you off – get out there and see if you can’t take that winning photo!! 
To find out more about the competition go to: http://www.gwct.org.uk/photocompetition

Minister Richard Benyon presenting Martin with his trophy

Eloise Rux Burton receiving her picture from Richard Benyon

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Rachel Carson's "Silent spring" still reverberates 50 years on

Silence, except for the wind
Rachel Carson started off studying literature, but fortunately for us, changed to biology because she went on to write the famous book “silent spring”, which caused reverberations across the scientific and agricultural worlds alike. The book highlighted the effects of direct poisoning of wildlife by pesticides, the bioaccumulation of residues within food chains, and the sub-lethal effects of pesticides on wildlife during the 1950s and 1960s”.

Gillian Gooderham has written a fascinating piece for National Geographic on the writing of this book and the input that the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust had at the time, (including copies of old letters written) carrying on to look at how the Trust’s continual research has since managed to over-come some of the problems and issues that Carson raised.

I highly recommend that you take a look at this excellent article, which can be read by clicking here  

Monday, 15 July 2013

Children hold Elephants, Leopards and Tigers!

A close up experience with big moths!

The moth trap was in full swing over the weekend and catches were good, with lots of large Hawkmoths and other brightly coloured moths caught, so I kept some in captivity for a while as I had family, including young great nephews coming for Sunday lunch. There were Elephant and Poplar Hawkmoths, Leopard and Tiger moths to show off.
These larger moths are a wonderful way of engaging children (and adults!) who are amazed at the size and colour of some of these big moths, which also tend to be wonderfully behaved and just sit peacefully on a hand, allowing close scrutiny – perfect for that close up experience.
You never know, one of these guys might just have “caught the bug” as I did many moons ago and follow me in a lifelong fascination of wildlife – perhaps triggered by a short encounter with a colourful moth on a hot July day in Hampshire!
Elephant Hawkmoth

A Garden Tiger moth

A Leopard moth

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Beware - we are being invaded by rednecks!

Yes, it does sound as if we are being invaded by hillbilly servant  types from the American south – incidentally called “Rednecks” because the men who work in the fields generally have the skin on the back of their necks burnt red by the sun – but in fact I am referring to a moth! The common name footman comes from a supposed resemblance to the uniform of such a servant, but you need to use your imagination if you are to see this link I reckon.
The Red-necked footman is a resident moth, however its numbers can be boosted by immigrant moths crossing the channel, and I suspect that is what is happening right now during this hot spell we are all enjoying. I have caught 3 of these distinctive moths in the last few weeks and yet I have previously only ever caught 3 in total! The Footman family of moths is comprised of around 17 or so members in this country and are of particular interest in that most of the caterpillars feed on Lichens or green algae growing on trees.
Many people are amazed when I tell them that loads of different moths and butterflies cross over the channel – some species originating from as far away as northern Africa! I have already seen a Humming bird Hawkmoth and lots of Silver Y this year which have arrived here recently from overseas.
So, keep a good eye open over the next few weeks and see if you can spot any of these “invaders”!     
Silver Y moth - which you can see on it's side!

A Humming bird hawkmoth

Red-necked footman 

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Doctor gets himself in a hole - more than once!

The doctor looks into yet another hole!

Alistair in his element!

I spent the day at the GWCT farm at Loddington in Leicestershire yesterday, running another BASIS training day and was helped this time by Dr. Alistair Leake, head of the project there. Alistair has many arrows to his bow, but he is perhaps best known for being a top authority on soil and water and how different farming techniques influence the way these important resources interact.
Alistair often says that there is no supplement to getting the spade out and digging a large hole in the ground to see what the soil structure looks like, as the composition of the soil is vital for growing top quality crops, increasing earth worm numbers and also helping to prevent flooding events amongst other things.
Certainly the group enjoyed the walk around the farm yesterday afternoon, looking at various habitats and discussing how they are created and maintained, but perhaps the stop they found the most intriguing was the doctor in his hole!
As if that was not enough, Alistair found himself peering down another hole later on as the sewerage from the new “eco-build” conference centre was not running away quite as it should! Apparently, the farm manager had used up the collected water supply that normally flushes the system through, to irrigate a newly grass sown grass lay – not something that had been factored into the building’s plans!!    
Still Alistair is never happier than when in a “bit of a hole”!!
Alistair getting a "hole" lot of attention!

Making hay while the sun shines!

I said that I would keep you posted as to how the hay making is progressing on the farm next to where I live, and I can report that conditions could really not have been better – hot, dry and sunny! Having turned the grass three times, the baler has done its stuff and the hay bales have all been taken off to the barn, leaving the fields bare.
What a difference to last year, when hay making was such an ordeal due to constant rain. Hopefully this easy grass harvest will go some way to erasing those bad memories!   

Bales waiting to be collected in and taken off to the barn

Monday, 8 July 2013

It's going to be the daddy of all autumns!


Yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far, yet last year’s wet weather is still playing its part in the countryside. Surveys coming out of Scotland have revealed that leatherjackets – the larvae of the daddy-longlegs or cranefly – have reached record levels, with up to an unbelievable 7 million grubs per hectare (2.5 acres) being found.  I suspect that this will be reflected across the whole country, so we can all expect to be plagued by masses of these gangly insects this autumn.
Cranefly lay their eggs in the soil during September and particularly like the conditions to be warm and damp at this time. Once the leatherjackets hatch out, they feed voraciously on the roots of grasses and cereals, often becoming a major pest to farmers.
There is however, an upside to this predicted mass of long legged insects everywhere – they are a fantastic food source for a wide range of species. Incidentally, the swallows that nest in my small barn, all left their nest over the weekend, which is late for the first brood, but a joyous sight nevertheless!   They will definitely enjoy the vast numbers of daddy long legs predicted this autumn, as they will be able to feed up well before making the long journey to Africa.
Hungry baby Swallow being fed by parent

Friday, 5 July 2013

Hay making creates spectacular aerial display!

Cutting the grass

Hay making got underway today on the grass fields near to my house, so that when I got home I was treated to an aerial display from 4 buzzards and two red kites, attracted in by the possibility of a cheaply gained free meal in the form of a chopped up mouse or beetle. The red kites were much bolder than the buzzards and regularly got close to the tractor, while the buzzards seemed to prefer to harry the kites, should they actually find anything amongst the cut grass. This resulted in some spectacular aerial manoeuvres, with kite and buzzard spiralling down from the heavens! Red kites are definitely supreme in the skies however, so they easily managed to avoid the main buzzard charges, by simply and effortlessly turning their tail to veer off sideways or by lifting suddenly on an unseen upward draught – wonderful to watch!  
Cut grass drying in the sun

A red kite - master of the skies

The weather looks as though it is set fine for the next week, so the quality of hay should be good with easy conditions for drying and baling. I will keep you up to date with proceedings!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Training - should also be a fun day out!

South West FWAG - a lovely group to spend the day with!

I have been really busy with training days lately – 4 days out of the last 10 have been spent with a variety of groups. As I have said before, I help with technical training up-dates for Conservation grade farmers and 2 of these days were held on farms in Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire. Another "BASIS Certificate in Conservation" course was held for South West FWAG advisors in Dorset and finally I organised a workshop on rare arable flowers for the Marlborough Downs Nature improvement area.
I always try to make any training event relaxed and informal. I don’t like “lecturing” attendees, but prefer to discuss and debate topics, getting them to do plenty of the talking. I also nearly always build in an “outside” element as I feel it is important to see the things that we have been talking about in situ – a picture paints a thousand words and all that!
Training is so important I believe. If you want good advisors who really know their stuff and in turn, farmers who know how to deliver the “conservation ask” on their farms, then clear guidance is crucial. Also, if the public are to understand exactly what is going on in the countryside, then we also need to spend time explaining to them how this often bewildering, complicated countryside actually works!
Hopefully, a good workshop or course can also, if it goes according to plan, leave people inspired and enthused – surely a hugely important part of any training day!
Conservation Grade farmers admiring a recently created pond