Does Environmental Stewardship work ? Part 2 – fen surveys (2014)

Following on from the species-rich grassland survey, a friend and I were asked to survey nine wetland sites as part of a similar project on fens.  This time, there was no previous survey data and our mission was to map vegetation and establish new locations for quadrats which, we hope, someone will come back to in a few years’ time to find out what has been happening to the vegetation.

fen habitat Continue reading

Preparing for badger vaccination with Wirral and Cheshire Badger Group

Much excitement as we edge closer to starting our vaccination programme for real.  The surveys are done.  The vaccinators have been trained.  We have our licence.  We have our traps.  We know where we want to put them.  And by the time you read this we will have started pre-baiting with peanuts and hopefully trapping and vaccinating badgers at at least one of our sites.

To support all this activity I attended a training session on how to pre-bait badger traps.  We only have a couple of vaccinators, so we need an army of pre-baiters available to visit each site daily, check whether the badgers are taking the bait, adjust the bait if necessary and generally act as minions to the vaccinators until we reach the stage where the badgers are familiar and comfortable with the traps.  When this happens, we call the vaccinators who will come to site, set the traps, and come back in the morning to vaccinate any badgers trapped in accordance with their training.

I’m looking forward to getting involved once the botanical survey season is more or less over towards the end of September.  No doubt by the end of October I will be fully familiar with all the local places to buy large quantities of peanuts at odd times of day…. loving it :)

Trapping Myotis and pipistrelle bats with South Lancs Bat Group

In August I had the opportunity to attend three bat trapping sessions with the bat group, with varying degrees of success.  Two of the sessions were aimed at the Nathusius pipistrelle project and involved harp trapping with a lure, as described here and here.  The middle session took place at a well known site where bats swarm during the autumn.  Swarming is about choosing a mate, so if you think ‘bat nightclub’ you will be thinking along the right lines about how bats use this site.

bat swarming site

I’m going to describe the results of the trapping in reverse order, for reasons which will no doubt become clear… Continue reading

Bats and glow worms at Beeston Castle with Cheshire Bat Group

If you’ve not been to Beeston Castle near Tarporley, I highly recommend you check it out.  It’s a splendid, proper castle on the top of a hill, magnificently ruinous, with a precipice on one side and a moat on the other.  And it’s a groovy orange colour as it’s made from the local sandstone.  Smashing !

Even better, not only is there a castle on the site, there are caves too, and caves mean BATS !

This is the site where our lonely lesser horseshoe was first recorded to hibernate.  He/she was later joined by a second individual, so we can say we have a population of two lesser horseshoe bats in Cheshire.  At least some of the time :)

In the summer, there are roosts of four species of bat on site.  Cheshire Bat Group record numbers of these roosts each year and we find that they fluctuate quite a bit.  This time, I didn’t see any brown long-eared bats but numbers are always low and this year we were a bit later in the summer than usual so this isn’t necessarily cause for concern.  We did see 60 pipistrelles – the site seemingly has a mixed roost of common and soprano pipistrelles, although we don’t know whether they occupy different areas once they get inside the roosting space.  The received wisdom is that sopranos and commons like to roost separately.  Because soprano pipistrelles smell.  They do, honest !!!

We also counted 45 Natterer’s bats which again isn’t as high as usual, but we think it is a maternity roost – in good weather years like 2014, maternity roosts tend to break up earlier, as the young bats develop faster and so learn to become independent sooner.  When a maternity roost breaks up, some of the bats may stick around in the same place whilst others disperse to other roosting sites, often, but not always, in the local area.  So we are not worried about our Natterer’s at all as they may just have moved on a bit earlier than usual.  We do know of at least one other Natterer’s roost nearby.  One day we will get organised and count them both at the same time so we finally know how many bats we have !  This may be easier said than done though as the other roost is on private land and we are not sure how much the owner likes bats….we are grateful that English Heritage love their bats and are happy to let us in out of hours to count them.

You don’t have to go into the site to see bats, as you can get a good view from the gatehouse – so if you want you could always go and see for yourself – be careful though, as the gatehouse fronts directly onto the road and it’s busier with traffic than you might think for such a tiny lane.

Last year the bat count team saw glow worms on the hill leading up to the castle, so we went to have a look and *almost* convinced ourselves we could see some.  Until I realised at least some of what I was looking at and telling myself were glow worms were actually white flowers – !  Yeah. Maybe next year I will get lucky.

BSBI Rubus workshop 2014 – a weekend of brambles !

But brambles all look the same, I hear you say, how could you possibly spend an entire weekend just looking at Rubus species ???

Well. If you’ve noticed that not all wild blackberries taste the same, there’s a reason for that.  It’s because there are in fact 330+ different kinds or microspecies.  Owing to a peculiarity in the way brambles reproduce, we have ended up with loads of local varieties which have all been described as new species.  A bit like dandelions.  A few people have sussed this out and become experts in telling which is which.  A group of botanists gathered at FSC Rhyd-y-creuau to meet these experts and start learning how to identify them for themselves. Continue reading