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While the black-tailed godwit breeding season has (sadly) come to an end, some birds may venture over to coastal wetlands around the UK before migrating south to wetland sites in Spain, Portugal and West Africa for the ‘non-breeding season’ in autumn and winter.

The team at Project Godwit is always eager to receive sightings of project birds, as it really helps our conservation efforts. Project Godwit has a unique colour ringing scheme, whereby all birds are ringed with a lime colour ring on the right leg with the black letter ‘E’ stamped on the ring. Colour ringing helps us better understand the movements of these migratory birds and the incredible journeys they undertake. Reporting a sighting can be done through the Project Godwit reporting page.

Project Godwit birds have a lime colour ring on the right leg with a black letter ‘E’.

After no sightings for almost two years, Caramel was spotted at RSPB Ouse Washes in June. The last time this two-year-old head-started female was seen was in autumn 2018 in Portes-en-Ré, west France! This is the first record of this godwit back in the Fens of East Anglia since being head-started at WWT Welney and released as a chick in June 2018.

Caramel, pictured as a chick in a rearing aviary at WWT Welney in June 2018.

This head-started godwit has been getting around a lot lately. Male godwit Morgan has been spotted at Pagham Harbour in Sussex, Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve in Hampshire and RSPB Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire in July – all within a fortnight!

These records are thanks to members of the public reporting sightings of Morgan’s colour rings to Project Godwit.

Morgan as a chick in a rearing aviary at WWT Welney, June 2018.

Some of Project Godwit’s head-started adults to have successfully bred this year include female Anouk and male Delph (both head-started in 2017) fledging one chick. Head-started female Lil (another 2017 bird) paired with a wild-reared male and fledged two chicks. These pairs nested on the Ouse Washes at WWT Welney (as opposed to Lady Fen, Welney), making this the first year godwit chicks have fledged from this area of the reserve since 2006.

Other head-started godwits to have fledged chicks this year include female Earith (also head-started in 2017), who fledged three chicks at the RSPB Pilot Project site, adjacent to the Ouse Washes, having paired with a wild-reared male again. Most godwits begin breeding around the age of two and although some have been known to breed successfully at that age and even younger, more experienced adults tend to have greater breeding success.

The absence of flooding on the Ouse Washes in the spring was conducive for our breeding godwits, however predation of eggs and chicks is still a problem for these vulnerable ground-nesting birds. Furthermore, it is essential the UK has more wetland habitat for black-tailed godwits which is well managed for wildlife and better joined up. Creating and managing ideal wet grassland habitat for godwits is a key element to Project Godwit and is paramount in securing the future of these special migrant waders in the UK.

Anouk at Wieringerwerf, Netherlands March 2019 (Credit: Otto de Vries).

As with so many conservation projects to have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, many Project Godwit activities could not take place as planned this year. This includes the head-starting and release of godwit chicks – meaning there will be no ‘Class of 2020’. Due to the Government restrictions on movement during the lockdown, the team were also unable to conduct much monitoring of the godwits this season, therefore we do not know how many young birds as two-year-olds may have returned from their first migration and joined the Fens population of black-tailed godwits this year.

Needless to say it’s been a challenging year for the team, however we look forward to next year and hope for good health, better prospects and that normal programming will resume soon so we can continue making gains for the conservation of black-tailed godwits.

 

Project Godwit

 

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

During lockdown the National Trust has reported that emboldened wildlife, from raptors and warblers to Badgers, Otters and even orcas, appear to be enjoying the disappearance of humans from its gardens, castles and waterways across the UK.

Reports from rangers and gardeners include Peregrine Falcons nesting in the ancient ruins of Corfe Castle in Dorset, English Partridges rootling around an empty car park near Cambridge, and a Cuckoo calling at Osterley Park in west London, having not been heard there for 20 years.

The team at Colour in the Margins has had emails from our volunteers as well as members of the public wanting to get in touch and tell us their stories about rare arable wildlife making an appearance. Elaine Parkin is one of those people and sent this wonderful story capturing the magic of seeing arable species that aren’t so frequently seen.


Skylark - RSPB Images

“I'd like to mention our encounters with a Skylark from far below it! We were on a footpath to West Harting that leads off the South Harting to Charlton road in West Sussex. We had walked about a mile through woodland, going uphill all the time and at the top, whilst walking adjacent to open fields, we heard the skylark. It must have been very high as we couldn't see it, but loved hearing its sweet, earnest song as it circled high above us. It reminded me of hearing them over open fields in Idsworth near Rowlands Castle and again in Somerset’s Quantock hills, where we heard several.

Like other beautiful birdsong, the lark's sweet voice resonates of something timeless, encapsulating the beauty of the countryside from high above, whether it's in sight or not. Simply hearing one gives a sense of reassurance, of quietude and permanence that is hard to describe. On hearing it, you must stop, be still and reflect on the beauty of its song. We certainly did on our walk and look forward to hearing one again!

A friend who works near this site saw a leveret right outside her cottage; a Stoat then appeared, and they stared at each other. I don't know the outcome, but since crowds of people have not been around during lockdown, she's also noticed deer and hares coming in much closer; the Hares even sit happily outside her home! These animals may not be able to venture so freely in 'normal' times due to the presence of people and noise, but it is reassuring and very pleasing to know that they are out there and still part of our much-loved natural environment and rural heritage”

Many thanks to Elaine for getting in touch and telling her about this encounter. If you have seen any of the rarer species during this quieter time, why not get in touch and share your story?

Get in touch with ColourInTheMargins@plantlife.org.uk to tell us what you’ve seen.

 

 Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.


An attractive spray of arable plants. Photo Jess Brooks

 There is only so much that an individual land manager, acting in isolation, can achieve on their own. By working together in a group or ‘cluster’, helped by a chosen advisor, farmers can work more cohesively together in their locality. This enables them to collectively deliver greater benefits for soil, water and wildlife at a landscape scale.

The Martin Down Farmer Cluster was formed in the Cranborne Chase area of Dorset and Hampshire in 2016 and is one of three Farmer Clusters surrounding Martin Down National Nature Reserve. Together, this ‘supercluster’ cradles the nature reserve, covering an area of 236 km2.

Map of the Martin Down supercluster

43 farmers across the three clusters have united in their aim to protect and enhance the iconic and threatened wildlife of Martin Down and the farmland wildlife of the surrounding land. The three groups share many target species and priorities, including Turtle Dove, Hedgehogs, soil organic matter and arable flora.


Rough Poppy surrounded by Stinking Chamomile at the edge of a Spring bean crop. Photo Jess Brooks

A rich community of arable flora is an asset that many of the members of the Martin Down Farmer Cluster are proud of. Not only are they a part of our agricultural heritage and important in their own right, but they also play a critical role in the arable farmland food chain and are a key part of conserving our target farmland bird species.

Before we started surveys in 2017, next to nothing was known about the arable plants in the cluster area. But after walking field margins and other likely areas, we have found 26 notable plants present across the farms surveyed – including Fine-leaved Fumitory, Prickly Poppy, Venus’s Looking-glass, Corn Parsley and Night-flowering Catchfly. Despite this number being a good start, it’s very likely that there is more to find in the soil seed bank. We’re just waiting for Pheasant’s-eye to pop up somewhere – it has been spotted nearby on the Allenford Farmer Cluster!


Pheasant’s-eye has been found at two sites in the neighbouring Allenford Farmer Cluster. The hunt continues across the Martin Down Farmer Cluster – it’s got to pop up somewhere! Photo: Pete Thompson

So, after totting up our species list after three years of surveys, we have found that most of the cluster area is of National Importance for rare arable flora according to Plantlife’s Important Areas for Arable Plants (IAPA) scoring system.

In order to encourage these rare species, every farm in the cluster has some management in place that is sympathetic to their establishment and life-cycle – be it a lapwing plot, a cultivated margin for arable flora, or wild bird seed mixtures. Almost 30 hectares of new habitat from which arable flora will benefit has been created in the last three years.


A cultivated margin for arable flora, rich in Dense-flowering Fumitory and Broad-leaved Spurge. Turtle doves have been spotted here, feeding on the Fumitory and Black Medick seeds. Photo Jess Brooks.

Some of our cluster members have gone the extra mile, though. On one farm, after a brand new network of perennial wildflower margins was created as part of a stewardship scheme, lots of rare arable plants were turned up during cultivation presenting a bit of a conundrum. Do we want a perennial wildflower habitat corridor linking up two SSSIs, or do we want to encourage these important arable plants? Admirably, the farm manager decided to take a hit, and take out two metres of his crop in multiple fields in order to cultivate margins for arable flora between the crop and the perennial wildflowers (as shown below). Now, we’ve just got to hope that some of the rare plants crop up in this new margin, to reward the effort!

Let’s hope we make many more discoveries in the years to come across the Martin Down Farmer Cluster!

Keep up to date with us on Twitter @MDSuperCluster

 

Jessica Brooks

Facilitator, Martin Down & Allenford Farmer Clusters

Farmland Biodiversity Advisor, GWCT

 

 Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

Our family run farm in Wiltshire has been my home for all my 14 years of life. For as long as I can remember, I have loved anything and everything to do with nature. Four generations of Lovell’s have farmed here, and although the farm is only small, 120 acres, it has an amazing amount of wildlife and wildflowers packed into its margins and barley covered hills.

We live next door to my Grandparent’s on the farm, and my family’s passion for wildlife and farming has shaped my life, with generations before me whose work or hobbies involved different aspects of nature and agriculture, from both my Mum and my Dad’s side of the family.

As a young girl I seemed to always be happiest in a meadow full of wildflowers, snuggled in the grass checking out all the bugs and beasties! Many beautiful memories have been made on the farm, from walking through the barley, with it tickling your fingertips and playing hide and seek in the tramlines, to blackberry picking every autumn, eating more than we brought home with purple stained hands!

But there is always one time of year that that sticks out more than ever in my memories - harvest. The heat, the dust and the barley hales that seem to get stuck everywhere no matter how hard you try to get rid of them! Harvest is a focal point in a farmer’s calendar: the whole year leads towards it. It is the point when they get to see if their hard work has paid off. Over harvest a transformation takes place, changing the landscape from once a golden, sea like moving mass of barley, to an empty, stalky, but still beautiful, stubble field. The plain field makes a great bicycle track, where my siblings and I all learnt to ride our bikes. I love to sit on the bales of straw with our dog and watch the farm machinery roll past, whilst giving a cheery wave to whoever was driving it.

                                           

My main job at harvest, other than shaking out occasional broken bales, is to serve the tea and cake! Me, my mum, and my granny take the truck out, loaded up with scrumptious treats and drinks, which are gratefully received by the busy farm workers!

Lockdown has affected life in many ways with not going into School or running around busily to and from evening activities. But in other ways farm life hasn’t changed at all, the animals still need looking after and the barley has kept on growing steadily, unaware of the chaos in the world at present. We have laughed more, and sometimes argued more too! But I feel that the chance to slow down has changed us for the better. It is often too easy to take the farm for granted, and it is in times like these that you really appreciate the space we have. We have had time to watch the seasons change. As spring unfurled into summer, the hedgerows and field margins have come to life, with delicate wildflowers and birds and insects and bats darting in and out of the hedgerows.

We so often seem to get caught up in the fast pace of the world that we forget the little things. In this period of lockdown, we have been able to watch the barley grow inch by inch, and the bird’s nests with their beautiful eggs turn into fluffy chicks, and then fledgling birds. We made a simple pond and watched as water beetles colonised it, and dragonflies began to visit. The birdfeeders also bring us the simple pleasure of watching the birds feasting, and then splashing in the cool water at the edge of the pond. I don’t know if this much nature was always here, or I’m just noticing it all so much more this year.

Before lockdown, I was vaguely aware of the wildlife projects that our family were involved in, but I was so busy with lessons, and homework and clubs, that I didn’t have the time to really understand the details of what was happening right on my doorstep. Walking or cycling round the farm daily, quickly became part of our new lockdown rhythm, and we got into the habit of looking with new eyes at the beauty all around us. We love watching the Corn Buntings fluttering in and out of the barley, and the
Swallows chittering in the barn, and swooping at high speed after insects. We have had the most beautiful walks in the cool of the evening with the sunset turning the barley almost orange as we went rogueing the wild oats out of the crop.

My Dad is involved with the local Wallop Brook Farmers group who are finding ways to look after the environment whilst still producing good crops. One of the projects we have been part of is sowing some rare wildflower seeds in corners of the field. I loved it when Cath Shellswell came to have a look at what was growing here, and she taught me to identify lots more wildflowers and how to do a quadrat survey.

I still love to sit in patches of grass and wildflowers as much as when I was young, and hope I can keep learning more, and that this is just the start of a lifelong love for nature and the world around us!

By Katelin Lovell

 

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

Waiting for Godwits

While many of the project team are either still furloughed or working from home under house arrest, it’s been more challenging for the project this season than anyone could have predicted. As with so many of our activities which sadly either had to be postponed or cancelled altogether, monitoring of godwits had to be scaled back to a bare minimum. Subsequently, the project had to rely on the site managers of WWT Welney, RSPB Nene Washes and RSPB Ouse Washes to monitor the godwits when they could, on top of their already very busy workloads.

29 head-started godwits are known to have returned to the Fens this breeding season and four spotted on the Continent, thanks to reports of sightings of colour rings. A question that many godwit aficionados out there may have is ‘How many head-started godwits from last year have returned this year?’ Young black-tailed godwits often don’t return to the UK from their first migration until the age of two – but some do venture back earlier.

Class of 2019

Tam

One of the 2019 head-started birds to have returned this year is Tam. This one-year-old male has been at the Ouse Washes since May this year, moving between WWT Welney and RSPB Ouse Washes nature reserve.

Tam was named in honour of the Scottish prisoners of war brought to the Fens of East Anglia in the 17th century. These soldiers built the New Bedford River and many of the drainage works that created the landscape of the Fens as we know it today. Jean Rees-Lyons, Artistic Director of The Word Garden helped name some of the head-started birds of 2019 as part of ‘the ‘Origins Project’, remembering the Scottish Soldiers.


Tam pictured here as a chick in a rearing aviary at WWT Welney in June 2019.

Omaha

Head-started female Omaha has been back at WWT Welney since May. She was named in honour of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Omaha Beach, Normandy was one of the five designated beaches that were used during the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944 during the Second World War.


Omaha in a rearing aviary at WWT Welney in June 2019.

Barker

Barker was released as a chick at WWT Welney in June 2019. She returned to the Ouse Washes in May and has been spotted a number of times since then, in June.

Did you know ‘Barker’ is an old name for a godwit, along with blackwit, whelp, yarwhelp, shrieker and Jadreka snipe?!


Barker as a chick last June at WWT Welney.

Cloud

Although not in the UK, Cloud was spotted in the Netherlands near Westkapelle in May. She may return to the UK at the usual breeding age of two next year, or she may join the Dutch breeding population of black-tailed godwits and return to the Netherlands each spring.


Cloud in a rearing aviary at WWT Welney in June 2019.

What about head-started birds released in other years?

Strider

Strider was released as a chick at RSPB Nene Washes in June 2018. After spending much of the second half of 2019 in west France, Strider (sex unconfirmed) was spotted in Dellmensingen, south Germany in May. Six weeks later in mid-June, this two-year-old was spotted at RSPB Ouse Washes!


Strider at Dellmensingen, Germany, taken by Tobias Epple.

Due to the lockdown, it is unknown exactly how many pairs have bred at each project site this spring. Nonetheless, we are aware of some pairings. 2017 head-started godwits Anouk and Delph paired and bred at WWT Welney; two-year-old Morgan paired with a wild-reared female at the RSPB Pilot Project site (adjacent to the Ouse Washes); and three-year-old Lil bred at WWT Welney with a wild-reared male.

Earith

After pairing with a wild-reared male, 2017 head-started female Earith bred at the RSPB Pilot Project site this season. Of the four chicks which hatched, we believe three fledged.


Earith at the RSPB Pilot Project site, Ouse Washes. Taken by Jonathan Taylor.

Tom

Tom was spotted in May at WWT Welney. Before then, he was last spotted in March 2019 at the Giganta ricefields near the Tagus estuary in Portugal.


Tom in a rearing pen at WWT Welney, June 2018.

Hurricane

Another young godwit that was in the Tagus estuary in February is two-year-old Hurricane, now back at WWT Welney since May. Hurricane spent last spring near Valencia, Spain, therefore this is the first time he’s been back in the UK since being released as a chick at RSPB Nene Washes in June 2018.

Maris 

Maris was first spotted in the Netherlands in May 2019 in Aldwaldmersyl, then she returned to the Netherlands again – this time to Zuiderwoude in May this year. The fact this godwit is spending another spring here suggests she has joined the Dutch breeding population of black-tailed godwits.

Désirée

Meanwhile, after not being seen for almost two years, Maris’ brother Désirée was reported from IJzervallei, near Woumen in Belgium in May and appears to be breeding at a nature reserve there.

Désirée and Maris are part of the ‘Muddy Potato’ posse, so-called because they were amongst many eggs in the spring of 2018 that were so muddy, they resembled potatoes. These eggs were rescued from arable farmland when the godwits’ main breeding sites at RSPB Nene Washes flooded that spring, forcing the adult breeding pairs to lay their eggs elsewhere.


Desiree in Woumen, Belgium. Taken by Wim Debruyne.

Fascinatingly, Désirée and Maris’ brother Jersey has been spotted in Bavaria (May 2019), suggesting this brood seem to have a penchant for spending the breeding season outside the UK. Intriguing!

 

Rebecca Pitman

Senior Project Manager - Project Godwit

 

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

Despite the problems lockdown has presented, it has led to some good news, as this blog by Mike Coates, RSPB’s Farnham Heath Warden (and star of Springwatch 2019) explains:

This spring should have seen another translocation of Field Crickets to sites on two RSPB reserves, at Farnham Heath and Pulborough Brooks. Unfortunately, the Covid 19 lockdown put paid to any hopes of carrying out this work.

However, RSPB site staff were able to continue with monitoring visits. It was expected that there might be fewer crickets around on the main site at Farnham as a result of the wet winter, and, sure enough, numbers recorded in May and early June were down on 2019, but still pretty respectable, with 135 calling males at the peak.


Field Cricket Release April 2017 Farnham Heath 

What was NOT expected (although it was hoped for) was to hear calling males at both the translocation sites. This is brilliant news as it suggests very strongly that the crickets released in 2019 successfully bred! If we had been able to release crickets in the spring, there would always have been a slight doubt that any we heard calling were the “new” ones, but, thanks to lockdown, we know that there are the beginnings of not one, but two, new breeding populations of this threatened insect.


Field Cricket (c) Rowan Edwards

Gilbert White, the “Founding Father” of British natural history writing, mentioned Field Crickets several times in his book “The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne”, published in 1789 and still in print. He seems to have had a soft spot for field crickets, so it’s fitting that the future of this charismatic little beastie gets such a significant boost in the year that marks the 300th anniversary of Gilbert White’s birth!

 

Mike Coates – Warden, RSPB Farnham Heath

 

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

Earlier this year, the Dorset's Heathland Heart team commissioned a student project, working in collaboration with the Arts University Bournemouth, to make a scale model of one of our priority species.  This was done with the objective that the finished species model would be used by us as a valuable teaching aid and interpretation piece for public events and activities.

We were really pleased that student artist, Keren Early, chose to create a scale model of the Heath bee-fly (Bombylius minor), an endemic heathland species.


Heath Bee-fly feeding on Wild Thyme (c. Sophie Lake)

As with all Bombylius species, the Heath Bee-fly is a bee mimic and not a bee at all. They have a distinctive fluffy body and long spear-like proboscis (tongue) which is used to feed on the nectar from flowers. At just 7-8.5mm in size the Heath Bee-fly is smaller than the more common Bee-fly species, including Bombylius major, which can be found in other habitats including gardens.

Bee-flies are most easily identified when basking as they are fast flyers and generally hover over flowers without settling. They can fly backwards as well as forwards, and have a distinctive high-pitched buzz.

 

Keren very kindly let us interview her about the project, here is what she had to say:

Q. Tell us about yourself?
A. My name is Keren Early, I am 22 years old and originally from London.

Q. What course are you studying at University?
A. BA Model Making at the Arts University Bournemouth.


Keren with her Bee-fly model in progress (c) A. Roe

Q. Why did you choose this course?
A: I first got into model making from an art and design prospective and wanted to pursue this art form. I have a love for nature and all its beautiful wildlife, so when I got the opportunity to work with Back from the Brink I was really happy.

Q. What attracted you to working with the Back from the Brink Project?
A: The opportunity to make an impact using my skills and passions, which is why I got into art in the first place. I was really happy to be able to help raise awareness for such a beautiful insect.

Q. Why did you chose to make the Heath Bee-fly?
A: Through my researching into the wildlife that populate the heathlands around Dorset I looked into the life-cycle of a Bombylius Minor and found it so interesting. My particular interest was in the way they protect their lava. Throwing it into the larval burrows of another insects to raise them.

Q. What new skills did you develop? And what where the challenges?
A: During the making of this model I tried many new processes such as using liquid resin, hair punching with synthetic hair, and welding. I found the hair punching particularly hard due it being a very time consuming process and quite tedious at times!


Keren’s completed Heath Bee-fly model (c. K. Early)

Q. What have you learnt about this species? And its habitat?
A: While researching about this amazing creature I also learned about how many different types of species there are on the heaths and how much they need protecting.

Q. Has working on this this piece inspired you in any other ways?
A: Doing this brief with Back from the Brink has inspired me to know more about where I now live in Bournemouth. To plant flowers that encourage wildlife, and protect the populations of the Bombylius Minor by educating the people around me.

Q. Have you increased your knowledge and interest in wildlife conservation?
A: Yes my interest has grown so much in this subject not only about the Bee-fly but also other animals that inhabit the heathland areas.

Q. Anything else you want to add?
A: I really enjoyed working with the BftB team on this project, they have been amazing and very helpful! Keren 😊

 

Thank you so much to Keren for all her hard work, even all that hair-punching! It was really worth the effort as the finished piece looks brilliant. Just for reference the model was made on a 25:1 scale of the bee-fly’s life size. So it will be much easier to spot then the real thing! But don’t let that deter you from trying to see them in the wild.

Where to find these special creatures - out on Dorset’s lowland heaths, the Heath Bee-fly is generally seen along sandy paths, south-facing banks and slopes.

      
Left; ideal sandy bank with exposed burrows. Right: Heath Bee-fly about to egg-flick (c. Chris Spilling)

If you are really lucky you may catch it egg-flicking, as Keren mentioned; where by the adult flicks its eggs towards the larval burrows of its young’s host species, such as solitary mining bees. It can also be found nectaring on flower-rich habitat adjacent to heathland.

Sadly this species now appears to be confined to the heaths of East Dorset which supports some of the best remaining fragments of lowland heath in the UK. But it has previously been recorded in the New Forest, the Isle of Wight, the Isle of Man and the coast of West Wales, so keep your eyes peeled!

More details on this amazing species here

The Dorset Heathland Heart project is working with conservation organisations locally to protect valuable habitat on which these species depend and to raise awareness of their conservation needs through education and citizen science.

 

Aemelia Roe

Outreach Officer - Back from the Brink, Dorset's Heathland Heart

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

What Does a Godwit Scientist do in Lockdown?

Project Godwit's latest blog post is by Mo Verhoeven, RSPB Senior Research Assistant.

On January 14th this year, Jelle Loonstra and I handed in our joint PhD on “The behaviour and ecology of the Black-tailed Godwit”. The next day, I was on an airplane to Chile with the mission of outfitting Hudsonian Godwits with transmitters to record their 14.000+ km migration from Chile to the North American Arctic. I was coming from winter, which was clear from my pale skin and a permanently smoky smell imparted by my woodstove. But suddenly I was in Chile, wearing shorts and freed from my PhD for the first time in months. A good start to 2020!

Mo Verhoeven (taken by Rob Buiter)

A few weeks later (at which point I happened to be in the forests of Maine, wearing smoky snowpants), I received a job offer to work for the RSPB as a Senior Research Assistant on Project Godwit to monitor the Godwits nesting at the Nene Washes. I imagined the tumbling Lapwing, the whirring Snipe and the nesting Godwits. It was hard to say no. On March 15th I arrived in the UK. It was sunny, the Washes were partly flooded and the first Godwits had returned! The stage was set for a beautiful spring. And a beautiful spring it was, with flowers blooming, nests being built, and chicks to come…but on the 23rd a nation-wide lockdown was announced and all fieldwork was cancelled! What to do?

Project Godwit had already collected data on breeding Godwits at the Nene Washes in 2015-2019, which meant I could start analysing some of that. First, I analysed data from the eight geolocators that had been retrieved in previous years. Geolocators are data-loggers that continuously log the ambient light-level. Each geolocator is attached to a ring that is placed on a godwit’s leg. The Godwit then carries this geolocator with it throughout the year – on migration to the non-breeding grounds and back to the Washes again in the spring. Researchers then do their best to capture that same bird again; if they’re successful, they remove the logger and use the stored light-level data to establish the moment of sunrise, midday and sunset throughout the year. When you know the length of each day, you can estimate the latitude (north/south), since this varies predictably with date across the world. Estimating longitude (east/west) comes next and this relies on a centuries-old technique. First you log the moment of midday at a specific location, usually Greenwich. From this you can calculate the shift in the time of midday relative to Greenwich, and therefore determine how much the godwit has moved to the west or east relative to Greenwich. This is why seafarers had chronometers and why precise chronometers were worth a lot of money.

Raw light-level data recorded on the geolocator carried by OB-OL(E)

Two of the geolocators I examined had logged especially interesting migrations (during my PhD, I analysed more than 300 migrations by Dutch godwits – these two were immediately distinguishable from the pack!). The first was from ‘Cornelia’, a head-started chick released at the Nene Washes in 2018 (also learn more here). Black-tailed godwit chicks are being head-started to boost the number of Godwit chicks that survive to fledging age. Chicks are reared by our project partner the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) at Welney Wetland Centre and released once fledged. The nearly fledged chicks are fitted with a unique combination of colour-rings and some are also fitted with a geolocator. Cornelia was released on June 27th 2018. She left the UK on the evening of August 13th and arrived in Africa on the night of August 15th, having probably flown non-stop.

The other was from a male Godwit known as OB-OL(E). In 2018, this male left the UK on June 21st, went to the Balearic coast of mainland Spain, and stayed there for three months. That’s not very uncommon. But on October 2nd, he crossed the Sahara and went to the Inner-Niger Delta in Mali. This is very late in the season for such a flight – in fact, it’s the latest southward Sahara crossing on record for an adult Godwit! For context: some Godwits start migrating in the opposite direction, from west Africa back north, as early as the second week of September. Why do Godwits behave so differently, and how do these individual differences come about? Interesting questions that challenge current knowledge!

Map of the migration route of godwit ‘OB-OL(E)’

The other analysis I have worked on during lockdown is comparing adult, nest and chick survival rates between an earlier period of research at the Nene Washes, during which the Godwit population at the Nene Washes increased (1999-2003) and a more contemporary period (2015-2016) in which the population has declined. This work shows that nest and chick survival, but not adult survival, are low in the contemporary period compared to the early period. The recent decline at the Nene Washes is therefore likely the result of lower reproductive success resulting in fewer birds recruiting at the Nene Washes. This study also indicated that nest survival was lowered because of an increase in nest predation. The reserve managers had already been thinking this was the case, and in 2017 started using special gates and electric fences to keep mammalian predators from depredating Godwit nests. My next task will be to evaluate whether and how effective those efforts were. I’ll keep you posted!

 

Project Godwit is a partnership between RSPB and WWT with major funding from the EU LIFE Nature Programme, the HSBC 150th Anniversary Fund, Natural England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund through the Back from the Brink Programme, Leica and the Montague-Panton Animal Welfare Trust.

 

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

#StagWeekend 5th – 7th June – Celebrate and save threatened Stag beetles

On 5th – 7th June alongside the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) we will be launching a Stag Weekend with a difference – and one that you can take part in during lockdown too! Guest blogger Laura Bower, Conservation Officer at PTES, provides everything we need to know about Stag beetles, including tips for the garden and how to record your sightings!

Stag beetles
Stag beetles are one of the most spectacular insects in the UK. The male’s large jaws look just like the antlers of a stag. They spend most of their life underground as larvae, only emerging for a few weeks in the summer to find a mate and reproduce. Stag beetles and their larvae are quite harmless and are a joy to watch. Find out more about stag beetles with this fact sheet, plus children’s fact sheet.

What is Stag Weekend?
Stag Weekend is a celebration of stag beetles. Across the weekend of 5th – 7th June we will be celebrating all things stag beetle, including sharing our top tips for turning your garden into a stag beetle sanctuary, showing how to identify stag beetles and their larvae, and advising on what to do if you’re lucky enough to see one. We want to hear all about your stag beetle sightings, see your photos and you can even take part in our special stag beetle quiz on social media too. If you’re on social media, we’d love to see your photos using #StagWeekend @PTES @buzz_dont_tweet


Male Stag beetle ©PTES

Where are stag beetles found?
The stag beetle range stretches across Europe. The UK is at the north-west edge of its range and we seem to have a stronghold here, as you can see from this map. Although stag beetles have experienced historical population declines here in the UK and their numbers appear to be stabling, they still need our help. Stag beetles are now even extinct in two countries in Europe, so it’s important that we protect these beautiful beetles and do all we can to make our gardens, parks and woodlands a haven for them.


Great Stag Hunt records from 2019 and previous years. Source: People’s Trust for Endangered species

How do I know if I’ve seen a stag beetle?
Stag beetles are large black beetles with chestnut wing cases and distinctive antler-like jaws. You can learn how to distinguish them from other similar beetles here.


Female Stag beetle © Ross Bower

Larvae
There are many similar looking larvae – large, cream larvae with a brown head and jaws. Stag beetles, rose chafers, maybugs and lesser stag beetles all have similar looking larvae. Take a look at our larval identification guide to find out how to tell them apart.


Stag beetle larva © Edward Jude  

What should I do if I see a stag beetle?
If you find an adult stag beetle, please leave it where it is, unless it’s in danger of being run over or trodden on. If you have to move a beetle for its own safety, then please move it as short a distance as possible. If you dig up a stag beetle larva, please put it back exactly where you found it. The next best thing is to re-bury the larva in a safe shady place in your garden with as much of the original rotting wood as possible. Then please report your sighting.

 Where can I report my sighting?
At PTES we’ve been running the Great Stag Hunt since 1998. Over the last 20+ years we’ve had thousands of stag beetle sightings from all corners of the UK, which is brilliant, but in order to learn more about where they’re still living and where they most need our help, we always need more sightings. You can help by telling us when you see either larvae or adults by simply recording your sightings.

 If you have more time why not try a Stag beetle count!
This annual survey is part of a European-wide study that will allow us to see long-term trends and take action where and when needed. Anyone who lives in an area where stag beetles are found can join in from 1st June 2020. There are two ways you can take part:

  1. Count stag beetles in your garden - This garden version of the survey can be carried out at home especially for 2020 season with Covid-19 restrictions in place. Simply count stag beetles for half an hour each week during June and July.
  2. Count stag beetles along a short walk - This version is designed to be part of your daily exercise and in line with Government guidelines. Please don’t put yourself or others at risk. Choose a 500m transect (a linear walk) where you know stag beetles occur. Walk the route weekly, at least six times during June and July

How can I help stag beetles in my garden or green space?

  1. Retain stumps of dead and decaying wood - Stag beetle larvae need dead wood to feed on as they grow and develop throughout their long lives underground, so the most important thing you can do to attract stag beetles into your garden is to retain dead wood and tree stumps. When tidying up our parks and gardens tree stumps (from when trees fall or are cut down) are often removed, which is problematic for stag beetles as such wood acts as both a habitat and food source. But, they can be made into a feature of your garden with careful planting, for example growing climbing flowers up the stump.
  2. Make a log pyramid - The perfect lockdown activity! The next best way to provide a home for stag beetles is to build a log pyramid using broadleaved wood (not conifer). This involves burying logs upright in the ground so that they are in contact with the soil which keeps the wood moist. Instructions can be found here and if you’re on social media we’d love to see your creations.


Female Stag beetle on log pyramid ©PTES


Log Pyramid © PTES

Other tips to help stag beetles

  1. Cover water butts - Stag beetles can drown in water butts if there is no way out. If you do find one in a water butt, please take it out, they can often recover and will fly off after drying out.
  2. Escape routes from ponds - As with all wildlife it’s good to provide shallow edges and stepping stones in ponds so that any wildlife that finds its way into your pond, can also find its way out.
  3. Avoid weed matting - Stag beetles live most of their lives underground as larvae (between three and five years!), but once they have pupated and transformed into an adult beetle, they need to dig their way back up to the surface, in order to find a mate and begin the next generation. Weed matting can prevent females being able to dig down into the soil to lay their eggs, and can trap adults underneath if they are trying to emerge.

More about stag beetles
Stag beetles spend most of their very long life cycle underground as a larva. This can be anywhere from three to five years depending on the weather. Periods of very cold weather can extend the process. Once fully grown, the larvae leave the rotting wood they’ve been feeding on to build a large cocoon in the soil where they pupate and finally metamorphose into an adult. Adults spend the winter underground in the soil and usually emerge from mid-May onward. By the end of August, most of them will have died. They do not survive the winter. Female stag beetles prefer light soils, which are easier to dig down into and lay their eggs. Newly emerging adults also have to dig their way up through the soil to reach the surface, therefore areas like the North and South Downs, which are chalky, have very few stag beetles. They also prefer areas with the highest average air temperatures and lowest rainfall throughout the year.

Conservation
Stag beetles are legally protected from sale in the UK. They are also classed as a ‘priority species’, listed on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. These magnificent beetles are Red listed in many European countries and have undergone a decline across Europe. They have gone extinct in Denmark and Latvia, although there has been a successful reintroduction into one site in Denmark in 2013.

 

Laura Bower

Conservation Officer at the People’s Trust for Endangered Species

 

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

Alongside cooking, crafts and creativity, one of the emerging themes of the coronavirus lockdown has been gardening and growing – at least for those lucky enough to have a garden or an allotment. It is also one of the themes of the Colour in the Margins project, because we want gardeners and allotment-holders to be thinking about the annual plants – the weeds, for want of a better word – that pop up when the soil is turned over.

Take the allotment managed by my partner and I, on the North Downs in Kent. It’s on what was originally an arable field, and, if dug over and left to its own devices, will sprout a fine crop of weeds. Some of these, we don’t want: Perennial Sowthistle is beautiful, but runs rapidly through the soil, forming dense patches; and Field Bindweed – well, just ‘no’.


Common Fumitory

Yet many others are a lot less troublesome. Field Pansies are delicate and lovely, and I’m very fond of the diminutive snap-dragon that is Small Toadflax. Red Dead-nettle is loved by bees. Fumitories I like too – they seem to be especially keen on popping up amongst the recently-planted onion sets, but are easy enough to pull up or reduce in size if they get too overwhelming. Even Common Poppies are allowed some space, as, just like the Fumitories, some can easily be pulled out if they are staring to take up too much room.


Small Toadflax

Allowing space for annual wild flowers amongst the growing crops and flowers is just the same principle on which Colour in the Margins is founded: we need a greater number and variety of flowers to make the countryside – and town – a richer and more vibrant place. More flowers mean more insects, more birds, more everything.

Arable wild flowers are important in their own right, too. You might not think an allotment is a place for the conservation of rare wild plants, but it can be. I was amazed, a few years back, when Weasel’s-snout – another snap-dragon type of plant, and designated as Vulnerable on the UK Red List – appeared on the allotment plot next to mine. How it got there, I’ve no idea, but it certainly wasn’t deliberately planted, and I quickly made sure some plants found their way onto my plot, where it has appeared every year since.


Wild Pansy on the author's allotment

As a result, Weasel’s-snout is now one of the rare wild plants which are part of the Arable Seed Swap project being run as part of Colour in the Margins. Through this, we are building a group of allotment-holders and gardeners who are growing and sharing seed from a number of rare (and less rare) arable wild flowers, all originally from wild populations. Between us, we are growing plants like Corncockle, Corn Buttercup, Wild Pansy, Night-flowering Catchfly and Red Hemp-nettle, collecting the seed and sharing it around other growers. It is a way to see plants you might never otherwise come across, learn how they grow, and bring them to the attention of others: one of the advantages of an allotment site is that it is shared (and we all like a nose at our neighbours’ plots) and often has an open day, giving others an opportunity to come in and learn about rare wild plants as well as about the joys of growing your own veg.


Weasel’s-snout growing on an allotment

Growing these plants, ‘in captivity’ as it were, is also a potential safeguard against extinction, keeping plants going and producing more seed for potential future restoration of wild populations. And even if the seeds from allotment-grown plants never make it back to the wild, the knowledge we gain by sowing the seed, seeing how and when it germinates, watching it flower – even watching it get eaten by pests – will provide a reservoir of knowledge essential to the future conservation of these fascinating and threatened flowers.

Interested in become one of our network of growers? Go to Facebook and search for ‘Arable Seed Swap’.

Richard Moyse

Ranscombe Project Manager