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Colouring in the margins: Discovering the arable habitat and resources to help

Colour in the Margins is a Back from the Brink project running since 2018. Led by Plantlife in partnership with the RSPB it has been working to secure the future of some of our rarest arable species. The project has targeted the conservation of 13 key species: ten plants and three ground beetles that rely on the farmed environment.

Arable farmland (land that has been cultivated or prepared for growing crops) is vital for the wildflowers and animals that have co-existed with us since the dawn of agriculture – and you may or may not know, that arable plants are the fastest declining suite of plants in the UK. Many species that were once widespread across the UK’s arable farmland are now restricted to localised patches. With the intensification of farming practices, changes in agricultural land use to more pastoral farming systems and development pressure around urban areas, we have lost important arable habitat and seen the decline of many species which depend on it.


(c) Cath Shellswell

By making room for wildlife within the margins of our productive land will reward us with a rich patchwork that is buzzing with life. By nurturing land for arable plants we can create areas teeming with pollinators which will in turn increase crop production and provide a reservoir of invertebrates that could facilitate integrated pest control. Sensitively managed arable land can provide a vital food source for small mammals, bats and beetles as well as important nesting habitat for many declining farmland birds. If we can create and secure habitat for species that live on arable farmland, we can make a real difference to their conservation on a global scale.


(c) Ben Andrew

The project has been working with landowners and farmers to improve the way in which this land is managed, as well as members of the public to enthuse and inspire them to care of this habitat. We have worked with over 130 farms and sites in Devon, Cornwall, Kent, Somerset and Wiltshire to help secure the future of some rare species – from changing management to reintroducing species to suitable areas. Some of our successes include reintroduction of Small-flowered Catchfly, Pheasant Eye and Corn Buttercup.


(c) Cath Shellswell

So, have you ever gone for walk on a footpath or through a field near you, looked at some of the plants that line the path and wondered what they are? Well, whether you are an amateur botanist or experienced ecologist, we have some resources that may help.

Through our work, we have created a huge number of resources which are freely available to anyone who has an interest in plants and who would like to learn more about this interesting, unique habitat.

Species crib sheets focus on the primary species we have been working on throughout this project and you can use these to find out more information on them, from management to distribution and survey methods to lifecycle information.

We also have crib sheets to help with identifying arable plants and species that are closely related to them which are also downloadable on the link. They cover all identifying features including roots, leaves, seeds and fruits, flowering periods and size – we have them for Buttercups, Carrots, Cornsalads, Mints, Poppies and Speedwells. These are great if you want to brush up on your ID, or if you are working as an ecologist or advisor and would like more identifying features without the sometimes-complicated keys you can use in the field.

There is also a range of habitat management guides which have been put together to help you better understand changes you can make on land to help encourage and improve the habitat for arable plants and the species that are dependent on them.  If you are after something a little more beginner-botanist friendly, we have our brilliant 'Mosey in the Margins' guide as well as a 'Discovering Arable Habitat' worksheet – linked to the curriculum and perfect for parents, carers and teachers.

All of these resources are available in downloadable format here (scroll down to the yellow bar half way down that says “show downloads”, or you can request hard copy versions of any resource by emailing ColourintheMargins@plantlife.org.uk

You can find out more about the project and how you can get involved by visiting the Back from the Brink website and clicking on the Colour in the Margins Project page: naturebftb.co.uk.

 

Zoe Morrall

Colour in the Margins Outreach Officer

 

Colour in the Margins is part of the Back from the Brink programme, funded by the National Lottery, and led by Plantlife in partnership with the RSPB.

 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’s been happening with Gems in the Dunes here on the Sefton coast?

Project Manager, Fiona Sunners fills us in on what’s been happening with ARC's Gems in the Dunes project on the Sefton coast over the summer and what they've got planned for the winter season.

Well it looks like the wildlife has been carrying on as normal, despite our activities being slightly curtailed! Over the summer we were a bit more active once again, as restrictions were lifted. Some of our volunteers returned to the dunes with us, to help create more sand patches for the Sand lizards, whilst others attended our Northern dune tiger beetle online training before embarking on surveys out on the dunes. With the help of the volunteers, we have been able to gather tiger beetle records for the majority of the coast, at least for the August population and have a peak count of over 3500 beetles.

Other volunteers picked up their Natterjack toad surveys surveys, spotting a handful of late spawn strings and keeping an eye on tadpole activity. We were really pleased, to find toadlets at many of pools on the coast, and quite surprised to see such good numbers at one of the pools in Formby, that we knew had been heavily used by visitors during lockdown. Toadlets had not been recorded at the Queens Jubilee site since 2012. Although adults and spawn have been recorded there the last few years, so it was really great to see toadlets there again this year.

Despite not being able to survey early on in the Sand lizard season, we have managed a few sightings of adults over the hotter months of July & August. However one of our volunteers who only lives 10 minutes from the dunes has managed to see a fair few lizards on the site he monitors, even throughout lockdown when out exercising. Now it’s hatchling season, each year I‘m surprised how  small they are compared to the adults, as are the volunteers when they first spot them, but it’s a great feeling when you do catch site of them. A huge thank you to all our volunteers over the summer months – we couldn’t do it without you! Don’t put your feet up yet - there’s still plenty going on.

As October approaches we are planning our bryophyte surveys, searching for Petalwort and Sea bryum as well as the particularly scarce Matted bryum, not recorded here since the 1930’s! So there will be plenty of searching on our hands and knees once again. We are also thinking about the habitat management work we have to do in the project. We’ll continue with work to improve the sand dunes for all of our key species and many more; by clearing scrub from shaded dune slopes and overgrown slacks, to increase connectivity, basking, foraging and egg laying sites, as well as clearing vegetation from within the pools to make better spawning sites.

   

Our plan is to continue working with our volunteers on these tasks as much as we can. We will continue to follow the ever-changing guidance in order to keep everybody as safe as we can, following social distancing and hygiene measures throughout. If you are interested in finding out more, please get in contact with us at Gems-in-the-Dunes@arc-trust.org

 

Fiona Sunners

Gems in the Dunes Project Manager

 

 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.

Conservationists and keen cyclists Jen and Mark Smart may have hung up their cycling helmets, emptied the panniers and given their leg muscles a well-deserved rest after they finished their Funds for Waders cycling fundraiser last week, but there’s still plenty to say about the Black-tailed Godwits that were behind this challenge.

Readers of the previous blog from Project Godwit will recall that Jen and Mark wanted to visit all 11 nature reserves in England where head-started Black-tailed Godwits reared and released by Project Godwit have been spotted before migrating to Africa. The dynamic duo took on this endurance challenge of cycling 600 miles in 8 days to raise funds for Project Godwit and the International Wader Study Group (which gives out small grants each year to support wader projects around the world).

Jen & Mark Smart – about to embark on the ‘Funds for Waders’ cycling challenge.
The route covered 600 miles and visited 11 nature reserves.

DAY 1

Nature reserve: WWT Steart Marshes, Somerset

Head-started Godwit spotted here: Nelson

Jen and Mark kicked off their adventure departing from WWT Steart Marshes in Somerset – where head-started Godwit Nelson was once spotted. This male Godwit visited Steart Marshes in July 2017. He was one of the first head-started birds to be released as a chick at WWT Welney in June 2017 – therefore it was quite a surprise to the team at Project Godwit to discover this youngster on the other side of the country, at just one month old! Nelson spent the breeding season this year on the Ouse Washes, after pairing with Lady, another Godwit head-started in 2017. The pair have met up each spring for the last three years.

DAY 2

Nature reserve: Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire.

Head-started Godwit spotted here: Morgan

The second day of the challenge took Jen and Mark to Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve in Hampshire. The Godwit to have been spotted here is Morgan, seen in July 2018 and again two years later recently in July.  Morgan is a male Godwit who was head-started and released at WWT Welney in June 2018. Since then he has been regularly spotted each spring at RSPB Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire.

Titchfield Haven NNR, managed by Hampshire County Council.

DAY 3

No ‘Godwit stops’ to a reserve where Godwits have been spotted today – but with dreadful stormy weather over 72 very hilly and soggy miles, plus a puncture, Jen and Mark had enough to contend with. This wasn’t enough, however, to deter Jen and Mark from doing a radio interview over the phone for BBC Radio Somerset whilst sheltering under an underpass nearly Crawley. Who ever said conservation wasn’t glamourous?

DAY 4

Nature reserve: Kent WT Oare Marshes

Head-started Godwit spotted here: Hope

By Day 4 Jen and Mark were at the halfway point of their cycling fundraising challenge and visited the Kent Wildlife Trust nature reserve Oare Marshes. The head-started Godwit spotted at this site is Hope – head-started and released at WWT Welney in 2019. A mere two months later Hope turned up at Oare Marshes in Kent in August 2019. Hope hasn’t been reported to Project Godwit since last year (and therefore doesn’t have her own profile page yet), but as most young Black-tailed Godwits don’t usually return from migration to the UK to breed until the age of two years, it’s not unusual to have not received any recent sightings of this Godwit. Fingers crossed Hope will be back at the project sites in the Fens next year.

Stormy skies at Kent Wildlife Trust’s Oare Marshes.

DAY 5

Nature reserve: RSPB Old Hall Marshes, Essex

Head-started Godwits spotted here: Lady & Manea

Next along the route was RSPB Old Hall Marshes nature reserve in Essex. It was two-for-the-price-of-one for this Godwit stop, as siblings Lady and Manea have both been seen here at Old Hall Marshes, spotted together in July 2017.

Both Manea (male) and Lady (a female, unsurprisingly) were both head-started as chicks in June 2017 at WWT Welney. Lady spent the breeding season this year at the Ouse Washes (with Nelson), moving between WWT Welney and the RSPB Pilot Project site. The last reported sighting of Manea was in April 2019 at WWT Welney.

Manea at RSPB Ouse Washes in May 2018 (Photo by Jonathan Taylor).

DAY 6

1st Stop

Nature reserve: Suffolk WT Trimley Marshes

Head-started Godwits spotted here: Fenn & Tipps

It was a two-stop day for Jen and Mark and a hat-trick for ‘Godwit of the Day’. First stop was at the Suffolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve Trimley Marshes, where head-started Godwits Fenn and Tipps have both been seen. Fenn was head-started at WWT Welney in June 2019 and spotted a month later here in July, while Tipps was head-started in June 2017 and seen in July 2017.

2nd Stop

Nature reserve: RSPB Boyton Marshes, Suffolk

Head-started Godwit spotted here: Chiney

Next stop along the 600-mile route was RSPB Boyton Marshes nature reserve in Suffolk – where Chiney was seen during July and August 2019. Chiney is a 2019 head-started Godwit who hasn’t been reported back at the project sites in the Fens of East Anglia as yet.

Chiney, head-started at WWT Welney in 2019.

DAY 7

1st Stop

Nature reserve: Norfolk WT Cley Marshes

Head-started Godwits spotted here: Swampy, AnoukBenwick & Chopstick.

The penultimate day for Jen and Mark and another challenging one. Firstly, major mechanical failure struck with Jen’s bike – meaning the rest of the day had to be ridden with a single speed conversion, then Jen and Mark were buffeted along the North Norfolk coast by 45 mph winds!

As if cycling 600 miles in 8 days in storms wasn’t challenging enough.

First stop was Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley Marshes where many head-started Godwits have been spotted since Project Godwit launched in 2017: Swampy, Anouk, Benwick and Chopstick.

2nd Stop

Nature reserve: RSPB Titchwell, Norfolk

Head-started Godwits spotted here: BenwickMoWedge, Gold, ChopstickChip & Rosti

Next stop was RSPB Titchwell nature reserve, where head-started Godwits Benwick, Mo, Wedge, Gold, Chopstick, Chip and Rosti have all been spotted. Many head-started Godwits have spent time at these sites in North Norfolk in the autumn, feeding up before migration. Some stay for weeks before journeying south to West Africa, Spain and Portugal, demonstrating the importance of these coastal sites for migratory waders.

We are grateful to all the volunteers around the UK who report sightings to Project Godwit.

Swampy, head-started at WWT Welney in 2019.

DAY 8

1st Stop

Nature reserve: WWT Welney, Cambridgeshire

Head-started godwits spotted here: All 112 reared and released to date

Another puncture to fix before departing for the final day of Jen and Mark’s Funds for Waders cycling fundraising challenge. Day 8 brought them back to the Fens, visiting the three project sites of Project Godwit where the lives of all the head-started birds begin. WWT Welney is where all the head-starting happens: godwit eggs are incubated and chicks are reared in specialised pens before release at fledging age, to get them through their most vulnerable time of life.

2nd Stop

Nature reserve: RSPB Ouse Washes, Cambridgeshire

Head-started Godwits spotted here: Too many to mention!

Next along the route is RSPB Ouse Washes nature reserve, where this year the head-started Godwits really boosted the breeding population. There were no pairs breeding here in 2017 – but this year there were 6 pairs. Head-started female Earith, who features on the back of the Project Godwit cycling jersey, nests at this site and in three years has fledged six chicks.

Jen and Mark at RSPB Ouse Washes, Cambridgeshire.
Head-started female Earith features on the back of the cycling jersey.

3rd and Final Stop

Nature reserve: RSPB Nene Washes, Cambridgeshire

Head-started Godwits spotted here: Too many to mention!

RSPB Nene Washes nature reserve is a befitting end point for Jen and Mark to cross the finish line, as this is where the eggs are sourced each breeding season. Collecting the eggs early in the season encourages the adult breeding pair to lay another clutch. 112 Godwits have been head-started and released since the first year of the project in 2017, to boost the number of Black-tailed Godwits breeding in the UK.

The finish line at RSPB Nene Washes, Cambridgeshire.

600 miles cycled in 8 days, visiting 11 nature reserves and over £6000 raised so far for wader conservation! To all who have donated, thank you so much from all the team at Project Godwit.

There’s still time to donate to the Funds for Waders cycling fundraiser!

justgiving.com/fundraising/fundsforwaders

Thank you for your support.

A small token of our thanks to Jen and Mark for all their sterling efforts for Project Godwit.

As many of us wander through the arable countryside for exercise, dog walking or to appreciate the stunning array of plants that surround us, I wonder how many of us stop to think about what lies beneath our feet and the history of past generations that have walked there before us?

To have the opportunity to deliver a brand-new Countryside Park for the benefit of wildlife and the community is an exciting challenge. The prospect of starting with a blank canvas with endless possibilities for interpretation themes allowed us to explore all of the amazing things about arable landscapes. Whilst we revelled in celebrating the amazing wildlife and stunning views offered at Dawlish Countryside Park, we were also very keen to delve into its past and learn about its history!

To begin with, a visit to the Devon Records Office and a look at the tithe maps revealed that the three main wildflower grassland plots we have today were once thirty five separate arable fields used by various landowners- each field with its own, often quirky name. We wanted to learn a bit more about the types of farming that happened here, the type of equipment they might have used, and any indications of what life was like in the past.

We had special permission to allow a metal detectorist onto the site for a short period of time who scanned only half of the Park but revealed some staggering finds. All finds were taken to RAAM (Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery) in Exeter for verification.

In this first picture, you can see a large piece of a Devon Plough almost certainly pulled by four Oxen which has sheared off. Wearing yokes instead of collars like Horses, the last Oxen to work in the county was recorded in East Devon in 1878.

Other assortments of ironmongery found included chain links and drag harrow spikes dating back over 200 years.

In this third picture, you can see a mixture of pottery found at the Park. Most of it is fairly recent with examples of Victorian drainpipes, but at the top you will also see 13th Century green glazed pottery. The Victorians were great innovators and engineering was limited only by the materials available to them. There are three main ceramic types- earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. You will also notice the piece of clay pipe and a honing stone. Kept in a farmer’s pocket, a honing stone was easily accessible to maintain sharp edges on sickles and scythes during harvest time.

You can see from this varied collection of metalwork that there is plenty of history to be discovered just beneath the surface.  Here you can see amongst other things musket balls made by pouring molten lead or alloy into a two-part mould. The mould seam is the thin line around the circumference of the musket ball. They were categorised not by diameter but by how many musket balls would weigh a pound. You may also be able to see several Georgian six pence’s, watch faces and even Georgian shoe buckles!

Most excitingly, even greater treasures can be found within the arable landscape. In this picture you can see a collection of flints.  The two flints at the bottom of the picture have been confirmed as Neolithic. In particular the arrowhead flint shows marks of ‘percussion’ where the flint has been struck to chip bits off until the desired shape is achieved. This process will have happened by Neolithic people at Dawlish Countryside Park some six thousand years ago!

So,  when you next enjoy walking through your local arable landscape, allow your mind to ponder what stories may be locked up in the history beneath your feet!

 

Jon Steward, Countryside Ranger

Dawlish Countryside Park

 

 

 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.

The Dorset’s Heathland Heart team have been working with land managers to provide funding and support for targeted habitat management works across a variety of sites, to enhance their suitability for some of our heathland’s rarest species.

A wetland site on Hartland Moor National Nature Reserve (NNR) in Purbeck was identified as having potential to be restored as suitable habitat for the scarce Southern Damselfly.


Southern Damselfly Coenagrion mercuriale. Credit: D. Liley & S. Lake

Nearby similar habitat supports a good size population of this otherwise vulnerable creature. It is hoped that the creation of this new sites will provide the damselfly’s the opportunity to expand its range, population size and stability.

The identified area crucially remains wet all year round with slow-running water and boasts lush vegetation, ideal for the Southern Damselfly which is a weak flyer and needs this environment to breed successfully. However, a significant amount of Alder trees had encroached onto the site causing it to become enclosed, shaded, and dryer, thereby reducing the wetland environment. The trees also made the area difficult for grazing animals to access, limiting the benefits which large herbivores provide in maintaining more open habitats.

Read more about the Southern Damselflies habitat requirements and life cycle here


Hartland Moor and views of Corfe Castle. Credit: S. Lake & D. Liley.

Hartland Moor is an excellent example of Dorset’s heathland landscape and is cared for by the National Trust as part of their Purbeck estate. It is also a key element of the recently designated Purbeck Heaths NNR which sees local landowners forming a significant partnership to work collectively towards conservation goals.

The wetland restoration works here involved clearing some of the over-crowded Alder trees, which were felled during the winter season. The felled Alder was initially left on site as removing it over the winter could have caused too much disturbance to the ground especially as access was tricky.


Area partially cleared of Alder, here seen in the wet winter conditions. Credit: S. Lake

In addition, some of the timber was used to construct small dams to further slow-down the flow of water in the deeper channels and create shallow pools in the more open areas.


Dams and pools, image taken in early Spring. Credit: S. Lake

The remaining timber extraction was planned for the drier summer conditions and a local specialist contracted to complete the works. Dorset Horse Logging, which is based in Corfe Castle, specialise in felling and low impact timber extraction using heavy horses, negating the need for any disruptive machinery. This is especially useful on sensitive sites, in areas of soft or wet ground, or those which are hard to reach by vehicle. Toby Hoad who owns and runs the business is a local resident and is well connected with local conservation organisations. He has worked for many years as a woodsman and greenwood-worker producing sustainable woodland products from firewood and charcoal, to hand-crafted furniture. Find out more about Toby and his Dorset Horse Logging business here

We went to see Toby in action at the site in July. He was working with one of his four working horses Celine. Celine is a special breed of horse called a Comtois, which is a draft horse originating from the Jura Mountains on the border between France and Switzerland.


Comtois Horse; Celine. Credit: A. Roe

Celine is a very impressive and strong animal; she was impeccably behaved responding to Toby’s commands and moving heavy timber with ease. Despite the heavy work she was very relaxed and enjoyed making the most of the lush vegetation around her, having a good graze between hauling loads.


Toby and Celine negotiating a route through the trees. Credit: T. Bagley

Toby and Celine made a great team working together to get all the cut timber out of the wet site and onto dry ground. Negotiating a route around numerous trees, ditches and banks which all remain intact thanks to this low-impact extraction method. Toby will then process the timber and sell it onto the local community as sustainable firewood.

Southern Damselfly may be the target beneficiary from habitat restoration here but the works will benefit a wider community of species, and the wetland sites provide an important feature within the wider heathland habitat and landscape beyond.

 

Aemelia Roe

Dorset Heathland Heart Outreach Officer

 

 

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.

 

Needless to say, lots of plans and dreams this year have been scuppered by the coronavirus pandemic. Conservationists and RSPB staff members Dr Jen Smart and husband Mark Smart had planned to cycle from the UK to the annual conference of the International Wader Study Group (IWSG), which was to be held in Germany this year. As keen cyclists and wader conservationists, their aim was to promote responsible travel while raising funds for wader conservation. For obvious reasons, the conference will now be an online event this year – so in light of a pandemic Jen and Mark innovatively adapted their plans.

Jen and Mark will instead remain in the UK and cycle 600 miles in eight days from Somerset to Cambridgeshire between 23rd-30th August, following a route that links 11 nature reserves which have been visited by black-tailed godwit chicks raised and released by Project Godwit. The intrepid duo will be raising money for Project Godwit and for IWSG, which gives out small grants each year to support wader projects around the world.

Jen & Mark Smart will cycle 600 miles in eight days for wader conservation

This Sunday 23rd is Day 1 of Jen and Mark’s fundraising challenge and they begin their adventure departing from WWT Steart Marshes in Somerset. Day 8 will end at the three project sites of Project Godwit: WWT Welney, RSPB Ouse Washes and RSPB Nene Washes in the Cambridgeshire Fens.

WWT Welney is where all the head-starting happens, thanks to WWT’s highly skilled and experienced aviculturalists: godwit eggs are incubated and chicks are reared in specialised pens before release at fledgling age, to get them through their most vulnerable time of life. 112 godwits have been head-started and released since the first year of the project in 2017, to boost the number of black-tailed godwits breeding in the UK. RSPB Nene Washes is a befitting end point for Jen and Mark to cross the finish line, as this is where the eggs are sourced each breeding season. Collecting the eggs early in the season encourages the adult breeding pair to lay another clutch, thereby preventing any net loss to the source population.

Jen & Mark’s route from Somerset to Cambridgeshire, via 11 nature reserves

Itinerary of ‘Godwit Stops’ 

Sun 23rd – WWT Steart Marshes, Somerset
Mon 24th – Titchfield Haven NNR, Hampshire
Wed 26th – Kent WT Oare Marshes
Thurs 27th – RSPB Old Hall Marshes, Essex
Fri 28th – Suffolk WT Trimley Marshes & RSPB Boyton Marshes
Sat 29th – Norfolk WT Cley Marshes & RSPB Titchwell
Sun 30th – WWT Welney, RSPB Ouse Washes & RSPB Nene Washes, Cambridgeshire

We will be following Jen and Mark along the route and reporting their progress via the Project Godwit social media channels. We’ll also be detailing in the next blog (and on social media) which head-started godwits have been spotted at these sites in recent years, before they migrated to West Africa and Europe for the winter.

Coastal and wetland sites provide crucial fuelling areas for migratory waders before they depart on their long journey. As well as raising funds for wader conservation and highlighting the plight of godwits as a Near Threatened species (with fewer than 50 breeding pairs in the UK), Jen and Mark also want to shine a spotlight on the importance of having a network of well managed coastal and wetland sites in the UK, to enable birds like godwits to survive migration.

Jen and Mark also want to raise awareness of the challenges faced by godwits and other waders beyond the UK at key migration sites – such as the Tagus Estuary in Portugal, where 80,000 godwits gather in spring and where an airport development has been proposed (see Graham Appleton’s Wader Tales blog)

Jen and Mark in their godwit cycling jerseys – raising funds for Project Godwit and the International Wader Study Group.

If you can spare a donation to sponsor Jen and Mark on their fundraising challenge and support Project Godwit, please visit the ‘Funds for Waders’ JustGiving page

Panniers packed and ready to go – good luck Jen and Mark!

Although experienced cyclists who have been training for some time for this event, Jen and Mark have never attempted a long-distance multi-day ride before – but are looking forward to the challenge! This will be a socially-distanced event, so sadly there won’t be crowds of supporters gathering along the way. There will, however, be plenty of support and good wishes sent from afar to spur them on when the muscles in their perpetually peddling legs begin to ache. Here’s hoping Storm Ellen has also passed over before Sunday.

Go Jen and Mark!

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.

 

Vincent Wildlife Trust’s Back from the Brink (BftB) Pine Marten Project is facilitating and monitoring the natural recovery of the pine marten as it moves over the border from Scotland into northern England. Working with volunteers, landowners and land managers, we are surveying woodlands in Northumberland and Cumbria to collect information on the presence and distribution of these elusive mammals. We are also enhancing woodland habitat for martens by installing artificial den boxes to provide resting and breeding sites. In the long term, increased connectivity between woodlands will help pine martens re-colonise suitable areas.

Kevin O’Hara, VWT’s Pine Marten Project Officer (BftB), provides an update on the project following the COVID-19 lockdown.

Well here we are, easing out of lockdown, and I hope everyone is in good order and hopefully looking forward to getting out and about, whether it’s just enjoying being out in the countryside or whether it is volunteering and looking for pine martens once again here in the north of England. The good news is that we can continue to monitor the presence of pine martens as they make their own way from Scotland into northern England. We are also actively pursuing a legacy project to help maintain the momentum we have gained through the BftB project, thanks to the dedication and commitment of volunteers and local communities who have done so much and have helped to put the region and the species on the map.

As a quick recap, it’s worth considering what everyone has achieved during the BftB project. We captured, using trail cameras, the very first pictures and videos of naturally colonised and wild living pine martens in England. Since then, we have identified the presence of pine marten in northern England (in Northumberland and Cumbria) with over 60 records so far. We have also been able to identify several individual martens, from camera trap images, that appear to be resident across the region, and we have shared these findings with many people through social media and through the press. Through these findings, we have ultimately brought the presence of pine marten into the public eye and have been able to open the discussion on their presence in the environment.

As the lockdown measures start to ease, we are now in discussion with Forestry England and other partners on how best to get volunteers safely back into the locations where we know there are martens, and we hope that very soon, we will be operating as normally as possible. We are also hoping that this will include a final set of scat surveys to complement the rest of the work that everyone has done. So, it is a big Thank You to everyone for their patience and for their efforts prior to lockdown, and we optimistically look forward to a continued pine marten presence in the north of England.

Cheers, Kevin

 

Back from the Brink is the first time ever that so many conservation organisations have come together with one focus in mind – to bring back from the brink of extinction some of England’s most threatened species of animal, plant and fungi. Natural England is working in partnership with Rethink Nature, and the entire project is made possible thanks to funding from the National Lottery.

 

 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.

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.