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Read this wonderful blog by Julia Thorley who hosted two events recently with our Roots of Rockingham project team.

 

BOTANICAL BARDS

This was the title of the workshop I ran yesterday with my friends at Back from the Brink.

You might recall I did one in the autumn based on the birds of Fineshade Wood (you can read the post about it here). Well, this was the follow-on event, in which we took our inspiration from the plants of Old Sulehay Nature Reserve, a place clinging to the very edge of Northamptonshire.

You might think this is an odd time to be looking for signs of life in the plant world, but you'd be wrong. Once again, Liz, who works for the project, began proceedings by taking us on a short walk and it soon became clear that even in the midst of January there is lots to see, from the extraordinary moss covering through the multilayered scrub, on into the bushes and up to the trees, scratching the sky.

It was an unusually mild day, so although it was a bit squelchy underfoot it was lovely to be outside. However, we were also there to write, so eventually we retreated into the field station and, fortified with tea and biscuits, we turned our outdoor inspiration into words.

As always on these occasions, I was blown away by the enthusiasm of the participants and their willingness simply to have a go and see what happens. From the simple prompt word of  'PLANTS' our mind-mapping took us to all sorts of places, as we made not just botanical connections, but also more unexpected ones, including the reasons one might have for buying a new rug! The group created works of serious political prose, reminiscence pieces, stories and poetry, and it was a real privilege to work alongside them.

Friendships were kindled and contact details were exchanged, we breathed in the country air and we exercised our creative muscles. I'd say that was a success, wouldn't you?

Julia Thorley

Writer, Editor & Author - and Roots of Rockingham Guest Blogger!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Volunteer Focus – Devon and Cornwall – Lucy

Lucy is based in Devon and has been a volunteer for Colour in the Margins since July 2018. She’s taken part in one or two surveys with Hannah, the Project Officer for Devon and Cornwall. This is her story…

Lucy decided to volunteer with Back from the Brink as she has a passion for arable weeds! She wanted to meet other people with the same passion and feels that taking part in this project has definitely meant she has been able to do both.
There was another reason why she wanted to help too - “Over my life time I have seen a drastic decline in arable weeds. I spend a lot of time walking around the area where there is a lot of arable ground and I have been increasingly distressed by cornfields that have absolutely no weeds growing in them, so I wanted to do something to help”.

One of the highlights of the project so far for Lucy has been the Millennium Seed Bank day where members of staff from Kew MSB came to talk to them about seeds, the seed bank and their collection of rare arable seeds to add to the inventory.

The arable habitat and species are important to Lucy as she “loves small weeds and plants. To see the decline over my lifetime is devastating. When I was a very small child I used to crawl through cornfields and I have memories of the colourful wildflowers that were there, which are not there today. I really see them as an important part of biodiversity”.

For Lucy, there have been other benefits from volunteering than she first thought – she now believes she has more legitimacy when she visits farms - she can now say she is involved in a project and feels it is a topic she is more able to talk about.

“Finding tiny cornfield flowers, like the field pansy” is one of her fondest arable memories.

If you want to volunteer for the Colour in the Margins project, then please email colourinthemargins@planlife.or.uk

 

 

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.

 

Volunteer Focus – Devon and Cornwall – Ilene Sterns

“I’ve always found fields of poppies incredible”


(c) E.L. Cooke

Ilene and her husband are based in Devon and have been involved with Colour in the Margins since the very beginning. They joined Back from the Brink after moving down to Devon from Bath and were looking to find something they could get involved with. They thought it was a good way to add purpose to their walks, as well as learn more about arable plants.

Ilene hasn’t really had a highlight – she’s loved it all - using it especially as a learning opportunity having come into the project with almost no plant knowledge. Ilene states the seed bank day with Kew Gardens was a particularly fantastic day!

For her, the arable habitat has always been interesting – “I grew up on the edge of suburbs and I’ve lived in rural villages since… I walk around these places all the time, I see them and I just don’t know enough about them - you kind of feel - there you are, in the middle of a field and you can admire it for its beauty but you don’t really know what it’s all about – and now I feel like I know more”.

Her and her husband have done surveys on their own as well as with the project officer Hannah in the Devon and Cornwall area.

If you want to volunteer for the Colour in the Margins project, then please email colourinthemargins@planlife.org.uk

 

 

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.

 

Volunteer Focus – Wessex – Nick Adams

Nick is based in the Wessex area and has been involved in the project since the beginning through hearing about the opportunity through the RSBP.

He started off doing individual surveys which led to taking part in reintroductions. The main reason he got involved was because of the wider Back from the Brink project - “I have worked for conservation organisations for 15 years and volunteered for 30. A lot of that has been for species on the brink of extinction so the chance to bring something back from the brink was a very positive and good thing to be doing. I feel like I’ve had a chance to do that through the reintroductions as well as finding cool places and enthusing people on the farm.”

He’s loved enthusing land owners to get them interested in working with him – “A lot of them have been trying to get rid of them [arable weeds] for years - to have an impact on that they then say “I don’t mind having it back on my land” is a huge win.


(c) E.L. Cooke

Nick has learnt a lot more about arable plants through volunteering as well as the management required for individual plants – “the management plans have taught me a lot”.

The arable habitat is important to him as he has worked with farmers and the arable habitat for most of his working life and he more he learns about it the more fascinating he finds it. He also thinks the project is making people think about the arable landscape a lot more and what others can do to help – “farmers and landowners are seeing the value and are wanting more knowledge which is great”.

If you want to volunteer for the Colour in the Margins project, then please email colourinthemargins@planlife.org.uk

 

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 Gift

Like the dear face of a much loved friend

I know the boundaries of my land

For in those boundaries secrets lie

Hidden from the casual eye

Revealed to those with time to stand

And marvel at God’s plan.

I know the deep and tangled woods

Where deer paths lead me through

Beneath young boughs of beech and oak

Where brambles tug and dead leaves cloak

The narrow trails from whence they grew

To keep the secrets hid.

I know a place where violets hide

In delicate profusion grow

Where Spring’s pale sunbeams struggle through

And light their beauty, bathed in dew

Reflecting midst the thorns and briars

The soft pure light of Heaven

I know the fox’s secret place

And where the badgers dig

I see the place the buzzard nests

The tree where she prepares the neat

And bite sized pieces of the meat

To feed her hungry chick.

I know the place the fallow buck

Mingles with the shadows

Where roe deer graze and raise their young

Where fox cubs play and fight among

The bluebells in the warm bright sun

Unworried for tomorrow

And as I walk familiar paths

God’s glory all around me

I know the peace He meant for us

When first created from the dust

Creation given as a gift

Sign of His love and trust

 

Poem By, Judy Vowles

Images (c) 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.

 

We have made good use of last year’s findings in our work to manage for the Little Whirlpool Ramshorn Snail and its habitat this year. We are trying to improve the conditions, long-term, for this rare and very vulnerable species.

The monitoring in 2018 showed that the ditches in the centre and south of Pulborough Brooks, where the snail used to occur, are no longer in a suitable condition so it was considered not sensible to move the snail into them.
Instead we are trying to enhance the population in its strong-hold in the northern part of the Brooks and make it easier for the snail to naturally colonise further south, once the conditions are right.

With help from volunteers, we have been monitoring water quality so that we can get a better idea of what’s going on, and we are looking into the hydrology of the site to understand the sources of  water entering the site and how it flows across the reserve. We have found the site has become very silted up and this is impeding the ability to manage the water levels and move water around. We are now considering how to improve the water-flow which we hope will lead to improvements in water quality and enable the snail to colonise more ditches by being carried on vegetation.

The ditch management trials were monitored, for the second year running by snail specialist, Toby Abrehart who, with the help of his amazing horologist’s goggles (see photo below), can identify and count the snails in the sampling trays without needing to use a microscope. The results supported those found in 2018, with a fairly consistent pattern of more snails found in the sections of ditch that were cleared compared with the adjacent uncleared sections. The findings of these trials should help us with the future management of the site.


Toby Abrehart and his amazing horologists’ goggles for identifying the tiny snails.

The exciting news is that the snail is occupying the new ditch and 2 of the new spurs that were specially created to provide extra habitat for it! This habitat is also being colonised by the rare Sharp-leaved Pondweed and other aquatic plants that indicate good water quality, like Frogbit with its attractive white flowers... We will monitor these ditches again next year to see if any more spurs are occupied.

In October, we were pleased to host an art event organised by Outdoor Studios at Pulborough Brooks. Children and their parents were shown the snail’s larger cousin, the Ram’s Horn snail (Planorbis sp) and informed about our work to help the Little Whirlpool Ramshorn Snail. They enjoyed making their own dyes from local plants and using them to paint snails and the landscape. They also made clay snails and decorated their matchbox-sized homes with ferns and leaves.

Despite its diminutive size, Little Whirlpool Ramshorn Snail features alongside Lapwings and Water Voles on the Pulborough Art Trail organised by Horsham District Council, that runs from Pulborough village to the reserve.
An eye-catching image invites you to learn more about the snail and why its important by using an app.

Following the final set of monitoring in autumn 2020 we are planning to hold a workshop to share our findings with land managers in the other two key areas of England for the snail – The Norfolk Broads and Pevensey Levels. We hope that they and the snails will benefit from what we have learnt.

 

Jane Sears

Project 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.

 

The Field Cricket project has had a good year with a record number of 337 Field Crickets recorded at Farnham Heath, making it the largest population England! This is just 9 years after they were first introduced to the site.

The year started with our volunteer teams busy removing birch and bramble to keep the heathland at Pulborough Brooks and Farnham Heath in suitable condition. They clearly did a good job as both reserves were given the thumbs up during site condition assessments by experts in March.

It was ‘all hands on deck’ for the translocations in April with 21 trained volunteers and 7 RSPB staff helping catch the crickets under licence and move them to their new homes. We were accompanied by the BBC who filmed the project for Spring Watch.
Our warden, Mike Coates, gave an excellent interview clearly demonstrating his passion for these fascinating creatures, which attracted a lot of extra interest in the project.

BBC Spring Watch staff filming field crickets at RSPB’s Farnham Heath reserve

We always welcome new volunteers and have several new trainees, so in June we ran another training course on Field Cricket ecology, habitat needs and monitoring methods, at Lords Piece, with kind permission from the owner, Sebastian Anstruther (see Sebastian’s blog).
Graeme Lyons shared his knowledge of Field Crickets and other heathland invertebrates and Ned Mersey informed us how he had restored the heath on his adjacent estate (see Ned’s blog).

During monitoring walks in May and June small numbers of male Field Crickets were heard calling at both release sites. Those heard at Pulborough Brooks had dispersed away from where they were released last year and had headed for some more sheltered areas which are likely to be warmer. Next year we are planning to release more crickets in these areas to join them.

My outstanding memory of 2019 is the ‘Dream of a Field Cricket’ music and words event we held in June at Farnham Heath (see Emma’s blog). It was a lovely warm day and a group of us enjoyed an afternoon walk on the heath gaining inspiration for our literary masterpieces, prompted by experienced author Laurence Rose and informed by Mike Coates.
This was followed by an evening concert in a barn at the Rural Life Centre, surrounded by threshing machines and horse-drawn harrows; a unique and perfect venue for the Field Cricket themed readings and compositions. We are very grateful to the violinists Peter Sheppard Skaerved and Mihailo Trandafilovski for all the time they gave to make this possible and to all those who attended, which included an Italian couple who had come by train from London, just on a whim!

And onto next year….we are looking forward to hosting a Field Cricket art event in March being organised by Outdoor Studios (more details to follow), followed by our final releases of Field Crickets in April. Let’s hope the weather is kind to us!

 

Jane Sears

Project 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.

 

Celebrating another year of Colour in the Margins

South West

We have had a great survey season in the South-west!  The action all kicked off in spring when we reintroduced the endangered Small-flowered Catchfly (Silene gallica) to six sites using seed provided by the Millennium Seed Bank.  Over 100,000 seeds were spread overall!  We are really pleased to report that we had successful growth at five of the six sites and it is hoped that this species will continue to thrive at these locations.


Small-flowered Catchfly (c) Cath Shellswell

The summer survey season has been very busy indeed and over 30 sites have been visited.   We have had some incredible successes including the growth of tens of thousands of the endangered Broad-fruited Cornsalad (Valerianella rimosa) at a site in South Devon.  This amazing flush of growth came up in a cultivated margin (ploughed but not treated with herbicide).  Although this species had been recorded at this farm it had not been seen for a number of years.


Broad-fruited Cornsalad

In September we hosted training events run by the Millennium Seed Bank where two groups of volunteers learned how to sustainably collect seeds for storage at the seed bank.  This involved quite a bit of maths but we all got through it and made two great Small-flowered Catchfly seed collections which will be kept at the seed bank and may well be used for conservation projects in the future.

We have a lot of report writing to do now but we will soon be planning the reintroduction of Broad-fruited Cornsalad at two new sites in South Devon!

Wessex

The Wessex CitM team has again been busy this year and we have continued to carry out targeted arable plant surveys throughout the region. As ever, we’re lucky within the Wessex area to still have relatively good numbers of some of the country’s rarest species (largely thanks to the chalky soils), and this year we surveyed 6 CitM priority species, including Corn Buttercup, Red Hemp-nettle, Pheasant’s Eye, Broad-fruited Cornsalad, Spreading Hedge-parsley and Broad-leaved Cudweed across a number of sites. Encouragingly, some of these species, such as Pheasant’s-eye, appear to have had productive seasons and were present in relative abundance at some locations.


Pheasant's Eye (c) John Martin, Plantlife

In addition, reintroductions of both Red Hemp-nettle and Pheasant’s Eye have been ongoing this year, with several reintroduction events planned for the autumn. It is hoped that as well as successfully reintroducing these critically endangered species to farmland within their historical ranges, we will also learn more about the biology of these plants and the necessary management practises required for their proliferation. John Glenn MP (our Pheasant’s Eye Species Champion) was present at a reintroduction in July to help sow seeds and learn more about the nature of arable plant conservation.


Red Hemp-nettle (c) Cath Shellswell

Furthermore, a number of events were carried out in Wessex this year, including two technical events for farmers and conservation advisers on arable plant identification and management. Both events (one in Hampshire and one in Wiltshire) were held by Kevin Wilson and Pete Thompson and were very well attended.

The Wessex CitM volunteers were also in action again this year, and several attended a habitat creation day for Red Hemp-nettle at RSPB Winterbourne Downs, where they helped reserve staff create bare ground habitat and turn soil to encourage any Red Hemp-nettle seed in the seed bank to germinate.

Mid-Somerset Hills & the North Downs

It was also a busy time for the Mid-Somerset Hills and North Downs team, who have held many training sessions and workshops, including a volunteer training day at Fivehead SSSI. Technical workshops for farmers and landowners have also been a success – building relationships and helping understand issues that arable plants face.

Allie visited 12 farms and found Colour in the Margins priority species in 18 fields – the majority of which were Spreading Hedge-parsley, however Corn Buttercup and Pheasant’s Eye were also found too.  Some other surveys also turned up other threatened species including Shepherd's-needle, Stinking Chamomile and Dwarf Spurge.


Shepherd's Needle (c) Cath Shellswell

We also did our first reintroduction project at Apex Park, near Burnham-on-Sea, managed by Sedgemoor District Council – they have been cultivating plots within the park for a number of years and these areas provide ideal conditions for the reintroductions of rare arable plants. This 200m² area will be annually ploughed in autumn in order to provide the best conditions for the reintroduced species.

We have been incredibly fortunate to have had 27 volunteers working in Somerset in 2019 and we really cannot thank all of our generous, motivated and knowledgeable conservation volunteers enough. Their contribution is crucial to the success of this project. Not only does it allow us to work with more farmers to counter the plight of rare arable plants but also to forge new and stronger relationships between local landowners and recorders, which is invaluable!

2020 is the final year of the Colour in the Margins project and there is so much more we want to do! If you haven’t already been involved and would like to volunteer please contact Zoe Morrall, Outreach Officer (Zoe.Morrall@plantlife.org.uk) -  we’d love to hear from you!

 

Zoe Morrall

Outreach Officer - Colour in the Margins

 

To find out more about about FWAG in Cornwall, please visit www.fwagsw.org.uk or head to their Twitter page @FWAGSouthWest

 

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 Roots of Rockingham have blossomed with many fantastic successes this year!

The first Chequered Skipper butterfly to emerge in England in over 40 years was recorded in the Rockingham Forest this year as a result of a successful translocation following dramatic and extensive habitat improvement work by Forestry England. This year a second reintroduction took place to help boost breeding Chequered Skipper butterfly numbers to really help the fledgling population get established. Introduced adults captured in Belgium were marked with red dots prior to release to enable surveyors to follow their movements. These newly introduced butterflies were spotted flying and nectaring on rides on the days following their release among numerous English-born butterflies.

At the end of summer, the first Chequered Skipper larvae were spotted, a particularly exciting find as last year’s larvae eluded discovery. This discovery could not have occurred without the help of many volunteer surveyors generously giving hundreds of hours of their time to monitoring and recording both butterflies and caterpillars.

Where do these amazing expert volunteers hail from? We are incredibly fortunate to have not one but two Butterfly Conservation local volunteer branches helping us: the Beds & Northants branch and the Cambs & Essex branch. In addition to their fantastic expertise in the field we have been very grateful to receive support from the Environment Agency staff volunteers who donated their time to this project.

It’s not just Chequered Skipper surveyors that deserve a mention.

Monitoring for Dingy Skipper and Grizzled Skipper across our sites has helped us to get a better idea of how populations of these rarer and declining butterflies are faring locally, and the picture is not as bleak as once thought! Many survey efforts have yielded numbers indicating good populations on some of our sites.

Moths matter to us too! The little-known Liquorice Piercer moth and the Concolorus moth have been found for the first time on some of our sites! Local lepidopterists have light- trapped throughout the seasons and were rewarded with the holy grail of moth sightings this year; Clifden Nonpareil - an enormous, magnificent moth with blue underwings. These sightings were also enjoyed by members of the public who attended our events. Moth and butterfly days have been popular this year and our talks have generated lots of interest with local groups.

Volunteers have also been central to the Adder monitoring on this project. We have been able to establish the likely locations of significant hibernacula, basking areas and foraging areas thanks to hours and miles of surveying put in by our fantastic reptile survey volunteers. Members of the public were invited to join us on a family friendly reptile walk. Folks enjoyed seeing Adder, Common Lizard and Slow Worm with grandparents and grandchildren sharing in the experience.

Three new Brown Long-eared Bat roost surveys were commenced this year with help from our dedicated bat survey volunteers. We have surveyed all eleven of our primary woodlands and some secondary sites for woodland bats. Work using static detectors began to investigate how bats are using hedgerows as corridors between different woodlands. Monitoring was also used to gather pre-management baseline data before woodland ride habitat management took place. Follow up surveys will tell us how bats have responded to the works.

 (c) Hugh Clark, bats.org.uk.

The status of the priority plant species on our sites - Fly Orchid and Basil-Thyme - have been updated. We are also monitoring the changes in vegetation in response to management and as hoped, we are finding a greater abundance and diversity of woodland flora where ride-widening and rotational ride management has taken place. This is great news for the biodiversity of plants, invertebrates including butterflies and moths and other species that feed on plants and invertebrates.

Our educational school workshops have been delivered within local primary schools and with home educators and they have been well received. Activities were greatly enjoyed by all the children we have met. Young learners built upon existing concepts of what living things need to survive and were supported to apply this to understanding how woodland species can become threatened and how we can help species in the Rockingham Forest thrive.

Our public events have been well attended with photography workshops by Wildscreen and a zine making workshop with creative writer Katherine McMahon being very popular indeed. A stunning Fans of the Forest zine was collaboratively produced by everyone who attended Katherine’s workshop and we were so inspired by these creative approaches to community engagement we put on more creative events!

ZINE <<< download here.

Back from the Brink don’t own any of the sites we work on and these brilliant events can only take place with the help of generous organisations like Grounds Café gifting their venue Little Barn for our workshops. The National Trust at Lyveden New Bield kindly shared their Wild Wednesday events with us and we are very grateful to Northamptonshire Parks for letting us host so many events at Fermyn Woods Country Park.

With kind permission of the BCN Wildlife Trust we hosted a fully booked art print workshop with Claire Morris-Wright and the Leicester Print Workshop which produced some stunning pieces inspired by the ancient semi natural woodland of Old Sulehay. Author Julia Thorley provided a very beautiful and thought-provoking Beautiful Birds creative writing workshop. We can’t wait to see Julia again in the new year for Botanical Bards and we have many more events in store.

Last, but not least, our practical habitat management work parties are now in full swing, much like the slashers swung by the fantastic staff from the Environment Agency alongside Back from the Brink volunteers at Bedford Purlieus last month. These work groups are essential for targeting areas in need of vegetation management where machinery simply can’t access. So far, we have cleared huge swathes of bracken and bramble to promote floristic diversity in areas of woodland glade where machinery would cause too much damage. We are looking forward to breaking out the mince pies at our next meet working on glades in Fineshade Wood next week. Join us!

 

Liz Morrison

Outreach Officer for Roots of Rockingham.

 

 

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 Purbeck Mason Wasp

The striking Purbeck Mason Wasp (Pseudepipona herrichii) is one of Back from the Brink’s primary species. Found on only a few sites in Purbeck, Dorset, it is classified as endangered and is one of the rarest invertebrates in the UK.

Very much a heathland species, the Purbeck Mason Wasp has complex and specific habitat requirements. Exposed, sandy ground with some clay content is required for suitable nesting sites; they also need access to open water to assist in their nest building.

These amazing wasps have additional challenges to contend with to ensure their survival, including having to find a very specialised food source for their young; the larvae of a very small moth, the Heath Button Moth (Acleris hyemana).

The heathland also needs to be rich in early- to mid-succession Bell Heather (Erica cinerea), both to provide a nectar resource for the adults and as the food plant of Heath Button Moth caterpillars.

This series of photos illustrate some interesting and rarely observed behaviours of the wasp.

The males emerge from their winter diapause, followed a few days later by the females.

Mating occurs on, or near, the nest sites, and once mated, the females begin excavating a shallow nest burrow. The males die after about 10 days leaving all the work of excavating the burrow to the females.

She will carry the spoil a little way from the burrow.

Then leave it in a an easily distinguishable granular spoil heap.

There are occasions when rival females will try to occupy her burrow, which she will defend and if required she will evict the imposter.

Once the burrow is complete she will then leave it uncovered and fly off in search of the Heath Button Moth larvae; these are found in webs woven on the tips of heather.

The female wasp will paralyse the larvae by stinging them and will then bring them back to the burrow alive. Usually the wasp will grasp the larva just behind the head and fly in perfectly balanced.

In this photo she has got it slightly wrong and had an awkward landing!

Starting at the bottom of the burrow, she stocks the cell with between 12 and 20 larvae before laying her egg, then sealing the brood cell and creating the next cell. Each burrow can have 1-3 brood chambers within it.

Unlike some other wasps ie. the Bee Wolf (Philanthus Triangulum) who can fly straight into the burrow with the prey, she will land close by and then proceed to carry the larva and push it into the burrow.

However, it could be argued that the Purbeck Mason Wasp makes one vital mistake; by not covering the entrance to the burrow - Black Ants (Formica fusca) will search out and steal the larva and take them back to their own nest.

Finally, when the Purbeck Mason Wasp has completed the nest burrow she will seal it with a plug of moistened clay so that it is perfectly camouflaged.

 

Terry Bagley

Guest Blogger - Dorset's Heathland Heart

Images - (c) Terry Bagley

 

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.