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JESS PUGH

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Personally, I have lots of interests including art and nature. I have always enjoyed creating artwork and I find that drawing or painting a natural scene helps me appreciate the complex and beautiful world that we live in. My adoration of this world is what makes me want to protect it so much hence why I wanted to make somewhat of a difference. As a member of the RSPB youth council, I can start to make the difference I want to see which fills me with lots of hope.

GitD Artwork 1

Walking Art Painting

I selected this piece of art because I love the abstract brush strokes which are layered with the pencil work. The colours in the picture really drew my eye to the piece and it also feels like a view that everyone can relate to.

Artwork-24 800

 

Natural Inks Postcard

I really like the abstract style of this piece as well as the medium and colour choices. It is very eye-catching and modern.

Detail of fissured wood of an ancient oak tree, Moccas Park National Nature Reserve, Herefordshire, England

 

Ancient Tree Texture - Neil Aldridge

This piece was impossible to miss with the sharp contrast created by the gnarls in the wood.

Fly Orchid (Ophrys insectifera) growing in woodland clearing, Rockingham Forest, Northamptonshire. 'Roots of Rockingham', a Back from the Brink project site. Photographed in the field against a white background.

 

Fly Orchid - Alex Hyde

The contrast of the red orchid flowers and the green leaves pull you in to this image as well as the different textures of the plant. My eyes couldn’t stop wandering around the image and exploring new parts of it!

Red Hemp Nettle 500

 

 

Natural Inks Postcard

I love the watercolour work on this image as well as the colours chosen. It has a simplistic charm.

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Handmade Paper Artwork

This piece is very vibrant with the different textures and colours that pop out of the piece. Although it seems more basic, it really stands out.

Narrow-fruited Cornsalad (Valerianella dentata). Fivehead Arable Fields nature reserve, managed by the Somerset Widlife Trust. This site has one of the most important assemblages of rare arable weeds in Britain. Back from the Brink 'Colour in the Margins' project. Somerset, UK. June. Photographed against a white background in mobile field studio.

 

Narrow-fruited Corn Salad - Alex Hyde

I love how the artist captured the delicate petals of the flowers whilst also incorporating the sturdiness of the stems. It looks similar to old herbal drawings with the focus of the image solely on the plant.

Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) photographed on a white background in mobile field studio.

 

Barberry Plant - Alex Hyde

The colours really pop out of this image making it very attractive. The layout also makes sure that your attention is only focused on the plant.

Creative Q & A

It would be great to hear about your experience of wildlife and biodiversity through creativity, for example, do you connect to nature through a creative outlet and have you got an early memory of nature in books, film, poetry that you can think back to having had an influence on you? How about now?

As a child my parents would often take my brother and I out to the Lake District where we would go for walks and often enjoy the abundance of nature there. Overtime, my love for nature has only increased and I often enjoy taking photos or sketching natural objects. It was the close and constant connection to nature as a child that has enabled me to continue to appreciate it now.

How can creativity and painting, drawing, poetry etc., make nature, enjoying wildlife and understanding the big issues more inclusive and diverse?

Although some people do not live close to areas rich in nature, they can still experience it through artwork. I guess this has been true since people began creating artwork as it was a way to record moments in time so that other people could also enjoy them. Art can reach everyone as all civilisations have developed a form of art to retell stories of ancestors, therefore it is a special way of expressing emotions and memories to other people.

Do you think our efforts to reach people through creative workshops and events are positive initiatives? Why?

I think the idea of reaching out to more people through the arts is a fantastic way of giving other people the chance to appreciate and connect to nature. Creating artwork enables the artist to express their personal emotions and feelings and at the end they are left with something that represents all the effort they put in to create the artwork. Giving people the chance to explore their own personal connection to nature could help inspire them to enjoy nature more and this inspiration may flow to others through their artwork.

Art and artists often express social issues through art. Nature has long been connected to art and the earliest forms of art depict wild animals. There are examples now, but do you think there is a bigger role for art and artists in raising the profile of biodiversity loss? If so, what might that look like? Do you think this varies across communities and cultures; and why aren’t there more artists working to highlight environmental issues?

I think that with the development of technology it has reduced the reliance on art to share places and people, however it cannot replace the more personal connection that art creates. I think artists could help reach out to more people as art expresses more than just an image. I think art could help bring nature back into places where people have been cut off from their natural connection. Art could act as a reminder that humans are a part of the natural world and that we do not own the world; we share it.

Back from the Brink is an England-wide collaborative partnership programme of major conservation organisations, landowners and farmers – what are you views on collaboration nationally and internationally?

Collaboration both national and international is vital to help us restore our planet. One person cannot make the changes that the world needs but everyone working together will enable us to change. Humans are relatively weak on their own but are powerful when connected. When people have wanted change, it has only been made possible when people have come together and agreed that change is needed. Martin Luther King Jr. achieved uniting people which then led to change.

 

Jess Pugh

RSPB - Youth Council Member

 

Joel Ashton

JOEL ASHTON

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I am fortunate to have, through my business, designed, created and implemented wildlife havens in gardens, nature reserves and green spaces for around 15 years.  This of course brings me closer to nature on a regular basis and allows me to see the impact that gardening with nature in mind, not against it, can make a whole world of difference to those creatures that are so dependent on what we do – or don’t do.

Lesser Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera bifolia) photographed against a white background. Dartmoor Natioanl Park, Devon. June.

 

Lesser Butterfly Orchid - Alex Hyde

I find the simplicity of this piece gives this artwork more impact and allows you to focus on the structure and delicacy of these vulnerable and near-threatened species.  It is strongly scented at night and pollinated by hawkmoths.

To Fly Adventurous

 

 

Black-tailed Godwits Cut-outs

An important message in this artwork, direct and honest.  We do indeed need to provide more habitat and spaces for many species.

Shrill Carder Bee Nest

Shrill Carder Bee Nest

All of these handmade bee nests caught my eye, intricate, simple and important.  I am of course very keen to see anything that provides habitats for this unfortunately very rare species, but so pleased to see BfTB are working on helping in an area close to where I live.

Artwork

 

Cabinet of Curiosity Artwork

Absolutely thrilled to see so many recognisable species in this artwork, by a primary school pupil.  Red Squirrel, Large Blue Butterfly, Amphibians and insects to name a few.  Really striking and shows awareness at such a young age.

Cabinet of Curiosity Bird

Cabinet of Curiosity Woodlark

I actually covet this piece of artwork!  The sound of the Woodlark has always reminded me of a spinning coin on a table.  Love the intricacy and recycled materials used in this piece.

Cabinet of Curiosity Artwork

Cabinet of Curiosity Nightjar

Although not indicated in the description, I immediately recognise this as the Nightjar.  As shown in this fabulous drawing these birds sit on horizontal branches making their famous churring call and can be heard at dusk.

Cabinet of Curiosity Bugs
Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) Male, detail of skin. Ainsdale Nature Reserve, Merseyside, UK. April. Photographed under licence. Photographer: Alex Hyde

 

Cabinet of Curiosity Moth

Absolutely love the media used here and the creativity in the materials used.  These put me in mind of the Peppered Moth.

 

Sand Lizard - Alex Hyde

An absolutely wonderful macro-level detailed photo showing the beauty of this rare lizard male. Once again, destruction of their habitat has made them one of the UK’s rarest reptiles.

Walking Art Drawing
Fans Of The Forest Artwork

 

Walking Art Drawing

Related to my choice of the Sand Lizard, this drawing shows the beneficial habitat required to help this reptile survive.  I love the loose wispy style of this drawing which is very inviting to the viewer.

 

 

 

Fans of the Forest Artwork

A definite choice for me, particularly as I was at the release day for these endangered Chequered Skipper butterflies – and this drawing brings back wonderful memories.

Creative Q & A

It would be great to hear about your experience of wildlife and biodiversity through creativity, for example, do you connect to nature through a creative outlet and have you got an early memory of nature in books, film, poetry that you can think back to having had an influence on you? How about now?

My earliest memory would be building a small pond with my father, spending time in the woods and nature areas local to me as a child and learning while out and about, usually quite by accident.  If you’re out there, you’re more likely to experience things of course.  My mother relies on nature for her art creations and from her influence I have found that not only being in nature, but recognising and appreciating the smaller creatures, can be beneficial for the mind and soul.  Art is most often an expression of how one is feeling and is accessible to all – as a lot of the artists have proven in the work I have chosen, it does not need new materials or to be expensive and it can be done with various media that is recycled, and can make you think in more detail about how these materials can be utilised to express thoughts and messages about helping nature to thrive, and highlighting those creatures that most would not have engaged with previously, but are made aware of by this beautiful artwork produced.

Do you think our efforts to reach people through creative workshops and events are positive initiatives? Why?

I certainly believe that with BfTB’s help in encouraging awareness through art and creative workshops, and particularly the work with schools, that it will not only have a positive impact on the creatures so desperately in need of our urgent help but a positive effect on the people that engage with both nature and the artwork it influences.

Back from the Brink is an England-wide collaborative partnership programme of major conservation organisations, landowners and farmers – what are you views on collaboration nationally and internationally?

Through the book I have written and through my YouTube channel “Wild Your Garden With Joel Ashton” I have managed to engage with people worldwide about making spaces in their gardens and green areas and am so encouraged by the enthusiasm and responses – there are more people than I ever thought possible that are keen to make a difference, even in the smallest of spaces.  While we, as the world, collectively try to manage the bigger picture we need to keep creating safe-havens and habitats for those creatures waiting for the bigger changes.

 

Joel Ashton

Wildlife Garden Designer and Installer

@_joelashton - Twitter/Instragram

 

Willow Tit Radio Tracking Tales - Part 2

The last few weeks of freezing temperatures and plenty of snowfall have evoked memories of the ‘Beast from the East’ storm which hit the UK roughly this time in 2018. It was at this time that the Willow Tit project had hit its momentum with the radio tracking programme, and we had already caught and ringed nine Willow Tits. Whilst the cold snap affected our main survey, where we rely on birds responding with a call to a playback recording, we were able to continue tracking, as the technology did the work for us and we didn’t actually need to see or hear the bird to know it was there.

Surprisingly, one of the most interesting Willow Tits tracked was during this cold period, with snow on the ground for much of the 11 days it was being studied. That bird was fitted with its colour ring combination (Red-Dark Blue) and was tagged as #308 (not very catchy… Bob? Sure, why not). Bob was caught the day Beast from the East arrived, 22 February 2018, at Carlton Marsh nature reserve just north of Barnsley town centre.

Freshly fitted with the radio transmitter, Bob spent some time in the scrub with another Willow Tit which had been fitted with colour rings (Red-Yellow) in November 2017. Not long after, it seemed to get bored with Carlton Marsh and zoomed over the main road, using a thin scrubby track next to the scrap yards and into the plantation known as Pool Ings (if you read my last blog, you’ll know that this is the site where the Willow Tit known as Red-Grey called home when he was tracked in 2019).


Willow Tit caught at Carlton Marsh

The following day, Project Assistant and radio tracker Vivien, started the day up at Pool Ings where Bob skulked in the undergrowth. At some point it travelled back down to Carlton Marsh where it spent some time around the feeders before belting it back up the scrubby corridor to Pool Ings. Poor Vivien had to run to keep up with the bird as it flew down the corridor – it wasn’t wasting any time moving from one site to the next! Bob was spotted spending some more time with Red-Yellow, possibly its mate, and called several times, but spent most of the day in bramble without much activity. The next day saw much of the same – very little. Vivien could be standing within metres of this bird, close enough to touch it, but without the radio transmitter you wouldn’t have a clue it was there. No noise, no obvious movement in the scrub. Bob spent three hours in the same spot, the northern-most point of Pool Ings, possibly moving between the scrub and some nearby garden feeders.

On the fourth day of tracking, Vivien lost the radio signal as once again Bob flew between Pool Ings and Carlton Marsh. Luckily, the receiver picked it up back at Carlton Marsh, where it was feeding six metres high in the tops of some hawthorn. A couple of hours later and it returned to Pool Ings. Who knows what it was doing, as Vivien went four hours incredibly close to its location, but not once able to see how it was behaving. Willow Tits seem to have a habit of disappearing for hours on end, no wonder they are such a pain to survey!

The next day was when the Beast from the East really took hold, and Barnsley was hit with prolonged snowfall. Vivien persevered however, and for the first day since we started tracking it, Bob remained in at Pool Ings all day, not bothering with its usual commute down to Carlton Marsh. The bird often visited garden feeders throughout the day, possibly due to the thick snow cover limiting the usual food source. It also spent a lot of time simply sheltering from the snow in the undergrowth, occasionally popping out to check the weather before thinking “nah” and returning to its hiding place (we’ve all been there…).

Unfortunately, the weather got very bad after that, and fieldwork just wasn’t doable. Vivien returned a week later, now in early March, and fortunately the tracker was still on and working, as Bob was found already down at Carlton Marsh first thing in the morning. After spending some time in the usual bramble and hawthorn patch, it crossed over the road to head back to Pool Ings. This time though, it seemed to take its time slowly moving along the scrubby corridor, maybe it felt sorry for making Vivien sprint this track every other time it whizzed through here.

Over an 11-day period, Bob covered an impressive 6.98ha and on most days would venture 1.5km from the top end of its home range (Pool Ings) to the bottom (Carlton Marsh). It spent most of its time lurking in the northern area, which is likely where the core of the breeding territory is established but would travel a decent distance almost daily to feed and forage for a couple of hours.

These two sites are connected only by a thin strip of young scrub along a former railway embankment, but it shows the value of these linear corridors in the wider landscape and, particularly when the surrounding area consists of industrial scrap yards and bare arable fields, they are a lifeline to species with limited mobility. Bob was paired with another Willow Tit and was often seen with adjacent territory holders in both the northern and southern parts of its range.


Willow Tit 308’s (a.k.a Bob) Home Range

Willow Tits require large areas of habitat to thrive, Bob being the perfect example of the sort of landscape network needed to support nesting and foraging. One of the factors contributing to their dramatic decline is loss of natural nest sites, in particular, clearance of deadwood. Willow Tits do not use nest boxes, as they need to excavate a nest is soft rotting wood. With National Nest Box Week coming up, why not try something different to help Willow Tits? If you manage local greenspaces, try and retain some standing deadwood where it is suitable to do so. You could even try strapping rotting logs to living trees to provide more nesting opportunities. Installing more nest boxes every year will likely be a detriment to Willow Tits, as they attract more competitive species, such as Blue Tit and Great Tit, which often chase Willow Tits out of nest sites and will outcompete them for food resources.


Leaving rotting stumps within bramble thickets can help attract Willow Tit

 

Sophie Pinder

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Back from the Brink Willow Tit

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.

Willow Tit Radio Tracking Tales - Part 1

On a cold February day in 2019 (which seems like a lifetime ago), a pair of the UK’s most threatened resident bird, the Willow Tit, went about their daily lives, foraging for food in their usual territory at Pool Ings near Royston, Barnsley.

Pool Ings is a semi-natural mixed plantation woodland on the fringes of urban Barnsley, a former mining town in South Yorkshire. To the north is Rabbit Ings Country Park, where old spoil heaps have developed into flower-rich grasslands and heath, a stark contrast to the industrial scrap yards and disused railways lined with maturing scrub to the south of the site.

Project Assistant Anthony had caught this first Willow Tit pair at this site (to be known as Red-White, the female, and Red-Grey, the male, due to the colour combinations of the rings fitted to their legs). Both a healthy weight, they were then fitted with radio tags so Anthony could track their movements over the next few days to understand how they used the habitat. Or so he thought… the pesky Red-Grey managed to remove its radio tag within ten minutes. Sometimes birds just don’t want to play science.

Red-White however, obliged by keeping the tag on and Anthony was able to track her for three days. Following a period of up to ten days, the tags are designed to fall off by themselves so as not to interfere with the birds’ breeding activity.


The elusive male, Red-Grey

Red-White was an incredibly secretive bird, and was hardly seen or heard during tracking. She spent almost all her time hidden away in dense scrub, often simply moving from one spot to the next likely foraging for insects in the undergrowth.

For the most part, the pair remained in a small area within the woodland. Occasionally they ventured further away from this core area for short periods of time. The core area of activity could be the main breeding site, where nest building takes place and the birds prepare for breeding. The surrounding area of the territory is used to forage for food or materials to line the nest. In all, this pair’s home range (the extent of habitat used) measured 7 hectares.


Radio tracking data for Red-White over three days, February 2019

Interestingly, the pair of Willow Tits would occasionally visit the adjacent gardens, several times a day. They were mostly visiting the feeders but would also skulk around in the hedges and bushes. With the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch taking place Friday 29th – Sunday 31st January, it’s always worth looking out for a sneaky Willow Tit visiting your garden feeders. Their secretive nature and tendency to be bullied by more common garden birds means visits may only be fleeting, but it you do get a Willow Tit in your garden, it’s possible they have a breeding territory nearby if they are part of a pair. Any record is really important given their dramatic decline in the UK, so if you’re confident you have a record, send it to your local recording centre or check out the National Willow Tit Survey

 

Sophie Pinder

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Back from the Brink Willow Tit

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.

That Was the Year That Was

The intention with this end-of-year blog was to avoid referencing gloomy current affairs and provide some light distraction for both blogger and reader alike, by picking out some highlights for Project Godwit from 2020. Nevertheless, it’s not possible to talk about how the project has fared this year without at least referring to the pandemic – as the vast majority of the team’s activities were either postponed or cancelled altogether. What I can promise is that there is definitely no mention of Brexit here.

How was the project impacted? There was sadly no head-starting of godwit chicks this year at WWT Welney, very little monitoring of the birds took place, all planned events and activities were cancelled, some members of the team were furloughed and those who weren’t furloughed have been perpetually under house arrest. It would take some pretty hefty sugar-coating to make out there weren’t some low points for the team this year.

Despite all this, there has been plenty to celebrate. In 2020, a total of 49 breeding pairs of black-tailed godwits were observed at our three project sites in the East Anglian Fens – this is an increase from 45 pairs in 2019. Of these 49 pairs, 32 pairs bred at RSPB Nene Washes, 10 pairs at WWT Welney (on the Lady Fen complex and the Ouse Washes) and 7 pairs at the RSPB’s Pilot Project site (which is adjacent to RSPB Ouse Washes).

Nests were recorded on the Ouse Washes this year for the first time since 2013 and there has been a 460% increase in breeding pairs (from 3 to 17 pairs) at the Ouse Washes since the project began in 2017. This means the Ouse Washes now has more godwits than in the last 20 years. Godwits were also spotted displaying (to attract a mate) at a recently created new wet grassland site near the Ouse Washes in the spring; a promising sign this threatened wader may breed at other suitable sites in the area in future.

Although no chicks were head-started this year, it is still worth acknowledging that since the project began in 2017 112 head-started chicks have been released into the Fens. Of these birds, 32 head-started godwits returned in the spring – bearing in mind that most young godwits don’t return to the UK following their first migration until around the age of two. Amongst the 49 breeding pairs, one or two head-started birds made up 16 breeding pairs (that’s 33%). For head-started birds to be breeding for themselves as adults is fantastic for the project and really helps bolster this small, vulnerable population.

To date, head-started godwits have been reported from 10 different countries.

The godwit aficionados will be aware that Project Godwit birds have been spotted outside the UK on many occasions now, with some head-started chicks spotted as far away as Senegal and Morocco. Did you know, however, that head-started godwits have been recorded from ten different countries outside the UK? A total of 28 head-started birds have been recorded from 21 sites in 10 countries: Belgium, Netherlands, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Morocco, Senegal and Mauritania.

Who can forget the amazing travels of Cornelia and that hers was the first ever geolocator tag to be retrieved from a head-started black-tailed godwit in the UK. Unlike a GPS tag, a geolocator has to be physically retrieved from the bird in order for the data to be downloaded, requiring for the bird to be caught. Female godwit Cornelia was head-started as a chick at WWT Welney in June 2018 and her geolocator tag revealed she travelled on migration from RSPB Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire in August 2018 to the wetlands of south-east Mauritania in an incredible 48 hours! It is possible this may even have been a non-stop flight.

Cornelia as a chick in June 2018 at WWT Welney

Then there were the adventures of RSPB staff and intrepid couple Jen and Mark Smart, who cycled 600 miles in eight days to raise money for Project Godwit and the International Wader Study Group (which gives out small grants each year to support wader projects around the world). Jen and Mark visited 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. It was not plain sailing for Jen and Mark though, as their endurance challenge coincided with some of the worst weather the UK had experienced all year – including storms with 45mph winds. Multiple punctures and a broken bike chain were also thrown their way, but Jen and Mark’s resilience never wavered. They raised over £6000 for Project Godwit – thank you Jen and Mark!

Jen & Mark Smart at the finish line at RSPB Nene Washes, after cycling 600 miles in 8 days for wader conservation.

During the first national lockdown in the spring, the team asked the public to help us create a virtual godwit flock for an online art gallery here on the Project Godwit website. People of all ages enthusiastically answered our call and sent in an array of wonderful images of paintings, drawings, sculptures and models of black-tailed godwits. This has been a wonderful distraction for the team this year – and we sincerely hope for the artists involved too. Here’s just a handful of our favourite installations as we sign off for the year. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed. Do check out the rest of the gallery for yourself – and it’s not too late to submit artwork.


By Rosie Drew on Facebook
By Chris Jones on Facebook 
By @Single_Source on Twitter 
Mighty godwit by Ray Mathias, WWT Welney volunteer. 
By Lorraine Auton

Thank you for supporting Project Godwit this year. We have some staff changes in the team in the new year, but will be in touch again very soon with the latest news.

Best Wishes for the new year from all the team at Project Godwit.

Much to write home about.....

The days are getting shorter and colder, the four UK countries have been in and out of lockdowns and tiered restrictions like the hokey cokey, and summer seems like a distant memory. November can feel like a dreary time of year at the best of times, so the team at Project Godwit have found it a real boost recently to receive reports of black-tailed godwits from the UK breeding population beyond the shores of Blighty. News of godwits which were head-started by Project Godwit or ‘wild-reared’ birds which were ringed in the Fens many years ago (before Project Godwit had even been dreamt up) helps us understand the movements of these vulnerable waders on migration, the challenges they face and how we can better protect them.

Postcards from Portugal

A Black-tailed Godwit once ringed at RSPB Nene Washes nature reserve in Cambridgeshire has been reported to Project Godwit from Portugal. Its rings reveal it to be an incredible 19 years old! Ringed as a chick in 2001, this female godwit was spotted at the Tagus estuary, Portugal on 3 October by Daniel Raposo. The oldest known black-tailed godwit on record is currently 23.6 years.

This is yet another godwit from the UK breeding population reported to have been using the Tagus estuary for many years – where the building of an international airport is proposed. The Tagus estuary near Lisbon is a crucially important area for 300,000 waterfowl including 80,000 black-tailed godwits, to stop here on migration to rest and feed on the ricefields and mudflats. This godwit was recorded in what would be a part of the airport with the highest levels of noise pollution and disruption if it goes ahead. To learn more about the threats this airport development poses, see our previous blog here.

19-year-old black-tailed godwit at the Tagus estuary, Portugal (Photo: Daniel Raposo).

There’s been another sighting of a 2019 head-started black-tailed godwit from outside the UK – Juno was spotted in Zambujal, near Sesimbra, Portugal by Pablo Macías and Victor Pizarro on 11 October. This female godwit was head-started as a chick at WWT Welney Wetland Centre and released at RSPB Nene Washes in June 2019 (pictured below as a chick).

This is the second sighting of this one-year-old this year; she was also seen near Seville, Spain back in February. Juno wasn’t spotted back at the breeding grounds in East Anglia this spring – but as young godwits often don’t return from their first migration until the age of two, this is common behaviour. Here’s hoping Juno returns to the Fens next spring.

Juno as a head-started chick at WWT Welney (Photo: WWT)

Another black-tailed godwit from the UK breeding population was also reported from Portugal in October – this time from Tavira in the Algarve on 24 October by Ray Tipper. This ‘wild-reared’ male godwit is 17 years old, revealed by his rings which show he was ringed as a chick in 2003 at RSPB Nene Washes. This male breeds at the Nene Washes every spring and was spotted again this year.

Over the years there have been many sightings of this godwit in Portugal in autumn and late winter, making the team at Project Godwit wonder if he spends the winter here, rather than migrating all the way to West Africa.

Godwit known by his rings ‘BB-OL(E)’ in the Algarve, Portugal on 24 October (Photo: Ray Tipper).

Not terribly thrilling, but…

A new fence may not be the most exciting thing to read about, but then on-the-ground conservation isn’t glamorous. This new steel fence was recently installed in the ditches around an area of RSPB Nene Washes known as ‘March Farmers’. It’s for the benefit of black-tailed godwits breeding at the Nene Washes, the stronghold for the breeding population of this threatened species.

Anti-predator fence (and photo-bombing cow) at March Farmers area of RSPB Nene Washes reserve.

Eggs and chicks of this ground-nesting wading bird are vulnerable to predators such as foxes and badgers, so the purpose of this fence is to keep ground predators out and protect breeding godwits, giving them a helping hand. The team will be monitoring its efficacy in the spring and making any minor adjustments to its design if necessary. This permanent fencing barrier is part of a number of fencing solutions the team have been trialling since the project began in 2017. We’ve also been trialling temporary electric fencing around key godwit breeding areas at the Nene Washes.

The metal fence posts of this anti-predator fence will ensure longevity of the structure.

This major asset for RSPB Nene Washes and Project Godwit has been funded thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund via the Back from the Brink programme and the EU LIFE Nature programme.

 

by Rebecca Pitman, Senior Project Manager for Project Godwit
Back from the Brink

 

Project Godwit is a five-year partnership project between the RSPB and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust with major funding from the EU LIFE Nature Programme, 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.

 

Cross-stitch creator Lucie Heaton has designed seven wonderful cross stitch patterns which are all free to download from her website, as well as from our Back from the Brink website:

Willow Tit

Pine Marten

Shrill Carder Bee

Grey Long-eared Bat

Roots of Rockingham:

Chequered Skipper

Colour in the Margins:

Pheasant's-eye

Interrupted Brome

 

If you enjoy combining creativity with wildlife then these are definitely for you. Why not give them as a gift to a crafty friend or family member.

Cross-stitching is a great way to relax during the long winters nights or the grumpy winters days.

We really hope you enjoy making them and would love to see what you create - why not take a photo of your finished picture and post it on social media tagging in @NatureBftB.

We are hoping that Lucie will do a blog for us in the new year to tell us more about her relationship with wildlife and how it inspired her to create these wonderful patterns for us, so watch this space!

 

MERRY STITCHMAS from all at

Back from the Brink!

 

 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.

 

ARC's Gems in the Dune Project Manager, Fiona Sunners tells us more about one of the projects key species, the often overlooked, tiny and very rare Sea Bryum.

Down beneath your feet, often unnoticed are some of the rarest species in the country! Sea Bryum is one of them – a member of the bryophyte family; it enjoys the open sandy conditions of newly forming sand dunes. Unfortunately, the amount of this habitat is reducing; as a result of this numbers are declining too.

In 2013, a survey found Sea Bryum along a 2.5km stretch of the ‘green beach’ between Ainsdale and Birkdale, however as the newly formed dunes and pools become more vegetated and fixed, conditions change and become more unsuitable meaning these tiny plants are out-competed. During the Gems in the Dunes project we have been working with volunteers to get a better picture of how widespread they actually are. So far we have found Sea Bryum is now confined to a 370m stretch at the southern end of the ‘green beach’, and even over the short time the project has been running we have seen increasing amounts of vegetation pushing them southwards and reducing their range. Careful future management could help them, for example scraping off the top layer of dense vegetation can open the landscape up enough to allow them to recolonise from spores that have lain buried in the sand. Volunteers observed this in an area that was scraped before the project started. The scraped areas can also benefit other species such as the Natterjack Toads.

It’s not all doom and gloom though as this year we have recorded Sea Bryum at the southern end of the ‘green beach’, in an area that last year was pretty much still the beach. Spores have obviously been blown southwards landing in this more suitable habitat, and made the most of the open damp conditions. We have also recorded an expanse of them around one of the Natterjack breeding pools, slightly inland of the ‘green beach’ – watch out they are spreading!

The only other place on the coast they are found is at Devil’s Hole in Formby. Here a small colony remains, although as the vegetation increases here too, we could very well see it disappear very soon.

Sea Bryum is not the easiest to identify, but a few key features do distinguish it from the other bryums on the coast – take a look at our species identification sheets.

We have also been on the lookout for another bryum species - however this is proving to be a bit of a tall order! All we have to go on is the last record from way back in 1933, which was in Freshfield and doesn’t even pin point the sand dunes! If you fancy having a look for Bryum Calophyllum, take a look at our species guide for its key feature.

If you think you have spotted either of our bryums, get on your hands and knees and take a picture and send it with a grid reference or screenshot of your location to gems-in-the-dunes@arc-trust.org  Make sure your photos are as clear as possible as this will help us to identify it!

 

Fiona Sunners - Project Officer

Gems in the Dunes

 

 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 encouraging update from our Barberry Carpet Moth project officer on planting new Barberry Plants -

Well the final planting season of the project is well underway and the plants are quickly running out now!  I managed to squeeze in some planting in Dorset with volunteers before lockdown, and have had to cancel my planned volunteer events in Wiltshire sadly.  But I have been able to continue with my deliveries to landowners at least, and there are now another 789 plants in their new homes.

We have smashed our original planting target of 3000 plants over the 4 years, and are nearly at 4000 now.   Not all of these plants will have made it of course – we have had some serious droughts to contend with in the last few years for a start.  Plus we had a spate of rabbits digging out young plants which definitely didn’t help matters!!  So this year, I put as much of our remaining project budget as possible into purchasing extra plants for the project, as well as decent protection in the form of chestnut stakes and mesh shrub shelters.  I have another 350 plants to home and lots of locations lined up, plus I am very much hoping I can get back out with volunteers to do the planting once it is safe to do so.

Over the course of the project we have planted on nature reserves, in hedgerows on pasture, and lots of people have taken Barberry for their own gardens and land.  We needed to avoid arable land due to the historic issues with stem rust, and at first I thought this would be a real challenge in such an arable landscape.  However, I have been lucky enough to find some extremely supportive volunteers that have taken plants for their own land, as well as put me in touch with their friends and neighbours.

Some of the locations have been young woodlands that people are planting up for wildlife too, and Barberry is now planted on path edges and in glades.   Some of the locations in Wiltshire and Gloucestershire seem to have been extremely grand, with Highgrove House being an obvious example.  Some of the Manor houses seem to me to be quite appropriate, where Barberry is being planted in orchards again.

Charlton Park was a joy to visit recently – I have been in the past several times when I’ve been to Womad music festival, and it’s great to know that in the future they will have lots of fabulous Barberry plants in their extensive arboretum area.

 

Fiona Haynes

Moth Conservation Officer - Back from the Brink

 

 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.

I finished my book Framing Nature – conservation and culture in the early days of the first lockdown, and spent the following weeks inhabiting two and a half acres – or 0.000000002% – of the Earth’s surface. It became a world within a world, and I found within it an infinity of other worlds.

The weather was good, and if it wasn’t one of the three days I spent each week working for Back for the Brink (and sometimes even when it was), I took to carting a makeshift desk across two fields so that I might work at the edge of a small wood. On a ‘Brink’ day, it is a place to escape the internet for a while and concentrate on some report or other. On a writing day, it can be a place to spend an hour perfecting a sentence, or a minute writing half a page. Once the book was finished, with no new project in the offing, I sometimes just sat and wrote of whatever transpired, in real time:

A small spider has appeared on my desk. It is an agile jumper and intricately patterned: each leg is covered in white hairs and finely flecked dark brown; its two palps are purer white contrasting with two coal-black, forward-facing eyes and its shiny black head on which is emblazoned a white anchor-mark. Its abdomen is shaped somewhat like an egg, milk chocolate in colour with three lateral white hoops. I have no idea of its identity.

The afternoon sun has highlighted a small sycamore tree that is about fifteen yards away. At its upper right-hand edge there seems to be a delicate mist that, on closer inspection comprises a socially-distanced swarm of dancing insects. They mesmerise me with their buoyant hovering, each describing looped curves that extend about four inches vertically, and swaying laterally with and against the breeze. They hold their very long, delicate, white antennae curved forwards. Collectively they give the impression of a vague and uncoordinated milling, but at a higher resolution, I see they are evenly spaced, seeming to respond to leaf, light and each other according to an algorithm that only they can compute. They look black, but I notice that their wings are iridescent, flashing bright green at certain angles to the sun. They are male green longhorn moths, assembled for their afternoon lek, to try to coax a female into their grasp.

The spider, by the way, is Salticus scenicus, the zebra-back jumping spider. The time it took me to write another paragraph was the time it took Twitter to improve the sum of my arachnological knowledge by a considerable percentage, albeit by the smallest grain in absolute terms.

This combination of fascination and ignorance is one reason why I write, and especially why I have been writing about invertebrates lately. As an ecologist and career conservationist I have never not appreciated their importance. Nor, in the six decades since I took my first steps, have I failed to appreciate the exquisite beauty in each one I encounter, in all their seemingly infinite variety. But I have never become an entomologist in the usual sense, that is, I don’t know much about them and can name very few.

Embedded in Back from the Brink is a kind of unspoken ethic – that alongside the traditionally charismatic targets of species conservation, the avocets and beavers, red squirrels and swallowtails, there must be an equal place for the small, lesser-loved things. Two Back from the Brink invertebrates crossed over into the other half of my life and became subjects for Framing Nature: the field cricket and the narrow-headed ant. They joined a third ‘Brink’ species, the willow tit, which sometimes calls from the trees around my outdoor office.

From the north east corner of the churchyard of St. Mary’s, Selborne, an old, wooden kissing gate leads out of the village down the steep slope of the Glebe Field. From there, Gilbert White, whose 300th birthday we celebrate this year, would have had a short walk from the church to the fields where he studied field crickets, the first person to do so. Last year I walked the same path, following in his footsteps by way of homage, although the crickets are now long gone.

Gilbert White’s own essay on the field cricket takes the form of a letter, written in 1779 to his fellow naturalist Daines Barrington. It opens with Virgil’s words resonant arbusta – the heathland resounds. It was a reference to the crickets’ stridulations – a resonant percussion-song that permeates the warm, scented night. As White explained to Barrington,

Sounds do not always give us pleasure according to their sweetness and melody; nor do harsh sounds always displease. We are more apt to be captivated or disgusted with the associations which they promote, than with the notes themselves. Thus the shrilling of the field-cricket, though sharp and stridulous, yet marvellously delights some hearers, filling their minds with a train of summer ideas of everything that is rural, verdurous, and joyous.

The song of the field cricket once resounded across the heaths and dry grasslands of Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, before falling silent from the summer night air everywhere, except in one last place in West Sussex, where fewer than a hundred individuals survived into the 1990s.

At the RSPB’s Farnham Heath reserve in Surrey, a reintroduction programme there saw the population grow to more than 300 individuals by 2016. However, the field cricket remained vulnerable. With Back from the Brink funding, the RSPB set out to increase the robustness of the population by translocating crickets within Farnham Heath itself. I joined about twenty other volunteers to help capture six to eight male and six to eight female crickets between us, the number specified on the specially-obtained license.

The earlier reintroduction had seen crickets spread from the far edge of the southern half of the heath north-eastwards onto more recently restored areas, and it was clear that they were capable of walking 200-300 yards in a season – in a lifetime, in other words. Having found the six males and six females we had come for, they were destined to be released to colonise the northern portion of the reserve, which they would be unlikely to reach unaided from the wrong side of a busy road. Surveys in 2020 have confirmed the success of the project, and that they have colonised neighbouring private land too.

At 1.11pm on 26 November 2018 the narrow-headed ant returned to Bovey Heathfield nature reserve after an absence of fourteen years. Buglife’s Stephen Carroll, who had painstakingly translocated a colony from nearby Chudleigh Knighton heath, marked the time precisely, so personal was its significance.  He had for years been one of a very few people to concern themselves with the fate of this little-known species.

I made two visits to the Devon heaths and the narrow-headed ants, accompanied by Stephen and freelance entomologist John Walters. After a few minutes eavesdropping on the conversation of enthusiasts, I was hooked. As I squatted to watch the ants at close quarters, I was soon imagining myself a visitor in their Lilliput:

Their hyper-crowded, three-dimensional cities are something out of Blade Runner, chiaroscuro worlds that never sleep, where vast armies are genetically programmed to perform endless menial tasks for the common good. There will be ants climbing to the uppermost reaches of the nest to absorb solar energy at its under-surface and returning to transfer the heat of their own bodies through the labyrinth, a living hypocaust. Others ferry their sibling pupae through the writhing tangle of vegetation, detritus and co-workers, forever up and down between storeys, constantly monitoring and regulating temperature in the brood.

A brief, narrow, slanting shaft of sunlight pierced the overcast of cloud that had kept the heath’s colours muted. I imagined those few seconds of increased warmth and enriched light and their effect on the microworld beneath. Each few photons energise in a birch leaf the synthesis of vital sugars. It is an industrial complex: from point of manufacture, the sugar is transported under pressure in pipelines built into the tree’s structure. Aphids tap the supply-lines and siphon off a percentage. The ants tend the aphids, taking their own cut in the form of honeydew, in return for protecting the aphids from ladybirds and other predators. Replete, the ants return to their nests.

Inside, at the heart of the citadel, resides the queen, the oldest and most venerated member of ant society. The colony is organised around her needs alone, thousands of loyal subjects programmed to protect, feed and pamper her, their roles and responsibilities passed down through short-lived generations while she lives on for decades. One narrow-headed ant queen was known to have lived for 27 years, I could hear John saying.

  • from Framing Nature: conservation and culture

At some point that day, having acquired a new enthusiasm of my own, I realised why I had changed my mind about retiring once Back from the Brink got started. The plan had been to finish the funding application, help appoint a team to manage the programme, say my farewells and get writing. But perhaps I could manage another four years, or, thanks to Covid, five….

 

Laurence Rose

Change Manager - Back from the Brink

 

 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.