Somerset retains position as Britain’s bittern stronghold, as the population of the mysterious and elusive wetland bird keeps on booming
Somerset Wildlife Trust are pleased to say that following its annual spring Bittern count, 11 booming Bittern males were recorded on their Westhay Moor, Westhay Heath and Catcott Nature Reserves - the highest number since surveying on these sites began.
Organisations combine efforts to put nature-based wellbeing higher up on life’s agenda and to help us all recognise our role in protecting Somerset’s beautiful landscapes and wildlife.
Today sees the launch of the Somerset Festival of Nature – a new annual event which aims to focus on celebrating Somerset’s natural environment; its enduring and stunning landscapes and seascapes, its vibrant green spaces and inspiring natural places, and all the rich and diverse wildlife that lives in this wonderful county.
A new training programme ‘Wild Paths’ has been awarded £501,100 of National Lottery funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), under its Skills for the Future programme, allowing five Wildlife Trusts in the South West to train 30 aspiring conservationists over the next three years.
The “Hills to Levels” team is celebrating after winning the “Duncan Huggett Award for the Environment” at the Flood & Coast Project Excellence Awards. The Awards ceremony was hosted at the Environment Agency’s annual Flood & Coast Conference held in Telford on 2st March.
Organisations focussed on health, wellbeing and outdoor activities join forces for the month of May to help the whole of Somerset embrace a more active, nature-based lifestyle.
26th March 2018 – Today sees the launch of Naturally Healthy Month 2018 – a month long campaign which brings together some of the county’s leading health, wellbeing and outdoor activity organizations to offer people across the county with a variety of opportunities to get active, and enjoy the benefits of spending time outdoors and in nature. The programme will provide additional help for those individuals and groups who find it more difficult to get out and about and enjoy the health benefits of nature.
Nature Reserves Fund Appeal launches to ensure populations of ‘unsung wildlife superheroes’ that keep the county’s ecosystems healthy are secure for the future
5th March 2018 – Today marks the launch of the 2018 Somerset Nature Reserves Fund Appeal. The annual fund was launched in 2016 to ensure the charity had the vital ongoing funds to maintain the basic underlying health of all Somerset Wildlife Trust’s nature’s reserves across the county. The Fund has since inspired many who care about the county’s precious landscapes to make donations, which have made a real difference to the Trust’s ability to keep these special places secure for the next generation.
Somerset Wildlife Trust concerned for River Tone ‘Ratty’
28th February 2018 – This week saw the launch of a worrying report from The Wildlife Trusts which reveals that numbers of water vole - the creature portrayed as Ratty in the children’s classic, ‘The Wind in The Willows’- have declined by 30% across England and Wales during the survey period 2006 – 2015*.
Mendip Wildlife Links will use nature to bring communities together and protect local wildlife
21st February - Somerset Wildlife Trust is pleased to launch a new phase of its work in East Mendip. Building on the success of the work carried out over the last few years, Mendip Wildlife Links aims to connect communities, farmers and other landowners in the area to the wonderful habitats and wildlife found there, and inspire them to work together to secure a long term future for the county’s species. The project will include an extensive event programme, offering all age groups the opportunity to participate in nature based activities whether practical volunteering, a health and wellbeing activity or a creative skills workshop.
Somerset Wildlife Trust launches new digital community project that harnesses ‘human spirit’ and ‘sense of place’ to drive a broader change in the way we view and protect one of Somerset’s most remarkable landscapes
12th February 2018 – Today marks the launch of ‘Humans of the Levels’- a new and exciting digital community project from Somerset Wildlife Trust, which aims to put the spotlight on the unique people and special communities that can be found across the Somerset Levels and Moors landscape, and, through a combination of creative photography and personal storytelling, explores and celebrates the deep relationship that exists between those that that live, work and visit this special place, and the land itself and the wildlife living alongside.
ACEarts is working in partnership with the Somerset Wildlife Trust on an Open Wildlife Art Exhibition, and is seeking submissions from artists and creators.
15th Jan 2018 - The submissions open in January and will be judged in May by a panel which includes Wildlife Broadcaster and Patron of Somerset Wildlife Trust Simon King OBE; Stewart Geddes, President of the Royal West of England Academy; Katie Arber, Director of Fundraising and Marketing, Somerset Wildlife Trust; Nina Gronw-Lewis, Curator of ACEarts; and Frank Martin, Trustee of ACEarts. The exhibition will take place at ACEarts between 6th October and 3rd November 2018.
BEST YEAR FOR BRITAIN’S RAREST BUTTERFLY SINCE 1930s
The once-extinct large blue butterfly, reintroduced to the UK in 1984, flew in its highest numbers for at least 80 years this summer, due to the combined efforts of the Large Blue Project, Somerset Wildlife Trust, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and their project partners, belying widely-reported warnings that 2016 could be the worst year on record for British butterflies.
Thanks to meticulous conservation management, south-west England now supports the largest concentration of large blues known in the world. Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Green Down and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and Royal Entomological Society’s Daneway Banks saw over 10,000 adult large blues in 2016, which equates to roughly 60% of the UK population according to Professor Jeremy Thomas, chair of the Joint Committee for the Restoration of the Large Blue Butterfly. Together they laid more than a quarter of a million eggs on the abundant thyme and marjoram flowers.
This is no mean feat, for the large blue is the only UK butterfly species that is sufficiently threatened worldwide to be listed in the IUCN’s global Red Data Book, and our only one designated as an ‘Endangered Species’ across Europe. The success of the large blue reintroduction is due to the combined efforts of the Large Blue Project. As well as the Wildlife Trusts in Somerset and Gloucestershire, partners include Natural England, Butterfly Conservation, the University of Oxford and the National Trust.
Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s CEO, Roger Mortlock, says: “This is fantastic news for this globally endangered butterfly whose extraordinary life cycle makes its conservation very challenging. Scrub clearance and careful grazing of wildflower-rich grasslands is key to ensuring a future for this beautiful insect. This special management also helps a huge diversity of wild plants and other insects to thrive.”
Professor Jeremy Thomas (Chair of the Royal Entomological Society’s Conservation committee, Emeritus Professor of Ecology at the University of Oxford, and chair of the Joint Committee for the Restoration of the Large Blue Butterfly) said:
"The success of this project is testimony to what large scale collaboration between conservationists, scientists and volunteers can achieve. Its greatest legacy is that it demonstrates that we can reverse the decline of globally-threatened species once we understand the driving factors."
The large blue has a bizarre life-cycle, having fed for three weeks on the flowerbuds of wild thyme or marjoram, the caterpillar produces scents and songs that trick red ants into believing it is one of their own grubs, and is carried underground into the ants nest and placed with the ant brood. The caterpillar spends the next 10 months feeding on the grubs before pupating in the nest the following year and then emerging to crawl above ground as a butterfly.
Despite over 50 years of effort to halt its decline, the large blue butterfly was pronounced extinct in Britain in 1979. Its reintroduction in 1984 was based on the discovery that large blue caterpillars can only survive in the nest of one particular species of red ant, Myrmica sabuleti. Changes in countryside management were responsible for the extinction. Alterations in grazing left grassland too tall and shady for the heat-loving red ant.
Reserves Manager for Somerset Wildlife Trust, Mark Green said: “The amazing numbers of Large Blues recorded this year show what can be achieved through close partnership working and landscape scale conservation land management, underpinned by sound science. Large blue numbers had declined significantly two years ago, due to unfavourable weather conditions. But, thanks to the project partners creating and maintaining a number of well-connected core sites, the butterfly has now bounced back to record numbers. I feel proud to play a part in this highly successful project, which gives me hope that we can reverse the declines of other vulnerable species.”
Today optimum habitat has been restored to more than 50 former sites. The finest of these are Green Down Nature Reserve in Somerset and Daneway Banks Nature Reserve in the Cotswolds, both Wildlife Trust sites. Thanks to good gazing management coupled with favourable weather, their already massive large blue populations increased by 74% and 64% respectively compared with 2015. The National Trust’s Collard Hill site in Somerset also boasted good numbers, and remains the most accessible place to see large blues thanks to its extensive car park and on-site warden.
A spin-off of our managing grasslands to support the large blue is that it has simultaneously improved conditions for a diversity of other wildlife.
At Daneway, scarce orchids including fly, frog and musk have returned after an absence of many years, and the exceedingly rare cut-leaved germander and cut-leaved self-heal are now flourishing. Among insects, the Downland Villa beefly – not recorded in the UK for 50 years prior to 2000 – bred in great abundance along the tracks and scrapings of Daneway in 2014-16.
At Green Down, cut-leaved self-heal also flowered abundantly in 2016, and meadow brown and marbled white butterflies had their highest and 2nd highest recorded numbers respectively in decades of recording, again belying predictions for low butterfly numbers elsewhere.