September has been just as busy as the summer months, what with dry stone walling, bat surveys, school groups, dormouse surveys, events, ID courses and all the practical tasks, it's a wonder that we had any time to see each other! However, we did manage to have a lovely day out together at Confor Woodland Show in Wiltshire - read on to find out more...
My favourite things about September were dry stone walling with the Magnificent Meadows group and the dry stone walling association, and experiencing the life of a bat surveyor for a few days!
I did spend most of my time picking up stones and putting them back down again on the dry stone walling days, but I have been reassured it takes time to get your eye in and find the perfect stone for the gap so I’m not too disheartened! We also found a great crested newt which was really exciting, we re-homed her on a more secure section of wall close by.
Great-crested Newt Working hard on the dry stone walling days
I was lucky to visit our Wadbury bat house with qualified bat workers Dave Cottle and Adel Avery to carry out the annual survey. We found Greater and Lesser Horseshoe bats which were in torpor so we were able to take their ring numbers without disturbing them too much. It was amazing to get so close to these wonderful little mammals.
I took part in dawn emergence and dusk re-entry surveys for First Ecology along with Abi and Ralph. This involved watching certain key points on the building we were surveying and noting down any bat activity. We used bat detectors and a recorder to capture the echolocation and try to determine what the bats were doing - for instance, commuting or feeding. The purpose of the survey was to see how the bats were using an old caretakers cottage, as the school are looking to knock it down so they can expand. First Ecology will analyse the findings but said it looks like an end of summer roost so hopefully work will be able to take place at a different time of year.
In a break during a morning of ragwort pulling I had a close encounter with a Common blue butterfly who sat very patiently on my finger while I took some photos!
Common Blue Trainees at Confor Woodland Show
Ralph, Becky, Abi, Chris and I went along to the Confor Woodland show in Longleat where we met up with two of the Wiltshire trainees Cora and Keeley. It was an interesting day with a great talk on beaver and pine martin re-introduction and horse logging displays. I think we all left with a free tree at the end of the day!
At the beginning of the month Becky and I travelled down to Dorset Wildlife HQ for a training day to see Rachel Janes, head of the trainee project, and to visit Sophie, the volunteer & community engagement trainee at Chesil Beach. We had a boat tour round the Fleet, then went for a wander round Portland and King Barrow Quarry reserve in the sun to do a bit of ID'ing.
Now that the wildflowers have largely died back, we are spending a lot of time on reserve in cutting and raking the rides and glades to keep these areas open and light. This is important for controlling nutrient levels to prevent more specialist plants from being out-competed next spring. As usual, this means a lot of brushcutting, but where the ground is flat enough, we can use a flail attachment off the back of our kubota tractor to speed things up.
Axe thowing at Confor Woodland Show
On the 11th we met up with Keeley and Cora from the Wiltshire trust as well as Chris, last year’s surveying and monitoring trainee at Longleat for the Confor Woodland Show, where we found lots of expensive shiny machinery, axe-throwing vikings and timber extraction with heavy horses. There was also a very interesting series of talks about the potential ecosystem-wide benefits of species reintroduction (in this case, Pine martens and Beavers).
The idea of trying to restore ecosystems to a more natural state through reintroduction of keystone species like this is something I find particularly interesting and it is encouraging to see steps being taken to follow this route with a Pine Marten reintroduction programme taking place at the moment in Wales and the ongoing project to monitor breeding beavers on the River Otter in Devon.
The plucking instrument at Young Wood, crafted onto a living tree
On the 26th I went with Abi and Leighann to Young Wood, community woodland in the Blackdowns run by Neroche Woodlanders for a British Association of Naturalists’ event discussing the future of Nature Conservation. With topics ranging from food, nature and land, dealing with how to meet the often conflicting needs of both food production and wildlife conservation to politics, the economy and wildlife this was a unique and thought provoking event, and I couldn’t help but feel that many such debates could only be improved by taking place by a fire in the woods!
September means that flowering plants and grasses are starting to come to an end; so this month I have been of a few days of training on how to ID mosses, lichens and ferns. Whilst this can be very interesting looking at their structures under a lens, I have found it a challenge to get my head around all the latin names, so I’m not sure I’ll be an expert on bryology any time soon!
This month I have also been doing a lot of Dormouse box checks; on Exmoor, on the Quantocks, and at Staple Hill. The numbers of dormice have dropped significantly this year on Exmoor, but they are still holding on in other locations across Somerset, so hopefully they are just nesting in other places and will make a comeback next year.
Cute male dormouse at a site near Broomfield
I volunteered to help with checking reptile mats for First Ecology at a site in Stoke St. Mary, and although the week did not reveal any reptiles, I managed to get the only find of the week; a very cute juvenile Palmate newt.
Juvenile Palmate newt
I got more experience of seeing small mammals close up when I joined in on a trapping session at Shapwick. The event was organised by the Avalon Marshes team, at I was up and out of the house before the birds were singing to get started for 7am. We had a few brave families who joined us in the wee cold hours, helping us to locate the Longworth traps that the warden and I had baited the night before. Out of the 30 traps we set, we managed trap three wood mice and a shrew. We were glad to find the shrew alive, as they have such a fast metabolism that they need to eat every 2-3 hours, and they feed exclusively on insects and their larvae. To make sure they survived the night, we had used some housefly larva as part of the bait for the traps, and put hay in for bedding to keep any little animals warm overnight.
A torpid dragonfly in the early morning dew
Although I was very tired for the next day or two, it was worth getting up just to see the day in and get this lovely shot of a dew-covered dragonfly in the early morning sun. If only I could manage to rise that early every day!
As the dreaded new school year beckons for children across the country, I was also getting back into the swing of taking school groups out to our reserves again. We had the first of our sessions with Priddy and St Lawrence’s primary school, who will be coming out to one of our reserves each week right through to November. We are covering winter survival techniques with a different class each week, and it’s great to see how the different age groups enjoy being outside - and its safe to say every week is different! The children especially seem to like our dormouse hibernation game, where in groups they are given a small pot of hot water – otherwise known as their dormouse – and are tasked with creating a nest suitable for hibernation. We then measure the temperature of the water, go and play a few more games and then return to retake the temperature and see whose dormouse stayed the warmest and which may have survived the winter!
I also got to experience working with older groups this month, as we were visited by Millfield senior school at our Westhay reserve. A-level biology students came out on two visits; firstly to learn about the site and its management and then returning to conduct an investigation they had planned back at school. This was a flash back to my own days of A-level study, as we investigated succession from the wetland scrape using systematic quadrat sampling. We also spent a lot of time chasing woodlouse around deadwood with spoons, in order to carry out a capture, mark, release recapture experiment!
I also began attending wild play days with a YMCA pre-school in Taunton, doing forest school type activities. This is partly to go towards my Level 2 Forest School portfolio that I have to complete, but also to conduct evaluations of the sessions for the Routes to the River Tone project. This is an urban project based in Taunton, which aims to engage the local community in the wildlife around the town. The sessions run for 13 weeks, so I will be attending every week to evaluate the progress of the children, to see if being outdoors affects their behaviour and development in any way.
The children preparing to have water thrown over their shelter!
It hasn’t all been about the kids this month! I also got the chance to help First Ecology with some dusk emergence bat surveys, along with Leighann. This was the first time I had done a bat survey and it was great to do something a little different and rekindle my interests in surveying. I also had great fun attending the Frome cheese show with the Save our Magnificent Meadows team. Here we had face painting, pebble mini-beast decorating, a fancy dress photo booth and of course, lots of cheese!
Pebble painting was a hit with the children
Dressing up as flowers and pollinators!
Thanks for reading, and come back next month to see what we're getting up to!