Sunday, 24 June 2018

June Nature News

Hello and welcome to this month's edition of Nature News, where I look at the wildlife and environment news from the local area and the UK as a whole.

Plastic Purge Continues

I've been reporting regularly about the reduction of single-use plastics and it's really pleasing to see progress keeps being made. Recently McDonald's announced they are going to replace their plastic straws with paper ones in the UK from September(1). The chain uses 1.8 million straws in the UK every day so this is a significant reduction. They are also trialling doing the same in other countries. McDonald's must be one of the biggest companies in regards to plastic straws in the world and if they can do something about it then it shows that anyone can.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has produced a report on curbing plastic and found that at least fifty countries are working to reduce plastic pollution(2). There's an incentive for developing countries to do it as plastic bags are causing floods by blocking drains and cattle are eating them. The report acknowledges that far more still needs to be done though and cautiously suggest plastic alternatives.

A high proportion of marine litter comes from fishing waste and the EU have announced new rules to reduce the amount of this(3). Producers of plastic fishing gear will now be required to cover the cost of waste collection, transport, treatment as well as awareness-raising measures.

Mammals in Decline
There have been regular reports on the state of the UK's wildlife and the latest one came from the Mammal Society and Natural England and it's bleak reading(4). Almost one in five British mammals are facing a high risk of extinction with the red squirrel, Scottish wildcat and grey long-eared bat listed as facing severe threats to their survival. Hedgehogs and water voles have seen their populations decline by 66% in the last twenty years. Even rabbit numbers are thought to have decreased somewhere between 24 and 48% in the last 25 years.

Water Vole

Licenses to Shoot Ravens
Following previous controversial licences to shoot buzzards, the environment secretary Michael Gove has issued licenses to shoot ravens in various parts of the UK included Wiltshire and Dorset(5). A shepherd from Dorset claims that ravens were killing a couple of lambs every day from the 9000 sheep he tends. It's accepted that ravens will kill and eat dying or dead lambs though as far as I can tell there is little evidence that they actually kill healthy ones. It would be easy for a shepherd to see ravens pecking at lambs and assume they were responsible for the deaths. 

Ravens are doing well but only after years being scarce. The RSPB are not arguing that such licenses are unnecessary- they try to stay in the good books of farmers- but are concerned at the lack of controls in place. They want Natural England to ensure non-lethal methods have been trialled first and a review of the application looking at the status of ravens locally. It seem that Natural England are only too willing to issue licenses to those who apply and don't appear to be ensuring effective controls are in place. 

Local News
A few quick local stories now. The RSPCA were called to help a muntjac deer which had somehow found its way to the sixth floor of Bournemouth's Madeira Road multi-storey car park(6). The small deer was obviously not used to this time of environment and couldn't find it's way to safety. You can see a clip of the deer below.

Also in Bournemouth, the start of the month saw a bloom of plankton at the start of the month(7). An algae called phaeocystis which often blooms after a period of strong sunlight and warm weather, together with nutrients building up in the sea. I visited the coast a little further along from Bournemouth and managed to see the latter stages of the bloom. 

Finally, the SSSI of Poole Harbour has been extended by 1,800 hectares(8). Poole Harbour is a hugely important site for wildlife, particularly waders and the extension of the area means the health of the harbour will be better protected.

That's all for today but I'll leave you with a plea to get in touch about what you've seen locally or further afield! Details below! See you soon.

1: BBC News: McDonald's to ditch plastic straws
2: BBC News: 50 nations 'curbing plastic pollution'
3: Circular Ocean: New EU rules to reduce marine litter
4: Mammal Society: British mammal's fight for survival
5: RSPB: A response to news that licenses have been granted to shoot ravens in England
6: Bournemouth Echo: Deer trapped on sixth floor of multi-storey car park in Bournemouth...
7: Bournemouth Echo: This is why the sea in Bournemouth is brown at the moment
8: Twitter: @NEDorsetHantsIOW

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Late Spring Sightings

It's been a warm few weeks here and much of the local wildlife has been busy in the process of breeding and raising young. I've seen plenty of fledgling birds lately such as this cute young robin.

The canada geese nursery looks to have had a successful year with many goslings still in the area. 

You can see the difference in some of the older goslings like the one at the front of the last picture- less fluffy and the black markings are starting to appear on the head. 

I managed to find what I think is the nest of a green woodpecker nearby. I kept hearing lots of noise at one tree and knew it was a nest but couldn't identify what species it belonged to. Then one day I saw a green woodpecker on the tree and saw some holes which look like woodpecker nests. With the sound on, you should be able to hear the noise in this clip.

This is what I think is probably this year's nest:

The cold winter and late spring has affected some local wildlife including the house martins. They arrived very late and are still in the process of building nests in the eaves of houses. I've yet to see any young poking out of them and I fear they may not produce any young this year. 

The BTO tagged another set of cuckoos this year and I was excited to see that one of them, Bowie, visited my patch two weeks ago. There are plenty of cuckoos not far away in the New Forest but I was surprised to see one so close to the town. Thanks to Bowie's visit a satellite view of my patch made a brief appearance on week 2 of Springwatch!

Bowie the Cuckoo (Source)
On 12th June Bowie left the UK to begin his long trip back to Africa and is well into France. You can follow his journey here.

I saw one of the Avon roe deer recently which looked absolutely stunning in it's summer coat. 

I've also seen plenty more insects this week such as this lovely blue-tailed damselfly.

I was particularly drawn to this individual due to it's bright pink thorax. The females of this species, of which this is one, have a variety of colour forms with this form known as "rufescens". 

I found several different species of longhorn beetles which are really distinctive insects.

Banded Longhorn Beetle
Spotted Longhorn Beetle

Stenurella melanura
There were lots of caterpillars out today too. Everywhere I looked there were these black ones:

These are probably alder leaf beetle larvae which means they are not technically caterpillars at all. A lot of people probably don't realise that all insects go through a similar metamorphosis to butterflies. This species was introduced to the UK in the 19th century but there were no records between 1946 and 2004. A colony appeared in Manchester in 2004 and then the species was found here in South Hampshire in 2014. 

I also saw small cinnabar moth caterpillars on lots of ragwort plants and on one plant they were quite well developed already. 

On a tree trunk there was a singular green caterpillar. 

This individual looked very vulnerable on the trunk as birds love to eat the green caterpillars. This is the larvae of a common quaker moth- this species flies in March and April so this individual will not become an adult moth the early spring next year. 

That's all for today but I shall be back next week with June's Nature News!

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Interesting Insects

The last few weeks have seen an explosion in the number and variety of insects around so today's post is an insect special!

Let's start off with a dragonfly, one I spotted sheltering in the long grass at the side of one of the lakes at Blashford.

This is a black-tailed skimmer, probably a female or an immature male due to the lack of clear anal appendages. This species was first recorded in the UK in 1934 but is now a common species. It is thought the creation of gravel pits is a factor in their increase as they like extensive open unvegetated areas. 

Like much of the UK, the most common dragonfly or damselfly species locally is the common blue damselfly

This species lives in a wide range of habitats from small ponds to rivers but is especially common around lakes and reservoirs. 

There are just two species of damselfly in the UK which have obviously coloured wings- they belong to the Calopteryx genus and are a type of damselfly known as demoiselles1

The more common of these two species is this one, the banded demoiselle. The spots on the wings start of as dark brown in immature males before developed into the black of adults. 

The other species is slightly less common, though is still fairly abundant and is the beautiful demoiselle

This similar species is generally only found in the west of the UK2.

I haven't seen that many moths yet this year but I did see one of the easiest to spot and identify, the cinnabar moth

As usual in nature, the bright markings are a warning to potential predators. They eat ragwort, a plant which is poisonous to mammals and unpleasant for birds to eat3.

Some moths are much harder to spot but if you look in the hedgerows and bushes you can spot all sorts of interesting species. 

This is a yellow-barred long-horn moth. This is a day-flying moth and you can tell from the pale tips to it's antennae that this individual is a female. Male antennae are actually twice as long as female antennae which seems ludacris- the antennae on males are four-times longer than the moth itself!

I am also discovering new insects I haven't seen before and they are endlessly fascinating. You might assume this species is some form of ladybird at first glance but when you more closely it doesn't seem to fit the bill. 

This is actually a red and black froghopper. Like the cinnabar moth, the markings highlight it's unpleasant taste to predators. This froghopper mainly gets its food from sucking the vegetable juices of grasses. It can both fly and jump up to 70 centimetres. 

A beetle next and this is a garden chafer.

I couldn't find much information about this beetle but I am intrigued by it's look- you don't see many insects with such different colored wing casing to the rest of the body. 

I'm seem a couple of interesting looking flies lately too. 

This fly belong to the genus Tenthredo and like many insects has the markings of a wasp despite being completely harmless. 

This one is of the genus Panorpa which means it's a type of scorpion fly. These are so called because the males have what looks like a scorpion tail but is actually claspers for mating- this individual is a female4. Scorpion flies scavenge dead insects are regularly steal food which is trapped in spider webs. Males are often killed by the females when they mate so they placate females with a present of a dead insect or a mass of saliva. 

To conclude, here are some recent photos of two more insects I've discussed on the blog before:

Swollen-thighed beetle

Roesel's bush cricket
That's all for today but there will be more next week with a focus on the larger wildlife I've seen lately.

Thanks also to Chris Brooks on for confirming the identities of many of these species.