Saturday, 31 December 2016

Saxon Mill - A year in review

Another year has passed and I have collected another 12 months of data on the fauna of the Saxon Mill.

This year I officially recorded:

53 species of Bird
2 species of Mammal
11 species of Butterfly
6 species of Dragonfly and Damselfly
1 species of Reptile

Of the birds, the graphic below shows the division by species.

This graphic shows species count over time showing a slight spring peak but being steady across the year indicating populations augmented by nearly as many winter visitors as summer ones.

2016 was a good year for Wrens and Kestrel and still dreadful for the Greenfinch with a single bird being recorded in February.

A new bird species was added this year - the Sedge Warbler bringing the total bird species count for the site to 92.

Banded Agrions showed well again this year with a narrow burst of active during their standard flight period.

I will continue to analyse the information and update the blog as I finish each part.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Badgers and Teal

For the past two weeks I have had some difficulty with my trail cameras. When the batteries run low, they no longer have the power to illuminate the IR LEDS at night and record a clip and so for some time I ve only had recordings of daytime passages, mostly Grey Squirrels.

Despite it not being too cold there has been much squabbling among the Grey Squirrels, with prolonged bouts of chasing.

Last week I managed to replace the batteries and so had evening footage for the last 7 days. This had included Wood Mice, Muntjac and of course Badgers. They seem particularly active this year and making the most of the foraging potential on my bit of land.

From the following few clips you can really see the Badger doing what it does best. Just off shot in one clip one Badger used its strong claws to dig out quite a deep hole. I m not sure what it was after, it could have been a bulb. The clips below show a nice demonstration of the eating machine a badger is. You can see the Badger using its powerful sense of smell to root through the leaf litter followed by little lunges forward and snapping of jaws to snuffle up the various invertebrates. Under the leaves the Badger will be hunting for worms, woodlice and earwigs. As you can see the badger is almost like a hoover moving around chasing these small invertebrates to get a meal.

The following night I captured another first, that was two badgers passing. It is common for there to be two or even three badgers together but they are always moving together in the same direction. In this case they are travelling in opposite directions and you get a nice piece of behaviour where the two individuals, obviously from the same sett, greet each other, check who they are before moving along.

Lastly I would like to conclude this post with a poor photo.For several years I have been attempting to photograph Teal on the river. I have great trouble as Teal are very nervous wildfowl and always see me well before I see them and either hide or take flight.

Today I was lucky enough to see three small duck fly down on to the mill pond. I was some distance away and the lighting was terribly dull and so the image below is the best I could get, but it shows a male teal. I have the shot in the bag, now I just need to improve it and get a better clearer one!!

Sunday, 27 November 2016

A marginally better view

Whilst I haven't posted much of late I have still been undertaking my usual round of birdwatching and camera trapping. Nothing terribly exciting has occurred lately although I have got a little footage of a pair of Grey Squirrels tussling and some of a badger foraging.

I have set my newer camera up on the same tree as the main camera and have it pointing down at right angles to the view of the other, this is to look at how many move away from the path and to catch and behaviour.

Obviously, at this time of the year, the entirety of the clips are of Grey Squirrels, although this week I did get a Badgers rear end and a Muntjac. More excitingly is the grainy few of the behind of a bird species I have only ever seen very briefly as I flush it from the undergrowth, a Woodcock. The footage isn't great, it's short and it never turns enough to show its longer beak, there is also over exposure from the IR bulbs, but you can see diagnostic black patches on the rear of the head and neck as well as patternation on the wings.

To end with we have the squabbling squirrels

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Why Ecology?

It’s been awhile since I have posted and that is due to how incredibly busy I have become over the last few weeks. I decided last year to top up my skills and take a second Masters course. After some searching, I found an interesting course run by Ulster University in Environmental Management with GIS. This course started in September and coincided with two other short courses I was taking via Coursera – Capstone projects in GIS and Biodiversity (Theories, Measures and Data Sampling measures).

I find all this studying, which some might find laborious endlessly fascinating. In fact, I would say that studying is my second favourite thing after being outside in nature. It got me thinking about why I love the subject of ecology so much.

I have always been interested in natural history from a very early age. My parents would take me and my sister for walks in the country and my Aunt got me into birdwatching. The more I saw the more I wanted to see and the more I wanted to know. The amazing thing about ecology is its complexity. Every piece of behaviour and distribution of a species is a result of hundreds of variables, climate, altitude, shelter, food, and predation and so on.
Last week Attenborough’s sequel to Planet Earth started. I have seen thousands of hours of wildlife footage and read reams on animal behaviour and yet every time the BBC finds something new to enthral me. In particular, I became transfixed by the baby Marine Iguanas and the Racing Snakes of the Galapagos. The footage was incredible and the story riveting but as I watched I could feel the ecologist stirring in me, questions began to form. The snakes seemed to by laying traps, was this collaborative behaviour with reasoned thoughts or was their positioning purely luck as a result of failed chases.

Like all of science, ecology offers more questions to every solution and that is perhaps this depth that attracts me. 

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Identification Caution

Following on from the last post I made regarding the identification of the new species of mammal down the mill I have an update.

Originally I believed the organism found to be a Water Shrew, I based this on the size and rough colouration of the pelt. Unsure I put out a plea for assistance on the Mammal Society Facebook page. Over the week the consensus came in that the image was in fact of a Common Shrew (Sorex sp.)

At the same time this was going on a paper was published in Nature called 'Species identification by experts and non-experts:comparing images from field guides' by researchers from the University of Kent. This research looked at how accurately experts and non-experts could identify images of UK Bumblebees.

They discovered that between experts and non-experts overall accuracy was 56%. This is a remarkably low figure especially given the increase in citizen science used in research these days, many of which I take part in myself such as Snapshot Serengeti. The study adds to other research conducted over the years looking at the efficacy of identification,

Obviously, experts have a higher strike rate but the fact is that much of community-sourced data uses a user base of with a wide range of skills from the novice to the professional. There are also an amazing array of very high-quality field guides that can help everyone improve their skills.
Nevertheless these types of papers ensure that we do not always take information at face value and that at some point each of us as wildlife enthusiasts must take responsibility for our own identifications.

As a younger birder I was convinced I had seen a flock of Twite and even included it in my notes, when questioned by the County Recorder it became apparent to me that I did not have the evidence to support my claim. It was a moment that made me think long and hard about what I record and with what confidence.

It is the responsibility of every wildlifer to  take care in their identifications and today with a plethora or guides, message boards, and forums it is much easier to crowdsource an ID. It is also the responsibility of the scientists to balance the error rate with the information they are collecting.
What is needed is balance in this field, citizen science allows the collection of far greater datasets than would ever be achieved with the use of experts alone something we cannot ignore and I don't think anyone can deny the value such projects bring to the field of ecology.

Use such studies as a warning to over interpretation and use each new identification as a learning point. I now know to check the teeth of shrews, the hairs on the hindfoot and the covering of the underside of the tail.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

A new species for the mill?

Today on my usual survey I came across a body. A body of a shrew. It is not uncommon to find dead shrews, they live fast and short lives. They have to eat almost constantly to maintain their high metabolism. Shrews also taste horrible. They actually have poisonous teeth and many predators find the taste of the flesh nasty and so many that get caught are just left.

This particular shrew caught my eye though, it was considerably larger than any other shrew I had seen and was differently coloured. Rather than the gentle gradation of brown to white the body seemed to be dark, almost black above and white below.

The image below shows the corpse. What out, the body is a little mangled.

The 50p coin shows that the shrew was approximately 70-80mm long.

I did a little research using an excellent site - Wildlife Kates blog to confirm that this could be a Water Shrew Neomys fodiens.

This is the first record I have made of this species at the Saxon Mill. I have seen Common Shrews with some regularity and even had one run into my shoe but this was the first evidence of this water specialist.

This takes the mammal count for the Saxon Mill up to 14.

Grey Squirrel
Bank Vole
Field Vole
Wood Mouse
Brown Rat
Common Shrew
Water Shrew

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Badger Behaviour

One of the best things of about collecting camera trap data is gathering some of the pieces of behaviour and inter-species interactions. This week saw an interestingly high activity of Badgers. This peaked  on Tuesday with up to three individuals moving up and down the hedge line through the night.

Just after 9 pm, the camera detected a Fox. He seems in good condition and still with black paws and ear tips. I like to (very unscientifically) think it is the cub born near the site two years ago. Something is making the Fox wary but he relaxed.

Two minutes later a large badger comes ambling past and encounters the fox, just out of shot.

Having chased the Fox off the Badger returns to its foraging.

Foxes and Badgers are not natural enemies, their diets do overlap and I have seen them coexist as well although in all cases it is the badger that instigates any aggressive behaviour.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Environment Secretary Response.

As you may recall I wrote a letter to our new Environment Secretary  well after some weeks I have got a reply.

I do not fault them for taking time because it was the summer and parliament was suspended but the response didn't exactly fill me with confidence. As you can see from the picture below, it is polite and encouraging but does not very inspiring, given the current extension of the Badger culling against scientific advice and without publicising last year's results.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Anyone for Cricket?

August is the month of the Grasshopper and Cricket. I first started to hear the orthoptrerans in the last week of July and today they were in full song. I decided to go to the racecourse where there is a large expanse of grassland.

I spent 20 minutes pacing about searching them out and had some success identifying at least 2 species, 1 Bush-Cricket and 1 Grasshopper as well as a couple of other invertebrate species.

Roesel's Bush Cricket (Metrioptera roeslli)

This is a 'relatively' new species to the area and is an indicator of a changing climate. It was originally only found on the south coast but increasing temperatures have led to the species moving steadily north. Its strident call and large size help to make it easy to see and appears now to be the dominant species in many grassland habitats in Warwick.

The species is a handsome one with a very distinctive yellow saddle on its pronotum.

The individual I was able to photograph was a female judging by its long curved ovipositor that only crickets possess. Interestingly this female was spotted just after mating, The white gel like mass is a spermatophore. Basically a packet of sperm that he deposits to the underside of the abdomen, enzymes then dissolve the skin and the sperm is released into the female to meet with the eggs. Once fertilised she will use the ovipositor to pierce grass and rush stems to lay the ovoid eggs.

Lesser Marsh Grasshopper (Chorthippus albomarginatus)

Elsewhere I found a tiny grasshopper, barely the length of my thumb nail. It had short thick antennae and a pinkish hue to it, This like the cricket is a female. It is a highly varied species with different colour morphs ranging from green to pinky purple.

An adult individual was recorded a short distance away.

Hoverfly (Chyrsotoxum verralis)

This species of hoverfly is a mimic of a wasp and it is only on close inspection is it clear that it is a fly and not a wasp. The key identification feature in this case is the fly like eyes that are very different to those of a wasp.

Here is a a common wasp (Vespa vulgaris) taken on a different day to compare

Spined Mason Bee (Osmia spinulosa)

This is a species I have never recorded before, Its a handsome little bee with a distinctive fringe of yellow hairs around an otherwise black body. They have a fascinating life cycle, choosing to nest in empty snail shells.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Warwick in Bloom

Earlier in the year I wrote to the local papers to publicly thank the District Council for planting a wildflower strip at St Nicholas Park. At the time there was some local resistance as it was claimed that it looked unsightly, this of course was the preparation phase and now I can report on how it looks in full bloom.

The council have planted a range of plants include Ox-eye Daisy, Cornflower and Corn Marigold. Today the strip was a buzz with bees and flies. I had hoped for more butterflies - I only saw a Large Skipper and a Meadow Brown but it was early in the day and there was a wind. 

Some of the species seen included:

Eristalis arbustorum

Harlequin Ladybird

Red-Tailed Bumblebee

Stenodema calcarata 

Honey Bee (Worker)

Friday, 22 July 2016

Letter to the Environment Secretary

As suggested in a previous post I have e-mailed our new Environment Secretary - Andrea Leadsom,
I would urge everyone to consider emailing her to champion the environment.

Here is what I sent:

Dear Mrs Leadsom,
Congratulations on your new cabinet post and for performing so well during the EU Referendum campaign. Having had a week or two to settle into your new role I felt it was time to ask you to consider the direction of DEFRA especially in the light of Brexit.
You have a real opportunity to have a positive impact on nature conservation in the UK, more so perhaps than any previous minister for this portfolio. The exit from the EU will need us to firmly take the reins of our own environmental policy and it is about time Britain became a world leader in this regard. I ask you to seriously consider the following points:
1. Retention of Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Impact Assessment. The UK has had good Town and Country Planning legislation since 1949 and there is no reason for this to relaxed.

2. Abandon CAP and replace it with a system that marries nature conservation techniques with sustainable production. A stewardship scheme that rewards landowners for protecting wildlife whilst still allowing them to make a living.

3. Continue to lead the way in Climate Change policy and drive technology to combat it this is a way in which the environment and industry can both profit.

4. Maintain species protection with the Wildlife and Countryside Act and protect species under the Hunting with Dogs legislation.

5. Honour the designations and species protection outlined in Natura 2000 including SPA and SAC sites.

6. Maintain and strengthen existing UK designations such as SSSI's and plan wildlife sites on a landscape level as well as the local - expanding the living landscape efforts of the Wildlife Trusts. Link site protection with local interests and facilitate people’s ability to connect with nature.

7. Maintain existing Marine Protection Areas and expand them to partner with maintaining Fishing stocks for a buoyant and sustainable fishing fleet.

8. Take a sensible look at Re-wilding as a means of restoring ecological balance. A prime example is of how Pine Marten recovery has helped curtail Grey Squirrels and aid Red Squirrels or how Beavers act as ecosystem engineers.

9. Readdress the idea of using vaccination to control TB in the Cattle population. The science goes against the current Badger cull policy and yet it is still in place.

10. Continue to focus on Local Biodiversity Action Planning but emphasise real world application rather than just reporting and public relations/education campaigns.

 I know that much of what I write may seem revolutionary to some but I really do feel it is time DEFRA took the lead and that you could be just the minister to do this.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope some of it strikes a chord and  can be implemented into policy.


Sunday, 17 July 2016

Our new environment secretary

With the change in leadership of the country following the Referendum we now have a new minister for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Ignoring that fact that I fundamentally disagree with the lumping together of the environment with food and rural affairs I thought I ought to take a moment to reflect on this new appointment.

We have had poor luck in this appointment in the past, the last two ministers  (Liz Truss and Owen Patterson) have presided over a department that maintained the status quo and it is hard to find any positive things they did for the environment, we all remember the introduction of the badger cull and the proposal to sell off the forests, the list goes on.

It lies with Andrea Leadsom to break this mold and shows us a minister who actually wants to improve the environment and not just watch it from the sidelines whilst drawing a pay check.
So who exactly is this Brexiteer conservative leader candidate.

She is a relatively new MP having only joined parliament in 2010. This inexperience is not something I hold against her. She was previously an Energy Minister which at least has some relation to environmental matters.

I decided to try and pick apart her voting record to look for pointers:

Voted in favour of a Green Investment Bank twice  
Voted against reducing carbon emissions to 20% of 1990 levels
Voted to reform the energy market to reduce carbon dioxide emissions twice
Voted not to exempt electricity generation plants using carbon storage from carbon emission limits
Voted against setting a target range for the amount of carbon dioxide per unit price of electricity generation
Voted to apply the climate change levy to electricity generated from renewable sources twice
Voted against charging 1st year vehicle tax based on emissions
Voted against a decarbonisation target
Voted not to reduce permitted carbon dioxide rates in new homes
Voted in favour of selling public forests in 2011
Voted for high taxes on planes 
Voted in favour of the Badger Cull twice
Voted against explicit need for environmental permits for fracking
Voted for a more extensive set of conditions to be put in place prior to fracking
Voted for more restrictions on fracking in National Parks and AONB's

This is quite a confusing list on the face of it, there seems to be significant good and bad votes here. This could mean that Andrea is open to constructive advice and that she at least considers matters before voting rather than sitting solidly behind an opinion and refusing to change her position. This could work both ways.

What does this mean for the environment..? To be honest I m not sure, Andrea however needs to be given the benefit of the doubt for now. The biggest thing I want Andrea to accept is the need to weigh scientific advice more highly than previous ministers have and to leave the economy to the business and treasury, her role is to safeguard the environment and the rural community.

I will be writing to Andrea this week to urge her to consider some matters, mostly those I have raised in previous blogs such as Brexit -what now for nature conservation?

I would like everyone that reads this blog to write to her and to get your friends to do likewise, lets make the department more environmentally aware again.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Wild Kingdom - A Book Review

It has been a while since I have written a book review and so I thought I would take a moment to write a little about this excellent book.

‘Wild Kingdom – Bringing back Britain’s Wildlife’ by Stephen Moss is a delightful read by a well regarded naturalist an author.
Stephen aside from his books is his work as the original producer of Springwatch. His first book was published in 1995 and was called ‘Birds and Weather’ and charted how birds were affected by climate change.

His latest book ‘Wild Kingdom’ is a whistle stop tour of habitats in the UK. He outlines how the wildlife in Britain has changed and what could be done to help improve matters.
Such a book could become depressing as disappearing species and habitat loss take their toll but Stephen manages to explain these losses in the context in which they occurred and offered sensible ways forward.

His prose are concise and yet lyrical, helping to conjure up the poetry of some of the species and the evoke landscapes and habitats of yesteryear. As a naturalist myself there was still much to learn from his book and it helped coalesce some of the ideas that are starting to drive my ecological theory of the direction Britain needs to move in to protect wildlife.

Each chapter explores a habitat in turn and describes the plights of different species in the face of the modern world. This includes species that have successfully adapted to our hectic lives and have found ways to flourish.

If I have one complaint it is that the book is not long enough. That is not to say that it is a short book, but that it is perhaps its easy readability that makes this book feel shorter than it is.

I highly recommend this highly accessible, thought provoking and informative book to anyone interested in the countryside and British wildlife.

As with all books these days it is available from Amazon other book retailers are available.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Professor Yaffle

Today was a somewhat mixed day. The wind was up and there were showers across the morning meaning that there was much about down my patch. I did spot some juvenile Great Tits and several Comma butterflies were seen taking to the wing. Instead I got my most interesting sight on the way home in the sheep fields next to Woodloes Lane - a Green Woodpecker.

Green Woodpeckers are surprisingly large birds. They happen to love this field. The sheep keep the grass short and there a plenty of yellow meadow ant nests for them to feast on. I managed to get some nice shots before it was frightened away by some Woodpigeons.

Professor Yaffle from the childrens programme Bagpuss was based on the Green Woodpecker. Yaffle is an old name for the woodpecker based on its laughing call.

The individual I saw was a juvenile. One of this years young. You can tell this by its colouration. There are more more patches of grey on the bird as if someone hasn't quite finished colouring it in yet.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Brexit - What now for nature conservation?

Unless you have been under a rock the EU referendum result has been one of the most important national votes in a lifetime and will have a major impact on the world as we know it living in Britain.
There are multiple policy areas that need consideration and the environment and nature conservation whilst not necessarily high on everyone's agenda is vital.

The vote has been held and we are on our way out, whether it be full exit or just a Norway-like retention of the European Economic Area (EEA) lying in the future one clear fact is that nature conservation needs to be considered.

There is considerable doom surrounding the result of the referendum but I try to remain optimistic. Perhaps now is an opportunity to build a nature conservation policy to be a flagship of the world.

Many organisations including large NGO's like the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts alongside think tanks and policy review boards have already began to address this issue. What will the environment be like post Brexit. In some cases things may look slightly worse, definitely in the short term but so much of it unfortunately hangs on the fate of our economy. Money conquers all even where wildlife is concerned.

So what do the experts of see? The UK and EU group at Kings College London have produced a Expert Review report  to examine some of the impacts and options. This hefty tome is a dense and thorough report and well worth a read in and of itself. I will distill some of its findings here before making some suggestions of my own.

Environmental Policy
The EU had a preventative approach to environmental policy and forced the UK to adopt many directives that have in no doubt aided the conservation movement. The following table taken from the report shows how the various laws would be affected if we entered into an EEA agreement. As you can see most of the important policy areas will be covered unfortunately the Birds and Habitats Directives are vital to nature conservation and will not be applicable regardless of the routes forward we take.
Climate Policy
The UK was a leader within the Union on emissions reductions and so it would make sense that this would not change in an independent Britain.

Energy Policy
Energy policy is closely linked to Climate policy. EU policy still allowed the development of individual policies in home nations which has led to the UK  being one of the few to develop shale as as an energy resource, however the UK led the way in market liberalisation of renewable energy in Europe.

Agricultural Policy
The biggest part of European agricultural policy is the Common Agricultural Policy which was more of an economic measure than an environmental one. In fact since its inception it has had an overall negative environmental impact, increasing water and air pollution and accelerating the decline of farmland birds. The inevitable economic troubles as a result of Brexit could increase intensification and thereby worsen the situation.

Fisheries Policy
Fishing is a key area of environmental policy in the UK and the Common Fisheries Policy has improved the UK's sustainability and Brexit will necessitate renegotiation of fishing rights.

So what do  I think we need and bear in mind that this may well be 'pie in the sky'

1. Retention of Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Impact Assessment. The UK has had good Town and Country Planning legislation since 1949 and there is no reason for this to relaxed.

2. Abandon CAP and replace it with a system that marries nature conservation techniques with sustainable production. A stewardship scheme that rewards landowners for protecting wildlife whilst still allowing them to make a living.

3. Continue to lead the way in Climate Change policy and drive technology to combat it.

4. Maintain species protection with the Wildlife and Countryside Act

5. Honor the designations and species protection outlined in Natura 2000 including SPA and SAC sites.

6. Maintain and strengthen existing UK designations such as SSSI's and plan wildlife sites on a landscape level as well as the local - expanding the living landscape efforts of the Wildlife Trusts. Link site protection with local interests and people to connect people with nature.

7. Maintain existing Marine Protection Areas and expand them to partner with maintaining Fishing stocks for a buoyant and sustainable fishing fleet.

8. Take a sensible look at Re-wilding as a means of restoring ecological balance. A prime example is of how Pine Marten recovery has helped curtail Grey Squirrels and aid Red Squirrels or how Beavers act as ecosystem engineers.

9. Readdress the idea of using vaccination to control TB in the Cattle population.

Instead of Brexit being a disaster I see this as an opportunity. The various members of the NGO's such as the RSPB have huge memberships and currently the various political parties are in such throes of indecision that they will need all the support they can get to gain or retain power. The vote was just as much as challenge to the government and the political elite as it was to the EU and now is a chance for us to hold them to account.

This will not be easy. Money has always out fought conservation and it will be hard to persuade the city that the environment is an important asset.

Prepare for battle my friends for now we have the chance to remake environmental policy or see it destroyed in front of us.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Happy Families

I must apologise that there have been so few posts this month. June is always a busy month for educationalists and at this time I am marking exam papers for OCR which is eating up most of my online time. However, I just have this opportunity to make this quick post with footage I got from hedge cam showing a badger family out for a forage.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Otter Cam - renamed Perch Cam

Otter Cam is now up and running however finding a suitable location is proving difficult. Its hard to get to a good location by the river which has a handy tree to lock it to and is away from prying eyes.
So I wasn't completely disappointed I positioned it overlooking a perch which might catch some interesting birds.

When I checked the camera 3 days after installations I had 755 activation's each 10 seconds long all were triggered by a wayward nettle and revealed a single Moorhen and a couple and of course this magnificent chap on the perch.

In the nest few days Otter/Perch cam will be moving to the backwater stream and be situated a little lower down.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

HS2 good for wildlife...really?

This week’s blog post is more of an essay based on some ideas raised in the May issue of the BBC Wildlife Magazine. Within its pages was a thought provoking article by a long standing columnist for the magazine and a well known conservation voice. Chris Baines is a nationally respected naturalist who has for the past 30 years and in his article he raised the idea that HS2 could be good for wildlife.
HS2 or High Speed 2 Rail link ( is one of my major concerns. The massive infrastructure project aims to link London to Birmingham and then Birmingham to Manchester promising faster travel time between the various cities. I have followed the development of the case for HS2 since its inception with suspicion and cynicism. For me, the need for it nor the cost of it has been justified. Every major party wants it and regardless of local views it looks like this white elephant is going to happen regardless.

The impact of this rail project is particularly dear to me as it passes through Warwickshire and cuts through many areas of lovely countryside. Stated like that lovely sounds weak and feeble against the overbearing financial and commercial need, but Warwickshire is already rapidly conurbating despite containing no cities within its confines. The treasures on its line may not be much to the planners in London but to us the 250 year old Pear Tree is a vital part of our community (
 ,as are the woods such as Ufton, South Cubbington and Crackley that are bisected by the proposed line.

How then could Baines’ idea of it being good for wildlife be true? I read the article carefully and allowed the ideas to percolate through until I could begin to see where Chris was coming from. The route is fixed and some mitigation is occurring, rare species and meadows will be relocated and tunnels and cuttings are being placed to minimise the impact; however there will still be the baseline damage of its presence and the damage inherent to its construction phase. What Chris proposes is using a fraction of the £42 billion project to regenerate wildlife along the length of the route, suggesting a 480 km long wildlife corridor stretching 1km either side in a buffer zone.
This zone would have new habitats created, existing ones managed and improved and access to people extended. He suggests a cycle path along its length. Suddenly this idea becomes more attractive. Do not get me wrong I am still in opposition to the development but it seems inevitable now that it will go ahead and so perhaps are focus needs to shift to one of damage limitation. Is this defeatism or realism? I’ll let you decide that for yourselves.

Mitigation in projects like this are not always like for like. The government promises not net loss of biodiversity but then again it believes that offsetting the destruction of a wood with the planting of an equal number of trees is not net loss. This is not the case, newly planted trees have fraction of the biodiversity that mature trees do and so will not reach their potential for a generation. A time they may not have as being just saplings with little biodiversity at the start they are more susceptible to predation by other developers such as industry or housing.

 I do not feel we have a good tradition of protecting habitats in this country. This is not a new phenomenon at all; in fact it goes back to the enclosures act starting in the 17th Century.  Today development either industrial or agricultural has created a landscape in which species are parceled up into small enclosures of their own.  This is evident in Warwickshire, if you want to see a particular species you must go out to a specific location. I know if I want to see Yellowhammer, as I did a few weeks ago, I must go to a set location. No more do you walk in the countryside and encounter the wealth and range of species. If I want to see water-birds and waders I go to Brandon Marsh, Butterflies I go to Ryton Woods. How is this any different to zoos in which select species are contained with an enclosure? How are the bars of a cage any different to the hostile sterile farmland surrounding an ancient woodland?

So how does this all fit in with Baines’ view. Perhaps it is time for us to really challenge the development on their grounds, if it is going to happen let it benefit the wildlife for those the route blights. We in Warwickshire will get no benefit to the line, there are no stops in the county and it is in fact likely to reduce the number of trains between London and Birmingham stopping at our existing stations. There is a chance here to show development and redevelopment hand in hand. To create a world class network of wild spaces for all to enjoy, one that supports nature, naturalists, walkers, runner, cyclists, the list goes on.  Sometimes you have to take what you can get, idealism is all well and noble but realism may just be what gets us through.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Swan Update and a Snake

Today I had a busy day, checking my trail cam and doing my usual patch survey and then later checking on the swans.

My trail cam, after a period of problems, is now working well again and this week recorded a resurgence in badger activity.

Elsewhere on the patch it was unusually quite, The Whitethroats were busy singing but apart from that there were remarkably few birds in evidence. I spent a lot of my time counting Banded Demoiselles and the butterflies. I also kept an eye out for snakes. Yesterday had been cool and wet but today was very warm in the sun and I thought that if I checked suitable basking spots I stood a remote chance of getting a glimpse. I carefully approached all the suitable sites but to no avail, but when I was returning from my camera and I had forgotten to look for them I spotted one. It saw me well in advance and was already slithering off the thick patch of drift material. It was a soft tan brown perhaps only 60 cm long and only about as thick as a stick of rock. I first thought it could have been a slow worm but a swift glance at the head showed yellow marks at the neck meaning that it was a Grass Snake.

In the afternoon I decided I wanted to confirm the arrival of my Mute Swans. During the week I had noted their hatching and from a distance counted 8 cygnets. I wanted to confirm this and whenever I went down to see she had taken them back on the nest and they were barely visible.

Luckily today the adults had taken the brood out along the canal and I was able to catch them as they returned to the nest for the evening. There are indeed 8 cygnets. This is only the second brood in Warwick to have 8 cygnets in the last 10 years.

From the canal I headed to St Nicholas Park. I had heard one of the pairs had hatched 6 cygnets and the other was still on the nest.
On arrival I quickly saw that both nests were empty, and that a single cygnet less pair were on the Kingfisher Pool. So either the nest failed or they had hatched during the week and all been predated/killed. There were no egg shells in the nest and no grey feathers at all which suggests to me that either no eggs were laid at all or all the eggs were taken.

Whilst looking for the cygnets I spotted a rare visitor to Warwick, a Great Crested Grebe. They visit the lake occasionally in the summer and this one was roosting on the water. It looked sound asleep but was well aware of all around it, quickly paddling free still in the sleeping position when I or a swan approached,

From Kingfisher Pool I moved on to the river and found the Pen with 4 cygnets further down river. She had started with 6 and so had lost 2 in the intervening weeks.

This means that in Warwick from 5 known nests 19 cygnets have hatched so far and 17 survive. A good year so far. Only one nest is unknown at the moment - Rock Mill.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Weekend Photo Diary

This weekend I was reminder of how nice it is to live in Warwick. I have the benefit of a fairly well resourced town surrounded by the countryside. The thing with Warwickshire is that it is a little bit forgotten. It is a little too south in the Midlands to be bothered with and too far north for the Cotswolds to include, we have no major cities although we are criss-crossed by multiple motorways. We have no major lakes, country renowned reserves, no mountains and no coastline. This means it is often overlooked by programmes such as Countryfile or Countrywise. This is not necessarily a bad thing but I do feel we are a little side-lined.

This weekend I managed to get out and about a lot. Firstly on Saturday morning I was faced with a multitude of possibilities, would I check on the Swan, look for Rabbits in Priory Park, look for Farmland Birds up 'Volvo Lane' or visit the racecourse to watch skylark.

I started by cycling down to the canal on my estate to check on my local swans, by my reckoning they are ready to hatch any day now, but still there was no activity. From there I rode north remembering that in a small paddock next to the tow path and cemetery Rabbits could often be seen, and they did not disappoint. A pair of young rabbits sat enjoying the sun among the daisies. It may surprise you to know that young rabbits are called 'Kittens' Note the smaller rounded ears and the disproportionate size of the eye in relation to the body, other than the overall small size these are key indicators of youth.

From the rabbits I continued up the canal through the industrial estate and out in the countryside between Hampton Magna and Hatton. I was hoping to catch Yellowhammer. I was able to hear them but was caught between the canal and hedgerow. So, I turned round and headed for the place I always see Yellowhammer, that is Wedgenock Lane called 'Volvo Lane' by our family. Its pretty flat and runs up to the edge to the hills that ring Warwick. I had nearly given up hope when on the way back I spotted this brilliant yellow bird on the telegraph wire, refusing to give up its tell tale song of 'little bit of bread and no cheeeese'. These birds are so bright that they remind me of canaries.

Aside from the Dunnock, Whitethroat and Pheasants in the hedgerows I also saw an excellent little bird normally reserved for the winter. Flitting along the hedges, trying hard to stay outside the range of my camera where some Linnet. These little grey brown birds have a delightful song when sing.

And so back to home where in the garden I was met by the first of this years baby Starlings. The young themselves look nothing like their gaudy parents and their drabness reminds me of the ugly duckling.

Later that evening I went down to bait my Camera Trap with peanuts, disappointing I found that it was no longer working. Although two years in continuous service isn't bad for an electrical device and I was able to replace it with my smaller Acorn model with which this morning I got the following pictures. Badgers love peanuts.

Sunday morning and it was time for my usual survey around m,y patch at the Saxon Mill. Despite the good weather things were pretty quiet. Don't get me wrong the birds were all singing loudly but none of what I call my specials were about (Kingfishers, Woodpeckers, Buzzards). I did however see the first Banded Agrions (Demoiselles) of the year. In a few weeks their number will rocket until the whole riverside is covered in a cloud of blue and green.

Out in the main field I noted the Whitethroats had stopped singing as much, this is an indication that they have paired up and are now on nests. A single adult remained singing from a song perch. These dull birds with unsurprisingly white throats have an exquisite song.

Again back home this afternoon and sat in the garden once more I was treated to the arrival of the first juvenile Robin. I reckon it had barely fledged, its mouth was still in full gape, its tail feathers short and ragged and its flight tentative and wobble.

So much to see and hear just on the doorstep.

**** STOP PRESS***
I have just received news that one of the St. Nicholas pair of Swans has hatched 6 cygnets. I ll be looking for them next week.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

To Bee or not to Bee

Forgive the terrible pun but I thought it apt to title a blog post about bees with a quote from the counties birthday boy - Shakepeare.

A few months ago I attended the Warwickshire Recorders Meeting Conference, the first one I have managed to go to. It was a revelation, a great group of people and fascinating talks. One of the talks was by Steven Falk who presented his latest book - the Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland. Now I have to report a vested interest at this stage in that I know Steven. He worked for many years as the Keeper of Natural History at Warwickshire Museums Service. I met him several times and he even reviewed a copy of my first book.

Steven is a consummate ecologist, his passion for the subject is apparent the minute you are in his presence, he has written widely on wildflowers and trees but he is a magnificent entomologist. His book, illustrated by the equally talented Richard Lewington, is a masterpiece bridging the gap between the novices ID guide and a professional scientific key.

In his talk Steven regaled us with some of the stories he gathered during his time researching and writing the book. I attempted to buy a copy of the book but was somewhat deficient in the wallet department instead I ordered the book from Bloomsbury and waited the few days for it to arrive,

The book is beautifully presented with superb illustrations and descriptive text, opening up an entirely new world to me.

Since its arrival I have been dying to give it a whirl, today I managed to put aside some time and the weather was good enough for me to go on a bee hunt.

I started in the garden at the comfrey plants. Comfrey always attract bees and I did not have to wait long before a Bumblebee appeared and started flitting from flower to flower. I decide my best bet for identification was to obtain a photo of each species as I encountered them. This however was a lot harder than you might imagine. Bees move quickly and sometimes erratically and unless the flower is open then they have a tendency to disappear from view. 

The first Bee I identified with the book was this one:

This species I identified as Bombus hortorum, fittingly the Garden Bumblebee.

Also frequenting the Comfrey was a second species that proved a bit more difficult to ID,

After a little searching I was able to identify this Bee as Bombus pratorum, the Early Bumblebee. The most fascinating thing about this bee was the enormous pollen baskets on its legs.

On the brick wall of the conservatory there is a small hole into which a screw once held a trellis. As I passed I noticed another bee taking an interest, this I new had to be a mason bee and is this helped get me to the right place in the book revealing it to be Osmia bicornis, the Red Mason Bee.

These are an innocuous but pretty looking bees that are solitary and nest in small holes in bricks.

Venturing further afield I went down to the canal, ostensibly to check to see if the swans had hatched yet, they hadn't, but I also new several bees frequented the ivy that lined the towpath. Sadly there were none present at all, but on the way home I spotted a number of bees hovering beside a wall and entering cracks at its base. A first glance might make you think they were wasps but they are in fact Bees.

This species presented me with considerable difficulty, the more I looked the more confused I got and the more they looked the same. The book gave me a great starting place, they were obviously of the genus Nomada but getting closer than that was starting to prove difficult, but yet again Steven was able to help included alongside his book he has a vast flickr site with hundred and hundreds of photos, Stevens Flickr Page this helped me to narrow it down to Nomada marshmella, Marsham's Nomad Bee. This took some time due to the arrangement of the stripes on the abdomen and which ones met in the middle and which did not. The picture however nicely picks out the three ocelli on the top of the head, these are simple eyes, nothing more than basic photoreceptors useful for detecting movement.

So what can I say in conclusion? The book is well worth a purchase you will be amazed by the diversity of bees in the country although patience is most definitely required to first get closer enough to see or photo the bee and then work through the keys and pictures to a conclusion. If you love beautiful books, finding out more about nature or love bees then this is the book for you.

If you want to purchase your own copy you can from good bookstores and Amazon