Do we ever get this right? by Jonathan Thomson

In 1949, Aldo Leopold (one of the founders of modern conservation) compiled his essays into a book called A Sand County Almanac. One essay describes a lesson, which is hard to learn.

In the early 1900’s, Wolves were cleared from many areas of wilderness in the USA. The underlying view being that wolves predated too heavily and man could manage the deer herds more effectively, and by doing so, increase numbers for hunters. This move was predicated on a belief, that humankind knows best. The result of the intervention was catastrophic at an ecosystem level, and in time the wolves were reintroduced. From this historical episode came the key ecological concept of Trophic Cascade.

Leopold was in my mind, over the last weekend and early this week, when we tried to relocate a swarm of wild honey bees into a new wild-beehive. The entire process took 3.5 days, and with hindsight, I am really not sure this was the right thing to do. Our intervention felt so cack-handed at times and it wil be instructive to see if this swarm thrives. Throughout Matt Somerville was amazing, sharing advice and insights!

I have always believed that natural processes are best left! Why don’t we trust in nature to know best? Why are we compelled to intervene? What arrogance to think we know what is the correct course of action, when it comes to a system as complex as nature. What mistakes this arrogance leads to….

The beautiful swarm, which I found hanging from a young oak at UWNR. It had been exposed for too many days assaulted by cold winds, driving rain & cold nights - my concern was it wouldn’t survive, even in the short term.

The beautiful swarm, which I found hanging from a young oak at UWNR. It had been exposed for too many days assaulted by cold winds, driving rain & cold nights - my concern was it wouldn’t survive, even in the short term.


Chris Nicholson, Keggie and I moved the swarm to the new log hive using a borrowed skep. With Matt guiding us, we positioned the skep underneath the virgin log wild-hive. The expectation was that within a 12-36 hour window the swarm would walk up the hive to security, safety and warmth. It didn’t!

Chris Nicholson, Keggie and I moved the swarm to the new log hive using a borrowed skep. With Matt guiding us, we positioned the skep underneath the virgin log wild-hive. The expectation was that within a 12-36 hour window the swarm would walk up the hive to security, safety and warmth. It didn’t!

36 hours after moving the swarm I returned to find this! The bees had started to build comb into the skep itself and hadn’t shifted upward, as expected. It was just so wrong! Another phone call to Matt. The decision was made to slice the new comb off, so I could fit the base plate on the new hive. The thinking - exposed, the hive woud probably survive the spring and summer, but would perish in the harsh weather of the winter. With the base plate fitted the swarm would be secure and protected. But longer term??

36 hours after moving the swarm I returned to find this! The bees had started to build comb into the skep itself and hadn’t shifted upward, as expected. It was just so wrong! Another phone call to Matt. The decision was made to slice the new comb off, so I could fit the base plate on the new hive. The thinking - exposed, the hive woud probably survive the spring and summer, but would perish in the harsh weather of the winter. With the base plate fitted the swarm would be secure and protected. But longer term??

It really has worked!!!! by Jonathan Thomson

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Building the Barn Owl Barn was a bit of a punt - click on this tab to read the reasoning that gave rise to this project.

Recent camera trap images show that this habitat is now being used by the UWNR Barn Owls, as hunting territory. Dates on the images also show that the bird is repeatedly using the barn on nights when the weather makes open field hunting impossible. For example, there are multiple images on the night of April 26th, as Storm Hannah swept across the UK.

Build the Wall, Build the Wall, Build the Wall, Build the Wall..... by Jonathan Thomson

Last week Jack, my good friend Pip Morgan and I built a dry-stone wall at UWNR. This south facing, sheltered habitat will provide basking places for the resident Adders and Grass Snakes, homes for invertebrates like 'Masonry' (or 'mortar') Bees and perhaps even habitat for small mustelids (stoats or weasels). UWNR doesnt have this habitat within its bounds, so this is a valuable addition.

The dry-stone wall is situated beside the raised bank, which the Adders occupy, and close to the Grass Snake haunts - they favouring the lake and sedge marsh.

The dry-stone wall is situated beside the raised bank, which the Adders occupy, and close to the Grass Snake haunts - they favouring the lake and sedge marsh.


A Revolutionary! by Jonathan Thomson

At the end of our wild beehive-making workshop, at UWNR last Saturday, someone described Matt Somerville as a revolutionary – I think this fits! Matt is turning the honeybee-keeping world on its head, in the best possible way, forcing us to re-think how we see these creatures.

Modern commercial bee keeping exploits this species, extracting honey for our consumption, with dire consequences. Our harvesting interferes with too many of the bee’s natural processes & needs – some examples;

  • Life giving & sustaining honey is extracted and replaced with sugar and soy solution - this replacement is seriously sub-optimal

  • Hives are built to enable honey to be easily extracted, but the design places stress on the bee - they lack insulation and are configured with internal panels, which runs counter to their wild & natural hive design

  • Swarming, which is a natural part of the bee life cycle, is suppressed

  • Queens are killed and replaced before they live out their natural lives

  • Hives are placed in close proximity to each other - doing this enables the spread of disease

Modern commercial bee keeping is akin to modern dairy farming – exploitative, with not enough regard for the well being of the animal.

Matt’s hives and his overall approach, redresses these issues – bees are treated as wild animals. In the wild honeybees naturally home in hollow trees and these hives replicate this. And the honey is theirs, not ours. There is 1 species of honeybee in all of Europe and Africa, and these wild hives may help this lone species survive & thrive.  A hands-on revolutionary leading a revolution!

These pics show us at work making 7 new log hives, which will be placed in Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset…

Atilio close to completing his work, gouging out his larch log hive. A competed log hive stands behind Atilio…..

Atilio close to completing his work, gouging out his larch log hive. A competed log hive stands behind Atilio…..

Matt working on the hackle, which sits on the top of the log hives.

Matt working on the hackle, which sits on the top of the log hives.

The team at work…..

The team at work…..

 

Good things just keep happening..... by Jonathan Thomson

About a year ago Jack Sanford starting doing the highest level (Conserver) John Muir Award, at UWNR. In many respects, this is an apprenticeship with a small A. Over this time he has achieved so much - Jack has learnt about the ecology at UWNR and completed practical environmental management tasks – a few examples:

  • Cleared trees from the largest bramble patch to enable more sunlight penetration and grow butterfly feeding habitat

  • Felled and cleared large trees creating a sunny south-facing bug glade with shelter-belts to the north, west and east

  • Brought in Dormouse test tubes - cleaned and sorted, ready for repair.

  • Cleared south-facing adder glades

  • Completed repair of all Dormice test tubes and put these out into the landscape

  • Placed slate & stone slabs into the bug-glade. Prepared the ground by cutting turfs and exposing earth

  • Removed large cut logs from the Barn Owl field to enable grasses to grow and support the field vole population

  • Checked moth traps and identified moths trapped overnight  

Part of the John Muir Award stipulates that Jack act as an advocate. In sum, he has to communicate to others what he has learnt and what he has done at UWNR. To achieve this, Jack guides visitors who come to UWNR. Last week Peter Gulliver visited UWNR – Peter is a very experienced & knowledgeable local naturalist who specializes in Bat ecology. After his visit and guided talk, Peter emailed this feedback to me: 

Clearly Jack is passionate about all of the achievements and I was surprised at his depth of knowledge. He described so many aspects from the breeding and hibernation cycles of the lake, the grass snakes and the mice and vole populations. His understanding of the various methods of coppicing and pollarding associated with the needs of the crowded Oaks demonstrates a broad breadth of knowledge. Then the Bees, the Butterfly areas, the Owls and the Badgers. He was able to confidently answer all of my questions with sound responses and expand when necessary. 
He is a mature young man with acomprehensive knowledge of UWNR & understands the intricacies of managing a Nature Reserve. It was a pleasure to have him guide my tour. 
 

WOW!!!! 

 And the other bit of good news….the Barn Owls have started to use the new Barn Owl barn – another WOW! 

This image shows both Barn Owl pooh and a downy feather. I found about 6 other chalky, white poohs and downy feathers. So 3 months after completing the new barn, it is being used as it should – a valuable winter hunting habitat for the resident Barn Owls.  ,

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Possibly, Probably, Definitely – Part 2 by Jonathan Thomson

Last Thursday, Jack and I were doing another day of tree felling in the main woodland. This tree thinning is part of the natural winter cycle of sensitive management at UWNR and it produces woodland with more space, light and air. In turn, this gives rise to a healthier and more verdant woodland. A wonderful by-product of this thinning is the production of tons of brush – these we stack in long ribbons, which weave there way though the landscape (see pic below). These provide valuable habitat for invertebrates, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds.  An example of this is the growth of the Wren population at UWNR – as the brush piles have expanded so has the population of this wonderful small bird. 

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As we were working, Jack noticed a woven nest deep in the middle of one of the old brush ribbons. We spent some time investigating it – we were concerned that it was occupied. We assessed that the leaves, moss and grass bark were old, dry and brittle – our conclusion; this was a nest from the winter of 2017 – 18. We very gently retrieved it and then slowly prized it open – it was empty. Given all the descriptions I have read and photographs I have seen, my immediate thought was that we had discovered a Dormouse (winter) hibernating nest. They are more tightly woven and bigger than their summer nests. Dormice favour situating these nests on the ground, in shade and amongst cover – this situation fitted all of those features. 

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In 2009, Sue Eden wrote a groundbreaking book called Living with Dormice – this book challenges much of the orthodox thinking, around this charismatic species. She states that Dormice are probably equally at home in a woodland setting with species like lime, ash and oak, as they are in hazel coppice or hedgerow.  The nest Jack found was in the heart of native deciduous woodland – a mix of ash, oak, lime, and field maple. A fit with Eden’s findings. 

The next step is to have expert verification of both Dormice nests (the summer nursery nest and the winter hibernating version), which have been found at UWNR in the past 6 months. Friends and ecologists, Gareth and Lisa, will do this in due course...so more to come! 

Fighting for Nature…. by Jonathan Thomson

Fight 1: 

Jack and I have now finished a key task of our seasonal winter work. After 3 days of really demanding work we have conservation-laid this stretch of hedge, which was last touched perhaps 20-30 years ago.  The larger hawthorn trees were 30 feet in height and they put up a fight! And it came at a cost – I have two very badly infected fingers (one still partly paralyzed), a decent sized gash across the palm of my left hand and multiple nicks on my face. Somehow, Jack is unscathed! But the payback will be huge – now another hedge at UWNR is deep, broad, dense and complex. It will grow quickly to offer a rich habitat to a variety of species.  I love this method of hedge management – it just makes sense – despite the fight!

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 Fight 2: 

I received an email this week from Mark Avery, announcing the launch of Wild Justice. Mark is working with Chris Packham and Ruth Tingay to bring the law to bear on those who flout it and bring destruction to our species and our land. Mark fights relentlessly for nature and I would ask each of you to read about what Wild Justice is aiming to achieve, and in turn, support them. (I would also recommend reading Inglorious, Conflict in the Uplands, by Avery. This book lifts the lid on how a very small number of elites (wealthy white males) assault our environment, for what is called country sports. I have included a disturbing pic below, which illustrates just one aspect of this destruction.).  

This is what Packham writes on the Wild Justice website: 

Wild. Justice.  Because the wild needs justice more than ever before. The pressures wrought upon our wildlife have reached a crisis point and this is an essential response…Our wildlife has been abused, has been suffering, exploited or destroyed by criminals for too long. Well, no longer. Wild Justice will at last be the voice of those victims and it will be heard . . . and justice will be served.

Write here…

 

Winter happenings... by Jonathan Thomson

In his legendary book, Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape, Oliver Rackham writes about the importance of dead and rotting standing wood, in the UK landscape. This specific habitat provides territory for a range of invertebrates & fungus, many only found in decaying standing timber. Birds like woodpeckers and tree creepers take advantage of this habitat, for food and nesting. This habitat is far less prevalent now - many woodlands are overly cleared of diseased & dying trees and our Health and Safety culture designates these trees as dangerous. (At time of writing this blog, Surrey Wildlife Trust is felling 100’s of Ash trees, which may or may not have dieback, in the name of Health and Safety. And the timber is being sold for bio-electricity generation - SHAMEFUL on every level! Dan Harvey and Heather Ackroyd are fighting to halt this crime against nature).

The great Ted Green (who grew up with the ancient Oaks of Windsor Great Park, knows everything there is to know about ancient trees and woodland, and set up the Ancient Tree Forum) developed a simple innovation to help redress the loss of this valuable habitat - strap boughs to trunks and leave them to decay and rot.

Each winter at UWNR I thin the main woodland of some trees, to enable species like light hungry oak to thrive. The timber which is produced is used as fuel and is stacked on the ground in piles to rot - providing habitat for fungus, invertebrates and amphibians. This year, these methods have been complimented by creating multiple dead standing trees - slow decomposition will draw in yet more species to UWNR.

Thanks to Jamie and Jack for their help with this….

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I stayed over-night at UWNR last week, to maximise the length of my tree thinning day, and on Thursday morning, in the pre-dawn dark gloom, I observed this from the barn. I took this shot through the window, in near darkness, so the quality is poor. Heartening that there are two Barn Owls - so far so good this winter, for these precious birds.

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The Underhill Wood Nature Reserve (UWNR) 2018 list of great things! by Jonathan Thomson

  • In very early spring, a re-wilding, freedom beehive was installed and was colonised quickly. UWNR now has a thriving colony of wild (and very healthy) Bees. Thank you Matt Somerville for all your work with this….

  • The local Buzzards had 2 chicks, in a roughly hewn nest, in one of the large Ash trees at the land. They fledged successfully and are sighted over-flying UWNR, from time to time.  

  • We carved out another south-facing insect and butterfly glade, in the main woodland. It thronged with life, throughout the summer of 2018. 

  • The Grass Snake population significantly expanded – on a single day in mid-summer I counted 7 snakes. The lake has developed and matured, enabling this reptile to increase in number. 

  • The Barn Owls had another brood. This was after the upsetting loss of a Barn Owl in the second ‘Beast from the East’, in March 2018. 

  •  The Wessex Home Education Group became a central feature at UWNR. They now attend regular John Muir Award sessions where we focus on specific aspects of ecology. For example we have covered Barn Owls and Dormice – their behaviours, habitat needs and their morphology. 

  • The now mature lake attracted a range of birds – some examples; a hunting Kingfisher was a regular summer visitor, a Heron would swoop in to hunt on occasion, Little Grebes produced two broods and Mallard ducks are year round residents now. 

  • Working with the amazing Hugo Brooke, from Butterfly Conservation, we conducted a number of moth surveys from April to September. The highlight this year was trapping and identifying a Double Kidney, which is not that common. Hugo has been trapping for decades and he had never seen this species! Thanks Hugo. 

  • The newly planted heritage orchard bore fruit for the first time, and we nursed the trees through the punishing drought of 2018. They are now thriving and in 2019 will provide flowers for a variety of pollinators, and fruit for various vertebrates / invertebrates. 

  • We carried out our annual Bat Survey in September confirming the species, which we had previously trapped or detected. A big thanks to ecologists Lisa Wade and Gareth Evans for managing this. 

  • We constructed an eco-barn, which mimics a farm barn found in lowland England prior to the agri-business onslaught & related catastrophe. It will provide habitat for small mammals, the Barn Owls, Bats and Swifts, Swallows & House Martins. Thank you Will and Izaak Bergstrom for running this project.  

  • In springtime the lake produced a multitude of frogs and toads. Perhaps millions? Perhaps hundreds of thousands? Certainly, more than tens of thousands. Protein for everyone! 

  • We constructed a wooden barrier across a section of the stream, which runs through UWNR – this now provides winter hibernating habitat for toads and frogs. 

  • The annual butterfly survey was completed in July – we have now counted 17 species at UWNR. In this part of southwest Wiltshire 21 species is considered to be a high-count number – UWNR compares favourably. A big thanks to Arthur Bryant from Butterfly Conservation, who conducts the annual survey.  

  • Water Shrews were seen on a few occasions – he and she being equipped with venomous saliva! 

  • In early winter, Jack and I cleared the Dormouse survey tubes for annual cleaning and maintenance - we (possibly? probably? certainly?) found a Dormouse nest. This is huge news – this rare species is a bio-indicator.   

  • Finally, a big thank you to Jack Sanford for all the hard work you have done over the course of 2018. 

a wilded Goldsworthy? by Jonathan Thomson

I regularly find these raptor kills along the banks of the 2 streams, which run through UWNR. A tell-tale sign that this is a raptor kill, and not a fox kill, is the fact that the quills are not broken - raptors pluck their prey cleanly, whereas a fox tears at the feathers. I have fleetingly caught sight of the raptor and it is either a male (smaller than the female) Sparrow Hawk or a Goshawk.

This trail of pigeon feathers reminded me of a Goldsworthy piece…..

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Possibly? Probably? Definitely? by Jonathan Thomson

I am inclined to go with definitely….and if so, this is a key find at UWNR. In fact, it may rank as the most important result, of the past 4 - 5 years!

Last week Jack and I brought in the wooden inserts, which sit inside the Dormouse survey nest tubes, for winter maintenance. The purpose of the survey tubes is ascertain if we have this rare and important species at UWNR. This is the third season of surveying. And look what we found!

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At this stage, we cant be 100% certain that this is a Dormouse nest, but all the signs are positive - the weave is characteristic of Dormouse construction, as are the materials used, the shape and the tell-tale round entrance hole.

Why are Dormouse important - this summary from an ecology journal gives a succinct account: Dormice are one of the UK's most endangered mammals, the hazel or common dormouse, is facing new threats. This species is an important 'bio-indicator', meaning that its presence in a specific habitat shows how healthy that habitat is.

It could be the case that Dormice were always at UWNR - conversely, they may have moved into the habitat over the past few years. PTES survey results indicated their presence nearby, within the last decade. Over the past 4 - 5 years we have worked hard and sensitively to enhance the habitat at UWNR, and just maybe, this find is an indicator that this effort is working for nature.

An exciting update, to this extraordinary find….Gareth (ecologist & UWNR friend) mailed me to remind me that Dormouse nests are odourless. (This enables this small mammal to safely hibernate on the ground over the winter months - no smell = less chance of being predated on!). If the nest had been constructed by say a wood-mouse, it would have a very distinct & pungent smell. I was at UWNR yesterday (26th December 2018), and the first thing I did was to take a decent inhalation of the nest - nothing! Merely the light fragrance of hay, given off by the dry grass and honeysuckle bark. So another piece of the jigsaw falls positively into place!

Clawing one back! by Jonathan Thomson

During the second, and last Beast from the East storm of winter 2017 / 18, we lost a precious Barn Owl at UWNR. We found this deeply upsetting and despite my efforts to manage the Barn Owl field, to ensure sufficient small mammal prey species, the long hard winter proved overwhelming for one of their number.

In 2017 I read an extraordinary book, The Barn Owl: Guardian of the Countryside by J R Martin. In it he makes a key point, which is reiterated on the Barn Owl Trust (BOT) website; Stored cereal crops, in ricks or barns, became so infested with mice and rats that some enlightened farmers encouraged Barn Owls into their buildings via special access holes or “owl windows’. So before the onset of simplified industrial agriculture, hay and grain filled farm barns, on small mixed farms, played a crucial role providing habitat and prey species for Barn Owls, over the winter months particularly. Martin writes that Barn Owl pellet analysis (pellets are regurgitated by the birds, during digestion) from the early 1900’s showed a greater variety of prey species in their diet - it included species more commonly associated with a built environment than pastures. Although not explored by Martin, many (too many) barns have been converted into domestic dwellings over the past few decades - reducing available winter habitat.

All of this got us (Keggie and I) thinking, talking and planning.

With valuable input from the head ecologist at the BOT, Rick Lockwood, and UWNR friend & ecologist Gareth Harris, we set about constructing a barn which would provide these wonderful birds with winter habitat. Izaak and Will Bergstrom have built a beautiful and practical building, which is now fully dressed…my hunch, it is only a matter of time before it is in use! ,

The new Barn Owl barn (to the left of the existing barn) situated near the Barn Owl field.

The new Barn Owl barn (to the left of the existing barn) situated near the Barn Owl field.

The interior of the barn with straw hay and perches for hunting - grain is spread below the perches to encourage small mammals to inhabit the building.

The interior of the barn with straw hay and perches for hunting - grain is spread below the perches to encourage small mammals to inhabit the building.

As the project progressed we considered what other species might benefit from the barn - with direction and advice from Gareth Harris we have constructed this bat loft. This may be used as a spring / summer nursery or simply as a stopping off point, while hunting in spring / summer.

As the project progressed we considered what other species might benefit from the barn - with direction and advice from Gareth Harris we have constructed this bat loft. This may be used as a spring / summer nursery or simply as a stopping off point, while hunting in spring / summer.

Throughout spring and summer UWNR is home to migratory swallows and house-martins - they hunt, bathe and drink from the lake. We have constructed many features into the barn, as well as installing these prefabricated nests, to encourage these birds to nest here.

Throughout spring and summer UWNR is home to migratory swallows and house-martins - they hunt, bathe and drink from the lake. We have constructed many features into the barn, as well as installing these prefabricated nests, to encourage these birds to nest here.

Is David part of the problem? by Jonathan Thomson

Last weekend, I went to a series of talks put on by the Somerset Wildlife Trust. Of the 4 speakers, 3 had played central roles in the research and publication of the recent IPCC report on Climate Change. One of the speakers had been awarded a Nobel prize, for his work on Climate Change science. The talks focussed on Climate Change and its impact on flora and fauna, and all 4 talks were revelatory - in the worst possible way!

My summary of the headline facts:

  • We are almost certain to hit 1.5 degrees C of warming (above pre-industrail averages), by 2040.

  • Current modelling shows that we are destined to reach 4/5 degrees C of warming (above pre-industrail averages), by 2200.

  • At 3 degrees C, almost all insects will be extinct.

  • At 2 degrees C, the planet’s birds will be significantly depleted.

  • At 3 degrees C, 50% of all the planet’s flora will have gone.

  • It is likely that insects will the first complete class of fauna to completely disappear.

  • Across the British Isles there are likely to be pocket sanctuaries - for example; the west coast of Ireland, Cornwall and Scotland. Across the planet there will be other sanctuaries - Japan, New Zealand.

  • Birds, which migrate long distances, are likely to be decimated as resources on their flight paths are wiped out.

  • Scientists understand little about the systemic interactions which take place between species, at an ecosystem level. No-one can predict what feedback loops may emerge as, for example, 50% of all flora has gone.

  • And possibly, the most shocking point made over the course of the two hours - not a single politician had made contact with any of the scientists, since the publication of the recent IPCC report. How is that possible?


And how is this possible:

The reach and impact of this man is beyond almost anyone on the planet, yet he choses to walk softly through these issues. Why? We are facing a cataclysm. Didn’t he learn anything, given the huge impact the Blue Planet 2 program had on how plastics are perceived. One television program educated a largely ignorant populace and changed behaviours, within that populace. Why not replicate this? What is his problem? Surely he has a responsibility to raise awareness? Is David, and his inflated profile, now part of the problem?




Too many sheds....impossible! by Jonathan Thomson

Over the past few weeks Jack and I have been working on this - see picture below. The aim of constructing this shed, in the depths of the main woodland, is that it will provide winter shelter (for birds and small mammals) and spring nesting opportunities for birds.

I will station the camera trap near the shed and keep it in situ for the next few weeks….updates forthcoming.

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2018 Bat Survey by Jonathan Thomson

Last Saturday night, September 15th, we carried out our annual bat survey at UWNR. Conditions were close to perfect - low broken cloud, warm temperatures and light winds.

As ever a very big thank you to Gareth Harris for pulling together a great group of highly knowledgeable ecologists and bat specialists. We set the first traps at around 17.00, then ate a delicious bar-b-q dinner and did our first inspections right on dusk. As well as various nets (mist, harp, triple high), Gareth set up static detectors.

We had a very successful night - and identified these bats:

Serotine, Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle, Whiskered and Daubenton's.

These species were detected - Myotis & Plecotus. Bat detectors are not always able to distinguish individual bats within a species group, hence this more general identification.

Personally for me the highlight of the night was watching the Daubenton's hunt over the lake surface darting furiously in pursuit of invertebrates (midges, small flies, mayflies), using a technique not dissimilar to a osprey - captivating!

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A bat being identified…..

Badgers 4 - Wasps 0 by Jonathan Thomson

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Yesterday at UWNR Jack & I discovered yet another wasps nest, which had been beautifully plundered by the resident badgers. This hole is the best part of 18 inches across and 2 feet deep. There are small bits of the underground nest remaining, but the badgers have fully feasted on the grubs. I have watched twice this summer, badgers at UWNR searching for food - it is clear that they are being pushed hard by this drought. This is the fourth wasps nest, which has been unearthed and consumed this season - I have not seen this at UWNR before and this feat is astonishing. The ground at the moment is brick hard and the badger must be viciously attached by the wasps as the excavation occurs - amazing! Given that wasps are a significant threat to the newly established wild bee hive, this activity is perhaps limiting the risks to the new bee colony. This activity though is balanced by the fact that wasps are a key prey species for hornets, which are abundant at UWNR. As ever winners and losers. 

Moth trapping - a rarity found! by Jonathan Thomson

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On Monday, July 23rd we moth-trapped at UWNR. As ever the amazing Hugo Brooke, from Butterfly Conservation, ran the session and carried out the species identification. Conditions were OK, but not brilliant - clear skies and a 3/4 bright, shiny moon. 

The highlight of the session this Double Kidney, which Hugo had never seen before. Hugo has been moth-trapping for many decades, so this find was rather special. 

To read the full list of species trapped and identified, please click on the 'Read More' tab below and scroll to the bottom of the page...

3x Ecomimicry by Jonathan Thomson

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Ecomimicry 1: 

Matt Somerville (that's him in the white beekeepers hat, veil and smock), of Bee Kind Hives, came to UWNR to inspect the wild bee hive we installed in early May - the results were astonishing! To read more about this remarkable moment at UWNR, please click on the 'Read More' tab below and scroll to the bottom of the page....

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Ecomimicry 2:

Guided by ecologists Gareth Harris & Lisa Wade, inspired by Isabella Tree and working with Jack & Harry (in the picture above), last Monday (July 23rd) we constructed this Ecomimicking Beaver Dam in an appropriate section of the main stream, which runs east - west, through UWNR. 

To read more about this important construction at UWNR, please click on the 'Read More' tab below and scroll to the bottom of the page....

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Ecomimicry 3:

After the death of a Barn Owl at UWNR, during the last 'Beast from the East' weather event in March 2018, I have been thinking long and hard about how we can lessen the chances of this happening in winter 2018 / 2019.  

I am 1/2 way through Jeff R Martin's informative and detailed 'The Barn Owl, Guardian of the Countryside'. He points out before WW2 most mixed farms in Britain had a resident pair of Barn Owls - in sum, they were very common. What changed, with the agri-business revolution, was a move away from this traditional farming system, with its late harvest hay, open grain barns & extensive grazing of fields, with mixed grasses and flowers. A result of this historical type of farming was high numbers of small mammals - key prey species of Barn Owls. 

.What we are attempting to achieve with these food (mixed grain) hoppers, which will placed in & around the Barn Owl fields, is a significant boost to the small mammal population at UWRN. If we can keep numbers high, as winter sets in, we have a good chance of sustaining our Barn Owls at UWNR, through to spring and breeding in 2019. 

 

Jacks progress! by Jonathan Thomson

14 year-old Jack is working with me at UWNR over a 18-24 month period - at the end of this period he will be awarded the advanced John Muir Award. We now have a natural break for summer holidays. Click on this tab and scroll to the bottom of the  Education and Engagement page, for an account of work so far....

Mysterious (Confounding) Nature! by Jonathan Thomson

In March of this year the second 'Beast from the East' claimed a Barn Owl at UWNR. We were devastated by this event and it took us a good while to get-over-it. I stayed at the land last night and to my astonishment, as darkness fell, there was loud & distinct hissing coming from the Barn Owl box. Only one thing makes this rasping noise, at this time of the year - Owlets! So for the third season in a row the land at UWNR will welcome young White Owls. Oh what joy and happiness. 

So the mystery is what happened in March 2018? Was the dead owl from another territory (although Barn Owls are not particularly territorial)? Was it a juvenile owl from the UWNR brood of spring / summer 2017? Did one of the UWNR pair die (Barn Owls mate for life) - to be replaced in time for this breeding season? 

I will never know, but UWNR again feels complete.....