Sutton Common Scrape all planted up!

As mentioned in my previous post on Sutton Common, October 25th was set to be a planting day – and plant we did!
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With a great group of volunteers we sunk over 100 new plants into the thick, sticky clay substrate at Sutton Common scrape. We even did some seeding and thistle pulling to round out the day – well done everyone!

All the plants selected for planting at Sutton Common scrape had been chosen for their ability to tolerate dampness, wetness and even periods of drought. As the seasonal pond is filled entirely by rainwater and dries out naturally in the summer, using hardy wetland and pond margin plants is important to ensure they survive year on year.

These plants will provide not only nectar and pollen sources for invertebrates but shelter and food for animals throughout the year. The plants chosen will send up flowers at different times, growing at different heights and densities to help diversify the habitat of the pond, allowing it to be useful to wildlife in as many ways as possible each year.

Here are the species we planted, so you can keep an eye out for them in the future! It’s worth noting though, it may take some time for them to become properly established.

Common Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica) Pic ©
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This native member of the daisy family is a pretty feature of damp settings throughout England, supplying Bees, Hoverflies and Butterflies an important source of pollen and nectar in the late summer. This densely hairy plant can grow up to a metre tall in good conditions and the 15-30mm flowers grow in clusters from July to September.

Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) Pic ©
Creeping JennyCreeping Jenny is an attractive plant of pond margins, wet grassland and river banks, common particularly in the South of England. As the name suggests it creeps, low to the ground through other vegetation, preferring the shade to full sunlight. It has heart shaped or rounded green leaves and sends up cup shaped yellow flowers in the summer from May to August.

Cuckoo Flower/ Lady’s Smock (Cardamine pratensis) Pic©

Lady's smock2Cuckoo Flower, also known as Lady’s Smock is a beautiful, delicate flower of damp grassy areas – it has my vote (possibly tied with Flowering Rush – see below) for the prettiest plant in the list. Its pale pink to mauve flowers are a herald of springtime, said to coincide with the arrival of the first Cuckoo (although I think you’d be incredibly lucky to see a cuckoo on Sutton Common!)

Cuckoo flower is a main larval food plant of the Orange Tip and Green Veined White butterflies – so with any luck we’ll see an increase in these related species too!

 

Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus) Pic©

Flowering_RusDespite the name, flowering rush is not a ‘true’ rush in the Juncus genus, but one of the two known members of the Butomaceae family. It is a tall and highly attractive plant with umbels of pinky purple flowers on show in June and July. We planted these in the middle of the seasonal pond as they tend to prefer wetter conditions, often growing in shallow water and the margins of ponds, rivers and canals.

 

Glaucous Sedge (Carex flacca)  Pic©
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Sedges are grass-like plants with angled stems (most are somewhat triangular).
Glaucous Sedge is so called because it’s leaves are glaucous – a very specific term meaning a greyish blue-green.

Sedges are very hardy and can be found in both dry and wet conditions, growing in low clusters on grassland and moorland throughout the UK.

The inconspicuous browny-red flowers tend to grow in groups of 3 female flowers, near the top of the stem, and 2 male ones further down.

Great Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis) Pic©
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At up to a metre in height, Great Burnet has serrated green leaves and egg or lollipop shaped red flowers which attract pollinators in the wet meadows and grasslands where it grows.

It flowers from July to September but the dead flowers can persist long into the winter.

Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus pedunculatus) Pic©
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Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil looks a lot like it’s little brother, Lotus corniculatus , only larger with a stout, hollow stem and tiny hairs on the leaves. It also enjoys damper habitats.

Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil has dark green foliage and bright yellow flowers from June to August before developing into the ‘birds foot’ shaped seed pods which give the plant it’s name.

A member of the pea family, Greater Birdsfoot trefoil is the only British legume to grow in wetlands!

 

 

Gypsywort (Lycopus europaeus)
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We already had Gypsywort growing at Sutton Common so we hope all that we planted will thrive there.

With its serrated green leaves and small white flowers, Gypsywort can be easily mistaken for a nettle or a mint – to which it is quite closely related.

Its small flowers are commonly visited by flying insects like hoverflies, who feed on them in the summer to early autumn.

 

Rushes – Hard, Soft and Jointed (Juncus sp. – inflexus, effusus, articulatus) Pic©
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I’ve placed the Juncus species in one section here as they are superficially quite similar.

In general, hard rush is harder and darker than soft rush – both of which have single inflorescences, and jointed rush has more flowering heads than both.
Rushes grow in dense grassy stands and offer good shelter for birds and small mammals.

They are also eaten by many species of invertebrate including a number of moths which use them as larval host plants.

 

Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) Pic©
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Hemp agrimony gets the ‘hemp’ part of it’s common name and the ‘cannabinum’ in the Latin from a passing resemblance to the well known ‘weed’ Cannabis sativa.

The deeply three-lobed, toothed leaves do look somewhat reminiscent of the narcotic plant, but the clusters of pretty pink flowers make Hemp Agrimony an attractive plant in and of itself, offering a food source for butterflies such as Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell from July to September.

 

 

Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
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Purple Loosestrife is a large flowering plant with striking pink to magenta blooms of flowers, which are visited by many types of invertebrates.

In the height of summer (June to August), long tongued species such as the Elephant hawk moth and the Brimstone butterfly can access it’s sweet nectar.

The long green stems are flanked by pointed leaves growing opposite each other, and the flowers grow in large conical arrangements.

 

 

 


Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi)
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARagged Robin is a beautiful plant. Its bubblegum pink flowers remind me of me somewhat, not because they’re pink but because they’re raggedy and scruffy, hence the name.

Interestingly the specific epithet flos-cuculi means ‘flower of the cuckoo’, for the same reason as the Cuckoo Flower mentioned earlier!

The flowers are used as nectar sources by namy butterflies including Small and Large Whites, Brimstones and Orange-Tips.

Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica) Pic©
Achillea_ptarmica_'The_Pearl'_02Sneezewort is related to the rather more common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), which I can tell you makes a rather lovely tea. Sneezewort however, was apparently used as a sneezing powder in the past – why one would want to induce sneezing is anyone’s guess!

Sneezewort has feathery leaves and pretty white and off-white flowers which are particularly good for hoverflies, who apparently don’t sneeze.

Water Figwort (Scrophularia auriculata) Pic©

water figwortWater figwort is a long-flowering plant (June to September) with deep crimson flowers which are pollinated by various bees and the common wasp.

The red stems are noticeably 4-ridged and flanged, and the leaves are toothed. The specific epithet auricularia refers to the ‘ears’ or lobes at the base of most leaves (this may not be observable when the plant is immature) – this is visible on the bottom right leaf in the picture.

 

 

 

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) Pic©
Filipendula_ulmaria.jpgMeadowsweet is a sweet smelling plant of wet meadows, once used to flavour meads with its fragrance.

While in flower, you might notice Meadowsweet by it’s smell before seeing the actual flowering heads. They are just as pleasant as the aroma, with sprays of tiny, creamy white flowers atop long stems – which are very popular with certain fly species.

Devil’s Bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) Pic©
Devil's_Bit_Scabious_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1497894Devil’s bit Scabious flowers long into the Autumn with its rounded, blue, nodding flower heads on show from July to the end of October.

These flower heads attract a great many butterfly species including some Skippers, Hairstreaks, Peacocks, Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns, making it a great plant to have around.

Let’s hope we see more butterflies at Sutton Common as a result!

Autumn Hawkbit (Leontodon autumnalis) Pic©
Leontodon_autumnalis.jpgAutumn Hawkbit is a dandelion like ‘yellow composite’ – meaning that it looks a lot like a lot of other little yellow flowers!

Autumn Hawkbit has an orange ‘strap’ marking on the underside of the petals, and short hairs on the stems.

Autumn hawkbit is a very hardy plant that will tolerate wetness, making it ideal for our scrape. The flowering season is (as you might have guessed from the name) similar to that of Devil’s Bit Scabious (above) meaning that even into autumn we should have a good supply of nectar for visiting invertebrates.

And there we go!

All in all, 19 species, and over 100 plants! With the flower gods on our side, the work we did on Wednesday will make Sutton Common Scrape a wildflower haven in coming years, providing the basis for a fully fledged wet meadow ecosystem to thrive! Well done team! Thank you all so much!

-Adam

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Sutton Common – future wildlife haven!

To look at Sutton Common a few years ago you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a fairly standard amenity parkland with relatively little value for wildlife.

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Sutton Common in 2008, before any conservation work

If you looked right now you would see a huge amount of churned up mud and wonder what on earth is going on. Incensed by the view of grassland carnage, you would almost certainly descend on me, teeth bared, demanding answers or blood. Fear not, mutinous Sutton-ites, all will become clear in time.

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That’s neat, that’s neat, that’s neat, that’s neat I really love your tiger feet! (Wrong kind of Mud? Oops…)

But first, some backstory…

The site we refer to as Sutton Common is the field to the north east of the Sutton Common Recreation Ground, and it hasn’t always been managed for wildlife. Until 2009, when LBS Biodiversity (and the SNCV!) took over management, it was treated much the same as the rest of the park. However, it was deemed too wet to be easily maintained as a sports and recreation site. Wetness is no a bad thing for wildlife habitat, however, so it was decided that the site would be changed to a meadow, for nature conservation purposes.

At this point, the whole site was absolutely dominated by Creeping Bent grass (Agrostis stolonifera). In order to deal with this and diversify the structure of the site, one of the first works undertaken was to create a large ‘scrape’ area to the north.

 

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Scrape creation, 2009.

Scraping (removing a certain amount of topsoil) from this area allowed the waterlogged ground to become more of a feature rather than a hinderance to the site. Standing water in this area now creates a small ephemeral pond in the winter months, and retains some dampness in the summer, creating a ‘wet meadow’ type habitat. This has since been seeded and planted with species relevant to a damp habitat, and is still being managed this way.

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Scrape with water, Sept 2015

The ‘pond’ is not permanent, fluctuating with rainfall and normally more or less drying up in the summer.

Ponds like this are referred to as temporary, ephemeral or vernal pools. Due to their lack of fish means amphibians and invertebrates can thrive there without predation, offering a much needed safe haven for many species.

 

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Scrape wet, but not full, Sept 2017

It does, however mean that the plants in the pond have to be hardy enough to survive both in and out of water, with varying degrees of water. A pond without plants is far less useful as the vegetation provides benefits such as food and shelter.
For this reason the pond was seeded with mainly hardy marginal wetland species that can deal with both deluge and drought such as Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens) and Lady’s Smock (Cardamine pratensis) with some species faring better than others over the years.

Following this work, a lot of time and effort went into attempting to change the botanical make up of the rest of the meadow. Most of the site was overrun creeping bent which was stopping any other grasses or wildflowers (with the exception of a few very hardy bits like clover). To remedy this, the area was overseeded with Hay Rattle (Rhinanthus major), a semi-parasitic plant that keeps grasses such as Creeping Bent at bay by stealing their nutrients. For this reason it is often lauded as great plant for a fast track to a biodiverse meadow. Stimying the grass growth allows more space and nutrient to be freed up for other, less aggressive species like many wildflowers.

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Hay Rattle (Rhinanthus Major) at Sutton Common

The introduction of hay rattle on this site only had limited success. Some patches did take, and in these areas it had the desired effect, suppressing grass and increasing potential for wildflower growth. Eventually though, the creeping bent, hell bent (hah!) on domination, stamped out the hay rattle and bar a few isolated patches, returned the burgeoning meadow to a homogenic swathe of grass and clover.

Due to this persistence, it was decided to undergo the current meadow creation work. The first steps of this were to spray the entire area with pesticide to kill off the unwanted species, then rotovate the soil to churn it up, exposing bare soil.
This work has currently been stalled due to the soil’s wetness (maybe the parks team were wise to give up their waterlogged field?) and there is still more rotavating and weed control to be done to create a fine receptive soil. A ‘blank canvas’ into which we can finally seed. The seed mix will be a mixture of less aggressive grasses, and wildflowers which will hopefully help us create what we’ve wanted all along at Sutton Common – a wildflower rich meadow.

As I mentioned, the initial seeding of the pond was more successful for some species than others. In order to help increase the biodiversity of the pond, I’m organising a community planting day when we will plant over a hundred pond margin and wetland plants. (Please come! Details below or on facebook)
SuttonCommonPlanting

Species to be planted on the day include wetland plants such as Gypsywort (Lycopus europaeus), Water Figwort (Scrophularia aquatica) and Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and more meadow-suited plants like Devil’s Bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis), Autumn Hawkbit (Leontodon autumnalis) and Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum). By planting these we can create a more diverse pond, and a smooth transition between meadow and pond.

With continued management we will drastically change the botanical makeup of Sutton Common, and improve the habitats therein. With a bit of volunteer elbow grease, the site will develop into the well balanced and beautiful haven for wildlife that was originally envisioned when the park was taken under the Biodiversity Team’s wing in 2009. What a great way to help wildlife on Sutton (Common)’s doorstep!

A Very Happy Birthday

30bday
I’m pleased to let you all know that Saturday’s Woodland Celebration was a great success! First things first – If you were one of the 200+ people that showed up and partook in the festivities, thank you!

This was a celebration not just of the SNCV’s 30 years of ‘helping wildlife on Sutton’s doorstep’, but also of the amazing work done over the last few years turning Queen Mary’s Woodland into the beautiful space it is today.

It was massively heartening to see such a great turn out from volunteers, old friends, and of course local families interested in the work going on in their neighborhood.
The number of people enjoying the celebration made all the preparation worthwhile and the feedback about the woodland was overwhelmingly positive. Now the major projects have been done, all can agree that the works have had a massively positive effect on the woodland, bringing not just biological diversity but also improving access, allowing more people to enjoy this beautiful area.

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A warm welcome!

Throughout the day we raised a total of £257.00 of donations to the SNCV from visitors to our charity stall and the enticing cake stall. Many, many thanks to all who channelled their inner ‘bake off’ and brought some tasty treats. I endeavoured to try a bit of everything and failed miserably less than halfway through. Those of you that have witnessed my propensity for gorging myself know that means there was a lot of cake on show, making for a lot of sticky fingers throughout the day!

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Food, glorious food…

The true centerpiece of the day was a beautifully made log-pile birthday cake, with edible leaves, mushrooms and frog! A ceremonial cake cutting was enacted after some touching speeches by Janet and Alex with enough showmanship and panache to put the fanciest carnival parade to shame. (What’s life without a little hyperbolic embellishment?).

cakeCut_30bday

Half for me, half for you!

It wasn’t just cake providing the entertainment though. With the sounds of folk musicians filtering through the woodland, the gorgeous melodies being sung and strummed reflected the harmonious nature of the celebration and provided the perfect soundtrack to a sunny early autumn day spent with family, friends and… cake.
Music_30bday

Bug catching was the order of the day for many young visitors. Armed with pooters, collection pots and sweeping nets they scoured the woodland, helping entomologist Peter Kirby track down and record over 100 species of insect, worm, arachnid and mollusc through the day, showing how diverse life in this woodland has become.
Peter was great at showcasing these bugs off to children and adults alike, enamoured by the creepy crawlies. Hopefully those who arrived with a dislike for scuttling, slithering or flying beasts have been swayed!

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More bugs than you can shake a net at!

Those who were interested in the botany and ecology of the site may have plumped for our own Dave Warburton’s guided walk which proved very popular. Taking in the whole site he gave punters the ‘inside scoop’ on the work we’ve undertaken at the woodland, giving people an appreciation of the whys and hows of these projects, as well as how the woodland fits into the wider picture of green space and nature reserves across the borough.

dave_30bday

Look, a tree!

Dotted around the site were a series of signs hanging from trees like baubles, constituting our ‘tree leaf trail’ quiz. The trail pinpointed examples of some of our common and important trees such as Oak, Ash, Hawthorn and Hazel, highlighting the ecological, practical and social uses of them. Included were some ‘fun facts’ – some of which bordered on the morbid end of what can conventionally be considered fun… did you know that Hawthorn blossoms smell of the plague?

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Examining the world’s hardest quiz

Probably the most popular activity through the day was the craft stalls, where our visitors flocked to create ‘stickies’ – that’s slightly Blair Witch-esque stick and clay figures with features made using found materials in the woods – and ‘god’s eyes’ – gorgeous patterned dream catcher type things made by lashing sticks together with coloured string. Also on offer was Hapa Zome, the art of smashing the pigment out of leaves and into cloth. Given children’s propensity for hitting things and making a racket, this proved very popular!

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Craftwerk

All in all the event was a great success, not just in a monetary sense (although we raised a lot), or even just getting people through the door (and it was very well attended!).

The day felt like a much deserved celebration of Queen Mary’s, and of the SNCV. Often while we are so busy rushing from site to site, helping wildlife on Sutton’s doorstep, it’s easy to forget to give ourselves a pat on the back for work well done.
So a sincere well done, back-pat, hand-shake and glass-clink to everybody that has given their time and effort to the SNCV over the last three decades. The turnout on Saturday and the kind, thankful comments received throughout the day are testament to the fact that our efforts do make a great difference, and aren’t left unnoticed.

Here’s to another 30 years!

 

 

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Many thanks to James and Mikey for the photos!

Party preparations are well underway…

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Our 30th Birthday bash is almost upon us, so it’s all go for the volunteers, running around industriously prepping and ferrying things around, getting ready for the party!

And there’s a lot to get ready! With tea and cake, arts and crafts, nature walks, live music, a tree trail quiz and guided walks there will be plenty to see and do on the day: this Saturday, 23rd September, 12 til 4.

We hope to see you there!
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Celebrate good times – SNCV Birthday Bash at Queen Mary’s Woodland!

Those of you who avidly follow the Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers blog, facebook and twitter may be aware that we’re celebrating a big birthday this year. It has been 30 years since the SNCV was first established, championing Sutton’s wildlife and nature areas ever since.

To mark this anniversary we’re having a family fun day of wild art and crafts, live music and themed trails at Queen Mary’s Woodland.
This site has been chosen not only because of it’s accessibility and biodiversity, but because it is emblematic of the SNCV and LBS Biodiversity’s work in recent years. The woodland has been completely transformed in the last few years from a thick, impenetrable mass of Sycamore, Ivy and invasive Cherry Laurel to the diverse range of habitats we see there today, all the while fostering a close relationship with local residents, many of whom have volunteered with us on site. As the restoration phase at the woodland comes to a close, it is a perfect time to come and see the work that SNCV, LBS Biodiversity and the local community have done and enjoy some live music, wild art and a piece of cake!

On 23rd September please join us in our celebration. All are welcome.

For more information please see below poster or visit the facebook event page: https://tinyurl.com/woodlandCelebration

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Breaking News: Boy Backs Burgeoning Butterfly Benevolence, Lazy Lad Learns to Love Lepidoptera

Last week, accompanied by a small group of novice lepidopterists (me being very very novice!), I attended a ‘Butterfly Study Day’, hosted by Dave Warburton, Sutton’s senior biodiversity officer, in Carshalton.

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Comma – Polygonum c-album

I’ll be honest, I have had a hard time finding butterflies massively interesting in the past, and found it frustrating out on task days when Dave had shouted out the name of some kind of winged beast, only for a blur of brown and wingbeats to flutter out of my field of vision before I could get a decent look.
This was the majority of my interactions with butterflies until recently. Whenever one was nicely perched on a leaf, it would flit off as soon as I got any closer. To be fair, I’m not known for my nimble grace and stealth. Something to work on, perhaps.

In the butterfly season this year though something changed. It could have been to do with Dave taking me under his wing (hah!) for a few butterfly transects at Roundshaw Downs, or a general want for more knowledge about the natural world but for the first time since childhood, butterflies piqued my interest. Fortunately for me, Dave had his yearly butterfly identification course already planned. Coincidence or divine intervention? Coincidence, of course. The Great Butterfly God (All hail his most venerable proboscis!) cares not for the trifling concerns of humans…

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Common Blue –  Polyommatus icarus

To kick off the course we all introduced ourselves and briefly mentioned how much we already knew about butterflies. It was a relief to know that we were all at pretty much the same level, so my own lepidopteral ignorance wasn’t going to stick out like a sore thumb. We knew a handful of the more common species, and wanted to learn more.

And learn more we did! Dave started with the basics, going through butterfly biology and ecology from life cycle to food plants to habitat types. A lot of this I already knew, but a few surprising facts came to light.
One that interested me was that there is no scientific distinction between butterflies and moths. There are many rules of thumb which for the most part ring true, but fall apart when scrutinised, like moths only flying at night (what about all those day flying moths?) and moths being fluffy/furry (see the Marbled White below and tell me you wouldn’t give it a little cuddle!).

Marble

Marbled whites – Melanargia galathea

The most reliable – but hard to see in the field – rule to differentiate a moth and a butterfly is the way the wings are coupled, allowing hind and fore wing to move as one. Moths have Frenulo-retinacular couplings, where a small hook or lobe on the hind wing is hooked to the forewing, whereas butterflies have Amplexiform coupling, where the wings overlap sufficiently so they don’t need this hook to move as one. Of course, there are still exceptions to the rule, there is a species of Skipper which is considered a butterfly and yet has a hooked wing.
I’m not going to lie, I don’t fancy pulling the wings off every butterfly I see, so for now I’ll live by ‘if it doesn’t look like anything in my guide book, it’s probably a moth’. It’s a fairly safe bet, too, as there are only 59 species of butterfly in the UK. There are around 2,500 moths. I’ll try and master our butterflies first methinks.

Before heading out on a field trip we had a run down of ID tips, including which Blues are actually brown, which Whites are actually pretty yellow and which species like ‘puddling’ – a somewhat euphemistic term for a practice of certain types of butterflies who seem to enjoy various bodily excretions… I won’t go into too much detail but suffice to say it made me a little less excited to see a Purple Emperor.

After a spot of lunch we headed out to Roundshaw Downs armed with nets and a ‘butterfly pavillion’ (that’s a big mesh cage to you and I, hardly the Ritz is it?) to test out our newly learned skills.  The final skill to master was the ancient and mystical martial art of butterfly catching. Initially, I was rubbish. While everyone else was rounding up Essex Skippers, Meadow Browns and Marbled Whites galore, I was flailing, running, swearing and sweating trying to catch the blighters. As I may have mentioned earlier, I’m not known for my grace.

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A slightly moody and beaten up Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) at Sutton Ecology Centre

On bagging my first Ringlet, a really fresh and lively specimen, showing off the line of rings (it was far fresher than the more tattered bloke I found at the ecology centre, above), I felt that addictive, life-affirming pang of accomplishment. I was hooked!

We spent the next few hours in the meadows, scrapes, scrub islands and woodlands of roundshaw downs chasing butterflies of all shapes and sizes – releasing them all shortly after, of course. Fly free my pretties!

The number of species we caught in such a short time was astounding to be honest, and seeing them captured and up close is a surefire way to cement the IDs in our minds. For instance while the Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) has a flash of orange on the forewing, it can often look just… browny, rather like a Ringlet (Aphantophus hyperantus – above), depending on the light and how beaten up the poor little fellow is. Up close and personal, however, you can clearly see the lack of a ringlet’s rings, and the light brown to orange patch on the forewing.

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Essex Skipper – Thymelicus lineola

Then there’s the Small and Essex skippers, apparently often called ‘Smessex’ when on the wing because they are almost impossible to distinguish without looking incredibly closely at differences in the sex brands (small area of pheromone-laced scales on the wings) on the males, and a tiny blotch of black on the tip of the antennae of Essex Skippers. We decided that all of our skippers were of the Essex variety (Thymelicus lineola), bearing that jet black antennae tip.

We also caught Large and Small whites, Commas, Small Tortoiseshells, Green Veined Whites, and a host of moths – some of which were just as beautiful as the butterflies. We also had a few species just beyond our grasp, with Holly Blue and Speckled Woods fluttering around but evading capture.

All in all the Butterfly Study Day was a great success and a massively fun outing.

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Gatekeeper – Pyronia tithonus

I have been out almost every day since spotting and counting butterflies, and even managed to get some family and friends involved! On a walk the other day, my girlfriend wasn’t too pleased with my newfound lepidopteral knowitall-ism, me pointing out a new critter off in the bushes every few feet, stopping to note it down and take a picture. Yet like any burgeoning addiction, she was pointing them out quicker than my eyes could follow within ten minutes.

It was a slippery slope but I think I’ve found my new vice. All hail the Great Butterfly God!

For more information on butterfly identification and ecology, visit Butterfly Conservation
For more information on our upcoming study days and other events, visit our Events Page and book using the instructions on that page.

Thanks for reading!
-Adam

 

Newt Survey Log #4 – The final hurdle! Finally!

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Smooth Newt (Triturus vulgaris) – from Wikipedia

The week before last, joined by a third torch in the form of Mary, Sutton’s Biodiversity Education officer, we finally did the last of our 4 week set of newt surveys at the Sutton Ecology Center ponds.
Unfortunately bad weather had got in our way for the last few weeks and stopped us from undertaking the final survey sooner, meaning we didn’t quite cover the breeding season as accurately as we hoped!

Newt breeding season in the UK tends to start in March, continue through April and into May – but as we entered late May it seemed the newt’s body clocks were ticking, as there were far fewer numbers to be seen around the SEC ponds. Even with an extra pair of hands and eyes to help spot the little blighters!

We started with the small pond by the allotments, with a 3 torch strong beam only reaching disappointingly close to the surface of the murky water. We got a measly 4 newts (along with a common frog and a toad, to be fair), half as many as we found on our first survey. The pool was hardly brimming with newts. It was, however, absolutely teeming with mosquito larvae.
Something to look forward to on any shirts and shorts summer forays at the Ecology Center, I suppose. I certainly managed to get bitten a lot that night, by the weekend my hand was so swollen it looked like a comedy foam finger!

We moved on towards the two small ponds and the newt count was still conspicuously low. I saw nothing bar a few aquatic insects in the first of the two. There was a small movement somewhere in the depths which we counted as a questionable newt, but alas my eyes weren’t sharp enough to see it. I’ll take the others’ word for it, one newt is better than none!
The other of the small ponds also only had a single newt (at least this one stuck around to be seen), a common frog and a common toad. With nothing else to be seen we moved on to the smaller pond by the pond shed.

I was getting ready to be disappointed. This pond had been a hotbed of activity during the first few surveys, turning up a whopping 31 newts in the second. Given the low counts of the night, though, I was expecting a similarly low number. I was pleasantly surprised. Slightly better than the smaller ponds we had already visited, we got 10 newts, a toad and a frog.
This wasn’t the reason for my surprise though. Above the surface of the water, hanging from the reeds were two large, pulsing dragonflies moulting their larval skin. With flashes of bright green popping out of the brown exuviae (that’s the dead skin to you and I), they were most likely Southern Hawkers (Aeschna cyanea). I had seen exuviae still stuck to the vegetation in that pond in previous years but never seen the process happen in front of me. Seeing this moulting happening also means we know the identity of the monster dragonfly nymph we had seen stalking the depths of the pond!

Moving on to the main pond we were struck by how much the vegetation had grown in the preceding weeks, making newt spotting tough. Even despite the additional cover, I was a little dissapointed by the count, giving us only 30 smooth newts. This may sound quite a lot but given that we counted 42 on the second survey and a massive 75 on the third, I was a little let down. I suppose that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

The newts have evidently had their fun during the mating season and are moving on.
I’ll miss these regular nighttime visits to the ponds. I look forward to keeping an eye out for the delicately folded leaves of subaquatic vegetation where the females have laid their precious eggs, and then finding the larvae and efts later in the year.

Overall, I can safely say that we have a good, healthy population of smooth newts (Triturus vulgaris) at the Sutton Ecology Center. The Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) didn’t turn up in our surveys. While this isn’t great news for the great crested newt, it probably is good news for our pond. Last year a possible Great Crested Newt larva was pulled from the main pond during a school pond dipping session. These rare newts are heavily protected, meaning that our normal methods of pond maintenance would have had to have stopped had we found evidence of Great Crested Newt breeding.

So good luck to all the new mummy and daddy newts from our ponds. They’re probably off finding foraging areas and places to hide in the surrounding woodland or further afield. Hopefully in the next few weeks we will be finding larvae and efts from successful eggs, another generation in the great circle of life!