Summer Holiday Fun

Do you have, or know of, any children aged 3 years old or above? Are you already a nervous wreck, seeing the Summer Holidays stretching out in front of you, wondering how are you going to entertain them for more than 6 weeks?!

Never fear, Sutton Ecology Centre has a fun-packed programme of events throughout the summer holidays to reduce your burden, just a  little! And we all know that a good dose of fresh air always tires them out!

kingfisher

Will you spot a kingfisher on the Wandle Wildlife Fun Day?

The fun kicks off with a Wandle Wildlife Fun Day on 1st August.  There will be a trail of hidden pictures and information about the animals you could find along the River Wandle, as well as a chance to get up-close with some of the creatures that live in and along the River, including dragonfly nymphs, water boatmen and moths.  You may even be lucky enough to spot a gorgeous kingfisher!

There’ll be a craft activity and lots of information from the experts to entertain and educate you and the little ones, so why come along and dip your toes in?
This is a drop in activity, so no need to book, just turn up any time between 11am and 2pm.

The cost is £4 per child, 3 years and up.

 

 

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A bee, being busy!

You’ll need to book onto the Go Wild for Bees day on 8th August to avoid disappointment.  Your little ones will learn all about why bees are so busy, through playing fun games, tasting honey and making and decorating a bee hotel to take home (plus we’ll throw some free wild flower seeds in too, so you can promote bees at home)!

Only £5 per child, ages 3 years an up. Book here: http://37.188.117.158/suttonecology/

Hazel-Nut-Flower-FairyLastly, come and join in with the Flower Fairies Adventure on either the 14th or 15th August.  Find the fairies with their flowers, plants and trees, listen to fairy stories on the lawn, make fairy gates and gardens and make your own natural flower fairy or elf to take home.  This is also a drop-in activity ,so no need to book, just turn up any time between 11am and 2pm on either day.

Again, only £4 per child, ages 3 and up.

With all of this, plus lots of fun Wildlings Forest School activities such as mallet making and a 3-day camp, you need look no further to make this Summer Holiday a huge success!

For more information and booking, visit our Event page: https://suttonnature.wordpress.com/events/.

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Task Programme – Out now!

The new task programme is now out: July – October 2016!

We’re continuing our summer season of botanical surveys, study days to help you brush up on your identification skills (continuing this Saturday with Butterflies) and more works at Queen Mary’s Woodland, including the first chance to get involved with the improvements to this new site through seeding the newly cleared areas and laying wildflower turf.

What better chance to get outside, laugh and learn do you need this summer?!

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Chalk grassland at Roundshaw Downs Local Nature Reserve

Our National Pollinators

Good lord, we’re well into March already. And after a balmy winter, Friday (4th) brought about the years first grass cut in my garden. After blowing out the cobwebs, cleaning the air filter and checking the oil and petrol, off we went on our quest to neaten the garden. However, unlike previous years, I noticed that I was far less gung-ho and far more slow-mow. Being more ecologically minded, I would peer over the mower, observe the forthcoming grass patch and grind to a halt, if I feared I would slice through the dreaded, detested and despised dandelion Taraxacum officinale. But why so cautious, in particular for a plant that when searching into Google ‘removing dandelion’, brings about 197,000 results and solutions?

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Marbled White butterfly feeding off Common Knapweed. Joined by a hoverfly.

Now that I’m an esteemed ‘Biodiversity Assistant’ with Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers and Sutton Council, I can ask whether I can tag along to events such as DEFRA’s ‘National Pollinator Strategy: Urban Knowledge Exchange Workshop’. This event attracted the nations leading Doctors and Professors,  key policy makers, top ecologists, respected biodiversity officers and of course, an esteemed biodiversity assistant.

The day brought to my attention the value and necessity of our urban landscape to our national pollinators. Bees, hoverflies, butterflies, moths and beetles, provide critical ecosystem services, i.e. benefits to humans from the environment. These include food production, as through transporting pollen from one plant to another, the production of British crops is ensured. The National Audit Office, estimate that the value of honey bees alone (in the UK) is worth around £200 million, based on pollinating strawberries, apples, pears and oil seed rape,  while the retail value of what they pollinate is considered to be around £1 billion. Yet, this doesn’t earn a mention in George’s illustrious budget review. A shame.

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Buzzzzzzzzz. A bee enjoying the riches of a red clover Trifolium pratense late in the season (17/09/2015)

Conservationally speaking, as well as their economic importance, pollinators ensure the functionality of a healthy ecosystem. Simply put, by pollinating flowers, flora diversity is maintained and this enables all the essential interactions between flowers and animals (i.e. food, nesting and breeding resources) to take place. When considering the health and well-being properties of the natural landscape and how pollinators positively impact this, the conservation of our national pollinators is most certainly in our interest.

Despite their relevance, it is understood that pollinator diversity and abundance is declining, due to a number of environmental pressures. Use of herbicides/pesticides, intensive land use and habitat loss are all believed to be contributing factors to their decline. However, urban environments, such as Sutton, have the potential to be incredibly important habitats for our pollinator species.

Research suggests that across farmlands, nature reserves and urban areas there was no significant differences between pollinator species diversity and flower visitor abundance. Additionally, bee species diversity was higher in urban areas than farmland! Importantly, this suggests that urban landscapes are becoming an increasingly important habitat, so how can we improve them?

Cuddington Flowers

Cuddington Meadows. An SNCV site that is fantastic for pollinators

Typical features of an urban landscape include: road verges, recreation grounds, parks, school ground, offices, gardens and churchyards. These can all be managed sympathetically towards the needs of pollinators. Ultimately, providing structural heterogeneity and improving floral diversity is essential. By improving these components, the habitat will provide suitable conditions for pollinators at different stages of their life cycle and provide pollen and nectar resources throughout the Spring and Summer months. Where appropriate, methods that are encouraged include the sowing of seed mixes and plug plants, followed by a reduced mowing regime, which will allow the plants to set seed and provide resources throughout the desired months. See here to learn more about methods of improving the urban landscape.

At the SNCV, we aim to provide suitable conditions that will enable pollinators to thrive. During my time here, I’ve learnt a variety of methods that aim to improve plant abundance and diversity; green-haying and cattle grazing at Roundshaw Downs, plug planting across our sites, Sheep grazing at Cuddington Meadows, while scrapes have been created at Therapia Lane Rough in order to remove undesirable species and promote the growth of chalk grassland species. In essence, our grasslands are managed in a way that seeks to promote plant diversity and abundance, that will in turn, provide valuable resources for bees, moths, butterflies, hoverflies, beetles etc.

Clearly pollinators are fundamental to our existence and therefore, we should be doing everything in our power to help them. With this in mind, the SNCV have a couple of exciting projects coming up this month! Through community conservation days, we aim to improve pollinator conditions by  plug planting at Roundshaw Woods and Carew Manor Wetland. At these sites, we will be planting suitable native plants, that have the most likely chance of surviving and thriving in these chosen habitats. For the SNCV, our main aim is to improve the conservation value of sites throughout Sutton, and by providing richer  pollen and nectar resources throughout the seasons, we hope we can achieve this.  In the years to come, through this work, we hope to develop areas that can be enjoyed by all things natural, including humans. So, if you have the time, do please come along to one of these community planting days.

Carew Manor

Carew Manor Wetlands. On the 30th March, the SNCV will be aiming to improve the surrounding wet meadow through plug planting. Please do come and join us!

Oh, and in regards to those dandelions, a study in Canada found that this plant species had one of the highest diversities of bee visitors, when compared with other present plant species. In the early Spring months (such as now) the dandelion provides a valuable nectar source for the early and opportunistic pollinators! So leave them be, for now anyway.

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CMW Planting Poster-2

 

 

Trees

I’m sure there have been many an iconic verse throughout the annals of history, dedicated to trees. Keats, possibly, Wordsworth, inevitably and Shakespeare almost certainly. I’ll be honest, I did think about searching ‘trees and Wordsworth’ in Google in order to bestow a deceitful intelligence upon myself and provide a nice opening sentence for this blog post on trees. But I haven’t, and I probably wouldn’t have understood it anyway.

“You’re so beautiful….like a tree” – Flight of the Concords (2007). As the esteemed musical icons suggest, trees are beautiful. As I stare into my garden on a drizzly Sunday, I see the dainty pink blossom that has erupted from the cherry plum Prunus cerasiferathe elegant white petals of a neighbors blackthorn Prunus spinosa and a shower of  plump yellow catkins, dangling on the hazel Corylus avellana. Though remarkably early, these features remind us that Spring is near and the days are getting longer. Wonderful.

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London’s largest plane tree Platanus spp. Or is it?

http://www.suttonguardian.co.uk/news/9386804.When_trees_go_to_war___debate_rages_over_the_tallest/

 

Ecosystem Services

Trees are not just lovely to look at of course, they provide numerous functions that are absolutely essential to our existence, functions termed ‘Ecosystem Services’. Of course, trees absorb carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, generate sugars for growth, and as a by-product release oxygen, oxygen that we can use to breath.

Additionally, in light of the recent flooding, there’s been a plethora of column inches dedicated to the roles trees can play in flood prevention, which is also backed by science. If this isn’t enough, studies have also suggested that trees can reduce the amount of harmful toxic particles in the air, (such as the one produced from our exhausts) as a result of their large porous surfaces. Still not enough? How about their role as natural air conditioners? Through providing areas of shade and the process of evapotranspiration (the equivalent of trees sweating), there is a thought that trees have the potential to cool our surroundings. Further still, as well as cooling our bodies, trees can also cool our minds. According to a study carried out by the Forestry Commission, there was a significant difference in the mean ‘mental wellbeing’ of tenants with high tree cover, when compared with tenants from a negligible tree cover. Similarly, patients recovering in hospital, recovered on average a day faster when their ward had a tree visible to them. And of course, trees play a critical role for wildlife, providing sources of foraging, nesting, breeding and shelter. Moreover, it seems fair to suggest that trees are important.

Trees and the SNCV

As of late trees have constantly preoccupied my mind. In fact, I think I have been directly involved with trees almost daily in 2016, whether that be with the SNCV, or practicing Vrksasana on Tuesday and Friday evenings .

With the SNCV, we began the year hedge laying at Anton Crescent Wetland (ACW). From a conservation point of view, hedgerow is an incredibly important habitat, and is essential for 47 species of conservation concern in the UK. Hedgerows act as corridors for the movement of populations and have the potential to increase the connectivity of populations from one habitat to another. Further still, creating hedgerow improves the structural heterogeneity at ACW. As a result, there is greater niche, resource and shelter availability, which should in theory attract a greater scope of wildlife. Resource and niche availability is further improved through hedge laying, as reducing the canopy cover will allow more sunlight to penetrate the understorey, which may benefit a greater diversity of ground flora.

By jove hedge laying is a skill! Thankfully, we had our hedgemaster, Sutton’s Biodiversity Officer Dave at hand. Our hedgerow consisted of a range of native species, hazel Corylus avellana, field maple Acer campestre, blackthorn Prunus spinosa,  ash Fraxinus excelsior and hawthorn Crataegus monogyna. Once ‘pleached’ (carefully thinning the tree to an angle where it will lay flat, yet not tear away from the trunk), our trees were delicately laid as we completed a fantastic, native hedge.

With hedge laying over, we have moved into the woodlands, Oueen Mary’s and Ruffett and Bigwood.  Thinning trees plays a vital role in conservation. Where areas are too shaded as a result of dense canopy cover, trees have been selectively thinned in order allow greater light to radiate the woodland floor. It is hoped, the this extra sunlight will benefit the wildflowers in the understorey, in particular species such as dog violet Viola riviniana, dog’s mercury  Mercurialis perennis and bluebells  Hyacinthoides non-scripta. In these woodlands, there is an abundance of ash Fraxnius excelsior and sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus, which is where most of our thinning was focused. Within the years to come, it will be fascinating the monitor the process of the extra sunlight!

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Winters day at Ruffett and Bigwood

Having enjoyed this work greatly, it has dawned on me that my tree identification is relatively embarrassing, especially with a title of ‘Biodiversity Assistant’ entrusted upon me. And so, with this woeful knowledge and with the help of two other SNCV volunteers (Adam and Alison), we have been tasked with mapping the trees of Sutton. We are literally putting trees on the map.

Referred to as the ‘Barc de Treeumph’, the three of us walk around Sutton, recording any tree species in a public space. With the information, Sutton Council’s Tree team can place some sort of value on their sites, whilst the SNCV have a greater understanding of the diversity, and conservation attributes of areas across Sutton. And most importantly, we’re learning how to successfully identify trees. Black buds, most definitely ash. Large green buds, sycamore. Hmmmmm, very small buds, black in colour, small hairs, blooming hec is that an elm, Ulmus spp.?  I think so. What about this one, quite a corky bark, small hairs, very small buds, black in colour. Oh, is it in an another elm?

I scored 8/10. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/01/can-you-identify-the-uks-most-common-trees

Importantly, Sutton’s Biodiversity Officer Dave, is hosting a Winter Id tree training day (which he’s probably put on for me), and promises to be an excellent and knowledgeable event! So do book on, and get identifying.

 

 

 

 

Brown Hairstreak

According to the authors of ‘Butterflies of Surrey Revisited‘, “finding an adult brown hairstreak is one of the most difficult tasks for a butterfly enthusiast”. As a fond admirer of the fluttering jewels, I must count myself very fortunate then, for in the Summer months I managed to catch a glimpse of two females, both by chance.

The UK status 

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The underside of a  female brown hairstreak, balancing on a yew ‘aril’ at Cuddington Cemetery

Sadly, these sightings are becoming rarer and rarer, as data collected by Butterfly Conservation suggests that their population has decreased by 40% from the period between 1995 – 2009. For this reason, the brown hairstreak was recognised as a (now archived) UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species. In other words,  it is a species experiencing rapid population declines and faces a high risk of regional extinction.

Reasons for this decline can be attributed to the loss of British hedgerow. Nationally, since 1945 over 121,000 km has been lost to make way for larger fields for agriculture and development. Importantly, blackthorn Prunus spinosa, a scrub species largely associated with hedgerows, is the main larval host plant for the brown hairstreak. Therefore, as blackthorn availability decreases, the opportunity for egg laying diminishes.

Brown hairstreak 21 (female)

The upperside of a female brown hairstreak

Research carried out by Merckx et al., (2010) highlighted the preferences of young blackthorn  growth for brown hairstreak egg laying. Additionally, their study suggests that altering the landscape structure from a linear to a scalloped pattern will create sheltered mirco-climates that will benefit the development of ecotothermic species. Therefore, by cutting mature stands of blackthorn in a rotational pattern to create these ‘scallops’, this will encourage young growth and provide conditions that are suitable for egg laying. Moreover, it seems that the brown hairstreak requires a habitat that is continuing to decline, and within that habitat, needs specific conditions for optimum growth. To create these conditions therefore requires sensitive management.

Curiously, adult brown hairstreaks will congregate around the ‘master tree’. A master tree serves the purpose of providing aphid honeydew, on which the adults feed on, and as a breeding site. I say curious, as research cannot determine why certain  trees are chosen as the master, for observations have recorded various ages and conditions of chosen trees. Most typically, these master trees are Ash Fraxinus excelsior (though they will use oak Quercus robur), and as these trees are critical for breeding, ash dieback Chalara fraxinea is an ongoing concern for the species . Moreover, the current condition of our UK ash, may also be contributing to the loss of brown hairstreak.

SNCV and the brown hairstreak

At the SNCV, a number  of sites that we work on are under the ‘Higher Level Stewardship’ (HLS) scheme. The HLS is a mechanism whereby land owners (such as Sutton Council) can apply for funding that will go towards restoring and/or conserving priority habitats and species. The government’s adviser to the natural environment, Natural England, will assess the site for suitability, i.e. whether they feel the site can successfully restore/conserve priority species and habitats. Moreover, on a number of our HLS sites, specific habitat management for the brown hairstreak  is ongoing and proving to be a great success.

Brown hairstreak 14 (female)

A female brown hairstreak egg laying on young blackthorn

Encouragingly, in the summer at Carshalton Road Pastures (CRP), we witnessed our first sighting of the brown hairstreak on site. This location hosts an extensive amount of blackthorn, which we have been scalloping since 2009. As well as a hot spot for blackthorn though, CRP appeared to be a Mecca for fly-tippers and a home for smashed sinks and disused armchairs. Thus, it was a very welcomed reward to see the brown hairstreak after shifting this mass of dross and comforting to know that despite these inconveniences, our target species was able to exist on site.

To add to the successes of our first sighting, during an egg search in December, we managed to find 6 eggs, neatly placed on the underside of young blackthorn branches. To any passers by, I can’t help but think that this must have been an odd sight. A group of folk, consisting of various ages, delicately poised between sharp blackthorn bushes, studying the underside of a twig, in the rain, in quest of an object that is the size of a grain of quinoa. To further this, the search for brown hairstreak eggs is also known as ‘streaking’. When I mentioned to my mother that I had been streaking at Carshalton Road Pastures, in the rain, with my boss, she looked at me bemused and slightly stunned. To this day, I still don’t understand why*.

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Brown hairstreak egg at CRP

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Brown hairstreak egg at CRP

 

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Brown hairstreak egg at Roundshaw Down

But what ever my mother thinks, finding eggs is fantastic news and it does not stop there. We’ve also seen brown hairstreaks across other sites in Sutton this year, such as at Cuddington Cemetery and Anton Crescent Wetlands, whilst Dave (Sutton’s Biodiversity Officer) also managed to find eggs on Roundshaw Downs during a search on Christmas Eve. Clearly, Santa thought Dave had been a good boy in 2015. Importantly, this highlights that with careful management and understanding of good science, the SNCV and Biodiversity Team carry out conservation work that is actually making a difference for some of Britain’s rarer species. By managing areas of blackthorn across Sutton in the ‘scallop’ fashion advocated by Merckx et al, we are improving  the ability for brown hairstreaks to breed on these sites and when dispersing across the landscape, to find other, suitable habitats. This *may* be increasing their distribution and population across Sutton. Therefore, when I said earlier that I saw two brown hairstreaks by chance, I think this maybe  more down to the work that the SNCV undertake.

Keep an eye out on the SNCV events page  where we will be running a butterfly day course in the summer. Similarly, if you want to learn more about butterflies, I’d suggest Butterfly Conservation who provide comprehensive information about our British Butterflies and very enjoyable blogs. You may also be interested to know about the Surrey and South West London branch of Butterfly Conservation, who provide local news and events for all things butterfly.

*correction – the search for brown hairstreak eggs is not actually referred to as ‘streaking’ – that was a joke.

Surveying

On Saturday, I took part in another wildlife training day at the Ecology Centre, with Dave (Sutton councils Biodiversity Officer) at the helm. This time, we were exploring the lives of dragonflies, or Anisoptera (warriorflies) and Zygoptera (damselflies) as I now like to refer to them. In a concise, informative and enjoyable classroom session, the fellow students and I were guided through their taxonomy, anatomy, life cycle, behaviour, habitats and identification. This influx of information was easily digested thanks to a well earned coffee and biscuit break.

Common darter 8 (male)

Male common darter (Sympetrum striolatum)

At the end of the day and after a cloudy and therefore unsuccessful trip to Beddington Park and the river Wandle (no dragonflies to be seen, but heigh-ho that’s nature!), we arrived at the Ecology Centre to see what would be on offer here. After catching a Naiad (the immature form of a dragonfly) our attention was drawn to a whopping Southern hawker (Aeshna cyanea) elegantly zapping around the pond. This is a magnificent warriorfly, whose stunning green, brown and black colours make her hard to miss. After buzzing around, she found a suitable position at the pond side where she began ovipositing, which for any enthusiastic amateur naturalist allows for a fantastic photo opportunity. A great end to the day.

Southern Hawker

A female southern hawker ovipositing

Continue reading

Summer Sightings

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Male chalkhill blue

Within the past couple of weeks, we have witnessed two butterfly species never previously observed at Anton Crescent Wetland, Avenue Primary School and Cuddington Meadows. The sightings of brown hairstreak (Thecla betula) at Anton Crescent Wetland and chalkhill blue (Polymmatus coridon) at Avenue Primary School and Cuddington Meadows is fantastic news.

The Brown hairstreak is an elusive species due to their low landscape population density and preference for high canopies and is a therefore an impressive find by Sutton’s Biodiversity Officer, David Warburton as it rarely travels low enough to be identified. Essential for this butterfly is its larval food plant the Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa). Specifically, they prefer younger blackthorn (2-3 years old) and management at some of our sites involves the rotation and coppicing of the hedges in order to provide this essential habitat. Importantly, Butterfly Conservation has listed this species as a high priority for conservation, while it is also listed as a biodiversity action plan species, meaning the sighting of the brown hairstreak is incredibly positive! If you want to find out more and potentially see a brown hairstreak, some of the best days are coming up with Surrey Butterfly Conservation at Bookham Common

Arguably, the viewing of these butterflies is dependent on ‘Ecological Networks’. In 2010, the government released a report called ‘Making space for nature: A review of England’s wildlife sites and ecological network’. Primarily, this report suggests how England’s nature can thrive despite climate change, urbanisation, agricultural expansion and other

Male brown hairstreak (Thecla betula)

Male brown hairstreak

pressures on our land. According to the leading author, Professor Sir John Lawton, this involves ensuring that our wildlife sites consist of ‘coherent and resilient ecological networks’. Ecological networks have been created or planned for in areas that are subject

to fragmentation through human activities. Within an ecological network there will be a network of sites that conjointly support habitats necessary for a range of biodiversity. Importantly, the connectivity of these habitats, through  ‘corridors’ and ‘stepping stones’ (such as the nature reserves we manage in Sutton) mean a species will have a reliable supply of resources for both breeding and feeding, thus ensuring the viability of populations.

Despite the careful habitat management by Sutton and the SNCV and the continued sightings of new species, improving local ecological networks can be achieved more fully. One of the greatest contributions to creating a “resilient and coherent ecological network” can be through developing our gardens. Here, we have the opportunity to create ‘key

Brown Hairstreak (female) © S. Pettit

Brown Hairstreak (female) © S. Pettit

nature reserves’ and develop ‘resting and re-fuelling stations’ where the buzzing of bees and fluttering of butterflies becomes a familiar sight. For example, one of our supporters recently sent us a fantastic photo of a brown hairstreak roosting in their garden.

Nature has an incredible sense for finding their resources, so if we provide them, they will come (but maybe not such scarcities!). Both Sutton Biodiversity Team and the SNCV are committed to assisting with the development of all our gardens, so please have look at: https://suttonnature.wordpress.com/biodiversitygardens/wildlife-gardening-resources/ and the upcoming workshops at our ecology centre.

If you would like to send us your photos of the rare species, or any species that you are proud of, in your garden or local green space / nature reserve, then please email me at biodiversity@sutton.gov.uk