Week 4 – Snake’s-head Fritillary Count

“I don’t want to protect the environment, I want to create a world where the environment doesn’t need protecting” – Unknown

Slightly different week this week!

Day 1 – Water voles

Monday was a fun, but fairly normal day back on the border with Wiltshire surveying for water voles again. We had to go back to finish the stretch of river we started last time, and also we had a new person with us, who works mainly in the office on Land planning things, but wanted to volunteer more and come out. It makes sense that if you spend a lot of your time indoors working for an organisation that protects nature, you would want to spend at least some of your time joining other teams and seeing what you’re working for!

So, we went back to the farm as it’s a good place to survey, with almost guaranteed signs of water voles. It’s a little harder, and less fun, than wading along the river as some of the signs are hidden by the ever-growing scrub and reeds. But we saw many a dropping, latrine and feeding sign.

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We also saw how much more the undergrowth is growing, which is great, but is making me apprehensive for future surveys as it is clearly going to be a challenge pushing through a wall if nettles 7 feet high to search for the signs. But, on the flip side I am seeing more and more beautiful plants and animals every day- like the marsh marigolds pictured above (sorry about the picture quality, I was trying to get them in the context of the wider wood).

It was also really great to see how much Ben and I are improving at finding and identifying the field signs. A definite improvement from the first time we were at that site, and it means that we should be allowed to go out on surveys without Gav’s supervision! By supervision, I mean is surveying hawkeye- it was quite gratifying to have him follow us round to see if we missed any important signs and not miss any- a enormous difference. I did miss an otter sign at one point, which wasn’t great, but Ben spotted it, and it’s an important lesson to not get too focused on one species, when it is important to stay aware of everything.

Day 2 – Pre-count

So. The big Snake’s-head fritillary pre-count. The count has been done every single year since 1981 (apart from one year when it wasn’t allowed, because of foot and mouth), and it doesn’t seem very much like anyone knows quite why we do it anymore, but it’s a tradition! And people from the community do get quite involved as well, they look forward to it, it brings business to the very tiny local shop and it is also quite a spectacle to behold.

But anyway, this was the day of the pre-count! The day that two staff members, Ben and myself went down to the very beautiful Iffley meadows and counted all of the Snake’s-head fritillaries that were present in the “non-dense” patches, the rationale being that the dense patches were counted properly with a larger group of volunteers from BBOWT.

To add another layer of complication though, because the weather has been so extraordinary, most of the flowering heads have gone over and started to seed, or fade, so we also had to do at least 8 quadrats (below) and figure out the ratio of flowering heads to non-flowering heads, so then after the proper count, we could multiply the number of individual flowering plants by the ratio, to figure out the total number of plants.

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The day was spent, walking round each meadow, counting each flowering head that we saw. It took maybe five or so hours, and the four of us counted over 3000 flowering fritillaries. It was a nice walk, but it was quite slow. Sitting and having lunch amongst the flowers was lovely, especially as we had the chance to see a hobby! As we had nothing else planned for the day, Colin let us leave early!

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Day 3 – The big count

The big day.

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I love my job. I do. But I did find today quite difficult. It was a very very slow day. It involved us all walking (as pictured) with a bamboo cane in between each person, doing several passes across each dense patch of flowers and counting every single flowering head that we saw. It’s definitely not an exact science, but it’s the way that it has been done every year. This was especially frustrating when a few members of the public refused to believe that’s how we counted the flowers, but believe me, that’s how it’s done.

The first half of the day, Ben wasn’t in formation, he got to shout out from the side lines and keep everyone in line as we walked slowly across each patch, making sure that the people that didn’t have anything to count kept going at the pace of the people that were counting a lot. Then, after lunch, everyone had to deal with me shouting at them. I controlled the line very well, and I must say that I enjoyed it a great deal more than counting.

I’m making it sound a lot worse than it was probably, as the time did pass quite quickly, but I did just find the whole day quite frustrating.

 

We did go early again at least. And long weekend!

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