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!

Week 3 – Walk the line

“That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics”

– Aldo Leopold

Day 1 – Butterfly Transects

More butterfly transects today – but properly, as in we actually had to count the number of butterflies that we saw.

The butterfly survey season officially starts on April 1st, but a survey can only be completed if the temperature is above 13 degrees, it’s not too windy and there is more than 60% sun. If the temperature is above 17 degrees, then sun vs cloud cover becomes less important, as it is still warm enough for butterflies to want to fly. You then record walk the transect, without stopping, recording each individual butterfly that comes into your “box”. The “box”, is the invisible indicator of how close a butterfly has to be to you before you can record it. This is 2.5 meters in front of you, to both sides and above you – not behind you. Then just make a tally of the number of each species you saw in each section of the transect. Piece of cake!

We did 3 transects, two at Grangelands and the Rifle Range, and one on Bacombe Hill. All of these reserves are based on the beautiful Chilterns, walking some sections of the Ridgeway pathway.

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Despite the weather and conditions being perfect for the survey (hello the beginnings of a tan!), we didn’t see many butterflies. The best transect was on Grangelands, and this has traditionally been the best transect for many years. We saw Orange tips, Brimstones, Holly Blues and a Peacock. These data (and the rest) will be sent to the Butterfly Conservation Society and analysed to discover what has been happening over the past year.

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The other really good thing about today is that we were finally properly initiated into BBOWT by being taken to the Crazy Bear farm shop to get THE best sausage rolls. It’s a sign that we have been accepted! There is also a small farm/play area here where we saw these very sweet Gloucestershire Old Spot piglets!

10.2 Km walked again – a solid start.

Day 2 – Watervoles

Unfortunately, I have no photos of today as I decided to take the precaution of leaving my phone safe in my bag away from the water, as I am so accident prone!

We spent the day wading down Sandford Brook near Abingdon (literally just at the back of the Tesco car park), which was quite surreal. I really enjoyed being able to survey from the water, it’s quite relaxing, but also easier as finding feeding signs and burrows is a lot easier from this perspective.

Despite the brook being small, and there being quite a lot of rubbish floating in the water from the Tescos, we found a whopping 94 feeding signs! Which was incredible especially given the territory size- although unfortunately there isn’t really a way of determining if there are a lot of individuals present, or a few very active individuals. I am happy to report that the activity has spread further down the brook from previous years, which is a positive sign!

Although I liked being in the water, it is disconcerting to not be able to see you feet sometimes. Plus I have a very overactive imagination, so can’t help but remember the hundreds of scenes from books and films of snake-like monsters lurking amongst the reeds and silt! Obviously that might be a problem, if we were wading down a tributary of the Amazon or something, but not so much in Britain… strange how irrational fears can be sometimes!

After lunch, we then walked another route (just on the bank) that will be used to train volunteers in what signs to look out for. I also had the chance to see a Garden Warbler, but Ben decided to be immature and spent the whole time throwing burdock at me, meaning that I didn’t see it!

Ended up walking 11.4 Km, which is pretty good going!

 

Day 3 – Great Crested Newts

The day of the Great Crested Newt (GCN) course!

I have discovered, that I love Newts. They’re so sweet! It’s also important to protect all of our newts, but particularly GCN as we have a population of global importance! It’s quite worrying what will happen in the context of Brexit, as a lot of the protected species legislation is European. If that is removed… then what happens? More raptor persecution, further species loss and degradation of our already suffering ecosysetms? Just today the news announced that the UK is set to lose at least a third of the environmental legislation. I digress..

The GCN course was wonderful, half of the day was spent going through the theory of GCN trapping, ID and protective legislation, in addition to wider knowledge about British amphibians and what habitat they can be found in.

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I am really looking forward to further fieldwork in this area! We built our own newt-traps and took them down to ponds where we know that there are Smooth Newts and practised using the traps and trying the netting technique. I was incredibly excited that we caught one male and one female and got to appreciate their unique beauty (each Newt’s markings are unique and so it is possible to identify individuals). It was really very special to be able to handle them and see how perfectly adapted and delicate they are. I also got to brush up on my Macroinvertebrate ID skills as there were a lot present in the pond, and I saw my first dragonfly larvae as well.

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The next stage of my licensing, is to complete further fieldwork, setting traps around the pond in the evening, and emptying them in the morning, as well as attempting all of the various techniques. If I can complete these satisfactorily then I will achieve a reference and be able to apply for a license!

A whopping 11.2 Km today. It’s starting to feel weird when I don’t walk!