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Trainee Blogs - July 2016

10th August 2016

Tamsin:  High summer in the Blackdown Hills arrived with invertebrates of all types and colours  - Marbled White butterflies, red and black Six-spot burnet moths and stripy yellow and black Cinnabar moth caterpillars; dragonflies and damselflies in a multitude of iridescent hues and bumble bees on nearly every flower, not to mention crayfish.  Fiona and I attended a bumble bee workshop where we were introduced to the seven species common in Devon and their cuckoo bees, before we went looking for them in the Devon Wildlife Trust garden at Cricklepit Mill, Exeter, and the Goren Farm festival gave us the opportunity to take a walk with the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust and to enjoy making pipe cleaner bees with the youngest festival goers.

White-clawed crayfish are the UK’s largest invertebrates and probably the least seen; they under threat from the introduced American Signal crayfish and the plague they carry so it is important to monitor both species in the local rivers. We were fortunate to spend a day with Nicky Green, Project Manager of the Barle Crayfish Project learning about crayfish ecology catching and identifying both species in the river. Wellies and waders, nets and traps, an afternoon in the river and no-one got wet!  The watery theme continued with the help of the Somerset Wildlife Trust and a survey of aquatic plants. On a lovely sunny day we sallied forth with grappling hooks to explore the ditches near Taunton and found new plants...more new plants! It was a great to explore a completely different habitat guided by an expert, my note book is full and my knowledge increased again (though I will always need the book).

From rivers to hay meadows – Swains Lane, a community nature project in Wellington needed the grass cutting and Andi Rickard, the national ladies’ scything champion was our trainer in this fascinating and tricky traditional skill. We learnt a whole new vocabulary – snaffs, beards, tangs and toes and under Andi’s expert tuition under a hot sun we rather inexpertly mowed the meadow. Thanks to the Swains volunteers for letting us hone our scythes and our skills on their nature reserve. I’m looking forward to what August will bring in the Blackdown Hills AONB..... plans include water voles, aquatic invertebrates and bats, watch this space... 

 Fiona: One of this month’s NVC survey highlights was the botanical survey of Folly Farm. The flower rich meadows are home to plants such as common knapweed, bird’s-foot trefoils, ox-eye daisy, scabious, betony, pignut, hawkbits, many sedges and agrimony. We found a few plants of a rare Alchemilla or Lady’s Mantle. This plant is similar to the garden species, the main difference being that the garden species has sepals equal in length to the petals, whereas those of our native species are unequal. We also surveyed some lovely fields near Membury, which were alive with butterflies.     

A day trawling the ditches of the Somerset Levels for macrophytes with Ann Fells of SERC (Somerset Biological Records Centre) revealed lots of interesting plants. These included branched bur-reed, frogbit, lesser water plantain, water dock and slightly less charismatic species such as potamogetons and duckweeds. Aside from plants I’ve learnt about crayfish ecology and monitoring, tried to inspire teenagers doing their Duke of Edinburgh Award, delved into the world of bees at the Goren Farm Festival and with the Devon Wildlife Trust, attempted scything and taken part in the Blackdown Hills Big Bat Survey. The Blackdown Hills are looking great in the summer sun and they don’t seem as muddy now either!  Plant of the Month: Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra)- Butterflies and bees love it. Common in unimproved/species rich neutral grasslands.

  Max: This month, we began by doing an NVC on a very nice piece of land with some very diverse patches of wildflowers and thanks to the good weather, there were loads of butterflies around. We also continued the mammoth task of completing the NVC that Tamsin and me started last month and spent one morning in the officer learning about white-clawed crayfish ecology and the invasive signal crayfish. Later that day, we attempted to put some identification and trapping to practice, something that Conrad proved to be particularly effective at!

We returned to Folly farm and discovered more Dormice, which was very encouraging to see, and we spent a day learning how to identify some aquatic plant species on the Somerset levels. A highlight of the month must go to the NVC of some land owned by a local brewery, which proved to be incredibly beautiful, with some interesting plants, insects and spiders! Over the next month or so, we will be doing some specific work with dragonflies, damselflies and bats, all of which I am looking forward to!

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