The Three Amigos (c) Catherine Burton
Forgive the long post but there was so much to say!
Last Saturday I was at an event that embodies the spirit of connectivity which has me so enthralled. It’s the fourth time I have attended the Surrey Recorders Meeting organised by the Surrey Biodiversity Records Centre (SBIC to its friends). I have been every year since I joined Surrey Wildlife Trust and one before, speaking on the Hedgerows for Dormice Project I ran at People’s Trust for Endangered Species. I enjoyed this meeting probably more than any other because I know so many more of my fellow recorders than I did when I first attended. This meet serves the recorder community best in that it provides a place to catch up on what others are doing, and make plans for the year ahead.
For me the talks are a form of call-to-arms; or perhaps a challenge. Here set out before me were stories from people engaging with the natural world in ways they find personally fulfilling, and in some cases the invitation there was to join in the fun. In terms of species work, have my work cut out for me as one of the county recorders for mammals, vice-chair of the Surrey Mammal Group and overseeing SWT’s Otter and Water Vole Recovery Project and the Surrey Harvest Mouse Project, and now training for my Bat Roost Visitor Licence with Surrey Bat Group. But I’m missing a whole world of other taxa! I have been slowly breaking into moths, and through setting up our RiverSearch Programme and working with Glen Skelton on Riverfly monitoring, I’m relearning the aquatic inverts from uni days. A couple of Recorders meetings back Graeme Lyons from Sussex Wildlife Trust talked about Pan-Species Listing and I have been recording everything I see since. Finding the time to learn is hard though, and also relies on a good memory and the ability to use these skills in the field. Still, who could be bored with the natural world on your doorstep. Put your boots on and go turn over some logs! Learn something new.
The talks were as usual, excellent. Simon Humphreys gave an interesting and informative account of the Veteran Tree Project at Dawcombe where he has been volunteer ranger for 30 years. It’s easy to see how important these trees are in our landscape they are a habitat in their own right supporting bats, lichens, fungi, and a host of important insects including the saproxylic guild. Soldier flies and their Allies is the most recent edition of the excellent and recommended series of Wildlife Atlases published by SBIC (Surrey Mammal Atlas due 2018 if all goes to plan!), and author and naturalist Jeremy Early gave a wonderful account of these Dipterans, so-named because of their brightly-coloured abdomens reminiscent of soldiers in the days before DPM camouflage. I met Gareth Hunt from Clandon Wood Burial Ground at a mini Bioblitz there a few years ago and he gave us an update today on plans for the site. The Burial Ground is designed to one day be the last resting place for 1000s of people, all buried in a low-impact, environmentally friendly fashion (maybe I’ll book a plot, although I do lean towards excarnation for my preferred means of discorporation after the Amercian First Nations fashion). In the mean-time the site bears species-rich hedgerows, semi-natural grassland and wetland features, and was the site of a rescued hedgehog release. With the help of hedgehog footprint tunnels loaned from the Surrey Mammal Group, Gareth tells me they are still there.
Jeremy Early: Robbers and their Allies (c) Catherine Burton
I could listen to Martin Angel talk all day, he has the smooth baritone of the best storytellers, and that he was recounting the exploits and discoveries of the Surrey Moth Group’s Royal and Bagmoor Commons Surveys was a further delight. I joined the moth group last year with the intention of starting to record at my home in Haslemere. I was even loaned a moth trap by my neighbour and always impeccably waist-coated John Rees but I was so busy with the new dormice checks on site my mothing was restricted to the Bioblitz event in June. So this was a wake up for me to begin mothing- especially with the potential to meet as exquisite a creature as the Merveille de Jour.
Our very own Glen Skelton gave an update on the RiverSearch Citizen Science Initiative, which is the backbone of SWTs Catchment-based Approach Work. Glen and I are about to undertake practical enhancement works with RS volunteers as part of our DEFRA-funded Catchment Partnership Action Fund Projects (more about that anon), so a good reminder of what the volunteers do when they are not up to their butts in water creating new fish habitat. When creating RiverSearch I was keen for it to be a platform for volunteers to record as much as they could on their 1km reach, as well as the key features related to water quality and ecology we needed them to record. If there was something they wanted to learn, we would facilitate training. Becoming a Riverfly training hub was an early addition and Glen now co-ordinates a growing list of local Riverfly groups which have already proved themselves in providing data to pursue point source and diffuse pollution incidents, and are now providing data to monitor the success of our CPAF projects. But another fantastic reason for attending the Recorders meeting is making new connections, and Lynn from the Surrey bat group pointed out our RS reaches are the same length as the Bat Conservation Trust Waterways survey, we hope to do some collaboration with both BCT and SBG on that for our volunteers. The last speaker of the day also offered us another opportunity. PondNet is reaching Surrey this year, and its coordinator in the south, Francesca Dunn from the Freshwater Habitats Trust (ex-Pond Life) talked about the project. They are looking for volunteers and ponds for them to survey, and SWT RiverSearch volunteers will be happy to help I am sure.
I haven’t mentioned here that I also gave a two-part talk which for the first part was announcing that there will be a Surrey State of Nature report produced in 2016, emerging from Surrey Nature Partnership ’s Biodiversity Working Group in Collaboration with SBIC and SWT. There was a national SoN produced in 2013 and also some county SoNs from Kent (2011) and Devon (2013). Behind this this piece of work is the lack of any true baseline from which to monitor changes, as a place from which to undertake an audit of Surrey’s Natural Capital, and therefore also to monitor success (or otherwise) in achieving SWTs goals of a Living Landscape. The second was a brief exploration of monitoring which really posed questions rather than answered them. Faced with a room full of people who are already recording species (some for longer than I have been alive) it was a daunting prospect to ask is what we are recording giving us the data we need to answer the questions we want. Fundamental to this is the goal set by Professor John Lawton in his Making Space for Nature report is the need for coherent and resilient ecosystems. Much of what we monitor is biodiversity-its abundance and distribution and although research into biodiversity and ecosystem function is stil relatively new, we should begin to incorporate what we do know into our monitoring systems. More on this- and my talk in full-in a later blog.
State of Nature (c) Catherine Burton
State of Nature (c) Catherine Burton
What is clear is that one ecosystem service provided by biodiversity is it brings so much joy to people, stimulates both the left hemisphere in our natural human urge to discover and understand and the right hemisphere in the creativity which it stimulates. How that supports our economy, how we value that is beyond my brain, but I suspect these behaviours occurred early in the evolution of Homo sapiens, and exercising them is as important as breathing.
Lunch gave us all the opportunity to catch up, share stories and make plans which some may say is the real heart of the recorders meeting, after which some rapid fire updates. One that sticks in mind was on the Oak Processionary Moth (OPM). This little critter is a non-native invasive species that has serious consequences for human health and the Forestry Commission and other agencies are on a mission to eradicate it. The hair of the OPMs caterpillar is toxic and a rash of cases of unexplained breathing difficulties around Richmond Park was traced to this hairy vector. The only management technique at present is location and eradication of the nests as early as possible. The caterpillar will also defoliate and kill the host tree. John Lock was presenting early research into a possible natural enemy the Tachinid fly Carcelia iliaca.
(c) Catherine Burton
With my Surrey Mammal Group Hat on I was also manning the SMG stand and asking people for Brown Hare and Water Vole sightings. We have some old sightings of Brown Hare in parts of Surrey but no new recent records so ahead of the Mammal Atlas we need a real push to update these. I’m overseeing a status update for the Water Vole in Surrey at SWT, spear-headed by Alex Learmont our Water Vole Conservation Officer. She coordinated 66 surveys last year (again with RS volunteers we trained up), all with no evidence of water voles. If you have seen either of these…or any mammals in surrey from the humble rabbit and fox up, you can submit records directly to SBIC here. Or if you prefer send to me at email@example.com
In Alistair’s review of the year, he recalled the passing of one of Surrey’s foremost recorders, Ray Tantrum. What Ray didn’t know about fungi was probably not worth knowing. I met Ray a number of times at SWT events like Bioblitz and I always told her I was going to come on one of her Fungal Forays. I will remember a warm and likeable person with an incredible knowledge and a wicked sense of humour. Shortly after her funeral a letter appeared about her life at SWT and, jaw dropping, I read tales of escapes from Nazis and a fondness for motorbikes. I wish had time to get to know her, but a stronger inspiration to embrace life I have not seen.
Thank to Alistair Kirk and Catherine Burton of SBIC for organising this event again. I think this year especially the need our support- who would have thought that in the midst of all this fantastic activity stimulated by a local record centre, supporting a community of dedicated and knowledge people, who are providing a health cheque for the nations’ environment free of charge, that Natural England have decided to cut funding to these fabulous places. I cannot see the sense. Support your local record centre.
I’m not a man to wish for the year to run away with me but when Alistair closed the meeting and bid us Adieu until Feb 2017, I was so excited about what that might hold. But on a sunny late winter morning, there is such expectation in the air as the natural world awakes (although as warm as it has been, it’s been a cat nap rather than a deep dreamy slumber). I am brimming to the top with ideas and excitement about discoveries yet to be made. And Im going to enjoy sharing them all with you too.
Feels a bit like being at the top of a roller-coaster just before it…drops….over…..the eeeeedge……