Our region is spoilt with the rich variety of wildlife we have all around us and the range of beautiful habitats that help it to thrive. With some rare and endangered species calling our natural spaces home, as well as a wealth of thriving creatures to appreciate, what better time to celebrate our local flora and fauna than spring. In this feature we hope to acknowledge the very special wildlife in the region and champion those experts and volunteers who make it their mission to promote and protect all creatures great and small. We’ll also encourage you to do your bit, whether it is helping bees flourish in your own garden, supporting the charities that are saving some of our furry and feathered friends or simply learning more about how and where you can appreciate the wildlife around our region.
CREATING A BUZZ ABOUT BEES
Over recent years the plight of the humble bumble bee and his fellow pollinators has been brought to our attention as loss of habitat and the use of pesticides has left the species in grave danger. In the countryside, 97 per cent of lowland meadow has already been lost and the dramatic decrease in suitable habitats isn’t just confined to rural areas. The network of 15 million gardens that once formed ‘green corridors’ for wildlife are disappearing at an alarming rate too and it is not just bees that are suffering because of this change to our landscape. Over the past 50 years we've seen declines in two thirds of the UK’s plant and animal species and many of our common garden species - hedgehogs, house sparrows, starlings and common frogs, for example – are increasingly endangered. But we can all help change this - our own gardens have enormous potential to act as mini-nature reserves as they cover about 270,000 hectares which is more than the area of all the national nature reserves in the UK. In cities and towns the number of front gardens that have been paved over has tripled in a decade and over five million now have no plants growing in them at all. In order to try and tackle the problem The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and The Wildlife Trusts have joined forces to urge gardeners to do more to help protect our 250 species of native British bees. The two charities will be arming gardeners with the advice, insights and inspiration they need to create habitats that support wild bees as they emerge from their nests in spring to forage for food so now is the time to get involved and do your bit for bees. Ellie Brodie, senior policy manager from The Wildlife Trusts, says: “Anyone can take action to help wild bees whether you have a wall for vertical planting, window box, or back garden. “It’s easy to plant a bee haven and fun choosing between bee-friendly beauties such as borage, foxglove and honeysuckle.” The Trust has produced a bee-friendly gardening guide which is available now to download and there will be a range of events under the banner of Bee Creative In The Garden running from now through until November, when bees will be seeking out autumnal nesting sites. Helen Bostock, senior horticultural advisor at the RHS said: “A healthy garden is buzzing with bees and other pollinators. By providing nesting sites and growing nectar and pollen rich flowers gardeners can and do support a wide variety of bumblebee and solitary bees.” In Herefordshire, the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust has launched their pollinators campaign with sponsorship from Wye Valley Brewery to get people thinking about protecting the bees that visit their gardens. The group will be out and about in their ‘Hive’ tent at events across the county this summer, including Gardens in the Wild and the Hellens Garden Festival, as well as running a workshop on bumblebee ecology on June 16. The Trust are also running ‘pollinator audits’ on their 55 nature reserves in Herefordshire this summer to ensure they provide the perfect places for pollinators to flourish. Other local branches of the Wildlife Trust all have their own list of events and visits to help promote the plight of the bees, and to educate local people in how they can help. The best starting point for potential bee ambassadors, is to download the wild bee-friendly gardening guide Get Your Garden Buzzing For Bees, which contains lots of facts about the different species of wild bee, their lifecycles and how they nest, as well as practical steps gardeners can take to help them. It is available to download at www.wildaboutgardensweek.org.uk and visitors to the site will also be able to find information about how to enter the Wildlife Trust’s Bee Creative photo competition. Open to gardeners, gardening groups, schools and individuals, entrants are encouraged to share how they’ve welcomed wild bees into their gardens by posting a picture on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – using the hashtag #wildaboutgardens and the category being entered – of their bee-friendly area, whether that be a tailor-made bee home, a flower-packed border or a wall that bees have made their own. The competition, and the various other bee-friendly events lined up over the coming months, will culminate with the celebration of all things buzzing during Wild About Gardens Week which will run from October 23 to 29. For more information on how to help bees in your garden, to download the gardening guide or to enter the photo competition, visit www.wildaboutgardensweek.org.uk
SPECIAL CELEBRATIONS AT SOUTH STACK
The RSPB base at South Stack on the isle of Anglesey has been synonymous with wonderful wildlife for decades and is celebrating its 40th birthday in 2016. With a range of special events throughout the year, the reserve, which is home to some stunning displays of birdlife as well as rare breeds and visiting species, has enhanced its facilities to encourage even more of the local community to get involved and embrace the natural beauty of the site. Councillor Ann Kennedy, Mayor of Holyhead, said: “This is a very special year for RSPB South Stack as it celebrates 40 years of actively working for conservation within our communities to ensure a future for the nature that brings so much pleasure to us. “The fascinating history, breath-taking landscape and wonderful wildlife and marine life make this reserve one of Anglesey’s treasures and it’s literally on our doorstep.” The recently opened new play area will have a number of fun activities for children to enjoy – little ones can scramble to the top of the climbing frame, try to keep a steady balance on the log stumps, hop onto the see-saw and then jump onto a basket swing which arguably has one of the best views in Wales. RSPB South Stack Site Manager, Laura Kudelska, , said: “The scenery and fresh air at RSPB South Stack are already an adrenalin boost, but the adventure will now get even better for our younger visitors with the opening of our new play area. We would like RSPB South Stack to become synonymous with active fun in a spectacular location, a place where families can enjoy a day out in the great outdoors. We are extremely grateful to the Tesco Bags of Help initiative for helping us realise our vision of making RSPB South Stack a place where families and nature can come together”. Visitors can also explore the new nature garden which will soon be home to hedgehogs, frogs, insects and birds - as well as some other fascinating creatures that will inhabit our pond. Check in with the residents staying at the mini beast hotel, and get some creative ideas on how to make your own nature garden. Nature detectives can hire the reserve’s Wildlife Explorer backpacks and head out onto our trails to discover some wonderful wildlife. Laura continued: “We have three new trails for visitors to choose from. Our chough trail is a 6km (2 hour) route around Holyhead Mountain and if you’re lucky you’ll spot seals in the sea at North Stack. “Our dragonfly trail is a 1.5km ( 1 hour) family-friendly trail, which heads close to the ponds and in the warmer months, the ideal route for spotting dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies, lizards, adders and newts. If you want to see the ancient circles and experience the dramatic coastal scenery then the 1km (45 minutes) puffin trail is the ideal one for you, and you’ll even get to marvel at the acrobatic flying choughs.”
For more information on how and when to visit contact the visitor centre at RSPB South Stack on 01407 762100 or see www.rspb.org.uk/southstack
DO YOUR BIT FOR THE BIRDS
This spring the brilliant birdlife of North Wales has been given a boost thanks to the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, but still needs your help to support the area’s amazing natural heritage. RSPB Conwy is looking to expand its team of wildlife volunteers after the wetland reserve, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, was awarded £33,600 from the HLF. Now the charity is hoping to recruit 20 volunteers who will provide live wildlife interpretation and nature-based storytelling to visitors. The reserve will also use new interactive equipment, such as sound points and telescopes, to encourage families to venture further into the wetlands where they can truly appreciate the abundant nature. Julian Hughes, RSPB Conwy Site Manager, explains: “Currently only half of our visitors choose to walk the nature trails at RSPB Conwy and many are missing out on the enjoyable and memorable experiences on offer. We are delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has provided us with the opportunity to celebrate our natural heritage and invest in a truly interactive visitor experience. “We’re keen for adults and children to explore the heart of the reserve so they can enjoy nature first hand. We would like them to feel inspired by what they’ve experienced and hopefully help motivate them to take small and simple steps to protect our natural heritage for years to come.” The funding will also provide better protection for waterbirds roosting and nesting on the reserve lagoons, providing a focal point for volunteers to share stories and in turn enhance visits to RSPB Conwy. Julian added: “I’m very excited to see what opportunities this initiative will bring and to work with some new volunteers that will help us make this vision a reality. “So if you’re passionate about wildlife and would like to be a part of our fantastic team of volunteers then please get in touch as we would love to hear from you.”
For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact Eleri Wynne, RSPB Cymru Communications Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 02920 353007.
Super furry animals
Few people realise that Shropshire is home to the only known wild colony of pine martens in England, and these cute but coy mammals have become something of a pet project for Stuart Edmunds of the Shropshire Wildlife Trust. His passion for the protection of the species has meant the family group has thrived and is one of the attractions that brings wildlife lovers to the area again and again. In this first person report, Stuart explains how his fascination began. “During the summer of 1986, I went on a family holiday to Aviemore in the Highlands of Scotland. On that trip, I was fortunate enough to see a wild mammal completely unknown to me. It was large, with a bushy tail, and it hopped effortlessly, leaping onto the side of a large Scots Pine and dashing vertically to the canopy above. I immediately referred to my junior collection of nature books and identified the mammal in question as Martes martes, a pine marten. Since that sighting almost 30 years ago, pine martens have done surprisingly well in Scotland, spreading out from their stronghold in the Great Glen as far east at Aberdeen and south of Glasgow. It is now estimated that pine marten numbers are above 4,000 in Scotland, thanks to an abundance of food and suitable habitat. The story isn’t so positive for England and Wales. These large members of the mustelid family, which includes badgers and weasels, were once common when England was covered in forest, but as our woodland cover has decreased, so too have marten numbers. Viewed as a pest by gamekeepers and valued for their thick fur, pine martens were hunted to the verge of extinction in Wales and were presumed extinct in England since the 1950s. In 2009 I became involved with the recently-formed Shropshire Mammal Group and discovered that over the years, people had occasionally reported seeing a pine marten in the county. I contacted Vincent Wildlife Trust, which had been running a pine marten surveillance project for over 10 years, and they informed me that they had not only discovered evidence of a pine marten in Wales, they had also been keeping a record of the sightings recorded in Shropshire in the belief that some of the reports could in fact be accurate. And so I co-ordinated the first pine marten survey in Shropshire to delve further into the sightings that had previously been rejected. Survey after survey took place as I visited several sighting locations across Shropshire with a group of committed volunteers in search of road kill martens, footprints in mud and most importantly: pine marten scat. But the years passed and it was looking more and more likely that my search had been in vain. That was until Monday, July 6, 2015, when out of the blue I received a message that a photographer, Chris Pearce, had seen a pine marten in Shropshire. Within hours, I was on my way to the location and deploying camera traps, hardly expecting the animal to still be around. But what I discovered on my camera traps five days later was even more extraordinary that the initial photo: not one, but two pine martens: one adult female and one juvenile. This was the first evidence that there is a small population of pine martens inhabiting the woodland of south Shropshire. The martens, presumed extinct in England could have been living under our noses all along and we could have rediscovered a genetic type that was thought to have died out over 100 years ago (the last confirmed sighting in Shropshire dates back to 1899). Continued research must take place to monitor the pine martens in Shropshire and to gather DNA evidence to prove whether our martens are of Scottish origin, or have survived here undetected for over a century. We need to raise awareness of the need to protect the habitat that pine martens depend on and work with woodland managers on the management required to benefit pine martens and investigate how much pine martens prey on grey squirrels, which are currently having a detrimental impact on woodland.”
To find out more about the pine marten project and how you can help with donations to fund the appeal visit www.shropshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/pinemartenappeal
CHESHIRE’S CHARITY CHEER
Cheshire Wildlife Trust has just been awarded £9,900 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create a new Forest School at its Quinta Nature Reserve at Swettenham, Cheshire. The Forest School will attract visits from local schools encouraging children to get outdoors to learn more about wildlife and connect with nature. The project will improve the accessibility and learning resources at the reserve enabling a wide range of nature study activities to take place from exploring the reserve’s ancient woodland through to sweep netting in the wildflower rich meadows to discover mini-beasts. “Our initial focus is on enabling the site to be used by visiting school groups to encourage them to learn about their natural heritage through fun activities,” said Nick Rowles from Cheshire Wildlife Trust. “Children learn by doing, and the activities that we will be able to run will enable them to get close to nature. My hope is that the children will then encourage their families to visit the site to show them what they have learnt.” The funding will open some of the inaccessible sloping parts of the reserve through pathways and steps, as well as developing better facilities for visiting children and families. This will include an all-weather outdoor classroom and a stream dipping platform. The funding will also be used to help Cheshire Wildlife Trust provide nature-related activities for up to 600 children from local schools. The Quinta Nature Reserve has a range of habitats, including a plantation woodland, ancient woodland, two meadows and a stream. Cheshire Wildlife Trust have managed the plantation to encourage woodland regeneration and improve species diversity especially butterflies and wildflowers. Nick added: “Volunteers will now be helping us to make these improvements to the reserve, which will make such a difference to the amount of the site that people will be able to access. “We have invited schools from across Cheshire to take part in our Forest School and wildlife discovery days at our Quinta Nature Reserve and we know what a difference these sessions make to the children – not only in developing their learning but also in their social skills and confidence.”
To find out more visit www.cheshirewildlifetrust.org.uk
A WILDLIFE HAVEN AT LOCAL LAKE
Across Herefordshire, dedicated staff and volunteers from the local Wildlife Trust have a range of projects and missions on the go – all with the aim to enhance and protect the wildlife native to the area. One of those that is helping transform a previously industrial site into one of the area’s foremost wildlife havens in the heart of the Lugg Valley, is the ongoing project at Bodenham Lake. Once a series of gravel pits, these were inundated and the resulting lake and surrounding damp meadows and orchard protected as a nature reserve that has long been a favourite among wildlife lovers. Now a new project managed by Herefordshire Wildlife Trust and called Lugg Wetland Gem, is set to create a true wildlife haven at this idyllic site. The planned restoration work includes re-profiling areas of the lake’s steep sides, creating shallower banks and encouraging reed beds to establish. This habitat is essential for many iconic wetland species including bearded tits, bitterns and reed warblers but is becoming increasingly scarce across the UK. Floating islands will also be launched for birds to nest in safety away from predators while an osprey platform will be erected in the hope that ospreys will stop here during their migration and maybe even breed at the site. The work is being funded by grants from the Heritage Lottery and European Regional Development Fund. The Lugg Living Landscape Officer at the Trust, Sophie Cowling, will be leading the project and is keen to get lots of people involved from the local community. “Herefordshire villages have a strong sense of community and Bodenham is no exception,” she said. “People here are passionate about this landscape, and the nature reserve in particular, and we’ve already had a lot of people sign up to help with the project. We hope to build volunteer teams to monitor numbers of mammals (including otters), crayfish and other key species at the lake at the start of the project and in the following years to see how the work has helped their populations. We’ll also need hands-on help to plant the reeds and other practical tasks. “It’s not often you get the opportunity to embark on major works such as this so we’re really excited about getting started. “Bodenham Lake is an especially important site as there are few large bodies of open water in Herefordshire so we need to make the habitat here as perfect for wetland species as we can. Over the coming years we hope to see species such as ospreys, bittern and bearded tits breeding at Bodenham Lake.” The chances of spotting some of these species will also be increased as a second bird hide, donated by the Herefordshire Ornithological Club, is due to be installed this summer. For younger visitors, a new pond-dipping pool and platform will be created at the reserve and there will be events happening throughout the project for people to find out more about how its progress and encourage them to visit and enjoy this beautiful site.
More information about the project and how to get involved can be found at: www.herefordshirewt.co.uk/bodenhamlake
HOW YOU CAN HELP IN HEREFORDSHIRE
Herefordshire is often described as England’s most rural county, with a rich mosaic landscape of small fields, ancient hedgerows and wooded hills. From the Black Mountains in the west to the Malvern Hills in the east and the majestic sweep of the Wye Valley, the county embodies the finer characteristics of a rapidly vanishing traditional landscape. Spread across this beautiful county are 55 nature reserves under the care of Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, including some of the most unspoilt woodlands, meadows, orchards and wetlands in Herefordshire, which greatly contribute to the richness of our landscape. Some are very small, comprising only a couple of fields, whilst others are as large as the footprint of Kington – but they all need your help. Nature reserves are vital for wildlife and the habitats within them have to be carefully managed. Herefordshire Wildlife Trust estates manager, James Hitchcock said: “These reserves represent some of the best examples in the county of ancient woodland, wildflower meadows and wetlands. It’s imperative that they are maintained in the best condition possible, both for our wildlife and to enthuse and teach people about these fantastic habitats. Ensuring there is clear signage, well-maintained paths and gates and somewhere to park at a reserve immediately makes it more accessible to people – and the more people that come out to our reserves and feel that connection with nature and wildlife the better. We want people to care for our landscapes and take action for wildlife across the county and a visit to a beautiful nature reserve can inspire that.” This year, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust has launched an appeal to raise £40,000 for improvement works needed across their reserves over the next few years. James continues: “As a charity we are reliant on people’s generosity and support to continue our work – we can’t do it without the support of people in the local area who visit our sites. A donation £35 could pay for five metres of hedge laying or £150 for 20 square metres of coppicing.”
To donate to the appeal, or to discover more about Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves and plan a visit, go to their website: www.herefordshirewt.org