How Long to a Wilder Britain?

Despite the various attempts of some of the more struthian* (Struthio camellus – the Ostrich) of our leaders to ignore or deny it, there can be no doubt that the world is getting a less inhabitable place. The climate has warmed, some may doubt that humans have been the cause, but this is the scientific age and the evidence is clear. We have undoubtedly modified, by direct action, a great part of the surface of our plant and indirectly damaged the rest through carelessness. What is more the rate of these changes has been remarkable, in under 10,000 years we have effectively left our mark across the whole planet, modified most habitats and caused the extinction on a scale achieved only five times previously in the geological record. So why don’t conservationists give up?

At our recent staff meeting the question was asked if we were individually pessimists or optimists about the future of our wildlife. I found this quite a difficult question, I am not optimistic, but I refuse to give up, so I concluded that I was probably an optimistic pessimist, or perhaps a pessimistic optimist. Things are unquestionably looking bleak for our wildlife, in my lifetime it seems likely that the amount of wildlife in the UK has more than halved, this is a loss of individuals. Lots of species that once were common are now rare, or just much less common than they once were. This is most obvious and well recorded for birds which have been well surveyed over a long period. I was used to yellowhammer and turtle dove as the sound of the summer hedgerows, they were common birds. Some that I now rarely see were literally “Common or garden” species, the spotted flycather is one such.

It has long been suspected that insects too have been declining, but hard evidence has been harder to come by, but now this is changing. I have mentioned a recent study done on nature reserves in Germany before but I will copy a link to a newspaper report on it again Insect decline on German nature reserves

Perhaps this decline is not so surprising in Europe where we have highly modified our environment, fragmented it and plied it with pollutants and the various after effects of intensive agriculture and a generally casual approach to resource use. However it now seems that these effects are happening in the biodiversity hotspots of the tropics too see Climate-driven declines in tropical arthropods

It seems that the cause here is probably climate change rather than pollutants or habitat fragmentation. In truth we all now know full well that climate change is not a good thing, either for wildlife or for humans. It seems overwhelmingly that human activity is the  driver and that without a change in our behaviour it will run away to the greater detriment of all of us.

Obviously we should all do what we can to reduce our impacts upon the climate and so our wildlife and our fellow humans. Only the most remarkable about face by governments and ourselves is likely to have any effect as it seems increasingly unlikely that a scientific “quick-fix” is going to bail us out. The future is undoubtedly looking less than rosy!

So in the face of these seemingly impossible odds why don’t we give up? The immediate answer is that we know wildlife is good for our health, humans do best in a green world, particularly our mental health is better for being out in “Nature”. The more that survives now, the more that will be able to spread out into the wider countryside when we finally wake up to what we are doing and take steps to turn things around. This is why nature reserves matter, they can act as short term refuges for wildlife so that it can recolonise wider areas once they become more hospitable again.

If you want a long-term (and I do mean long-term) answer, it is because we know from palaeontology that, however large the extinction event we are living through, life will continue. We cannot guess just what will survive and where evolution will take it, but the more that survives now the wider the pool of options for the future.

So I am a pessimist for the immediate decades but an optimist for the deep future, when there will be life as yet unimagined, but determined by what survives today. That said I would obviously like a Wilder Britain starting now, building upon what we have in our nature reserves and other biodiversity rich places, so don’t expect to see me giving in anytime soon.

*I know, not a real word, but I just coined it!

 

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A Few Birds

We had a mini bird race for teams from our Blashford Lakes Project partners today, which meant that I got to have a good look around the reserve and see a few birds as well. Generally it was a quite day with rather little sign of migration despite the season.

Over Ibsley Water there were several hundred hirundines, predominantly house martin but including sand martin and swallow. The only wader was common sandpiper, but the bushes between the lakes held some small birds including chiffchaff, willow warbler, blackcap and a single spotted flycatcher, mostly accompanying flocks of long-tailed tit.

Walter our regular great white egret was back in his regular spot outside Ivy North hide after going absent for a few days, his recent companion has not been seen for several days. An adult hobby hunting over the trees at the same spot was also nice to see and a peregrine was reported there as well.

Numbers of wildfowl have been high for the time of year and I took the opportunity to get a new count of the coot on Ibsley Water and found 794, a really high count for the first half of September.

 

A Late Surge

It was a generally grey, humid day with very little to report. A yellow wagtail and a spotted flycatcher seen at the Tern hide in the morning seemed like the best the day had to offer. Despite the warm night even the moth trap was not exactly exciting, the best being a large haul of largely unidentifiable (at least to me) caddisflies and a female bulrush wainscot.

small caddis

unidentified small caddis

bulrush wainscot

bulrush wainscot (female)

As usual the Tern hide was locked up last and Tracey came over to take a look , just in case there was anything to see. At first the best was a single common sandpiper, after a while we realised there were two, then I spotted a wader flying about over the water, at first I could not work out what it was then, the give away, it landed on the water – a grey phalarope. I have missed a couple at Blashford before so I was pleased to see this one, I tried to get a very distant picture and the result is probably the worst bird picture ever to grace this site, and that is saying something! If you use  a lot of imagination you might be able to see what it is.

grey phalarope

grey phalarope (honest)

Apart from this the lake was very quiet, even most of the tufted duck seem to have gone now. As I watched the phalarope it swam passed a sleeping duck and it dawned on me that it was a drake common scoter! I did try a picture but this one was so bad that I won’t distress you with it. Good things can come in threes, but despite looking hard we could find nothing else , apart from a third common sandpiper.

It just goes to show that just because there does not seem to be anything much around it is always worth taking a good look.

One Day, Two Reserves

I am not often at Blashford on a Saturday, but this weekend I was, I managed to intersperse catching up on paperwork with a walk round all the hides. Getting around the reserve is very pleasant but also highlights all the tasks that need planning into the coming winter season, I think an eight month winter would just about be enough!

Opening up the hides I saw a greenshank and three wheatear from the Tern hide, which suggested that there might well be migrants about and with luck “something” might turn up.

As usual the day proper started with a look through the moth trap. This contained no rarities but one unexpected moth, a very fresh dark form coronet, this is an attractive moth and one we see quite often, but it flies in June and July. If I was to get one at this time of year, I would have expected it t be an old, battered one on its last legs, not a pristine newly emerged one.

coronet late season

coronet

The cumulative results of my wanderings throughout the day indicated that there were indeed a reasonable scatter of migrants around the reserve. Chiffchaff were frequently to be seen, although willow warbler were many fewer than last week. In one mixed flock of birds near the Lapwing hide I saw a very smart juvenile lesser whitethroat, a rather rare bird at Blashford these days. On the south side of the main car park a spotted flycatcher was catching insects from the small trees and there were several blackcap eating blackberries.

In the early afternoon I was in Tern hide when I spotted an osprey in the distance flying towards us down the valley, it looked as if it was going to come low over Ibsley Water, but as it came over Mockbeggar North lake a large gull started to chase it and, rather than brush off this minor irritation, it gained height and headed off at speed to the south. It was a young bird and is going to have to learn to tough out such attention.

It was not a bad day for insects, I saw red admiral, painted lady, small white and speckled wood, despite almost no sunshine and there were good numbers of migrant hawker and brown hawker about. I also saw more hornet than I had noticed so far this summer and very widely about the reserve too.

Other birds of note were mostly signs of approaching autumn, a single snipe near the Lapwing hide was the first I have seen since the spring here and later wigeon, one on Ivy Lake and 4 on Ibsley Water were also the first returns that I have seen.

For a couple of years now I have been noticing increasingly large floating mats of vegetation in the Ivy Silt Pond and kept meaning to identify the plant species involved. I finally did so yesterday and one of them, the one with the rosettes of pointed leaves, is water soldier, a rare plant in Hampshire and mostly found on the Basingstoke canal!

water soldier

water soldier

It is probably most likely to be here as a result of escaping from a local garden pond, but might be wild, anyway it seems to be a notable record and as far as I know it has not been recorded here before.

In the evening I went out to another reserve in my area, Hythe Spartina Marsh, it was close to high water and I was interested to see if there was a wader roost. There was, not a large one but interesting, it included 74 ringed plover, 30 dunlin, 2 turnstone, 3 grey plover and a single juvenile curlew sandpiper. In addition 2 common sandpipers came flying north up  edge and on the way across the marsh I saw a clouded yellow butterfly nectaring on the flowers of the sea aster. I also saw that on e of the juvenile ringed plover had got colour rings on its legs, however it would only ever show one leg so all I could see was a white ring above a red ring on the left leg, not enough to identify where it had come from. Ringed plover can breed locally on our beaches or have spent the summer way off in the high Arctic of Canada, so it would have been good to see all the rings.