We are always pleased to see what you've all been getting up to and spotting on your daily walks. Thank you to all who posted pictures on our Facebook, even if it was an identification query, it's good to see what we have on our doorstep. This summer wildlife has been thriving, so it was very hard to choose! Here are a few of our favourites!
What's Wild This Summer
One of my favourite parts of summer, is the addition of butterflies to our thriving wild spaces.The summer of 2019 was the best summer for butterflies in over 20 years, and with everyone staying inside this year, hopefully it’ll be even better. There are 59 species of butterflies in the UK, and each species has their own particular taste in plants and habitat. This makes it a lot easier to spot them, as they can still enjoy urban locations, so you don't have to travel far and wide. But if you're not seeing as many as you'd like, what can we do for butterflies?
If you have a garden, you could grow different plants that flower throughout the year to attract a variety of butterflies into the area. It's also important to keep them watered, because the supply of nectar reduces if the plants struggle for water.
If you don't have a garden, you could put out a window box or on a drive or patio. Some good plants for these include marigolds, yarrow and lavender. This works best in the area that gets the most sunlight.
It's so easy to make your spaces more butterfly friendly. For example, you can stop doing something or even do nothing, in some cases, to help them thrive.
This could mean leaving fallen fruit on the ground as in August, some species will feed on the sugar inside discarded fruit. A chore such as weeding or mowing, you can cut down or cut out on as butterfly larvae like to feed on nettles, thistles, ragwort, mixed grasses, holly and ivy. If you can't give up your whole garden, you could just let the grass grow tall for the summer in one part of the garden.
Most importantly, pesticides badly damage pollinating insects, so by leaving this in the shed, it will really help butterflies have the best summer yet.
Summer is usually the best time to see poppies as the growth begins in April and the first flowers usually appear in June. The peak of the flowering season is July and August, though some plants continue to flower into September. Many seeds germinate in autumn with the farmers ploughing the fields. The main location I find these is on the borders of wheat fields, however they can also be seen along roadside verges. I think this pop of colour, despite being known as a weed, can be really beautiful - especially in largely grey, built up areas.
Dragonflies and Damselflies
These magnificent, prehistoric insects thrive during the summer especially around wetland areas. They particularly favour those with good water quality, as their nymphs grow underwater and require clear water in order to hunt. Various species enjoy different habitats, from fast flowing rivers to still ponds and bogs. This means there's a vast area to spot them, from the Jubilee River, the Thames or even in your garden, if you look carefully I'm sure they'll be about.
Now that you've seen one, how do you tell if it's a dragonfly or damselfly?
One key difference is size, the damselfly will be smaller than a dragonfly - their names are a good reminder as a dragon will be larger than the damsel.
When they're resting, the damselfly will rest with its wings together and closed while the dragonfly will keep them stretched open.
Another clue is that I often see dragonflies fighting in the air with each other, damselflies are a lot more docile in that respect and don't engage in combat.
Now you've identified the type, working out which of the 57 species is the part that's even harder! If your memory is like mine, it's a little bit easier if you're able to photograph what you've seen, because then you can look it up and compare your photo.
I use a range of reference books, but to save time I often use an app, websites - or a common species reference sheet.
A few of our top wild sightings for June include:
On the first of June we started the #30dayswild challenge led by The Wildlife Trusts. This is where we were looking to try something ‘wild’ every day of the month. This could be going for a walk, planting in your garden or bird watching. We wanted to see what you were getting up to also, and we received some great posts on our Facebook! On our final day we concluded with a selection of great posts from you. We posted every single day on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and they're all still there and applicable to any day after! Doing wildlife related activities shouldn't end with June, and it could be more of a reminder to show you just how easy it is.
The Big Butterfly Count is a nationwide survey run by Butterfly Conservation, which is on from Friday 17th July to Sunday 9th August. The aim is to assess the health of our environment by counting the number of species of butterflies and moths that you see. It's so easy to do and only takes 15 minutes to pause and count. Not only is this a relaxing activity in the lovely weather we’ve been having, but it has really improved my identification skills! I found the long grass/flower patches near the Jubilee River was a fantastic location for a range of species, especially for Burnet moths! Make sure you log your results on the Big Butterfly Count website and feel free to share with us.
#BlackBotanistWeek took place between the 6th-11th July. This was the founding month for the celebration and their website states it was 'First organized in 2020 to promote, encourage, create a safe space for, and find more Black people (and BIPOC) who love plants!'
Furthermore, it details 'Black Botanists Week is a celebration of Black people who love plants. This plant love manifests in many ways ranging from tropical field ecologist to plant geneticist, from horticulturalist to botanical illustrator. We embrace the multiple ways that Black people engage with and appreciate the global diversity of plant life.'
It's a fantastic celebration but also it is desperately needed. From May 2020 National Statistics were released that stated 1 in 8 British households have no gardens. The percentage of homes without a garden is higher among ethnic minorities, with black people in England nearly four times as likely as white people to have no outdoor space at home.
In June 2020, the Telegraph released an article exploring the under representation in horticulture. This included a look at Flo Headlam - Gardeners' World's first ever black presenter who started in 2017. This is nearly 50 years after the show first aired.
In 2016, Juliet Sargeant won gold at the Chelsea Flower Show with her 'Modern Slavery' piece celebrating the day parliament passed The Modern Slavery Act in 2015. Juliet was the first black gardener to design a Chelsea display, since it first started 153 years ago in 1862. In an article for the Evening Standard, Juliet explained the need for diversity in horticulture.
“I don’t come across any other black garden designers when I’m out and about. But that doesn’t mean black people aren’t interested in gardening and design."
“I think they do not culturally feel part of the horticultural scene. And you need confidence, a network of contacts and a sponsor to pull off something like a Chelsea show garden.”
Mrs Sargeant, a former chairwoman of the Society of Garden Designers, said: “There is a fabulous array of gardening programmes but they do tend to be very traditional white middle-class in their attitude towards gardening."
Therefore, the celebration of #BlackBotanistWeek is in fact, very overdue. If you'd like to diversify your social media here are a few botanists, gardeners and plant lovers to follow!
Black Botanist Team on Instagram:
Black Botanist Team on Twitter:
When out and about exploring in the wild spaces around you, it is always exciting to spot something you've never seen before. For me, it was the blotched-winged honeysuckle sawfly (abia fasciata), pictured below. In the UK there are 27,000 types of insects, and many look very similar. As I have found, it's always good to have a pocket identification guide while out walking, as if you can't get a picture, it's easier to work it out there and then. However, I find with species such as flies and moths, it can take a very long time to identify them by book as many are very similar. Usually, when I am struggling I use Picture Insect App which you can use on Apple and Android phones. For this, you submit a photo of what you've seen and within seconds it identifies the insect and few other similar species. However, for once when I spotted this sawfly, it only appeared with similar species. If you also are struggling with identification, I recommend contacting the Royal Entomological Society as they replied to me with the exact correct species, the very next morning after I sent the email. Otherwise, the classic 'Collins Complete Guide to British Insects' is always a safe go to.
Here's a few things to keep you busy while you're out sunbathing, travelling somewhere or have a quiet moment, here are a selection of our summer favourites.
Countryfile - Charlecote Park - BBC iPlayer
One of my favourite episodes of this summer - it includes the celebration of Nation Trust spaces reopening with a look at Charlecote Park, interviewing members in a working mill tackling the baking boom and a photography competition for an online livestock show. However, most importantly, they investigate the challenges members of the BAME community face while living in the countryside. It's an in depth look on something a lot of us will have taken for granted.
Out and About - Night Explorer
This is a part of the National Trust's book series 'Out and About'. This is intended for young adults and children, and is a colourful guide to over 100 insects, animals, birds and stars. In the link, you can buy this hardback from an independent book store in Country Durham for £6.99.
Ologies - A science and culture podcast by Alie Ward, is one of my favourites. It has a range of 'ologies' like microbiology, ornithology or felinology - to the very niche like gelotology (laughter) and teuthology (squids). Alie interviews experts on each topic and they're so easy to listen to while still being very informative. There's a lot of episodes, so I'm sure you'll find your interest.
BBC Earth Podcast - These episodes are slightly more bitesize at around 30 minutes and suitable for all ages. The BBC Earth podcast dives deep into surprising stories from all around the world and even beyond with the episode 'The planet where it rains diamonds'.
Black Nature Narratives - This podcast explores black perspectives on issues relating to the natural world and their relationships with nature. It's led by Beth Collier, the director of Wild in the City - a London based chairy supporting well-being through nature. She interviews a range of fascinating people such as Violet Matiru, a Kenyan zoologist and discusses issues such as the exclusivity of access to nature and environmental governance in Kenya.
World Wild News
Bumblebee Aware August 2020
The Bumblebee Conservation Trust have been in contact with a great article about bumblebees. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust are passionate about saving bumblebees and do this through research and projects. I'm sure many of you will love bumblebees just as much as I do, so this article gives a fantastic insight on what they're up to and how they're enjoying their summer, just like us. This article was written by Adrian Doble (Bumblebee Conservation Trust).
In some respects, bumblebees are more visible in the autumn because there are many more males about. They are produced towards the end of the season. They are not allowed back into the nest and so spend the nights outside, protected from the cold by their longer coats. They collect no pollen or nectar except as their own food and so laze about on flower heads, waiting for young females to come past. (It sounds familiar doesn’t it?) Some of them fly along specific scent-marked paths to look for “love”, different species flying at different heights.
One exception is the Tree bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum. These males hang around the entrance to a nest competing for the princesses as they emerge. This species arrived in the UK in 2001 and has successfully spread up to Scotland. It is unusual in that it nests above ground, taking advantage of holes in trees, bird boxes, and roof spaces. They have a ginger thorax, a black body, and a white tail. They can be seen from February to October. Their tongues are short and so they feed on shallow flowers such as those of orchard and ornamental fruit trees, Cotoneaster, and roses. Broods of up to 150 workers are produced. Part of the success of this species is that it appears to have no cuckoo bees that might commandeer the nests.
At this time of year, female bumblebees can be identified easily when the pollen sacs on their legs are loaded but not if they are only gathering nectar as this is carried internally. Even so, they never have time to rest. (Sounds familiar?)
The quality of pollen varies greatly from one plant species to the next and workers have to learn which to visit. The best are the clovers and vetches where the pollen is as high in protein as prime steak, and the protein is of high quality. This matters, because pollen from Dandelion, for example, is so poor that colonies fed exclusively on this produced no offspring.
The importance of members of the pea family was not recognised in the days when clover leys were part of annual crop rotation on farms but since they were replaced by monocultures of cereals, bumblebee species, particularly the long-tongued ones, have declined significantly. Furthermore, chemical fertilisers made the nitrogen-fixing property of clovers redundant. All members of the pea and bean family are very important in the projects designed to support pollinator species.
Currently, bumblebees are enjoying open-flowered Dahlia, Hollyhock, Cornflower, and Cosmos in our gardens, and Bugloss and Wild marjoram in the fields. When buying plants for pollinators, look to see if there are bees on them in the Garden Centres because some of the showier varieties have been bred to look good without producing pollen or nectar.
Other Local Wild Groups
We are not alone! In case you're interested, have a look at some of our neighbouring wildlife conservation groups:
Wildlife in Ascot
Wild Eton and Eton Wick
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