March 9th: Nocturnal animals
Speaker: Dr Mike Berwick of the Wildlife Aid Foundation
February 10th: Return of the Peregrine
Speaker: Keith Betton, Chairman of the Hampshire Ornithological Society, writer and broadcaster
January 13th: In Tune with Nature’: how to make a wildlife garden with bee, butterfly and bird-friendly plants
Speaker: John Negus, a photojournalist who regularly contributes to BBC gardening programmes
11 November – Surrey on the Wildside: photographing nature
Speaker Nigel Choat, local wildlife photographer
14 October – Tiger Conservation
Our October bumblebee speaker unfortunately had to postpone his talk so instead we heard all about tigers from FNW committee member, Heather Sohl, who is the Tiger Trade Leader for the global conservation organisation WWF. Heather gave us a firsthand account of WWF’s work to save these endangered and spectacular animals. She explained that the number of tigers in the wild had dramatically declined in the last century and there are now only an estimated 3900 left. These face many problems from habitat loss, the illegal wildlife trade and conflict with humans. But there was good news. In 2010, the governments of 13 countries across Asia committed to doubling the numbers of tigers by 2022, the next Chinese year of the tiger. WWF are working together with these governments and other community groups and the number of tigers in many areas is now increasing.
9 September – Wildlife of the Blackwater Valley
The plants and animals of the Blackwater Valley (BWV) was the topic for the first of the new season of talks for the Friends of Normandy Wildlife. Our September speaker was Bernard Baverstock a longstanding member of the BWV Countryside Trust management committee and Chairman of the Camberley Natural History Society.
The BWV runs north for 23 miles from Rowhill Copse just outside Aldershot to Swallowfields where it joins the river Whitewater and the river Loddon which then flows on to the Thames. Sadly, the once green and pleasant valley now contains the busy A331 and large trading estates, as well as the inappropriately named ‘Meadows’ shopping centre. However, there are pockets of countryside throughout the valley which support a surprising variety of plants and animals and, in places, new habitats have emerged from sites of seemingly utter destruction.
For example, Hollybush Hill, built on a rubbish dump, is now an attractive wildflower meadow. Sandy mounds in ex gravel pits are now covered in trees and ferns and there are water meadows, lakes and reed beds. Not surprisingly these varied environments support a plethora of wildlfe – birds, mammals, butterflies, and other invertebrates.
Some of the more unusual species we heard about were bearded tits (four have been spotted) and reed warblers which have been seen and heard in the reed beds and they are hoping to attract a bittern! The Valley is a stronghold of the silver washed fritillary, bee flies and wasp spiders. Stag beetles live in the area and we learnt how to create stumperies in our own gardens to provide these fascinating beetles with ideal breeding sites. Bank voles, field voles, and weasels; hedgehogs, foxes and roe deer are all resident, as are pipistrelle and Daubentons bats. Frogs and toads are encouraged and adders have been seen – including the melanistic form. There are even occasional signs of an otter!
Despite much of the BWV passing through heavily built up areas, the work of a positive army of dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers has ensured that wildlife is thriving in places along its route. It is well worth taking a stroll along the Valley footpaths and visiting the individual ‘reserves’ along the way. More information can be found on the BWV Countryside Tust website at: www.bcvt.org.uk.
Normandy Village Fair – 26 August
Thank you to all that visited us at our stall at the Normandy Village Fair, which showcased the walks and talks we’ve had and the wonderful wildlife of Normandy. We had some beautiful lady birds crafted by children, and lots of enquiries into the rich wildlife around Normandy. If you have any ideas for what you would like to see at our stall in future years please let us know.
Witley Common – 14 July
Led by Alan Taylor, National Trust ranger, we had a members only guided walk through the shady mysterious woodland and sunny open heaths, and visited the ancient pond. We saw dragonflies, woodlarks, tree pipits, dartford warblers and stonechats and the lovely population of silver studded blue butterflies (thank goodness Alan knew exactly the spot to find them!).
Waverley Abbey – 22 June
Bill and Gill took us on a wonderful guided walk around Waverley Abbey. This is the site of a ruined Cistercian Abbey, situated on the flood plain to the north of the River Wey, founded in 1128, and it was the first Cistercian house to be established in Britain. The area forms part of a conservation area with a stew pond along part of the river Wey. We saw a wonderful array of wildlife including butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, bees, beetles, water and meadow birds, and also a par of adders!
Tices Meadow Nature Reserve – 19 May
Richard Horton, Chairman of the Tices Meadow Bird Group will lead us around this hidden gem on the outskirts of Badshot Lea. Hopefully the newly erected Sand Martin Bank and Swift Tower will have occupants to watch. 189 bird species have been recorded there, with bullfinches, lapwings, waders & peregrine falcons!
The Private Lives of Ladybirds – 8 April
There are 47 species of ladybirds in the UK and about 6000 species worldwide! This is just one of the astonishing facts the members of FNW and their friends discovered in April when Andrew Halstead came to give us a talk on our favourite little red beetles. Before his retirement, Andrew was the senior entomologist at RHS Wisley gardens so he is very knowledgeable and had an amazing collection of ladybird photos, together with a number of live examples (which were to be let go later).
Gardeners in the audience were pleased to hear that many species of ladybird feed on aphids and scale insects and can consume over 60 aphids per day, so providing an excellent natural method of pest control. However, ladybirds are very variable and different species have different food sources. For example, the yellow and orange 22 spot ladybirds feed on powdery mildew and the tiny black Spider mite ladybird feeds on red spider mite.
Everyone was familiar with adult ladybirds, though not with the range of colours and numbers of spots exhibited by the different species that Andrew showed us! The other three stages of the life cycle – egg, larva and pupa – were less familiar. After mating for several hours, the female of most species lays smooth, oval, yellow eggs, a bit like those of a Cabbage white butterfly. They are laid on the underside of a leaf or stalk, cunningly close to where there is plenty of prey. The larvae look very different from the adult beetle and are quite spiny with voracious appetites! The pupa is a non-feeding stage which undergoes a dramatic transformation whilst attached to a leaf. When the newly formed adult finally emerges it may be pale in colour and without any spots. It may take several hours or indeed days for the characteristic colours to develop.
Not many other insects or animals eat ladybirds. Their colour patterns acts as a warning and when disturbed they ‘bleed’ a strong-smelling fluid from their leg joints which understandably deters would be predators! However they do have their own predators, namely Phorid (parasitic) flies and parasitic wasps. The former lay their eggs between the legs of ladybird larvae. The fly larvae burrows into the ladybird host where it lives and feeds until emerging to pupate. The parasitic wasp attacks the adult ladybird laying an egg within the ladybird’s body where it develops until emerging to pupate. It spins its cocoon under the body of the ladybird which protects it until the adult emerges.
The audience were keen to hear about the likely effect of the influx of harlequin ladybirds into the UK. Andrew explained these were first detected in 2004. They also eat aphids so compete with native species and can outbreed them having three or four generations per year as opposed to one or two. However, the actual impact on our UK species will probably not be known for thirty years.
A final burning question was why some of us find our window frames packed tightly with ladybirds in the winter. These are usually Harlequin ladybirds who find window frames an ideal place to hibernate. Other species choose different hibernation places often leaving pheromones behind so that they can locate and re-use the same site in subsequent years.
Photo of ladybird pair by Nutmeg 66 under creative commons
Wild flowers & their identification – March
March saw FNW breaking a little with recent tradition of talks on birds, bees and mammals and hearing about wild flowers and how to identify them. Our March speaker , Dr June Chatfield, is an expert on this topic with a wide interest in environmental sciences particularly botany. She was curator of the Gilbert White Museum in Selborne for 10 years and now volunteers at the Haslemere Educational Museum. She also writes for the British Naturalsts’ Association ‘Countryside’ publication.
June explained the structure of flowers and how to use a wild flower ‘key’ several of which she brought with her. She showed us the main features to look for using common species such as primrose, deadnettle and Shepherd’s purse as examples. The shape and number of petals, and the way these are arranged on the stem are all very important. For example, flowers may be solitary, or in clusters, whorls, or spikes, or in composite heads. Other features of the plant such as the nature of the leaves and stem, and of course the habitat where it is found, give clues to its identification and need to be taken into account.
June lives in Alton but before her talk had taken the trouble to visit Normandy Common to do a brief survey of the plants and mosses found there. Her quick exploration produced over 40 species of plants and more than 18 species of mosses and liverworts, illustrating what a diverse habitat the Common provides.
Return of the Red Kite – Feb 2019
Stunning photographs of red kites in flight, with close-ups of their beautiful yellow eyes, beaks and exquisite feather patterns greeted members and their friends who attended the February FNW meeting. Our speaker was Keith Betton, Vice President of the British Trust for
Ornithology (BTO) and the County Bird Recorder for Hampshire. Keith has had many years experience in studying and photographing red kites as well as other bird species including peregrine falcons.
In the 1800s red kites were very common in the UK and could even be seen scavenging in the streets of London. However, there was a call to kill them and they were persecuted to such an extent that by the early twentieth century they were almost extinct in Britain with just a small population remaining in Wales. From the 1980s the species were protected and a reintroduction programme was started. The Welsh population was very interbreed so young birds were brought in from Spain and Germany and eventually released in areas where the species had originally been common. By 2008 – 2011 the population was doing well and spreading out from the original release sites. Fifty birds were released and there are now around 3000 pairs so this has been a real success story. In and around the Normandy area, for example, red kites are now a common sight, whereas twenty, and even ten, years ago they were never seen.
Keith also gave us some fascinating facts about red kite life and habits and played us their calls on a handy phone app. Their wing span is 1.5m and they are easily recognised in flight by their forked tail. They can live for 26 years and can breed when two or more years old. They will often use the old nests of other birds, set in the fork of a tree. They like to line them with soft materials – one photo showed a nest containing a tea towel and a pair of tights! They usually lay two eggs and will desert them if they are disturbed.
Red kites generally eat carrion and can be enticed into gardens by putting out food. There is a farm in Wales which does this and 150 birds come in to feed from 20 miles away. However, contrary to some stories they do not – and in fact could not – attack and kill dogs or lambs!
Keith will be returning to FNW next February to give us another illustrated talk, this time on peregrine falcons.
Harper Asprey Wildlife Rescue – Jan 2019
Members of FNW could not have had a better start to 2019 than hearing Nigel Palmer of Harper Asprey Wildlife Rescue talk about the centre’s work rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife. Started over thirty years ago, Harper Asprey has grown from strength to strength and now occupies a 15 acre site in Windlesham, rescuing and rehabilitating hundreds of animals every year. The organisation is run mainly by volunteers. It aims to understand the animals it deals with and so provide the best possible care.
Nigel’s tales of success in saving countless foxes, badgers, deer, hedgehogs and bats were truly heart warming – we were told that this winter the centre was caring for 500 hedgehogs! He gave us a fascinating glimpse into the natural history and everyday lives of all of these species of animal and described the carefully thought out process of rehabilitation and release that the animals must go through if they are to survive. There were also some very important messages. For example, if you find baby deer, do not pick them up thinking they have been abandoned. The mother will have ‘hidden’ her babies (albeit not very well!) and will be returning to collect them soon.
The ‘Amazing Grace Hedgehog Project’
Hedgehog numbers are known to be plummeting so it was particularly interesting to hear about progress with the ‘Amazing Grace Hedgehog Project’. This aims to reverse the decline in the UK hedgehog population through education and raising awareness about how gardens, golf courses and commons, for example, can be made more hedgehog friendly.
There is a lot that we can do in our own gardens to help:
* making sure there are hedgehog friendly routes under hedges or through fences between gardens as hedgehogs have extensive territories and can travel long distances at night;
* providing shelters and hiding places;
* planting to attract wildlife generally;
* providing water; and
* avoiding the use of garden chemicals in general, but particularly slug pellets.
Amazing Grace will also arrange to check bonfires before lighting on November 5th and Normandy was one of the first villages to receive a certificate showing that a check had been done and its bonfire was hedgehog-free. Normandy village is also doing well in other ways: a quick survey of the audience for the talk revealed that well over half those present have hedgehogs in their gardens.
The Amazing Grace Project wants to reach all local Councils to persuade them to adopt hedgehog friendly practices. The project now has national support with television documentaries planned and there will be a hedgehog week in May. More information can be found at: www.gracethehedgehog.co.uk and for Harper Asprey at www.harperaspreywildliferescue.co.uk/.