Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Devon Wildlife Trust Placements, September 2014

A snake skeleton. Photo: Hayley Partridge.
Here's the latest account of placement activity with Devon Wildlife Trust by three of our Conservation Biology students: Hayley Partridge, Jordan Holmes and Daniel Hosking. In September, they investigated potential new county wildlife sites, carried out hedgerow and marsh fritallery larval surveys, did a bit of soil analysis at Plymouth University, and various other things...

At the start of the month we were introduced to unconfirmed county wildlife site surveying. Several landowners were contacted about land which was of potential county wildlife site standard. When we visit a site, we make detailed descriptions on a map, noting the National Vegetation Classification (NVC) type, major features, species lists and management. An area can also be county wildlife site standard if it meets a certain criteria – for example, it it has at least five Devon notable species and is over 0.5 ha in area.

A Hornet from the moth trap. Photo: Daniel Hosking.
We had our last visit to the site in the Avon Valley this month, where we finished hedgerow surveys in two additional fields and looked for signs of mammals. We also dug some pitfall traps to try and find some of the insect species present. The main insects found were ground beetles. We also carried out another bat survey using bat detectors, and placed two moth traps. One moth trap only managed to attract a couple of hornets, while the other only managed to attract four species of moth, compared to 27 last month. This is most likely due to the time of year. We only found a single pipistrelle when searching with the bat detectors. However, we did see a badger. The Anabat bat detector did pick up both greater and lesser horseshoe bats in addition to pipistrelles as it was left overnight. All the results from the data collected at Avon Valley over the last few months will go into a report.

Bullhead. Photo: Daniel Hosking.

During September, we attended a riparian management workshop in Liskeard. The workshop involved a walk around a farm which had good water management practices, and the talk was mainly aimed at farmers who were looking to improve the quality of the water in the river by preventing agricultural runoff and bank erosion. A lot of the work required permission from various agencies such as the Environment Agency. Some of the methods shown involved fencing a certain distance from the river bank, limiting the area livestock can drink from by using gates, preventing them from disturbing the river bed and limiting the amount of extra nutrients that can be added to the river from livestock waste. While on site we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a kingfisher which flew past!

Sunset in the Avon Valley.
The majority of work this month was carrying out marsh fritillary butterfly larval web surveys. As the devil’s-bit scabious was in flower, it was easy to target areas to look for webs. Results varied from having 4 webs to over 100 being found at a site. A highlight for us was the discovery of several new marsh fritillary populations which had not been previously recorded as having any webs or adults. It was great to see how pleased landowners were when we found a new population after they committed so much time to maintain a suitable habitat for these butterflies. While in the field, we saw many common lizards and deer. On Common Moor, a grass snake skeleton as well as an adder skin was found!

BBC Spotlight came to the Cookworthy office during September to film a small segment about the seed harvesting and spreading going on in the county. Particular attention was paid to the Devon Wildlife Trust as this is one of the first years where they have harvested their own seed, due to the cost of buying it. The segment was aired on BBC Spotlight on the 15th September.  We also carried out our last Riverfly survey this month, and also attended a team meeting.

We also spent a couple of days in September at university, analysing the soil samples we collected in order to determine the distribution of the devil’s bit scabious plants.

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