Friday, 14 November 2014

October 2014 for our Devon Wildlife Trust Placement Students

by Hayley Partridge, Jordan Holmes and Daniel Hosking

Roe Deer. Photo: Hayley Partridge.

In their ongoing series of reports for our blog, Hayley, Jordan and Daniel tell us what they have been doing in October. 

Potential County Wildlife Site surveys, lab work, reports and meetings all feature...

Shorestone Moor. Photo: Hayley Partridge.
Fox moth caterpillar at Shorestone Moor. Photo: Hayley Partridge.
This month we have focused on completing Unconfirmed County Wildlife Site (UWS) surveys. We met landowners, who showed us their UWS and explained to us how they managed the land. In most cases, grazing was being used. However, some sites appeared unmanaged with a lot of scrub. 

Most sites we visited were County Wildlife Site standard, as they had National Vegetation Classifications of M23 or M24/25. The constant species in a M23 community (rush pasture) include sharp flowered rush, soft rush, marsh bedstraw, greater bird’s-foot trefoil and Yorkshire fog, whereas M24/25 communities (Fen meadows/purple moor grass mires) are dominated by purple moor grass, with greater bird’s-foot trefoil, tormentil and carnation sedge. We found that many sites had devil’s-bit scabious, which could be important in the future for extending the distribution of the marsh fritillary butterfly. We saw evidence of deer, foxes, woodpeckers and badgers. A UWS form was completed for all the sites we visited, which will then be sent to Devon Biodiversity Records Centre (DBRC) for review.

While in the office, we organised the data we collected for the marsh fritillary larval web surveys. This involved scanning the forms into the system and marking where we found webs at sites using MapInfo. The data was used to write a report for DWT, and we have compiled the larval web and adult count results to make a marsh fritillary report for 2014. We have compared data with previous years, as well as seeing if the abundance of devil’s-bit scabious, vegetation height and poaching by cattle affects marsh fritillary populations.

We also completed our Avon Valley report. It included results from our grassland, hedgerow, small mammal and invertebrate surveys. We found that fields were more species-rich where yellow rattle was planted, and hedgerows followed a species-area relationship. We made some management suggestions to increase biodiversity at the site, such as changes to the timing of hedge trimming. However, some results, such as the effect of yellow rattle and mob grazing, cannot be acted on yet as more long term data is needed to confirm our observations. We hope that these surveys will continue each year to establish the best management techniques for the site. 

At the start of the month, both the Nature Improvement Area (NIA) and Working Wetlands (WW) team took part in the planting of devil’s-bit scabious seedlings. Over 1,400 plugs were planted over two sites in North Devon. We have started to type up our report on the effect of soil on devil’s-bit scabious distribution, after completing analysis of samples in the lab at university. We also took part in a practical at university to identify freshwater invertebrates and how they assess water quality (The Biological Monitoring Working Party - BMWP index system). We identified stoneflies, caddis flies, mayflies and dragonfly larvae to family level. 

Finally, we attended several team meetings this month. One meeting took place in Exeter, and included DWT staff from all offices. There were presentations about DWT and future plans, as well as several workshops where DWT aims, achievements and improvements needed were discussed. 

Next month, we plan to carry out research about drainage at Meeth Quarry, survey more Unconfirmed County Wildlife Sites, learn hedge laying techniques and complete our soil/ devil’s-bit scabious report. 

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