Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes June 2017

Early Marsh-orchid (Dr Phil Smith)

There could hardly be a greater contrast; Edinburgh had the wettest June ever, while desperately needed rain fell here on only eight days during the month. Though limited in quantity, it allowed some recovery of sand-dune vegetation and even stimulated a little Natterjack Toad activity, a few late spawn strings being found, though they didn’t survive long. The dune water-table continued to fall, partly due to a heat-wave from 17th to 21st, including the hottest June day nationally since 1976.

Aquatic Symbionts: Assessing the Abundance of Torix Group Rickettsia in Aquatic Insects around the World

Symbionts are known to be an important aspect of almost every living organism. Invertebrates are no exception. They display a remarkable range of symbiotic relationships with bacteria, which are capable of altering reproduction, defence against natural enemies, and play a role in nutrition. Up until now, most work has centred on a bacteria called Wolbachia which is commonly found in insects.

Wolbachia is relatively rare in Odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) and other aquatic insects, but recent work has suggested the presence of another similarly pervasive microbe. Our work has revealed that the bacterium Rickettsia is carried in 40% of midge species, and the Azure Damselfly (Coenargrion puella) can carry one or two strains of infection. Data suggests that Rickettsia is a common but underrepresented feature of freshwater invertebrates and our aim is to see how true this theory is.

Court Hey Park

Court Hey Park (Diane Miller)

Court Hey Park has a rich cultural and natural history. Having once been a part of the extensive land estate owned by Lord Derby the land was later purchased by Robertson Gladstone who built his estate including a mansion and  walled garden on the site. After changing several hands the site is now managed by Knowsley Council and until 2017 was the home of the National Wildflower Centre Millenium project. This park is very popular with the local community with an active friends group as well as cricket, bowling and cycling clubs based here. The site is also the home of the North Merseyside Local Environmental Records Centre, Merseyside BioBank.

Rimrose Valley

Rimrose Valley at dawn

Rimrose Valley is a former tip and landfill site which was reclaimed in 1993 with a view to improving the area as an educational and recreational resource for the local community. It is designated for four specific areas - Rimrose Valley itself, Edge Farm Rookery and the Leeds Liverpool canal running along its eastern boundary along with a Local Nature reserve at Brook Vale.

There are over 20 different habitats recorded within Rimrose Valley, of these nine are considered as priority BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) or regionally important which makes it an amazing place for wildlife.

Rimrose Valley – A year in the life of a threatened wildlife site.

Rimrose Valley canal (Barry Smith)

Rimrose Valley is a 3.5 km country park and valley in North Liverpool which provides a vital mosaic of habitats for wildlife in an urban built up area, it is a ‘green lung’ for the area and lies between Crosby and Litherland in the borough of Sefton.

The deeper I look the more I see what an amazing place it is and how important it is to preserve its existence – Not just for wildlife but also for the different communities that surround it. Hopefully this piece will do justice to its beauty, it won’t be filled with words and scientific information, I aim to provide a more visual guide to what I have found over a twelve month period.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes May 2017

Drooping Star-of-Bethlehem (Dr Phil Smith)

Normally resilient plantlife took on a late-summer hue with straw-colours dominant as far as the eye could see. Fortunately, some light rain in the second half of the month improved conditions a little but many plants struggled. I estimated a 90% reduction in marsh-orchid flowers on the New Green Beach near Ainsdale compared with 2016. As usual, the TV weather presenters treated the slightest hint of rain as a national disaster. A letter from Oxford to the Radio Times said it all. “What kind on madness is it for weather forecasters to refer to the “threat” of rain, when we’ve had the driest spring for 20 years? Rivers are running dry, wildlife is threatened, farmers and gardeners are tearing their hair out ....”

What is a drought?

Drought (Hugh Harris)

Droughts are not very easy to define. A drought is not just a lack of water for a significant period. It is difficult to come up with a single definition as drought varies from place to place. A severe drought in the Indian monsoon, such as that during the 2002 season, can be caused by just a few weeks of deficit rainfall. In south-east Australia, rainfall amounts have been below normal for about a decade, leading to an extended drought which has affected farming practices and has led to a series of wildfires in populated areas. In the UK people say there is a hose-pipe ban if it doesn’t rain for 14 days! In fact, there are a whole range of types of drought including; agricultural (farming), meteorological (weather), hydrological (surface water) and socio-economic (ones which affect humans). 

Nominations open for the 2017 UK NBN Awards

Nominations have opened for the 2017 UK Awards for Biological Recording and Information Sharing!

Developed in 2015 by the National Biodiversity Network, the National Forum for Biological Recording and the Biological Records Centre, these annual Awards celebrate the individuals, the newcomers and the groups of people or organisations that are making outstanding contributions to biological recording and improving our understanding of the natural world in the UK.

There are six categories of awards this year:

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes April 2017

Purple Ramping-fumitory (Dr Phil Smith)

Since I started these notes in 2007, almost every April has been characterised by prolonged drought conditions. However, with a total of about 5mm of rain falling on five days during the month, this has been arguably the worst yet. The Met. Office acknowledged that April 2017 was the 10th driest on record for the UK but most other parts of the country had far more rain than us. Climate scientists have shown that spring droughts here are linked to persistent high-pressure systems over Greenland. These interfere with the North Atlantic Jet Stream that controls our weather and are the result of a warming trend in the Arctic brought about by climate change. This has major implications for our wildlife, not to mention agriculture and water supply but the TV weather presenters were still having apoplexy at the slightest hint of rain in the forecast. So much for our “green and pleasant land” as vegetation became parched and numerous grass fires were reported, one destroying Heysham Moss Nature Reserve in north Lancashire.

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