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Monday, December 08, 2008

Photographic evidence of diversity

While I'm on the subject try visiting this link here for some remakable pictures. ( a little bit better than mine)

Sunday, November 30, 2008


The Somerset Wildlife Trust has announced the publication of a new strategy document for Somerset.
The full document can be viewed and downloaded from the Wildlife Trusts web site, link here, or the County Councils web site. Link here.

Its quite a long 37 page document which seems very relevant to our local groups aims and objectives concerning wildlife particularly strategy Objective 8. Some highlights are shown below.

(From page 19)
Objective 8:
Enable community engagement with the natural environment and
biodiversity conservation
Current Challenges:
The relationship between the people of Somerset and our wildlife needs to be strengthened
if the natural environment and conservation are to become a part of everyday life for far more

( From page 20)

Where we want to be in 2018:
For more people to have connected with wildlife, to have discovered the benefits that it can offer
and the ways in which they can help conserve it.
Key Actions:
8.1 Encourage all landowners to take biodiversity into account when managing their land.
8.2 Encourage landowners to take up access and educational visits option under the Higher Level
Stewardship scheme.
8.3 Declare suitable sites as Local Nature Reserves. Create and implement management plans
that focus on improving biodiversity value and sustainability, wildlife interpretation and
accessibility for all.
8.4 Explore the opportunities for disseminating local wildlife information. For example: Setting up
a dedicated Wildlife Information Service to provide expert responses to biodiversity enquiries;
organising road shows and practical activities in which people can participate and creating a
popular guide to exploring Somerset’s wildlife.
8.5 Facilitate and enable voluntary community biodiversity conservation projects and provide
support for local biodiversity champions. Develop the role of volunteers in the protection and
management of local sites.
8.6 Adopt Natural England’s Accessible Natural Green Space Standards - and ideally also the
Woodland Trust’s Access standards - as the minimum standard of accessible natural green
space to be achieved.
8.7 Include Local Biodiversity Action Plans within Sustainable Community Strategies.

This post is just a first reaction to the issue of this document which is supported by a long list of voluntary and local government organisations. It may provide an excellent basis from which to ask questions of our local councils to find out how they see themselves putting this thinking into practice.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Photographic competition result.

In brief , I didnt win any awards!
I did see how real photographers approach a subject like hedges. I hope the competition is run again next year so I can put into effect all that I learnt last night.
If possible I'll try to get the winners onto this blog.
I did learn about some of the sponsors including CPRE, FWAG and Exmoor National Park.
We had a very informative and motivational talk on photography by Pauline Rook whose work in the Blackdown Hills can be seen here

"Pauline Rook Photography"

Friday, November 28, 2008

Somerset Hedge photographic competition

Here are some photos of a new hedge with 1000 whips over 200 metres all planted this year by volunteers. On the left are the young whips soon after planting and on the right is a photo of a butterfly egg ( a small white dot in the fork of the branch laid by a Brown Hairstreak) on a young blackthorn bush in an adjacent hedge.

I shall be attending a presentation this evening to see who has won the competition to find good photos of Somerset hedges.
Here is a link to their web site.

I entered photos of our new hedge planted on our Private Nature Reserve 4 acre wildflower meadow and because hedges are so important for wildlife. Here is an extract from the Hedge Society web site on the subject. See link above for more detail.
Hedgerow Wildlife

Dog RoseWhat is a good hedge for wildlife?

Well-managed hedgerows are valuable for wildlife supporting a rich diversity of insects, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibian. In many lowland areas, hedges are the most significant wildlife habitat remaining. The health of hedgerows is crucial for the survival of many common as well as more rare species.

Native hedge plants such as blackthorn, hawthorn, hazel, dogwood and field maple will support many more species than non-native plants such as garden privet, leylandii and sycamore. In general terms, the more kinds of tree and shrub a hedge contains, the more wildlife it can support due to different flowering and fruiting times. The most valuable hedges are those that combine a thick and bushy hedge with a sympathetically managed bank, ditch or grassy margin.

Hedgerow shrub wildlife species supported:

Hawthorn 209
Blackthorn 153
Hazel 106
Beech 98
Field Maple 51

BerriesMammals and reptiles

A mixed species native hedgerow will provide a supply of fruit, berries, nuts, insects, slugs, snails and spiders for a range of mammals. Hedgehog, common shrew, pygmy shrew, wood mouse and stoat will all use hedges to feed, next or hibernate. Other species such as dormouse and adder are more likely to be found in hedges that link to other hedges and features such as scrub, woodland or ponds.

Brown Hair Streak ButterflyAmphibians and insects

Certain hedge features are favoured by certain species so a variety of hedge shrubs and management is important. Amphibians (frogs, newts and toads) favour hedges with ditches and dense ground cover. The caterpillars of the Holly Blue butterfly, will only be found in hedges containing holly, spindle or dogwood. Another butterfly, the Brown Hairstreak butterfly will only lay its eggs on the young shoots of blackthorn in a hedgerow.


Birds use hedgerows to feed, find cover, establish breeding territories, nest and raise chicks. Birds commonly associated with woodland such as blue tit, great tit, wren, blackbird, robin and chaffinch are more common in taller, wider hedges. Birds that favour scrubby or open woodland, such as dunnock, yellowhammer and whitethroat are more common in poor, gappy hedges. A taller hedge allows nests to be built out of the reach of predators and will therefore be more likely to fledge chicks successfully.

Hedgerow TreeHedgerow trees

Hedgerow trees and uncut hedge tops provide important song posts allowing birds to establish territories in the breeding season. It is important to select sapling in hedgerows to grow on into the next generation of trees for wildlife and for landscape value. Oak and ash are valuable, long-lived hedgerow trees supporting a wealth of wildlife species but other native trees can also be left. Bats, songbirds and lichens, which favour undisturbed conditions, can thrive on mature hedgerow trees.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Starlings hotline for roosting information

I called the hot line number today to check for their advice.
There is a longish intro giving advice about the problems of parking in the area and suggesting that visitors should be there early in the week as it gets very busy at the weekends and to arrive at least 1 hour before dusk. Choose a fine day which is more likely to produce the aerial displays with a million birds in the air performing their dramatic formation flying.
It concludes by saying the birds are roosting at the RSPB Ham Wall reserve at present.

For information on the roosting starlings please phone the RSPB Avalon Marshes Starling Hotline - 07866 554142.

PS. It is not unusual for the birds to change their roosting sites from time to time.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bees and climate change.

Last Thursday we were given an entertaining and very informative presentation on the subject of climate change and its impact on honey bees. As usual a good talk raises our level of interest and awareness in the subject. My own interest has led me to some interesting web sites. Here are some extracts from several sources related to the subject.

Defra, UK - Bee Health - Introduction

"Bees make an important contribution to the sustainability of the countryside, contributing both to agriculture and horticulture and to biodiversity. They also produce honey and other hive products.

The European honey bee (Apis mellifera) plays a dominant role, being the major managed pollinator available for field and outdoor fruit crops, while species of bumble bee (Bombus) are commercially reared for the managed pollination of a number of protected crops, including tomatoes. The economic value of crops grown commercially in the UK that benefit from bee pollination is estimated at around £120m-£200m p.a.. By contrast, the value of honey production in the UK fluctuates between £10-£30m p.a.. Honey bees also play an increasingly important pollination role in respect of many wild species of flora. The economic value of bees to wild plant pollination is thought to be substantial but impossible to evaluate because the pollination requirements of most species of wild plants in the UK are unknown."

There are thought to be some 44,000 beekeepers in the UK who maintain around 274,000 colonies of honey bees. Of these, around 300 are commercial beekeepers who are members of the Bee Farmers' Association; they manage around 40, 000 colonies. The remainder are small-scale beekeepers, many of whom are members of national and local beekeeping associations, such as the British Beekeepers' Association in England. There are around 33,000 beekeepers in England, who maintain some 230,000 colonies.

Here is an extract from the Independant newspaper. Here is a link.

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
Wednesday, 23 April 2008

But surely all bees do is make honey?

Far from it. They certainly do make honey, but more importantly, they are an essential agent of pollination for a vast range of plants, many of which are important human foodstuffs. Without the presence of bees, much of agriculture would be impossible, and this is a sobering thought right now, as feeding the world is suddenly becoming more difficult because of rising demand and the transfer of much crop production into biofuels, especially in the US.

Most of the pollination for more than 90 commercial crops grown throughout the United States is provided by Apis mellifera, the honey bee, and the value from the pollination to agricultural output in the country is estimated at $14.6bn (£8bn) annually. In Britain alone, pollination by bees of a suite of just 10 crops, ranging from apples and pears to oilseed rape, was calculated to be worth £165m per annum in 2007.

The BBKA points out that this is £800m-plus over five years – and the research programme they are calling for over the same period would cost a mere one hundredth of that. Yet the Government pleads poverty.

Here is an extract from the Somerset Beekeepers Association web site.

When the varroa mite was first discovered in Somerset, the Somerset Bee-keepers' Association foresaw the problem, which the growers were going to face and the important role which our craft would play. A Pollination Officer was appointed at that time, to act as a link between beekeepers and growers. A list was drawn up, of beekeepers who would be prepared to move their hives around, and contact was made with growers who required the services. This liaison has continued every year and is now an important feature of the Association's work.

Some crops are pollinated by wind, and insect pollination is not essential. Such a crop is Oil Seed Rape, but it has been found that even with this, the presence of honey bees results in yield increases. This is because the pollination period is shortened, resulting in quicker, and more even ripening of the seed. The crops where honey bees play a major role are

  • Top fruit: apples, pears, plums etc.
  • Field beans.
  • Borage.
  • Raspberries.
  • Strawberries.
  • Blackcurrants.
  • Runner beans.
  • Courgettes.

Because of the importance of the cider industry in Somerset, beekeepers and cider makers tend to work closely together.

If you would care to add your name to the list of beekeepers interested in pollination, or if you are a grower requiring hives for pollination, please contact the Somerset Pollination Officer whose contact details can be found in the About Us section.

There is a great deal of information about bees on the internet which can easily be accessed.

To finish this post here is a short extract from the web site of the Bee Farmers Association where they are debating the problems facing bee keepers in the face of changing weather patterns or in other words climate change.

Bee Farmers Association News 091007
By John Howat
Published: Sunday 28th October, 2007

The question now, is what can we expect in the future? The British climate is notoriously unpredictable, but has never been extreme. This seems to be changing. Last year in the very south where I live, the crop was low because the weather was too hot and dry, although not much further north some rain meant a bumper year. Between May and late July this year has been cool and wetter than since records began. West France suffered the same conditions. Yet the Eastern European mainland has suffered the hottest and driest year ever. Whether or not Global Warming is man-made, the fact remains that climate change is happening, and the I fear that the results will not be a warmer Mediterranean climate for the UK but will be disrupted weather patterns of the type we are now seeing, worse each year. Add to this the problems with Varroa and maybe small hive beetle and CCD (if it is in fact a new disease), and making a living from beekeeping will be more of a challenge than ever.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Starlings hotline for roosting information

Somerset Wildlife Trust provides information on its web site linked here

Here is a service provided by the RSPB.

For information on the roosting starlings please phone the Avalon Marshes Starling Hotline - 07866 554142.

RSPB Ham Wall reserve, showing area of open water and reed

Parking Disabled access

Here you can enjoy a newly created wetland, which provides a safe home for many rare species including water voles and otters. In spring the reedbeds are alive with birdsong and in autumn you can see kingfishers flashing up and down the ditches. Bitterns are seen regularly in winter.

Opening times:

Open at all times.

Entrance charges:

Free, but donations to help us continue our work here are welcome.
Starling roost information:

The starlings use sites managed by three different organisations - the RSPB (Ham Wall), Natural England (Shapwick Heath) and Somerset Wildlife Trust (Westhay Moor). There is very little parking available at any of the sites, so avoiding the weekend rush will greatly improve your visit.

Whenever you come, please follow any parking instructions given and AVOID stopping on narrow verges or blocking gateways. There is NO PARKING FOR COACHES other than at The Peat Moors Centre situated between Shapwick and Westhay villages. Parking for the western end of Shapwick Heath is also at the Peat Moors centre.

Please take care not to disturb the wildlife or other visitors, by keeping noise to a minimum and obeying rules about dogs and restricted access.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Save our wildflower meadow !

Whilst you were all giving your attention to the US Election or the state of our economy our parish council has terminated the work of its own subcommittee which was set up to develop plans for the future use of its newly acquired 4 acre field. There has been no specific reason given but it followed within days of them receiving a letter from the District Councils Ecologist telling them how important the meadow was and making reference to legal responsibilities for conserving biodiversity as spelt out in the NERC Act 2006 ( Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act ). Its freely admitted by the Councillors that they would be happier if the field was used for general sporting activities.
Now that I am no longer a member of the defunct subcommittee I need to consider the best way to persuade Councillors that a nature reserve in the form of a wildflower meadow would be a great asset for our village. Especially as we already have a recreation field with football pitches within 50 yards of the field.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

BBC Breathing Places Programmes

I hope the BBC don't mind me giving their programme a bit of publicity. This series of programmes and their newsletter seem to be very relevant to the work of the SWT and our local group. Here is their October newsletter.

October 2008

Welcome to October's edition of the BBC Breathing Places newsletter. Autumn has arrived and the cosy knits are out of the wardrobe! Did you catch our September edition? If not, read on to find out what's going on this autumn and what you can do to get involved.

Do One Thing - Make a hedgehog home

At this time of year hedgehogs will start collecting leaves, grass and other materials to build snug nests in which to hibernate. Why not help them along by making your own hedgehog home? It's easier than you think! In fact, many gardens already have natural materials that can provide perfect hibernation spots. Hedgehogs will happily nest behind log piles or under compost heaps, shrubs, piles of building materials and sheds.

If you're feeling particularly adventurous you could even try building a more permanent structure. There are different options to choose from, including simple, cardboard boxes and crates, as well as 'designer', home-made, wooden boxes.

SWAT Revisited

SWAT's back, which means many of you will be getting the chance to see the Springwatch Action Teams returning to your local area this autumn. To reflect the new season, we've renamed the volunteers Autumnwatch Action Teams. They'll be checking out how the transformations kicked off in June have progressed and they'll also be running some new events.

To celebrate the work achieved to date and the upcoming activities, our colleagues on Autumnwatch will be bringing you the lowdown on what's happening all over the country - so keep your eyes peeled (Autumnwatch runs Monday to Friday, 8pm, BBC Two until 6 November).

Partner of the Month - The Bat Conservation Trust

Bats are fantastic creatures and an important part of our natural environment. There are 17 species of bat in the UK, all of which are protected by law because their numbers have decreased so dramatically. The Bat Conservation Trust formed in 1990, is dedicated to protecting bats and ensuring they thrive in our modern world. This means that they can be enjoyed by many generations to come.

The Bat Conservation Trust is an umbrella organisation for a large number of UK bat groups. It also provides support, training, advice and a national voice for bat conservation as a whole. So, if you have a passion for bats, the BCT is a great place to start and offers lots of ways for you to get involved in helping your local bat community - from fundraising to volunteering and bat-counting projects!

Next Month

Breathing Places has teamed up with CBeebies on their new series The Green Balloon Club - a brand new programme aimed at encouraging children to get involved with nature. This autumn, we are offering children the chance to get a special Green Balloon Club Kit, featuring a bird seed cake and sticker selection. We hope that children all around the UK will hang up their seed cake, helping to ensure that birds get fed well this Christmas. To get a free kit, check out The Green Balloon Club on CBeebies from Friday 7 November.

Wild Week

Fancy getting in touch with your wild side this autumn? Why not check out one of our partner events? A particular favourite for this month is Wild Week (25 October to 9 November). There's lots of other ways you can get close to nature this Autumn. Why not download our pocket guide and 'Sounds of the Night' CD and Discover the Dark Side

Events Coming Up

Organisers of Wild Week - BTCV and The Wildlife Trusts - will be running hundreds of events across the UK to celebrate nature. And they're not alone: many of the UK's largest and best-known conservation organisations are also joining in. So, whether you'd like to find out more about bats or take an autumn wildlife walk, we've got an event to suit. Find events in your area

Monday, October 20, 2008

Conservation, Biodiversity , Living Landscapes and the Ecosystem Approach.

Somerset Wildlife Trust and in deed all county wildlife trusts are pushing hard for funding to establish Living Landscape areas as the best and most effective way of protecting wildlife for the long term.

The SWT AGM heard a great deal about such efforts in Somerset and I have attended meetings on the subject to find out more about this significant development in conservation thinking. An important and quite technical aspect which underlies the way conservation is linked to biodiversity and ecosystems management is summarised in the notes included below.

This is my own summary of a presentation given by Diana Pound who runs a consultancy called:
dialogue matters

The Ecosystem Approach
What is it all about?
Discussions with others about the Ecosystem Approach usually include whether or not it matters that so many different terms are being used – sometimes to mean the same thing and sometimes the same phrase is used to mean different things. The phrases being used include: Ecosystem Approach, ecosystems approach (lower case sometimes used deliberately to denote something different), ecosystem-based approach, ecosystem function approach, ecosystem services approach, and ecosystem thinking.

If this change in language means we are all starting to think more holistically then that can only be a good thing. If on the other hand, our casual use of these terms is confusing each other, watering down what they mean, resulting in us reinventing wheels, and missing out on realising that (particularly for the Ecosystem Approach) there are well-developed principles and guidance that could, when implemented, deliver good practice in management and genuine sustainability, then there is a problem.

The Ecosystem Approach
The Ecosystem Approach has been adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as the main way of delivering genuine sustainability and the primary framework for action. It is defined as ’a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way’ (CBD).

To guide implementation the CBD has agreed 12 Ecosystem Approach principles and 5 points of Operational Guidance and provided implementation guides.

The 12 ecosystem approach principles are:

1. The objectives of management of land, water and living resources are a matter of societal choice.
2. Management should be decentralised to the lowest appropriate level.
3. Ecosystem managers should consider the effects (actual or potential) of their activities on adjacent and other ecosystems.
4. Need to understand and manage the ecosystem in an economic context.
5. Conservation of ecosystem structure and function to provide ecosystem services should be a priority.
6. Ecosystem must be managed within the limits of their functioning.
7. The approach should be taken at the appropriate spatial and temporal scales.
8. Process and objectives for ecosystem management should be set for the long term.
9. Management must recognise that change is inevitable.
10. Seek the appropriate balance between integration, conservation and use of biodiversity.
11. Decision-making should consider all forms of relevant information (scientific, indigenous and local).
12. Involve all relevant sectors of society and scientific disciplines.

The 5 points of operational guidance are:

1. Focus on the relationship and processes within the ecosystem.
2. Enhance benefit sharing.
3. Use adaptive management practices.
4. Carry out management actions at the scale appropriate to the issue, with decentralisation to the lowest level appropriate.
5. Ensure intersectoral co-operation.

The 12 principles plus explanation can be seen at:;

The 5 points of operational guidance at:

Implementation Guides
Advanced: .

The ecosystem services approach The ecosystem services approach has a focus on understanding and quantifying the services the natural environment provides for us, and then managing the environment so that the provision of these services is sustained over the long term.

The approach is defined by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment as a way of “identifying, valuing and enhancing the goods and services that the ecosystem provides for us by conserving ecosystem structure and function in a way that ensures these services can be provided over the long term”.

Services include:
• Supporting services: The services that are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services including soil formation, photosynthesis, primary production, nutrient cycling and water cycling.
• Provisioning services: The products obtained from ecosystems, including food, fibre, fuel, genetic resources, biochemicals, natural medicines, pharmaceuticals, ornamental resources and fresh water;
• Regulating services: The benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes, including air quality regulation, climate regulation, water regulation, erosion regulation, water purification, disease regulation, pest regulation, pollination, natural hazard regulation;
• Cultural services: The non-material benefits people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation and aesthetic experiences – thereby taking account of landscape values;
In effect, this is a focus on Principle 5 of the 12 Ecosystem Approach principles.

Millennium Assessment
Ecosystem Services

The following terms are also used – working definitions are provided

ecosystem function:
Includes the following:
The flows of energy, nutrients, minerals, and water within a system.
The spatial and temporal processes which include connectivity and succession.
The sensitivity and resilience of the system.
The predator prey relationships, age structure of species, and whether or not all trophic levels are present and functional.
The effect of human interventions on ecosystem function arising from extracting and harvesting resources or disposing of waste.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Educational project: The Kingfisher Project

Following on from my September 7th post( which including photos) I have also sent this write up for publication in the Wildlife Trust's next magazine.

The Kingfisher Project.

Somerset Wildlife Trust was part of a fantastic schools learning project this summer which was the brainchild of poet laureate, the late Ted Hughes. The Scheme has been running successfully in Devon since 1992.
The Kingfisher Award Scheme was set up in Somerset by Michael Brown who recently retired from running the Brown and Forrest Smokery in Hambridge.
Its objective is to make children aware of the relationship between wildlife and farming; to look at habitats in detail, and to inspire them generally with a life-long interest in the country.
It is funded by a small number of donors, farmers and landowners and by Michael Brown himself running a marathon!
Children from six primary schools ( approx 180 children over three days) visited a farm near Curry Rivel to learn about wildlife in the open, and by discovery which are the two main themes of the Kingfisher Award - and having fun!
Children were also able to see close up a live barn owl and learnt how they hunt and what they eat by dissecting owl pellets (very popular!). They were able to look at the skulls of small mammals and follow this up by seeing how they can be studied by trapping voles, mice and shrews, to be released unharmed back in their habitat.
Dudley Cheesman SWT Council Member and chair of the Somerset branch of Butterfly Conservation, showed some live specimens of local butterflies and moths.
David German, chair of the Heart of the Levels Area Group was one of the project volunteers

Back in the classroom children spent a month working together to research and create displays that reflected their experience in the field.
Their work was judged at a special presentation day at Home Farm, Curry Rivel.
A panel of three judges (including SWT’s Lisa Schneidau, responsible for the Wildlife Trust’s Living Landscape projects and Jean Cheesman and farm owner Henry Lang) talked to the children about their work before prizes were awarded.
First prize of a hand carved Kingfisher Trophy as well as a day in class with the famous willow worker, Serena de la Hay, went to Curry Mallet Primary School Runners-up were Huish Primary School.
Next years project is scheduled for June 8th 2009.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Brief comment on our group

Just sent this 150 word news item for publication in the Somerset Wildlife Trust magazine. See links on this blog for SWT.
We have our AGM this week which will need a little more detail but not too much!!

Heart of the Levels Group write up for SWT Mag Oct 05.10.08

Our Group continues to develop which is very encouraging.
More local people know about us and support us in many ways without the formality of being on the committee. That is good for us and for wildlife.
We welcome two new members of the committee which is also very satisfactory.
Good progress continues to save a local wildflower meadow in Curry Rivel. Visits welcome
Our two recent events dealing with wildlife gardening proved very popular and has prompted efforts to develop some form of wildlife gardening club. We hope to link with existing clubs in our area. Visits to member’s gardens, whatever size, will be a main feature. Enquiries welcome.
Our plans for 2009 include a June barbeque and a repeat of our very successful Art and Wildlife workshop.
Finally a huge thank you for all your support.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bugs- a speckled bush- cricket?

I've shown photographs before on this blog from my friend David Le Clecq which are all of a high standard but this one is exceptional.
Click on the photo to enlarge! ( if you dare)

Photo by David Le Clercq

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Kingfisher Project

This post is a follow up to the previous. Don't forget that to view a photo more clearly simply click on it.

A few photos of one of the schools during a visit to the meadow. The first shows a Grass Vetchling which was growing in the field margin. It is a very attractive flower especially as the plant looks very much like any other blade of grass untill it produces the lovely flower.

A group of children listening to information about butterflies and moths. A moth trap is on the ground in the foreground. "Butterfly Conservation" in action!

The Bee keeper waiting for the next group of children. He was a little concerned about the Queen Bee getting a little overheated on this rare sunny day.

Group activity checking owl pellets to look for small mammal bones. Pulling apart owl droppings was easily the most interesting activity followed by the trapping of a shrew.

Not all the exhibits were live . These two owls were stuffed. Animals found to have died from natural causes can still be of service. There was a live animal for the children to rub shoulders with so to speak.

Kingfisher Project

The Kingfisher Project.


The Kingfisher Award Scheme was set up here in Somerset by Michael Brown in 2008.

Its objective is to make children aware of the relationship between wildlife and farming; to look at habitats in detail and to inspire them generally with a life long interest in the country. The Scheme was launched in Devon in 1992, the idea of poet laureate Ted Hughes and friends, and has been running very successfully there ever since. It is affiliated to FWAG – Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group – but not supported financially by them and entirely self funded.
This is its first year of operation in Somerset.

Though nearly all specialist help is voluntary, the cost of running Kingfisher is about £5,500 a year, with transport, specialist equipment, travel, food, prizes and insurance amongst the main outgoings. The Somerset branch of the charity has to stand entirely on its own and funds have been raised from a small number of donors, farmers and landowners and by running a marathon.
The Project was able to invite six local primary schools to farmland just south of Curry Rivel, in a stunning grass meadow displaying many old grass species and native wildflowers.
Each school were invited to send one class, usually 9-11 yr olds, and each had half a day on site. Learning in the open, and learning by discovery are the two main themes of the Kingfisher Award - and having fun too!

And it is more than just a farm visit for it has three distinct parts: the Field Trip; the Project; and the Presentation.

The Field Trip.

The field trip involves practical time on a farm site where children are introduced to a specific habitat, for example, hedge rows and field margins. This year in early June we based our presentations around the food chain. The children were able to see close up a real live barn owl and to learn how they hunted and what they ate by dissecting owl pellets (very popular!). They were able to look at the skulls of small mammals and follow this up by seeing how they can be studied by trapping voles, mice and shrews, to be released unharmed back in their habitat.
Butterfly Conservation volunteers were able to show some live specimens of local butterflies and moths and a local bee keeper provided an active hive, totally enclosed for safety.
The emphasis was given to hands on investigation, no note taking, and a high priority on having fun. The children learn in the company of specialists and volunteers, (most of whom are local), through discovery and because they were captivated by what they see.

The Project.

The second part follows on from the field visit when the children go back to the classroom and work together to research and create displays that reflect their experience in the field.

The Presentation.

Finally the children’s work was displayed and judged at a special Presentation day on July 15th, in a large old stone grain barn at Home Farm, Curry Rivel, near Langport. The experience for the children included prizes, a picnic, a storyteller and music.

The presentations were based on the field visits that took place in early June. It was clear that schools and their children had put a great deal of effort into their displays which even included poems and photo albums of the event.

The Judging.

And the judging! A panel of three judges were able to talk to the children about their work, carefully assess the displays and prizes were awarded to the runner up as well as winning school. First Prize receives a hand carved Kingfisher Trophy as well as a day in class with willow worker, Serena de la Haye. Serena is well known for her willow sculpture of the figure alongside the M5 near Bridgewater.

Summing Up

Each year a challenge trophy will be awarded to the winning school along with prizes and certificates. What is fascinating is the variety of work produced from a similar experience. Best of all is hearing from the children about their experience and the positive reaction of the teachers for whom it has been a wonderful way to teach the curriculum.
It was a huge success, the children were totally absorbed and the three days were as much enjoyed by adults as they were by the children. Such has been the success of the scheme that the aim next year is to broaden its scope and invite schools from towns as well as villages to take part.

This project description has been based on information supplied by Michael Brown and edited for this blog. Any errors should be sent to the Blog Ed!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wildflowers in June

Here are three photos taken on 16th June. The first ( below) is a Bee Orchid showing seed pods developing from the early flowers with others still going strong
On the right is a Pyramidal Orchid at an early stage of flowering which will continue through into July.
The third photo is a the really beautiful single flower on a Grass Vetchling. According to the books it is the only vetch which looks just like a grass. It is therefor almost impossible to see until it flowers. Click on the picture to get the real beauty of this plant.

All these photos were taken by Mike Cook in our local meadow on 16th June.

I'll add some more to cover July next.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Badgers Cull background information.

For information here is the summary of the press release issued 18th June 2007 and the report covered seems to be the subject of current press speculation about the UK Government policy on culling Badgers. The policy may be announced on Monday 7th July 2008


Chairman: Professor John Bourne CBE MRCVS
18 June 2007
The Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG) today published its Final Report,
Bovine TB: The Scientific Evidence.
The Report describes the outcome of nearly ten years’ work which has provided a broad
understanding of the complex issues involved in the epidemiology of TB in both cattle
and badgers. The potential of badger culling for cattle TB control and the likely
effectiveness of enhanced cattle based control measures have been evaluated.
The ISG has concluded that, although badgers contribute significantly to the cattle
disease in some parts of the country, no practicable method of badger culling can reduce
the incidence of cattle TB to any meaningful extent, and several culling approaches may
make matters worse. The ISG also conclude that rigidly applied control measures
targeted at cattle can reverse the rising incidence of disease, and halt its geographical
Publishing the Report, ISG Chairman Professor John Bourne said:
“The objective of our work, outlined in this scientific report, has been to seek
scientific truth and to provide clarity on the major issues that need to be considered
for gaining control of cattle TB.”
“We believe that in this Report Ministers now have sufficiently robust and extensive
evidence to enable informed policy decisions to be made. They now have the sound
science they require.”
Concluding, Professor Bourne said:
“After nearly a decade of work we believe that we have fulfilled our original aims
and are now able to provide a comprehensive appreciation of the overall problem.
Our findings will surprise some, and be unwelcome to others.”
“Having shown that the main approach to cattle TB control should be rigorously
targeted to cattle, we hope that the overwhelming scientific evidence we have
provided to support this view, and the policy options we present, will enable the
farming industry and Government to work together in a constructive and cooperative
manner to tackle this very serious disease of cattle which causes so much economic
loss and hardship to cattle farmers”.
Cattle tuberculosis (TB) was almost cleared from Britain in the 1970s but has since reemerged
as a major problem for British farmers. Badgers (Meles meles) were implicated
in spreading the infectious agent (the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis) to cattle and
between 1973 and 1998 cattle-based TB controls were supplemented by various forms of
badger culling.
A scientific review of the issue, chaired by Professor John Krebs (now Lord Krebs) and
completed in 1997, concluded that there was “compelling” evidence that badgers were
involved in transmitting infection to cattle. However, it noted that the development of
TB policy was hampered because the effectiveness of badger culling as a control measure
could not be quantified with data then available. Professor Krebs’ team therefore
recommended the establishment of a large-scale field trial of the effects of badger culling
on cattle TB incidence, to be overseen by a group of independent experts.
The Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG) was formed in 1998. In addition to
designing and overseeing the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), the ISG
identified and initiated a broad array of research related to the diagnosis, pathogenesis,
dynamics and control of TB in cattle and badgers. This report – the ISG’s 6th and final,
formal, report – describes the outcome of this research, which provides a previously
unavailable scientific basis for the design of future TB control policy.

Badger cull - News - Wildlife Trusts Somerset

Badger cull - News - Wildlife Trusts Somerset

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Orchids, wild, Pyramidal, rare white specimen

I tried using a piece of card painted brown to assist getting a clear picture!

You may be interested to know that on a visit to our local meadow two days ago I was surprised to find a pure white orchid which is probably a white version of the Pyramidal Orchid. It is said to be a rare occurrence. There is a photograph in the book which can be seen from the web site linked here

Britain's Orchids

A guide to the identification and ecology of the wild orchids of Britain and Ireland

David Lang
(interactive version)

This website is a fully interactive, searchable version of the book; Britain's Orchids, published jointly by English Nature and WILDGuides

Web site link:

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Bats in Somerset

I've noticed from the visit counter that people regularly view this Blog searching for information about bats. As I have posted very little on the subject it may help if I put some contact details and web links in this post. Hope this is useful.

Somerset Bat Group

Contact Name:
David Cottle

01749 674257
The Somerset Bat Group provides an advisory service on Bat problems and conducts roost visits on behalf of Natural England. It carries out systematic recording and regular monitoring of a large number of summer and winter roost sites. It has close links with the Bat Conservation Trust and is a branch of the Somerset Wildlife Trust.
David can also be contacted via the Wildlife Trust on telephone: 01823 652400

Here is a web site link to The Bat Conservation Trust:
Here is an extract from their site:

What are bats doing now: July

Young bats will start to fly at three weeks old, although their mothers will still be feeding them with milk. Young bats are very small (less than an inch) with thin, slightly grey fur, and are sometimes found on the ground as they learn to fly.

The Trust runs a forum which you can use , after registration, to raise any questions about bats.

Here is a link to a web site, "First Nature Guide" giving photos and details of UK bats.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Heart of the Levels Group events.

An Art and Wildlife Workshop 26th July

"Level Light” an Art and Wildlife Workshop.

Date: 26th July 2008 Please note that at present this workshop is planned for Sat 26th only.
Time: 10:00 AM

Location: Stoke St Gregory village hall.

A moderate walk on the moor, led by Jenny Graham, a well known local artist, to explore visual images of the landscape which can be interpreted through drawings/paintings/poetry and photography to record its beauty and natural value for wildlife.

Bring your lunch, camera, sketch pad, suitable footwear and your imagination!

Meet at Stoke St Gregory village hall where parking is available. Adults £4. Unsuitable for wheelchairs/limited mobility.

Numbers for workshop limited to 20 so please contact David German , Heart of the Levels Group or Jenny Graham or the Somerset Wildlife Trust, telephone: , to reserve your place and to check on start time.

Walk on East Poldens Ridge

Date: July 19th

Time: 10.30 am.

Jane Salisbury will guide us on a favourite walk along
the East Polden Ridge. Great views, summer wild flowers and

Meet at the Combe Hill car park at Grid Ref ST 503 331
This walk is unsuitable for wheelchair user or people of limited mobility.
The Group would appreciate a donation of £2 for this walk.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Our local wildflower meadow

Our local Wildflower Meadow.

Although our meadow is a small 4 acre field on the outskirts of a village, it is part of a larger living landscape. Immediately along side is an almost identical 4 acre field privately managed as a wildflower meadow and beyond that is farm land, run on a wildlife friendly basis. It is also linked by hedges and generous margins to small fields some of which have been turned over to wildflower meadows by the same farmer. In the area generally hedges are being allowed to grow taller and occasionally trees are left to grow. However all this could change; farming methods could revert to past intensive practices and the rich biodiversity of the meadow could be easily destroyed

The history of the field is only partially known but its use for agriculture probably ceased around 1985. It was used briefly for sports activities but that also ceased after three or four years around 1993. Since then it has been left alone with only an annual hay cut by a local farmer with the hay baled and removed. The hedges were not managed and have spread into the field in places. It was given the status of a County Wildlife Site in 2007.

The meadow has now come into the ownership of the Parish Council which has to decide what to do with it. A number of options are still being considered.

The field is regarded by informed observers as being of high ecological value which explains why it is attracting a great deal of interest. The most detailed assessment of its value is in a flora report made after a survey of the adjoining field by Dr Jon Marshall for the private owners. The survey described that field as herb rich, unimproved neutral grassland of nature conservation value. It was carried out in two stages in Aug 2005 and May 2006. It lists a total species count of 105, made up of 15 woody species, 61 flowers and 29 monocotyledons (including two species of Orchid, Bee and Pyramidal).

Dr Marshall commented that the two adjacent fields have essentially the same species present. Arrangements are in hand for two further surveys to be made on the new field and reports are awaited. The findings will be important.

Birds of prey hunt over the fields and small mammals must be present. Grass snakes have been seen.

There is a blackthorn hedge running across the eastern end of the field and the eggs of the Brown Hairstreak butterfly have been found on new growth. All the usual meadow butterflies are present including a large population of the Marbled White seen for the first time this year on June 22nd, Large Skipper, Meadow Browns in large numbers, Common Blue and the day flying Burnet Moth.

Another first sighting for this year on June 24th was a Great Green Bush Cricket which does indeed make the grass shake as it moves. Among the large number of grass species present is the delicate Quaking Grass.

One of the most curious plants to find in the meadow is the perennial and parasitic Broomrape which is present in significant numbers distributed across the 4 acres. The exact species identification is still being argued about!

Despite the sometimes dominant grasses the Bee and Pyramidal Orchids continue to show each year in most areas of the field sometimes in quite numerous groupings.

Visitors to the field have all commented on its quality, the variety of its flora and its potential with good management to develop its beauty and diversity. However the future of the meadow is uncertain.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Save our wildflower meadow

Here are some photos of a Bee Orchid and two specimens of Broomrape found in the meadow in the last few days and actually only discovered after the letter shown below had been written.

I am reproducing this slightly abbreviated letter sent to our local council as part of our campaign to get the ecological value of a meadow recognised before decisions are taken that could destroy the impressive
diversity of the flora and fauna. I hope that this letter and other submissions will be sufficient to win the argument. If we don't succeed the field will become just like any other recreation ground and, by comparison, virtually a green desert.

Dear ,
re: future use of the 4 acre field
I have recently had discussions with David German (Chair: Heart of the Levels group, SWT) about the above-mentioned subject.
My own interest in this is as an academic biologist who has had extensive experience in ecological research and fieldwork in the UK and African countries. I have been resident in South Somerset since 1988.
I have had a recent opportunity to examine the field in question and I have known the adjacent plot for about a year. At present both effectively form a single ecological entity which is an excellent example of an increasingly rare habitat in England. The species-rich meadow on the adjacent field has been found to harbour over 100 higher (flowering) plant species, including grasses and two orchid species: it is virtually certain that a similar composition exists in the field subject to debate.(Report by EJP Marshall, 2006).
My further comments in this letter will focus primarily on the field now proposed as a nature reserve. When seen on 8 May this field was impressively wildflower-rich, which emphasised the striking botanical biodiversity of the site. No doubt, the animal biodiversity will be similarly rich, particularly with respect to the insect life. For example, it is known that the nationally rare Brown Hairstreak Butterfly is established there and the nationally very local Marbled White Butterfly also breeds on the site, along with many commoner species.
The Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 states that "Every public body must, in exercising its functions, have the purpose of conserving biodiversity". The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) indicated in its Guidance for Local Authorities on Implementing the Biodiversity Duty (2007) how local authorities can be assisted in fulfilling their duty in this respect.
A local authority can demonstrate that it has fulfilled its Duty with regard to biodiversity aims in several ways. For example, it can show that opportunities have been taken to integrate biodiversity considerations into all relevant service areas and functions, and in particular, to have ensured that biodiversity is protected in line with statutory obligations. Also, the local authority needs to raise awareness of staff, managers and elected members about biodiversity issues, and to demonstrate a real commitment and progress in relation to key local biodiversity initiatives, such as the field under consideration.
Full ecological protection and management of the field is urgently required in my own view as a professional biologist and ecologist. The Council is indeed fortunate to possess such a wonderfully diverse ecological site, the like of which, unfortunately, does not exist in my own parish. In order to conserve the structure of the flower-rich meadow it is important that the greater proportion of the field should not be altered significantly in any way. One or two pathways across the field could be mown to allow access so that the public can better appreciate the plant and animal (especially insect) life through the seasons. A track winding around the perimeter of the field would allow walkers and joggers to follow a fitness trail and would also encourage the inspection and appreciation of the hedgerows bordering the field. For example, searching for, and finding eggs of the Brown Hairstreak butterflies on blackthorn twigs in the winter would be a fun activity for children and families. And, a competition could be organised to find the first recorded sighting of an adult of the same species of butterfly on the hedgerows. They are incredibly difficult to find, even though they may be numerous in a particular area!
I hope these comments help you in deciding on the development and management plans for the field. If you have any general or specific questions I will be happy to try to answer them.
Yours sincerely,

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Somerset Wildlife Photographs around our local nature reserve

To see the photos more clearly just click on the picture.

Not really in a recognised nature reserve and not very well camaflauged I found this moth sitting on our front door!
I make it a Pale Tussock ( Calliteara pudibunda)

Our new 200m native species double hedge soon after planting in April and it is now looking quite healthy after about 6 weeks. Included, spindle, field maple, wild privet, blackthorn, quickthorn, wayfarer tree and common dogwood.

And finally a photo of the first Bee Orchid of 2008 I have found in our local nature reserve.

We have also got a good crop of Yellow Rattle now flowering and hopefully beginning the job of suppressing the grasses to give other flowers a better chance.