Search This Blog

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