At the start of this week (by which I mean last weekend), The Photography Show was on at the N.E.C in Birmingham, and seeing as I was there with fellow wildlife photographer and artist Matt Lissimore to see what the world of photography had to offer, you can imagine my surprise to see the RSPB being represented by some of its volunteers! They had some great information on the RSPB available to those who were interested, and it was encouraging to see many visitors taking an interest. Let us know if you were one of them, and what you thought about the information on offer! Furthermore, I met some of the guys from Opticron who, as some of you may know, provide great quality binoculars and digiscopes ideal for watching wildlife. I will be hopefully chatting with them over the coming weeks to potentially try out some of their kit!
Anyway, for some time now I’ve been trying to build up connections with various people who are involved with conservation work, generally those who get their hands dirty for the good of the natural world around them! The reason for this from my point of view has been to document this activity, to build a portfolio focusing on the efforts of the unsung heroes in nature conservation.
This week saw me meet up with a good friend of mine from my time at university, and fellow member of A Focus On Nature (AFON), Beth Aucott. She volunteers with Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, and as they were coming to my hometown of Tamworth, I couldn’t miss the chance to tag along to see what pictures I could get!
Copyright Ed Marshall. Upon my arrival to the location the volunteers would be working in, I came across this little critter, a common frog! These guys are well into their breeding season now, which runs from January to April, and some of you who have ponds in your garden may have already started to notice the unmistakeable presence of frog spawn.
The volunteers were here to cut back a dense area of young willow trees that were encroaching upon the reed beds of this marshy area, as well as removing some of the surrounding fallen tree branches that had come down due to the high winds of recent weeks. As this site was predominantly a wetland area, removal of this scrub is important in order to maintain and encourage the natural wetland species diversity. This was achieved by first removing the young willow trees as low as possible with the use of tools, and then by applying a substance that prevents the regrowth of new shoots. Then, finally, these remaining stumps will then be removed at a later date.
Copyright Ed Marshall. Displaying fine use of a paint brush, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust Volunteer Beth Aucott coats the willow stumps in order to prevent regrowth.
Copyright Ed Marshall. The area is soon covered in blue-tipped willow stumps, something that may confuse any passer-by!
Copyright Ed Marshall. One of the volunteers piles up the cut willow ready to be placed on the bonfire. This is an important step that ensures the surrounding area isn't covered with the chopped wood, letting light in for wetland species.
Copyright Ed Marshall. An important role was taken up by one of the volunteers, managing the bonfire.
The willow that had been cut down was then made into smaller pieces, ready for burning on a bonfire in order to reduce the large piles of wood that soon build up, keeping the area in which the trees had been removed nice and clear, allowing light in for the growth and development of wetland species surrounding it. The volunteers of the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust were a hard working group, and were great people to meet. For me it highlighted the importance of generating interest in activities such as this from younger people, in order to ensure the important work that volunteers such as this carry out, is continued for generations to come. Are you or members of your family volunteers with a wildlife trust or conservation group? Let us know what you're group has been up to, or tell us about how you got involved with this sort of work. You are the people I admire!
And last but by no means least, the start of this week also means it’s the first week of spring (according to the MET office’s records!), so keep your eyes and ears peeled for the various signs of spring. Flowers are already blooming, skylarks are singing and I’ve even been passed by a few bumble bees already! Over the coming season please feel free to send in any photos that you capture to the team here at Natures Home magazine, as we love to see what our readers get up to! I’ll leave you with a recent image of mine showing off the amazing sunrises that I’ve been lucky enough to capture thanks to the milder weather of late. Take care!
Copyright Ed Marshall. A passing rain shower is lit up by the sunrise over the horizon. Tamworth, UK.
You can see more of my work on my website www.edmarshallwildimages.co.uk
A little over a week ago I had the pleasure of being shown around Alvecote Wood, a small area of ancient woodland near my home in Tamworth. The woodland is owned by the husband and wife team of Stephen Briggs and Sarah Walters, and I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah personally to show me around the woodland. A fellow wildlife photographer, and conservationist, Sarah was a fountain of knowledge and really opened my eyes to the work that is involved with managing land such as this. Before Sarah and Stephen took over ownership of the land in 2007, it is suspected that very little had been done in terms of management for the last twenty years, and in light of recent debates regarding rewilding and peoples involvement with natural spaces, I thought this would prove to be a great topic for this week’s blog entry. If you have any thoughts on rewilding, or the management of natural spaces, then please comment below!
Sarah started off my visit to the wood with a chance to get some great shots of the numerous birds feeding on the bird feeders that are set up there. Blue tits, great tits, nuthatches, robins, and a nearby woodpecker were there in full force, and it was great to watch them come and go to feed. All in all a great introduction to Alvecote Wood!
Ed Marshall. A blue tit was making the most of the mess being left behind (bottom) by those fighting for food above (top)!
As we walked around the woodland, Sarah pointed out the various areas of the woodland that had received a great deal of attention by volunteer groups. Dense thickets of hazel had to be routinely coppiced to make space for the trees to regenerate effectively, and a vast expanse of holly bushes had recently been cut back to allow light to reach the woodland floor around it. Had this been left to continue in this state, then saplings would struggle to seed successfully meaning younger trees would not be present to provide additional habitat in the event of older trees dying, or becoming damaged as so many have been in recent adverse weather conditions. With the holly now cleared and more light reaching the floor of the woodland, it will prove to be ideal for woodland plants such as blue bells to grow, and hopefully see new oak saplings begin to take hold. What I most impressed by, however, was the consideration of canopy dwelling animals such as squirrels and potentially dormice. Great care had been taken to ensure that the tree canopy was connected throughout the area in which the holly had been removed to allow safe passage of these mammals should they need it. I can only hope that they find evidence of this hard work paying off in the near future!
Sarah also showed me the tiered ponds that had been created, fed by a small stream of water that ran down through the woodland. They were tiered in order to allow the silt to settle in the first pond, leaving the lower ponds comparatively free of sediment, ideal for the growth of various aquatic plants that would prove useful for various insect and amphibian species. There were two more ponds located in Betty’s Wood, a new 9 acres of land that bad been purchased and managed in order to encourage a greater diversity of wildlife. One pond had saplings planted on its south facing side, specifically to cast shade over it, whereas the other was left open to allow various aquatic plant species to grow thus creating two different habitats. The thought behind such work was incredible, and it didn’t stop there. The newly purchased land in which these two ponds were located had numerous new trees planted, including willow, alder, and the side of the field nearest the original woodland site had been left clear to allow new oak seedlings to take hold, spreading out from the already existing oaks. Within this expanse of sapling growth, areas had been left clear to make space for wild flower meadows, an addition that I believe will be very much appreciated by the areas resident honey bees; one man-made hide is present on the edge of this new land, though Sarah reports that there are others within the woodland itself, hopefully suggesting that pollination of newly planted trees and plants will be very successful.
Ed Marshall. The old oak trees of Alvecote Wood had already managed to result in new oak saplings seeding on the near side of Betty's Wood, which were now marked and protected to encourage their growth.
Ed Marshall. Sapling trees cover a great deal of the 9 acres of Betty's Wood, with grassy clearings for the development of wild flower meadows.
On the return through Alvecote Wood, Sarah pointed out areas of the dense bramble that had been left untouched in order to provide suitable nesting sites for the various woodland birds, and even talked about sighting of muntjac deer seeking cover within it. On the whole, Alvecote Wood was a fantastic place , and gave a genuine feel of excitement as to what will be happening with the woodland over the coming years. I am very thankful for being shown around by Sarah, and I hope to see it expand further, providing an even greater range and area of habitat for a multitude of species. It is a true haven for wildlife, and it is all thanks to the hard work and dedication of the people involved.
Are there conservation areas such as this where you live? Do you think that they are doing a great job, or should it be left to its own natural devices? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!
A press release came in to the team at Nature’s Home magazine last week detailing the ten most elusive species in the UK and it got us thinking, have any of our readers seen these species out in the wild for themselves? The report was the result of data collected from the general public, but surely our dedicated members of the RSPB would result in a much higher percentage of us having seen some of these species, so we want you to let us know! Top of the list as the most elusive species sighting in the UK was the nightjar with only 4% of the UK population spotting one in the wild, and the nightjar was joined by other rarities such as the pine marten which has been seen by 5% of us (which doesn't even include Sir David Attenborough!), and the golden eagle with just 9% of us seeing them in the wild. Other species in the list include the stoat (16%), otter (17%), cuckoo (22%), slow worm (25%), adder (29%), raven (30%), and kingfisher (34%). Let us know if you’re one of the few who have seen one or more of these species in the wild by commenting on this post below!
Ed Marshall. The kingfisher is one of the few species from the report that I myself have managed to see and photograph in the wild here in the UK. Though I'm sure many of you out there have seen much more!
Ed Marshall. The otter pictured here is a captive individual. Although they have made a comeback in recent years, with them now being found in every county throughout England, they still remain one of the more elusive species to see in the wild.
The reason that otters are still such a rare sighting in the UK, and for that matter why I think the results of such studies should be taken with a little pinch of salt, comes down to a number of things really. Most importantly of which I think it is because they are more active at night, and as such it requires a true dedication to seeing them in the wild if you hope to catch a glimpse. This said, it is of course possible to see them in the day if you know where to go, I always find a well-managed animal sanctuary can guarantee a sighting (though this is of course cheating!)
The golden eagle is considered the third most elusive species in the UK, with only 9% of those asked saying they had seen them in the wild. Yet there are similar points to make about these statistics. Golden Eagles are typically found soaring amongst the Scottish mountains and surrounding areas which isn't exactly where a great number of people will find themselves, unless they really plan on seeing them in the wild. The low percentage of people having seen them therefore isn't surprising to me and the same applies for nightjars. As their name might suggest, you are more likely to spot them around dusk and of a night, something that requires a certain amount of dedication by whoever wishes to see them. Even in daylight you would need the trained eyes of an expert to spot them on account of their amazing camouflage! The only time I have ever seen one was when I was on a 6 week expedition in Bolivia, so I don’t really feel like it counts for my UK species list…
Andy Hay (rspb-images.com). A rare view of a nightjar, and one that illustrates the wonderful camouflage of this bird.
With all this said, it is important to remember that these species should be at the top of our priority when it comes to conservation. Yes they are elusive, and this can be down to certain inherent factors to do with their behaviour or ecology, but let's not let these wonderful species reach the point where we are at risk of not seeing them in the wild here in the UK. So see how you compare to the rest of the general public, and see if this gives you the itch to get out and spot some of the UK's more elusive species!