Natures Home magazine uncovered

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Natures Home magazine uncovered

Read about the general goings on of those interested in the natural world around them, and the work we do here at Natures Home Magazine.
  • Get in-volved

    Nicola Chester's feature on water voles in a recent Nature's Home magazine got plenty of you thinking about how to find this furry denizen of our waterways. Now I'm delighted to follow up with a guest blog from wildlife photographer Tom Mason who has also had considerable success not only seeing, but also capturing this beautiful mammal on film. With this double whammy of advice, I hope you have success (seeing and photographing them) near you! Here's Tom - and some more of his incredible photography.

    Living close to a wetland reserve, there has always been one small mammal that has a place close to my heart. The oh so cute, water vole!

    Sadly water voles haven’t had the best of times over the last fifty years with loss of habitat and the introduction of the American mink causing huge declines around the UK. It’s not all bad news however, because due to the fantastic work of the RSPB, as well as many other conservation organisations (The Wildlife Trusts, Mammal Society and many more) these charismatic little fellows are making a remarkable comeback across the UK.

    Where to look

    The type of habitat you will want to look for is one that combines a slow moving water way, with lush vegetation and soft banks for the voles to dig out their burrows within. Often feeding on the fresh rushes and sedges they leave a number of tell tail signs.

    Look slowly along the edge of the water for flat platforms of reeds/rushes that are around 10-20cm wide. Often these will be topped with the ends of freshly cut vegetation the voles have been feeding on or small droppings. In terms of vole activity listen out for the “Plop” of disturbed voles as they enter the water, or the small chatter and rustle on the reeds of the voles feeding.

    If you spot a vole once it is likely they will return to the same location on a number of occasions, so for the best photographic opportunities its all about identifying a location and sticking it out!

     

    A few great locations to start looking for water voles include:

    -    RSPB Rainham Marshes, Essex

    -    The London Wetland Centre, Barnes

       RSPB Ham Wall, Somerset

    -    Cromford Canal, Derbyshire

    -    Ranworth Broad, Norfolk

     

    How to photograph them

    So after finding your location, you are certainly going to want to produce some images of these stunning little creatures. Firstly you want to choose a spot where you have been seeing the voles on a regular basis, look for feeding platforms or other areas where they spend time sitting or eating, as these will give you a better chance for some photographs.

    Water voles are small, so in order to get a good angle you are going to need to get down and dirty (or sometimes not so much) to get the shots you want. Lying down on the ground will give you a far better perspective that is at eye level with your subject, for a more flattering final image.

    In terms of cameras, a longer lens will help you isolate your subject from the background.  Giving you a nice set of clean results, however the wider perspective with the vole in its habitat can also look great. At some locations a long lens will be quite necessary to get frame filling images whilst at others, the voles can be far more accommodating.

    In addition for clean shots also look for foliage that you can use to frame your subjects, using out of focus elements to draw the viewers eye onto the vole positioned within them. In the past at my local nature reserve I have got even closer to the action using a GoPro action camera, a tiny little machine with an ultra wide viewpoint. Using it on a long stick I positioned it ready and waited for the voles, triggering the shutter remotely for my images. It takes a load of practise and trial an error… but remember, the camera in your hand is never the problem. It’s all about who's using it!

    How did you get on?

    I would love to hear how you get on out in the field photographing water voles, so why not Tweet me @TomMasonPhoto? To see more of my work you can always visit my website at www.tommasonphoto.com

  • The 9000 Strong Lobby on Climate Change


    En masse to lobby MPs about climate change yesterday were around 9000 people and over 300 MPs, making what organisers the Climate Coalition believe to be the biggest ever lobby on climate change.

    The broad range of representatives from different organisations on the 17th June was huge, and young and old alike descended on Westminster in the sunshine to make sure their political representative knew their concerns, and was willing to fight hard against climate change.

    Rob Esdare, a Catholic Priest was one of the attendees I interviewed, and stated that “climate change is the biggest threat we face today” and later went on to liken it to the threat of nuclear war. When asked about whether young Catholics are engaging with climate change issues, he said “spasmodically, and typically only on particular issues.” He was excited that so many young people found Pope Francis appealing and said that “[Pope Francis] was listening to young people” and mentioned that climate change is high on the Pope’s agenda. The earlier leaked encyclical document seemed to support his comments, and the official document is due out today.

    All the way from St Agnus in Cornwall were Surfers Against Sewage, an organisation celebrating its 25th year. Having such a close connection to our oceans means this band of boarders see the effects of environmental pollution first hand, many of them having been ill from the overflow of sewage into the sea due to heavy rainfall. Doctors and medical students from the London area were lobbying their MPs from a slightly different angle, stating that keeping fit by cycling and walking more will inevitably reduce pollution and help curb climate change – a no-brainer, really. Bee keepers, nuns, anglers and school groups made up another good sized chunk of the possy poised outside the Houses of Parliament.

    Two teenage Christian Aid volunteers all the way from Hollyhead in North Wales had some interesting insight on how young people are engaging with climate change. Year 10 student Rebekah said “climate change will affect everyone soon. You always here 2030 this and 2030 that, and we need to do something now.” Rebekah was here with her friend Caitlyn, also a year 10 student, and they both said the only time you really hear much about climate change is during a science or geography lesson, and that most young people their age are “unaware of the issues”. They both agreed that “[teenagers] want to know how they can help, and what they can do differently.”

    The stage was set and lobbyers and MPs alike made their way to the constituencies they represented. Sitting on the grass in a circle with their MP were a year 9 school group from Newcastle. Catherine McKinnell took questions from the students regarding windfarms and renewable energy, and the students discussed the steps they’ve been taking to make a positive impact on the fight against climate change. It was both impressive and inspiring to see the students so concerned with the big issues, and voicing these concerns to their MP so eloquently. Future conservationists in the making.

    A surprising number of young people were in attendance, eager to get their views to their MPs and set an agenda for the future. Representing CAFOD and looking to lobby Robert Buckland, MP for South Swindon, were a group of year 9 students from St Joseph’s school. They felt that there should be “climate change lessons in school” and that generally people their age were unaware of climate change. This sadly seemed to be quite a common response, with many saying that there are young people interested in climate change and the issues, but they're the minority. Hopefully the wonderful turn out of roughly 9000 people and the superb representation of young people at the climate lobby will change that.

    All in all the Climate Coalition's Speak Up For The Love Of campaign and lobby on climate change was a huge success, and something everyone who attended, volunteered or had any positive involvement in at all can be truly proud of.

  • How's your wildlife-watching spring been?

    Regular readers of Nature's Home might know of my passion to see as many species of UK wildlife as possible. Every issue I set the challenge for nine species to track down each season, ranging from garden wildlife to some tricky rarities and scarcities which will require a bit of travelling (and luck!). 

    3,500 species and counting

    It has been what i'd describe as an "on time" spring with many things appearing when they should, which certainly helps plan your wildlife trips! This month,  I've pushed through the 3,500 species seen and identified in the UK. Hooray! One of the techniques I use to help me identify things  is to snap them on my phone and identify them using my  library of nature books (which my wife would love me to slim down!) and great online resources, such as Naturespot. This is great for bugs, beetles, spiders and plants. I also take the occasional shot on the phone when showy other wildlife is posing, so here are a few below.

    Not just about the numbers

    Not necessarily "new", but absolute must-see iconic UK wildlife have also featured prominently in my superb spring. Also on my hit list were seeing as many adders as I could, plus all of the UK's reptiles. I'm pleased to say I managed to see them all in a day and a trip to RSPB Arne to meet Rob Farrington got me up close and personal with a smooth snake - thanks Rob! I had some phenomenal adder-watching days (with a memorable trip producing more than 40 individuals!) and a visit to Cricklade North Meadow in Gloucestershire produced 500,000 snakes-head fritillaries (as featured in Nature's Home Summer 2015). One of the best wildlife sights I have seen anywhere.

    I've even managed to add a few new birds to my UK lifelist with Hudsonian godwit, harlequin duck, citril finch and little bustard - extreme rarities all - pushing me up to the (nearly) 500 mark! The next few weeks are all about getting my head into the beautiful borders here at The Lodge to see what is lurking there. Do come and visit the reserve  if you can - you'll be amazed at the variety of life.

    Pasque flower, one of thousands, on a south-facing slope back in April.

    A legless lizard - the slow worm, caught basking in a bracken patch.

    Some of the half a million snake's-head fritillaries at Cricklade North Meadow. Gorgeous flowers.

    Smooth snake at RSPB Arne - one of my "most wanted"!

    "Two-headed" adder basking in the early spring sunshine.

    How's your spring going?

    I'm gearing up for  a trip to Lancashire this coming weekend for some of our rarest plants and I hope a bit of sun will enable a bit of butterfly-watching, too.

    How's your spring been? Let me know by posting a comment, or by contacting the magazine direct: natureshome@rspb.org.uk