The B in RSPB is commonly believed to stand for Birds....but here on Wallasea Island it also refers to Beetles! The oil that is our subject this week is the lovely Violet Oil Beetle (Meloe Violaceus), one of four surviving species of oil beetles in the UK.Staff and volunteers out for a walk on the island on a recent sunny morning were delighted to have to tiptoe through a rash of these beautiful, shiny creatures enjoying the sunshine in the grass of the seawalls.( see gallery pictures provided by volunteer Ian) As none of us are beetle experts pictures were taken and books rummaged through over a cup of tea back home. Further investigation on the internet ( how did we manage without it??) confirmed our find - and flagged up that this is a rare oil find, and one that fellow charity Buglife wanted to hear about.Buglife is co-ordinating a survey to find out where the remaining four species are, and protect those areas. Oil beetles can grow up to 3cm long and get their name from a toxic, oily substance they release from their leg joints to deter predators. The females dig burrows to lay their eggs and their larvae rely on nearby vegetation to complete their strange and rather gruesome life cycle. When the larvae hatch, they crawl up onto vegetation and hop onto passing mining bees. "The larva hitches a ride back to the bee's nest and eats the bee's eggs and its store of nectar and pollen," explained Andrew Whitehouse, Buglife's beetle expert."It's pretty nasty stuff, but that's the cycle of life. And it means they have this intimate link with wild bees, so they're a really good indicator of the health of our countryside." Gardeners concerned about the plight of our honey bees will be relieved to know that Oil beetles are associated with solitary bees. They have no impact on honeybees.If you would like to come and see what you can find on a walk round the Wild Coast Project we have just announced another two dates for our very popular Wallasea Wanders. (Details are on the wallasea events list) Volunteer guides will lead a small group of guests along the public footpath on the seawall, pointing out the birds to be seen on the day and talking about our exciting project.These walks book up quickly so book now!!If you know of other areas with oil beetles, Buglife would like to hear from you - so visit http://www.buglife.org.uk/getinvolved/surveys/Oil+Beetle+Hunt
Were you one of those driving over the causeway to Wallasea Island last Sunday lunchtime? You may have been bemused by the sight of RSPB staff, volunteers and what looked like a paparazzi scrum on the side of the marsh and a group of canoeists hauling up at the edge of the road.
Excitement built as we waited for the 'dry'run for our Wild Coast Paddle, an event which will take place on May 15. The tide was forecast to be very high last weekend, so we focussed our binoculars on the Crouch, hoping to see our intrepid paddlers on their way to float over the road, heading for Pagglesham for a well-earned lunch stop. Local RSPB volunteer photographer Steve was soon joined by our 2020 Vision project photographers and the suspense ran high as we all watched the tide swell over the marsh on either side, and wondered if we should move our cars from a nearby layby!
In the end, the tide lapped the very edge of the road but did not cover it, as 8 canoeists paddled over from the Royal Burnham yacht Club. This caused a logistical hitch, and we then had to help them with haulage across the narrow causeway, to continue their journey right round the island. Never ones to miss an opportunity, the photographers were happy though, as they got lots of action shots and it was such a beautiful warm day that we all enjoyed the resulting 'craic'. Having duly waved them off on their way to Pagglesham, we met up again for fortifying refreshments in the Plough and Sail, and later for 'afternoon tea' (RSPB style) at a great picnic spot on Wallasea Ness, the beach at the very eastern corner of the island. Thus suitably refreshed our intrepid paddlers sailed off into the sunset and a welcome recovery in the RBYC!
I'd like to thank Chris and Anne who travelled all the way from Banbury to take part in the practise, and I hope they have a great summer in their Canadian. To the rest of the boys from the canoe clubs of Essex - "see you on Sunday May 15!!"
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Well we may have a way to go, but dreams cost nothing! This week our plans to develop youth and education work as part of the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project took a small, baby step forward. Two shiny new Wallasea volunteers with teaching experience will soon join staff from the South Essex Marshes Education team in introducing pupils from local schools to the joys of the great outdoors.
Many of us involved with the RSPB, began our love affair with nature as nippers, running around in what are remembered as halcyon days, exploring the great outdoors near our childhood homes, often with knowledge of what we found out there added to by parents,grandparents or inspiring teachers who enjoyed sharing their passion for nature.
Unfortunately, the majority of the population now lives in an urban setting and many people are detached from nature and the natural environment. Many cultures even regard the countryside with distaste and mistrust - it is seen as a dirty and dangerous place! Scientific studies are now pointing to the links between this divorce from the natural world and mental health issues and children's behavioural problems.
So the Youth and Education department of the RSPB is not only a cornerstone of the organisation, but an increasingly vital instrument to reconnect humanity with the wonders of the natural world that you and I love so much. Years of experience in field teaching and outreach to schools should support the fledgling team at Wallasea as we plan our first Wild Schools days in May, our youth team shoreline scavenge later in the summer and arts projects still in the pipeline.
The Wild Coast project has potential connections for many disciplines and year groups. We have already had visits from a year 6 group studying rivers and a GCSE Geography group carrying out field research. We are keen to develop new links with local schools and develop those connections already made, through science, maths,engineering and geography as expected but also through art, history or english. So if you are involved in education, what are you waiting for? Give us a call!
“Every child... born into this world has an innatepleasure…, delight…, interest and curiosity in thenatural world.”Sir David Attenborough
Well, as you know this blog likes to be diverse !
This Saturday, the Wild Coast Project goes inland to join the literati in a day of readings and presentations with a bird theme. The Conference brings together scientists and creative writers to explore the unique inspiration of birds, now and in the past. The one-day event will be chaired by Professor of Creative Writing, author and mythographer, Marina Warner and has brought together a diverse group of speakers to share and explore their own experiences of the bird world. As the winners of our recent Wild Writers creative writing contest will confirm, Wallasea Island is an inspirational place, so I hope my images of the wealth of wildlife and dramatic landscapes, presented in the afternoon session and in a foyer display, will entice these other shy creatures out of their garrets to come and experience the place for themselves. Art projects of all sorts will play a part in the Wild Coast Project over the coming years so perhaps some of these creative minds will be part of that.
Wallasea is a perfect muse. It has history; from the romance of Vikings and Saxons to World War II torpedo boats, and ancient grazing marshes to farming to feed the nation. It has wildness; coastal water that ebbs and flows washing its shores or surges with the winds that often scours its prairie landscape. And of course, the wildlife always speaks for itself - birds everywhere following the tides, hares racing across the upper marsh and the elusive water voles whose presence is only known by the holes in the banks of grassy ditches.
Our involvement in this event comes as part of our engagement with staff in the Creative Writing team and Department of Literature, Film and Theatre studies which runs an MA in Wild Writing. It is hoped that we can welcome students and artists of various disciplines to our project as it develops and our Youth and Education work grows. Watch out for news of workshops in the planning, to be announced soon.
For details of the conference click on http://www.essex.ac.uk/news/event.aspx?e_id=2881
Hope to see you there!!
Wallasea Island seems to be a bit of a hotspot for birds of prey these days. Not only have we got several hen and marsh harriers, barn owls, kestrels and peregrines, but also merlins and short-eared owls. On Sunday morning I was enjoying a stroll along the seawall and was delighted to see not one, but four of these beautiful medium-sized owls - I'm not sure which of us was more startled! Of course, being one of Simon Barnes' army of 'bad birdwatchers', I only had a pair of binoculars to get a better look. However, as I sat and watched surrounding gulls go on the attack, two of the owls went to ground in full view, so I was able to take a priveleged look as they sat on the saltmarsh right in front of me person-watching.
The merlins, being the UK's smallest bird of prey, are a little harder to catch a glimpse of - though an immature young bird landed on the path in front of me over the winter. In winter the UK population increases as most of the Icelandic breeding birds migrate to our warmer climate. They come to Wallasea post breeding,with the first arriving from the end of August and others staying until late March.As with many falcons the female is considerably larger than the male, so immature males are usually identifiable on size. Adult males are distinctive blue grey backed. Females and young birds are plain brown above, not the two tone chestnut with black wing tips of Kestrel.They hunt mainly small birds relying on speed and agility to hunt their prey. They often hunt by flying fast and low, typically less than 1 metre above the ground, using trees and large shrubs to take prey by surprise. But they actually capture most prey in the air, and will "tail-chase" startled birds. They have been witnessed hunting in association with a hen harrier on Wallasea, watching and following behind the bigger bird to chase anything it flushes.
In contrast, short-eared owls - another winter visitor from Scandinavia and Northern climes - are very dependent on a diet of small mammals, mainly voles. They are one of the few owls to make a nest. The female makes a scrape which she lines with whatever vegetation is available close by.The nest is on the ground hidden among grass, heather or reeds. The Short-eared Owl's plumage is buff with dark brown blotches and its short ear tufts are not often visible. The tail is boldly marked with four bars. Their eyes are yellow surrounded with black patches that give it a glaring stare.
Generally Wallasea is one of the best areas for raptors in Essex in winter. The conservation margins along ditchlines provide plenty of cover for voles and good numbers of open country birds are in the fields, together with the wealth of birdlife on the wetlands. A real buffet for the hunters. The wide open vistas are ideal for scanning wide areas to see the birds hunting too and it is relatively undisturbed and with Foulness and Potton nearby there is a huge foraging area.Peregrine(2), Merlin (3), Kestrel(2), Hen Harrier (up to 4) and Marsh Harrier (up to 4), Buzzard (1), Sparrowhawk (2), Short-eared (4) and Barn Owls (3) have all been seen regularly this winter. My thanks to Jeff Delve, my source of this knowledge, without whose expertise I would be a lot dumber!