This week is invasive species week on Twitter, and I’ve been watching a lot of really interesting stuff come up on my feed all week. It’s been organised by the NNSS (Non-native Species Secretariat) and DEFRA to try and raise awareness of invasive species, and get people involved in recording schemes. Each day has a different theme:
Monday – Welcome to Invasive Species Week! Tuesday – Biosecurity Wednesday – Identification and recording Thursday – Local Action Groups Friday – Other projects
My favourite resource I’ve found so far this week (although it’s only Tuesday that I’m writing this…) has been the Journal of Ecology’s virtual issue, with over 20 different papers about different invasive species and up-to-date research in the area. I’ve downloaded them to my laptop, but haven’t yet had the time to read them… Soon.
On the NNSS website, there’s loads of free training on biosecurityand identification of non-native species. To be able to tackle invasive species effectively, it’s important to have the distribution and evidence of where species are found- NNSS have developed a set of apps to record different invasive species, and help identify individuals. I’m not familiar with all of them, although Juniper Hall do record a lot of our species on iRecord. We also have a fantastic species list from the University of Cambridge who visit each year, and record literally everything they see. I’m also on a mission to get myBirdtrack back up to date, as I’ve been birding a lot recently but actually have no count of what I’ve been seeing!
Wednesday is identification and recording day- So a quick list of invasives I’ve seen at our field sites before…
Himalayan balsam, Signal crayfish, Rhododendron, Ringed parakeet, Harlequin ladybird
I’ve not got time to update this again after today (which is still Wednesday, although I scheduled this for the end of the week) but it’s a cool initiative that seems to be educating a lot of people. I’ve definitely found a lot of interesting stuff I’m planning to read in the future this week!
At the weekend I travelled over to Oxford to go to the annual BENHS (British Entomological and Natural History Society) AGM. It was, in a few words, pretty great. A day full of lectures about various British insects, including art, history and a tour around the stacks of the Oxford Natural History Museum afterwards to see some of the collections.
One of the best days out I’ve had in ages- and you don’t actually have to be a member to attend the day either, which is great. The next couple of blog posts are going to be about what I learnt that are also pretty relevant to what we do over here at Juniper Hall.
Woodland ecosystems and saproxylic species
Saproxylic species are organisms that live in deadwood. The BENHS talk was focussed on woodlands, so I am going to as well- most of the research on saproxylic species focuses on woodlands. Saproxylic species make up 7% of all British fauna– there are over 800 beetles, 730 flies, 300 hymenoptera (bees, ants and wasps), and 50 moth species present within deadwood. Unfortunately many of these species are threatened by the need for “tidy woodlands“- the removal of deadwood. Over-management of parks and woodland gardens has a lot of fallen deadwood removed, to try and keep an area tidy. Standing deadwood and timber branches are also regularly removed, as it’s thought to be dangerous or a potential haven for diseases and pests.
So what’s better? To manage a woodland traditionally, using coppicing and pollarding, or to leave woodlands completely alone and prevent “tidying” of woodland, allowing a deadwood environment to emerge on the ground? Certainly it seems that either method is better than modern techniques of harvesting an area for trees, as this causes the total removal of material even before deadwood can form. It has been noticed that coppiced areas can produce special microclimates for deadwood fauna, however if an area is too-well managed, coppice reverts to being of little importance for deadwood conservation.
Perhaps it’s too difficult to draw a conclusion on the best way to manage woodland for deadwood invertebrates when there’s little currently being researched on a large scale- more important, it seems, is to just try and create deadwood habitats to start off with, and worry about woodland management when our saproxylites are a little bit more stable in the future.
A happy home for many invertebrates (Source: Buglife.com)
I’ve not written a blog post for a while, because it’s just been incredibly busy! But I’ve got a little bit of time today. 2016 was a pretty intense year, but finished up by one of the most exciting events of the year- FSC Conference, this year at our very own Juniper Hall.
FSC conference is held every year for staff, to share ideas, meet people from other centres and have a bit of fun to celebrate the end of a successful year. I’ve never been to staff conference before- last year I was teaching!- so it was quite something to see it go from start to finish. First thing to arrive was the tent, and all the decorations had to be put up on monday…
When tuesday afternoon rolled around, suddenly JH was teeming with people as staff from other centres flooded in. We happily met friends from Malham Tarn, Rhyd-y-creuau, Flatford Mill, Slapton… And the activities began!
The main event was day 2, when we all dispersed into groups to visit different places in London and the surrounding area to look at sustainability. One of the FSC’s core values is sustainability, so we wanted to look at companies who were doing this really well and how we could improve. Groups scattered to London Zoo, the Natural History Museum, London Wetland Centre, Marks & Spencer, the Crystal, Bushy Park and Leatherhead Youth Project. I went to Leatherhead Youth Project, as I’ve worked with them before, and we met staff there to discuss their values and how they share them. Their passion to make a difference to young peoples’ lives was inspiring, and we took a lot away to share back with the rest of conference the next day.
The evening of day 2 we had a barn dance in the tent out on the front lawn- the theme was “dress to impress”, and some of the costumes sure were impressive… and so was the dancing!
Thursday was a quick morning roundin up our findings and what we wanted to take forward into the new year, then it was suddenly all over as we were waving goodbye to our new friends from all over the country. Till next year!
For half term, we ran our annual Bioblitz to record all the birds, bugs, plants and anything else on Juniper Hall’s grounds. In the weeks leading up, Daniel’s been busy handing out tons of flyers around Dorking and Leatherhead…
So many leaflets!
Thankfully when the big day came the weather was kind to us! It all kicked off with opening our moth traps, which we had put out the evening before. Unfortunately there were only a few moths inside, as it’s getting to the time when they’re all tucked up and hibernating, but happily a few extras were brought along by the AES to admire as well.
Next we had Lisa and Saoirse open mammal traps in Templeton Woods. There were a couple of successes, with a water shrew, and then some wood mice later on in the ha-ha.
Drawing quite the crowd
Later on in the lineup we had woodland and meadow invertebrate hunting. We got out the sweepnets, pooters and keys to see what we could find, scooping up grasshoppers, shield bugs, leafhoppers and moths. In the woods we had some fun charming worms too, making them wiggle to the surface to be identified.
The reptile mats didn’t reward any reptiles, but Lisa and a few families did find some hiding mammals and lots of insects- the ants just love colonising underneath the felting we’ve put down in our meadow.
What’s Lisa found?
While Saoirse manned the ponds, looking for underwater critters, Rowena and Helen made some nettle tea with the kelly kettles, that took a lot longer than it should have…
Putting on a brew!
Also throughout the day we had arts and crafts in the students’ common room, colouring moths and glittering invertebrates, and local societies joining us in the Templeton Room to promote bats, birds and bugs!
June is fast approaching (somehow!) and is the month for biodiversity, it seems. This morning I’ve been doing a little bit of research to promote three different fantastic biodiversity projects in June, and made ourselves a board with loads of information and resources for the coming month.
30 Days Wild- All of June
Set up last year, 30 Days Wild is an awesome drive by the Wildlife Trusts to get more people outside and interacting with nature. Individuals can sign up here for a pack, which contains things like a calendar for the month, stickers, a badge, and some ideas of what to do! There are loads of free activities that the Wildlife Trusts are putting on too, which is pretty cool as it means people really have the opportunity to get out and explore.
They also have an app, which you can download for some quick ideas to get outside in nature. I’ve not downloaded it yet (too many other recording apps!) but from a quick glance, it looks pretty fun.
National Insect Week- 20-26th June
National Insect Week is a bi-annual event run by the Royal Entomological Society promoting insects. There are tons of events occurring during the week all over the country, which is pretty cool really, as insects are sometimes undervalued- especially the ones that aren’t “pretty”.
The section of NIW’s website I like the best is the Learning Resources area (I guess that says a lot…)- there are loads of activities and things to do; worksheets and things to read, lesson plans, podcasts and websites. Fantastic!
Great British Bee Count- 19th May- 30th June
Run by the Friends of the Earth, the Great British Bee Count mostly revolves around an app used to count bees. When I first downloaded it only 10 bees had been counted- now it’s over 18,000! When you spot a bee, you can record it on the app. There are handy pictures too, which makes it easy to work out what you’re looking at. It even has a few non-bees that look like bees (like wasps and bee-flies).
Record all of the bees
You can also do a timed count, watching a 50cm area for 1 minute and recording all the bees that visit the flowers you’re watching.
Putting together all these cool biodiversity projects into one board was a bit of a challenge, and I might have gotten overexcited… But there’s so much to look forward to in June!
On Thursday afternoon, Ruth and Zoe led a Nature Walk on Box Hill as part of our Real Family Holidays program. Fortunately I was luck enough to ‘tag’ along and learn all about the nature that exists on the door step of Juniper Hall!
The route we took passed through Charlottes wood, up to Broadwood’s Tower, across Lodge Hill, up Juniper Top, across to Salomons Memorial and down the Burford Spur…and breathe! Overall the walk took 2 1/2 hours, over timed on the 1:30-3:30 Real Family Holiday afternoon activity slot, but we weren’t too concerned about spending an extra half an hour in the great outdoors.
First up, Ruth introduced the families to the Holy Leaf Miner, which is a type of fly whose larvae burrow into holly leaves. The leaves turn brown in colour thus the process of photosynthesis in the leaf is restricted.
Next, we came across the Box Tree. Now, the the small leaves on a Box Tree smell like Cat Urine to around 50% of people, depending on genetics. So on smelling the leaves we got some funny looks from a young girl who actually claimed that the leaves smelt of rotten shoes! I hadn’t heard that one before…To me, the Box Tree smells fresh and leafy. Back to the facts, interestingly, 40% of Box Trees live on Box Hill – hence the name!
“What is this tree called?…It sounds like you, and you, and YOU!” The Yew Tree also lives on Box Hill and is 1/5 of Britain’s evergreen tree species. They can grow up to a height of 40m. Yew wood is said to be very springy, and was used in Medieval times to craft bows. Mysteriously often found in church yards, Yew trees are poisonous except for the berries that they produce. This is perfect for their reproduction as it means birds eat the berries, but dispose of the poisonous seed allowing for seed dispersal.
Mixed into the fun facts were also tribal calls conjured up by Ruth and facial markings from the the wet mud on Box Hill. We really looked the part and the kids loved it!
When walking up Juniper Top, not only were the views stunning (despite the cloud), but we got the pleasure of being introduced to a Yellow Meadow Ants’ mound. These mounds are constructed by ants to live in and to also attract shelter seeking caterpillars. In exchange for their ‘hospitality’ the ants collect the nutritious syrup deposited by these caterpillars. The mounds also provide an excellent resting spot for rabbits. Rabbits poo on these mounds providing them with a vantage point meaning that they are more aware of their predators and less susceptible to attack. I found that to be the most interesting fun fact of a really enjoyable afternoon.
As Real Family Holidays have come to an end today, I consider myself lucky that I get to call afternoons such as these as work.
Thank you to Ruth and Zoe for their facts, and thank you to the families for being so infectiously enthusiast!
Last week, we had a very exciting delivery through the post- seeds from space! Daniel spotted the RHS Campaign for Gardening was giving away seeds that have been taken up to space by Tim Peake.
In September 2015, 2kg of seed was sent up to space to the International Space Station and stored there until Spring 2016, when they returned to Earth. They now have been distributed in packets of 100 to schools around the country to be grown alongside control seeds. There is a packet of 100 red seeds, and a packet of 100 blue seeds. We’re not sure which seeds are control and which have been to space, so the experiment is to see if, when they grow, a difference can be seen between space seeds and Earth seeds!
We have seeds from one of those packets! Actual space stuff!
As according to the instructions, we planted the seeds (thematically, rocket seeds) in boxes of soil, gave them a good water, and filled in the poster we had to record our results on. At the moment they’re being kept in the soon-to-be new library, but will be moved to East and West classrooms in due course, to be monitored by visiting schools and staff.
Carefully brushing the soil over the seeds
So what’s the point of it? Well, the experiment will show whether seeds are affected by being stored in space- which will be vital to know if we want to grow seeds on other planets one day. There’s a rigorous method that we had to follow so that our experiment is the same as everyone else who’s planting them. For the students planting seeds, this is a great opportunity to learn how to follow methods and justify why things are being done the way they are.
Sarah waters the seeds
Every few days we have to count how many seeds have germinated, and measure the height. At the end of the 6 weeks that the experiment is running over, our data will get put into a national database, and the results can be analysed. This data will be published to the public as well, which is very exciting.
The first few seeds have germinated already, so we are busy watering and waiting for the rest to sprout as well. Hopefully they’ll soon grow big and we can see if there are differences between the two packets!
As discussed in one of Rowena’s recent blogs, South Eastern training took place at Juniper Hall shortly after our much needed Christmas break. One of the topics presented to us was an ‘immersion into ecology’ session at the begining of Biology residential courses. This idea was shared by Head of Centre at Flatford Mill, Jo Harris. It is designed to provide a really exciting and inspirational start to Biology courses and to get students thinking for themselves right from the start! The education team here at JH thought that it was such a brilliant idea that we decided to tweak it to suit our environment and landscape and use it in our courses. Exciting times!
Inspired by Jo Harris’ presentation at training I made it my mission to observe the first one of these sessions in action at JH. Taught by one of our tutors, Michelle, the session was tried on seven year 12 Biologists from St.Orleans school. She opened with the simple question “why are you here?” The reponses were “to conduct field research” and shouted out from the front of the class “BIODIVERSITY!” This was the perfect start to the course as you could tell that this was an incredibly keen group who were ready to immerse themselves into Ecology!
In my last blog I think I highlighted that the last Biology lesson I had was in my years as a GCSE dual Scientist, so I was already expecting to be out of my depth. Michelle opened up proceedings with a quick quiz on key Ecological terms in which I scored, what I thought was a fairly respectable, 4/7, considering my last Biology lesson is now a distant memory! So I thought it would be a good idea to write this blog from the point of view of myself, as one of the students – at least it will give me an excuse for all the spelling errors!
We were asked to write down in groups what factors influence the abundance and distribution of organisms. We were given 90 seconds to do this and then organise the factors into 2 categories – Biotic and Abiotic. Then as a class, we made links between all of these factors, and I soon learnt that this is what Ecology is, the relationship between basically all biotic and abiotic factors.
The top of Lodge Hill was the location from which we would complete our Field Sketch.
15 minutes later we were outside and enjoying the great February weather…
This photo doesn’t do the dreadful conditions justice…
The relationship between Biotic and Abiotic factors came into play here as there were endless opportunities to note interactions. For example, the field sketch shows the relationship between biotic and abiotic factors over time, including human intervention. With the growth of Dorking into a town with a population now of over 11,000, changes have been made to the local landscape. Town development obviously has caused transport routes into the town such as railways and main roads have developed. Therefore plant and species diversity has lowered, due to transport links breaking up habitats into patches. This has resulted in the need for humans to manage the woodland for example. Monocultures, with one dominant species in an area and little biodiversity, means that genetic variety has been reduced, therefore making the same species more susceptible to disease.
The “Classification Scavanger Hunt” followed which encouraged immersion and the use of exciting technologies.We were given 15 minutes to explore Templeton woods, find and take photos of as many of the “5 Kingdoms of life” as we could. To do this we used the app Popplet. Popplet allows you to create a classification diagram, including pictures, links and labels- a really visual and interactive way of learning.
A session that sums up what the FSC is all about. I definitely gained a lot of environmental understanding, thanks to the education team for creating this programme and to Michelle for the excellent delivery!