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  • hilly 11:51 am on May 10, 2015
    Tags: bats, , ,   

    Shrewsbury Park Bat Walk 

    May 15 bat walk poster

    The Friends of Shrewsbury Park‘s bat walks have become so popular that this year they will be holding two. The first will be held next Friday, 15th May, and the second later in the year on 11th September. An e-mail from the Friends gave the details:

    Hang out with the bats
    Shrewsbury Park 15th May 2015
    Meet in the car park off Plum Lane at 8.00pm for an introduction from bat-wise FSP members who will lead this adventure through the park at sunset using our eyes, ears and bat detectors!
    – Wear sturdy shoes and appropriate clothing
    – Children must be accompanied by an adult
    – Walk lasts about 1 ½ hours and torches are helpful
    – Dogs must be kept on a lead
    – If you have mobility issues, please contact us on fspdog@hotmail.com and we will help you to participate.  The trail is a mixture of paved path, gravel and grass.
    If it rains, neither the bats nor us will be coming out!!

    The Friends will be borrowing bat detectors for the evening from the local parks forum,  the Bat Conservation Trust and London Bat Group.

    Biggles the giant Pipistrelle at Bat Fest at the Natural History Museum

    Biggles the giant Pipistrelle at Bat Fest at the Natural History Museum

    If you’re interested in bats then there will be lots of other chances to see them during the summer months. You can get really close to bats at the annual Bat Fest held at the Natural History Museum. This year it will be held over the August Bank Holiday weekend, 29th and 30th August from 12-5pm. One of the many highlights is Jenny Clark and her education bats, as the BCT website says:

    Sussex Bat Hospital –  One of our most popular attractions!
    Learn about the work of Jenny the bat carer a.k.a. ‘BatLady’ who will bring her bat lodgers in for the day. These bats have been previously injured but sadly cannot be released into the wild. However, they live a comfortable life with Jenny who caters to all of their batty needs.

    Jenny, who was awarded the MBE in the 2015 New Years Honours List for her services to bat conservation, brings along examples of most of the UK bat species and shows them off to visitors.

    There will also be a number of other bat walks in the local area during the coming months. Woodlands Farm and Hall Place haven’t published the dates for their bat walks yet, but Crossness Nature Reserve have. The Bexley Wildlife blog has the details:

    Fri 14th Aug, 20:15 – 22:30
    BAT WALK– A walk round Southmere Lake and Crossness Southern Marsh, south of Eastern Way, identifying bat species with the use of bat detectors. Daubenton’s bats will be putting on a show over the lake, and Pipistrelle bats – and hopefully other species – will be hunting over the marshes. Feel free to bring children along. Bring a torch if you have one and you might want to wear some insect repellent. Sorry, there are no refreshments provided for this event
    Meet 20:15 at the Southmere Lake/ Lakeside Complex car park off Belvedere Road (SE2 9AQ)

    Fri 11th Sept, 19:00 – 21:00
    BAT WALK– A nocturnal walk around the nature reserve north of Eastern Way after sunset, identifying bat species with the use of bat detectors. Hopefully we’ll see some other nocturnal species too. Bring a torch if you have one, and you might wish to wear some insect repellent.

    Book for these by contacting Karen Sutton, the Biodiversity Team Manager at Thames Water Crossness Nature Reserve by phone on 07747 643958 or Email: Karen.sutton@thameswater.co.uk.

    If you can’t wait to see some bats here is a video of a pipistrelle bat in the hand. Remember though, if you do find a bat you shouldn’t handle it, but follow the BCT guidelines for containing it and contact the Bat Helpline on 0345 1300 228 or email enquiries@bats.org.uk.

  • hilly 6:32 pm on January 22, 2015
    Tags: bats, ,   

    Flora and Fauna 


    Hawksbeard at Woodlands Farm

    Hawksbeard at Woodlands Farm

    One of the highlights of 2014 for me was the opportunity to be involved in a number of citizen science surveys of the flora and fauna of the area. It was a real pleasure to be able to spend time with enthusiastic and sometimes very knowledgeable people identifying wild plants and animals in places such as Woodlands Farm‘s meadows and ponds or in an old ragstone mine in Westerham.

    Many of the surveys were those arranged by Hannah Forshaw, the Education Officer at the farm, but there was also a lot more bat surveying, contributing data to the surveys organised by the Bat Conservation Trust and the London Bat Group.

    The first surveys were in May: the Newt and Pond Life surveys at the farm. Armed with books, identification guides, nets and trays volunteers dipped the pond water and pored over what was dragged up – a good collection of larvae and nymphs and even the occasional tadpole and newt. Wellies were donned to get in the pond and examine the leaves of pond plants for newt eggs – the newts carefully wrap each egg in a leaf. Later, when it was dark the water was examined with torches to count the newts lying on the bottom.

    All the data collected in the surveys is submitted to GIGL (Greenspace Information for Greater London), formerly the London Biological Recording Project, who “collate, manage and make available detailed information on London’s wildlife, parks, nature reserves, gardens and other open spaces.”

    Pond Dipping at Woodlands Farm– Damsel Fly Larva and Phantom Midge Larvae

    Damsel Fly Larva and Phantom Midge Larvae

    The surveys at the farm continued in June with the first of the Meadow Plants surveys. The farm is accredited to DEFRA’s Higher Level Stewardship scheme, which amongst other things defines how they manage their meadows and hedgerows with the aim of supporting biodiversity. One consequence is that the meadows are rich in wild flowers and grasses, which is why a glorious sunny day in June saw groups of enthusiastic volunteers grouped around various books trying to identify the meadow plants. Umbellifers were particularly interesting: did we have a corky fruited water dropwort or a wild carrot or a fools parsley? Close examination and detailed discussion were necessary. The plants’ names seemed rooted in another time: mouse ear, sheeps sorrel, goats beard, tansy, lesser trefoil, common vetch, grass vetchling ….

    June also saw those volunteers measuring the girth and estimating the height and health of some of the farm’s trees for the Opal Tree Health Survey, followed in July by shaking some of the farm’s hedges to see what dropped out for the Opal Biodiversity Hedgerow Survey.





    Goats beard

    Goats beard

    When it comes to citizen science surveys, the Bat Conservation Trust’s National Bat Monitoring Programme (NBMP)  is one of the longest running, having started in  1996. The Field Survey, which monitors populations of noctule, serotine, common pipistrelle and soprano pipistrelle takes place in July. Volunteers are allocated one or more “random” 1km square to survey. They start by drawing a triangular transect on the map of the square, and then plot a route that follows the triangle as closely as possible with 12 equally spaced stopping points. On the evenings of the survey the volunteer walks the route using a heterodyne bat detector to listen for noctules and serotines on the walk between the stopping points and then stops for two minutes to survey for pipistrelles.

    My square for the last four years has been centred on grid reference TQ4081 – an area of Canning Town to the north of Custom House DLR station. It’s not an encouraging area for any wild life – mainly built up and crossed by the noisy, polluting A13. I only ever detect bats in one place – Canning Town Rec – and usually only get one pass on the detector during the two minutes monitoring. This year there was nothing at all at the start of July, but my lonely pipistrelle was back at the end of the month.

    The Woodlands Farm field surveys were far more successful, detecting many more bats – both common and soprano pipistrelles and noctules. Plus there was the added bonus of coming across two hedgehogs this year.

    The BCT run fairly regular courses for volunteers on how to use a bat detector to recognise different types of bat calls, and I went on a refresher during this year’s survey season. While there I volunteered to help with the August Waterway Survey – looking for Daubenton’s bats. I took on a 1km section of the River Cray starting at Hall Place. Daubenton’s bats’ calls sound a bit like marbles dropping onto a tiled floor on the heterodyne bat detector, but the bats must also be visually verified as their calls are similar to Natterer’s bats. We had a couple of possible detections, but no visual confirmation so had to report unidentified Daubenton’s/Natterer’s.

    There are however lots of pipistrelles at Hall Place, as I found out when helping to lead a bat walk around the gardens. It was quite magical walking just after dusk in the riverside gardens of an old Tudor house watching pipistrelles swoop between the trees, often just above head height. During September there were also well-attended bat walks in Shrewsbury Park and at Woodlands Farm, with a good number of bats seen and detected. Bats are becoming popular.

    The River Cray at Hall Place

    The River Cray at Hall Place

    In December I had a rare opportunity, courtesy of the London Bat Group, to help with a hibernation survey at Westerham Mines. The sealed-off  former building stone mines, also known as Hosey Caves, are a Site of Special Scientific Interest and are managed as a bat reserve by the Kent Wildlife Trust. They have been  regularly surveyed by members of the Kent Bat Group for many years. It’s a mucky job because some tunnels are only accessible by crawling through narrow gaps, and it’s often necessary for bat surveyors to lie on their backs to examine crevices in the roofs and walls for hibernating bats. Five species of bat are known to hibernate in the caves. The survey team in December counted a total of 54 bats – mainly Daubenton’s but also Natterer’s and some that were either whiskered or Brandt’s bats. And one Brown long-eared bat and some hibernating herald moths. I am in awe of the bat recognition skills of the experienced surveyors – the bats are often hidden in crevices and little is visible.

    It is important when surveying hibernating bats that they are not disturbed, and that any temperature rise caused by the presence of people is minimised. If the bats wake they will use their scarce energy reserves and have no way of replenishing them because their insect food is not available. So the photo of a hibernating Daubenton’s bat below was taken without flash by torchlight without getting too close to the bat.

    Hibernating Daubenton's Bat

    Hibernating Daubenton’s Bat

    How are bats doing? A composite measure of bat numbers based on data for 8 species shows an 18% increase from 1999 to 2007, but a very slight decrease since 2007. However this must be set against a 60% decline in numbers between 1977 and 1999 in England. Also bats’ legal protection is threatened. A Conservative MP’s private members bill, the Bat Habitats Regulation Bill, currently going through parliament aims to reduce the protection given to bats roosting in places of worship – a move that could prove disastrous for bat populations. The wording of the bill seems very short and vague to me:

    “Notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972, the provisions of the Habitats Regulations and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 shall not apply to bats or bat roosts located inside a building used for public worship unless it has been established that the presence of such bats or bat roosts has no significant adverse impact upon the users of the building.”

    A “building used for public worship” is a very vague and potentially all-encompassing phrase, and how could one demonstrate that the presence of bats has “no significant adverse impact”? What does adverse mean in this phrase? While bats’ presence in churches has caused some problems there are many bat friendly ways of tackling the issue which have been ignored by proponents of the bill. Needless to say the Bat Conservation Trust are campaigning against the bill: if you want to help there’s a draft letter to send to your MP on the BCT web site.

    Comma butterfly

    Comma butterfly

    Back at Woodlands Farm, surveys continued in a lepidopterous vein with the Big Butterfly Count in June and a moth survey in September. The butterfly count was another sunny summer day in the farm’s wild flower meadows. Amongst those spotted were lots of comma, meadow brown and gatekeeper butterflies: Hannah has put a full list on the farm’s Wildlife and Conservation web page.

    A moth trap, which is basically a bright light mounted above a container that was filled with egg boxes, was used to trap moths alive for the moth survey. Some of the moths captured were remarkably and unexpectedly beautiful, such as the burnished brass pictured below. They also had some amazing names: heart and dart, lunar underwing, setaceous hebrew character and pale oak beauty were some of the moths identified. After identification they had to be released carefully to make sure they didn’t immediately become bird food.

    Burnished Brass Moth

    Burnished Brass Moth

    Mammals were the focus of surveys at the farm in the autumn. Hannah hired a mammal night camera from the Mammal Society, but the results were a little disappointing – a rat, a cat, foxes and squirrels were photographed – the best pictures have been put on the Mammal Society’s web site. The hedgehog tunnel had some prints in it, but unfortunately not hedgehog. Then my first experience of checking the Longworth traps yielded only slugs – prompting the acquisition of a slug identification book for future trap checking. Slugs are surprisingly interesting!

    Things picked up with later Longworth trap sessions. On each session 16 traps were baited with seeds and, most importantly, fly pupae from an angling shop which make a smelly attractive food. They were also stuffed with some straw to keep any tiny mammals warm, then placed at various places around the farm in the late afternoon. Early the next morning they were checked: it needed to be early to ensure that little creatures with high metabolic rates didn’t run out of energy. Apart from slugs we found a lot of wood mice, which were sexed before release (a male is shown in the photograph below). A field vole and a possible bank vole were also trapped.

    Longworth trap in position

    Longworth trap in position

     Sexing a Wood Mouse

    Sexing a Wood Mouse

    The conservation volunteers at the farm also helped with preparing the dipping pond for refurbishment – clearing nettles and plants from the edges, digging out water-plants and mud and carefully removing any pond life that could be saved. This year they are doing further work on the pond, clearing brambles in Clothworkers Wood to encourage bluebells and then the 2015 survey season starts with the Big Farmland Bird Count on Monday 9th and Tuesday 10th February.

    If you want to help out with the farm’s surveys of our local flora and fauna then contact Hannah Forshaw on education@thewoodlandsfarmtrust.org, and you can volunteer to help with bat surveys on the Bat Conservation Trust web site.

  • hilly 10:18 am on April 24, 2014
    Tags: bats, ,   

    Shrewsbury Park 2014 Programme 


    Shrewsbury Park near Rowton Road

    Shrewsbury Park


    The Friends of Shrewsbury Park have been very busy recently. Not only have they revamped their web site and joined twitter (@Friendsspark) but also they have organised a programme of events for the rest of the year. Plus they are holding a photography competition, with the winning pictures to go in their 2015 calendar.

    It all starts on Saturday when the Friends are meeting to tidy up the old allotment area on Dot Hill. Their e-mail gave the details:

    Will you be able to help us cut down the brambles in the old allotment this Saturday, 26 April,  from 12 noon – 1pm?
    If you can spare the hour, please bring secateurs and stout gloves, those brambles are mean!
    We will meet at the junction of the Green Chain walk with Dothill. If you are coming via the car park, just walk down the path to the bottom.

    The Friends programme for 2014 includes some old favourites: the superb Summer Festival is on the 19th July, the same weekend as the Eaglesfield Park Neighbourhood Watch Scheme‘s seventh annual Community Fete. I hear that the Festival will again include the excellent Dog Show, one of the highlights of previous festivals. The popular bat walk will be in September this year, on Friday 5th. The Friends are also holding a “Tree event” for 20 children and their parents on  Monday 26 May at 11am. They will lead the children in the woods, help them to make clay faces and journey sticks. You will need to book for this event – more information will be put on the Friends web site soon. Here is this year’s full programme:

    Saturday 26 April, 12 noon – 1pm:  Park tidy at old allotments
    Monday 26 May, 11am:  Children’s Tree Event
    Tuesday 3 June, 10.30am:   Bird walk
    Saturday 19 July, 1 – 4pm:    Summer Festival
    Sunday 10 Aug, 12 noon – 1pm:  Clean up day
    Friday 5 September, 7.15pm:   Bat walk.

     Kris e-mailed details of the photography competition:

    We invite you to capture images of the Park over the next few months. They can be dramatic, seasonal, humorous, exciting, tranquil, close ups or panoramic– with or without people and wildlife, colour or black and white.
    The twelve most interesting photos will be chosen to be included in our 2015 calendar.
    Please send your photos to fspdog@hotmail.com with ‘photo comp’ as the subject. It would be very helpful if you also produce a suitable print if possible. Please include your name and a caption, and how best to be in touch with you.
    Judging will be done at  our Summer Festival on 19 July by all who attend.
    We hope to organise an exhibition in Shrewsbury House in the autumn for all entries and also display a gallery on the website fspark.org.uk
    Be creative and have fun!

    Must take my camera for a walk in the park again!

    Agility competition at Shrewsbury Park Summer Festival

    Agility competition at Shrewsbury Park Summer Festival

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