On Boxing Day, a great naturalist came to the end of his days aged 92. He was Edward Osborne Wilson. He was often known simply as EO Wilson.
EO was not just a scientist. He was: a biologist, a botanist, an ecologist, an entomologist, a close observer of life with plenty of fieldwork skills. Some compared him to Charles Darwin because of his ability as a synthesiser and as a close observer of living things. His respect for Darwin is evident from his introduction to his compilation of Darwin’s writings in From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin’s Four Great Books (2005).
EO was also an assiduous writer who wrote science in ways that anyone can understand, but also an environmentalist alerting others to the loss of species. He wrote more than 35 books and was still writing them through his eighties. Here is a selection of them. Most are readily available second-hand:
The Theory of Island Biogeography (1967) with Robert H MacArthur
The Insect Societies (1971)
The Ants (1990) with Bert Hölldobler
The Diversity of Life (1992)
Journey to The Ants: a story of scientific exploration’ (1994) with Bert Hölldobler
Naturalist (1994, new edition 2006) his autobiography
In Search of Nature (1996)
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998)
The Future of Life (2002)
The Creation: an appeal to save life on earth (2006).
In his 80s EO wrote a trilogy of books:
The Social Conquest of Earth (2012)
The Meaning of Human Existence (2014)
EO carried out field studies in: New Guinea, the South Pacific, the Amazon and Florida Keys, though he cut his entomological teeth as a child in Alabama where he discovered all 42 species of ants and produced a report about them, then told the authorities about the arrival of the invasive fire ant.
EO was brilliant at identifying insects, at observing them and understanding their behaviour. One reason he concentrated on ants was because at age seven he blinded himself in a fishing accident. But he retained his vision in the other eye and this led to him focusing on little things as he lost his stereoscopic vision but could still see fine details on insects. His book The Ants written jointly with Bert Hölldobler led the field in understanding the complex world of social insects.
EO worked on studies of how new species evolved. He was also a clever and deep-thinking scientist, and developed several new theories not just about insects but also about ecology and the future.
While a Director of WWF, EO met Tom Loveday who worked for WWF. They both went on explorations to major wildlife areas such as the Brazilian rain forests and began to realise the scale at which species were being lost. In the 1970s they discussed the need for new terminology to describe what they were studying and came up with the term ‘Biological Diversity’ which they later abbreviated to ‘Biodiversity’.
EO’s book The Diversity of Life (1992) shows the immense span of his understanding of the origins of life, its evolution, and the amazing range of living things in our own times. EO also developed controversial ideas about Sociobiology and human nature, so controversial that a protester poured a jug of ice-cold water over his head when he was a speaker at a major scientific conference. Less controversial were EO’s ideas about Biophilia, how we as humans feel an intimate connection with nature and animals.
EO was involved in launching the Encyclopaedia of Life to create a global database of all the 1.9 million species recognised by science and information about each of them. EO set up an experiment in the Amazon known as the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project, which increased understanding of how habitat fragmentation was accelerating the loss of species. He said: “Destroying a tropical rainforest for profit is like burning all the paintings of the Louvre to cook dinner.”
EO became increasingly disturbed about climate change caused by humankind and our burning of fuels and consumption of materials. About this he said: “Only in the last moment in history has the delusion arisen that people can flourish apart from the rest of the living world.”
He also became more and more troubled by the extinction of species and said: “The one process now going on that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.”
Today’s Society walk was hosted at Tongwell Lake by Colin Docketty. With mild sunny spells and very little wind, it was an ideal day for a winter visit with waterfowl being the main attraction. In recent years it has been one of MK’s most reliable sites for wintering Goosanders, sometimes found in double figure flocks. It attracts many other species of waterfowl including Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Pochard. Bitterns have occasionally been spotted among the reed-beds in the past and the increasingly common Great White Egret was also recorded here for the first time in November 2019.
Our walk took us on a full lap of the lake, scanning the water, reed-beds, and the surrounding thickets. It wasn’t long before attendees were treated to excellent views of 3 Lesser Redpolls, perched and preening for a few minutes in a small thicket overlooking the lake. One of them was sporting a silver ring on its right leg, perhaps a recent catch from Kenny Cramer at Linford Lakes?
The dense belt of conifers on the north side of the lake offered brief glimpses of at least 5 Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff while a Water Rail and Cetti’s Warbler called from the reedbeds nearby. Goosander was a target species of our host and luckily at least 7 were present, including 5 males and 2 females spread across the lake. The subtle green sheen to the males’ heads was shown off well by the low winter sunshine. Other species across the lake included at least 18 Gadwall, 20 Tufted Ducks, 3 Wigeon, 3 Cormorants, Great-crested Grebe and 6 Pochard, the latter of which has sadly become a scarcer sight across the county in recent years.
Some birds perched on the island in the middle of the lake included 3 Redwings, 4 Siskins, a possible 4th Lesser Redpoll and 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers. One of the two Woodpeckers was very keen to be heard as the walk came to a close, drumming on a lamppost near the car park! A Grey Wagtail also made a passing appearance at the start of the walk and a Sparrowhawk and at least 2 Red Kites were seen throughout, circling and gliding in the distance.
Many thanks to Collin Docketty for hosting this excellent walk at one of MK’s overlooked wildlife sites.
Photo: Curlew by Peter Hassett, Draycote Water 1 March 2017
Jenny Mercer has been trying to get reports together of local curlew sightings but as they are sadly few and far between it has not been an easy task. However, she has produced this report below and I have added information provided by Martin Kincaid, Kenny Cramer and Linda Murphy. Thank you for all of you who contributed and keep the information coming in for 2022 and hopefully we can give an update at the end of the year. Julie Lane
Jenny Mercer (11 January 2022)
It has been a disappointment to me that so few reports of Curlew reached me in North Bucks in 2021. However, thanks to my interest being rekindled by Mary Colwell’s book Curlew Moon– which I reviewed for the April 2020 edition of the Magpie, I have found my way onto web-based events on Waders and have kept updated nationally from the charity Curlew Action website https://www.curlewaction.org founded by Mary Colwell.
Locally within Milton Keynes reports reached me of one curlew which called in at Willen Lake for a few days and another curlew was heard then briefly seen by Julie Lane at Olney. Both thought to be on migration. Bucks Bird Club may have recorded other sightings.
Two nature reserve sites, not too far from Milton Keynes, have had curlew attempting to breed in 2021. They are located in the Upper Ray river valley, a tributary of the Thames river system: BBOWT’s Gallows Bridge reserve and the RSPB’s Otmoor reserve
The update from Gallows Bridge is of failure to breed in 2021, though there was one nest which was predated this year. There is a proposal to protect any nests next year with some kind of security system. One of our members saw three curlews at Gallows Bridge, lucky man! I hope to get over there at the end of February/early March this year when the curlews return and start displaying.
Martin Kincaid (24th November 2021) I haven’t seen or heard a curlew in MK for quite some time. They were semi-regular at Manor Farm/FPF when it was being excavated and I saw 2 or 3 not long after it was opened as a nature reserve, but none for about 4 years. I think Willen is the only other local site where I have seen them.
Kenny Cramer (23rd November 2021) I don’t think I’ve ever seen a curlew in Milton Keynes! Looking at goingbirding.co.uk, I found two reports from Willen Lake in the last year, on 11th March and 13th July.
Linda Murphy – updates from volunteers meetings, RSPB Otmoor:
Curlew Update 2019 The curlew project continued to monitor breeding birds in the core areas of the Upper Thames Tributaries. Where breeding pairs were identified attempts were made to locate their nests. In total 15 nests were found, of which 11 were on the Otmoor basin. On the Otmoor Basin 5 nests hatched, two nests were predated by badger and the other 4 failed. Two of the nests were successfully protected with electric fencing. Five fledged birds were recorded on the Otmoor basin which was then the most ever recorded.
Curlew update 2021 13 nests were located altogether (3 were probably re-lays after initial failure)
8 nests were fenced to keep out predators (6 hatched)
5 nests were unfenced (2 hatched)
9 curlew chicks fledged compared to 6 in 2020 and 5 in 2019. So considered a good level of success this year. This improving result has attracted interest from reserves in other parts of the country.
The volunteers managed to ring three chicks (apparently it is extremely hard to catch them…) and the rings have small ‘flags’ attached with letters, HP, HY, HA, nicknamed after plants on the moor – Pepper (after Pepper Saxifrage); Yarrow; Angelica.
Pepper has already been sighted on the west coast of Ireland in Co Kerry. They had not expected that the chicks dispersed so far.
As birds tend to return to and favour similar breeding places, they hope the numbers breeding in the area will gradually increase.
Curlew are a major focus for land management work being carried out on the land tenancy the RSPB have taken over from the MOD, and will be a focus for the land they hope to buy through the Otmoor appeal.
After a lot of work on co-ordinating lists and micro identification following the event, we now have the ‘almost final’ list of moths trapped at this special mothing event.
Just one or two micros remain and await dissection to confirm their identification, the only way to be certain in these cases. This list contains 230 species, confirming the feeling at the time that it was a fantastic night. Big thanks are due to Martin Albertini, Bucks County Moth Recorder, who has pulled the records together and to everyone involved in trapping and recording on the night as well as working through all the follow-up identification.
To remind yourself about the event, read Andy Harding’s news post click here
and to see the moth list for the night, click here.
UPDATE: Round 1 voting is now open until end of 25 January. Go to the 2022 Photo Competition page for instructions.
MKNHS Annual Photographic Competition 2022
Due to the fact that we are still unable to meet in person at the moment and the date for a return to the Cruck Barn is not yet certain, we have decided to run the competition via the Society’s website once again with voting by email. The process and timetable are explained below.
The competition is for the Ron Arnold Shield. Ron Arnold was an early member of the Society and a keen photographer. The competition was set up in his memory.
The competition is open to all members of the Society. Any non-members who would like to participate are welcome to join in order to take part (https://mknhs.org.uk/membership-2/ )
There are four categories:
All other animals, including mammals, fish, insects etc.
Plants and fungi.
Habitats, geological, astronomical.
The following rules apply:
This year, as foreign travel has been so restricted, images for all categories should have been taken in the UK between January 2021 and January 2022
Domestic animals and cultivated plants are not eligible.
People must not be a major subject of any photograph.
They can be horizontal (landscape) or vertical (portrait).
Each member may enter a maximum of 2 images per category. (That’s 8 images in total). If you are submitting more than 4 images, please split between 2 emails, or use WeTransfer.
Please state the category of entry for each image and provide a brief caption for each photo stating when and where taken and species if known/relevant. If you submit more than one photo, make sure it is clear which caption goes with each photo!
May the best photograph win! It could be yours!
How the 2022 Photo competition will be run, and key dates:
Members’ photos will be posted in the four categories on the web site photo competition page (Photo Competition 2022) one week after the deadline (i.e. on 18 January 2022)
Members have a week to decide their choice of top two per category for Round 1. Members send in their choices by email to the same mailbox. (Votes to be received by 25 January 2022)
The votes are counted and the top 8 photos selected (top 2 per category). The top eight photos are posted on the website one week after the deadline for voting in round 1 (i.e. by 01 February 2022).
Members have one week to send in their votes for the top three photos. (Votes to be received by 08 February 2022)
Votes are counted and the top 3 selected.
Winners are announced at the MKNHS meeting on 15 February 2022 one week after the deadline for voting for round 2.
Winning photos will be shown at this meeting and winners will be asked to say something about their photos.
The final 8 will be put on the website gallery page for the photo competition winners 2022.
The winner will be presented with the Ron Arnold Shield to hold for the year (if/when conditions allow). Their name will be engraved on the shield and they will receive a miniature shield to keep.
Please Note! Photos MUST be sent in by 11pm on 11 January 2022 at the latest!
Entries will NOT be accepted after 11 January 2022.
Votes cast after the deadlines for Round 1 and Round 2 will not be counted….
Please note that by submitting photos you are agreeing to your images being displayed on the Society website. Images displayed in the Society gallery after the competition will show attributed copyright.
The New Year Plant Hunt is an annual event run by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland when people – whether absolute beginners or experienced naturalists – across Britain and Ireland head out to see how many wild or naturalised plants (not garden plants) they can find in bloom in their local area at midwinter.
Take part to find out how our wild flowers are responding to changes in autumn and winter weather patterns. But be quick as it ends on 4th January…
A recording of Irina’s talk about the work of The Floodplain Meadow Partnership on Tuesday 14th November is now available to view for the next 30 days. To view the recording, click on the link below and then enter the passcode when asked to do so.
The weather was overcast and drizzling at times but it was warm without wind. Led by Colin Docketty, the walk started in the Windmill car park and began southwards, eventually completing a loop of the whole lake, north and south. Goldfinch were on Teasel by the water near Blue-Tits and Long-tailed Tits. As we progressed around the lake, we spotted gulls of various types and ages. There were some Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls along with juveniles and first- and second-year birds. Little Grebes were spotted in a large group of seven. Further around the lake in another area, three more were seen giving a total of ten. Crossing the bridge near the business park, a Cetti’s Warbler gave a partial song but, as expected, was not seen!
A flock of Goldfinch were in trees near gardens and there was a probable Siskin sighting. A Heron perched high up on a house made a good photo opportunity. A Spindle tree brightened the day with its pink splashes of colour. Under a bridge, a Little Egret stood in a stream patiently waiting for lunch. On approaching the bridge, the bird flew into a tree giving the group the perfect opportunity for viewing. The Little Egret’s yellow feet wrapped around a branch as it watched a Cormorant below.
Towards the end of the walk, two Song Thrushes were seen near the car park chasing each other around some shrubs near the water’s edge.
Many of us were shocked and saddened last week to hear of the death of Mary Sarre after a long battle with cancer. We send Phil and the family our love and sympathy.
Mary and Phil have been members of the Society for a long time now. Since Roy our President has taken a back seat as our botanical expert we came to rely increasingly on Mary’s in-depth knowledge on all things to do with plants. She has also been a valued committee member for many years (always a quiet voice of reason) and did a great job as our summer programme secretary until ill health forced her to stand down earlier this year. We are so grateful for all she did for the Society.
Mary and Phil at Stony Stratford Nature Reserve, with Joe and others.
I first met Mary, a qualified garden designer, when I had recently qualified in the same profession over 20 years ago. She was generous in her advice and support and it was good to share our passion for garden plants and our experiences when designing gardens for clients. I was keen to introduce wilder elements in my designs as Chris Baines and others were beginning to promote gardening with wildlife in mind – it was an exciting time!
We then lost touch for a few years as I changed careers to work in local schools (that is another story) but when Mary and Phil started to come along to MKNHS meetings it was lovely to see her more regularly. Phil has been the warden of Little Linford Wood for many years and I occasionally joined the work parties at the weekends creating coppiced clearings to open up the wood for the plants and insects etc. I always seemed to manage to get to the one just before Christmas where Mary would turn up along with their two lovely black labradors with hot drinks and mince pies. They always welcomed me even though I wasn’t really a regular!
I have been helping as an assistant editor on our website and Mary had sent me several articles for the website recently including a fascinating piece she had written about mistletoe.
Misteloe – Central Milton Keynes (Photo: Mary Sarre)
The day after receiving the incredibly sad news of her passing I was walking in Salcey and I looked up and saw a tall tree with several large bunches of mistletoe in its crown and there guarding one of these bunches was a mistle thrush (living up to its name). It felt like a strange coincidence as I have never seen mistletoe in Salcey before, but it is at this time of the year that the lime green bunches becomes more obvious as the trees shed their leaves. However the sight was a comfort at a sad time. Nature is a great healer and I hope it helps Phil and the rest of their family to remember the happier times with Mary. They had so many wonderful holidays in their second home up in the Pyrenees and many other beautiful parts of the world.
Julie Lane November 2021
If others in the Society would like to share their memories of Mary on our website then please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
From Jenny Mercer
Mary Sarre, July 1945-November 2021
In the natural world and in gardening, Mary worked with vigour to show the goodness and beauty of the world.
She showed us much.
She knew and taught us much.
She drew nature
landscapes with trees
still life with flowers
She made maps and drafted garden designs which she highlighted in watercolours.
She showed us all kindness and encouraged us to do more in our lives.
She will be missed by me, and by many.
We value all you gave us.
You taught us many things about life and how to live it, and now you have shown us how to die courageously.
Your voice in our hearts and our love for you remain, and your voice in our heads will keep on challenging and encouraging us to love nature and each other.
From Sue and Andrew Hetherington
The news of Mary’s death has come as a dreadful bolt out of the blue to us, we had no idea that Mary was even ill. As relative newcomers, we have no long back history of stories and anecdotes about Mary but we know she was the go-to expert for all botanical questions. I recall the mistletoe article Julie Lane has mentioned. Mary wrote about seeing more of it around Milton Keynes and wanted people to tell her about new sightings. I’ve been keeping a look out ever since and corresponded with her at the time. We confided in each other that apart from the purely botanical aspect we were fascinated with the mystery and pagan aspects of this strange plant (or should I say hemiparasite) Thus when Julie Lane “posted” her mistletoe and mistle thrush sighting in Salcey on the Society’s facebook page, it was Mary that came first to my mind. Unlike Julie, I had no idea of what had happened at that time so it feels like even more of a strange coincidence that it made me think of Mary.
We will miss Mary very much and the Society will be all the poorer for her absence. I shall keep looking out for mistletoe and whenever I see it I shall give a nod to Mary’s memory, I wish I could actually tell her about it though! We send love and sympathy to Phil, the family and all who knew and loved Mary.
Sue and Andrew Hetherington
From Mervyn Dobbin
Over many years, our pathscrossed in differentsettings. These included: during Mary’s involvement with the City Discovery Centreat Bradwell Abbey; as a consultant on garden design at the Milton Keynes Quaker Centre; and as a member of Milton Keynes Natural History Society.
At one point, I appointed her to adviseme on planting for my own garden. Together, but with her guidance, we prepared the ground and dug in the spots where the new shrubs and treeswere to be positioned. This working togetherwith heroversight,is a warm memory to reflect on.The pride–of–placein the gardenis the winterflowering cherry,which every year without fail,producesan array of pink blossoms. Thesmall flowershave recently appeared again, a colourful canopyagainst the sky, to brighten up the darker days of this 2021 winter.
Mary in her personal relationshipsalways conveyeda reassuring, non–judgemental acceptanceof others.She was a gentle presence.
Thank you Mary. Mervyn Dobbin
From Linda Murphy
My memories of Mary always take me to Society evening and weekend summer walks, in a variety of locations, especially Pilch Field. No matter where we have been, there are always plants to look at and identify, some common, some much rarer and exciting, but many of them easy to confuse with other species. Mary was never taken in by a quick glance. She knew what features to look for and quietly and patiently checked them out to ensure an accurate record of what had been found. She always had a field guide and hand lens, but more importantly, knew how to use them! As Julie says, in recent years we increasingly turned to her for help with plant identification and ‘what do you think this is, Mary?’ became a regular question. But she didn’t just ‘tell us the answer’. She would gently discuss the options using the field guide, looking at leaf shape, stems, hairiness etc. and making comparisons, asking questions of us, too, in a non-judgemental way that put people at ease and avoided anyone feeling they’d asked a silly question. Jenny has talked about how much Mary knew and showed us, and I for one will be thinking of her and remembering her as I look at plants again next season, still hearing her voice in my head and trying hard to live up to her example, to continue plant recording in her memory.
Our annual quiz hosted by Ann and Mark Strutton proved as challenging as usual (not least in getting everyone in and out of the same group/breakout room for each round)! Congratulations to Ann and Mark on pulling together such a varied set of questions once again, covering insects, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, invertebrates and ‘the killer’ general knowledge! It was a very close contest, with few points separating the teams throughout, but the eventual winners were Alan Piggott, Viola Read, Mike LeRoy, Matt Andrews and Linda Murphy.
When these competitions are held at the Cruck Barn, the winning team have gained custody of a mounted picture of a dragonfly. Does anyone know its whereabouts??
As a group member of Bucks Fungus group the Society has received a report on this autumn’s activities. If you have found any interesting fungi the pictures and descriptions on the ‘Finds’ site may help you identify them. http://www.bucksfungusgroup.org.uk/ “
I thought I’d round off our extraordinary autumn season with a quick report. We have seen a remarkable and unprecedented increase in membership this year with 42 new applications,18 of which were for household membership, and I now have well over 100 addresses on the BFG circular list. Support for our autumn programme of walks has been consistently and considerably higher than previously, necessitating the introduction of our booking system kindly managed for us by Jenny Schafer, and we thank you all for your patience and understanding in complying with this. It remains to be seen whether we need to continue the system next year.
Our 14 autumn walks were held with one every weekend from August 29th to November 20th and produced a total of 1150 fungi records, including 12 new species for the county. Numbers were notably low until the latter half of October when fruiting began in earnest, with our last 6 walks averaging 108 species per event. This is a remarkable statistic on several counts: attendee numbers averaged around 30 per event until mid October but were limited to around 20 thereafter, yet it was at this point that the record numbers suddenly increased. Furthermore, in previous years we have ended our programme in early November – when fungal fruiting is often more or less over – but this year we extended it until November 20th to take advantage of the continued late fruiting and mild conditions.
All in all this has been an odd six months for fungi, to say the least! June and July saw many species starting to appear much earlier than normal (this reflected in our ongoing Members’ Finds webpage), but things then came to a halt and though we have often struggled with dry Septembers in recent years the prolonged dearth of fruiting this year has been extraordinary – likewise the prolonged later fruiting which is still continuing.
Since our programme kicked off at the end of August, Members’ Finds has been continuing on our website, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of our webmaster Peter Davis, though limited to those finds made by members over and above those on our walks. Last year – with no BFG walks – Finds topped 500 species from late August to.the end of December. This year we shall probably be considerably down on that figure despite starting in July. The reasons? I’m guessing here: The novelty is wearing off and life has returned to nearer normality with regard to Covid and Lockdowns (though it is evident that we are clearly not out of that particular wood yet). The lack of BFG activities last year coincided with arguably one of the most prolific fungal fruiting seasons in Britain for decades – sod’s law! Consequently folks were fascinated and went out looking and wanting to know what they’d found. Many rarities and species new to Britain were recorded from all over the country – it was a phenomenal year in more ways than one. Moreover this season members have possibly focused on attending our walks in preference to going out on their own, and clearly there has generally been less around to find in any case.
Nevertheless, please keep your photos coming in for Finds! There are plenty of fungi still out there despite the ending of BFG events. Yesterday (Dec 1st) I found Volvariella surrecta (Piggyback Rosegill), a real rarity and only the second time it’s been found in the county – the photos are on Finds. So this is definitely one to look out for at the moment but it only grows on rotting Clitocybe nebularis (Clouded Funnel) which, however, is in plentiful supply everywhere. It would be great to have more records of the Piggyback and I suspect it’s ‘having a good year’ unlike some other things.
We’ve decided against holding our Christmas Walk and Lunch this year: Covid is on the warpath again and our programme was a long and arduous one this autumn. So I’ll conclude by wishing everyone a Happy Christmas and a Healthy New Year and, as I said in my final report, we hope to do it all again next year! I’ll be back in touch if / when we plan any springtime walks.
Thank you all for your support. Keep safe and very best wishes,
PS If you’re interested in learning about truffles, you might like to sign up for truffle expert Carol Hobart’s online talk entitled ‘A truffler’s tale – Hypogeous Historical Snippets & Truffle Fungi in the UK’ hosted by the BMS but open to all. This is on December 15th at 19.30. Go to www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/217950514857 for free tickets.
Weather sunny and cold. 6 participants.
We walked from Walton Lake to Marshalls Lane, Woolstone, following the River Ouzel and back again. With stops to look at things on the way, we were there for three hours.
We saw 10 species of passerine birds, including a Long-tailed tit which gave us super views of it, and two Red Kites. There were a Moorhen and Grey Heron on Walton Lake, which was devoid of any other water birds, being now a shadow of its former self.
We viewed the Black Poplars. Unfortunately, the interpretation board provided by the Open University has been wrecked by vandals.
Other life included a few species of mushroom, the odd dandelion and one buttercup plant in full flower. No insects were seen as, although sunny, it was too cold.
At Woolstone we saw the medieval fishponds, with an interpretation panel showing what they looked like in their heyday.
Although not a lot of natural history was seen due to the time of year, it was nevertheless a very pleasant sunny walk, enjoyed by all.
For several weeks now, a fully mature adult Great White Egret with green lores has been feeding daily on Little Willow Lake (behind Asda). He is a very expert fisher and is catching plenty of food. The other day he pulled out a very large bit of weed with a very small fish attached to it. He was determined not to lose the fish and preserved, eventually getting his reward.
Also on the lake is a pair of swans with their three now well-grown young. The male swan will not tolerate the presence of another adult swan on the lake. As soon as the intruder lands, he water-skis across the surface of the water, wings flapping at top speed, to send the intruder on its way. I have never seen a swan move so fast. The male is nevertheless quite happy with the presence of the egret, which is giving many local people much pleasure on their daily walks. In 2020 this pair of swans raised eight cygnets to full adulthood.
Also note that there are several hundred gulls at Newton Leys on the large lake in Guernsey Road (no cars) by the waste-processing facility. There is also a large additional group on the playing fields of the Sir Herbert Leon Academy (Lakes Estate- Drayton Road/Fern Grove) just across the other side of the railway line.
 ‘lores’ – the area between the eye and the beak
Insects: When it warmed up after midday we saw a Bee Fly, a male Common Darter dragonfly, and several Speckled Wood butterflies, one of which perched beautifully for us to admire and photograph. We also saw a hornets’ nest on a tree, found by a visitor who joined us on the walk.
The Zoom link to Justin Long’s talk on Fungi in and around Milton Keynes will expire shortly. As there is such a lot of useful information in this talk and members may still want to revisit it, we have downloaded it and stored it so that it can be used as a resource.
Julie Lane The Seabird’s Cry: the Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers – Adam Nicholson (2018: William Collins)
[Winner of the Wainwright Prize 2018; USA title: ‘The Seabird’s Cry: the Lives and Loves of the Planet’s Great Ocean Voyagers’]
Charles Kessler English Pastoral: An Inheritance – James Reebanks
(2020: Allen Lane/Penguin Books)
Sue Weatherhead Butterflies (British Wildlife Collection, Number 10) – Martin Warren
Tim Arnold Much Ado About Mothing: A year intoxicated by Britain’s rare and remarkable moths –
Mary Sarre The Consolation of Nature: Spring in the time of the Coronavirus –Michael McCarthy,
Jeremy Mynott and Peter Marren
(2020: Hodder) A Claxton Diary: Further Field Notes from a Small Planet – Mark Cocker
(2019: Jonathan Cape)
Ian Saunders Beasts Before Us: The untold story of mammal origins and evolution – Elsa Panciroli
(2021: Bloomsbury Sigma publishing) Ghosts of Gondwana: The history of life in New Zealand – George Gibbs
(Fully revised edition, 2016: Potton and Burton)
Colin Docketty A Kaleidoscope of Butterflies: a celebration of Britain’s 59 species – Jonathan Bradley
(2020: Merlin Unwin Books, Ludlow)
Mike LeRoy Swifts and Us: The Life of the Bird that Sleeps in the Sky – Sarah Gibson
(2021: William Collins)
The Society will be producing a calendar for 2022 following the great success of our first calendar in 2021 which enabled us to make our usual Christmas donation to Willen Hospice, despite not being able to hold our Christmas raffle .
The format of the calendar will be similar to last year, with 12 more stunning photographs taken by Society members.
The price remains £10 per calendar.
To order your calendars, please send an email to email@example.com with the title MKNHS Calendar and give your name, address and the number of calendars you want to order.
Calendars should be ready for distribution in early December with payment by bank transfer or cheque made out to Milton Keynes Natural History Society. Full payment details will be provided at the time of distribution.
The Parks’ Trust October newsletter includes various items of news, including the repairs of the river path near the Iron Trunk Aqueduct in the Floodplain Forest NR, and of the Brick Kilns in Great Linford. There are also opportunities to volunteer with The Parks Trust in various capacities, as well as details of various events – including 2 Family Open Days at Howe Park Wood, on Tuesday 26th and Thursday 28th October.
All this is also on their website, www.theparkstrust.com, as well as details of how to subscribe to their email newsletter.
The focus of the presentation was on the loss of biodiversity globally and in the UK and linked to Climate Change causes and effects. Mervyn asked the question ‘What can we do?’ The Climate Change Summits will take place in Glasgow, COP26 31 October – 12 November and COP15 Kunming, China, from 25 April-8 May 2022.1 Both Summits include goals related to biodiversity, especially the Summit to be held in China next year which is billed as the ‘Biodiversity Summit’.
Other reports mentioned during the talk and which might be of interest to members are the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report and the UN Global Assessment Report. Summaries can be found at:
Mervyn has written a supportive and encouraging letter to Sir David Attenborough who is the ‘People’s Advocate’ for the COP26 Summit. Should any member wish to write a similar letter to Sir David, his address is: Sir David Attenborough, People’s Advocate COP26, David Attenborough Productions Ltd, 5 Park Road, Richmond, Surrey TW10 6NS. Mervyn is also writing to his MP and Alok Sharma, President, COP26.
Mervyn gave an example of one unusual way to highlight the importance of the COP26 Summit: a pilgrimage. Right now, groups of walkers (pilgrims) are making their way to Glasgow from cities and towns throughout Europe. On 12 September, one such group walking from London to Glasgow had an overnight stay in Milton Keynes. As they were leaving on the next stage of their pilgrimage walk, the group gave a card to their hosts which stated:
‘…..and we make our way in kinship with the peoples and the creatures of the earth who are suffering and displaced by climate change and ecological breakdown. We do so peacefully and lawfully, ready to engage and learn, because we care and we have hope.’
Members might be interested in keeping in touch with progress at the Summits in Glasgow in November and in China April-May 2022.
The following story is from a first-hand recounting I was privileged to be present at some forty years ago and it concerns the account given to me in person in 1981 by the superbly named Mr Ulysses A. Vincent, affectionately known as ‘Vinnie’, a botanist who specialised in the recording and photography of Hebridean flora in the 1930s and 40s.
I was involved with the setting up and establishment of Pitstone Fen reserve in Buckinghamshire, near to Tring in the early 1980s; this reserve later morphed into College Lake Reserve which lies adjacent to (but split by the railway from Euston north) Pitstone Fen and is probably familiar to quite a few of us now. Pitstone Fen has been left to return to nature in favour of the larger College Lake but still has a good colony of Marsh Helleborines as well as Small Blue butterflies and Water Shrews amongst other little gems.
The late Graham Atkins was the principle driving force behind this project. Graham worked as a cement lorry driver for the then Tunnel Cement company who owned the rights to quarry this location and he persuaded Tunnel Cement that they should consider their ‘green credentials’ and allow him to develop a small, abandoned piece of their quarry into a wildlife haven…Pitstone Fen. He was subsequently responsible for the founding, setting-up and running of the College Lake reserve. He was an exceptionally energetic and knowledgeable ecologist and we formed a lasting friendship.
During our conversations, Graham kept on mentioning ‘Vinnie’ and thought I ought to meet him as he had such wonderful accounts of his days in the Hebrides. He was, I believe in his early nineties by then and although fully compos mentis, was nonetheless a physically frail person living in sheltered bachelor accommodation and unable to venture out on his own, much to his chagrin. Well, we finally arranged a meeting one Saturday afternoon in late 1981 and along I went with Graham to see Vinnie in his charming little almshouse in Princes Risborough.
He was a wonderfully enthusiastic botanist still, full of anecdotes and recounting his adventures in the Scottish islands, in particular the Outer Hebrides where he spent most of the 1930s and 40s cycling around the various islands having got up there by train, bus and ferry and then bicycle. He would take his heavy and unwieldy square-format camera, lenses, glass plates and other paraphernalia along with his botanical recording books, etc., with him and stay at various guest houses up there, braving inclement weather, midges and other privations for several weeks at a time, two or three times a year and all at his own expense as far as I am aware.
Graham kept asking Vinnie to tell me his ‘big seal’ story, to which Vinnie would laugh and self-consciously look down muttering “he doesn’t want to hear that old nonsense” which meant of course, the more they bantered, the more I did want to hear it! He eventually gave in to Graham’s pressure and said he would tell me the story but on the strict understanding that I was not to consider him anything less than fully sane and he then proceeded with the following incredible account which I have tried to recall as accurately as possible after some forty-one years and without any embellishment.
Vinnie was at his usual haunts one year, he didn’t say which year but it must have been in the late nineteen thirties by virtue of his most active period being then, on one of the long chain of Outer Hebridean islands but with no definite or precise location given. He had gone out to count Grey Seals on a beach colony overlooked by steep cliffs. If he mentioned the location, I cannot recall it. Grey Seals were nowhere nearly as abundant as they are now and monitoring their populations at known breeding sites was carried out by many naturalists who otherwise specialised in different disciplines of natural history.
The time of year was not given but in view of the fact it was a Grey Seal colony, one may assume it was possibly in September or October as he would probably not have been looking for Hebridean flora throughout the winter pupping season.
He had a fair walk to get to the viewing location so went lightly equipped and once there, settling down on a grassy cliff overlooking the seal colony, Vinnie commenced his counting. He had finished one count and was in the middle of a second confirmation count when he noticed an unusual looking seal and brought his binoculars up again to check it.
His description went as follows “…it was the same size, roughly, as an adult Grey Seal and was laying on top of a flat rock with a couple of seals nearby and with a slip-off access to the sea; it was mid-grey in colour, possibly with darker blotches, again, similar in appearance to the surrounding seals but had a tapering neck about half as long as the body with a small but well-defined head attached. It had two sets of flippers but these were clearly set at right angles to the centre-line of the body, totally different to the seals and a short, conical tail…it looked like a picture book illustration of a Plesiosaur. I watched it for about an hour with good light using binoculars but didn’t have my camera so reluctantly left and went to fetch it. By the time I returned, the creature had of course gone and I never saw it again, despite many repeat visits, both on that trip and subsequent ones“.
Sadly, Vinnie passed away a few months after this meeting so I was never able to hear this story again or indeed, have another chance to meet this fascinating old man but of course, have never forgotten this account of his ‘dinosaur sighting’!!
I suppose we must take this as another unconfirmed report of a strange and unfamiliar animal with no photographic evidence and no other eye-witness accounts. Nonetheless, I feel this is an account worthy of note purely because when I met Vinnie, he was an experienced field naturalist, clear and concise in his accounts of Hebridean botanical treasures, was clearly totally aware of his frailties but also of his mental state which was in excellent order; finally, his story was short, modestly recounted and from Graham’s comments later, the same as it had always been and not added to for effect or to make it more believable. He was very bashful when starting the story but was absolutely convinced of what he saw.
I have tried to find Vinnie through various means both electronic and previously though library records, etc., but to no avail. I would love to be able to pin down his Hebridean records of course, but sadly, until now, I have remained unsuccessful.
I must confess to being somewhat sceptical when the so-called Loch Ness Monster is attributed to a long-lost, land-locked plesiosaur-like creature. Food availability, extremely low loch temperatures, a lack of numbers for breeding thus leading to inbreeding and eventual extinction make this improbable – and of course, the likelihood of a colony of large animals, reptilian or whatever, or their remains evading human sightings for thousands of years since the loch formed as a separate entity with no ready sea access and in such a restricted environment is so low as to be practically non-existent! However, a reptile used to the colder temperatures of the open oceans and who is either living in these northern latitudes or indeed, is perhaps a Gulf Stream stray who wandered away from its normal home and found itself in a seal colony miles from its normal home much as a rare migrant bird, sea turtle or cetacean turns up in unexpected circumstances, might well be more plausible.
Saltwater Crocodiles swim many miles in the south Pacific and must often experience low sea temperatures too, yet still manage to not only survive but turn up at locations where they are not expected…! I have seen for myself Monitor Lizards swimming to shore in Borneo from distant, barely visible shores and of course, Saltwater Iguanas have evolved a coping strategy for cold-water immersion, albeit for short periods in the Galapagos. I have watched Loggerhead Turtles in the cold waters of the Mediterranean as well as Leather-back Turtles heaving themselves out of the Caribbean onto remote northern Trinidadian shores. Reptiles and some very large ones, can and do thrive in our oceans.
I sent this account off to Adrian Shine, who is the president of the Loch Ness Project and has featured many times on television as the principal collector of ‘monster’ stories and in particular Loch Ness’s very own and well known phenomena. Although not able to take this account as being authentic, he is at the moment investigating Scottish west coast ‘monster’ sightings and felt this was noteworthy to the extent he has submitted it to the Highland Archive in Inverness. Plesiosaurs disappeared from the fossil records around sixty-six million years ago, the same time that Coelacanths disappeared … until they were ‘discovered’ in 1938 off the South African coast and latterly, the Indian Ocean too! They are absolutely identical to Coelacanth fossils set down four-hundred and ten million years ago – so why not Plesiosaurs too?
Something to ponder upon and perhaps indicative of what amazing creatures remain ‘out there’ for us yet to discover…who knows what may turn up on Rebecca or Alan’s trail cameras in Simpson Stream or elsewhere in Milton Keynes?!
The results of Butterfly Conservation’s 2021 Big Butterfly Count (which ran from 16th July – 8th August) are not good news. Worryingly, the decline in the number of butterflies and moths across the UK is continuing, with the overall number of butterflies recorded per count at its lowest level since the Big Butterfly Count began 12 years ago.
This morning was one of those mornings when you wake up to a misty fog and feel like staying tucked up in bed (a heavy cold makes this idea even more appealing!). But our dog needs to be walked so I set off to a world of magic.
The local field is cloaked in a blanket of silken spider’s web. In the past I have seen this gossamer bathed in the morning sun which sets it afire in rainbow colours – one of the most beautiful sights in nature.
(All photos by Julie Lane)
I meet a man with a dog who says ‘I don’t like spiders ugh!’ – how sad. I meet another man who says ‘yes, the webs are amazing but watch out for the false widow spider!’ Human beings have such a deep ingrained fear of these creatures.
I wander up to the Barn field above Olney where the whole place is adorned with dew-covered silken web. This phenomenon allows me to see the different structures of the webs in great clarity. There are the classic orb webs strung across gaps between the bushes with large beads of dew weighing them down. There are the hammocks of funnel web spiders nearer to the ground with their occupants hiding down the funnels waiting to pounce. But also the dew highlights the incredible cloaking of the bushes and ground with what I think are the webs of what we call money spiders.
I remember reading a beautiful article by John Lister-Kaye in which he describes these tiny beings climbing up the stalks of grasses in their billions, lifting their abdomens and releasing their silken lines from their spinnerets – when the weight of this arc of silk becomes greater then their own weight they are whisked up into the atmosphere to be dispersed by the winds to other realms.
As I walk through the field and down to the river Ouse I marvel at the sheer volume of silk and number of spiders that are revealed on this Autumn morning. How on earth does any other insect avoid being tangled and consumed? It makes me wonder if nature has timed this glut of spiders to perfection. Spiders are most evident in the Autumn although there are many around in the summer. Is it possible that the insect world is allowed to get on with its living and reproducing in relative peace earlier on in the season but later on when they are coming to the end of their reproductive lives the spiders and other predators like wasps use this bonanza of protein to reproduce and produce their own progeny – wouldn’t that be neat!!
Some of us are not spider fans but if these predators didn’t exist in such huge numbers we might be overrun by other insects. Perhaps it’s all part of the wonderful balance that has evolved over the millennia.
Disclaimer J Any comments made in this article come from my own rather sparse knowledge and musings so may not be factually correct!
Julie Lane Olney 9th October 2021
The Sneaky, Greedy Spider
The sneaky greedy spider
creeps on eight hairy legs
She spins a web of silk
and fills a sack of eggs
She catches a tired fly
and wraps him like a mummy
Dinner is served
Her feast is rather yummy
Penny of Bucks Fungus Group has confirmed that members of MKNHS are welcome to join this walk, which is otherwise for BFG members only. MKNHS as an organisation is a member of BFG, but you MUST BOOK IN ADVANCE mentioning that you are a member of MKNHS.
He describes it as “A presentation for the Buckinghamshire Bird Club all about my local patch, the Tattenhoe area in Milton Keynes, featuring seasonal highlights from the past 13 years including my rarest bird finds, new species of insects for MK, elusive suburban mammals and more.”
Saturday 25th September 2021 10.00 am; same walk repeated Sunday 26th Location: Waterhall Park; Weather fine Participants: Saturday 3, Sunday 5
What did we see?
Lombardy Poplar: The main focus of the walk was to see a mile-long avenue of these beautiful trees, on both sides of a made-up footpath. A wonderful sight. Birds: A total of 22 species were seen/heard.
Grey Heron, Moorhen, Mallard
Green Woodpecker, Wood Pigeon, Stock Dove
Grey Wagtail (feeding on Water Eaton Brook)
Magpie, Long-tailed Tit, Goldfinch, Robin, Blackbird, Wren, Pied Wagtail
Great Tit, Blue Tit, Dunnock, Carrion Crow, Jay, Jackdaw, Chiffchaff
Other things seen: Large White butterfly, Comma, Migrant Hawker
Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Hairy Shieldbug, White-lipped Snail
3 species of fungi at very large Ash tree suffering serious dieback (Type not yet known)
Plants: Large Bindweed, Indian Balsam (aka Policeman’s helmet)
Arrowhead (leaves in middle of river – visible all year)
Just because something has 8 legs and is running around your house or garden, it doesn’t mean that you are necessarily looking at a spider!
Harvestmen are part of the order known as Opiliones, a sister order to the spiders (Araneae) within the class Arachnida. Unlike spiders, harvestmen have a turret on their had (an ocularium) with a single pair of eyes. They also don’t have venom glands or build webs. It’s their long legs that give them away though!
There are 30 species of Harvestmen in Britain and Ireland and they’re not too difficult to identify (for an invertebrate group). The Harvestmen Identikit is an online interactive guide to help identify species or learn about the features that can be used to separate the different taxa in the field.
As part of MK’s Literary Festival, MK LitFest, folk musician Sam Lee will be talking over Zoom on October 7 at 8.30pm about his recent book ‘The Nightingale’.
Tickets are available on a ‘pay what you can basis’ via the website: www.mklitfest.org
Throughout history, the sweet song of the nightingale has inspired musicians, writers and artists around the world. In his new book, The Nightingale: Notes on a Songbird [Cornerstone, 2021], Sam reveals in beautiful detail the bird’s song, habitat, characteristics and migration patterns, as well as the environmental issues that threaten its livelihood.
From Greek mythology to John Keats, to Persian poetry and ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’, he delves into the various ways we have celebrated the nightingale through traditions, folklore, music, literature, from ancient history to the present day. The Nightingale is a unique and lyrical portrait of a famed yet elusive songbird.
The Field Studies Council have several Natural History Webinars coming up that explore the secrets of the underwater world and its inhabitants. All their upcoming talks are listed below – including those on a range of non-marine topics, such as rewilding; monitoring England’s upland hay meadows; grasshoppers and crickets, and more.
For Our Iconic Seal’s: Think Seal! they will be joined by Sue Sayer, who is an internationally renowned researcher and author, and founder of Cornwall Seal Group. Sue will share her thoughts and knowledge gained from years of studying and watching these fantastic animals.
The second marine-based Natural History Live in October is all about How Scotland Protects the Largest Skate of Europe. For this talk, they will be joined by Tanja Schwank, who is a PhD researcher at the University of Aberdeen. Tanja will discuss the biology and conservation of the critically endangered Flapper Skate, as well as the citizen science used to help monitor the species.
These FREE virtual talks are open to all.
2021 Natural History Live Programme
29 Sep The Tanyptera Project
06 Oct Restoring Wilder Worlds: Rewilding & Species Reintroductions
13 Oct Our Iconic Seals: Think seal!
20 Oct How Scotland Protects the Largest Skate of Europe
27 Oct Wildlife Tracking for Conservation
03 Nov Save Our Seabed by restoring, educating and reducing recreational pressure
10 Nov Knepp Wildland: Rewilding and invertebrates
17 Nov Monitoring England’s Upland Hay Meadows
26 Nov Grasshoppers and Crickets
01 Dec Protecting the Health of Britain’s Rarest Wildlife: Veterinary contributions in conservation
10 Dec Gardening for Wildlife: How To Welcome Frogs, ‘Hogs and Everything In-between!
The Field Studies Council is offering a new online course, timed for the fungi season.
They say “This beginners course is a starting guide to the skills required to begin identifying fungi in the field. You will learn valuable observational field skills; what to look for, what to record and how to record it. Looking at habitat, substrate and how the fungus interacts with its surroundings, this is the perfect course for novices looking to learn more about the fungi around them and start to identify fungi groups.”
Fungi enthusiasts and beginners will explore the techniques for identifying fungi in the field through the following topics:
Fungi Field Skills: Field notes, understanding habitat and field equipment
Field Identification Skills
By the end of the course, you will be able to:
Record useful field notes and use the correct equipment to safely collect fungi
Make accurate habitat and substrate observations
Understand key morphological features to begin a fungus identification
Share this knowledge with friends, family, and fellow volunteers
This 2-week online course covers 2 topics, for which you will complete a variety of online resources and activities. Each topic is then concluded with an interactive Zoom workshop to complement the content.
Please note that bookings will close at 9 am on Monday 11th October to allow for all participants to be enrolled to the online platform – booking will not be taken after this time.
Each individual needs to place their own order to ensure we can sign you up to the learning platform and give you access to resources.
Herewith a last minute reminder from Bucks Fungus Group for their walk at Stoke Common this coming Saturday, September 18th:
‘As the event forms part of our funded project for the City of London, owners of both this site and Burnham Beeches, we may extend into the afternoon if there’s been enough rain to trigger good fungal action. So if you’d like to stay on please bring a packed lunch in case. If we have enough specimens to make it worthwhile we hope to hold an informal ‘show and tell’ at the end of the morning.
If you are interested in being involved in the National Harvest Mouse Survey as a volunteer, trainer, or coordinator in your area, please fill out the short form here so we can add you to our list and keep you posted on the survey. You can also email the team on firstname.lastname@example.org
Many members will have heard the sad news that Audrey Prince passed away on 27th August at the age of 94. Audrey and John (our nonagenarian member and dormouse expert) were married for 73 years! She led a very full and active life over all those years and will be greatly missed by all who knew her, but especially by John and her family. John has asked me to pass on his thanks to everyone who has been in touch, or sent cards or letters. He really appreciates your thoughts, support and sympathy. He has also said that if anyone wants to make a donation in memory of Audrey, she suggested Willen Hospice. Her family have emphasised the tremendous support they received from Willen Hospice during the final months of Audrey’s life following her cancer diagnosis, enabling her to stay at home as she wished.
As we all know, moths need to be attracted. So, prior to the meeting, Janice Robertson and I, with the assistance of Martin and Margaret, the residents of ‘The Holt’, organised a mercury vapour lamp over a sheet (equipment courtesy of Rachel Redford) on the lawn of ‘The Holt’ and a Robinson trap on a white sheet with a similar 125w bulb in the overflow car park. With no great confidence, five trees were liberally daubed with a concoction of various alcoholic drinks, molasses and other sweet substances (courtesy of Ayla Webb): a process known as ‘sugaring’.
Because the meeting was scheduled for a 7.30 pm start, which is a while before moths could be expected to be on the wing, I had brought along a small viewing net (also courtesy of Ayla Webb) with a selection of the more striking moths I had caught the night before in my garden traps. I also had about a dozen moths in plastic pots, which I found particularly interesting and with which I made a desperate attempt to maintain the attention of the group. However, before any moths were discussed, the group were warned not to do any tree-hugging … the results would have been horrible to behold.
As the level of interest started to flag, we moved to examine the sheet below the light on the lawn, which held a small range of flying insects but no moths. To keep the circulation going we moved to the first tree, and to everyone’s surprise a Copper Underwing was feeding on the liquor. This and subsequent Copper Underwings have been recorded as Copper Underwing agg. (aggregated) because Svensson’s Copper Underwing and the equally common Copper Underwing are extremely hard tell apart without handling these extremely slippery moths.
The other trees were not so productive, but on arrival at the Robinson trap the first couple of the beautiful Green Carpets put in an appearance as well as the other most frequently encountered species of the night, a tiny micro, almost certainly Yponomeuta yvonymella. Again caution had to be exercised because of the other very similar ‘Ermine’ moths and attempting genital dissection of the poor creatures to confirm the ID seemed inadvisable, and not something I practise. Back at the lawn a striking moth, and a clear sign of autumn, was on the sheet and was successfully identified by a couple of the group since it was a species I had brought in the display net – Centre-barred Sallow. Several bright lemon yellow Brimstone moths also mirrored the contents of the net.
At this point some people were keen to get back to the tree trunks and we were all treated to up to 4 Copper Underwings on a tree, with the odd Square-Spot Rustic and Angle Shades. Much larger was an Old Lady Moth, not in great condition, but drinking eagerly.
It was now unclear which was the best spot to stake out and a couple more circuits produced a probable total of 10 Copper Underwings, a second Old Lady, and a third superbly marked one flying in and out of the Robinson trap. Common Wainscot, Setaceous Hebrew Character, White Wave, Large Yellow Underwing and the much scarcer Broad-Bordered Yellow Underwing were easily seen on the sheets. An intriguing moth proved to be a very worn Dun-Bar, rather than anything more exciting.
Several of the group left around 9.30 pm and, with things changing very little and the density of midges afflicting the throat passages around the Robinson becoming unbearable, things drew to a close at 10.30 pm.
A very successful evening, with thanks to those who came along and especially to Martin and Margaret, who live at the Holt, in tolerating, nay, facilitating, our mothing evening.
The Robinson was allowed to shine all night and at 7 am the next morning Janice, Rachel and I opened a small actinic trap, which I had left in the reserve, as well as the reserve permanent trap and the Robinson. The result was 40 species of macro-moth, of which Common Wainscot, Setaceous Hebrew Character, Large Yellow Underwing, Common Wave and Small Square-Spot were in double figures; Square-spot Rustic and the Snout numbered over 20 and top of the pile was Green Carpet with 28 individuals. 8 micros were identified and 2 others were photographed but not yet identified … lazy me.
If there is anything you would like to share with other society members about your wild summer then please send it in to email@example.com
It could be an interesting wildlife sighting or a special place you have visited, with a photo or two if you have them , though that’s not essential. It doesn’t need to be a long article so please don’t be reticent. We would love to hear from you.
Buckinghamshire Fungus Group (BFG) have recently announced their Autumn/Winter programme of Fungi Walks and Meetings. These begin on Sunday August 29th with a visit to Bernwood Forest on the Bucks/Oxfordshire border, followed by Ivinghoe Common on Saturday September 4th.
Note that their walks are all arranged for BFG members only this year (2021), but if you’d like to go on a particular walk but are not yet a member, joining is very cheap and very easy: just click here.
All are most welcome – especially families – and no previous experience is needed.
Unless otherwise stated, walks start at 10.00 am, and finish around 1.00 pm.If weather conditions are bad (very windy, frosty or snowy) it would be wise to check with the leader before setting out.
With thanks to BFG for the information, and to Joe Clinch for drawing this to our attention.
Photo montage of some of the species observed contributed by Martine Harvey
This Saturday visit was the Society’s first to Summer Leys Nature Reserve since June 2011. The reserve was planned and developed in the latter 1980s and early 1990s and is managed by BCN Wildlife Trust. It covers 47 hectares of former gravel workings in the Nene Valley and is designated a SSSI and SPA. The site consists of several habitats: a large reed-, tree- and grass-edged lake with a scrape inlet and several islands the water level of which is managed; rough grazing adjacent to the lake; a small area of preserved meadow; two other managed meadow areas; two ponds; hedges; and strips of woodland. A Society Walk Description of the reserve undertaken in 2020 can be found at https://mknhs.org.uk/mknhs-summer-leys/). There is also a BCN leaflet ( www.wildlifebcn.org/summer-leys).
Twelve members and one visitor participated in this mid-morning walk on what proved to be an overcast but thankfully dry day. We followed the perimeter footpath anti-clockwise from the car park to take in the four bird hides, the managed and preserved meadows, and one of the ponds (the second was visited after our return to the car park). This report consists of a brief description of the habitats and wildlife observed. An annex provides a checklist of species recorded during our visit (go to: Summer Leys Species Checklists).
We were off to an excellent start with the discovery of a Red Underwing at rest on one of the wooden posts at the edge of the car park. The small area between this and the lake is a flower rich scrubby meadow. Common Fleabane, Teasel, Great Burnett, Meadow Sweet, Water Figwort, Angelica and Common Centaury were amongst the flowering plants. Insects included Ruddy Darter, Small Copper, Essex Skipper, Gatekeeper, Tiger Hoverfly, and many not identified. Linnet was heard and Reed Bunting seen.
The two bird hides close to the car park offer views over the lake and one of them also the scrape. The first sighting was a Sparrowhawk flying past. Black Headed Gulls breed here and were much in evidence but Common Terns another important breeding species were absent perhaps already on their way south. The scrape had Great and Little Egret close enough together for easy size comparison. The only waders seen during the walk were Lapwing (another breeding species) and Common Sandpiper.
The perimeter path then took us through a covered area of semi-mature deciduous trees of which alder, ash and willow predominated, hedges and occasional clearings. We heard Song Thrush in full voice; had brief glimpses of Blue Tits, Tree Creeper, Goldcrest; and heard the calls of Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Wren and Dunnock; and saw Red Admiral and Peacock in the clearings, and Speckled Wood in the overhung areas.
We stopped briefly at the third hide which provides another view of the scrape with semi-aquatic plants in the foreground including Flowering Rush. The route then offered good distant views of the lake with Canada and Greylag Geese, Cormorant, and Lapwing on the islands. The fourth hide is the feeding station where birds are fed throughout the year: Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, and Collared Dove were taking advantage of this service during our visit.
The final stop was the preserved meadow and pond in the north-west corner of the reserve. This proved to be very rewarding. The meadow is flower-rich with Great Burnet, Lady’s Bedstraw, Yarrow, and Bird’s-foot Trefoil amongst the species. Common Blue, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Brown Argus were active. The pond was also our best stop for dragonflies with the day having warmed up a little. Banded Demoiselle, Common Blue Damselfly, and Azure Blue Damselfly were on the wing. More excitingly, Harry Appleyard spotted egg galls of the Willow Emerald Damselfly, a species he first identified in Milton Keynes in 2016. He is currently consulting on the status of this find.
We turned round at this point and the walk back offered further opportunities for wildlife exploration. The short extension to the other pond when we got back to the car park was disappointing for dragonflies but gave us a close-up view of young Reed Warblers.
The focus of the walk was to experience the richness of the biodiversity of this important SSSI and to keep a record of what we had identified. We were a typical Society group: some expert in their field and some generalists, and all there ready to share their knowledge. The species checklists are a product of this approach and I would like to thank Harry Appleyard, Peter Barnes, and Linda Murphy for compiling them; Harry, Peter, Martine Harvey, Julian Lambley and Jenny Mercer for their excellent photographs especially Martine’s montage; and visitor Ann Plackett for further information about the planning and early development of the reserve with which she had been involved.
The Fairy Flax walk took place on 20th July, starting from Old Wolverton’s Holy Trinity churchyard. Our route took us down the hill passing the now just mown floodplain meadows to join the Great Ouse riverbank footpath as far as the Grand Union Iron Trunk aqueduct over the River Ouse, through the narrow tunnel under the canal, and finally returning to the churchyard by the Canal Towpath.
Two thunderstorms rather interrupted proceedings, but of over 30 members who assembled at the church, 14 of us did the walk in full.
All had the opportunity to visit the interior of the church, and many heard the outdoor talk by John Brushe on the ‘natural stones’ used to build the church between 1809 to 1815. Limestone and sandstone from quarries in Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and Isle of Portland were used, with canal transportation facilitating the build. The church is probably the earliest example of the English Norman Revival movement. A guidebook, written by John is available from Jenny Mercer. Our thanks go to John for a most interesting talk, and to Terry Collier for opening up the church for the Society members.
Interestingly this wet and hot summer has ensured the Fairy Flax has remained unseen at its possible location of 14 years ago (on the path between the Canalside to the south of the Iron Trunk and the Old Wolverton fields, as it is impenetrable this year!) My first ever sighting of Fairy Flax was then, with Roy Maycock, on a Society walk.
There is a Plant List below, compiled by Mary Sarre – a short list, as the weather was not conducive to much searching. Of note was the reed sweet-grass, which was evident in both the River Ouse and the Grand Union Canal. I recall seeing the reed sweet-grass on a very lovely evening on a Society walk at Olney some years ago where the cattle were wading into the river to eat this much-loved sweet treat.
A Quiz was provided for anyone inclined to explore the churchyard, and a copy of the quiz and churchyard map is provided through this link, with answers at the end. I am hoping to get Society members interested in making recordings of mammals (there is a badger sett nearby), insects and plants etc. For anyone willing to volunteer, contact details are on the Quiz sheets.
Plants (recorded by or reported to Mary Sarre)
Marsh woundwort, Stachys palustris
White deadnettle, Lamium album
Ragwort, common, Senecio jacobaea
Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna
Crab apple, Malus spp.
In the river:
Club-rush, probably the common, Scirpus lacustris
Reed sweet-grass, Glyceria maxima
Common reed, Phragmites australis
Yellow waterlily, Nuphar lutea
A walk around Simpson led by Peter Barnes and Rebecca Hiorns, looking at a variety of habitats and the parish council’s initiatives to understand and enhance them, in line with their commitment to help address climate change and the loss of biodiversity.
The evening was warm and dry when, just after 7pm, 30 members and guests set off from the Parks Trust car park off Walton Road and headed north down the path beside the River Ouzel. It was difficult to see the river with all the ruderal growth but when a cry of ‘Greater Dodder!’ went up from Julian Lambley – the nettles entwined with the parasite suddenly became much more interesting.
Greater Dodder entwined through stinging nettles
Proceeding back towards the village Stock Dove were spotted and a pair of Mute Swans flew overhead low enough to hear their wings beat, a beautiful sight against the bright blue sky.
Our first stop was St Thomas’ churchyard, a complex habitat supporting a wide range of species, some not seen anywhere else in the parish. These include plants, fungi and invertebrates associated with the old grassland, the tall mature trees and the church walls, which provide nesting space for several species of solitary bee and a colony of wild honeybees. The older sandstone and limestone gravestones are covered in rich patterns of lichen and mosses. The Parish Council has initiated a project to help manage and enhance the habitats, hoping that species will repopulate other areas of the parish. A record is being made of the flowering plants and compared with the species list compiled by Roy Maycock for his survey of all the churchyards in Buckinghamshire, in the early 1980s.
This year, a revised mowing regime has enabled grassland around the older graves to grow as a meadow. This has benefitted many pollinators and enabled plants to flower that haven’t been seen in recent years, including 24 Bee Orchids and one Pyramidal Orchid, which was a delightful surprise when it revealed itself just before our visit.
During our visit Harry Appleyard spotted a Scarlet Tiger Moth, Common Blue Damselfly and Purple Hairstreak and Mike LeRoy and Justin Long reported a Waxcap Hygrocybe conica.
Male Emperor Dragonfly – Harry Appleyard
Male Banded Demoiselle – Harry Appleyard
We then proceeded across the stream via the small wooden bridge stopping to look at the otter footprints adjacent to the water’s edge.
Walking into the Simpson Manor Field (managed by The Parks Trust as pasture) views open up to the Greensand Ridge. We stopped and Peter was explaining the history of the manor, medieval fishponds and moat and later manor house with landscaped gardens, when the cattle, which had been grazing peacefully on the other side of the field, started galloping in our direction. Any disquiet was momentary as Mike LeRoy stepped forward, engaged with them and instantly calmed the ‘bored and unruly class of teenagers’.
We next proceeded to the sluice to look down over the field and river from the higher ground. Peter related the number of bird species to be seen on the lake, including Great Northern Diver, Goosander and Mandarin Duck, and the week-long visit of a pair of Cattle Egret in Simpson Manor Field in May 2020. No Cattle Egret were seen, but views of a Little Egret fishing along the river were enjoyed by all. It is not known how well eels are doing in this section of river, but nationally eel numbers have declined by around 95% in the last 25 years.
To avoid our ‘herd’ unsettling the cattle again, we skipped the planned route through to Lissel Road, an area where the Parish Council’s new working arrangement with SERCO (MKC land) has enabled residents to enhance habitats. This has included, creating leaf and log piles with hedgehog nesting spaces, putting up 10 bird boxes (one hoping to encourage the frequently heard Tawny Owls), building a bug hotel and managing areas as meadow. Projects have also started to improve the ground flora of the copse and support pollinators early in the year.
Cormorants – Harry Appleyard
We stopped briefly at Lickorish bridge to hear about the history of the area and to look down over the canal. The woodland was the first to be planted by the Development Corporation, it is now reaching early maturity and has just had its first major thinning.
We then proceeded down to the area adjacent to the ‘Cattle Creep’, a tunnel under the Grand Union Canal built to enable farmers to move their cattle across the canal. The tunnel is now used as a bat roost. The canal and its embankments provide a connected habitat over a hundred miles. Within the parish, its banks are particularly associated with crab apple trees.
Our final stop was at Bowler’s Bridge where Peter described how bats have been finding roosting and nesting spaces within the houses on Hanmer Road, built in 1973, including his own where, at the end of May, he counted as many as 400 Soprano Pipistrelles exiting at dusk.
Rebecca Hiorns July 2021
Birds – 17 Species Grey Heron
2 Greylag Goose
20 Black-headed Gull
Invertebrates Emperor Dragonfly (Male)
5 Banded Demoiselle
Common Blue Damselfly (Churchyard)
Scarlet Tiger Moth (Churchyard)
Purple Hairstreak (Churchyard)
Several of the 24 members who came on our visit to Shenley Wood had never been there before. Before the walk started, we held a minute’s silence in memory of Gordon Redford who knew this wood and brought so much knowledge about moths and enjoyment of wildlife to the Society, as well as his warmth and friendship.
This was not a typical time of year for a woodland visit because the glorious spring flowers had finished flowering. Mike LeRoy used the opportunity to give an introduction about the wood itself: its tree and shrub species, its history, its characteristics as Ancient Woodland, and how it had been managed or mis-managed down the centuries.
It was almost certainly part of the ‘well-wooded’ Shenley area described in the Domesday Book of 1086. The first written record of it was in 1599 as ‘Shenley Park’. After centuries of woodland management to produce underwood and timber, by the 1900s the Wood was in a poor state. In 1958 attempts were made to ‘coniferise’ it, but few of the new trees survived. The MK Development Corporation purchased the wood in in 1985 and began the long and effective process of restoring coppicing and thinning cycles, which were developed further after its transfer to The Parks Trust in 1992. This opened up the wood for public access and enjoyment while protecting its characteristic flora and other wildlife.
[Mike LeRoy’s very informative handout for the walk can be found here.]
By the time of our walk the Ancient Woodland Indicator flowers had finished flowering: the Violets, Primrose, Lesser Celandine, Greater Stitchwort, Bluebell, Wood Anemone and Early-purple Orchid; with only the tall seed-heads of Bluebell still showing. But by late June, Common-spotted Orchid were scattered alongside the paths in their hundreds. Greater Butterfly Orchid had been seen a couple of weeks earlier but remained hidden. Common Figwort and Ragged Robin were found in a few locations as well as newly-merged Enchanter’s-nightshade more widely.
We followed the western woodland path to the foot of the wood, then circled the northern end through mature woodland next to the Swan’s Way long-distance Bridleway until we reached the lower of the four ‘mini-teardrop’ ponds (flood management drainage). The water in these was clean and had plenty of floating Pond-weed. Around the ponds the flower-rich grassland was striking and included plenty of Bird’s-foot Trefoil and some Lady’s Bedstraw with bees making good use of them.
From the ponds we re-entered the woodland as far as the central glade, before winding our way back up the east side to the high point and the entrance gate.
Three butterfly species were seen: Essex Skipper, Meadow Brown and Ringlet.
Bird species and counts were (with thanks to Harry Appleyard): Goldfinch (2), Carrion Crow (2), Song Thrush (singing), Green Woodpecker, Greenfinch (5), Blackbird (singing), Blackcap (2 singing), Swift (6), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wren (2), Jay, Bullfinch, Rook, Red Kite, Magpie, Wood Pigeon and Dunnock.
Thanks to Peter Meadows for bringing to our attention this news from Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust :
Peatland Progress Heritage Horizon Award
We are delighted to announce that the National Lottery Heritage Fund has awarded the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire an £8m Heritage Horizon Award!
This funding will means that the Great Fen can expand our pioneering work of peatland preservation vital for combatting climate change and reducing carbon emissions. We will also be working closely with young people, showing them that climate change is being tackled on their doorstep and empowering them to take action.
Gordon had organised this event annually in memory of his moth mentor, George, on the Saturday closest to George’s birthday, and was expected to do so again. Sadly that was not to be. After some deliberation, it was decided to go ahead and to remember both of these pillars of the local mothing community.
The result was so fitting. The largest number of traps ever…13; the largest number of attendees….over 30; and almost certainly the largest number of moth species.
The most important attendees were, of course, Frances Higgs, who had travelled up from Somerset, and Rachel and Stewart Redford, Gordon’s daughter and son. The southern contingent was impressive with 5 trappers marshalled by Martin Albertini and Dave Wilton, with Peter Hall travelling from Herefordshire. So well thought of were both Gordon and George.
It was a hugely enjoyable if poignant night, but it almost didn’t happen. Car access is essential to bring traps and generators any distance into the wood. The padlock on the entry gate had been successfully opened by the key provided by the Woodland Trust a week earlier for a recce, but in addition to that padlock another combination padlock was now securing it … and we didn’t have the combination. The local farmer was contacted and he phoned his wife to obtain it! He warned us it was temperamental, but after my failure to open it, Linda Murphy’s magic hands did the trick. Phew!
The next issue was the grassy turning circle, where we have previously set up a mercury vapour lamp above a sheet, was now rocklike hardcore. So we settled for a Robinson trap around which people could gather as the moths arrived. It was a little painful on the knees, but a most effective way of catching, potting and passing round moths for all to see. This trap and another one 50 metres away are powered by a generator which Gordon always operated. Thanks to the combined efforts of David Webb, Martin Kincaid and Martin Albertini, after a period of intermittent performance, all worked perfectly.
And so to the moths. There were clouds of them and even more small flies, which got into the throat of everyone who inspected the other traps. Among the most numerous moths were Clouded Border and, surprisingly, Coronet, an always beautiful, but also very variable species. The one here is so unusual that we considered several other possibilities before becoming satisfied with its identity. Coronet
The superb Peach Blossom is not rare, but has a known disdain for light traps, so several in perfect condition were a delight. Black Arches is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser at this time of year, as is July Highflyer. Elephant Hawk-moths are having a wonderful year, so a few of those were guaranteed, but Pine Hawk-moth is much less reliable, so one in the central trap was a bonus. Peach Blossom Black Arches Pine Hawk-moth
The list of species is going to be a very long one, and the majority will be micro-moths, some of which are very beautiful such as this Batia lunaris. Batia lunaris
There will be much poring over many photos of micros and a few dissections before the final list can be validated. That may be a few weeks, so that is not attached here. I will make it available when it is complete, and, of course, a copy will also go to the Woodland Trust, who have always kindly given us access to the wood for this event, which this year, by a combination of excellent weather and many motivated individuals, was something of a very fitting triumph. And, of course, somebody must have sent that huge quantity of moths.
It is also so nice to see these beautiful insects in daylight, so very early the next morning Ayla Webb and I opened up the central trap and a small actinic with just 6 egg boxes inside. Given the number of moths and their activity levels, all hope of accurate counting soon vanished and we simply concentrated on new species to add to the event total. Among these was an Oak Nycteoline. This species is probably the most variable on the British list and since Ayla and I had only seen 3 between us previously it was no surprise that we hadn’t seen one resembling this one: its unusual shape gave it away. Not the most exciting moth for the non-afficionado! Oak Nycteoline
Having packed away the last of the equipment we were just about to get into the car when a Purple Emperor decided to inspect us, flashing purple in the sunlight as it did so. A first for Ayla. Not a moth, but what could be a more stunning present from her moth mentor, Gordon.
As we know, Gordon Redford was a passionate moth-er. The following is a request from his daughter Rachel, with her personal tribute to her father available through this link.
Moth Night 2021 runs through 8th, 9th and 10th July, this year (see https://www.mothnight.info/). In Gordon’s memory, and so he can appreciate all those moth lights up in the heaven-sent sky, if you do moth, have mothed with him, or want to give it a go, please set up your moth traps over these dates (one or all three dates) and light them in his memory.
Raise a glass and take a few photos of your lit moth trap, of you, along with a few photos (maybe 3-5 photos) of your favourite most beautiful of moths that you get in the traps that night or the next morning … you know the ones, that you just know have been sent to you by Dad/Gordon/Nodrog/Gordon the Warden to make you marvel and smile … then, please send your photos over to me. (Please send any you have of him or with you together from past ventures.)
I’d like to collect them all and arrange a collage or mosaic using all the photos that is both mothical and mythical and magical in his honour and as part of our follow-on tribute to an absolute moth legend and green guardian angel!
*** We will be arranging a gathering in his memory (a true celebration of his life, to show love and respect, and a send off and goodbye) and can let you know more in time – date and place and time to be arranged in the future … ***
Photo: Newton Blossomville Church looking beautiful with our walk participants enjoying the bats and the wildflower meadow (in the dark)
Milton Keynes Festival of Nature week took place last week and for the fourth year running it was a great success. It is run mainly by the Parks Trust and the Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) but MKNHS is the third partner in the mix and we have always contributed to the events during the week and in particular to Nature Day which is a big family wildlife day based at Howe Park Wood.
We were there again this year with our MKNHS display boards and a feather display. We were sharing our stall with Ayla Webb and Andy Harding who had both brought their previous nights moth catch with them. This was a great success as they had caught lots of beautiful moths including some hawk moths (small elephant, poplar, privet and eyed) which are always a big hit with the crowd. The pleasure on little children’s faces when they get to hold one of these amazing creatures is wonderful! Kenny Cramer was also there with his bird ringing and I think they caught quite a good selection of birds including blackcaps, treecreepers, a robin and a bevy of blue tits.
Thank you to Sue and Andy Hetherington and Linda for helping on the day.
We also ran a public bat/glow worm walk in Newton Blossomville as part of our MKNHS summer walks programme and we had 15 members of the public attending, quite a few villagers as well as society members (although I suspect some stayed at home to watch the footie!). The weather was a bit cold and windy and this meant there weren’t that many bats flying but we were treated to a couple of pipistrelles flying around inside the church and the porch which was magical. (Perhaps they were reluctant to leave their cosy roost and go out into the cold.) Diana Spencer from Bats in Churches very kindly came along with her little dog Millie and talked to us all about the work they are involved with, helping church congregations cope with sharing their church with these lovely but sometimes maligned and rather mucky creatures.
We then wandered up the lane and were lucky enough to spot four glow worms much to the delight of all present.
So it was a good evening and thank you again to Sue and Andy Hetherington for helping me to run the evening.
This is to announce that Milton Keynes Natural History Society has taken a small step into the world of Social Media, through the establishment of Facebook and Instagram accounts.
The Facebook and Instagram icons will shortly be added to the website’s sidebar. But for more information about how the Society will be using these social media tools, and how to access them, please follow this link:
Please see below information on the next up-and-coming Bucks Geology Group free Zoom talk on Thursday 1st July from 5-6pm
Dr Jill Eyers will be talking about “The best bits of Bucks geology “. A lively virtual field trip from top to toe of Buckinghamshire showing the best locations to see geology. The tour travels from tropical Jurassic seas to the freezing tundra of the Ice Age, and the tour bus stops at all your favourite places.
The details of the Zoom talk are copied below, please keep these somewhere safe as you will need them to log in!
For those of you who haven’t heard we are very very sad to break the news of the death of Gordon Redford, following a heart attack.
He was a friend to so many of us in the Society and whether you knew him well or had met him just briefly, talking to him was like being given a big hug. He was a kind gentle man with a lovely sense of humour, always caring and always keen to pass on his considerable knowledge to others.
He did so much for the Society along the way. He was on our committee and organised our summer programme for many years, he set up our health and safety and risk assessment policy and he ran his moth trap for us at every opportunity.
His passion for moths was legendary and his knowledge was immense and he shared this knowledge so generously with us all over the years but especially with youngsters at Nature Day and school’s events etc.
We send our very best wishes and love to his family who are going through such a difficult time at the moment.
I invite any of you who knew Gordon to send in your memories of him to share with us all on this website. Photos also welcome.
If you want to send cards etc to the family and don’t have the address then please get in touch with me (Julie Lane) at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are talking to his family and thinking about ways in which we can honour his memory in some way in the future but it may take a while to decide on exactly how we want to remember this lovely remarkable man.
Gordon running his moth trap for us after our annual Society BBQ at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve. It was a chilly evening!
(Lead photo collage courtesy of Kenny Cramer; photo above courtesy of Julie Lane)
Memories of Gordon
From Mary and Phil Sarre:
We were truly shocked to hear about Gordon….
Phil and I will remember him particularly in relation to the organisation of the summer programme: he generously spent some time explaining and handing over his well-thought-out system. From the lead-in and Society meeting in February with contributions to the ‘Dates to fill sheet’, his 10-year record of sites visited, and the subsequent collection of visit details from Leaders are all very clear. We found his communications invariably warm and friendly.
Also of course he has always come forward with at least two mothing sessions, notably the Higgs Memorial evening at College Wood, and latterly at Linford Lakes.
We didn’t know Kate and the family well, but wish them well at this traumatic and difficult time,
From Joe Clinch:
I have many fond and appreciative memories of Gordon and his legacy to the Society. He was above all a most generous, kind, good humoured, and knowledgeable naturalist and colleague. His mothing expertise and his willingness to share this through reports, mothing evenings and talks was legendary (including at a personal level my many requests for help with identification). He was also a most effective organiser of the Summer Walks Programme (my first attendance at a Tuesday evening planning meeting led by Gordon was a revelation: a highly participative meeting of about 30 members with the majority of the slots filled in little over an hour and what’s more he codified this approach for his successors!). And as a member of the Committee before my time he put together model Risk Assessments of all the Society’s main activities, drawing on his experience at the Parks Trust (and again codified and updated for future generations in the Guidance Handbook). I know that I will be one of many members who miss his friendly smile, knowledge, enthusiasm, and contribution.
From Linda Murphy:
Gordon’s sudden passing is a tragic loss for everyone who knew him. I remember him as a warm, kind and gentle man with a keen sense of humour and a great passion for moths. His knowledge was extensive, but usually understated. We exchanged news about our respective catches when we met and he occasionally posted special news on the Upper Thames Moth Blog. I was always keen to hear what he’d seen as I found that whatever turned up in Gordon’s traps, a week or so later the same might appear in mine. The first time I trapped the fabulous Clifden Nonpareil , or Blue Underwing, was one such example. Here’s Gordon’s post which alerted me and illustrates his style…..
“My son had bought me a tour of Stamford Bridge for my 70th birthday and was coming to pick me up at 0900hrs this morning. I decided not to set traps at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve on Saturday night as is my usual practice but would at home in the garden in Newport Pagnell. I stepped out this morning and confess to thinking it would be the usual LYU, Set Herb Char, Vines R dominated catch when there on my shed was this little beauty. I rushed back for my Johnsons Cotton Buds container and when I returned it was gone. However, it had fallen to the ground and was captured. We were a little late for Stamford Bridge but blue certainly is the colour for me.”
Sadly, due to Covid, and the fact that I’m based in Oxfordshire, we had not met in person since last August, when I went over to Linford Lakes one morning. Gordon had agreed to be videoed emptying the moth traps and recording the night’s catch, assisted as usual by Ayla Webb. The aim was to bring a bit of mothing to the Society as our outdoor meetings had been cancelled. Gordon explained the process and he and Ayla showed off the moths at a couple of traps including a large purpose built one…definitely a source of ‘moth envy’ for me! Gordon had been trapping and recording moths at Linford lakes for 10 years by then so certainly deserved it! However, he told me his ambition was actually a ‘moth shed’ as used by noted Victorian ‘moth-ers’, where the light and funnel would be on the roof and you could walk in and check out the walls covered in moths. I’m sad that he couldn’t realise this ambition, but if there’s a ‘moth heaven’, I’m sure that will be it, and Gordon will be in his element! Meanwhile, I’ll be remembering Gordon whenever I empty my trap…..
From Mervyn Dobbin:
I miss you Gordon. I know almost nothing about moths, but I recognise their importance to our ecosystem and I am amazed by the beauty in the variety of their colours and patterns.
When I came across an attractive specimen, especially one that arrived inside my house and that seemed to be content to be still, with wings flat to a wall, I thought of Gordon. Sometimes I took a photo and showed it to Gordon when we were in the Cruck Barn in Bradwell Abbey. Gordon had such enthusiasm for these creatures that a question and a photo from me in my ignorance, were responded to with such positivity. Gordon connected intimately with the moth-world. His ability to connect to these small creatures was mirrored in the feeling of kinship that he was able to engender with others, when they encountered him. Thank you Gordon.
‘If you stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.’ Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
From Andy Harding:
A couple of weeks ago I lost my great mothing pal, Gordon, and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.
I first met Gordon many moons ago, but it is only in the last decade that we started mothing together: regularly at Linford Lakes and more recently in Little Linford Wood. There was also a smattering of public events each year, where Gordon could share his great expertise and, perhaps more importantly, his infectious enthusiasm. Nothing was too much trouble for Gordon if he thought he could help enthuse anyone, young or old, about moths. He encouraged beginners to send him photos if they needed help with moth identification; he lent books and equipment to help people to get started on the road which had given him so much pleasure.
We never had a mothing session without loads of laughs. Gordon had lots of silly wordplays with the names of moths, some of which he actually used in his notebook. So Single Dotted Wave became ‘Single Wotted Dave’. So a very small or apparently humdrum catch was never really a disappointment: it was always worthwhile: both because simply meeting up was fun and also because we loved all the moths – marvelling at their beauty and almost infinite variety. Gordon always likened it to opening Christmas presents – ‘You never know what you are going to get’. So occasionally we would find something really special. A couple of years ago I was a bit late getting to Linford Lakes and when I got there I was surprised that Gordon invited me to unlock the trap. Immediately inside in a large container was a Clifden Nonpareil, the first Ayla Webb had ever seen, which they had captured before I arrived. Gordon had set me up beautifully! This and other excitements like the virtually wingless female Dotted Border in Little Linford Wood (again spotted by Ayla!) were often harkened back to during our time together, as was the poor quality of our eyesight compared to hers!
Gordon and Ayla at the Magic Tree, Little Linford Wood
In and around the moth traps we saw many other invertebrate creatures, which we also wondered at, but often had little clue to their identity. Gordon used to say ‘We’ll need five lifetimes to get to grips with this lot properly’. Sadly that is not what we are allowed.
A very strange thing happened a few days after Gordon’s death. On the Thursday, I spoke to Rachel, his daughter, and also happened to speak to my own daughter-in-law. Both, in different ways, said Gordon would send me something special in my trap. Next morning there was a Peacock Moth in my trap. The first of this species I had ever seen. Thank you Gordon: it was simply superb.
I’ll miss you, Gordon, especially at the Lakes and in the Wood.
Peacock Moth at Old Stratford, 18th June 2021
From Mike LeRoy:
Gordon enjoyed sharing his enjoyment of wildlife with others. He was an all-round naturalist from a lifetime of working as a ranger and warden at country parks and wildlife sites across England, and many years of running moth-trapping as education events for all ages. He came to Milton Keynes in 1994 to lead the team of rangers at The Parks Trust, where his team had the dual task of caring for the parkland and communicating about its wildlife.
He carried his knowledge lightly so was encouraging to those who wanted to find out more about wildlife. He shared his knowledge readily, never showing off but keen for others to find out what he enjoyed knowing. It was moths that lit his flame.
The last time I chatted with Gordon was at one of his early morning moth sessions a few weeks before his final heart attack. As ever, he shared the task and trusted me to gently lift out each egg-box one-by-one from the moth trap to see what had been attracted overnight. He stood by with his notebook and pencil, ready to write down the name of each moth species from memory then pencil a neat row of lines and five-bar gates to count them. If there was a species he was not sure of he would photograph it to check it later in the books he had accumulated for that purpose. On his face was the joy and glee and rapid recognition of almost every moth. His identification of them was a joy he shared as he pointed out their distinctive features, but also their beauty, such as a ruff behind the head or hidden colours of underwings. One time he told me that opening his moth-trap each morning was like opening a Christmas present every day.
He developed his moth identification skills over many years. After moving to Milton Keynes he was able to hone these skills with the advice of George Higgs to whom he would turn when he was not sure of a particular species. After George’s death at the end of 2012 Gordon was determined that his mentor’s memory should be celebrated through a mothing night so we went to College Wood to talk through how to run one there every year.
Gordon later remembered how valuable George’s mentoring had been to him. Ayla Webb, then a relatively new member of the Society, wanted to learn more about moths so Gordon readily invited her to his mothing sessions to share his knowledge with her. Later this led to three of them meeting to do moth-trapping together: Gordon, Ayla and Andy Harding.
Gordon and I were both fortunate to finish our working careers only a few weeks apart, in 2012. We decided to explore many of the wildlife sites in Milton Keynes and the wider area together. Some of these sites we later turned into summer programme visits for the Society. Others, such as Oakhill Wood or a meadow at Tattenhoe became new sites for his moth-trapping. In the Ouzel Valley we tried out pupa digging, a Victorian method for finding moths, and Gordon kept these until their emergence so he could identify them before releasing them to their habitat.
Gordon realised that he could become more proficient at mothing, so tried different places and moth-traps and set about learning about more moth species. He Joined the British Entomological & Natural History Society (BENHS) and enjoyed field meetings with Paul Waring, the co-author of the leading book on moth ID (‘Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain & Ireland’) and writer of a regular column on moths in ‘British Wildlife’ magazine. There were BENHS field meetings with Paul at Sydlings Copse and Finemere Wood. He learned from Paul’s systematic methods of recording by watching his methods carefully. There were other BENHS visits such as one led by Ian Sims to Wytham Wood in Oxfordshire.
Gordon’s original Skinner-type moth-trap was eventually joined by another, and later by a Robinson trap. Gradually he worked out the benefits of different traps, bulbs, batteries and mothing locations.
One site we visited was Pitsford Reservoir wildlife area where the team from the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire has a permanent moth-trap set in a large box on legs and connected to mains electricity with a timer switch. He was so delighted by this that he was determined to persuade The Parks Trust to install one at Linford Lakes, which was achieved some years later, thanks to his careful photos and detailed measurements of the installation.
One method that Gordon pursued was to use pheromones to attract specific moth species not found readily by other methods. On one occasion he tried this at Stonepit Field to see if a particular clearwing moth was in the area. He tied a small mesh bag to a plant and within a few minutes one appeared, to his quiet delight.
A significant step forward came after the ‘Field Guide to the Micro moths of Great Britain and Ireland’ by Phil Sterling & Mark Parsons was published. Gordon decided to have a go at identifying these smaller and more complicated micro-moths, some of which require use of a microscope.
He also built up his collection of entomology books, with the larger and more expensive ones paid for by sorting the Christmas post at a Royal Mail depot. One year he was delighted to find that he was working alongside Lewis Dickinson who he encouraged to join the Society.
Towards year end Gordon’s aim was to gather the year’s moth records into good shape on MapMate and send them to the Bucks Recorder for Moths so these could be checked and become Records for Butterfly Conservation nationally and the Bucks & MK Environmental Records Centre (BMERC). His moth trapping was not just weekly but night after night at more than one location whenever moths were about. In recent years he wrote up interesting summaries of his moth finds in well-illustrated articles for ‘Magpie’ and the MKNHS website.
Gordon was also a member of Bucks Invertebrate Group and joined a number of their field meetings, such as one on leaf-miners at Burnham Beeches. As well as attending their indoor meetings twice a year until recent years, he led their field meetings at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve.
A joy he looked forward to was his visits to annual meetings of Butterfly Conservation and he also attended several day conferences on neglected insects, run by Bedfordshire Natural History Society, as well as the annual BMERC Recorders Seminars. A particular pleasure was visits to the Amateur Entomologist Society’s annual exhibition and trade fair at Kempton Park, where Gordon could replenish his entomology equipment and meet old friends from around the country. Similarly, Gordon sometimes travelled with me to the annual Bird Fair at Rutland Water and met old friends such as one from his years in Northumberland.
Gordon served the Natural History Society in many ways: not only coordinating and planning outdoor meetings and moth nights over many years, but on the committee and in many practical and unseen activities. More than that he was one of those people who simply got on with those around him and shared his enthusiasm for wildlife with anyone who was interested.
The Society’s last outdoor event was on Sunday afternoon 2nd February 2020 at the Floodplain Forest Nature Reserve some 16 months earlier, so the summer walk on Tuesday evening 1st June 2021 had a particular importance in our calendar. On a glorious summer evening 28 members and 1 visitor (just within the Covid rules maximum allowed) met at Bancroft Park Parks Trust car park to enjoy the wildlife of Milton Keynes, to view some historic landmarks, and to renew face-to-face contact with fellow members. Paul Lund was on hand to act as co-leader should it have proved necessary to divide participants into two groups but that was not necessary. Covid and other risks were rehearsed before the start of the walk.
North Loughton Valley Park is managed by the Parks Trust and forms one of many parks along the green corridor that stretches from Tattenhoe in the south west to New Bradwell in the north where the Loughton Brook joins the Great Ouse. This section of the valley consists of five main habitats all heavily influenced by the development of Milton Keynes: the Brook itself and its surrounding wetlands; thickets of Blackthorn, Wild Plum, Hawthorn, and Elder; mown grass and managed meadows lined by trees and bushes; and an area of rough grass, damp land with scrub above, which makes up the wet/dry balancing lakes which control the run-off to manage the risk of flooding in New Bradwell. The fifth habitat was outside the Park on the east bank of Grafton Street where it cuts through the Boulder Clay and Jurassic Cornbrash (limestone) sub strata and is an important habitat for wildlife in its own right. There is no evidence of habitats that predate the development of Milton Keynes other than Loughton Brook itself.
We walked through each of these areas, stopping occasionally. The focus of the walk was the observation, identification, and recording of flowering plants, birds, and invertebrate species.
The route started from the Bancroft Park car park. Our first stop was to note Marsh Marigold still in flower in a boggy area near the edge of the Brook and to hear Chiffchaff, Blackcap, and Song Thrush in full song in the surrounding thicket and trees. Crossing the Brook took us to the mown and managed meadow grass of the eastern slope of the valley with its backing of trees and bushes. The managed meadows of grasses, Meadow Buttercup, Red Clover, and the semi- parasitic Yellow Rattle were in flower – a wonderful display of colour and flowing contours. There appear to be no pre-Milton Keynes tree species in the Park: those planted are mainly of willows, alder, and ash.
The wet/dry balancing lakes are divided by a substantial broad earth dam. The middle of this was a good stopping place to look across the enclosed area. Some of us had a glimpse of Common Whitethroat in the scrub area below the dam, and Crows, Magpies and Wood Pigeon were flying back and forth. Goatsbeard and Birdsfoot Trefoil were just coming into flower on the slopes of the dam.
A Redway bridge took us over Grafton Street with good views of the Grand Union Canal aqueduct to one side and looking down on the cutting bank that we were to visit on the other. A brief detour gave us views of the magnificent Bradwell Windmill which opened in 1803, closed in 1876, and is now restored and run by volunteers.
Bradwell Windmill The bank of the cutting next to the Redway was our longest stop. It looks roughly west and was still in partial sun for our visit. A stretch of about 100 metres has been planted as a flower-rich habitat to attract pollinators and includes Birdsfoot Trefoil, Common Vetch, Grass Vetchling, Germander Speedwell, Ribwort Plantain, Cut-leaved Cranesbill and Bee Orchid. Flowering was 2 to 3 weeks later than in 2020 when I prepared a virtual walk of this route during lockdown. Only five Bee Orchids were found in flower for our visit and the impression is that overall numbers will be down greatly from even last year. The mown rough grass area on the other side of the Redway added one further Bee Orchid about to flower and the leaf rosettes of a few more. Several Burnet Companion moths were flying, and Two- and Seven-spot Ladybird, Red-tailed Bumblebee, and Solitary Wasp were identified.
Burnet’s Companion moth
Our return route followed that of the outward one. It concluded with a short stop at the stone outline of the Bancroft Roman Villa. This was built in the late Third Century AD replacing an earlier Iron Age farm settlement and demolished in the Fifth Century. Interpretation Boards explain the history of the site. A passing Kestrel which paused briefly to hover ahead of us over the site was a fitting finale to the walk.
Evening sky over Bancroft Roman Villa
My thanks to Mary Sarre and Linda Murphy for putting together the plant list; to Paul Lund for providing back up for me as leader and participating in two reconnaissance visits; to Simon Bunker for contributing the invertebrate species list; to Matt Andrews for his additions to the bird list; and to Peter Barnes for his photographs.
Joe Clinch, Walk Leader
Annex to Trip Report North Loughton Valley Park 1st June 2021
This is a citizen-science event covering churchyards across the England and Wales. The project will see communities and visitors making a note of the animals, birds, insects, or fungi in their local churchyard. Their data will then be collated on the National Biodiversity Network.
Do you have a local churchyard that you could survey as part of this event?
We are hoping that Jenny will be able to lead a Society walk on 20th July to record the diversity of Holy Trinity Churchyard in Old Wolverton as a follow up to this week (a bit late but this shouldn’t be a problem). Our President Roy Maycock surveyed the flora of the best 10% of all the churchyards in Buckinghamshire quite a few years ago now (see recent article on our website: Roy’s Reminiscences). We have also held walks in Olney churchyard to look at lichens and had a recent talk on bats in churches by Sue Hetherington so our Society has a history of involvement in our county’s church flora and fauna.
During the first three months of this year we, and of course our wildlife, have experienced a vast change in weather conditions. In January there was another “Beast from the East” causing floods locally and just a sprinkle of snow. In February “Storm Darcy” was followed by warm weather; March gave us clear blue skies and long periods of frosty nights; ending with April being recorded the driest and frostiest for 50 years.
Mammals – Otters were reported at Shenley Brook End, Linford Lakes Reserve and Simpson and in March three Roe Deer were observed near Little Linford Wood. There was also a report from a non-member that whilst travelling around the local country roads in April she counted over 20 roadkill Badgers. The Mammal Survey Group, under the direction of Carla Boswell from the Parks Trust, installed over 50 footprint tunnels around Linford Lakes Reserve to investigate the possibility of Dormice on the site. Carla took a walk around Furzton Lake and Tattenhoe Brook mid-May in the evening and recorded four species of bat; Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle, Noctule and Daubenton`s. Whilst checking mammal nest boxes at Little Linford Wood at the end of March, I found a single Brown Long-eared Bat. Normally they are not discovered in the boxes at that wood until May. Finally, a mink was observed at Caldecotte in April.
Butterflies and Moths- Whilst the warm, sunny days were ideal for butterflies, with Brimstone as early as February, the cold nights deterred the moths, although a Red-green Carpet Moth was reported by Andy Harding in February, a species not usually recorded until March. Owing to the continuous stretch of frosty nights in April, for the first time for many years I did not record any moths in my garden during that month.
Birds- During the first four months of this year there was a multitude of observations locally submitted to the Society`s website. Migrants such as warblers, hirundinidae and waders. For that reason, I will restrict this account to the more unusual species reported locally.
During January Great White Egrets and an Iceland Gull visited the Forest Floodplain, Caspian Gull and a Peregrine at Willen Lake, a Dartford Warbler at Hazeley Wood, a Black Redstart at Newport Pagnell, Common Crossbill and an Iceland Gull in flight over Tattenhoe, and a Great Northern Diver and Pink-footed Goose at Caldecotte.
February species included a Mandarin Duck at Willen, a possible juvenile Marsh Harrier at Linford Lakes Reserve, two Whooper Swans in flight at Gayhurst, a Caspian Gull at Caldecotte, and two Ring-necked Parakeets at Wolverton.
Unusual birds recorded locally in March included a Mediterranean Gull at the Forest Floodplain and Willen, an Osprey also at Willen, and a Brent Goose at Linford Lakes Reserve.
April produced a Siberian Chiffchaff and a Kittiwake in flight at Tattenhoe, a Hoopoe near Willen Lake, another Marsh Harrier at Linford Lakes Reserve, and a surprising Spoonbill seen in flight over Wymbush Industrial Site in Milton Keynes.
During 2019 six White-tailed Sea Eagles were released on the Isle of Wight, three remained around that area, one hit overhead cables and died, one disappeared, and one took flight. This last one was monitored with a tracking device and in 17 months covered 4900 kms. It was confirmed that during March this year that it visited Linford Lakes Reserve. Now that is a major tick!!!!!
Summer will soon be with us and I have a task for you. It would appear there are 240 species of dandelion in the UK – how many can you find?
Sue Hetherington’s talk to members – Wildlife from Home (urban birding and more….) – is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from May 11th.
This workshop will introduce the diversity of invertebrates, and demonstrate how important they are for conservation and ecology. We will explore which kinds of invertebrate are most important in which habitats, and how their lifestyles make the different groups useful for understanding and monitoring nature reserves. You will see the sorts of features used in identifying species in different groups, and point the way to studying any chosen group in more detail. There will be a summary of the range of books, keys and websites which are available, in addition to the basics of photography for identification purposes.
There is the opportunity of a visit to Old Sulehay nature reserve, Northants, on Sun 16 May. in a small group(s). See ticket options.
Phil Sarre’s talk to members – Seldom-seen Little Linford Wood – is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from May 4th.
The OU and the Floodplain Meadows Partnership have launched the competition encouraging people to visit a local floodplain and create a piece of art that represents the importance and beauty of these natural habitats.
Anyone can enter the competition and judges are hoping artists will use a wide variety of art and crafts to capture the floodplain meadows, from sketches and paintings through to sculptures, ceramics and even video.
Artists are encouraged to be as creative as possible whilst also thinking about the role of floodplain meadows in managing climate change, their role in nature, and the contribution of floodplain meadows in a sustainable agricultural system.
Paul Bellamy’s talk to members – The Willow Tit: Britain’s fastest declining bird – is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from April 13th.
I have been asked by several committee members if I would write an article for the website about the paths my life has taken and the people I met along the way who influenced me to become such a keen botanist. I hope that you will find it interesting.
Privet was the first plant whose name I remembered. I was in a pushchair at the time on the way to visit my Grandma and had to pass a privet hedge. My father was there and was able to break a twig for her. Next I remember daisies and it was, as before, my father who picked several and made a daisy chain – again for my Grandma!
Then there is a long gap before I remember the name of another plant. In my teens I attended a youth club with a brilliant leader. In the summer he occasionally set us a ‘scavenger hunt’ which meant going outside to find various items and one year this included the plant Oxford Ragwort. At the time I was in the sixth form at school doing Biology as an A-level so not knowing a plant was unacceptable. I was told what it was and still remember it!
I kept in touch with my Biology teacher and she became a close friend until she died. She too was keen on the native flora and that set me going – I learnt the names of flowering plants and their latin names from her. There was a small pond in the school grounds which we sometimes visited and one plant that grew there was Cardamine pratensis (cuckoo flower). I was told ‘learn the latin name and that will never change’ – how untrue! – but that one has not changed. More recently there have been huge changes as DNA has uncovered true relationships between plants, but that was not the case when I started at Durham university in 1952 – not so long ago!
Going to Durham was the biggest change in my life so far, especially taking Botany with a professor who was a taxonomist who encouraged me greatly. One day in my first term, in the Science library, one journal took my eye, published by the BSBI (now the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland). I joined the society and am still a member 68 years later with 34 of those years as the Bucks County Recorder.
In the last term of my third year at Durham I was lucky to be introduced to a person studying for a doctorate. I offered to help and spent many hours sat in grassy fields in Upper Teesdale acting as a scribe – I learnt a lot.
Then national service for the next two years in the RAF. Looking back they were probably the most different and ‘sort of’ enjoyable years of my life. After ‘square-bashing’ came a course to be a nursing attendant and then for a few months I working in a ‘sick quarters’ before returning to the camp where I had done my course. This was brilliant as it was here that I learnt how to teach ’RAF fashion’ and this skill I used for all my following years spent teaching in schools (my actual university teacher training course was hardly any use!). De-mob from the RAF was on August bank holiday which meant I had the rest of the month to get used to ‘civvy street’ before, in early September, I started as a teacher of Biology at the Royal Latin School, Buckingham which became my ‘proper’ job for the next 30 years including time spent as Head of Science.
Having retired early I spent the next year looking for another job before finding one with the local Wildlife Trust (BBOWT). The job involved teaching new graduates how to do field work as part of a new government scheme. The scheme came to an end a year later but the Trust kept me on for a few more years – but then what next?
At this point the BSBI thought up a national project which involved selecting and surveying 10% of the best churchyards for each county. But how to select the best 10%? Buckinghamshire had 260 churchyards and all of these had to be visited at least twice to find the best 10%!!
The Natural History Society summer outings were ideal for this project and I suggested visiting a few, including one at Wing. We visited on the same evening as the bell ringers’ practice and one ringer was sent down from the tower to find out what we were doing. Satisfied he went back up and ringing resumed!
The next problem was what to do with all the lists of plants I had made? I knew one of the members of staff at Buckingham University and having mentioned my dilemma to him, we got together and drew up a plan for using the data. After lots of writing and producing graphs etc. it finally morphed into a dissertation worth a Master of Science Degree at Durham University. Since then I have been asked to supply lists of plants in Buckinghamshire churchyards on several occasions, but one day in 2020 I had two requests in a single day!
In 1989 I met a 13-year-old lad called Aaron Woods who was already a competent botanist. We became good friends and for the next ten years we surveyed lots of sites together in Buckinghamshire and elsewhere especially Oxfordshire churchyards. We had holidays together in the UK and with other botanists abroad. In 1999 he moved to London and later Herefordshire but we still keep in close contact.
Up until that date the only published ‘Flora of Buckinghamshire’ was by G.C. Druce in 1926! To fill this gap we decided we could produce not a complete flora but ‘A checklist of all the plants of Buckinghamshire’ including Milton Keynes and Slough. The Society published it for us in 2005.
What have I done for the Society over the years? – quite a lot, I like to think! At the start there were only four of us and numbers increased slowly at first with every single member on the committee! As the membership expanded we had to move our meeting place several times to locations that could accommodate us but now our numbers are more stable the Cruck Barn at the City Discovery Centre is ideal.
Cutting from the local MK Press in 1989, about the 21st anniversary of MKNHS
Over time I had many roles within the committee starting as Secretary, then Chairman for 2 years, Treasurer for 8 years and now President since 1992. I was most pleased to accept the office but I know I don’t do as much as I used to. One of my duties as President is to say something at the end of the indoor talks and I am always waiting in slight trepidation for inspiration from the speaker which nearly always has been provided! The tables were turned at our 50th Anniversary event when I was so pleased to be presented with the badger picture, a reminder of all the time I spent writing up Bernard Frewin’s reports of his hours spent monitoring translocated badgers in the field. I was also delighted to become an honorary member of the Society.
I hope that now my active botanising days are behind me there will be other botanists and much recording of flora within the Society in the years to come.
The following information may be of interest about a new project about urban forests, woodlands and parks, which an organisation called Wild Rumpus has just launched in Milton Keynes (and eslewhere), in association with local radio stations – here, Secklow Radio 105.5. There are short talks by naturalists, as well as an opportunity to contribute sound recordings.
“We’ve brought together a network of community radio stations throughout England to broadcast a special series about urban forests and trees – looking at how important these green areas to communities living in and around towns and cities.
You can listen to the series as it goes out, via our website or tune into your local radio station, Secklow 105.5, for more info.
As part of the project, we’re creating a unique sound map of recordings from local parks, woods or forests. We’re inviting people to go to their local area of trees, record a minute of sounds on their phone and then submit it to be part of the map. It’s really easy to do and explained on the ‘Your Forest’ website https://wildrumpus.org.uk/yourforest/”
The following notice was sent recently to Bucks Fungus Club members, forwarded here in case it’s of interest to MNHS members:
“As I know quite a few of you have copies of the first two volumes of Geoffrey Kibby’s Mushrooms and Toadstools, I thought you might like to know that vol 3 is now complete and will be available in May. However, you can order it from Summerfield Books now at a slightly reduced price (£37 instead of £42) at
This volume covers those Agarics having darker spores including Agaricus, Psathyrella, Stropharia, Cortinarius and more, though volume 4 is planned to complete the coverage.
If you’ve not yet come across this series it is one well worth investing in. The volumes are probably just too big to fit in a pocket as a field guide but contain many useful field tips, are simple and easy to understand and Geoffrey’s excellent paintings show salient features really well. Basic microscopic details are included in his descriptions and he uses the up-to-date names but with synonyms given – all in all they provide an extremely useful general reference guide for use at home.”
The event organisers say “In these unprecedented and difficult times, we need optimism more than ever – to uplift us, inspire us, and help us build a new path forward. The #EarthOptimism movement brings people together to talk about what’s working to protect the future of our planet. Through Earth Optimism, we invite you to learn what is working in conservation and why. Discover how every one of us can become more involved in the fight to protect the natural world.”
If you’d like to increase your confidence in identifying wildflowers, why not consider signing up for the 2021 Plantlife Great British Wildflower Hunt. Over this spring and summer, they will bring you four different Hunts with over 70 different flowers to get to know.
In early March 2018 I ‘penned’ a short note to Magpie1 about a moth, a Pale Brindled Beauty Phigalia pilosaria, which stayed in and around our porch from February 16th to March 3rd, sometimes exposed to inclement weather, but ignoring better days to fly off, until a definite thaw precipitated its departure.
This interesting (to me at least!) sequence of events has been paralleled in recent days by a different species, which stayed for 15 nights. The specific identity of this moth may give a clue to the reason for apparent inactivity, even if conditions seemed conducive to night time flight.
This year’s moth was first seen on the morning of February 21st: a Red-green Carpet Chloroclysta siterata, again adjacent to the outside porch light at around head height. Despite its strikingly vibrant green colour, I didn’t photograph it, since I have plenty of photos of the species. Had I known I was going to write this note, I would have done so!!
This individual, we can be sure, was a female. Males of this species do not survive beyond autumn, but females hibernate and expect to mate with males emerging from mid-March onwards. However this one was three weeks earlier than any I have encountered in Old Stratford in the last 12 years. So early, in fact, that when I entered the record in the 2020/2021 winter Garden Moth Survey spreadsheet, it gave me a warning that it was outside the normal flight period and the record should be checked again before confirmation.
The moth seemed not to have moved at all from night 1 to night 2, but for the next 4 nights moved a few centimetres in different directions and ended up in different attitudes on the same area of brickwork. A bright sunny afternoon then was presumed to force it inside the small porch, where it again moved nightly to different pieces of the brickwork and then to the glass on the front door. Then on March 2nd it moved to the solid (PVC) part of the front door and as far as I could tell it remained in precisely the same spot for 4 nights. After a single night back on the brickwork inside the porch, it disappeared. A check of the porch confirmed it had not simply succumbed in the porch.
The inside of the porch has a light on all night to accompany the exterior light to which it was first attracted. Maximum daytime temperatures varied from 9C to 13C and night-time minima from 5C to 0C, with frosts on three nights. During the period a very modest number of moths visited the two moth traps in the back garden (max of 4) so conditions were not entirely inimical to night-time moth flight.
So why didn’t she move any real distance. Of course, I don’t know, but here is my sixpennyworth, and this may be rubbish. Well, there are two lights very close to her position, so these might be so attractive as to ensure she did not go very far. However moths frequently pitch up adjacent to the lights in and around the porch but usually stay for just one or two nights. So I prefer the idea that this female moth instinctively ‘felt’ she had to move very little. Flight takes up energy which can be better used for egg production, so she may have been pumping our pheromones waiting to attract males, which sadly this early in the year were not likely to have emerged, or so I assume. As I complete this on March 12th we are not quite at mid-month, but soon male Red-green Carpets will be emerging. I like to think she can hang on somewhere for a few more days!
If anyone has more sensible ideas about what was going on here, please send those ideas in to email@example.com.
Footnote: you may wonder why, although I did not photograph this moth when it first arrived, I didn’t do so when putting this little note together. While a brilliant bright green on arrival, it had lost much of its lustre in latter days, as is the way with all green moths!
Paul Cox’s talk to members – Sharks in British Waters– is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from March 9th.
Bucks Fungus Group have just announced that they have been awarded a three year grant of £9700 by the City of London Corporation to apply DNA sequencing to the study of fungal diversity at their two Buckinghamshire sites, Burnham Beeches and Stoke Common.
The report on The State of Britain’s Larger Moths 2021 is now available from Butterfly Conservation (link below). It summarises current knowledge of the state of Britain’s c.900 species of larger moths, presenting analyses of long-term change based on millions of records gathered through the Rothamsted Insect Survey (RIS) and National Moth Recording Scheme (NMRS).
Graham Bellamy’s talk to members – A Brief Introduction to British Woodlice– is available to view via Zoom by clicking on the link below and entering the passcode when asked to do so. The recording (on Zoom) will be available for 30 days from February 16th
Here’s a note taken from a Bucksbirding googlegroup posting from our County Bird Recorder about BUCKS URBAN PEREGRINE PROJECTS. This is such great news for us all, especially peregrine fans! So, we have two MK sites for people near enough to keep an eye on during local exercise walks and a webcam hopefully coming on stream at Aylesbury again that we’ll all be able to watch from the comfort of home. [Sue Hetherington]
I thought I’d bring you up to speed with our breeding/ territorial Peregrines as I’m sure we could all do with some positive news during these tough times.
Pair in residence and little doubt they’ll utilise the platform inside.
On-going project to erect a platform on the chimney, currently at the meetings and planning stage, hopefully progress soon.
New cameras are being purchased, one with sound and both with night vision. With the kind assistance of a local ‘internet’ firm we hope to have these up and running and a nice clean platform within a couple of weeks. I’ll update when there’s developments.
Project being run by ‘Wild Marlow’, a platform is currently being constructed and the plan is to have camera’s on that too.You will not be able to see the platform from the outside.
High Wycombe (Church)
Project with Dave Parmenter, we added some gravel to a hoped for nest site last year, and have plans to improve the site but Church currently closed due to the pandemic.
There are Peregrines, including pairs at other sites in the county. A favoured nest site in rural areas is pylons (old crows nests), so please be careful when submitting records to GoingBirding database at times when the species is not ‘blocked’.
Putting a record in for the site/ area can be really useful, but if there’s a pair around then please leave out- Pylon.
The Field Studies Council are offering short online courses about Beetles, Bees and the use of iRecord over the next few months, plus a range of one hour online talks about a wide variety of organisms from slugs to flies and hedgehogs to arable plants.
For those who have been fired up by this year’s MKNHS Photo Competition, and wondering where else to submit your photos, BMERC’s Photo Competition 2021may be just the opportunity for you – see the details below extracted from their email to Recorders. Submission deadline is Monday 1st March.
You might also like to view the winners of the Natural History Museum’s People’s Choice Award 2021, for which the public can vote among 25 photos selected from the 49,000 entries to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition: peoples-choice
As we quite rapidly approach this year’s Recorders Seminar the whole BMERC Team are focussed on all manner of preparations, a key one currently is this year’s Photo Competition. We are keen to encourage entries be they from total beginners dabbling in the visual arts to those of you who have been keen on the media for many years in a non-professional way; all are welcome. Its free to enter; there are prizes!
So, as they days start to lengthen and all our thoughts turn to looking for spring, how about we dig out those hidden gems and give them a gentle airing. The deadline for submissions is March 1st. This year we have gone for a broader theme to give everyone more flexibility – “The Beauty and Magnificence of Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes: 2020 and beyond”.
To enter please fill in the attached form, rules and conditions are explained on the second page. The form along with your photos should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org Please clearly mark the email as a Photo Competition Entry.
[The last link contains all the details for the BMERC Recorders Seminar, scheduled for Saturday 13th March, 2021.]
Best wishes Julia Carey and The BMERC Team. Environment Team, Planning, Growth and Sustainability Directorate Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Environmental Records Centre (BMERC) Buckinghamshire Council, 6th Floor, Walton Street Offices, Walton Street, Aylesbury HP20 1UY
Tel: 01296 382431
I have loved having my allotment over the past 10 years or so since I retired at 60, and during lockdown it’s been my space for respite and recovery. It’s a place for me to get away from the dreariness and despondency of lockdown, long days with long patches of thinking “how can I fill my time?”. Actually I’ve always used my allotment to boost my mood; the only thing that changed during lockdown was that I decided not to plant up my greenhouse in 2020, just in case we were required to abandon visiting our plots (by government edict).
Also in my retirement I have always used my plot for ongoing exercise, in preference to housework, and in addition it has the advantage of being more productive! It’s also an opportunity to be sociable and to be as creative as I can to help wildflowers and wild animals. For me that includes wildlife-friendly veg and flower growing – I mix them together.
When I visit my allotment I generally take a book or magazine with me and a flask of tea. If I need to go shopping in Stony I often buy a newspaper and walk home to my house, by a slightly longer route … visiting my allotment on the way, pausing to read the paper whilst I am there. So as you can see, I’ve used my plot for recreation for a long time before the Coronavirus pandemic.
Usually I have a designated allotment bag by my front door with stuff to take to the plot on my next visit, e.g. vegetable waste for the compost bin, seedlings or seeds and sometimes a tool or two that’s usually kept at home. I frequently push a full wheelbarrow to and fro with potting compost, seedtrays and pots!
I operate a ‘no chemicals’ plot and have developed my own ‘no dig’ allotment project using green manure (especially phacelia) all the year round, and generally after clearing a crop. It stops the weeds and the insects love it. Some would say that the way I treat self-sown Swiss chard and Lambs lettuce are just like a green manure … but hey! they are deliciously edible and free too.
I always have a ‘fallow area’ for wildlife around raspberry canes and/or my strawberry bed with its mulch of straw from last year. I also generally leave just the last few of last year’s un-harvested parsnips and onions which have lovely flower heads and enhance insect life in spring.
Couch grass is a nuisance but I treat it as my rotation task each year; there is always a newly established area that it has invaded. I might put down cardboard to suppress it a bit and then I do have to dig or find a friend to help, as my back can’t stand the strain.
I usually put early potatoes in the former couch grass/newly dug over areas. Then I choose an area for legumes and plant climbing French beans, a few runners and token peas (usually sugar snap, as my grandsons love them for eating on plot). I try sowing roots – just a few carrots and parsnips, plus a few salad crops and most years I grow maize/sweet corn and buy in tomato plants and aubergines if I’m using the greenhouse. In mid-summer I search for brassicas and plant-out purple sprouting broccoli and most years I plant broad beans in the autumn for an early spring crop.
Flowers that I grow on the allotment to attract in the pollinators are self-sown chamomile and feverfew, borage (which grows like the plague but is wonderful for insects), sweet peas, dahlias, gladioli, verbena bonariensis, California poppy and nasturtiums. Oh and cardoons, a giant thistle-like plant that I grow in a dust bin!
I aim to dead head the ‘weed’ flowers before they set seed to keep my neighbours happy. I use hedge clippers and sometimes a high cut with my strimmer to do this but I am very careful if I use the strimmer and often use a rake to clear a bit first to give any small mammals due warning.
Last summer Andy Harding used pheromone traps in amongst the fruit bushes to lure in male clearwings with some good success (see previous article on this website). He says he will be back next year to hunt for more moths in the area of our old apple trees.
I often come across toads when I am working on the allotment and a young hedgehog was found on the site last year. Overhead we often see red kites and buzzards riding the thermals and we had a sighting of two ring-necked parakeets flying across the allotments this January.
During the first lockdown I donated quite a few plants to the Freebies table, near the Orchard. As my plot is so close to the table I often get first pick when other plot holders come over to donate and often they have a socially-distanced chat with me.
So my allotment helps me to keep positive at this difficult time, provides me with physical exercise, lovely organic food, company and the joy of knowing that it benefits wildlife as well.
Our friends at North Bucks Bat Group have very generously offered free admittance to any of the remaining talks from their winter programme to MKNHS members. Their programme can be found here. The final meeting, on 21st April 2021 might be of particular interest as it is about the “Bats in Churches” project that I have mentioned several times.
If any member is interested, please email Rhona Bate at email@example.com stating which talk(s) are of interest. Rhona will then add you to the mailing list for when she sends out the invite for that particular talk or talks.
Wednesday 10 February 2021, 7.30pm – 9.30pm KBAs for Conservation: Lessons from Africa and Applications to Britain (Online Talk) Identifying key biodiversity areas for conservation from Africa & applying them to Britain by Andy Plumptre.
Wednesday 17 February 2021, 7.00pm – 8.30pm
Flies: The good, the bad and the ugly with John Showers (online and optional outdoor). Come and join John Showers online as he shares some interesting facts about flies and their ecology.
You can book through the link above, or by going to the events page on the BCN website www.wildlifebcn.org
The Duke of Burgundy Hamearis Lucina is the only European member of a large family of butterflies known as metalmarks – the Riodininae. In South America, these butterflies can be found in great diversity and numbers and species typically have iridescent, metallic colouring or patches on their upper wings. By contrast, the Duke of Burgundy is a rather modest insect with its chequered brown and black wings.
In England, this is an insect of sheltered, sunny hillsides and woodland clearings with abundant primrose or cowslip, which are its two larval foodplants. It has suffered a serious decline in Britain and is now considered a very rare species thinly distributed across southern England. However, a strong population is present at Totternhoe Knolls and Totternhoe Quarry and there are several populations in the Chiltern Hills. The species was lost at BBOWT’s Dancersend reserve but a re-introduction project, led by Mick Jones, is underway.
In early Summer 2018, a local naturalist told me that he had seen several Dukes (the popular shorthand) at Blue Lagoon LNR. Although I know Kevin to be knowledgeable about butterflies, I was sceptical at first and failed to find any when I visited Blue Lagoon in good weather. I did find the Latticed Heath moth, which is quite similar in appearance from a distance. I didn’t forget though and was delighted to find 3 Duke of Burgundy here on 26th May 2019 (rather late in their short flight season). One of these was clearly a male, typically aggressive towards any other passing butterflies and insects. They are pugnacious little creatures and will defend their favourite perch from anything that flies past. I was able to photograph both male and female Duke of Burgundy on this visit. The flight season in 2020 coincided with the first national Covid lockdown and although the weather was good throughout April I did not visit. Eventually, I did get to Blue Lagoon on 21st May. I did wonder if I might be too late given the high temperatures last spring, but fortunately I was able to locate two butterflies quite quickly. The area favoured by the Dukes seems to be the scrubby grassland to the south-east of the main pit.
Sadly, much of the habitat at Blue Lagoon has suffered in recent years from a lack of management. Several plant species have declined or been lost and with them some of the butterflies for which the site was known. The Green Hairstreak is still present but hard to find, the Small Blue much less frequent than in the past and the Grizzled Skipper has possibly disappeared. The discovery of the rare Duke of Burgundy is at least some compensation for these declines but it is crucial that management of the scrub resumes in the near future if one of Milton Keynes’ best spots for Lepidtoptera is to recover.
There are no records for Duke of Burgundy for Milton Keynes before 2018. It is possible that the species found its way here naturally from Totterhoe but we can’t rule out an unlicensed release.
My interest in this curious plant has been stimulated in the last couple of years, by coming across several occurrences locally, in Milton Keynes. This seemed to me quite odd, as I associate mistletoe with the apple orchards of the south-west, the orchards of Normandy, and poplar trees festooned with it in France (seen from the Autoroute).
So here is a little contribution to the botany of mistletoe, its distribution and association with certain birds, traditional beliefs and folklore, and some sightings here in MK.
Viscum album, to give it its Latin name, is a good indicator of its characteristics – it has the well-known white berries, which are viscous (sticky), in winter, giving rise to its traditional association with mid-winter festivities. White-berried plants are unusual except in MK where the ‘snowberry’ (symphoricarpus) is used massively in grid-road plantings. Whether the snowberries are consumed by birds I don’t know, but the flowers do attract pollinating insects. Mistletoe is dioecious, i.e. having male and female parts on different plants. The leaves and stems are light green, typically branched at each node, producing a new ‘fork’ each year.
Viscum album by Stella Ross-Craig, 1969 (see references below)
Mistletoe is semi-parasitic on a range of trees, but the main ones are Apple (Malus), Lime (Tilia), Pear (Pyrus), Hawthorn (Crataegus) and Poplar (Populus), occurring in orchards, hedgerows, parks and gardens. It is not generally found in dense woodland (Simon Harrap, 2013).
Mistletoe occurs chiefly in the south of England and Wales, in lowland areas. It is spreading from the old orchards of its Herefordshire heartland to different species of trees in parks and gardens in Hereford, Ledbury, Bridgnorth and Westbury-on-Trym (Mabey, Flora Britannica). South Bucks and Hampshire are also ‘hot spots’.
In medieval times mistletoe seemed ‘magical’ in its appearance high in the host trees, evergreen and of a curious growth habit, appearing to spontaneously sprout from the tree. For centuries, mistletoe retained its magical, folkloric associations (see Richard Mabey for a wide-ranging account), and today its medicinal properties are still under investigation.
It was Philip Miller, curator of the Chelsea Physic Garden, who discovered that mistletoe could be established by smearing the sticky seed onto a suitable branch.
However, it is famously resistant to propagation by human hands (“none of the seeds placed on 14 different apple species in Kew Gardens in 1996 ‘took’ but one grew on an adjacent Hawthorn”. (Dr Ken Thompson, Gardening Which?, December 2020).
For long it has been assumed that the Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) was the primary disperser of the berries, as it attempts to remove the mucilaginous outer coat of the berry, raking its beak along a branch of the tree, and leaving its droppings in the tree.
Mistle Thrush ‘guarding’ his patch (Photo courtesy of The Woodland Trust)
To quote Dr Ken Thompson again, it appears that the Blackcap may now be a more effective distributor of mistletoe. He notes that the mistle thrush swallows the berries whole, and ejects the seeds randomly in its droppings. The Blackcap however eats only the skin and pulp of the seeds, wiping the sticky seeds off their beaks onto a branch. Once the seed is attached to a suitable branch, it sends out a ‘root’, a ’haustorium’ which penetrates the xylem of its host. The seeds are photosynthetic, so they need to be in the light.
Blackcaps, formerly mostly a summer visitor, are now frequently spotted in UK in winter (MKNHS sightings, November 2020). According to an article by Helen MacDonald, in Vesper Flights, German Blackcaps that have started spending winters here rather than in Africa may be directly responsible for spreading mistletoe to new areas of the British Isles. Which brings us back to our local area.
My notes cannot claim to be exclusive, and I would welcome any sightings from members. The first time I saw any mistletoe was in Great Linford Manor Park, a couple of years ago, in the venerable old lime tree near the canal. There are two balls/orbs high in the tree, obviously more visible in winter time (the park is open all year round). Julian Lambley drew my attention to another occurrence – in Simpson village – several orbs in two old Lime trees. This made me wonder if the canal and the Ouzel valley could be the ‘corridor’ for extending the range of the Blackcap or Mistle Thrush.
A last sighting, in Central Milton Keynes, possibly on a young lime tree gave me pause – perhaps the mistletoe was ‘injected’ on a limb before planting, or a human hand was involved?
Dr Ken Thompson, Plant ecologist, (Gardening Which?, Dec 2020 / Jan 2021)
Richard Mabey, Flora Britannica (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996)
Stella Ross-Craig, Drawings of British Plants, Vol XXVI (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1969)
Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights (Jonathan Cape, 2020)
Simon Harrap, Harrap’s Wild Flowers (Bloomsbury, 2013)
During the 10 years that I have been recording moths at Linford Lake Nature Reserve (LLNR), I have usually not run traps in November and December because the effort in setting traps up on late afternoons, transportation on foot of 12V batteries, then checking traps daily early mornings during the wet and windy months of the year when fewer moths are around anyway was not really worth it. The installation on site of the permanent moth trap running off the mains electricity in August 2019 though has changed the efforts in/returns out balance. December 2019 records of 52 moths counted and 10 species recorded was a good start and had me thinking that perhaps I should have made more effort in the previous 8 years. December 2020, with the trap running 30 of the 31 days, was a disappointment with just 14 moths and 5 species recorded and has had me thinking that maybe I was right in the first place.
The 5 were December Moth, Winter Moth, Pale Brindled Beauty, Mottled Umber and Dark Chestnut. Interestingly, all were singletons except the December Moth for whom 10 were counted. Last year, December Moth numbered just 6. The weather was pretty dire in December with more water on the site than I have ever seen in the 25 years that I have been visiting the site. The photographs below taken on Christmas Eve shows the boardwalk from the car park on to the field at the back of the visitor centre and the field behind the centre.
Boardwalk from car park on to field at back of Centre
Field at back of Centre
It will be interesting to see what effect this extensive flooding will have on moth numbers next year.
Summary Of The Moths Recorded At Linford Lakes Nature Reserve 2020
Moth traps were run at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve on almost all of the 366 nights of 2020. The traps were the large box on legs with a 125W Mercury Vapour bulb powered by mains electricity, a Robinson trap with a 125W Mercury vapour Bulb powered by a generator and three Skinner type traps, 2 with 40W actinic tubes and one with 2 x 2W LED lights powered by batteries. The large box on legs was used almost consistently, the Robinson for about half of the year and the Skinners occasionally.
The total number of moths counted in 2020 was 18,059 and is the highest number recorded there in the ten years that I have been keeping regular records. 387 species were recorded which is just 2 less than the highest number of species recorded which was in 2019 from a total moth count of 17, 935.
The 387 species recorded in 2020 comprised 133 micro moths and 254 macro moths. 33 species were new to the site so that the total number of species now recorded at LLNR is now 560. Excluding Acentria ephemerella, a micro moth which swarms on warm nights and are often too numerous to count, the most common species recorded were Common Wainscot with 1,703 moths counted followed by Large Yellow Underwing with 927.
The Common Wainscot numbers were a great surprise. Moth numbers are known to have peaks and troughs, good years and poor years, but this number, some 5 times more than the previous best year, had me checking to make sure that I had not double- or treble-pressed a number when entering the records but no, there were no errors on my part. 188 recorded on 18th August was the most in one night. The caterpillars feed on grasses including Common Couch and Cock’s-foot which are abundant at LLNR.
Poplar Hawk-moths had their best year ever with 321 counted. The previous best was 235 in 2017. Elephant Hawk-moths too had their best year ever with 50 being counted between 23rd May to 29th July.
The Poplar Hawk-moth season in 2020 began on 3rd May and the last was caught on 11th September. At LLNR over the ten years of recording, the species has consistently produced 2 generations of moths during the summer.
At the other end of the scale, species whose numbers had dropped significantly this year were July Highflier and Old Lady.
The July Highflier is one of three moths with the name highflier. The others are the May Highflier and the Ruddy Highflier and, yes, they fly high around trees and bushes. The July Highflier is very variable and often catches me out. It is also quite skittish, taking off readily. Caterpillars feed on sallows and willows amongst others so LLNR is well suited to their needs. 12 were recorded in 2020 whereas in the previous 6 years their numbers have been in the 30’s and 40’s.
The Old Lady was absent in 2020 having been present in the previous 6 years. Her numbers have never been high, mostly in single figures. The moth is known to come to sugar more readily than to light. Sugaring is when a sweet concoction is prepared and painted on to tree trunks, wooden gates, posts and was used in the past before light traps to attract moths. I have sugared at LLNR in previous years but did not do so last year.
Of the 33 new moths recorded at LLNR in 2020, 20 were micro moths and 13 macro moths. There is evidence that due to climate change some species are expanding their ranges and three of the macro moths could be among that group. Dotted Fan-foot, Dark Crimson Underwing and Dewick’s Plusia form the trio.
Dotted Fan-foot has been restricted to the wetlands of East Anglia, Essex and the Thames Estuary but 3 turned up, 2 on the 8th July and another on the 17th.
The caterpillars feed on rushes and sedges and the habitat at LLNR is just right for this moth. My hopes are high that it might find a (6) foothold there.
The Dark Crimson Underwing is described in The Atlas of Britain and Ireland’s Larger Moths as “a resident and scarce immigrant confined to the New Forest and a few woods in Hampshire and south Wiltshire with signs of a recent increase in range”. It appeared on 24th July and the photograph below, taken on the day, shows a rather worn and travelled specimen,
Dark Crimson Underwing
Its preferred habitat is large tracts of mature Oak woodland but nonetheless a good moth to have called in.
The third newcomer was Dewick’s Plusia. I recorded 2 of these at home for the first time in September 2019. The Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland lists the moth as an immigrant and possible recent colonist.
It goes on to say the moth has been recorded in May and July-October and the flight season in mainland Europe, April-November. My records for LLNR in 2020 are 26th April and 29th July and I have wondered whether the earlier record may be evidence of breeding locally. It will be interesting to see if and when they turn up in 2021.
2020 was a good year for moths at LLNR. If anyone would like a list of the moths recorded last year or, indeed, all my records for LLNR or would like to join me in opening up the traps early morning in 2021 (Covid permitting) , please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
On 11th December whilst walking in Salcey Forest I saw a toadstool that was a bit different to others I had seen around the place. On closer inspection I realised that it was attracting large numbers of gnats (probably a type of fungus gnat). I took some photos and sent them to a very helpful lady at Bucks Fungus Group.
Penny Cullington very kindly had a go at identifying several fungi that I have photographed but she always makes it clear that she cannot identify a fungus from a photo and would need the actual specimen to make a definite identification. I am always rather loath to uproot anything as even a toadstool, which is only the fruiting body of the fungal mycelia underground, is still providing a habitat for something even if it’s only a tiny gnat!
Penny was interested in the darker spots around the rim of the cap and thought that it might be something rather rare, as there have been quite a few unusual fungi around this year, but she needed to know when the photo was taken, what trees were nearby, did it have gills or spores and if gills what colour they were, etc. After providing her with this information, she was still only guessing so on our next visit to Salcey I finally relented, uprooted it and took it home.
Once I had harvested the toadstool you could see the white spores actually tucked inside the gills of the cap (see below). Interestingly, I also noticed two little parasitic wasps on the cap which I assume were parasites of the gnat larvae (?) – another link in the chain of woodland life.
On Penny’s advice I carried out the following two procedures.
Sporeprint: Cut off the cap from the stem at the top. Set the cap gills-down on a piece of dark paper and cover it with a pot / bowl/ whatever to keep air currents out and leave it overnight somewhere cool (not in the fridge!). Next day, check to see if you have a thick deposit (we’re guessing it’s going to be pale cream to white, hence putting it on dark paper otherwise you won’t be able to see it!)
Drying: Now cut the cap into quarters and, together with the stem, put it spread out a bit gills up in the airing cupboard over the top of the hot water tank is ideal. The air needs to circulate around it so it’s best put on wire mesh – something like a cake-cooling rack as long as it’s not going to fall through! Then forget about it till after Christmas!
I managed to get a lovely sporeprint. I then cut it all up and dried it as requested and sent it to Penny.
Disappointingly, on receiving the sporeprint with its white spores and the dried material Penny now thinks it is most likely to be Clitocybe geotropa, the very common Trooping Funnel, and not the Clitocybe alexandri (now Clitopaxillus alexandri) which has only been recorded a few times in the country. She still says that she might send it off for DNA sequencing which is the next step for a definite diagnosis but I doubt that will change anything.
To be honest, it was what I suspected all along so I wasn’t surprised but I did find the whole process fascinating, from seeing the gnats swarming round the toadstool, to the process of getting a sporeprint and the final drying of the toadstool in my partner’s airing cupboard!! I will definitely try the sporeprints again in the future but still baulk at harvesting too many toadstools as they look so fabulous nestled amongst the leaf litter where they should be.
With many thanks for the help and advice from Penny Cullington of the Bucks Fungus Group. She’s the Secretary of the group and also the county recorder for fungi, so if you’d like more information about the group and its activities visit their website at www.bucksfungusgroup.org.uk/index.html.
The past twelve months have seen us living alongside a dreadful illness so severe and restrictive to our normal way of life, no other living person has seen the like in this country for well over a century!
One of the many consequences of this has been a reduction in the number of local wildlife-related projects carried out by skilled and enthusiastic people throughout the United Kingdom. You will not be surprised to learn our own MKNHS has no shortage of such talented individuals but finding the funds for these projects can be challenging.
A former member of our society, Gordon Osborn, generously bequeathed funds to us specifically for use by members of the MKNHS who need support for new or ongoing projects such as recording local wildlife, survey work in local areas, educational programmes, research and so on, in any field of natural history deemed as representative of our society’s aims and objectives.
The enhancement of knowledge of our local flora and fauna in such difficult times could be a daunting prospect; perhaps a little help from this unique fund can be the boost which is needed to transform a worthy project into a truly important and valuable contribution to our understanding of a particular patch’s importance or aspect of natural history or spreading ‘the word’ to others such that the future of our wild countryside and its inhabitants might be better assured.
Last year, understandably, no applications were received for help from this fund and so I am asking those of you who are interested in carrying out this vital work in your own time or as an extension to your normal working lives and who feel such financial assistance would benefit your particular project, to apply for some funding outlining the details of your work and what you would be using any grant for.
Generally, this would be in the region of a few hundred pounds but this is enough to purchase trail cameras, recording equipment, specialist books, computer programs, etc., which might otherwise be proving too much to fund from your own pockets.
So, please do apply for help from the Gordon Osborn Fund. That is what it is there for.
Further information can also be found in the MKNHS Guidance Handbook (page 11) found as a link in the Home section of this website or contact myself or Linda Murphy who are administrators of the fund.