What were the sparks that ignited your interest in Natural History?
Whether you have a lifetime passion for wildlife and the natural world or have only recently discovered its beauty and diversity, those of us who belong to MKNHS have varied reasons for joining the Society. We would really like to know a bit more about what turned you on to nature in the first place.
In my case, my love of all things wild was ignited as a small child during visits to my grandparent’s thatched cottage in the New Forest. There was always a magic about arriving in the dark after a long journey to this beautiful topsy-turvy cottage which smelt of furniture polish, had wonky floors and walls and winding spiral staircases, and where you were at all times accompanied by the quiet ticks and chimes of the grandfather clock. But it was waking up the next morning to see roe deer in the enclosure just behind the fence and great spotted woodpeckers and nuthatches taking food from the feeder just outside the kitchen window when the real excitement began. Walks in the forest, feeding wild horses on the common outside the gate, making dens in the woods behind the cottage, it was just a magical place to visit. I was a very lucky little girl!
No-one in my family was particularly knowledgeable or interested in wild life. It was always me who pointed out some bird or deer out of the car window, but I was exposed to so much nature when I was growing up that I just soaked it up like a sponge and still do to this day. Ask me anything about literature or history or music and I am sadly lacking in knowledge but if it’s wildlife-related then I am interested.
My parents were great walkers and we spent our holidays in wild places, the North York Moors, the Lake District, Scotland. I was dragged protesting up many a mountain but I love these places now and seek them out for my own holidays. I also loved rock pooling as a young girl and that has left me with a fascination for the oceans of the world – I have been swimming, snorkelling and diving in them whenever I have been given the chance ever since.
I could go on, but it would be great to hear from others as to what it was that opened your eyes to the delights of the natural world. Please send in your thoughts – in just a few sentences or a longer article – anything would be very gratefully received.
In October 2021, I was given the chance to join the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust as a Practical Conservation Trainee at Spurn National Nature Reserve. With my boots firmly in the ground as a watcher of my local patch in Milton Keynes, recording birds, odonata and carrying out yearly butterfly transects, the idea of travelling 200 miles to spend most of a year in a totally new environment was initially very daunting but after some lengthy consideration, I decided it was an opportunity that was too good to miss for my career aspirations.
Spurn is located at the tip of the east Yorkshire coast, about 45 minutes’ drive from the city of Hull. One of the country’s most renowned sites for birding, it delivers scarcities and rarities on a regular basis. The sea and the Reserve’s habitats are closely monitored by a dedicated band of local birders and recorders. Located just outside the reserve is the Spurn Bird Observatory, working in association with The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for a wide variety of projects across Spurn and its neighbouring reserve Kilnsea Wetlands.
While it may be as close to the sea as you can get, Spurn’s traineeships are tailored to develop highly transferrable knowledge and practical skills that can be taken to a wide variety of landscapes. Whether you are already familiar with coastal areas or coming from a more inland setting, it’s an ideal place to kickstart a career in conservation. Trainees are quickly given hands-on experience with a variety of tasks including livestock management, site maintenance and use of reserve vehicles.
Some of Spurn’s livestock include Hebridean Sheep and the popular Highland Cattle, which are frequently checked and moved across the site between autumn and early spring. Their grazing helps to prepare the reserve’s wildflower meadows for spring and summer, protecting root systems which could be damaged by machinery and supporting ground-nesting bird species including Meadow Pipits and Skylarks.
A large portion of the autumn and winter work involves site maintenance, trimming vegetation near the footpaths and increasing access to the Reserve’s features. There is also the Population Control of Brown-tailed Moths, a species that has had a strong foothold on the Reserve for many years. With their highly irritant hairs they are rarely eaten by birds, prevent the growth of berries and present a health risk to the general public as their caterpillars emerge in early spring. Thought to have arrived from Lincolnshire, the parasitic wasps that typically prey on the species are unfortunately yet to colonise the area, meaning controlled human intervention is currently the best way forward on this SSSI.
A more exclusive task for Spurn over the past few months has been Eelgrass Restoration. Now present in just a small portion of the Humber after a significant decline many years ago, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Marine Team have been hard at work to get this unique species. Some of the rainier days of the autumn were spent making Sea Grass bags, small sacks of Hessian with the tiny seeds and sediment wrapped inside, ready to be planted at the edge of the Humber at low tide.
The everchanging washover is a good place to practise off-road driving. Once holding a road connecting the northern half of the reserve to the southern half, it is now only accessible by the Spurn reserve team and the RNLI, based at The Point. On some days it can be largely flat and smooth with a thin layer of shingle, on others it can be more rocky but negotiable with the Reserve’s 4×4 vehicle.
A more recent task has been installing electric fencing on the Reserve’s thinnest section of beach, the washover, protecting Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers from ground-based predators and preventing human disturbance. Carrying out beach patrols in this area has been a good way of interacting with visitors, raising awareness of ground-nesting shorebirds, talking about other recent finds on-site with the bonus of possibly seeing a seal, porpoise or even a dolphin!
As I write this in early June, just over halfway through the traineeship, I can happily say this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s already given me so much knowledge and new skills that I never initially saw myself gaining! With thanks to on-site LANTRA training and practice with Spurn’s Reserve team, I recently passed my Brushcutter training, meaning I and the other volunteers who participated will be gaining a license for using them across other parks and reserves nationally.
It’s also been a massive eyeopener to the everyday running of a nature reserve throughout the year in so many ways – seeing how tasks are co-ordinated around weather and tide times, how events are planned and promoted and the interactions between regional teams within The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. It’s an access-all-areas opportunity, so trainees are at the forefront of the fieldwork and behind-the-scenes projects at the Reserve and heavily integrated with the rest of the team. There’s also the opportunity to partake in external training hosted by The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust at other Reserves in the county.
On days off you are free to your own devices but there is so much to explore and do across Spurn and its neighbouring reserve, Kilnsea Wetlands. For birding the possibilities are nearly endless here, with scarcities and rarities being found on a near daily basis especially around the peaks of spring and autumn migration. Some of my favourite “firsts” from here have included Brown Shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Temminck’s Stint, Glaucous Gull, Red-rumped Swallow, and just days after I started in October, Britain’s 10th Two-barred Greenish Warbler which lingered for several days by the Discovery Centre.
I cannot thank the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust enough for giving me this amazing opportunity. It’s been well worth while for gaining confidence in travelling further afield and working in new and exciting parts of the country. The ride isn’t over yet though and I can’t wait to see what the next few months bring!
The results of the first ever national turtle dove survey have been published. Whilst the survey is as a result of fantastic effort from volunteers, the population now stands at around 2,100 territories, down from an estimated 125,000 in 1970. Although the results are sobering, there is hope for this ‘sound of summer’ resident.
A beautifully sunny and warm day with a breezy aspect dawned on Saturday 11th June as a group of us from the MKNHS met at Pegsdon Way, some five miles west of Hitchin to take a walk around Knocking Hoe, Bedfordshire’s first National Nature Reserve.
The reserve is around eight hectares in size and is surrounded by arable and grazing land with an ancient woodland bordering its eastern boundary. Our intention was to walk along the private road leading from Pegsdon Road and to gain entry to the reserve via the farmyard at the foot of the main hill, the owner, Mrs Franklyn, having graciously allowed us special access.
However, our first interesting species of the day were on the roadside before we even left the parking spot where a male Lesser Whitethroat was rattling his territorial song for us. A lovely patch of Pyramidal and Bee Orchids were our first target species, all in near perfect condition and allowing us good photographs without standing on anything else too rare!
As we made our way down the access road, butterflies started to appear and we saw a beautiful and freshly emerged Marbled White as well as several Small Tortoiseshells and a Red Admiral, all resplendent in the late morning sunshine.
Round and Cut-leaved Cranesbill as well as a number of other hedgerow flowers were out as we reached the wonderful, immaculately tended farm garden containing some stunning Peonies and Roses, a prime example of an English cottage garden. Walking past here and up towards the reserve, we found ourselves at the reserve entrance where, after negotiating a five-bar gate, we entered a magical world of chalk downland wildlife.
Quaking Grass and several vetches were evident here in much longer vegetation than on the hillside we were aiming for but Small Heath and Common Blue butterflies were enjoying this miniature forest world and as we gained height and the walk became considerably steeper, the scrub reduced in height and we were in a land of chalk downland flowers. Dropwort, a chalk-loving relative of Meadowsweet was everywhere and Pyramidal Orchids were also abundant here. We made our way around the base of the main hill to an area now marked with tape and little flags to see the colony of Burnt-tip Orchid and we weren’t disappointed, there were still plenty out in flower. An alternative name of Dwarf Orchid was appropriate as the plants here rarely grow more than six centimetres tall owing to the soil depth and quality.
There were also Clustered Bellflowers starting to appear as well as considerable numbers of Chalk Fragrant Orchids, the sweet scent of which was just about detectable. A warm, still evening visit to this site or indeed, Ivinghoe Beacon gives one a much better idea as to their name, their fragrance truly is incredible.
The fluffy grey seed-heads of Pasque Flower were everywhere here and Julian reminded us of a trip he paid here with his wife Ann and Phil Sarre earlier this year when the Pasque Flowers were out in their thousands, much loved by our dear friend Mary Sarre. There were still a few in bloom though and we enjoyed their wonderful deep-mauve flowers with bright yellow centres. Paz explained that the name Pasque was similar to her native Spanish name for Easter, ‘Pascua’ the time when traditionally these lovely anemones begin to flower and from where the common name derives.
The seed heads though are beautiful in their own right and we enjoyed these, as well as finding the tall, bright yellow-flowered Cats Ears, rather like large yellow hawk weeds. We checked the basal leaves of each of these until we found several with spots on the leaf, in the manner of Cuckoo Pint or Lords and Ladies. This meant we were looking at Spotted Cats Ear, one of the extreme rarities this little reserve is known for. There are barely five other locations for this rare chalk speciality in the entire country so we are fortunate to have one of those sites here.
Houndstongue, Mignionette and Small Scabious were here as well as the Field Fleawort, another downland rarity, this place really does produce on a good day!
The tiny blue flowers of Milkwort were all over the hillside as we moved along towards to the top, eastern end of the reserve when Julian indicated he’d found a fritillary butterfly and indeed, we were all able to see it before it flew strongly off north. A stunningly fresh and bright orange Dark-green Fritillary, absolutely immaculate! I have never seen one here before so this really was a good sighting.
We set off along the top path finding the tiny white flowers of Squinancywort as well as aromatic Thyme, both chalk-loving species and then some really big Spotted Orchids at the little pond on the topmost edge of the hillside.
The group split into two at this point as some of us had to make our way back so we made our way down the track leading back towards the farm, finding several ‘tents’ of jet-black Peacock butterfly caterpillars feeding on nettles, as well as Large Skipper and Meadow Brown.
Walking down past the little spinney of Corsican Pines, we found Candytuft, always regular at this location and a flowering Privet bush absolutely covered in butterflies. Holly Blues, Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells and Small Skippers were nectaring here along with a Brimstone passing through.
Such bushes are known as ‘Butterfly Bushes’, an irregular feature of our countryside and this is the first time I have seen one in the UK. They provide a wonderful but rare spectacle for the naturalist and we enjoyed this opportunity for what it was … a delightful end to a great day out.
Knocking Hoe Reserve is easily accessible throughout the year. Later in the summer other rareties emerge such as the enigmatic Moon Carrot, again only found in a handful of other locations in the UK along with a now famous colony of Autumn Lady’s Tresses, a small orchid which has been intensely studied at Knocking Hoe for over fifty years.
Walking is fairly easy, though wet conditions will make the terrain challenging – so a dry, August day would be an ideal time to visit and afford one an opportunity to see some of the other chalk downland specialities this lovely little corner of the Chilterns offers.
Parking in Pegsdon Road, the footpath to the reserve is well signposted and a drink and light meal at The View pub adjacent to the road makes a perfect end to a good day out.
At our Summer Planning meeting back in February, Paul Lund suggested a Society visit to Fineshade Wood, Northants (just north of Corby) to look for the Chequered Skipper butterfly. This attractive species went extinct in England in 1976 but a recent reintroduction, as part of the Back From the Brink project, has been successful, and for the first time Forestry England were allowing the public to come and see them in Fineshade Wood.
We decided against a large group visit this year as the population remains very small (further releases are planned) and they still don’t want very large groups visiting.
Instead, on Sunday 29th May, 8 MKNHS members travelled up for a reconnaissance visit! Martin Kincaid worked at Fineshade Wood in 2005-2007 when it was the home of the Rockingham Forest Red Kite Centre, so he had some idea of the layout there. The Red Kite centre is now a cycling shop however.
The weather was somewhat mixed, far from ideal for looking for insects. We went on a 5.5 mile walk through the forest, with most of us seeing only 1 chequered skipper – a male, but we were quite satisfied with that. The butterfly settled on white bramble flower so we were able to see it well and photograph it.
You can see from the photograph that the specimen was already quite worn and we later discovered that they had emerged in mid-May, somewhat earlier than usual. Butterflies were generally scarce on the day with only Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and Common Blue seen although Paul Lund was fortunate to see a Grizzled Skipper egg laying on creeping cinquefoil. Hopefully this compensated for missing the chequered skipper.
Other notable findings were a stunning Wasp Beetle, Spotted Flycatcher, Greater Butterfly Orchids and several reptiles. Simon Bunker found an Adder basking at the edge of one of the forest tracks and later a second adder and several Slow-worms were found close to the visitor centre.
This was a rare opportunity to visit this SSSI floodplain meadow which was transferred to Parks Trust ownership in 2020. The Society last visited this location in 2008 so it was perhaps no surprise that more than 30 members attended.
We were fortunate to have with us Professor David Gowing from the Open University, who leads the Floodplain Meadows Partnership. David led our sizeable group from the meeting place at Oxley Park shops and we walked in a crocodile from there to the mead! Not quite sure what the local residents made of us.
Once in the meadow, David gave us all a general introduction to the site – what makes it special, how it is managed and what we are learning from over 20 years of monitoring. We were greeted by a magnificent display of flowering Great Burnet, Yellow Rattle and Meadow Buttercups. Great Burnet is one of the key indicator species of MG4 grassland and it is abundant in Oxley Mead. Meadowsweet was flourishing but not yet in full flower.
Thereafter, we split into two groups with those more interested in the flora staying with David and Martin Kincaid taking the other group to look for invertebrates. The forecast rain held off and we were able to find plenty of moths including Small Magpie, Silver Ground Carpet, Yellow Shell, Straw Dot and Silver-y. Surprisingly, the only butterfly found was a solitary Small Heath. We also found a host of nymphs of Roesel’s Bush-cricket and a few Dark Bush-cricket. Alan Nelson went to look for damselflies in the ditch but the cool conditions were against him. He did however spot a Hobby flying overhead. Other birds of note were a Skylark singing just outside the meadow and a party of about 8-10 House Martins who were whizzing around the mead. There appears to be a healthy population of these birds nesting in Oxley Park housing estate.
All in all, a highly enjoyable meeting to what is surely the finest floodplain grassland in MK.
The visit to Stonepit Field (managed by the Parks Trust) was the first since early June 2019, and attracted a good attendance including several new members: a most welcome indication of the growing natural history interest in Milton Keynes. The site was farmland until 1993 and is an excellent example of how in just 30 years biodiversity can be dramatically increased through careful management. (For further information about the site including its history, go to MKNHS Wildlife Sites and scroll down to Stonepit Field.)
The main focus of the evening was to identify and list species especially of the flower-rich grassland and limestone scrape. Members were divided into three groups to avoid underfoot damage to the habitats particularly the scrape area. It was hoped that these activities would: introduce and encourage members to enjoy and return to the site; improve individual identification skills; and contribute to the draft cumulative list of species for Stonepit Field maintained by Mike LeRoy. Current species lists were available to members as a handout at the start of the visit. Species new to these lists identified during the evening will be added to the cumulative list and are included as an annex to this Report, which can be found here.
The Park has four main habitats: flower-rich grassland; limestone scrape; two ponds and their steep banks; and a woodland strip (the woodland itself was not included in this visit).
The flower-rich grassland covers well over half the area of the site. Dominant plants in or near to flowering were Meadow Buttercup, Bulbous Buttercup. Oxeye Daisy, Red Clover, Salad Burnet, Common Sorrel, Ribwort Plantain, Beaked Hawksbeard, Common Vetch, Cut-leaved Cranesbill, and Yellow Rattle. These plants were interspersed with the delicate Quaking Grass, Common Birdsfoot Trefoil, Medick sp., Knapweed sp., Lady’s Bedstraw, and Goatsbeard. Of special interest was Common Broomrape, a parasitic plant without leaves or green pigment, hosted by neighbouring species which is scattered through much of the grassland. Meadow Cranesbill was found in some of the more grassy areas and was coming into flower.
The limestone scrape is located roughly in the middle of the site not far from the Car Park. It is not unique in Milton Keynes as a habitat (two were added in Stanton Low Park across the Newport Road from Stonepit Field a few years back) but it is certainly a very special habitat for lime-loving species. At the time of our visit the Bee Orchids were no more than 5 to 15 cm above the ground but not yet in flower: there is virtually no soil here. In contrast at the edges of the scrape, patches of Birdsfoot Trefoil and Horseshoe Vetch were in full flower together with smaller areas of Common Rock Rose, Kidney Vetch, and Mouse-ear Hawkweed. Some of the plants of the grassland areas survive in stunted form, for example Salad Burnet, Oxeye Daisy, Yellow Rattle and Quaking Grass.
The ponds were added to the site in 2007 as part of the over-flow drainage system when Oakridge Park was developed for housing. The steep banks, presumably spoil from the pond excavation, are home to Gorse, coarse grasses, Creeping Thistle, Dog Rose, Teasel, Stinging Nettles, Hogweed, and self-seeded Hawthorn with small patches of Red Campion and one of Ragged Robin at the edge of the west pond. Yellow Iris borders both ponds.
Identification and listing in these three habitats added 15 species plants to the cumulative list. (Note that some of those listed may require further checking.)
Twenty-nine bird species were identified nine of which were new to the cumulative list including Common Tern, Lesser Blackback Gull, Green Woodpecker, Whitethroat and Jay. Little Egret, Grey Heron, Moorhen, and Mallard are regulars at the ponds.
Only one Butterfly species was seen – the Common Blue – not surprising for an evening visit (a few days later Susan Weatherhead reported on Society Sightings the presence of 9 Small Blues in the scrape area). Four moth species were identified: Mint Moth, Silver Ground Carpet, Light Brown Apple Moth and (thanks to Tim Arnold and Julian Lambley’s photo) Grass Rivulet, all four new to the cumulative list.
Red-eyed Damselfly, Azure Damselfly, and Common Blue Damselfly were identified by Harry Appleyard as a first step in establishing an odanata list and St. Mark’s fly was identified by Paul Lund to add to the diptera cumulative list. Although not the primary focus some tree, shrub and grass species were identified of which two may be new to the cumulative list namely Privet and Wild Cherry. Elder and the attractive Guelder Rose were both in flower.
The evening engaged many members present in the process of identification and listing species as well as enjoyment in getting to know Stonepit Field as an attractive ‘hotspot’ for wildlife. There are still gaps in the cumulative species lists, the timing of visits being a key factor here. For example, Harebell is not yet in flower but will be the dominant scrape species in another month or so: perhaps there would be interest in a July Society visit in 2023?
My thanks to Mike LeRoy for sharing his knowledge of the site with me before the visit and for leading one of the groups; Linda Murphy for leading another of the groups; Harry Appleyard for his bird and odanata identifications; Julian Lambley and Harry Appleyard for their excellent photographs; and to all the members taking part.
This was the Society’s first evening visit to the Reserve since 2018. It attracted over twenty members and three visitors, and we were particularly pleased that Honorary Life Member John Prince was not only able to join us but also to complete the one and half mile circuit of the Reserve – when asked if he could manage it the response was ‘Well, I have got my stick with me!’. I distributed a habitat and species checklist which I had prepared following two reconnaissance visits the second accompanied by Martin Kincaid.
The group walked clockwise round the Reserve from the Car Park. We started with a quick look at some more recently introduced Bluebells and Ramsons under the trees to the left of the road to the car park before moving on to the rough meadow area at the south end of the reserve. We stopped several times here to identify the plant life. The highlight was the Meadow Saxifrage in flower – one of only two locations where it can be found in Milton Keynes. The area is monitored and managed by the Parks Trust to encourage its spread and to control invasive species. Also of note in this area is Field Wood Rush.
We stopped on the path through the woodland to the west side of the Reserve to get a glimpse of the original Sand Martin nesting wall which is now used by a pair of Kingfishers but no sight of them tonight. At this same spot Julian Lamley spotted the exuvia (discarded laval skin) of a broad dragonfly probably one of the Chasers.
The next visit was to the bird hide which gave the opportunity to observe Common Tern (six pairs) noisily flying back and forth, Lapwing (two or three pairs) and a single Oystercatcher, all of which nest on the gravel-topped island in the largest of the lakes.
The walk along the bank of the River Ouse started through a plantation of Cricket-bat Willows which are grown commercially by the Parks Trust. The vegetation along the banks was dominated by a Comfrey species, Cow Parsley and White Dead Nettle in flower to be followed by Great Willow Herb, Meadow Sweet, Burdock, and Hogweed later in the summer.
By the time the group reached the small strip of replanted meadow species parallel to the A5 (D) viaduct drizzle had turned to heavy rain and this curtailed the visit for many but a few stalwarts were able to enjoy flowering Red Clover, Ragged Robin, Common Vetch, Birdsfoot Trefoil, and Cuckoo Flower with Yellow Rattle, Great Knapweed, and Meadow Cranesbill to follow. The walk back to the car park was taken at speed but one unusual plant was observed where the path crosses a ditch – Gipsywort (Lycopus europaeus).
It was not a good evening for observing insects but Mike LeRoy identified Common or Red-headed Cardinal Beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis) and many Mayflies were in evidence (sp.). Grey Heron was seen and Cuckoo heard as additions to the bird list.
The habitat and species list as updated following the visit can be found here. For those wanting further information about the Reserve including its history, click here or go to the MKNHS website, click on Wildlife Sites and scroll down to Stony Stratford Nature Reserve.
Volunteers are wanted, to help find dormice in the tree-tops at Little Linford Wood. Our MKNHS member John Prince founded the North Bucks Dormouse Group in 1998, when dormice were successfully reintroduced to this Wood. Ever since then, volunteers have worked with John to check dormouse boxes monthly through summer to autumn.
Now John is taking this to the next stage with dormouse boxes mounted on platforms that are hoisted to the tree-tops. The platforms have been made. They are ready to be hauled up. The Dormouse Group need more people to manage and monitor these dormouse platforms, so we know where dormice are.
If you would like to find out more about how and when you could help, please contact Gwen Hitchcock by e-mail: email@example.com, or by phone on 07872 418281.
Photo: Dormouse in Little Linford Wood June 2020 (courtesy of John Prince/Joyce Taylor Moore)
BMERC are planning to run four courses this year about:
How to make a good Record
Mosses of Buckinghamshire
Introduction to Veteran & Notable Trees
Introduction to Surveying for the Noble Chafer.
These courses will be free for recorders and other volunteers. This is a generous opportunity for Milton Keynes Natural History Society members and others.
One course will be online: the others will be at various sites across Buckinghamshire. Further details are in the box below. Fuller details about each course will be sent later to those who have said they are interested.
At this stage BMERC aren’t looking for firm bookings, merely expressions of interest. Once booking starts, this will be managed on a first-come first- served basis. You can express your interest by completing the sign-up sheet, which you will need to download and send back to BMERC: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It was still dry after a period without rain when around 25 members walked a route around Bury Common on the 10th May. Some of us walked through the paddocks down by the river – a permissive path, as the paddocks are owned by Mill House (I believe). This allowed us to get a rather distant view of the little owls in the willow which can be seen from across the first paddock. Little owls have been in this vicinity for years. It was probably a little early in the year to see the first damselflies although I have seen some since.
At the end of the paddocks, on reaching the lower meadow, and getting safely across the bridge with a rotten middle, we turned up left towards the main common and met up with those walkers who had avoided the stiles on the riverside path. We walked along the boundary between the upper and lower meadow. This field has not been fertilised nor grazed for many years now, and can be rich in plantlife. We walked around the lower meadow and the botanists amongst us were busy checking out plants.
I had hoped that the kestrel nest I had spotted and watched weeks earlier would have been inhabited but it had been abandoned for a while and was still abandoned although we saw the kestrels. However an eagle-eyed person spotted a large raptor nest on the other side of the river but visible from our path. At the time it was thought this was a buzzard’s nest as a black tail and brown upper body of a bird could just be seen. (However, photos I took a couple of days later revealed a red kite on the nest, and I also saw a kite perched nearby.) We paused at what is called locally ‘the beach’ to watch a number of silvery fish jumping out of the river.
It was a lovely evening with almost a mackerel sky some of the time, and larks were still singing as we walked the lower meadow. Finally, as we walked back to the car park through the “cut” (where the ‘railway-that-never-was’ was to be sited) we had a lovely sunset.
The Common is also known as Bury Field. There is an account of its history here: https://newport-pagnell.uk/history/bury-field/. And thanks to Mike LeRoy for letting us know of the much more extended account here: https://www.mkheritage.org.uk/nphs/bury-field-history-and-walk/ Thanks also to Martin Ferns, in particular for joining me on the recce, providing information on the site’s history and leading the non-stile route and keeping an eye on the rear.
I also wrote a small piece on Bury Common during the first 2020 lockdown which is available on the MKNHS site: https://mknhs.org.uk/spring-on-bury-common-ann-jones/
Bird list Bury Common 10 May 2022 (not necessarily comprehensive – just what was noted)
Swifts over Newport Pagnell town
2 Little Owls
Other sightings of interest
Hundreds of buttercups
Yellow iris in flower Iris pseudacorus
Great Burnet Sanguisorba officinalis
Red and Black Froghopper Cercopsis vulnerata
Common Frog (deceased)
The deep purple of the orchids and strong yellow of the Cowslips showed along the ridges of this unimproved grassland with the adjacent damper furrows, in particular – showing sedges and Adders Tongue Ophioglossum vulgatum, with some pink Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis (also known as Ladies-smock).
For me this year, the Marsh Valerian Valeriana dioica, with its presentation of male and female flowers on separate plants, was a highlight. They seem to be expanding in any damper areas, especially along the damp slopes to the north west of the highest part of the large field.
It was a very pleasant mild evening when 20 of us met up in Olney for a 5.5mile hike cross-country to Yardley Chase to hopefully listen to a nightingale. I had done a recce the night before and knew he was back singing in his usual spot so was very much keeping my fingers crossed that such a big group wouldn’t affect his performance!
On the way we saw a several hares and a brief glimpse of a small group of fallow deer which included several white individuals. The primroses and bluebells were putting on a good show in the hedges and woods and we passed a magnificent oak tree with a huge girth. As we approached the area where the nightingale was we saw a barn owl in the distance quartering the edge of the field. We slowed down and crept quietly up to the nightingale who was happily warbling away in the woodland out of sight. I felt it was important that we kept our distance as they are rare breeding birds and I didn’t want to disturb him. In some ways that was a pity as we weren’t near enough to appreciate the sheer volume of his song but it was still a magical experience in the gathering gloom when the other birds were starting to quieten down for the night – although the local song thrushes were still putting up stiff competition.
Recording of nightingale singing, Yardley Chase 3 May 2022 (Recording by Julie Lane)
After a while in his company we turned for home, surprising a fox on his nocturnal wandering. Sadly the grasshopper warbler I had heard the night before was silent, or had moved on, but we were thrilled to hear brief utterances of a second nightingale in another part of the wood.
Whilst crossing the field of beans we were treated to the sound of two lapwings calling in the dark – a lovely end to a special evening. Thank you to all who came – you will have slept well afterwards!
List of notable species seen (not comprehensive)
Birds 2 x nightingale singing
Fallow deer including several white deer
Moths Silver Ground Carpet
Perforate St John’s-wort
Our first Tuesday night outdoor meeting of the season took place at Howe Park Wood last week. Leaders Colin Docketty and Martin Kincaid were joined by around 30 members who were clearly keen to get out and reconnect with old friends. Although the traditional rain stayed away, it was a grey, chilly evening and by 8.30pm we were all learning the new skill of torchlit botanical ID.
Martin mentioned that most visitors head straight into Howe Park Wood and don’t pay much attention to the species rich meadow between the wood and Tattenhoe Street (V2). So the walk began with a look at this and the three ponds nearby, where a devoted moorhen sat calmly on her nest bemused by all the attention.
Cowslips are prolific this year and the carpet of cowslips in this small meadow was a delight to see. Martin also pointed out the spreading population of Sainfoin, which will flower in June. This species is relatively new to Milton Keynes but has been present at Howe Park for 4-5 years now. A few Common Spotted Orchids were found in rosette but no Bee Orchids could be located as yet.
Entering the wood from the main northern entrance, we soon saw the expected spring species, dominated by Bluebells and Greater Stitchwort. Wood Anemone, Bugle and Lesser Celandine were all easy to find too, Common Dog Violet less so.
One of the objectives of this walk was to identify likely nest sites of Red Kite, which certainly nested in the wood in 2021 and has been seen carrying sticks. Kites teased us in the evening with their whistling calls, but one was seen towards the end of the night flying off of a probable nest.
We made a lengthy stop at the clearing in the wood which holds a small pond. Carla Boswell explained that the Parks Trust has tried repeatedly to fence this pond off from dogs, but that the rustic fencing has again been vandalised and nothing of it remains. The water is therefore very turbid and little marginal vegetation remains on the side nearest the path. However, patient watching showed us that the pond still holds a healthy population of newts. Both Smooth Newts and the larger Great Crested Newts were observed swimming to the surface, taking a breath and quickly diving again. The night was too cold for most invertebrates, but a Great Diving Beetle at the pond was a nice sighting.
Moving into the western side of the wood, we turned our attention to bats. Our route took us past two trees which Harry Appleyard has found to contain roosting Noctule bats. We could not hear bats at these trees, but a single Noctule bat and both Common and Soprano Pipistrelles were seen later by various members. Colin and Martin had found Goldilocks Buttercup on their recce visit and were pleased to show people this diminutive woodland flower. This was where our torches came in useful as the light faded! One species searched for without success was Early Purple Orchid, which has become very scarce in the wood in recent times. (Happily, Janice Robertson found several flowers later in the week and her photo is shown below.)
The last stop was to look at the veteran Crab Apple tree on the north-west edge of the wood. This venerable tree, affectionately known as ‘Edna’ (any Simpsons fans out there?) is currently in flower and looked even more impressive in the dwindling light.
Since it was our first Tuesday night walk for some time, Martin opened up the Visitor Centre so that people could enjoy some refreshment and chat. It also gave us a chance to see again the impressive MKNHS banner created for our 50th Anniversary in 2018, featuring photos taken by many of our members down the years.
On Sunday 1st May I went on the North Bucks RSPB dawn chorus walk at Linford Lakes – a 5.45 a.m start. Chris Coppock was the leader, very ably assisted by Martin Kincaid.
We heard eight varieties of warbler: blackcap, chifchaff, common whitethroat, Cetti’s, garden, reed, sedge, willow and all bar Cetti’s were seen too. Two cuckoos were heard (thanks to Martin’s stereophonic ears) and one of them was spotted (by me) high up in a tree on the eastern side of the lake.
There were several other welcome sightings – common tern, gadwall, great spotted woodpecker, greenfinch, jay, and lapwing, as well as the usual wildfowl. An enjoyable two hours plus.
The trees are turning green with some in blossom, some plants are in flower, birds are singing, and there is frogspawn in the ponds – yes, it`s spring again; but before we get too excited, how did our local wildlife fare during the past winter?
Generally, it was a mild winter with a few exceptions. The end of the year recorded the warmest New Year`s Day on record, January was the sunniest and driest for East Anglia, and during January we suffered three storms, Dudley, Eunice, and Franklin.
Once more our society members have been using our website to record their sightings and this is a summary of these records during the period October to December 2021, and January to March 2022:
Mammals – During the first three months of this year there have been records of otters at Great Linford Reserve, Stony Stratford Reserve, and the River Ouzel near Caldecotte, During December last year a water vole was seen in the Stony Stratford area and at Little Linford Wood a hare was recorded. Both myself and my neighbours have been blessed with regular nightly visits with badgers to our gardens throughout the winter, and during March two young ones were reported.
Butterflies and other insects – On the 6th October a Painted Lady was seen at Caldecotte, a species that unusually there were very few records of in 2021. The bright sunny days in February attracted a variety of butterflies starting with brimstones and during the following weeks tortoiseshell and comma. Other unusual insect records included a Buff-tailed bumble bee in my garden as late as 30th December and a western conifer seed bug at Bradwell Common on 10th October. It would appear that this bug was first recorded in the UK in 2007.
Birds – The winter months attract numerous sightings of birds passing through the local sites particularly the lakes. There were numerous records of large white, little and even cattle egrets, pintails and goosanders. But during the last three months of 2021 the following unusual local records were submitted: Willen Lakes – rock pipit, black redstart Siberian chiffchaff and Mediterranean gull Floodplain Forest – 3 whooper swans, and a ruddy duck Caldecotte -great northern diver Furzton – Slavonian grebe Newport Pagnell – hen harrier Back Wood, Brickhills – 3 crossbills
During the first three months of this year the following special birds were recorded locally: Floodplain Forest – marsh harrier, peregrine and curlew Linford Lakes Reserve – bittern and marsh tit Stony Stratford Reserve – oystercatcher Walton Hall, River Ouzel – 4 Bewick swans Willen – avocet Caldecotte – mandarin duck Magna Park – Siberian chiffchaff
A fantastic selection of wildlife sightings locally during the past winter – congratulations.
With spring and summer ahead of us there will be a plethora of species to enjoy, So share your records on our Society`s website, and as usual look, learn, record – but most of all, enjoy.
16 members and friends joined the 10th April Sunday morning walk through Linford Wood. A map was handed out to show the paths and compartments of this 39ha (97 acre) wood. As soon as we had left the TV-mast car-park a few newly-emerged Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea came into view beside the path. This plant is an Ancient Woodland Indicator, an AWI.
There were three handouts during the walk. One about Woodland History & Management, another about Current Woodland Management, and the third was a Species List, giving a brief summary of flora and fauna worth looking for at various times of the year.
The ‘search’ for Wood Anemones Anemone nemorosa (AWI) could not have been easier. There were few sections of the wood where there were not carpets and swathes of hundreds and thousands of these in full view along the edges of many woodland compartments. A sunny morning made the whole Wood bright with their whiteness – though a few small clumps had a pinkish-violet hue.
Among them were Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria which had emerged many weeks before. Scattered among the trees, deep into the wood were bright clumps of Primrose Primula vulgaris (AWI) that had flowered in February and still looked fresh. Scattered among and beyond these, often deeper into the Wood were the earliest Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta (AWI) coming into flower, with plenty more emerging around them. Dog’s Mercury Mercurialis perennis (AWI) was in an almost continuous spread along the edge of most ditches and paths and in flower, but few people notice it or its slight spikes of male flowers that look rather like catkins, or the female flowers on separate plants that have wider leaves.
We were asked to look for two kinds of small, low-growing purple flowers. One is very common, not only in woodland: this is Ground-ivy Glechoma hederacea. The other is the family of Violets Viola. The ones we were looking for are tiny and easy to miss. These are the Early Dog-violet Viola reichenbachiana (AWI) and the Common Dog-violet Viola riviniana (AWI). Probably, the ones we saw were V.reichenbachiana which flowers earlier than V.riviniana, but checking the features on such small plants requires very close attention and, even then, there are hybrids of these two. Several we saw were exquisitely delicate and beautiful. It was too soon for Sanicle Sanicula europaea (AWI) to be in flower but Chris Coppock found its lower leaves, which are similar to those of Wood Anemone but with a few distinctively different characteristics.
We walked in a broad circuit along a path around the north of the Wood and back to its centre before heading down the broad central ride to the southern end. But before heading further south we took a brief look at Herb Paris Paris quadrifiolia (AWI) that were only just emerging in the shade of other plants. When we reached the southern end of Linford Wood it was too late to fit in a visit to Stanton Wood, so we passed the peaceful pond beneath trees close to H4 Dansteed Way and returned up the western side of Linford Wood. Here we noted leaves that were probably of Yellow Archangel Lamiastrum galiobdolon (AWI) which should flower around May with bright yellow flowers like those of dead-nettle. Further on we passed some shrubs of Spindle Euonymus europaeus, noting their dark green and rectangular stems. This is an undistinguished plant until autumn when its bright pink and orange fruit makes it highly visible.
All the time there were the sounds of birds. Greater-spotted Woodpecker were drumming, and Green Woodpecker were yaffling but perhaps the noisiest sounds were the squawks from five boisterous Jays flying back and forth together. Little was heard from Nuthatch, but there was a Buzzard flying over and calling to another at the top of a tree.
Throughout our walk there were occasional bumblebees busily in search of pollen and nectar and a few queens still searching for nesting sites. Those we saw were mostly White-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lucorum or Buff-tailed Bumblebee Bombus terrestris, but there were also some Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus pratorum. One Brimstone Butterfly Gonepteryx rhamni sped away from us along the ditches.
There has been plenty of woodland management work during the winter, with Ash Fraxinus excelsior trees at risk of falling being removed near paths, and their timber and logs either waiting to be removed or laid to rot down as useful deadwood for use by invertebrates. At a few points we could see standing ‘deadwood’ well away from the paths: trees in decline left to provide nest holes for bats and birds and soft rot for saproxylic beetles to use. Already there had been new plantings of trees and shrubs to take the place of felled and fallen trees. Some Pedunculate Oaks Quercus robur had been planted by volunteers, from acorns grown-on from this Wood. Oaks tend not to regenerate naturally within the closed spaces of established woodlands.
It was flowers that had taken most of our attention, because April to June is probably the best time to see these in ancient woodlands. But they were set against the character of all of Linford Wood, which varies from compartment to compartment, and has the grandeur of a woodland that is over 700 years old.
Sunday 12 December – Caldecotte Lake – 11 participants
Weather mild and cloudy, then some rain (which did not stop us), followed by sun later.
We did a complete circuit of the lake at a slow pace, taking 3 hours, including stops to look at things.
We saw a cormorant colony in the trees, Canada Geese and one Greylag, Swans, Little Egrets, Grey Heron, gulls including Black-headed, coot, moorhen, mallard (the only ducks), Little Grebe (10) and a Great Crested Grebe. A juvenile Great Northern Diver was present but not showing well. I saw it myself briefly for a second, before I it dived, and I could not relocate it. Also, Julian got a very distant photograph of it with his new large lens. I was hoping to show it to everyone, but the bird decided otherwise.
Passerines seen were Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed tits, Goldfinch, Song Thrush (2), Robin, Blackbird – and a Cetti’s Warbler calling.
A swan had come to grief after hitting the Bletcham Way road bridge. Nothing is wasted – the unfortunate death of the swan was a bonanza for a fox which had a few days of easy dinners. There was just enough for Sunday’s dinner. On Monday morning, all that would be left following the unfortunate accident would be the skeleton bones.
We also saw several Spindle trees with red ripe fruit.
The walk was enjoyed by all.
Sunday 16 January – Tongwell Lake – 17 participants
A very nice walk on a sunny winter’s day.
Tongwell Lake is a good place to see Goosander, and we saw 6 male and 3 female. There were many other birds too: Pochard (pair), Wigeon (3), Shoveler (pair), Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose (1), swan, Moorhen, Coot, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Great Crested Grebe, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull (1) and a Water Rail was heard.
Passerines – Redpoll (3 in a tree), Dunnock, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Blackbird. Robin, Goldcrest, Grey Wagtail, Siskin, Carrion Crow. Also a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming on top of a lamp post, and a Red Kite.
There was an attractive Portugal Laurel nearby one of the houses around the lake.
Sunday 6 February – Ouse Valley Park and Floodplain Forest Nature Reserve, Old Wolverton – 20 participants
After 2 hours of heavy rain, 20 hardy participants turned up at Manor Farm at 10.30. We first walked down to Holy Trinity Church to view the snowdrops. In the churchyard was a lovely Cedar of Lebanon tree. We also saw two active badger setts.
On the Floodplain we found Goosander (pair), Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Moorhen, Coot, Black-headed Gull, Cormorant and Little Egret. A large flock of Lapwing was also present. A single Lapwing was seen in perfect plumage, the light showing its green back and red legs to perfection – a sight not often seen. We also saw the Konik ponies which are there to keep the vegetation down.
A peregrine was seen sitting on the side of the waste facility chimney – there is actually a pair which have taken the chimney as their home. They are probably too young to breed yet, and could possibly be from the successful breeding peregrines at Stadium MK, or the Bucks Council office in Aylesbbury. When they are older, they will probably breed, but meanwhile they are defending their home from other peregrines.
The morning finished with a rainbow in an arc against a cloudy background, but it only lasted a minute, gradually vanishing from left to right.
An enjoyable walk, despite the very rough weather.
On the first weekend in March I joined a Naturetrek group for a short trip to the New Forest.
I am very fond of this area as my Grandparents had a thatched cottage and beautiful garden backing on to the forest enclosure in a village called Woodgreen. I have many happy memories from my childhood spent in this area so it was a real joy to go back and be shown some of the special areas for wildlife down there.
We visited areas in the forest itself and also spent a morning down at Keyhaven marshes, situated next to Hurst Castle spit on the Solent, with fine views across to the Needles on the Isle of Wight.
At Keyhaven we saw lots of beautiful ducks in their breeding finery including pintails (lots), teal, gadwall, wigeon and quite a few nice waders. We were hoping for a glimpse of a stray white-tailed eagle ranging across from the island but it was not to be J
The first place we visited in the forest was Acre Wood where we were very excited to see distant but good views of displaying Goshawk. We then went on to several other sites.
But the highlight of the weekend was the next morning when few of us got up early and went back to Acre Wood and much to our delight were treated to a duet by a pair of beautiful lesser spotted woodpeckers (a first for me). We had very good views of both the male and female and came away on a real high – it was difficult to wipe the smiles off our faces when we met the rest of the group for breakfast.
I don’t have a good camera for photographing birds at the moment so didn’t get any good photos but I did take an audio recording of them both drumming which I hope will be of interest:
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 2022 may be just the opportunity for you – see the details below extracted from their email to Recorders. Submission deadline is Monday 14th March.
Full details of the competition and how to enter can be found here.
In December, Irina Tatarenko talked to the Society about the work of the Floodplain Meadow Partnership. She has now sent information on a workshop run by the Partnership about their Snake’s-head Fritillary related activities (counts, publications), and an opportunity to get involved with the project at Cricklade Meadow.
An Online Celebrity Talk, courtesy of BCN Wildlife Trust
Rediscover nature closer to home with an evening with ecologist, natural history presenter and writer Mike Dilger.
Originally scheduled as an in-person event, we have taken the decision to move this talk online due to uncertainty around covid.
We hope this means more people will be able to join us and Mike for an interesting evening on local wildlife, as well as Mike’s personal experience of engaging with nature near him and how it helped him over the past two years.
A recording of Nick Marriner’s talk on Tuesday 1st February 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 recording is in two parts. To move from one part to the next, click on the forward arrow below the video where is says ‘2 recordings’
This is your chance to get involved with helping to run our brilliant Society!
We have lots of new members in the Society and we are hoping that some of you might be prepared to get involved in its smooth running. Anyone would be very welcome to get involved and will receive full support from the committee.
There are currently two positions that we are hoping to fill:
Summer programmer/walks coordinator
Nature Day Coordinator
Summer programme/walks coordinator
After the sad loss of Mary Sarre who kindly organised our summer walks programme for the last five years or so, with the support of her husband Phil, we are now looking for someone (or two people) to take over the role.
This involves organising a meeting at the beginning of the season to plan the locations and the leaders for the summer walks – this meeting is due to take place on 8th March but the person taking over will receive plenty of support from the committee to run the meeting this year. Then follows the collating of the summer programme and ensuring that the walks run smoothly over the summer season. Further details can be found in the MKNHS Guidance Handbook pages 23-24 (which can be found on the website in the dropdown menu under the Home heading).
Nature Day coordinator
We are also looking for someone to organise the Society’s contribution to Nature Day on 2nd July this year. The day takes place at Howe Park Wood, is now run by The Parks Trust and the local Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) and is a really lovely day out for many families in MK. Our Society initially instigated the event in memory of Bernard Frewin, one of our founding members who used to take his barn owl into local schools to show the children. It then morphed into a very successful annual event (part of a week of nature-based activities) so it would be lovely if we could keep up our involvement. We have our Society display boards on show and we also run a nature-based activity for children which has taken various guises over the years such as quizzes on animal poo, tracks and trails, feathers etc.
Nature Day is always such a fun day – very hands-on and great to see families out enjoying themselves together and learning more about wildlife. I have been the main organiser since the start with help from other members but I would now like to hand over the task to someone else who can bring their own creativity and enthusiasm to the role. I have lots of equipment and ready-made activities that I can pass on to get you started.
A recording of Darren Naish’s talk on Tuesday 18th January 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.
In this talk, palaeontologist, naturalist, author and researcher Darren Naish outlines the major and fascinating changes in our understanding of dinosaurs and their behaviour as discussed in detail in his book Dinopedia.
The John Wickham Lecture is held annually in memory of John Wickham who joined the Society shortly after it was founded in 1968 and undertook many roles in support of the Society including responsibility for membership and communication with members, co-ordination of the Hazeley Wood Study Group and as a Vice President of the Society until his death in 2019. John was a passionate naturalist with a particular interest in invertebrates and scientific inquiry, who was always ready to help other members and share his expertise.
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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
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/”