Bat Conservation Effort Continues

The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group began championing the welfare of our local bat populations in 2008/9 when we recognised their need for assistance. A grant was obtained and scores of roosting and hibernation boxes were installed in a wide area of local woodlands by our volunteers. They have provided safe havens for roosting bat species continuously since then. Each year they are all checked by a licenced team and the results recorded in our local data-base and copied to Natural England and the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre.

 

One of the bat hibernation boxes mounted on a woodland tree.

 

Each box is visited annually.

The latest checks undertaken reveal that they are continuing to support our bat populations. Teams of volunteers accompanied by a licenced person visited every location with 3 section ladders to inspect the boxes. It requires a high degree of fitness from each person to carry, assemble and raise the ladder to the required high elevation the boxes are mounted at.

 

Ladders are positioned to be at the right height and standing on stable ground for safe working.

 

Team members carry ladders sections to each box location.

 

One person foots the ladder while another examines the box.

 

Some boxes are found to contain hornets each year and have to be avoided when their presence is detected.

 

This one was sufficiently late in the season when the hornets had become drowsy.

The work also is undertaken within a short time scale to enable all locations to be visited, so several days each week are necessary to complete the activity. Our progress with these checks was complicated by the long period of continuous wet weather that limited the number of dry days available to undertake them. Ladder work to these high levels can be extremely hazardous in wet conditions as well as very uncomfortable to the volunteers. With no advance accuracy in the predictions of the weather forecasters, project days to carry out these visits had to be organised at very short notice when a ‘dry window’ suddenly appeared. Trying to match that with the differing availability of volunteers at short notice proved very difficult but the task was achieved eventually.

With weather conditions so unfavourable to bats we braced ourselves for lower levels of occupation than usual, however we were pleasantly surprised by the number found, probably due to the dry sanctuary and stable environment the boxes provided.

 

Fortunately many boxes contained bats like the one above and were duly recorded.

 

This shows one of the many common pipistrelle bats found roosting peacefully within a box.

 

They are often found in huddled groups either hanging from the roof or clasping the walls.

 

This box like many others showed evidence of frequent use by the number of bat droppings found within.

We continue to expand our conservation effort with an increasing number of boxes and by covering new locations at every opportunity when funding becomes available. Our ambition is to make a significant lasting improvement to their survival prospects despite the shrinking areas of natural habitat they require to sustain them.

 

2019 SNCI Annual Meadow Cut Undertaken

Having rescued the meadow at Pond Lye SNCI from the blackthorn and bramble growth that had virtually destroyed it, we now have the on-going responsibility to maintain it in good condition to encourage back the previous distinctive flora species that earned the site status it holds. This is a massive task for our volunteers with a site so large and takes us a long time to complete. The cut took place in August initially by volunteers with scythes and brush cutters as the anthill punctuated terrain made other methods of cutting difficult.

 

Volunteers tackle meadow edges and anthill terrain with scythes & brush cutters.

 

All cut areas are raked and the hay stacked in piles.

 

Scything between anthills is extremely difficult.

The volunteers worked extremely hard in the large area they covered and we eventually reached a point where we were able to request help from one of our volunteers with a tractor and cutter to tackle the flatter main area of the  meadow which was less affected by the anthills.

 

The arrival of our volunteer tractor driver with his cutter was really welcome.

 

The amount of ground he was able to cover in a short time relieved us of months of work to complete the task by hand.

The progress he made with this was phenomenal and within two weeks the work was completed leaving only the raking up and disposal of the hay and the cutting of the tree lined borders the tractor was unable to reach.

 

The raking of the resulting hay is tackled as quickly as possible to ensure it doesn’t decompose and enrich the meadow soil to the detriment of current flora species.

 

It is a task that is often hard work but is made easier with many hands to help.

 

 Cuttings are heaped into piles and then disposed of on completion.

The borders have now been completed by our brush cutting and scythe operators but the final tidying of the site and hay collection is proving a tediously long job for the volunteers as we are being frustrated by the continuous wet weather over this recent period. We are having to grab every brief dry opportunity and try to marry it with the differing availability days of our volunteers. We are desperately trying to recruit more help to allow us to complete it and move on to the seasonal demands of our many other activities. If anyone is able to help please contact us on our website contact link. Any additional help will be extremely welcome.

Volunteer Historian Required To Aid The River Ouse Project

In our capacity as a Sussex nature conservation group some members of The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group support other similar environmental initiatives. One of these is the River Ouse Project. The organisers of the project need a volunteer to fill a special role and have asked if we can assist them by advertising the vacancy which is described below:-

Volunteer Oral Historian wanted for local project in the River Ouse area.

The River Ouse Project is looking for a volunteer to carry out oral history interviews with local farmers. We have appropriate recording equipment. We will provide a series of leading questions to ask the farmer, but we are looking for someone able to draw the conversation out and get the farmer talking. Useful information often arises outside the set questions. We have a small amount of money to cover travel costs, but no on-going funding.

We don’t require a verbatim transcription of the conversation, but would require a summary of the key points and the whole interview would need to be archived. The oral historian would attend Project Team meetings: currently 10am-12noon four mornings a year in Lindfield.

The River Ouse Project combines botanical surveys of meadows in the upper reaches of the River Ouse with historical land-use research. Documents such as the Tithe Award and Dudley Stamp’s Land Use Survey tell us how the meadow was managed in the mid 1800s and 1930s. By interviewing appropriate farmers we can trace the history into the post war period as well as learning more about how the meadow is currently being managed. Please see our website for more information:

<http://www.sussex.ac.uk/riverouse >  If you are interested please email Margaret Pilkington: m.c.pilkington@sussex.ac.uk

Summer Dormouse Box Checks

We have once again commenced dormouse checks on all boxes and tubes mounted in woodland within our local countryside. Volunteer teams have been undertaking monthly checks on all boxes and records kept. Dormice are rare and even in woodlands where a presence exists they have a patchy distribution. This is thought to be a reflection of either the spasmodic food supply they rely upon or territorial behaviour during the breeding season. Whatever the cause it results in any population being spread thinly and even the best habitats will contain no more than four males per hectare. In the average woodland location detecting dormice often resembles looking for ‘a needle in a haystack’ so patience and an on-going commitment is required.

Our boxes are mounted following the detection of dormice in an initial installation of dormouse investigation tubes. This provides justification for the resulting costly purchase of permanent  boxes. They are mounted in the most lucrative food supply areas within the woodland which have a very mixed habitat and obvious provision of food supplies throughout the season between April and November, as dormice do not normally travel far from their nest. In addition to their favoured hazel nuts, the presence of oak, bramble and honeysuckle are valued sources of food.

 

One of our key team members installing a dormouse box.

Dormice are primarily tree dwellers and it is important that they are able to move from one tree to the next without coming to the ground with a further need to be able to climb between the canopy and the understorey without difficulty. With such demanding requirements it is not surprising that they are scarce, especially with the on-going reduction of suitable natural habitat to sustain them.

 

Regular monthly inspections are undertaken by licenced volunteers.

It is for this reason that we are not daunted by any lack of dormice found in our inspections but instead monitor their presence through the trail of indicators found in food debris and old nest construction. The knowledge of box use in these circumstances is rewarding in its own right as it proves that they are providing a valuable substitute for dwindling tree holes and helping to maintain the endangered population. Our inspections often reveal many other occupants and have included blue tits, great tits and wood mice this year.

 

A wood mouse is discovered in one of the boxes.

 

Sometimes shrews are found.

On occasions we are accompanied by inquisitive Robins who are curious to discover what insects we are disturbing. With many of the boxes containing earwigs, spiders and moths we are able to provide them with delicious snacks and are rewarded by them coming within centimetres of us, with one actually settling on the leg of a volunteer as a box was emptied.

 

A very friendly robin joins our team as we move from box to box.

An additional woodland has been selected for dormouse investigation within our local countryside and 55 tubes have been installed. These are also being checked regularly and if a presence is found will have permanent boxes erected. Permanent boxes are already being provided in another location following some positive results. We hope eventually to have researched all local countryside locations and provided nest boxes wherever we have detected a presence that needs supporting. Detailed records are kept of each box and its location.

 

Every box is examined and if no dormice found cleaned of any unwanted debris.

 

Volunteers are knowledgeable of all requirements and skilfully undertake the inspections.

 

The expertise gained from these regular checks allows them to be performed swiftly and efficiently with minimum disturbance inflicted on any dormouse found.

All this work to erect and monitor dormouse boxes when added to our other meadow, pond, owl, bat and nature reserve initiatives, adds to the overall work load of the group and demands a lot of volunteer time and effort to achieve. This means we are always seeking additional people to help us as we wish to maintain our support for countryside and wildlife to ensure our work makes a difference to their survival.  Anyone interested in helping our effort should contact us through the website link provided.

 

Trevor Beebee Talk Success

The talk given by Trevor Beebee on 29th August at Hurstpierpoint Village Centre was a great success. The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group sponsored evening was well attended and enjoyed by all. A short introduction by the sponsors describing our conservation work was followed by a very descriptive illustrated talk by the author and emeritus professor of evolution behaviour and environment, Trevor Bee. He described the effects that climate change was having on British wildlife and their populations. This talk was fulfilling the group’s continuing ambition of providing eminent speakers to our annual public events to share their knowledge with us and improve our understanding of the natural world. This talk met all our aspirations in this respect and we are very grateful to Trevor that he found time to speak to us.

 

The Chairman, Michael Nailard, introduces the event and describes some of the group’s work.

 

   Trevor Beebee addresses a packed audience.

 

The talk created great interest and prompted many questions afterwards. Trevor is pictured here with the Chairman during the question and answer session.

 

Many people received answers to their raised queries which demonstrated the public concern about nature and wildlife.

 

Trevor pictured with the Chairman afterwards following an expression of The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group’s gratitude for his attendance.

 

The difficulties of the natural environment’s struggle to overcome adversity were aptly depicted by a newspaper’s cartoon as a conclusion to Trevor’s talk.