Election focus: Marine Protected Areas

We’re an island nation. The seas surrounding us help to give us our identity, provide food, power and recreation for many of us. They’re also an important ecosystem. For example, British seas are home to half the world’s population of grey seals. But for a long time, this ecosystem has been unprotected against damaging activities such as scallop dredging and bottom trawling.

One of the two main campaigning areas for the Wildlife Trusts this election is calling for more Marine Protected Areas. These are recognised areas of sea where damaging activities are not allowed. They help wildlife to recover from decades of industrial fishing. So far there are 27 Marine Protected Areas in English waters, and 30 in Scottish waters. The Wildlife Trusts have identified many more sites of ecological importance that they believe should be protected, covering all the different types of marine habitat and species found around the UK. Restoring our fisheries through this approach could bring economic benefits of up to £1.4bn a year, as well as the non-financial benefits of improving our environment, and protecting our wildlife.

This election focus post explores what the political parties’ views are on this, although it’s limited by most of them not having much to say on the topic. Where I wasn’t able to find information on their websites, I emailed to ask them for their views. Only the SNP have replied with information so far. If I hear back from any of the others I will update this post.

Conservatives

I can’t find anything about this on their website, and they replied saying they haven’t announced a data for the release of their manifesto yet. But the recent budget did announce the creation of the world’s largest marine reserve around the Pitcairn Islands, which are UK Overseas Territory in the South Pacific. What they would do closer to home is less clear.

Labour

I haven’t been able to find any election promises about this from the Labour party, but last year Angela Smith MP, Labour’s Shadow Water and Animal Welfare Minister, responding to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on Marine Protected Areas, said:

“The Labour Party recognises there are significant pressures on the marine environment around the UK. In Government we committed the UK to establishing an ambitious ecologically coherent and well-managed network of marine protected areas, including new powers to designate Marine Conservation Zones in UK waters.

“Yet after four years of mismanagement and total lack of commitment under this Tory-led Government the future of the Marine Coastal Zones now look extremely uncertain.”

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats are promising a Nature Bill, if they get into power. This includes ambitious proposals for two further tranches of Marine Conservations Zones in English seas by 2015-2016.

As part of the Coalition government they may well claim some of the credit for creating the Pitcairn Marine Protected Area.

UKIP

UKIP don’t say anything about Marine Protected Areas on their website, and said their manifesto hasn’t been finalised yet. The only related thing I could find on their website is “Foreign trawlers would have to apply for and purchase fishing permits to fish British waters when fish stocks have returned to sustainable levels.” But they don’t say how they would help fish stocks to return to sustainable levels, and whether British trawlers will be restricted in any way. From an environmental point of view it doesn’t really matter which nationality the damage is being done by…

The Greens

The Green Party will continue to work within existing legislation to fully implement a large-scale, ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) within the UK’s seas as soon as possible. As part of this network, 30% of the UK’s exclusive economic zone should be established as no-take reserves closed to commercial fishing and other extractive activities. These reserves should be properly representative, and always include at least 30 percent of the most productive and sensitive areas, such as spawning grounds. These proposals would be developed in collaboration with scientists, the public and stakeholders. The boundaries and existence of such reserves would be open to periodic renewal.

Increasing the protection of Britain’s seas will be beneficial to the fishing community in the long term, as stocks increase and profitable species start to return in high numbers. However, the Green Party recognises that in the short term fishermen may face difficulties. We would seek to enable a just transition for the local fishing community, and would work with them to ensure that the creation of MPAs, and particularly no-take marine reserves, do not damage their livelihoods.

Internationally, the Green Party would promote the establishment of a large-scale comprehensive system of MPAs in seas outside of national jurisdiction. Additionally we would support and encourage other nations looking to establish MPAs within their own waters. Globally, we will advocate high levels of protection, with 30% of the world’s oceans completely closed to extractive activities, and with a shift away from large-scale industrial fishing to locally-based sustainable models.

Scottish Nationalist Party

The Scottish Government recognises that the marine environment and wealth of industries reliant on it are hugely important and should be carefully maintained and developed. Cleanliness, safety, productivity, diversity and sustainability are key objectives for Marine Scotland and are borne in mind as stewardship of Scotland’s seas is undertaken.

Marine Scotland has compiled their tripartite Nature Conservation Strategy (NCS) which outlines how the protection of marine biodiversity can be ensured. The three pillar approach of the NCS can be broken down into:

  • Species Conservation
  • Site Protection
  • Wider seas policies and measures

A National Marine Plan was laid before the Scottish parliament in December 2014. It sets out the Scottish Governments vision for the marine environment and its sustainable development. The plan sets out social and economic policies as well as climate change and marine ecosystem objectives and is set to cover Scotland’s sea out to 200 nautical miles.

The Plan includes policies for the sustainable growth of fishing, aquaculture, salmon and migratory fish, oil and gas, carbon capture and storage, offshore wind and marine renewable energy, recreation and tourism, shipping, ports, harbours and ferries, submarine cables, defence, aggregates.

The National Marine Plan will introduce a single framework to manage all activity in Scottish waters and provide clarity to developers and decision makers on Scotland’s priorities for sustainable use of the sea. Our seas are a vast and vital natural resource which provide energy, food and recreation, this plan will ensure it remains a prized asset for future generations. This is an important step towards achieving sustainable growth and protection of the environment.

Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead, commented “Scotland’s rich seas are of huge economic and environmental importance. The seas bring a vast array of benefits not only in terms of the importance of scenery and wildlife – but also the economic gains through industry, the contribution to food and energy security and the provision of a wide range of goods and services. Protection of our marine environment is at the heart of Scotland’s first national marine plan”.

Plaid Cymru

I haven’t been able to find anything relevant on their website, and they have not yet replied to my email (other than to say they’ve forwarded it to the relevant person, who is very busy). I will update this when I hear more.

Conclusion

It was quite hard to find information about this from some of the parties, which may be indicative of the importance they give to this issue. One way to try and get it higher up the agenda would be to get involved:

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Dormouse box cleaning at my new site

I woke up really early on Saturday, I was so excited about checking and cleaning the dormouse boxes at my new site. It’s the first box check I’ve done since getting my licence at the end of last year, and the first one I’ve led.  And I don’t know the site that well.

I dreamt that we found a box with five placid, fat dormice. Sadly reality didn’t quite live up to this – all the dormice at my site seem to be hibernating still. (Elsewhere in Surrey one of my fellow dormousers found three, including a chubby 25g male – that’s a good pre-hibernation weight, let alone for one just emerging from hibernation!) But we did find one common shrew, which we quickly let go to find its next meal.

Our main task was to get rid of the manky old nests from boxes, with lots of woodmice or bird droppings, so they’re fresh and clean for when the dormice are active. No signs of any new bird or dormouse nests yet. I was pleased that we were able to find all the boxes – the map I’ve inherited is clear and accurate, which always helps.

In addition to the spring cleaning we had 10 new nest boxes to put up. Luckily I had the assistance of some very helpful volunteers, so we got through all the work in a reasonable time. We managed to find some likely looking hazel stands to put them up on just across the track from the other boxes, so with any luck we will be able to find them again next month. And if we find any dormice in them, we’ll be able to feel a quiet glow of satisfaction that we helped provide the basis of a good home for them.

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How to use a mammal footprint tunnel

It may only be March, but the hedgehogs are already out and about in my garden. So I thought it was time to dust off the mammal footprint tunnel again. These are simple plastic tunnels that contain some tempting food, inkpads and paper, so when a mammal comes to investigate the food, they leave inky footprints behind. Here’s how to set one up.

What you need:

What you need to set up a footprint tunnel: tunnel, tracking plate, tasty food, masking tape, vegetable oil, black poster paint powder, something to mix the paint in, A4 paper, paper clips, tent pegs, footprint guide
What you need to set up a footprint tunnel: tunnel, tracking plate, tasty food, masking tape, vegetable oil, black poster paint powder, something to mix the paint in, A4 paper, paper clips, tent pegs, footprint guide
  1. A plastic footprint tunnel, big enough for your target animal to fit through
  2. A tracking plate (a simple sheet of stiff plastic that you put the bait, ink and paper on, and insert in the tunnel)
  3. Something tasty (see below for some ideas)
  4. Wide masking tape
  5. Black poster paint powder
  6. Vegetable oil
  7. Two sheets of A4 paper
  8. 8 paper clips
  9. Tent pegs to keep the tunnel in place
  10. Footprint guide

Assemble your tunnel

Insert the tabs into the slots
Insert the tabs into the slots

If you use a flatpack tunnel of the design recommended by the Mammal Society, all you need to do is fold it out, and insert the tabs into the slot – easy.

Get your tracking plate ready

This involves several stages:

  • Paper clip a sheet of A4 paper at each end of the tracking plate.
Put two strips of masking tape on your tracking plate
Put two strips of masking tape on your tracking plate
  • Put two strips of masking tape across the tracking plate, each the distance of just over the length of an A4 sheet of paper from one of the ends of the tracking plate
  • Mix one part black poster paint powder with two parts vegetable oil (I used sunflower oil), so if forms a smooth black ink. This is safe for mammals to lick off their paws, and stays damp for several nights. 1 teaspoon of powder and 2 of oil will be enough for your tunnel for several nights. If you make up more than that, keep the excess in a sealed jar until you need it
  • Apply a layer of ‘ink’ to the two strips of masking tape
Apply your 'ink' to the masking tape strips
Apply your ‘ink’ to the masking tape strips

Site your tunnel

Now pick a good spot to place your tunnel. Next to / under hedges is a good spot (hedgehogs live up to their names), or along a fence or shed, or on the edge of grassland or woodland. I put mine next to a small garden hedge.

Edges of habitat are a good place to site the tunnel. Here's it's between a small hedge and grass.
Edges of habitat are a good place to site the tunnel. Here’s it’s between a small hedge and grass.

Make sure the tunnel is flat on the ground, and use the tent pegs to keep it in place (you’ll need to pierce a hole in the floor of the tunnel for this, but that’s easily done with a pen knife).

Pick your bait

Previously I’ve had good results with dried mealworms that have been soaked in water to rehydrate them. This time I’ve tried experimenting with berry suet pellets (that are sold as bird food), more mealworms, and dried cat food soaked in water. The hedgehogs have hoovered up everything I’ve put out, so I can’t make any recommendations as to which they prefer, but any of those seem to work. You could also try peanuts (of the sort sold as bird food) (I have a nut allergy, so steer clear of these), bits of hotdog sausage, seeds or bits of fruit.

Last year when I was using the tunnel I put the bait directly onto the tracking plate (in the middle, between the two ink pads). The disadvantage of this is that bits of food end up in the ink, which is messy. So this year I’ve taken to putting it in a little ramekin (of the sort posh puddings come in), which has kept things cleaner. The ramekin does tend to get dragged about in the tunnel, but at least I don’t have to pick bits of mealworm from my ink pads.

Insert your tracking plate into the tunnel

Insert your tracking plate into the tunnel
Insert your tracking plate into the tunnel

Insert your tracking plate (complete with bait) into the tunnel, and you’re all set for the night.

The next morning

Check your tunnel by removing the tracking plate. Hopefully anything that’s been eating your bait will have left inky pawprints on the paper. All you need to do then is work out what sort of pawprints they are. This can be tricky with some species, but hedgehog prints are fairly distinctive.

If you do get any mammal pawprints, please do report these data to the National Mammal Atlas Project or use the Mammal Tracker smartphone app.

Don’t be too disheartened if you don’t get hedgehog prints after the first night – they tend to travel about quite a lot each night, and may not visit a particular garden every night.

The next evening

Replace the paper with fresh sheets, put more bait out, and check that there is still plenty of ink (topping up if needed).

What I’ve found

Previously I have had hedgehogs, mice and slugs visiting the tunnel. So far this spring the tunnel has only be used by hedgehogs. Here’s a sample of prints I’ve had this week.

 

Hedgehog pawprints
Hedgehog pawprints

Where to get hold of a mammal tunnel

Wildcare sell an easy-to-use mammal tunnel kit that contains the tunnel, tracking plate, a small amount of black poster paint powder, some pegs and a pawprint guide.

You’ll need to provide your own vegetable oil, paper, paper clips, bait and masking tape.

Alternatively, it would be fairly easy to make your own tunnel, if you happen to have suitable materials lying around.

Bird nerd part 9: finding a home for my data

I’ve been keeping records of the birds that come into my garden since 2010. By now, that’s quite a lot of data. Once a year I get round to entering it into a spreadsheet, and trying to analyse it a bit. But apart from a few posts on my blog, and my own personal interest, the data are not really achieving much. Now I’ve finally found a use for the data, as part of the British Trust for Ornithology’s Garden BirdWatch survey.

I found out about Garden BirdWatch (which is different from the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch that takes place in January each year) at an event organised by the local BTO representative. Members of the BTO, and people like me, who have taken part in previous surveys (Nestbox Challenge, in my case) were invited to hear about the different surveys the BTO run, and a fascinating talk by Ed Drewitt on Urban Peregrines. I’m not a proper ornithologist (mammals are more my thing), so I felt a bit like an imposter at the event, but the Garden BirdWatch does sound like it’s designed to take the sort of data I collect each week.

Garden BirdWatch summary data
Garden BirdWatch summary data

So, I signed up, and have now entered my data back to July last year. I haven’t worked out how to enter my earlier data yet, but I hope this can also be uploaded somehow. Once the data is on the website you can look at summaries of it, although I’m not sure if they go into the level of detail I try to when I analyse my data. But at least it’s now helping researchers to monitor the health of our bird populations.

 

Election focus: climate change

Climate change is probably the single most important issue facing our generation, so we need to make sure that whoever we vote for in May has a good policy for dealing with it. In fact, I’d even go so far to say that this blog post may be one of the most important thing you read this year. But I fear I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this particular issue. The topic for my previous election focus was fairly straightforward: was the party going to continue / increase / end the badger cull? Climate change policy is complex, encompassing a range of issues: targets to reduce carbon emissions, energy policies, adaptation and resilience, transport, energy efficiency, forest loss, and promoting low-energy technologies. In this post I seek to summarise what the main parties (including Plaid Cymru and the SNP) have to say on each of these issues.

The process of researching this post has been quite informative – not just for finding out what the parties’ policies are, but how much they talk about it. My main sources of information for this post are the parties’ own websites. For the Green Party, SNP and Plaid Cymru this was quite straightforward – they had plenty of information on their climate change policies and it was easy to find. There was much less information available on the other parties’ websites. Draw your own conclusions from that…  In fact, I was unable to find anything about it on the Conservative Party website (it doesn’t help that they don’t have a search function).

I contacted the press offices of the parties I was unable to find sufficient information for, but have yet to hear back from them. I will update this post if and when I do hear anything. My other source of information was the very helpful Vote for Policies website, which contains information about all the parties’ policies on a whole range of issues – please do visit it. So, if it looks like I’m giving more coverage to some parties than others on this topic, it’s not because I’m biased (although I am), it’s because some parties have more to say on this issue than others.

Carbon emissions targets

The Conservatives say they will continue to cut emissions (although I was unable to find out how much by, which is pretty important). They also say they will work to secure a global climate change agreement, although what they hope this agreement will include is unclear.

Labour say they will stick to ambitious, legally binding targets for carbon reduction – including the full implementation of carbon budgets. This includes the target of decarbonising our electricity supply by 2030. They will push for global targets for reducing carbon emissions with regular reviews towards the long-term goal of what the science now tells us is necessary – zero net global emissions in the latter half of this century.

The Lib Dems say they will introduce a Zero Carbon Britain Act to strengthen the Climate Change Act targets, although I was unable to find what the stronger targets will be.

UKIP‘s policy is very different to that of the other politcal parties. They say they will abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change and scrap green subsidies. They will repeal the Climate Change Act 2008 and abolish green taxes and charges in order to reduce fuel bills.

The Greens have a huge amount of information about Climate Change on their website, and what they would do to tackle it. They have clearly thought the issue through in detail, based on science. They say they will take serious action on climate change by working with other countries to ensure global temperatures do not rise beyond 2 degrees. They will aim steadily to reduce all UK greenhouse gas emissions to 10% of their 1990 levels by 2030. They say they will establish effective mechanisms for getting back on track should an annual target be missed.

The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) is aiming for 80 per cent of Scotland’s electricity to be from clean green renewable sources by 2020. Through the Scottish Parliament they have  introduced climate change legislation to reduce emissions by 42% by the end of the decade, with annual targets and a minimum of 80% reduction by 2050.

Plaid Cymru say the National Assembly of Wales has agreed, with cross-party support, to reduce emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. Plaid will work to ensure that this decision is turned into meaningful and effective action to achieve the full reduction. They have established the Climate Change Commission for Wales, and have set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3% per year in areas of devolved competence.

Power generation

The Conservatives say they will invest in low carbon energy, but end public subsidies for newly planned onshore wind farms and reform planning.

Labour say they will decarbonise our electricity supply by 2030 (although I couldn’t find any details on what the mix of renewables and nuclear power will be).

The Lib Dems say they will introduce a decarbonisation target for the electricity sector and end the use of dirty coal power stations. Again, the mix of different renewables and nuclear power is unclear, as is exactly what the decarbonisation target is.

UKIP have provided more detail about their aims for power generation: they support a diverse energy market including coal, nuclear, shale gas, geo-thermal, tidal, solar, conventional gas and oil. They will encourage the re-development of British power stations, as well as industrial units providing on-site power generation. UKIP supports the development of shale gas (fracking) with proper safeguards for the local environment. They say there will be no new subsidies for wind farms and solar arrays.

The Greens say they will phase out fossil-fuel based energy generation and nuclear power, and invest in a public programme of renewable generation.

The SNP claim they have transformed Scotland into a world leader in green energy, with 39 new renewable projects since they came to power and pioneering climate change legislation. Scotland is on track to produce nearly a third of its electricity this year from clean green renewable sources. Under the SNP there will be no new nuclear power stations in Scotland. They want more Scots to live in carbon neutral communities and will continue to support and encourage local and community action on this. The SNP-led Scottish Government has invested heavily in our renewables sector. With 25% of Europe’s wind energy potential, including massive off shore as well as onshore wind power capabilities, a quarter of Europe’s tidal resource, and huge potential from clean coal and carbon capture, the SNP believes there are real economic and employment opportunities for Scotland.

Plaid Cymru say Wales could be self-sustaining in energy generation by 2020. Wales must take full advantage of its renewable energy resources and support micro generation and other small-scale sustainable power generation schemes, including tidal, wave-power, on-shore and off-shore wind, hydro and biomass. They call for emission performance standards for all new power stations and reaffirm their opposition to the construction of any new nuclear power stations in Wales. They call for research into the creation of a European Smart Power Grid for the sharing of renewable energies across Europe. They say they will work to ensure that the new feed-in tariffs encourage community-scale renewable energy.

Adaptation and Resilience

Climate change is happening already, so we need to adapt to it. But you'd hope that the parties that are doing least on preventing climate change (UKIP) would have pretty darn good policies for adapting to the effects of climate change. It doesn't necessarily work that way...

The Conservatives say they will invest £2.3 billion in over 1,400 flood defence schemes between 2015/16 and 2020/21.

Labour say they will prioritise flood prevention and introduce a new climate change adaptation plan to help us properly prepare for the effects of a changing climate.

I was unable to find anything about adaptation and resilience on the Lib Dem, UKIP, Plaid Cymru or SNP websites.

The Greens say they will invest in a public programme of flood defences.

Reducing carbon emissions from transport

The Conservatives, Labour and UKIP seem to have little to say on how they will reduce carbon emissions from transport.

The Lib Dems say they will introduce a Green Transport Act to help establish a full network of charging points for electric cars, incentivise greener travel choices and update planning law and ensure new developments are designed around walking, cycling and public transport.

The Green Party‘s policy website has loads to say on the issue of transport. I can’t put it all in here (this is already my longest post ever), but the jist of it is they will work to reduce demand, improve planning, encourage renewable fuels, encourage walking and cycling, and improve public transport (including taking the railways back under public control).

The SNP say they have reduced the carbon footprint of the Scottish rail network by delivering 218 miles of new electrified track across the country. They have begun major investment in low carbon transport which will be a crucial part of our carbon reduction efforts.

Plaid Cymru say they have scrapped unsustainable plans to build an M4 relief road on environmental and financial grounds.

Energy efficiency

The Conservative party say they will deliver energy efficiency measures to bring down emissions and bills. They don’t state what these measures are (as far as I can find).

Labour say they will improve energy efficiency and insulate at least five million homes over the next ten years.

The Lib Dems say they will introduce a Green Buildings Act to boost renewable and district heating programmes, bring in tough new energy efficiency standards for homes, and step up action on fuel poverty. This includes a national programme to insulate homes with a Council Tax cut if you take part.

UKIP and the SNP seem to be silent on this issue.

The Greens say they will invest in a public programme of building insulation. They say the Government should institute a national publicity campaign on the threats from climate change, the need to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other green house gases, and how individuals can play their part in this.

Plaid Cymru say we all have a responsibility to improve energy efficiency within our homes and to use more renewable energy. Plaid in Westminster will continue to campaign for a windfall tax on energy companies to help pay for grants for insulation for lower income families

Reducing forest loss

The Conservatives and Lib Dems are quiet on this issue (perhaps not surprising, given the Coalition government’s attempts to sell off publicly-owned forests).

Labour say they will protect our forests, keeping them in public ownership, and bring nature closer to people by making public access to green spaces a priority.

UKIP say they will protect the Green Belt, and change planning rules to make it easier to build on brownfield sites instead of greenfield sites.

The Greens have a forestry policy that should lead to net CO2 absorption from land-use changes for several decades. They also say the industrialised nations and multinational companies have profited the most from the cheap timber and pulp, cattle feed, meat and other food imports which result from global deforestation, and must therefore pay the cost of implementing a logging and land conversion moratorium. Trade rules must be changed to ban the international trade in products produced at the expense of old- growth forests.

The SNP say they will plant millions of new trees, protect peatlands and protect and expand our marine carbon sinks as ways of rebalancing Scotland’s carbon account.

Plaid Cymru say they have created and supported indigenous woodlands, with the planting of more than 112,000 trees in Monmouthshire, Gwynedd and Blaenau Gwent.

Investing in low energy technologies

I couldn’t find any information about the Conservatives, Lib Dems, UKIP and Greens policies in relation to investing in low energy technologies (although the Greens probably have that covered in detail somewhere on their policy website – my investigative energies are flagging now, so I didn’t look as hard as I should have).

Labour say they will make Britain a world leader in low carbon technology and green jobs, creating a million new high technology, green jobs by 2025. They will also strengthen the Green Investment Bank with borrowing powers, ensuring it is better placed to support investment in small and medium green businesses seeking to grow.

The SNP say their £10 million Saltire prize for marine energy innovation has made Scotland a focal point for research and deployment of marine renewable technology. With tens of thousands of new jobs expected to be created in the renewable sector within the next decade they are working to build the right skills, attract new investment and ensure Scotland is recognised as the most attractive location in Europe for marine renewables and carbon capture.

Plaid Cymru say they have created the Low Carbon Research Institute which aims to build research capacity and establish Wales as an internationally competitive centre for low carbon research. They have announced a £34 million programme to drive forward cutting-edge research to secure a low carbon future for Wales, create green jobs and help business to develop sustainable products and technologies.

Conclusion

Well done if you’ve made it this far! I can’t overstate how important this issue is. We need a new government who is going to deal with it wisely. Having spent quite a bit of time looking into the varies parties’ policies, some of them have clearly given the issue a lot of thought, while others appear to have been scribbled on the back of a beer mat (or napkin from an upmarket gentleman’s club). I think the difficulty I had in finding a lot of this information reflects that the Conservatives, Labour, UKIP and the Lib Dems don’t think people care enough about it to pick it out as one of their focus areas for the election campaign. We really need to make sure politicians know that we do care, and will cast our vote accordingly.

Beavers a step closer to freedom

This will just be a short post, as I am busy researching my next Election Focus on Climate Change. In the meantime, I wanted to share some good news with you: the Devon beavers have been tested for the terrible disease DEFRA were convinced they would spread, and have been found to not have it.
The beavers are currently being held in captivity by Devon Wildlife Trust while they have a few more health tests, but this latest news means they are a step closer to regaining their freedom on the River Otter.

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Local shop displays support for the Devon beavers

If you are new to the beaver saga, you can catch up on it below:

Beavers back in the wild
Hope for the River Otter beavers
On the trail of wild beavers
Beavers get a reprieve

February 2015 Riversearch

My December Riversearch was uneventful, with little to report. And not much has changed since then. No news is perhaps a good thing – there weren’t any obvious signs of pollution or invasive species (although invasive plants mostly won’t be obvious at this time of year, and I didn’t search for signal crayfish or quagga mussels). And while the river level was quite high (the stepping stones were well covered), it wasn’t flooded.

The River Mole in February
The River Mole in February
Can you spot the stepping stones?
Can you spot the stepping stones?

There were some signs of spring, with a few clumps of snowdrops scattered around, and wild garlic leaves appearing. Bird song filled the air, but the trees are still bare.

Signs of spring - snowdrops
Signs of spring – snowdrops
Signs of spring - catkins
Signs of spring – catkins
Signs of spring - wild garlic leaves
Signs of spring – wild garlic leaves

Given there was so little to report, it’s a bit hard to motivate myself to get round to returning the data. But, even this unexciting result is important to monitoring the health of the River Mole. So I really should send the results back in. And I will. Sometime. Maybe next weekend.

Riversearch has been going for around 18 months now, and they’ve refined the forms we use, to make the paperwork quicker and easier once you’ve done the initial search. (The basic info about a stretch of river doesn’t change that much from month to month – bridges tend not to be too temporary, and land use change is not that rapid).

One of the new things they ask for now is information about the wildlife we see along the way. Now, this is much more to my taste (and skills) than describing the geography of the rivers – rills, bars etc. So, I was pleased to come across some deer prints in the wood by the river. The prints were very small (perhaps muntjac or a small female of a larger type of deer). So, while I don’t have anything exciting to report about the river, at least I can submit the deer print photos, to be added to the county database.

Deer (muntjac?) print
Deer (muntjac?) print

My new dormouse site

Now spring is here, my thoughts have turned to dormice. While it’ll probably be a while yet before they emerge, it’s time to make sure everything is ready for them. I got my dormouse licence at the end of last year, so this is my first season with a site of my own.

In preparation for the annual box clean, I visited my site last week, to work out where it is, and check I can find the boxes. The site is part of an estate owned by the National Trust. There are 30 boxes up at the moment (most dormouse monitoring sites have 50), but there’s only been one box check so far, in early December last year, where several active dormice were found.

My new dormouse site

Apart from dormice, they also get several types of deer (including red deer), foxes, badgers and other woodland mammals. On my recce I saw a woodpecker. The wood is still wearing its winter mourning, so it’s hard to tell what it will be like once the plants begin to wake up again.

A fallen tree marks the edge of my dormouse site
A fallen tree marks the edge of my dormouse site

I am excited, but also a bit nervous about being responsible for a dormouse site. With it being a new site, I’m not sure what to expect. Will there be stinging nettles as tall as me in the summer? Will lots of bumblebees decide dormouse boxes are a great place to nest? Do they get yellow necked mice or just woodmice? Will I see an elusive red deer? What about bluebells and blue tits? I’m looking forward to finding out.