Tag Archives: British Animal Challenge

Wild South’s second foray into retail

After last year’s moderate success selling wildlife photo cards and prints at a craft fair, I decided to do it again.  I’ve been doing my best impression of a candidate on The Apprentice, trying my hand at selling. This doesn’t come naturally to me, but it does give me a good opportunity to talk to people about the wonderful wildlife we have. and raise money for Surrey Dormouse Group.

As Lord/His Eminence/Sir Alan Sugar advises his candidates, I tried to ‘smell what sells’ based on last year’s experience. This meant a few changes:

  • British wildlife sold much better than my more exotic pictures, so I decided to focus on that
  • Several people suggested that I should do a calendar, so, after in-depth consumer research (AKA asking my Facebook friends for their views) I put one together with a mix of British mammals, birds and insects (listening to the focus group is something that Apprentice teams never seem to do)
  • Packs of cards went well last year, but I hadn’t prepared enough, so this year I put together plenty, and made the ‘packaging’ a little more professional (having a printer that actually prints really helps with this!)

I set myself a target to make enough profit to pay for 11 dormice boxes (which is, completely coincidentally, how many I want to add to my site next year, and just a little above my profit from last year, which went to another charity).

Wild South stall at a craft fair, November 2015
Wild South stall at a craft fair, November 2015

The craft fair went well – I smashed my fundraising target, got lots of compliments, got to chat to some interesting people, and even managed to do some Christmas shopping. The best selling items were the calendars, followed by packs of four British Mammal Cards. Hopefully, thanks to the support of all my customers, a few more dormice will have cosy boxes to nest in next year!

Here are some of the images used in the calendar:

Kestrel stare
Tawny owl in dappled light
Tawny owl in dappled light
Red fox
Water vole
Water vole
blue butterfly
Holly blue butterfly
Red squirrel eating
Red squirrel eating
Bumblebee on yellow flag iris
Bumblebee on yellow flag iris

There are some things you can’t plan…

I’m a planner. I like making detailed plans, based on thorough research. This works for seeing some animals: working out where to go and when, and what to do when you’re there. Others you can’t really plan for –  you need to be lucky.

So far in my British Animal Challenge I have focused on animals I can more or less plan to see. I have done my research, and gone to likely places, (as with water voles) or, even better, joined in surveys to find them (as with newts). Of course, even going to places you know the animal frequents doesn’t guarantee you a sighting (see my water shrew and otter attempts).

But there’s a whole host of creatures who can’t really be pinned down like that. Take, for example, the mole. I can’t plan an expedition to see a mole. It’s going to take luck for me to ever see one. I can look out for molehills, and spend time in likely habitat at the most likely time of year (when youngsters are dispersing), but ultimately it will be down to luck. (I was very jealous when I read FoDrambler’s post about seeing a mole, thanks to a dog – maybe I should get one. Fat Cat would never forgive me!)

When I was looking through my British Animal Challenge list, working out how to see every type of British animal, there were some where my conclusion was I’d just have to spend enough time in the right sort of habitat to eventually see one.

Stoats were like this. They are not particularly rare, and quite widespread, but going out deliberately to see one may be tricky. So I was delighted to get a glimpse of one as it dashed across the road as we drove in Dorset. Stoats, like otters, badgers and weasels, are members of the mustelid family. They have long, thin bodies, and move with the flowing gait that seems unique to mustelids.

My glimpse of stoat reminded me of the value of just spending time in wild places, even if I’m not on a particular mission to see something. You never know what will cross your path.

Scottish Independence and the British Wildlife Challenge

If you live in Britain it can’t have escaped your attention that on Thursday the Scots vote on whether to stay part of the Union, or go it alone.  There’s been a lot written about the implications of a Yes vote, but, til now, one potential consequence has been ignored: what will it mean for the British Animal Challenge?

Scotland contains some of the wildest areas of Britain, including the Highlands and remote islands. It’s home to several species that are not found elsewhere in Britain, and is the best place to see even more. So which species will disappear from my list?

grumpy looking wildcat

Unsurprisingly, the Scottish Wildcat will be crossed off. I love cats of all sorts, but, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t be too disappointed about this. They are very rare and very secretive, making them extremely hard to see. They also look permanently grumpy, so I’m a bit scared of them.

The Cairngorms are the only place in Britain where you can see Reindeer wondering free(ish) (except on Christmas Eve, when you can spot them anywhere in the country, if you’re lucky and you’ve been good).

Highland ponies will also need to come off the list. On a smaller scale, the Orkney Vole will also no longer count as British.

Then there are a whole host of creatures where, although they also live elsewhere in the UK, Scotland is the best place to try and see them. This includes Mountain Hares, Pine Martens, and a lot of different types of whales that can (with luck) be seen from ferries to the remoter islands. While Scottish independence wouldn’t be an excuse to remove them from the list, my task will get trickier.

torpid dormouse
Torpid dormouse

Conversely, there are lots of animals who live in England and / or Wales who can’t be found in the chillier climate of Scotland – dormice, harvest mice, rare reptiles and many types of bats for example.

So, a Yes vote will make my list shorter. Despite that, I hope our Scottish Brethren choose to stay part of Britain. Please don’t abandon us! (Or at least let me set up a small satellite area of Scotland here in southern England, so I can escape the coalition government as well!)

Bats of Nutfield Marsh

Bat detector and ID chartThose of you who’ve been following this blog for a while will know that I’ve set myself the challenge of seeing every species of British animal in the wild. One group that are proving particularly tricky at the moment are bats. There are 16 species of bat resident in the UK, 14 of which live in my home county of Surrey, so it really shouldn’t be that hard. I have a bat detector, an identification chart and an app on my phone that lets me hear recordings of different bats, as played through a heterodyne bat detector. But despite all this, I’m still not making much progress. Lots of bats sound very similar to each other, and live in similar habitats, making distinguishing them hard.

In an effort to deal with this, I thought I’d get some expert help. So Dr C and I went along to a Surrey Wildlife Trust bat walk on Nutfield Marsh, led by someone who knows their bats. It was a beautiful summers day, and the clear skies meant it didn’t get dark til late. A group of around 30 people (including lots of kids) gathered in the car park, watching flocks of ring-necked parakeets. Nutfield Marsh is a nature reserve on the site of former sand pits (not the sort kids play in). It’s now been transformed into a wonderful mix of ponds, lakes, grasslands and woods. Ideal bat habitat, and home to 5 different sorts of bats (Common and Soprano Pipistrelles, Daubenton’s, Serotine and Noctules).

A common pipistrelle bat weighs about the same as a 2p coin
A common pipistrelle bat weighs about the same as a 2p coin

 Armed with bat detectors we wandered round the reserve, and as the dusk deepened we picked up our first bats – common pipistrelles. Common pipistrelles, as their name suggests, are the most widespread and numerous of Britain’s bats. They’re also one of the smallest, weighing the same as a 2p coin.

While it’s always good to see and hear bats, I had already crossed them off my list in May, so I was really hoping to see some new species.

We headed to the largest of the lakes, and waited as the last hint of light faded, hoping to see Daubenton’s bats feeding on the insects that flitted just above the surface of the water. We did see a few more bats, but the detectors revealed them to be common pipistrelles. Eventually, the call of bed could no longer be ignored, and we headed back to the cars.

It was a little disappointing not to see some new bats, but it was very pleasant to take a stroll round Nutfield Marsh in the cool of the evening. It’s inspiring to see how an industrial landscape can be transformed into a haven for wildlife.

British Animal Challenge: April Update

April has been a bit of a mixed month for me in terms of the British Animal Challenge. Still no luck with amphibians (apart from a few tadpoles), despite dreams of giant toads.

The reptiles course I attended will hopefully help me spot lizards and snakes. As late April and early May are meant to be the best times to see reptiles, I had hoped to see some along the 35 miles of South West Coast Path I walked last week. But I didn’t spot a single scale. Maybe the steep hills distracted me.

I did, however, manage to tick one new species off my list: the Exmoor pony. Not the hardest to spot – they’re pretty large compared to most of the species on my list, and not too shy either. But they are limited to a fairly small (and scenic) geographical area.  I’ll write a bit more about them in the next week or so.

So, what are my plans for May? Well, reptiles are top of my list,  trying to put my new knowledge to use. I’m also hoping to do some newt surveying, and maybe have another go at looking for otters and water shrews.