Sunday, 30 October 2016

Still searching for Micromouse

We have conducted 3 consecutive seasons of mammal surveying now, targeting Harvest Mice for the Surrey Mammal Group genetics study. I can only describe the feeling as 'incredibly disappointed' when you do finally capture one of your target species, then it perishes on the survey.

Eurasian Harvest Mouse (Micromys minutus), deceased adult male

Ecological surveys help us to target our conservation efforts, providing important data for reports such as the State of Nature. We do not wish to put animals through undue stress, and it was unclear why this individual died in the Longworth trap. As per the best practice protocols, traps were generously stocked with bedding, food, sources of moisture and checked within the regulated times. Harvest Mice do however have very short life spans, so it could be this individual was just reaching the end of his natural life. 

And so, after this one and only capture of a micro-mouse plus several discussions with other Harvest Mouse surveyors, these are the things I have learned:

1. Harvest Mice are difficult to survey, despite finding plenty of nests on our site. The fluctuating weather, changing habitat use and population crashes could all be impacting on our struggle to catch these little critters.

2. Despite this unfortunate mortality, Harvest Mice are fairly resilient; after speaking with other surveyors it seems very few casualties occur with Longworth traps. The overnight temperatures were above the minimum recommended for surveys, so cold was unlikely to be a factor, but we still took the precaution of providing extra insulation for the traps.

Longworth trap on stand with bubble wrap plus layers of grass

3. Wood Mice are relentless. I've seen more Wood Mice this year than craneflies. Their adaptability and climbing skills are to be commended, and they are certainly not deterred by the experience of temporary captivity! In fact, they mostly seem to find the traps before the other mammals can get a look in...

4. Shrews are awesome and sometimes I wish we were studying Shrews instead.

Lucy Groves, keeper at British Wildlife Centre with a Pygmy Shrew

Shrews love these castors (fly pupae)

5. Tube traps are a faff and take about 3 times longer to clean than Longworth traps.

6. On this survey, the average occupancy of Longworth traps was 49.71% whereas tube traps were 42.33% 

Collating trap data

Adrian Ashley is a handy chap to know - he's both an ecologist and a bespoke jeweller! He has kindly serviced the Longworth trap mechanisms which were not working so well.

7. Traps stands can definitely help to reduce the number of Common Shrew captures, but do not deter Wood Mice one little bit!

Tom Simpson often raids the set of vampire films for us 

Traps off the ground are more likely to tempt in Harvest Mice and appeal less to Common Shrews

8. Let the record stand that Martyn Cooke has still never seen a live Harvest Mouse in the wild.

Our survey data ends up in 3 places; on the internal Gatwick database, online on iRecord (which feeds into the National Biodiversity Network Gateway), and with the Surrey and Sussex Mammal Groups. We will be discussing the merits of continuing these surveys and any new approaches we might take next year.

Below are a few of our mammal records from the past 2 weeks (photos by Martyn Cooke):

Pygmy Shrew (Sorex minutus)

Bank Vole (Myodes glareolus)

Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

Surprise! Not a mammal: Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)

A huge thanks to all who have helped out these past two weeks of surveys, and to Jim, Lucy and Laurie for all your advice.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Summer summary: 2016

I've really dropped the ball on blogging this season, so this is a round-up of our busiest summer yet on the project.

   Firstly. some BIG news....

We did it!!

Gatwick Airport Ltd has won the 'Client Award' catergory in the CIRIA BIG Biodiversity Challenge. Our biodiversity project has been running for 4 years now, with thanks to great support from key people and various departments at Gatwick, plus the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership. The CIRIA certificate is another brilliant collaborative milestone and sits nicely alongside The Wildlife Trust's Biodiversity Benchmark Award, which we continually work to uphold.

Hannah Deacon, myself and Tom Simpson

The organisation CIRIA firmly believes that the construction industry, business and infrastructure can all do their part in preserving the UK's biodiversity. In the midst of unprecedented species decline and the loss of British countryside, this is becoming of vital importance in conservation.

Betony in flower along the River Mole, North West Zone (July 2016)

Summer conservation and habitat works:

We are incredibly grateful to all of our volunteers who have visited the sites and got stuck in this summer, as without you we would not have half a project! We've spent days with local businesses and Gatwick staff controlling Himalayan Balsam along rivers, managing glades in ancient woodlands and helping to fortify the woodland footpaths.

Himalayan Balsam flying through the air

Working along the River Mole in Gatwick Airport's North West Zone

Kevin Lerwill's regular team of Gatwick Greenspace volunteers make a great contribution to our sites, along with Tom's regular helpers, Harry and Robert, who are incredibly helpful on more technical tasks. Here they have installed a shiny new biodiversity information board, over at the Land East of the Railway Line.

Under no circumstances may we put any staples for posters in the new oak frames


At the North Terminal Staff Memorial Garden; our pollinator friendly plants are filling out the spaces nicely, with signposts in place displaying information about each plant. Next year we will begin recording the pollinating insects here for the Sussex University LASI 'Plants for pollinators' study!

Jubilee Staff Memorial Garden - planting for pollinators

Tom Simpson with Sussex Wildlife Trust conservation trainee Bruno

Bumblebee on Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum)

Ecological monitoring:

Two new surveys conducted this year were clearwing moths and Purple Emperor Butterflies. Clearwing moths can be tracked down with the use of specific pheromone lures, which we bought from Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies.

Our first crack at using clearwing moth pheromones

It was rather challenging to even find a sunny afternoon in June and July! After a few attemps, our work experience placement student Ellie was our lucky charm and behold, after just 5 minutes the Sallow Clearwing Moth did appear!

This tiny moth is a very scarce (Nationally notable B) and likely under-recorded species. At first glance it looks like an ichneumonoid wasp...

Sallow Clearwing Moth (Synanthedon flaviventris

We had no joy trying to tempt down Purple Emperor Butterflies from Oak canopies, despite using some incredibly stinky shrimp paste (apparently the males love to feed on noxious substances). However, with keen-eyed ecology volunteers like Ellie and Ryan, you don't always need a lure...

A White Admiral perhaps? But we can just make out two tiny eyespots... 

Thanks to Ryan's netting skills (and a local resident for supplying an extendable pole and gaffer-tape), we were able to get a closer look to confirm our identification...

Large indicative eye spot on the underside of the upper wing

Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) female, one of Britain's biggest butterfly species

This is another fantastic record for the airport! Finger crossed that next year we hope to photograph the male.

Happy surveyors

Not only have we had new invertebrate species this year, but vertebrates too! Our very first Slow-worm has turned up in the Land East of the Railway Line. This is a bit of a landmark moment, as in over 4 years of continuous monitoring the only reptile species recorded at Gatwick has been Grass Snakes. Wildlife photographer David Plummer visited our site last week, turned over the first reptile mat he came to and found a new species!

A coppery flash...

Slow-worms are neither worms, nor particularly slow! I've seen this little lady hanging around a few times since now; each time she nipped off quicker than I could get a picture...

Slow-worm (Anguis fragilis) 'The Flash', eventually caught yesterday by myself and Ellie

Back to Gatwick's Grass Snakes, and we've had good results on our surveys this year, with several more sightings of these incredible melanistic (all black) specimens...

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) melanistic form

Juvenile with the barest hint of a yellow collar, but otherwise entirely black.

The DNA samples we collect will be sent off to Bangor University for further analysis. Their study will be looking at relatedness of unusually coloured Grass Snake to other populations around the UK and the European sub-species.

Martyn Cooke of Surrey Bat Group has also sent off samples for DNA testing, from droppings collected at the bat roost in Charlwood Park Farmhouse. He was able to confirm they are Whiskered Bats (Myotis mystacinus), which are one of several species we've been detecting along the River Mole corridor.

Sleepy Brown Long-eared Bat (Plecotus auritus) waits patiently while having his box cleaned out

After our final bat box checks for 2016 (I think we now have around 75 boxes in total), we have confirmed Brown Long-eareds, Common Pipistrelle and Soprano Pipistrelle all in residence.

Ellie and Ryan on a beewalk survey along the River Mole

Rina Quinlan assisting on our reptile surveys

Tom Forward and Ellie on our breeding bird survey

We've hosted a wildlife week, a wildlife day, monitored a whole suite of protected species, recorded declining invertebrates, conducted ecology training courses and natural history group meetings, with many experts giving up their valuable time to help uncover Gatwick's diversity of species. As we go into autumn the work doesn't stop, with more ecological monitoring and habitat works yet to come!

A final big thank you to Royal Holloway University Ecology placement student Ellie Stradling for all her time, commitment and wildlife charming skills this past summer. Please come back again soon!

Ellie and a Southern Hawker Dragonfly (Aeshna cyanea)

Friday, 5 August 2016

Plants for pollinators

Pollinating insects are incredibly important to our well-being, as are places where people can go outdoors and connect with nature. We felt that the Memorial Garden at Jubilee House could do with a little TLC, so we put a shout-out on the internal communication network for Gatwick staff to come and join in with a gardening day. 
The memorial garden is a space dedicated to Kevin Ayling, Jamie Cadman and Glen Browning, and we hope they would approve of their new pollinator friendly plants.
Specially selected plants for our citizen science project

With help from Professor Ratnieks at Sussex University and Tom S and Kevin at Gatwick Greenspace Partnership, we managed to get over 200 new plants on site for Wednesday, ready to go!

The next morning it was down to business......we made great progress, fuelled by Katherine's homemade flapjacks and some complimentary coffees from the Charlton House restaurant. We removed the non-flowering shrubs, retaining what we could and giving some away for rehoming. 

Photo by Wendy Crowhurst

The top layer of gravel was scraped off and new plots marked out, then each plot dug over...

The hardest part complete, it was just before lunchtime when the first plants went in...

Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina)

Photo by Wendy Crowhurst

Professor Ratnieks provided us with a selection of posters, each containing useful information on each type of bee-friendly plant. These will eventually go on display in the flower beds.

Time for a wee break for lunch (and a chance for some Gatwick honey tasting!) 

Back to work; more plants going in, with a number of staff nipping over to help out in between their meetings...

Its really coming together now, and a few people who helped earlier in the morning were able to pop back out and help us with the final push...

As we finished up, the office staff had to down their tools to dash off for their finals meetings. The rest of us pottered around a little bit longer, collecting up spare pots, watering everything in...

Once these plants get growing, they will really fill out the spaces in these beds. As the flowers come into bloom, we will be observing which of the plants attract the most pollinators.

There are still a few finishing touches to implement, such as installing edging boards and staking out the colourful posters, so on Thursday August 11th we are holding another task day in this space. If any staff wanted to pop along again on lunch break to lend us a few minutes, you are most welcome! Just contact myself or Tom through this blog.


Many thanks to Charlton House, Glendale Landscaping Services, the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership, our volunteers and all of the Gatwick Airport Ltd staff who have helped make this project happen at very short notice. Now we can look forward to seeing it bloom!

Our final list of bee-friendly plants:
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Buddleia (Buddleia davidii)
Catmint (Nepeta sp.)
Dahlia Bishop of Llandaff (Dahlia sp.)
Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica)
Helenium Sahin’s Early Flowerer (Helenium sp.)
Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum)
Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantia)
Lavender (Lavandula x intermedia)
Marjoram (Origanum vulgare)
Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
Sunflower Lemon queen (Helianthus annuus)
Verbena (Verbena bonariensis)
Wallflower ‘Bowles Mauve’ (Erysimum linifolium)