Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Behind the scenes...

Last Friday, Gatwick was officially presented with the Biodiversity Benchmark Award from The Wildlife Trusts. It resulted in a rare gathering of all the main players behind Gatwick's biodiversity project. Here's a run down of the key organisations involved, a sort of extended version of 'who we are':

On Friday Tom Simpson led the walk through Upper Picketts Wood, demonstrating the coppicing works which have been carried out by Gatwick staff along with external volunteers

Steve Bates Photography
(Part of the Sussex Wildlife Trust and funded by the Airport and local authorities)
Represented by Peter Crawford, Kevin Lerwill, Tom Forward and Tom Simpson, GGP educates and engages the local community through coordinating conservation tasks, forest schools and bushcraft, wildlife walks and events. They have been working in and around Gatwick under various different names for over 20 years and in 2014 alone 45 task days were run, totaling about 351 volunteers! A melting pot of practical abilities and local wildlife knowledge (plus of course dashing good looks), these guys happen to be the first people I volunteered with after graduating back in 2009. 

Gatwick's first official Bee Hotel, now complete and open for business in Ashley's Field

The central charity which works hard to promote wildlife awareness throughout the UK, linking up our landscape via 47 different regional Wildlife Trusts. The charity is responsible for giving out the country's only exclusively biodiversity-centered business award. Peter Dorans is the Benchmark Manager who traveled all the way from Nottinghamshire to visit Gatwick and present us with the certificate. He tells me that since the award system was set up, there are now collectively over 9,000 hectares of land managed by businesses for wildlife. Now I might have misheard, but I think that is the equivalent of all the wildlife reserve land put together in a large county such as Sussex!
Ashley's Field: part of a green hay strewing project to increase botanical diversity
(Steve Bates Photography)

Martyn Cooke of Surrey Bat Group, James Webster and Phil Milham of JSA, heckling at the back
(Steve Bates Photography)

JS Agriculture and Landscape Group 
These are the specialist grounds maintenance contractors (and my employers) who manage Gatwick's landscape both airside and landside. They carry out work in huge grass areas, shrub and flower borders, trees, hedgerows and footpath maintenance, all in an ecologically sensitive manner. With the kit and the know-how, they carry out heavier habitat works such as hay-cutting the River Mole grasslands, chainsawing and brushcutting plus transporting materials to and from our sites. James Webster is the fella who originally set up the Biodiversity Action Plans for Gatwick; now working for Ecology and Habitat Management Ltd, he consults in biodiversity at other airports as well as with us.

Tom Simpson, myself, Peter Dorans of The Wildlife Trusts, Ian Chalk and Hannah Deacon
 of Gatwick Airport Ltd (Steve Bates Photography)

Ian and Hannah (pictured above on the right) along with others on their team, oversee our biodiversity project and this work comes under Gatwick's many other environmental commitments. Their team's knowledge of the airport operations and business, plus their enthusiasm and commitment to the local environment helps our project to run smoothly, ensuring we maintain a tight ship. These guys work really hard for the airport and along with Gatwick's Communications, their department has been great at backing what we do.

The Gatsbee Hives (Steve Bates Photography)

(Steve Bates Photography)

Gatsbee honey with Gill's handmade labels
The Gatsbees
A small collection of bee hives were installed in Ashley's Field in early 2014, to be maintained and monitored by local mentor Gillian Sentinella of  Central Sussex Beekeepers Association. Tom Simpson and myself are Gill's avid students, learning about 'natural beekeeping' and maintaining colonies in balanced harmony with the surrounding environment. We hope to register in the near future as a Sentinel Apiary for monitoring Honey Bee health, watching out for pests, invasive species and other environmental concerns which Honey Bees can act as indicators for. We do take a little of the honey now and then but without overly depleting their hard-earned stores!

(Steve Bates Photography)

Although not everyone could make it on the day, it was great to have this fantastic bunch get together and share in the achievement over a generous amount of food, drink and honey tasting.

We would also like to say a special 'thank you' to the Parson's Pig pub on the Balcombe Road, who in the threat of stormy weather came to our aid providing last minute shelter for mingling and refreshments. The pub has a lovely homely atmosphere and they even lit the fire for us especially! You guys rock.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

New Year's Day species hunt at Tablehurst Farm

The morning after a mellow-night-before (seeing in the New Year with board games and great mates), it was a splash of water on the face and a savored moment while sliding my feet into pure, unadulterated, virginal cotton socks... You know your 20's are nearly done when the best thing about Christmas holidays are board games and socks.

Beginning the route at Tablehurst Farm

I then dragged the warm wax jacket from the sofa and snatched mum Sue from the peg over the radiator, rushing out the door to the countryside of Forest Row. We were headed over to Tablehurst Farm (about 10 miles from Gatwick as the crow flies) in order to meet the Forest Row Natural History Group.

Led by Brad Scott and Tom Forward (of Gatwick Greenspace Partnership fame), this keen bunch of amateurs and enthusiasts explore and record as much wildlife as is possible around their local patch. Through a combined effort, this determined gang hope to get to 1000 species in this 1km square by the end of 2015. I look forward to watching their progress as the year goes on and joining in with my small contributions where I can!

Violet Bramble Rust (Phragmidium violaceum)

Underside of the same Bramble leaves showing the fruiting body of this rust fungus

Checking along the verges and hedgerows

There were plenty of botanical niceties to be found, and once properly identified the records will be shared with the Botanical Society as part of their 2015 New Year Plant Hunt.

Specimens found in the margin of arable fields

While Tom led on listing bird and tree species, Brad was checking out the beautiful variety of mosses, lichens and ferns found in the woodlands...

The spikey moss in the background is Orthotrichum affine 
growing next to a liverwort (Metzgeria furcata

Fissidens taxifolius - a moss

Soft-shield Fern (Polystichum setiferum), recognised by the pointy-tipped pinnules 
and by the fact that the 'thumb' of the pinnule pretty much covers the pinna midrib. 
(Photo and description by Brad Scott)

I had a quick mooch about in some log piles to see what was lurking within the rotting wood. Quite a lot as it turns out, much which was beyond my identification capabilities, but here are some tentative idents....

Black Snail Beetle (Silpha atrata) along with a Flat-backed Millipede (Polydesmus angustus)

A species of keeled slug, likely Limax maculatus

Common Rough Woodlouse (Porcellio scaber)

Not many mammals are out and about in the day, but they still leave their calling cards...

Likely the jaw bone of a Fallow Deer (Dama dama)

European Badger poop (Meles meles)

Tamworth x Gloucester Old Spot? 
Some lovely looking pigs, but introduced by humans so not counted as a record

In the end Mr Forward got to a respectable 29 bird species with the eventual addition of Moorhen, Mute Swan and Goldcrest (he refused to record the Feral Pigeon resident in a nearby dovecot as they were being sustained by supplementary feeding, therefore are not naturalised). 
   At 4pm the light was pretty much gone, so it was out of pure necessity that we continued our species indentifcations at the local pub.

Flashing our nature guides... Gonna need a bigger table

We got a wee bit told off by the bar staff for spreading out our extensive collection of mosses, ferns, fungi, lichens and live invertebrates. Still, they should be glad we didn't need to further examine that Badger poop...
   Still lots of 'detting' to be done of plants and mosses, but Brad reckons we will easily pass the 200 species mark!