Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Long haul (of lifers)

There is a secret society, an underworld some might say, within ecology. These people can look just like any nature lover you've met before; in fact, you have probably even passed them on the street...
 

There is an easy way to find them out though, as on a warm summer evening twitter feeds will light up with the phrases such as 'good haul!', and 'lifer!' or 'moth bonanza'! These are the moth recorders, and now and then, I join in to live life vicariously as a moth trapper.

Common Bird's-foot Trefoil and Meadow Vetchling, River Mole Grasslands

First off is some sweeping of the vegetation with nets, which turns up a few species which wont come to the light trap. I couldn't believe my luck with I spied this critter in the bottom of my net - an immaculate Six-belted Clearwing Moth (again something I have only ever seen before on other people's twitter feeds!)

Six-belted Clearwing (Bembecia ichneumoniformis
Nationally Scare B. A good mimic of a parasitic wasp

We are lucky to have Jake Everitt leading us; he is the warden at Warnham Local Nature Reserve and has been running moth traps at Gatwick for around 4 years now. It sounds like this was a pretty exceptional summer night along the River Mole, as together he and Laurie Jackson counted 448 of 98 different species.

Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa) - a common but lovely moth


This excellent field guide is the ultimate companion for any mother. (Jake has another guide like this which is devoted specifically to the micromoths!)

Macromoth identification is very visual and doesn't often require a entomological key 
(unlike the micromoths)

Blood-vein (Timandra comae) my personal favourite

Jake's highlights were the 13 Elephant Hawk-moths, 2 Southern Wainscott, the Dotted Fan-foot (a lifer for him) and Nephopterix angustella, which is a rare and distinctive little micro.

Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) Another common species, the caterpillar 
feeds on willowherbs, fuscias and Himalayan Balsam

Ecology student Connor with his new Elephant Hawk pal

A rather poor photo of a Dotted Fan-foot (Macrochilo cribrumalis)
(Nationally Scare B)

I felt pretty guilty that I had to leave at midnight, as Laurie and Jake were still out emptying and packing up the traps after 1.30am! What an incredible time of year to be out though, often I don't even want to go home...

Friday, 2 June 2017

BBC and the Plight of the Long-horneds

On Wednesday, the BBC Natural History Unit were here filming a piece for The One Show about our colony of rare Long-horned Bees, and despite the variable weather, we managed to find them a stonking number of both male and female Eucera longicornis.

Long-horned Bee nesting site, North West Zone (just north of the runway)

Along this section of the River Mole are some decent patches of Meadow Vetchling, where the males can be found nectaring, and a large clay mound, which is one of our main solitary bee nesting sites. We could even see females jostling each other at burrow entrances.

Long-horned Bee (Eucera longicornis) male

Female burrow with fresh excavations

Along this section of the River Mole are some decent patches of Meadow Vetchling, where the males can be found nectaring, and a large clay mound, which is one of our main solitary bee nesting sites. We could even see females jostling each other at burrow entrances.
   The wildlife camera guy Tom had his work cut out though, as these bees are bloomin' hyperactive when the sun is out, then can disappear again in the blink of an eye as clouds roll in!

Wildlife filmmaker Tom Hartwell


This tiny fella is ready for his close-up

My part (if not so terrible that they decide to edit me out), was to carefully handle a male Eucera, holding it by two of the legs in order to avoid damaging him. I said a few things to the presenter George McGavin about them, which I really hope now wasn't a load of woolly crap.
   In any case, what a fantastic opportunity to air the plight of this species, and to show off the support they get here at Gatwick. Perhaps this sort of exposure can galvanize other landowners into looking after their pollinators, as many of these species are truly on the brink.

Entomologist and TV presenter George McGavin, the BBC natural history unit, Stephen from Gatwick Communications, and my coolbox of mysteries


In fact, I dug around online for literature on Eucera longicornis and was really taken aback to hear how rapidly this bee is declining, particularly after reading this worrying report form Cornwall by Kernow Ecology (...around 75% loss of colonies at the important Cornish sites?!! That's truly awful).    

River Mole grassland wildflowers: Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), Grass Vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia), Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis)

Our only other species of Long-horned Bee in the UK, (Eucera nigrescens), is effectively extinct, and there are no guarantees that our longicornis friends will stick around. We already know habitat loss is a huge problem, but there are almost certainly hidden dangers too, such as potential effects of pesticides and fungicides (as being researched by University of Sussex.) 
   

Fortunately here at Gatwick, what we do have is the right habitat and the means to manage it well! The seeded wildflower mix along the River Mole contains an abundance of plants from the Fabaceae and Lamiaceae families, which are hugely important to Eucera, as well as raised banks of bare clay for nesting. .

I hear that the piece might air in 3 weeks or so, but the One Show schedule is very much subject to change. When I find out I'll do a 'heads up' on Twitter.

The plant species we have seen being used as forage by Long-horned Bees at Gatwick include:
Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis)
Grass Vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia)
Common Vetch (Vicia sativa
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
Bugle (Ajuga reptans)
Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
Common Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

Gatwick receives conservation advice for this species from organisations such as Sussex and Surrey Wildlife Trusts, Buglife and BWARS (Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society).

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The other side of the fence

On Tuesday, Rachel and I ventured the other side of the airfield fence at Gatwick, to learn about the important work of the airside operatives; an integral team at the airport which we do not often get to meet. It was a pretty early start, shuttling over to the airside operations building in order to catch the night shift hand-over. We met in the operations briefing room and gave a presentation to the team, explaining our work and the biodiversity project at Gatwick.


We spoke about which species of conservation concern can be found at the aerodrome, and how our staff volunteering programme has grown over the past 4 years. We also explained how the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership helps Gatwick to manage its land-side biodiversity areas without impacting any operations and maintaining a safe environment for people and wildlife. 


The talk seemed to be well received, and for the remainder of the morning we accompanied the bird dispersal unit on their rounds in the yellow ‘ops vehicle’, Leader 5. These guys know the airfield and its operational routines like the back of their hand, and they demonstrated the responsible ways they help birds and aircraft avoid conflict.

A pause at the western end of the taxiway

We learned in particular about the 'Scarecrow' bird dispersal system, which plays species-specific sounds to scare birds away from operational areas. This has been a valuable experience for Rachel and I, to understand the work of airside operations and the management of the airfield habitat.

Katie demonstrates the 'Scarecrow' system

The other great result is that we have been invited back to give further talks to airside teams about conserving Gatwick’s biodiversity, and to offer further opportunities for staff and their families to get involved.

Many thanks to Helen, Katie, Simon and all the Black Watch team for their warm and friendly reception.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Night at the Aviation Museum


I convinced our newt surveying team to push new frontiers on Monday, so it was over the site boundary and into the territory of the Gatwick Aviation Museum (with the curator Ashley's permission of course). Things seemed to start off so well, with a Common Toad vying for the spotlight...




I was at that moment we realised the Clulite torch hadn't actually charged up, and we were going to have to borrow Ashley's spotlight instead, which would suffice for the pools here, but not for the deeper Gatwick ponds...
   I also hadn't realised that my camera was on hybrid mode, so all my rubbish shots are accompanied by banal chat and bad language, sadly capturing none of my usual witticisms.



It was still a productive visit though, as we recorded four amphibian species, including a non-native; what we thought was a Marsh Frog, with its bright green dorsal stripe blending in well with the blanket weed.

Marsh Frog (Rana ridibunda

Our other two species were Common Frog and Smooth Newt. No owls were calling, but I did hear the nocturnal flight calls of some late-season Redwing.

Common Frog (Rana temporaria)


Thanks to Tom F, Rina and Ryan for giving up your evening!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Biodiversity Annual Review 2016

A summary of our annual report on the progress of our biodiversity work at the airport.

HIGHLIGHTS


  • We continued to uphold The Wildlife Trust's Biodiversity Benchmark Award for Gatwick. 
  • Our 1st Gatwick Goes Wild week
  • Our 3rd Gatwick Wildlife Day biological recording event
  • New species for the airport include: Slow Worm, Purple Emperor Butterfly, Stoat, Sallow Clearwing Moth, Nightingale, Lesser Redpoll, Jack Snipe, Peregrine Falcon
  • Gatwick became BIG Biodiversity Challenge Client Award winners
  • Continued engagement of local schools through People & Wildlife Officer
  • 4 Interpretation boards installed
  • A fungus species new to science was discovered in the River Mole Woodlands (Fusicolla melogrammae
  • Fire Station airside visit with Sussex Amphibian and Reptile Group
  • Sponsorship of Sussex University PhD project on bees 
  • CABI Himalayan balsam rust fungus trial
  • 2nd summer placement for ecology university students
  • Jubilee Staff garden makeover for pollinators


ECOLOGICAL REVIEW

River Mole floodplain, North West Zone

The following are summaries of our data gathering for the past year.

Invasive Species Mapping

Invasive plant species mapping acts as one of our Biodiversity Performance Indicators (BPIs), informing progress of our invasive species control programmes. Below are maps of the biodiversity areas with the invasive species indicated, updated as of October 2016.




This coming year the main focus of removal will be in the upstream areas closest to the airfield. The majority of the balsam is removed by hand, whereas dominant areas are controlled chemically.


A new invasive species has been identified at Gatwick at both the sites – Goat’s Rue (Galega officinalis) and will be added to the management regime from 2017.


Biodiversity Performance Indicators:

Other BPIs include monitoring of protected species found at the airport such as Grass Snakes, Great Crested Newts and breeding birds.

 Great Crested Newt surveying



The population at Pond 4 is curently stable. Since Pond 3 was electrofished in 2015, Great Crested Newts (GCN) have been seen laying eggs once again.
  More regular monitoring is now being implemented at the Charlwood Park ponds to gain a greater understanding of the GCN population here.

Reptile monitoring

A Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) was recorded for the first time at Gatwick since the biodiversity action plans first began in 2012; a single individual was recorded in September 2016. The only other reptile species officially recorded at Gatwick to date is Grass Snake (Natrix natrix). There are occasional reports of Adder (Vipera berus) but this species is yet to be confirmed through photographic evidence.
   In addition to our reptile surveys, we have been sampling the DNA of Grass Snakes with unusual colouration. Small scale clippings are taken and sent onto Bangor University for analysis as part of a population genetics study.

Black and striped Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix)


It was a good year for Grass Snake activity in the North West Zone, though the surveyors noticed there tended to be a greater presence on higher ground.



Counts seemed to be lower this year in the Land East, this could be due to the low lying nature of the sites and a rather wet spring and June.

As recommended by Common Standards Monitoring Guidance, our targets here include presence of both adults and juveniles of less than 1yr old, or around 20cm in length, which indicates successful breeding. Each year we have witnessed both adult and juvenile Grass Snakes on our main sites, which is taken as evidence of a healthy breeding population.


Declining bird species list

The below is a list of Birds of Conservation Concern (BTO, 2015) which have been recorded either in or around the biodiversity areas. New species which were observed at Gatwick in 2016 are Nightingale and Lesser Redpoll. Short-eared Owl is an Amber-listed species which has been recorded feeding on the airfield in 2015 and 2016, but has not been seen interacting with the biodiversity areas.

Red Listed

  Amber listed

Observed airside but not seen interacting with biodiversity areas:


Other new species added to our bird list in 2016, but which are not of Red or Amber status were:
Jack Snipe, Cormorant, Peregrine Falcon, Sand Martin, Stonechat and Egyptian Goose.


Declining bird BPIs

The following bird species were chosen as BPIs on the basis of their consistent interaction with the transect habitats. In the Land East of the Railway Line, BPIs are Grey Wagtail and Marsh Tit (red listed), and Bullfinch and Dunnock (amber listed). For the North West Zone, they are Linnet and Mistle Thrush (red listed), and Kingfisher and Reed Bunting (amber listed). Two common bird species (Blackbird and Wren) are used as comparable indicators of resident bird activity. Continual monitoring of these birds may be useful in the long term to detect any significant changes to local populations.





Survey performance - Other species

100% of 21 different types of survey have been completed in 2016: 

Aquatic invertebrates
Dormice
Badgers & hedgehogs
Dragonflies
Bat activity
Fungi Survey
Bat box checks
Great Crested Newts
Late winter birds
Invasive flora
Early breeding bird
Mammal tracking along waterways
Late breeding birds
Moths
Early winter birds
Reptiles
Bumblebee and Long-horned bee counts
Riversearch
Butterflies
Small mammal trapping
Spawn/tadpole surveying


Badgers & Hedgehogs
Badgers (Meles meles) have been caught on trail camera in the Land East of the Railway Line. Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) have only been recorded north of the site as roadkill on the nearby A23 and Charlwood Road.



Bat Activity
Four surveys were carried out at the Gatwick Stream Flood Attenuation Site to establish a new baseline for the area. Four species of bat were recorded - Brown Long-eared (Plecotus auritus), Common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), Noctule (Nyctalus noctula), and Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus), none were new species to Gatwick. Compared to previous years surveys in 2009 and 2014, there are fewer BLEs and more Noctule, likely due to the recent changes in the habitat from cluttered landscape of hedgerows, to open wet grassland.

Bat box checks
Martyn Cooke's (Surrey Bat Group) update:
Brockley Wood – Overall numbers of boxes being used increased from 5 last year to 7 this year, occupancy at 21%.
Horleyland Wood – Disappointing with only 2 boxes being used (9%). Woodland bat species in Surrey seemed to have taken a big hit this year due to the amount of rain we had in April/May and again in June.
River Mole Corridor – Pleasing with 7 boxes used (26%) which isn’t bad for a first year. Finding the Soprano Pipistrelle in April was a good sign. Hopefully the occupancy rate will improve with time.

Brown Long-eared (Plecotus auritus)

DNA testing of the roost at Charlwood Park Farmhouse revealed the species to be Whiskered Bat (Myotis mystacinus), which is unusual to find roosting in a building. The building was unoccupied at last check, but bats tend to move around through several roosts. Other species previously confirmed as roosting in this building are Common Pipistrelle and Soprano Pipistrelle.

Bumblebee and long-horned Bee counts
New nesting sites were discovered for the Long-horned Bee, further verifying the high quality of the habitat along the River Mole corridor. Bumblebee surveys in the form of ‘BeeWalks’ have continued for 2016 along the River Mole transect.

Female Long-horned Bees sharing burrow entrance

Butterflies
A new species was recorded this year – the Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) found on the River Mole at Povey Cross in July. Our butterfly species list for the entire site now stands at 32.

Purple Emperor (Female)

Dormice
After 2 individuals were recorded in 2015, a lone female was recorded in 2016. In September it was confirmed she was a breeding female as the nest contained several pinkies (very small young).

Dragonflies
No new species recorded in 2016. Our total number of Dragonfly species to date stands at 20.

Fungi surveys
Fungi are an under-recorded group of wildlife, which means new discoveries are being made by some very dedicated naturalists. The Sussex Fungi Group visits our sites twice per year and in 2016 Nick Aplin discovered a new species to science in the River Mole Woodlands. The microfungus has been named Fusicolla melogrammae, and is parasitic on another type of fungus called Melogramma, often associated with Hornbeam trees. The confirmation of this newly named species was published on ResearchGate in March 2017.

Hornbeam trees along the River Mole Woodland. 
Underneath: Fusciolla melogrammae and preparation of spores 
(Images by Nick Aplin and Christian Lechat)

Mammal tracking:
American Mink (Neovison vison) were observed at Gatwick Stream and 2 individuals were removed by our licenced controller.

Moths:
We took a break from our regular moth trapping events this year and carried out daytime Clearwing Moth surveys, which involved the use of pheromones hung from pegs in targeted habitats. Four sessions were carried out over summer which resulted in the discovery of the Sallow Clearwing Moth (Synanthedon flaviventris) in Goat Meadow. This is an under recorded species yet deemed nationally scarce in the UK.

 Sallow Clearwing Moth (Synanthedon flaviventris)

Riversearch and Riverfly surveying:
Surveys along the River Mole and Gatwick Stream were conducted in late 2016 and the data submitted to the Surrey Wildlife Trust's RiverSearch scheme. Along the Gatwick Stream at the flood attenuation site, regular mayfly monitoring is carried out by volunteers in the Riverfly survey scheme.

Riverfly surveyors Richard and Luke

Small Mammal monitoring:
In autumn 2016, another trapping effort targeted Harvest Mice (Micromys minutus) as part of the genetics study by Surrey Mammal Group. A disappointing result, with high numbers of nests found in the reedbeds, but very few captures of Harvest Mice for DNA sampling.

Harvest Mouse nest, River Mole floodplain


HABITAT ACTION COMPLETION


We have been on track with our habitat conservation actions in 2016. Typical regular biodiversity works have included:

•         Invasive species control
•         Grassland cut & collect
•         Woodland footpath scalloping
•         Hedgerow trimming/laying
•         Pond bankside maintenance
•         Tree thinning
•         Scrub removal
•         Tree guard removal
•         Dormouse and bat box
           maintenance





Grassland cut & collect:


The grounds maintenance contractors Glendale have been carrying out a cut-and-collect of all our conservation areas. Some of our areas have got a bit dock-heavy.

Scrub control:

Gatwick Greenspace Partnership opening up a compartment in Goat Meadow

Several of our grasslands are being encroached by scrub, and it is a constant battle to keep them open without the help of herds of grazing animals.

Hedgerow management:

Hedgerow laying with Tom Simpson, Gatwick Greenspace Partnership 

Invasive species control:

Himalayan Balsam removal along the River Mole with Gatwick Airport Staff

Footpath improvements


In order to stop our woodland footpaths becoming overly-wide trampled bogs, Tom Simpson and Gatwick Greenspace have been working hard on extending the boardwalks.

Extra project works:

Much time was spent in 2016 overseeing extra ecological mitigation works across the two sites. Wildlife impact assessments are carried out before every task in the biodiversity areas, in order to prevent any undue disturbance to resident wildlife. The following habitat works were completed successfully by Roots Upwards Ltd, with assistance from GAL Projects and Dyer & Butler:

•         Reptile hibernacula x 4
•         Beetle bunds (about 400m lengths)
•         Wildflower seeding of bunds and Rolls Field
•         Sycamore control in Lower Picketts Wood
•         Stag beetle loggeries x 2
•         Woodland understory planting in 3 woodland blocks
•         Pond edge enhancements – Opening up banks and coir roll installation 

Reptile hibernacula creation

Planted coir roll installation

Lower Picketts Wood - Sycamore control


VOLUNTEER AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Gatwick Airport Ltd works with the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership (GGP) to raise awareness of wildlife conservation and promote wellbeing in the community. Over the year Gatwick Greenspace has engaged 377 volunteers over 38 days on Gatwick’s two conservation areas. The majority of these days were with GAL staff and the remainder were local communities and businesses based in Crawley and the surrounding area. A regular group of volunteers from the local area provide GGP with continuous support.


Volunteer tasks in 2016 included:

-          Himalayan Balsam control
-          Interpretation board installation
-          Footpath improvements
-          Bee hotel improvements
-          Willow scrub removal
-          Litter collection
-          Wildflower seeding
-          Bracken management


Installing interpretation boards with Gatwick's Environment Health and Safety Team

Gatwick's staff have also helped to create a pollinator garden in the Jubilee House staff memorial area, at the North Terminal. This is part of a research project run by Sussex Universities Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI), aiming to help gardeners identify which garden plants are good for bees and other pollinating insects.


Events

As part of Gatwick Goes Wild Week from May 31st – June 5th, we ran family bushcraft days, guided walks and wildlife workshops. This run of events allowed us to introduce Gatwick's staff and the local community to the work we do and the wild places around the airport.

Family bushcraft day with Tom Simpson, Gatwick Greenspace Partnership

Riverside Park guided walk with Tom Forward, Gatwick Greenspace Partnership

BeeWalk training day with Richard Comont, Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Our third Gatwick Wildlife Day was held over the weekend of June 17th & 18th. Despite the intermittent rain, we were able to engage over 30 naturalists and members of public with the site at Rolls Field, Land East of the Railway Line. It was decided that it would worth repeating this event in the same area for 2017.

Gatwick Wildlife Day, June 18th 2016

Education and research

Gatwick Greenspace assisted students from The Worth School achieve their Duke of Edinburgh award while they in turn helped us remove Himalayan Balsam. Pupils from the Towers Convent School also visited the sites to remove willow scrub. In return Gatwick Greenspace visited the school grounds to help construct a willow dome with students.




Sussex University
A regular site visit takes place in March Professor Goulson and students to both biodiversity areas as part of their ‘Conservation in action’ course unit.
Gatwick has committed to sponsoring a PhD project in solitary and Honey Bee conservation. Some of the research will be carried out on Gatwick’s very own Long-horned Bee population.

Sussex University visit Gatwick's conservation areas

Brighton University
An ecology and conservation schedule is sent out to an email group inviting students to volunteer with surveys on a casual basis. Three students from Brighton have been regularly visiting our sites in the past year.

Royal Holloway University
For the second year in conjunction with the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership, we hosted two part-time work experience placements; an ecology student and a geography student gained practical experience with us in Gatwick’s conservation areas.

Bangor University
We have contributed to a student project on Grass Snake population genetics, by collecting DNA samples of the unusually coloured individuals.

CABI
The research organisation CABI continues to trial the effectiveness of rust fungus on a patch of Himalayan Balsam at our site. This study will continue for at least a further two years.

Gatwick’s Honeybee Apiary

Our small number of hives continue to do well in Ashley’s Field, Land East of the Railway Line. We have submitted two years’ worth of monitoring results and no newly invasive pests or diseases have been detected.
BeeWalk Training Day, June 2016

Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to the content of this report. Here's to another eventful year ahead!