Joint blogging with Matt Adam Williams for The Wildlife Trusts campaign

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Day Nine of Megan & Matt Go Wild!

Welcome to our joint-blogging series for the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge – you can read more about the campaign and ourselves in our introduction page.

Megan (in coastal Dorset)

Today’s 30 Days Wild Theme was appreciating meadows. These wonderful habitats are scarce indeed, but are vitally important for our wildlife!

After a pond dipping session with a local school group (plenty of newts, dragonfly nymphs and snails!), we headed over to the meadow to look for minibeasts (aka insects and other invertebrates) there. Some fervent swishing later and I think the best find was a real big green cricket. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera on me at the time.

I went back after my working hours to try and get some meadow photos as most of my photos at Lorton have been of the pond or butterflies. I even took a selfie! And yes … I am wearing my hair in plaits. I know they are rather Pippi Longstocking-esque, but they are perfect for keeping my hair out the way whilst working.

Matt (in Cambridge/Sandy)

I’m focussing on an indoor activity today: for the first time this season I managed to catch up with BBC Springwatch. I was taking the helm of the RSPB’s twitter account and watched the show while live tweeting.

I love Springwatch but haven’t had a free evening to watch an episode yet.

Normally, I think it’s far better to get outside than sit in front of a screen.

But, I am definitely able to appreciate the power of technology – radio tags for adders, slow-mo cameras for dragonflies, night-vision cameras for intrepid, obstacle course mice (all on Springwatch tonight) – to help people connect with nature and see new sides of it.

And even just twitter can open up conversations and help to share wildlife.

You can’t be outside 24-7, so sometimes technology has an important role to play.

And those who agree should follow a project of mine I’ll be writing more about soon – #rainforestlive on 19 June.

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Day Eight of Megan & Matt Go Wild!

Welcome to our joint-blogging series for the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge – you can read more about the campaign and ourselves in our introduction page.

Matt (in Cambridge/Sandy)

Wild to work

In the Spring and Summer I forgo a 12 minute bike ride to where I get picked up for work and instead opt for the 40 minute saunter through the small millennium woodland and across the fields behind my cottage.

Whilst there isn’t anything spectacular I begin each day like I did today – hearing the songs and calls of stock doves, whitethroats, garden warblers and blackcaps, and smelling the elderflowers coming into bloom.

There’s nothing better than this to set me up for a day’s work trying to save nature.

Megan (in coastal Dorset)

Today’s going wild for the 30 Days Wild Challenge is actually for the benefit of someone else. It was my landlord’s birthday last week, and I wanted to buy him something for the garden as he has been redoing it. Being a wildlife person, it just had to be a plant for pollinators. I had initially planned buddleia as butterflies absolutely love it, and it is pretty easy to care for, but the garden centre didn’t have it (question – what kind of garden centre doesn’t stock buddleia?). So I settled for lavender instead – after all, it will still be loved by insects and it smells lush! I hope he likes it!

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Day Seven of Megan & Matt Go Wild!

day 7

Welcome to our joint-blogging series for the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge – you can read more about the campaign and ourselves in our introduction page.

(Megan, mid-Wales)

Phew, now I can breathe a sigh of relief! Today was the day for my bioblitz, an event that had originally been thought of back when I was still working for Radnorshire Wildlife Trust, and I had been anxiously worrying about ever since.

Organised by myself, group of us when over to Llanbwchllyn Lake, an oasis of wildlife in the middle of (what feels like) nowhere. The plan for the day was to record as many species as possible, which will then feed into the management plan of the reserve – particularly if we had found anything rare. We had a couple of target groups – mammals, plants, birds, moths and other insects (albeit not really flies … they’re difficult!). I will be collating the records from the county recorders into one spreadsheet, but I believe we got a decent number of records (Matt proved himself very useful for the birds list!). Unfortunately the night was quite cool and we got a very poor catch of moths.

I would say my highlights were probably hearing my first Spotted Flycatcher and peering at the lake invertebrates. For the latter, the invertebrate county recorder had brought along some dipping equipment – it was great to learn even more about underwater creatures! I hope to remember enough to pass onto schoolchildren when we go pond dipping at Lorton Meadows.

Phil Ward and I examining lake invertebrates

On another note, it was lovely to return to Wales – although a little cold there, and to see some of my old work colleagues and friends again. We had a good catch up on life, the universe and everything whilst peering at various species.

I have made notes on how to run a bioblitz differently in the future, but at least I have organised one now! It did work well enough today, but I think it is a start to be improved upon. Which happens to tick off another of my 2015 Wildlife Resolutions!

(Matt, mid-Wales)

Today was the wildest day yet. I took part in my first ever bioblitz – an activity that involves searching for, identifying and recording every possible species of every kind in an area.

We were at a Radnorshire Wildlife Trust reserve in mid-Wales, beautiful mixed woodland and flower meadows surrounding a large lake.

A team of ten of us or so set off to check the previous night’s mammal and moth traps, to sweep our nets among the vegetation, dip our trays in the lake’s edge, forage for beetles among the shorter plants and scan the sky with our binoculars.

My day was filled with amazing wildlife, and brought back to me was that sense of pride I remember from childhood, the one that comes with being able to interpret the language that the natural world speaks and so many people these days don’t.

I saw lacewings and saw flies, pied flycatchers and house martins, tadpoles and centuries-old creeping buttercup plants. I learned (and forgot) a vast number of scientific names.

But best of all were the other people. The experts who came were walking encyclopaedias of knowledge about wildlife and the local area. They were pioneers in innovative farming methods in the Welsh uplands to help nature and passionate conservationists. And they were young children who knew how to identify species that are still a mystery to me.

A bioblitz is a fantastic way to get lost in nature and to learn at high intensity. And today’s was all organised by Megan. She gave a whole group of people a chance to connect with nature and each other and to learn. She deserves no end of credit for that and I think it’s just the start of things to come.

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Day Six of Megan & Matt Go Wild!

Welcome to our joint-blogging series for the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge – you can read more about the campaign and ourselves in our introduction page.

(Matt, Worcestershire & Wales)

After yesterday’s epic journey from western Germany to western England, travelling from Malvern to mid-Wales today felt like a doddle. I’m with Megan on our way to a bioblitz she’s running for A Focus on Nature and Radnorshire Wildlife Trust tomorrow at one of their reserves.

The day began with a visit to my friends Tim and Helen, whose home is always a curio-cavern of wildlife, artefacts and identification books. We spent some time trying to identify the bees in the front garden.

After midday we headed across the border into Wales, permitting ourselves to be distracted by cream tea at a tea rooms where a swirling swallow veered away from my face with inches to spare.

When we finally reached Wales, the first time I have been in a long time, I was greeted by the wildlife that makes this part of Great Britain very close to my heart.

We went and put moth traps out at the site ready for tomorrow’s event. And buzzards and ravens flew past overhead, creeing and croaking away.

As we drove along Wales’s winding lanes, flashes of red arse darting away from us alerted us to redstarts, darting from branch to fence post, playing a game of tag with the car.

Having seen black redstart in Germany earlier this week, it was lovely to see their brighter coloured cousins today.

I’m going to stop there, as it’s 9.30pm and we’ve only just arrived at our B&B. I also want to save the best for tomorrow, when, thanks to Megan, I’ll be taking part in my first ever bioblitz, trying to record as many species as possible at the reserve.

Bring on the wildlife!

Oh and here's a toad I rescued

(Megan, Worcestershire & Wales)

Gosh, what haven’t I done today? I have: admired landscapes, watched the clouds, counted the spots on a ladybird, got excited over moth caterpillars (more to come on this in my weekly blog round-up – SO EXCITING!), listened to birdsong and seen a variety of birds, examined creatures in a pond, performed a tadpole rescue, found otter spraint, watched bumblebees, admired flowers, and more! So much connecting with nature! It has been truly glorious, and (warning: much cuteness / romance ahead) it was all with Matt so even better!

It is difficult to choose a highlight … well, not really. It has to be the moth caterpillars, but as previously mentioned, I shall talk more about them at another point. I suppose, my tadpole rescue was particularly exciting. We were at a pond in mid-Wales (not on a reserve but elsewhere) and the water level had evidently dropped quite recently as a few tadpoles were stuck in a very small pool, cut off from the pond. I decided to be a good Samaritan and transfer them to the main pond.

Whilst doing so, I came across a couple of frogs that had become froglets (i.e. tadpoles with legs!). It’s such a wonderful stage of the life cycle to see, I couldn’t resist taking a photo. However, I was scooping them up along with some of the water, and ended up with some mud too, resulting in the rather amusing photo below!

A little froglet amongst the mud!

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Day Five of Megan & Matt Go Wild!

Welcome to our joint-blogging series for the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge – you can read more about the campaign and ourselves in our introduction page.

(Megan, travelling from Dorset to Malvern)

I had originally planned to spend the morning on Portland, looking to see if the Lulworth Skipper butterflies were about there yet (having seen them on Sunday at NT’s Corfe Castle). However, it seemed that my adventures had caught up with me and my body needed more sleep than I had planned. When I awoke, it was a quick dash around the house packing as I needed to head off to Worcestershire!

It was a long and boring journey – no good music on the radio (when there actually was signal!), and no wildlife seen except a dead hedgehog at J14 of the M5 (naturally, I shall submit this record to Project Splatter)! I was perplexed and a tiny bit annoyed – how would I do my 30 Days Wild challenge?

Upon arriving in Malvern and unloading my bag from the car, my eye was caught by something just above head height, flying by the edge of the house. A bumblebee! Better yet, a couple of them going in and out of the roof section – there must be a nest there! How fantastic! I ignored the unpacking and watched them buzzing about for a while instead. I do believe that bumblebees are one of my favourite groups of insects – not as good as moths obviously, but wonderful creatures indeed. I am particularly amazed by cuckoo bumblebees, but that’s for another time.

A very blurry photo, but you can just see one of the bumblebees

(Matt, travelling from Germany to Malvern)

I set off early this morning with a 14 hour train journey, made up of seven different trains, ahead of me. From Bonn to Malvern was a long way to go in one day, but it’ll be worth it for the next two days of wildlife.

In the meantime, far away in Dorset, Megan was soon(er or later) to set off on her own journey to Malvern.

But, as I’ve written in the past, trains are one of my favourite places to watch wildlife from. My previous sightings have included merlin, common crane and short-eared owl.

Lugging a heavy suitcase meant I was tired and spent a lot of time dozing, but I didn’t miss out on spotting some awesome wildlife.

A kestrel hovered over some farmland in Germany and swifts swirled over the French countryside. A flock of woodpigeons were feeding in a field in Brussels.

And as my sixth train passed Didcot power station in Oxfordshire a huge flock of red kites circled over the landfill site. Red kites are still fairly locally confined but they are spreading back across England and Wales, having been persecuted essentially to extinction here.

And for anyone who has been following conservation news recently, in passing I’m going to say that high numbers of predators are a good sign of a healthy ecosystem and even play an important role in it. Bring on more top carnivores recovering their UK numbers!

Even trapped in a train carriage for the whole day, I managed to Go Wild, determined to fit in some wildlife and have something to share with my lovely girlfriend, who was travelling from Dorset to Malvern herself, when we finally achieved our rendez-vous this evening.

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Day Four of Megan & Matt Go Wild!

Welcome to our joint-blogging series for the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge – you can read more about the campaign and ourselves in our introduction page.

(Matt, at a conference in Germany)

Dear negotiators,

Please take even just ten minutes to go Wild.

The reasons to prevent climate change are right under your noses. In the tiny patch of grass and trees squeezed in between the conference buildings, black redstarts flit to and from their nest. Blackbirds scour the lawn for worms, hopping among the daisies and buttercups.

Chiffchaffs and blue tits call from the trees and red squirrels hop and jump around. Wildlife (perhaps not this wildlife, but certainly species around the world) are on the front line of climate change now and in the future.

I paused for 20 minutes to sit outside and soak up the wildlife around us at this conference.

I wonder how many of those in suits, here to edit text, who stand only yards from where I was on cigarette breaks and having hushed exchanges of intelligence, notice the creatures right before them.

Sure, human rights, intergenerational justice and many other things are also sufficient reason to want to tackle climate change.

But nature should be near the top of that list too. So please, like I did, pause for a few moments and look around. It’s scientifically proven that a small break in nature reinvigorates our minds and bodies during a working day.

Then, return to the negotiating halls, hopefully carrying with you the memory of a small, furry, bouncy red squirrel.

(Megan, in coastal Dorset)

Unlike yesterday’s day at work, I wasn’t in the office for the whole day today. This time round, I actually spent most of it outside at Lorton Meadows Nature Reserve looking for minibeasts! We had a couple of local schools groups in – in the morning, I was looking under logs and on trees with Yr 1s and 2s. In the afternoon, I was looking in the pond with Reception.

Now pond dipping is absolutely one of my favourite activities to do with children – the underwater world is fascinating and it makes the children really think about how different habitats are and how animals need to be adapted for habitats. Plus, the animals look really groovy! In today’s session, my favourite finds were probably:

  • baby newts, dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, diving beetle larvae and a currently unidentified creature – perhaps also the larvae of something?

If you are a usual follower of my blog, you will know how much I already love the pond at Lorton. It is incredibly calming to sit there for an hour or so after work – much better than getting caught up in the traffic! I am in the process of putting together various clips of the wildlife at the pond to go onto my YouTube channel in the near future. Below are some more of today’s photos from by the pond.

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Day Three of Megan & Matt Go Wild!

Welcome to our joint-blogging series for the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge – you can read more about the campaign and ourselves in our introduction page.

(Megan, in coastal Dorset)

As the third day of the challenge continued along its way, I was not feeling hopeful about connecting with nature. I had to be in the office all day. Whilst my job does support the conservation of wildlife, there wasn’t any direct connection happening today. After work wasn’t much better, as I had to quickly gulp down some food before dashing out to Scouts (I am in the process of becoming a trainee leader with a local group).

I breathed a sigh of relief when the main leader announced that we were off to the local woodland to practice shelter building. Finally, in amongst some nature! The scouts made their shelter, whilst we leaders also made one. It has been a while since I last did shelter building, I had forgotten just how fun it is!

(Matt, at a conference in Germany)

When the only green space you have access to is fairly low quality (compared to what you’re used to) you really become grateful for the small things.

Outside the buildings on the UN campus here in Bonn buttercups and daisies bring some colour to the grass, and a few trees add shade amongst the sunlit lawns. These subtle colour mixes are light relief from the heavy duty negotiations over commas and brackets going on inside the conference.

But I was overjoyed when I heard an unfamiliar bird call, one I hadn’t heard for a while. It took me a moment to remember what it was, before I spotted a smart male black redstart sitting on top of the fence and, moments later, a female one flitted from a bush to land atop a post.

Extremely rare in the UK these birds are far more common on the continent and I should probably have been on the lookout for them. They’ve certainly been the most exciting wild encounter I’ve had during my 30 days so far.

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Day Two of Megan & Matt Go Wild!

Welcome to our joint-blogging series for the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge – you can read more about the campaign and ourselves in our introduction page.

(Matt, at a conference in Germany)

It’s a wet and dreary day in Bonn, but as I left my hotel at 7.10 this morning I took a scenic route through the park next to the U-Bahn (the overground train system). The gentle dripping of the rain through the trees’ foliage calmed my mind as it whirred with the previous day’s climate negotiations and the tasks for the day ahead.

I paused for a moment to watch a mistle thrush pulling a worm from the sodden earth, and felt reconnected with the birds and the global web of life that’s the reason I’m here in Germany to fight for a safe and stable climate.

(Megan, in coastal Dorset)

I had a much earlier start than usual for Day 2 of 30 Days Wild. Not as early as a dawn chorus walk, but earlier enough for me to be sleepy mid-afternoon! I had kindly been invited over to the neighbouring town of Dorchester by BBC Dorset to be interviewed on the nesting kestrels at Lorton Meadows Nature Reserve (which is [a] owned/managed by Dorset Wildlife Trust, and [b] one of my work locations – the other being the Chesil Beach Centre).

If you’ve been following my weekly blog posts, you will know the story already. For those new to the drama – the previous female was killed just 6 days before the eggs were due to hatch. Luckily, a new female appeared one the scene and has paired up with the male. I stitched together a video of them, just before their first egg was lain. At the time of the interview, there were 4 eggs. At the time of writing, there are now 5! You can watching the nestbox online via the webcam.

It was fantastic to have this opportunity to talk about wildlife to a different audience. I found it quite nerve-wracking but the BBC staff were brilliant at putting me at ease, and the wonderful Sally (Communications Officer for Dorset Wildlife Trust) came along for moral support. I have since listened back at the recording – it is very odd to listen to my own voice!

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Day One of Megan & Matt Go Wild!

day 1

Welcome to our joint-blogging series for the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge – you can read more about the campaign and ourselves in our introduction page.

Megan (in coastal Dorset)

As discussed in this week’s blog post, the start to my 30 Days Wild challenge, has seen me distracted from stunning landscapes by a roadside verge … unexpected perhaps, except if you know me. This roadside verge turned out to be rather wonderful in different ways. My mum was intrigued by purple flowers (Bugle), whilst I was practically diving into the vegetation as I peered at the insects there. I have been discussing the challenge with my mum as she is taking part too! She has decided on a theme for her month – identification! She is going to take a photo each day of something she sees a lot, and identify it, and try to remember it.

I was very pleased to find 12 beetles of just one species. Initially I thought it was a Cantharis fusca soldier beetle – a Nationally Scarce insect (found at Lorton Meadows recently), but now I am feeling that it might be a different Cantharis species. I am going to see if I can get a confirmed identification of these beasties. Another thrill was finding an Oak Eggar moth caterpillar (Lasiocampa quercus) – belonging to the best group of insects.

So my 30 Days Wild theme today was an admiration of roadside verges. These habitats are increasingly more important for our wildlife, particularly amongst areas of intense agricultural activity. Well-looked after roadside verges can provide miles and miles of wildflowers for our insects. So take a look at a nearby roadside verge (safely of course), and make sure your local council are looking after it for wildlife!

Matt (at a conference in Germany)

On the first day of 30 Days Wild I awake in a rather wet Bonn, Germany. I’m going to be spending the next four days cooped up in zero daylight conference rooms at the UN World Conference Centre. Putting aside some time for nature in my day will be pretty important to keeping me motivated. It will also be a pretty important reminder to myself about why I’m here – these are the UN climate negotiations, and climate change poses the greatest long term threat to wildlife around the world.

Anyway, my trip began well as even on my train journey over I kept a beady eye peeled for wildlife and happened to spot a hobby just after we crossed into France. 30DaysWild tip number one from me – train journeys can be one of the best wildlife watching opportunities.

As I race from meeting to meeting or when I woke up at 5.30 in my hotel room this morning, I’m glancing tiny bits of wildlife, even in the heart of a conference campus filled with delegates in suits and ties.

Swifts swirled over the park outside my hotel room window.

And I never thought I’d be so glad to see a woodpigeon as I was when I spotted one alight in a tree on a tiny patch of green amongst the architecture.

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In Admiration of the Green (and Blue) Spaces of Weymouth and Portland

Rather than describing the wildlife I have seen over the last week, as I normally do, I want to shout out about the incredible area in which I am living. Just before then, I’ll direct your attention to a couple of things that I think will be of interest to you.

This week I have been appreciating the fact there are so many wonderful green spaces in Weymouth and Portland – I don’t think I even know of all the reserves here yet, but there are plenty I do know of and love:

  • Lorton Meadows
  • Two Mile Coppice
  • The Fleet
  • Lodmoor
  • Radipole Lake
  • Broadcroft Quarry
  • Tout Quarry
  • Kingbarrow Quarry

Each one is a fantastic spot to explore and to discover a wide range of species – be it wading birds, dragonflies, meadow wildflowers and more!

But let us not forget that non-reserve green spaces are also wonderful places – roadside verges for example. I love my commute to Lorton Meadows Nature Reserve as I can see countless Ox-Eye Daises (and other flowers) dancing in the breeze next to the road.

Hamm Beach, just across Portland Beach Road from Chesil Beach buzzes with bumblebees and butterflies, whilst skylarks trill overhead and turnstones forage along the shoreline.

In terms of gardens, I don’t usually peer into people’s gardens all that much – you tend to get very suspicious looks if you attempt to do so. However, I am sure there are some wildlife-friendly, beautiful gardens around. I bet that the majority are the back gardens now, as most front gardens are paved over!

What about the blue spaces? Portland Harbour is (I believe) the largest man-made harbour in the world and teeming with wildlife. Last year I went out to the Harbour breakwaters to ring Great Black-backed Gull chicks, and on the way back we saw a seal! I know divers who go in from Chesil Cove, and come back excitedly describing the underwater creatures they’ve seen – such as starfish and cuttlefish.

I wonder how many of the residents of Weymouth and Portland truly appreciate how marvellous their open spaces are? Or even know that they are there! Working the weekends at Lorton Meadows Nature Reserve, I have met quite a few local residents who didn’t even know that this huge (73ha!) reserve was here. Or they knew it was, but had never visited!

As a Londoner in origin, I grew habituated to the sight of buildings with the odd park around. Moving down to Weymouth and Portland has been thrilling, as I discover what seems like endless places to have adventures and find wildlife in – both in the local area and slightly further afield (such as my recent trip up to Cerne Abbas).

For my Vision for Nature blog post, I wrote about what the Tory win could mean for nature and wildlife. However, my own personal Vision for Nature is for people to start connecting with nature more.

My Vision for Nature, taken at the AFON conference (c) Beth Aucott

This doesn’t necessarily mean that people need to visit national parks or reserves, but rather looking at what is around them. Mind you, around here, it is incredibly easy to visit the nature reserves. Many people live or work right on the edge of them! Hopefully by connecting with nature, it can lead to starting to help their local wildlife. Perhaps (and ideally) going further and thinking about our natural environment both nationally and globally?

I would say I’m a pretty good example of that. Growing up, I can consider myself very fortunate to have had many opportunities to engage with nature – taking the dog to the local park (which usually included rolling down hills or wading through streams), hiking up Mount Snowdon with my dad when I was around 7-8years old, making and racing small bamboo rafts when I was with Guides. You will agree I’m sure, it was idyllic and not every child is so lucky.

However, I am not sure I appreciated nature then as I do now (or perhaps I just don’t remember doing so?). As my experiences in the natural world have grown, and I have become more aware of the problems it faces, I have begun to connect with nature more. It started locally – being easily distracted on walks as I peer in wonder at a spider’s web, the metallic sheen of a sawfly or the delicate drops of dew on a ladybird. I wonder why the council had planted a verge of just grass when it could be filled with wildflowers.

Now I believe I am engaging on a more national level and looking long-term – I take part in campaigns run by conservation NGOs, and work in environmental education hoping to inspire a next generation of naturalists who will care for the environment as they grow. I have co-ordinated the Vision for Nature blog series for A Focus On Nature, and written e-mails to MPs and both Red Magazine and the Radio Times. I have started to think globally, but I need to start acting in such a way. At the same time, I need to make sure I don’t disengage with my local wildlife and its issues.

This is one of the reasons I love the 30 Days Wild Campaign by the Wildlife Trusts, because we can all engage with our local wildlife. Nature really is all around us! We just need to remember it and appreciate it a bit more!

During the 30 Days Wild Campaign, I will be jointly blogging with Matt – even though we are in different parts of the UK (Cambridge/Dorset). Discover more about the campaign and two of us on this page of my blog.