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Life goes on

I haven’t managed to write a blog post for three months now, which is just crazy. Due to a combination of being incredibly busy at work, very busy with A Focus On Nature work and some not-so-great stuff happening in my personal life, I haven’t had the time to write. And when I have, the latter has meant that I am not feeling particularly inspired either.

I hope that everything will calm down and sort itself out soon, and that I can return to writing. If so, it is likely that posts will be sporadic for a while before I manage to make a regular posts again. Until then, you can see what I have been up to in the past few months below (most recent first). I haven’t managed to include anywhere near everything I have been up to, but it will give you a flavour of how busy I have been!


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#30DaysWild – Days 24 – 30

I had a manic few days to finish off the month of June and thus 30 Days Wild – pond dipping, moth trapping, butterfly chasing … the usual stuff really. Rather than go through all 6 days, I have included the highlights below.

Day 24

Day 25

Day 28

Day 30

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#30DaysWild – Days 15 – 22

Ok, so I fell behind somewhat on my #30DaysWild blogging – oops! Not to worry though, I have been connecting with nature every day despite being busy with work, AFON bits and pieces, and general life stuff. I won’t go into every single wild act that happened every day, so here is a summary, shown through my tweets.

Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera)! <3 <3 <3

Somehow, and after quite a bit of searching, I found the Bee Orchid from last week again. And in fact, I found a further 6 plants! Then later that day, I was informed of two more locations of Bee Orchids on the estate, which is fantastic news indeed.


I was able to put the moth trap out at Wimpole for the first time in ages (since I need to be there two days in a row to run the trap). There wasn’t much, but I did catch this beautiful Pale Tussock moth (Calliteara pudibunda).


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#30DaysWild – Day 14

I was at Wicken Fen again today, and I wasn’t actually pond dipping! Instead I was leading the sessions on minibeast hunting for a local school. We went pretended to be centipedes and millipedes – at one I was the centipede’s prey, and we were hungry dragonflies looking for lunch, and we also did some log rolling. Under said logs we found two Lesser Stag Beetles (Dorcus parallelipipedus), a Glow Worm Beetle larvae (Lampyris noctiluca), and many many ants, other beetles, worms, snails, slugs, spiders, millipedes, centipedes … At one point I had a moment of “wow, I’m getting paid for this?!”

Despite not doing pond dipping, my highlight for #30DaysWild had to be a creature that they found during pond dipping. One of the children managed to scoop out a female Great Crested Newt (GCN, Triturus cristatus). You can see how big she is and the typical GCN patterning – orange background with black spots, plus mainly black chin. Apparently each GCN’s patterning is unique to that individual – maybe I should try to build up a photo archive of the GCNs at Wicken Fen?

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#30DaysWild – Day 13

I was back at Wicken Fen today and in charge of 110 children! Fortunately they were ever so well-behaved and not too loud. I was doing the pond dipping sessions with them, and one of the children caught a dragonfly nymph that had started to emerge. However, it was absolutely chucking it down so I took the nymph inside to (a) warm up and (b) dry off!

You can see that it didn’t help all that much as the wings didn’t open properly, not helped further by the fact that the dragonfly kept falling onto them. At the time of writing (c. 7pm), the wings are still quite folded and crumpled. I’m not feeling hopeful for a full recovery.

On an additional note, my photo made it onto the BBC Cambridge Local Live page (posted at 17.49).

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#30DaysWild – Days 8 – 11

It’s proving difficult to blog every day for 30 Days Wild this year, but there is no need to worry. I am most definitely still connecting with nature every day!

Day 8

I actually had a day off from working on Wednesday (Day 8), though I spent much of it either working on my laptop or working in the garden. However, Matt and I did go for a lovely walk at lunchtime. Alongside admiring dragonflies and butterflies, we also heard a Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra) and I managed to get good views (but no photos) of a Whitethroat (Sylvia communis).

Day 9

The wildlife spotting started early on Day 9 when we emptied the garden moth trap. There was a good variety of species, above you can see Cinnabar (Tyria jacobaeae), Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi), White Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda) and Green Silver-lines (Pseudoips prasinana). The morning was then further improved when I found out that the abstract I had submitted for giving a talk at Ento ’16 had been accepted!

I was working at Wimpole that day, so I took a lunchtime walk in front of the house. The lawn is absolutely gorgeous, as they let the grass grow long and there are lots of wildflowers amongst it. Including a Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera), as shown below. I think I may attempt to photograph the orchid in flower next week – though I don’t know if I will manage to find it again!

Day 10

On Friday I was working at Wicken Fen, leading KS2 school groups in pond dipping. We caught a silly number of newt tadpoles, and some absolute whoppers of diving beetles and their larvae. I recently learnt that the underside is useful in identifying the different diving beetle species, hence the photos below of their undersides! For example, I am pretty confident that the adult beetle below on the right is a Black-bellied Diving Beetle (Dytiscus semisulcatus). We also saw the food chain in action when a diving beetle larvae was caught with a water boatman in its jaws! I knew they were predators, but didn’t realise that they ate adult beetles of other species!

Day 11

I had yet another day off this week! Very strange indeed. My To Do list was depressingly long so I spent the morning and much of the afternoon attempting to tackle it, but I did manage to get out and visit a local nature reserve in the late afternoon. I decided to local Wildlife Trust reserve, Houghton Meadows. On the walk down the lane, I found a couple of feathers to stick into my hat which was fun.

Houghton Meadows is a lovely place, the fields were just brimming with flowers. Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) was everywhere, and so because it has parasitic properties on grasses (thus limiting their growth), there were other wildflowers everywhere too: Bird’s-Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), Ox-Eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) and Red Clover (Trifolium pratense). The insect population was strong too, lots of Diamond-backed moths (Plutella xylostella), a Common Blue butterfly (Polyommatus icarus) and plenty of damselflies and dragonflies. I had particular fun photographing a male Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) through the grass stems.

On my walk back to the car, I was thrilled to find a family of Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus), as they were one of my favourite birds. Mind you, they are a nuisance to try and take photographs of as they move around so much! However, a couple of these particular birds didn’t move around as much, I think they must’ve been fledglings.

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#30DaysWild – Day 3


Like the first two days of June, Day 3 was grey and drizzly first thing in the morning. And it didn’t change all day, except for occasionally giving us a break from the drizzle every now and then. Fortunately, we were doing the perfect thing at work – teaching children how to light, cook on and be safe around a fire! All outdoors of course (thank goodness for waterproof trousers!).

You will be envious to discover that we roasted marshmallows, made pancakes and popcorn, and have lovely hot drinks too. Plus as I was working all day, I did everything twice – so twice the amount of marshmallows, pancakes, popcorn and hot drinks! I actually had a moment of disbelief / amazement when I thought to myself “I’m getting paid to do this?!”

And I wasn’t the only one to enjoy myself. The children and their parents loved it too. I think the children especially enjoyed it as it isn’t often that children can work with fire, let alone be the ones to light it and cook on it. There were a few that were initially quite afraid of being so close, but by the end, everyone was feeling quite confident and comfortable with controlling the fire and being safe around it. The marshmallows and pancakes probably helped with that quite a lot!

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#30DaysWild – Day 1

day 1

At last! 30 Days Wild is back! It was so much fun last year, and the campaign is a great reminder that it can be so easy to connect with nature every day. Fortunately for me, I work in two beautiful locations – NT Wimpole Estate and NT Wicken Fen, so it is even easier for me to connect and discover something marvellous each day.

Day 1 of 30 Days Wild dawned wet and chilly, and most certainly classified as a good day for a ‘duvet day’. Nonetheless, I figured I ought to be a good employee and I headed off to NT Wicken Fen where I was due to be doing den building as a half term activity. My colleagues and I were wondering just how many children and parents would turn up, but actually we had about a 95% turnout. I do love it when families decide not to care about the weather and are determined to head out and have a good time.

Despite the drizzle, we had a fantastic time! We practised tying knots and learning about camouflage before building large enough dens for the children to sit in. It was great fun! Before coming to Wicken, I hadn’t done den building since my university placement with the Field Studies Council in 2011 / 2012!

We were practicing our knots by one of the ponds, where we were surprised to see a dragonfly on one of the reeds. It must have emerged relatively recently as it hadn’t yet opened its wings. And you can see an exhuvia on the opposite side of the reed to it, most likely the one that it had come from.

PS – I know I haven’t blogged regularly in the last couple of weeks. Now that I am working at Wicken Fen as well as at Wimpole, I am effectively working 6 days / week. This is on top of running the social media for A Focus On Nature (plus planning the social media for the launch of the VisionforNature report), attempting to do gardening (actually very time-consuming) and generally having lots of things to do – so my usual blog posts are a tad sporadic currently.

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I’ve still got sand in my shoes

It wasn’t quite two weeks away from Dorset, but at one and a half weeks, it’s not far off Dido’s song lyrics. What a wonderful holiday it was too, I still can’t believe how much wildlife we saw in Scotland! Pine martens! Otters! Eagles! Western Scotland is definitely going on the list of places to revisit that’s for sure! And I know that Matt feels the same – especially since this was a revisit for him anyway!

Now I’m back in Dorset again. It has taken me a couple of days to switch from holiday mode to work mode. Luckily, I love my work and it is wildlife-related, so the jump wasn’t too big! Friday definitely shook me into place – we had a large group from a local school coming to the Chesil Beach Centre for two sessions. We decided to split them into two groups, because (a) it is more manageable for us, and (b) the children get a better experience in smaller groups.

I took one group, the Year 1s, and we headed out on a seashore scavenge. This involves a scavenger hunt where they have to find things from the list – e.g. something purple, three pebbles of different sizes, something that smells of the sea. I love this session as it allows the children to wander around (within a certain area and within sight) Chesil Beach, exploring what’s been washed up and working together as a team to find everything on their list. During this time, I visit each group a couple of times to see how they’re getting on and whilst doing so, do a little bit of a beach clean. Even in the limited area that we were in and being busy making sure the group were ok, I managed to collect a whole bag of rubbish! Rather depressing, but I use it as an educational tool to introduce them to marine litter and even talk a bit about currents.

In the afternoon, we became detectives and discovered seashore creatures along the edge of the Fleet Lagoon. Unsurprisingly we found plenty of crabs, mainly Common Shore Crabs (Carcinus maenas), which the children loved finding. I even persuaded a few of the reluctant children to hold a crab. Other finds included fish (though we couldn’t catch those), periwinkles, marine springtails (Anurida maritima), the cast off shells of crabs, limpets, topshells, anemones and sea slugs.

I was working up at Lorton Meadows Conservation Centre this weekend, and managed a couple of wanders to look for wildlife – during my late lunch break and then again after work. I finally saw my first Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) butterflies of the year, as well my first Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus), Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus) and Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) butterflies for the year. Other wildlife of note – 50+ Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) butterflies, hovering/hunting Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), a family of Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus) and Red-tailed Bumblebees (Bombus lapidarius). As my camera is at the repair shop, I have some blurry phone photos for you.

Additionally, the Six-spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae) moth that I had collected as a caterpillar a couple of weeks ago and have pupated whilst I was in Scotland emerged as an adult moth this week. I released it back into the wild at Lorton, since I had found it there originally. A bit of an emotional moment. Not least because it is the first caterpillar I have managed to raise all the way through from caterpillar to adult!

In other news:

  • My guest post for the Wildlife Trusts blog was posted this week. I discuss an issue that I have been dwelling on for a while – the lack of engaging 16-30 year olds with nature.
  • I have been asking Findlay Wilde whether his guest post series, 13 Years Wilde, would (a) feature more female conservationists, (b) have a 50:50 ratio of female:male conservationists. Answers: (a) yes, (b) no.
    • Why am I asking? Well, to cut a long story short, there is an under-representation of women in STEM as a whole, but also in conservation. There are a number of factors involved, and a whole separate blog post (book?) would be required to discuss them in detail. However, for now, I’m saying that I would like to see this addressed where possible, and an equal (or at least nearly equal) representation of guest blog posts from conservationists is one way of doing so.
  • Following Scotland and this week, my butterfly life list is at 37 and my year list is at 30. Hopefully both will continue to increase this year!

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).

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My guest blog post for 30 Days Wild

Having seen that the Wildlife Trusts were accepting guest posts in their 30 Days Wild blog series, I decided to enquire if I could submit one. Receiving an affirmative answer, I then pondered on what to write. How I connect with nature? The Megan & Matt Go Wild! joint-blogging? How fantastic it is to work in environmental education and show the wonders of nature to children? All good possibilities. However, an issue had been meandering around in the back of my mind for a while. I decided that now was a good time to bring it to the front and work through my thoughts on it, culminating in the blog post you see below. Originally posted here

Megan Shersby is an aspiring naturalist and science (particularly nature) communicator. She is currently based in Dorset, working as a Seasonal Assistant for Dorset Wildlife Trust. She is passionate about inspiring others to explore the natural world, and can usually be found in a nature reserve examining the local wildlife. In this blog, the last in our 30 Days Wild series for 2015, she discusses how we can inspire a generation to love wildlife.

Many groups in society are overlooked or marginalise. Among these are young people, particularly those between 16-30. Politics takes us for granted as we vote less than others, and the impacts on us of spending cuts and the housing shortage are disproportionate.. Of course, it’s true, and important to recognise, that this intersects with a range of other inequalities based on gender, race and sexual orientation. But I want to focus on the age dimension here.

The conservation sector, too, sometimes lets this age group fall through the gaps of its excellent work.

There is much focus on connecting children with nature, and rightly so. According to the RSPB’s survey only 21 % of 8-12year olds feeling connected with nature. Environmental education makes up part of what I’m employed to do – we have a variety of school groups attending the centres. One day I will be talking about seashore wildlife to Year 2 primary school children, the next I will be taking Year 5s pond dipping and studying tree identification, and then the next, a Year 9 group discussing longshore drift.

The conservation sector targets most of its efforts and messages at a few groups – school groups, families with young children, and those who make up charities’ core membership. But those between 16-30, who are often at unique stages in their lives, are often overlooked, or treated exactly the same as people of 40, 50 or 60 years old. They are not the same – these young people are these charities future members and the conservationists of the future too.. Only a few projects are in place to engage those 16-30 year olds who aren’t in young families and/or not engaging with wildlife.

Lucy McRobert (amongst other conservationists) recently wrote a fantastic guest post for Findlay Wilde’s blog series called 13 Years Wilde. It is a very honest account of not connecting with nature as a teenager: “wildlife meant very little to me as a teenager”. It is quite an eye-opener, considering that Lucy is one of the leading young conservationists in the United Kingdom and works as the Nature Matters Campaigns Manager for the Wildlife Trusts. It makes me feel a little better, as my teenage years weren’t so different from Lucy’s.

If even our leading conservationists and naturalists didn’t connect with nature during their teenage years, how can we hope to connect anyone else? There is no National Curriculum beyond Year 11 – and even in the previous years, there is very little room to squeeze in more nature. There are a lot of pressures on schools, teachers, their time and resources.

There are some excellent projects out there. Ideally these could be rolled out across our country (and the world?!), but funding is forever tight so for now, I won’t build my hopes too high. However, 30 Days Wild itself could take youth engagement a step further. Next year, maybe we should plan to particularly engage this age group with the campaign? Get the message into the magazines they read, get the celebrities they like to become involved, contact the community groups used by these ages – just a few ideas off the top of my head.

The lack of engagement by these youths and adults is one of the many reasons why groups such as A Focus On Nature, a network of young conservationists, are so vitally important and wonderful. As well as connecting young naturalists with each other, they allow us to become self-assured in ourselves, our abilities and our knowledge –and that actually, nature is cool. As a result, I feel more confident to talk about how amazing nature is to my peers who aren’t into wildlife as I am. I know that others members of A Focus On Nature have felt the same too. Thus even though there is no solution to magically connecting everyone with nature, we are creating ripples in the pond, and I live in hope that soon this issue will no longer exist. So if you know a young person, or actually someone of any age, who isn’t connecting to nature, why not create ripples of your own?

You can follow Megan on Twitter and read her blog here.


The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).