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Day Eighteen 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 some beautiful Dorset meadows)

I had a lovely time at Lorton Meadows today with a class from one of the local schools. We went pond dipping (where we admired the swooping acrobatics of a dragonfly), into the woods (great fun doing some bark rubbing and tree identification) and on a short walk around the reserve (admiring butterflies, moths, bees, flowers and more!).

The children were fantastically enthusiastic – many of them approaching me during the session to ask a variety of questions, from the identification of a flower to asking about butterflies.

It was a shame to see them leave, but hopefully today has helped to plant a love for nature in them which can be (again, hopefully) nurtured so that they grow up caring about their local wildlife and the wider environment. Which we need more than ever in our society!

Matt (on the train to Malvern)

Another day, another train journey.

I’m back in Malvern and off to Scotland with Megan and some other friends this weekend, which should provide a fantastic end to #30DaysWild.

And tomorrow’s edition should be especially exciting for other reasons.

But today was more tame, but no less interesting. Drifting through the South East corner of England I saw four red kites at different stages of my journey – is this species spreading even further? It feels so and I think that’s a good thing.

I also spotted a distant but probably cuckoo (I’m fairly sure having got my eye back in by seeing lots this Spring).

Trains are, as I say repeatedly, one of the best places to birdwatch, if you don’t fall asleep or get distracted by eavesdropping.

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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.

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Here Be Tigers And Dragons

A blustery Monday at Chesil (which is pretty much always windy by the way), and we were heading out onto the beaches to recce a butterfly survey walk. Minimal Lepidoptera seen this time, just one Small White in fact, but plenty of other wildlife about including bumblebees and Wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe). Other notable birds seen at Chesil earlier this week have been Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) and Little Terns (Sternula albifrons).

My favourite part of the aforementioned walk was when we came across a mass of fluffy caterpillars, initially thought to be around 50 or so. I started counting … and kept counting … and still counting … there were 157 of them in a small patch of land (a couple of square metres roughly)!!! 157!!!!! Crazy numbers! And then I found a further 11 not too far away – I wonder how many are actually on Hamm / Chesil Beach? Anyway down to identification – not too difficult with this species, it is very distinctive: Garden Tiger Moth Caterpillar (Arctia cajaI found two a couple of weeks ago as well). Since I found a total of 168, and they are a relatively common species – though declining like many – I decided that it would be safe to take 3 of them to raise up. They are now living in a (large) pot with plenty of food. Naturally, I shall be keeping track of their progress and will update you as well.

A second type of caterpillar was later found at Lorton … but no clue as to what it is! Green caterpillars are rather difficult to identify, so I am also going to raise that one into an adult and shall let you know what it turns into!

I had cracking views of the local kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) one morning, it was hovering near the centre then dropped down on its prey and stood on the path for a while munching away / ripping it apart. A little grim, and unfortunate for the small mammal being eaten, by fascinating nonetheless.

I am very lucky to be paid to do what I love, which to put it shortly is talking to people about wildlife. This week had a special highlight as we had a class from local school come to Lorton to do pond dipping, which is absolutely one of my favourite activities! The underwater world is just fascinating! This session was no exception; with water boatmen, damselfly nymphs and snails galore! The highlights for me were finding the exhuvia (skin) of a dragonfly nymph (left behind when the adult dragonfly takes to the air), and two different types of water snail eggs – you can tell the difference between the species by how the eggs are laid onto the surface.

A typical conservationist, I went for a walk on the reserve after work as I had been informed that the Early Purple Orchids (Orchis mascula) had started to bloom. So I duely headed off to find them, and of course, saw plenty of wildlife along the way. The dandelions (Taraxacum) are going over now, which is great fun for blowing the seeds. I even saw a couple of Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus), and finally managed to take some decent photos, after mixed attempts previously!

The weekend saw me adventuring to somewhere new – the lovely Worcestershire county, particularly the Malvern area. Matt was leading a dawn birdsong walk with the local WI and I tagged along, the highlights for me were: Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) and Goldcrest (Regulus regulus). Moving from birds to botanical, a visit to a nearby nature reserve meant that I could practice my wildflower ID.

Matt has spent quite a lot of time here photographing the wildlife. Below is one of a Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea), a pair of which breed under the bridge.

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A visit to heaven, and a busman’s holiday.

You may be quite intrigued by the title of the blog post, but you’ll have to wait a little bit longer to find out what it applies to. A clue though, it is to do with my weekend off. To start off with, I shall fill you in on my working week.

There has been a lot of office work this week – I’m creating a large spreadsheet from scratch, with thousands of entries, so that’s taking up a lot of my time. I can’t say it is the most exciting of work, but the spreadsheet will be very useful once it is in existence, and I’m coming across a variety of scientific names which amuse me – one of my favourites so far as been Veronica beccabunga, which is a plant called Brooklime. I often listen to the radio whilst typing as well, need to catch up on my favourite BBC Radio 4 comedy!


Thursday saw 60-ish local primary school children descend upon Gilfach Reserve for an organised day of environmental education, organised by the Radnorshire Outdoor Learning Network Group. It was a fantastic day where the children and teachers tried out a range of cool activities, including my favourite of river dipping! I reckon it’s my favourite because (a) you get to wear wellies, and wellies are awesome, (b) the children are discovering what is literally a whole new world – minibeasts underwater, where they can learn all about the fascinating adaptations, (c) it’s pretty much always lovely down by a pond or river, (d) more reasons that I can’t think of right now. You can find out more information about the great day we had over at RWT’s Facebook page.

Now onto the title of this blog post. This weekend I’ve had one of the ‘parentals’ visiting and on Saturday we took a little trip over to somewhere that is heavenly for the both of us – a town FULL of bookshops, antiques, charity shops (with more books!), boutique shops and a fabulous stationery shop. Can you guess where I’m talking about? If you guessed at Hay-On-Wye, aka the “town of books”, then you would be 100% correct, well done! Now I know this has little to do with nature, however I just had to include it in this blog post as I had so much fun there! I managed to resist buying too much, and it was lovely to have a potter around looking in all the shops and admiring the books (something I do often as a bookworm).

Sunday was spent on a busman’s holiday as we went over to Gilfach Reserve, and what a perfect day we chose for it! It was gorgeously sunny with just a touch of a breeze. It was great fun to introduce my mum to somewhere I loved – her first word when we entered the reserve was “Wow!”. NB: Gilfach does look absolutely stunning in autumn! She comments that it does feel like stepping back in time – very much in keeping with “the farm that time forgot”, and pleasingly (for me) that “there was more to the visitor centre than I expected”. We had a very relaxing time visiting all my favourite spots on the reserve – one of the fields near the visitor centre, the waterfall and the picnic benches at Pont Marteg (near the entrance to the reserve). We listened to the birds, admired the rushing waters and peered at interesting insects.

We then proceeded on to somewhere I had heard much about, but hadn’t got round to visit, the Elan Valley. What a fabulous spot, and we had both completely underestimated how the expanse of the valley – it is HUGE! As I asked at one point, “How many dams [and reservoirs] are there?!” I was rather pleased as I managed to score a moth record in a new location, a Canary-shouldered Thorn resting in a corner of the visitor centre. I believe the visitor centre staff/volunteer were rather bemused by my enthusiasm for the moth, but then, it is one of my favourites as it is a great example of how moths can be just as pretty as butterflies!

Being the stereotypical enthusiast that I am, I was soon pointing out the ID features of various wildlife to my mum (including the former insects), particularly discussing the trees by the dam. Below are two features of one tree, an Ash tree, which was one of the first trees that I learnt to identify – back when I was volunteering/working at ZSL London Zoo (Ash can be used as food / enrichment for a range of animals including giraffes). The two features I remember most are the leaves and the buds.

  • LEAVES: The leaves you see on a stem are actually called leaflets, and are in pairs with an odd one on the end. The leaflets are pointed and slightly toothed.
  • BUDS: The buds are rather distinctive, they are black and quite ‘velvety’ in in appearance (in the photo below, you can just about make out the black buds).

Having had a yummy lunch at the Elan Valley visitor centre, we decided to squeeze in some more food with tea and cake at the Penbont House Tea Rooms, and I’m very glad we did. First, it was very yummy. Second, it was very quaint with cute china. Third, it has a fantastic view looking out from the Tea Rooms. Fourth, we loved watching the cheeky chickens looking for crumbs. Fifth, I had a very close encounter with a chaffinch who evidently didn’t realise I was there and came to less than a foot away from me! It was great because he was obviously looking at me, but hadn’t realised that I was not just a new part of the furniture! I am gutted that I didn’t have my camera out, but I didn’t dare try because I didn’t want to scare him off!

Last but not least, I finally stopped off on the route back from Rhayader to take a photo of the wooden sculpture on the side of the busy road. A brilliant celebration of local wildlife – an otter chasing salmon.

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I’m not holding out for a hero – I just met loads of them

This week’s title came to me as I was driving away from the conference and listening to my music and the classic ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ started playing, and I realised that in terms of young conservationists – I just met loads of heroes at the conference!

My brain is spinning as I write this, I’ve literally just got back to mid-Wales and somehow need to transform my random notes into an understandable and hopefully quite good blog post. Apologies if I fail, and also for the minimal number of photos – I was too busy taking notes to take many photos!

So why is exactly is my head spinning? Well, on Friday and Saturday I was fortunate enough to attend one of the best conservation events I have ever been to, and I’ve been to a good few events. It was a conference run by A Focus On Nature (website here, Facebook here, Twitter here), which is a network for young conservationists. Imagine the scene, a lecture hall in Cambridge full of passionate, excited and like-minded people … and then you get a tiny inkling of how amazing it was.

Normally when I meet young conservationists, there are normally 1-2 of us (exception being training days back at Dorset Wildlife Trust), so to have a hundred plus was just so fantastic and thrilling.

What actually happened at the conference? There were debates – a highly popular one being Teen Wolf: Unleashing the wild connection in children, a variety of talks (including conservation and politics, and career advice) and my favourite aspect, the workshops. For the latter, I was lucky enough to attend four brilliant ones led by truely inspiring young conservationists and since I enjoyed them so much, I’m giving them a small section each in this blog post.

If you want to read up on what was happening from a variety of people – (a) look at the blogs below, I bet that a number of those will soon have (or already have) a blog post about the conference, and (b) look at the #VisionForNature on Twitter.

Before I delve into the workshops, I just have to say a massive thank you to AFON for the conference, and to Lucy McRobert for founding it. A superb group and the best conference I’ve ever been to! However, minus points to Lucy for pointing me out to EVERYONE in the final stages of the conference (due to all the tweeting I had done). So much embarassment!

Wildlife Filmmaking, with Cain Scrimgeour

I wasn’t sure about attending this, as I’ve never done any wildlife filming (except for videoing zebra for my dissertation, but that didn’t involve worrying too much about the quality of the video). However, I decided that one of the points of coming to a conference was to learn new skills so I put my name down and turned up. I am thoroughly glad I did. First, I got to see some of Cain’s work and it is truely spectacular.

Second, I got to draw out my first ever storyboard! We were partnered up and then set the challenge to come up with a short wildlife film set in the alleyway. The theme of mine was Noticing Nature, with the first shots focussing on small things happening in the alleyway – a dandelion seed caught in a spiders’ web, an insect walking across moss. Then urban elements would start to filter in, you’d see a drainpipe in the background of a fern shot and the double yellow lines next to a feather. Then finally, the shot of the alleyway – which would include everything you’d seen previously. As someone who has never thought about this kind of thing before, I found it rather exciting and enjoyable!

Attitudes and Values in Communications, with Ralph Underhill

Again, I was a little unsure about this workshop, I didn’t know what it would cover. Boy, was my mind blown! Discussions on what values all humans hold and how people prioritise, and how they’re linked together, and how they can be affected by words and other values. It was all very deep, and I’m not entirely sure how much I will remember. However, I will definitely read up on it because I do want to communicate better and inspire more people.

Online Communications, with James Borrell

I was really looking forward to this workshop, I’d come across James Borrell sometime last year and was immediately impressed by all the work he does. In addition, I had noted that he was particularly good at communicating online, so a chance to learn from him was an absolute must! The workshop launched with a discussion on what is science communication and why is it important in conservation? We then went on to talk about the different ways in which to do so and tips for how to do so well. My favourite quote from him was “One person can have a really big impact” because that’s quite inspiring for me to try and become that one person, but also to see if I can inspire others to have an impact.

Waxwinging Lyrical: nature writing and environmental journalism, with Peter Cooper

This workshop was another must for me naturally since I write a blog! As well as discussing the differences between nature writing and environmental journalism, we looked at good examples of both and the benefits of the varying ways in which they can be done. When posed with the question “What can nature writing and environmental journalism do for the conservation movement”, I used a personal example in that my writing this blog and being so enthusiastic in general has meant that friends and family send me photos of things they see. Me being me, I’ve helped them to identify them and then encouraged them to send in their sightings to their local county recorders / national recording schemes! For me, there is almost no better outcome from this blog than inspiring non-conservationists/naturalists to contribute towards conservation.

Coming away from the conference, I feel I’ve learnt a number of things.

(a) I feel utterly inspired. Referring back to the title of this blog post, I met so many fantastic people who are due to be (and many already are) incredible heroes for the natural world. I know that we (yes, I’ve decided to include myself in there) will achieve great things in conservation – both by ourselves and as a group.

(b) Online communications are as important as I thought they were, so that’s a relief.

(c) I have a much greater self-confidence, I know that I have some excellent skills, abilities and ideas. Talking to people reaffirmed this, and I’m excited to continue working within conservation.

(d) Even more excitement, I have an upcoming project in the planning stages that I cannot wait to be launched. Whilst it isn’t ready to be announced publicly quite yet, talking to people at the conference has made me determined to continue with the project as everyone commented that it was a great idea. Watch this space!

(e) That I am getting better at stepping out of my comfort zone. During the conference, I made a real effort to contribute to debates – asking questions and making comments (even in the big lecture hall when everyone was there!), and to network with new people. I can be quite an introvert sometimes, so it was really and incredibly nerve-wracking. I remember tweeting after asking a question in one of the big debates, commenting that I was all shaky from the nerves. But I do have good comments to make and questions to ask, so I made myself do so. Hopefully one day, it will get easier!

As for networking, it’s a vital part of being at a conference. In particular at this one, I’ve made some brilliant contacts – finding people who are interesting in getting involved with my upcoming project, promoting where I work, hearing other people’s comments on something we’ve got in common, and getting offered opportunities!

(f) Finally, I wanted to share my #VisionForNature, shared by Twitter by Beth Aucott. Since my interests lie in engagement, I feel that this is my vision:

Lastly, I wanted to finish with giving you the opportunity to discover some of these amazing young conservationists that I met at the conference, so below is a list of bloggers and then below that, some others who don’t have a blog but at least have a Twitter account, so you can (and should) follow them there). I should note, there is no set order for the people below, I’m literally writing them down as I think of them. And if I have missed out anyone important, apologies.


Lucy McRobert (@LucyMcRobert1): http://www.afocusonnature.org/ *actually slight order preference here as Lucy is the founder of AFON so appropriate that I put her first!

Matt Williams (@mattadamw): http://mattadamwilliams.co.uk/

James Borrell (@James_Borrell): http://www.jamesborrell.com/

Cain Scrimgeour (@cainscrimgeour): http://cainscrimgeour.co.uk/

Findlay Wilder (@WildeAboutBirds): http://wildeaboutbirds.blogspot.co.uk/

Beth Aucott (@BethAucott): http://bethaucott.wordpress.com/

Lucy Radford: http://beinghummingbirds.com/

Josie Hewitt (@josiethebirder): http://blog.josiehewittphotography.co.uk/

Alex Berryman (@ABWildlifePhoto): http://alexberrymanphotography.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1

Amy Robjohns (@amythebirder): http://birdingaroundhampshire.wordpress.com/

Unknown (annoyingly I can’t find the reference of who gave this to me): http://therealark.wordpress.com/welcome-to-noahs-ark/

Sean Foote (@Portland_Nature): http://theportlandnaturalist.blogspot.co.uk/

Ryan Clark (@RyanClarkNature): http://ryanclarkecology.wordpress.com/

Mya-Rose Craig: http://birdgirluk.blogspot.co.uk/

Amy Schwartz (@lizardschwartz): http://southwaleswildlife.blogspot.co.uk/

Peter Cooper (@PeteMRCooper): http://petecooperwildlife.wordpress.com/

A Wildlife Boy (@AWildlifeBoy): http://wildlifeboy.wordpress.com/

Ed Marshall (@edmarshallphoto): http://www.edmarshallwildimages.co.uk/

Stephen Le Quesne (@SLQuesne): *currently won’t load for me, will update soon

Heather-Louise Devey (@feraheather): http://thedenofwildintrigue.blogspot.co.uk/

Other Young Conservationists on Twitter

Joe Stockwell: @Joe_stockwell

Bex Cartwright: @Bex_Cartwright

Sam Manning: @wildlifebloke

Jessica Mead: @jessmeadmarine

Sarah Hudson: @Sludderz

Chloe Goddard: @ChloeMayGoddard

Melissa Spiers: @mcspiers

Nadine Atchinson-Balmond: @nadineatch

Sarah Hodgson: @shodge_7

Emma Ackerley: @EmmaAckerley27

Matt Collis: @MattCollis9

Ricky Whelan: @RickyWhelan