Sunday, 23 November 2014

Winter Wildlife in Japan

At the Conoco Room on Friday 21 November we were honoured by the presence of the Chairman of LWT Board of Trustees Geoff Trinder.  In addition to his other duties, Geoff is a keen amateur photographer who has travelled through many countries taking pictures of wildlife in all it’s forms.  From his vast repertoire we were treated to some stunning pictures from his recent winter visit to Japan.
Starting with his arrival in Tokyo, we were given a flavour of life in this enormous city: a population of around 20 million where you will see very few non-Japanese.  Good transport links are essential for a city this size & these exist on 5 levels: 2 underground, 1 main rail & 2 road systems one on top of the other.  On the roads the rickshaw drivers are kept busy running around in their open-toed shoes & hats shaped like upturned woks!
Moving swiftly on to the wildlife, the first set of pictures showed the enormous Red-Crowned Cranes, up to 6 feet tall with a wing span of almost 7 feet.  More pictures followed of the graceful Whooper Swans & Sika Deer ( this deer species is wild in this country too & now inter-breeding with our native Red Deer).
To be a truly enthusiastic wildlife photographer you need to be prepared to rise very early in the morning: the next set of pictures were taken from sunrise in thick snow which meant Geoff had to be out of bed at 4.00 am!  Pictures included Red Fox, Dipper & Harlequin Ducks also some excellent photos of birds in flight including Black-Eared Kite, Slatey-Backed Gulls (similar to Lesser Great Black-Backed) & the magnificent yellow beaked White Tailed Stella Sea Eagles (larger than Golden Eagles). 
Back to the hotel now where we see a room sparse of furniture (most Japanese sit on the floor!) & a curious picture of a toilet with a touch control panel: recommend not to tamper with this without a training manual!  In the restaurant, food is meticulously presented but may be an acquired taste – fish & seafood seems to predominate & has a “chewy & slimy” consistency.  Chopsticks are normally used even with soup (which is quite thick) & slurping is encouraged as a sign that you like it!
Finally, some more fine pictures of Whooper Swans (very noisy), Brown Eared Bulbul, Varied Thrush & even a Tree Sparrow rounded off with some Japanese Macaques (otherwise known as Snow Monkeys) all with their own individual personalities.

The vote of thanks came from Brian Cooper given with a bow in true Japanese style!

As a footnote, Biff Vernon recommends a couple of wildlife books that are easy to read &, at the same time, full of interesting facts on bees & meadow wildlife, some insights into how scientific research is conducted and some profound implications for ecology and the future of our wildlife.
“A Buzz in the Meadow” & “A Sting in the Tail” both written by Dave Goulson.  

Monday, 17 November 2014

Brent Geese at Donna Nook

BRENT GEESE (Branta bernicla)

These geese are 'winter visitors' arriving as early as late October from their breeding grounds in the Arctic regions. They fly in loose flocks along the coast, rather than in tight skeins like grey geese and are an 'Amber List' species because of the important numbers found at just a few sites.
These handsome, black and white, relatively small geese are present in the coastal sky, on the salt marsh mud and in the fields nearby where they feed on Eel grass and other vegetation. They are particularly fond of young cereal crops! Jane took the two accompanying photographs at Donna Nook last week. However, the Brents can be seen all along our coastal areas whilst they make the sky look very busy at the RSPB Frampton Marsh Reserve.

An easy way to distinguish the smaller Brents from Canada geese is to look for the slim, white clerical collar around their necks. Canada geese have a much bigger white chinstrap whilst the Barnacle geese have a white face with grey, white and black feathers on their body.
Ray Wodcock

Photos: Jane Woodcock

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Conservation Forum November 2014-11-0

The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s annual Forum took place today, appropriately in the ‘David Robinson Hall’ at the Fortuna Horncastle Business Centre. The day was to focus on Lincolnshire's coastline with particular consideration of the tidal surge and floods of December 2013. The day was introduced by David Shepherd, Nature Reserves Development Team Manager and Deputy Chairman of the LWT.

The first talk was given by Sharron Bosley, Project Manager for The Wash & North Norfolk Coast. She outlined the many ways in which the area’s importance is recognised leading to its designations as a European Marine Site (EMS) protected by the Bern Convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats and Bonn Convention on the conservation of Migratory Species.  The curious Ross Worm, Sabellaria spinosa, reefs are amongst the habitats peculiar to the area.

Sharron described how the tidal surge of 5th December 2013 had affected the various sections of the coast and particularly the Blakeney National Nature Reserve, where the 'Freshes' are no longer such fresh lagoons as they were following the breach in the defences that allowed seawater in.  The surge has raised management issues about the long term future and sustainability of the reserve with the inevitable shift in the distributions of saltmarsh and freshwater zones as sea level rises.  A more immediate concern was how to deal with carparking, now that the carpark is buried under a metre of shingle.

Mark Robinson, Lincolnshire's Senior Coastal Advisor at the Environment Agency, was our next speaker.  He described the damage caused by last year's tidal surge, which added 1.8 metres to the high tide, and outlined the current state of play in managing our sea defences.  The Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) is set by Defra and managed by The Humber Estuary Coastal Authorities Group (HECAG).  The non-technical summary can be downloaded here. Mark explained that the policy currently in force is to 'hold the line' for the Lincolnshire coast, keeping the flood risk at its present level of 0.5% as sea level rises through the century, but with the recognition that in parts of the southern sections of our coastline, perhaps in the area of the Lincolnshire Coastal Park, there may have to be some 'localised managed realignment' in the period after 2055.

To turn policy into reality work has to be done to strengthen the defences and various options include the ongoing beach nourishment, bank enlargement, sea wall raising, revetments, groynes and rock reefs.  Much attention focussed on the protective value of a wide foreshore, mudflats and saltmarsh, and Mark explained how with a slowly rising sea and sufficient supply of sediment the foreshore could grow, but how if sea level rise was too fast the accretionary environment could quickly change to erosion.

The management strategy is to be reviewed in the 2015-16 period but beach nourishment will continue at least until this review is completed.  Meanwhile, the plans for protecting Boston with a tidal barrage, improved sea walls, facilities for relocating the fishing fleet and work on the dock entrance are well advanced. Given government approval construction should take place in 2017-19.

After lunch we heard four slightly shorter talks. First up was Dave Bromwich, the Trust's Head of Nature Reserves, who set the scene with descriptions of the damage to the Trust's reserves in the December 2013 surge from Far Ings to Gibraltar Point.  But we also learnt of nature's resilience, this season's vegetation growth seemingly little affected by the sea-water flooding.

Dave Miller, Coast and Wash Warden, concentrated on the work being done to ensure success for Lincolnshire's last colony of breeding Little Terns, Sternula albifrons.  At Gibraltar Point the nests are protected in various ways from predators and small patches of beach including nests have been raised in wooden boxes on stilts to keep them above the level of spring tides that would otherwise have washed them away.

Matthew Blissett, North West Lincolnshire Warden, described the Trust's work to conserve what may be Britain's last colony of the Marsh Moth, Athetis pallustris. It has always been a rare moth though it used to be found locally from the south coast to Carlisle and was recently breeding in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. Now it seems to be confined to one small area of plantain-rich short grassland at Rimac.  Twenty larvae were moved a short distance to another piece of grassland and surveys the following two years indicated that the moth had succeeded in breeding here.  Further survey work will be needed in future years to confirm the establishment on the new site.  Although probably Britain's rarest moth, the Marsh Moth does occur right across Europe, Central Asia and into northern China.  The Lincolnshire coast seems now to be the western fringe of its distribution.

Finally Rob Lidstone-Scott, Outer Humber Warden, spoke about the Grey Seal, Halichoerus grypus, colony at Donna Nook.  Again there was much to hear about the events of the night of December 5th-6th last year.  We learnt that numbers of pups born here have risen from a few dozen in the 1970s to over 1600 last year, a steady increase which is reflected in other colonies along England's east coast.  The Donna Nook colony has just overtaken the Farne Island colony in size, but numbers are now rising very rapidly at Blakeney in Norfolk.  Donna Nook appears to be a very favourable location, with pup mortality rates very low compared to the Farnes.  The increasing population is something of a mystery; the seals have no natural predators save the rather rare appearance in the North Sea of Orcas, their favoured fish prey are mostly species of little commercial interest so competition from the fishing industry is not acute and their protected status since the late 1970s have allowed their populations to expand.  Although seemingly abundant here, Grey Seals are amongst the rarest seal globally with the UK having almost half the world's stock.

Increased tourist attention is a serious management issue, though the seals seem unaffected by close human presence so long as a fence divides the two species. The last few years have seen visitor numbers rise over 60000.  Perhaps a virtual visit is in order; Rob manages a facebook group Donna Nook National Nature Reserve. Last winter's tidal surge presented a particular problem and discussions are ongoing as to whether a new path, higher up in the sand dunes, might be constructed for visitors, giving people a good view but at the same time allowing the seals a refuge above the level of exceptional tides. Fortunately last years drama did not increase pup mortality significantly, seals, it seems, can swim!

The afternoon was rounded off by LWT Chief Executive, Paul Learoyd.  We heard that the Trust's insured losses through damage in the flood were of the order of a million pounds but learnt of the plans developing for a new visitor centre at Gibraltar Point.  It had been 'an interesting year', as Paul put it.

Biff Vernon

Friday, 7 November 2014

Tree Planting Volunteers needed

Tree Planting Volunteers needed
Nettleham Woodland Trust has identified Chalara fraxinea (Ash dieback) at Monks Wood and on the advice of the Forestry Commission are going to remove 4000 ash trees and replant.
The FC has given a grant for the new trees and planting sessions will happen on Saturday 22 and 29 November. Any volunteers should arrive with their spades and any food and drink they will need, at the North Wood, TF042791, sessions will run between 10.00 and 14.00hrs.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Of Whales and Bees

Two reports were published today, concerning our largest and our smallest wildlife.

The Wildlife Trusts are proposing that 17 special areas around England and Wales should become protected places for our dolphins, whales and sharks. These hotspots are where these charismatic animals gather to feed, breed and socialise.  One of these areas if off the Lincolnshire coast.

Read more about the Wildlife Trust's campaign to 'Save Our Ocean Giants'.
Download the full report: 'Megafauna Hotspots'
Download the report summary

Joan Edwards, Head of Living Seas at The Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, provide interesting reading about the subject on the Living Seas Blog
And on twitter: The Wildlife Trusts' Friends of MCZs@action4ourseas
Visit the Trust's website devoted to Marine Conservation Zones.

Also today, DEFRA published it's report on protecting pollinating insects.
It's good to see the government giving this issue some serious attention but it sits awkwardly with their policy of opposing the EU ban on neonicotinoid insecticides.

The Wildlife Trust has more information about pollinators here.