Enviro-Mentalist

An Ordinary Person’s Views on Living With Minimal Environmental Impact

  1. Great Crested Newt Debate

    Written by .

    I recently attended a workshop that was discussing the potential impact of Brexit on Environmental Laws.  There was a mix of people in the room, although about a third worked in the Environmental Impact Assessment field.  This means that they co-ordinate the surveys that look at the potential impacts (positive as well as negative) of developments on the environment, produce a report, suggest mitigation and monitoring schemes.

    One of the topics that seemed to come up a lot – and this is not the only place I have heard it mentioned, is the protection given to Great Crested Newts.  This is a species that strikes fear into the heart of developers, or at least it used to as they are a protected species.  The hope amongst this set of co-ordinators/ assessors was that if the planning laws were amended (and the general consensus in the room was that the current government is likely to weaken pretty much any environmental law they can, if not abolish it entirely) then surely it is worth getting rid of the protection for great crested newts – perhaps we could protect hedgehogs instead was a suggestion.

    The reason there is so much debate about these newts is because in the UK they are more common than the general public usually think.  It is just that internationally they are rare.  Whereas in the UK at least, hedgehogs are in decline.

    But, does that mean that in some countries in Africa they should be able to disregard elephants for example, just because they have lots?  If we have an internationally important population of a creature, then surely we should do our best to look after them?  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing anything about hedgehogs, but there are lots of them around the world, so do UK populations matter in the grand scheme of things.  (I think they do, but they could be added to the protected list, it is not a case of newt or hedgehog.)  I’ve seen quite a few hedgehogs in my time, never seen a great crested newt yet though.

    Besides, if we stopped protecting great crested newts, how long would we keep our large population for – we haven’t done very well with other species – even the starlings and sparrows are disappearing.

    No comments.

  2. Bring on the butterflies

    Written by .

    After a day dedicated to bees last week, this weekend it was time for the butterflies to entice me into the sunshine.  It started when I noticed a painted lady fluttering around the bottom of the garden.  These migrants are certainly some of the most flamboyant of butterflies – as beautiful on the underside as the upper side of their wings.  They were enjoying the buddleia which they were sharing with several red admirals a couple of peacocks and a small tortoiseshell.

    So after a quick detour via the front garden where a small skipper was enjoying the verbena bonariensis I went for a wander to a field that I’d seen my first brown argus in last year.  In fact it was apparently the first time in many years that it had been recorded in Daventry.

    The field is much more overgrown than last year with fewer plants, but it was alive with the sound of grasshoppers and crickets.  I only walked a short way in when I saw arguably one of our most beautiful butterfly, the small copper.  I have only ever seen it in this field and at the country park in Daventry.  It may be small, but it is dazzling.  My pictures today really don’t do it justice, but it was constantly hiding behind grasses when it had its wings open.

    small copper_2 small copper

    I wasn’t really expecting to see a brown argus again, but luck was on my side and I got really good views.  It is an inconspicuous looking butterfly, and often confused with a female common blue, but the brown spots on its forewing and the lack of blue even near the body convinced me I had found my quarry.

    brown argus_2 brown argus

    Speaking of common blues – there were quite a few of them about – some of them having a bit of a quarrel and some not.  The males are a beautiful blue whereas the females have varying amounts of blue on them, all the way through to almost completely brown.

    common blue common blues

    Sadly all of these butterflies were in a field that they are planning to put old people housing on.  So, this could be the last time I see brown argus and small coppers in Daventry.

    No comments.

  3. Bee Festival

    Written by .

    Thanks to social media I discovered that Coventry University (their Centre for Agriculture, Water and Resilience) were running a two day bee festival just down the road at Ryton Gardens with the fantastic Steven Falk author of the THE bee ID book – and it was free.

    I sat through three brilliant talks in the morning with three interesting and very enthusiastic presenters.  First there was the aforementioned Mr Falk.  How he crammed in so much information in less than an hour I don’t know.  He spoke about his book, discovering new species including the use of DNA to prove an 18th century naturalist right and the different families of bee – I don’t think any of us there will forget the Pantaloon Bee!  Next up was Andrew Salisbury from the RHS talking about the trials that they’d carried out at Wisley to find out if native, near-native (i.e. Northern Hemisphere) or exotic (Southern Hemisphere) plants were better for pollinators.  The answer – depends on the pollinator.  It was very interesting to see how they carried out the trial, such a lot of meticulous hard work.  I was also interested to hear that they only saw 80 butterflies over the multi-year survey – I am not sure that butterflies visit gardens in great numbers unless you have a buddleia.

    Finally we had Brigit Strawbridge talking about plants and pollination.  She almost contained her enthusiasm for bees!  Fact of the day that I learnt was that you won’t spot honey bees on lavender unless it is warm as it takes hot weather for the nectaries to fill up enough for the short tongued bees like honey bees to be able to feed.  But brambles keep on providing nectar for days – that explains why the bees love my silver stemmed Rubus and shun the lavender for it!

    In the afternoon Steven Falk entertained a large crowd on a search for bees around Ryton Organic Gardens – he was hoping for 20, but we were all satisfied with the 17 that we did see – including this Osmia leaiana showing its orange pollen collecting scopa on the underside.

    Osmia leaiana-osmia leaiana

    The whole festival was put on by BloomsForBees a new initiative promoting Citizen Science and plants for pollinators with a new App and website to help log the bees and the plants they are enjoying.

    I had a fantastic day, made some new friends and renewed my love of bees.  A recent workshop about solitary bees that suggested that there was no point trying to ID solitary bees unless you were willing to learn latin and kill the bees for subsequent dissection dampened my enthusiasm quite a lot.  Steven Falk loves giving bees English names that make them more memorable and showed how much there was to discover without the aid of a killing jar and microscope.  And, as for his knowledge of flowers…  All I can say is if you get the chance to go on a Bee Walk or Workshop with Steven – grab it and his book which has been sitting unused on my shelf for too long.

    No comments.

  4. The Fly Trap – Book Review

    Written by .

    Fredrik Sjoberg is a Swedish Entomologist, a collector of hoverflies and inhabitant of an island.  I didn’t read the reviews of the book before I bought it; suffice to say it was a book written by a man obsessed with hoverflies and it had five star reviews.  What more did I need to know?

    This, however, is not a book about hoverflies.  It is not a book about insects.  It is a book about obsessions, collecting, being an entomologist, living on an island, following your passion, and, to be honest, being what most people would consider eccentric.  The theme running through the book though, is actually the Fly Trap, or, rather, the inventor of the standard issue insect trap – Rene Malaise.

    Rene Malaise was also a Swedish Entomologist.  Malaise also collected flies, thousands of them.  And art.  He spent years in the Kamchatka region of Russia, even when his fellow travellers returned home.  Later he visited Burma, and collected more flies.  In between he collected a lot of art.

    In what is a wonderful book, the author interconnects his life with that of Malaise; what it’s like to live in remote areas, how the author was really not an explorer, despite many trips abroad, how it feels to find insects new to an area, why collecting can become an obsession and, finally, reveals what is probably his own obsession.  With Rene Malaise.  Despite this, I feel I know a lot more about Rene Malaise, but not much about the Fredrik Sjoberg.

    I found the book difficult to get into at first – perhaps it needed more insects for me.   I didn’t know where it was headed or why.  Then I read the second half in an afternoon, and it was a wonderful read.  It didn’t matter that it meandered with no obvious purpose, or that hoverflies were not the main attraction (although some more insects would have been a bonus).  It is a charming book, and one that I was disappointed to finish (although the end was a little weird).  It is one of the few books that I decided straight away that I would read again.

    Five stars if you like your natural history writing a little odd.

    22022077._UY200_

    No comments.

  5. Metamorphosis – March Book Review

    Written by .

    IMG_3985

    MetamorphosisAstonishing Insect Transformations – the subtitle definitely describes the content of this book by Rupert Soskin.

    Insects – often overlooked, thought of as bugs or pests, possibly with the exception of butterflies (although the cabbage white butterfly springs to mind) but with around one million species known and named.  Untold numbers are still to be found.  Contrast that with birds – ten thousand; mammals – five thousand; even reptiles and amphibians only manage fifteen thousand between them.  It is no surprise then that there are many things that even the most fervent entomologist can still learn about this diverse class of creatures.

    In Metamorphosis the author beautifully illustrates an area that I haven’t yet seen covered in another book – the transformation that insects must undergo to get from an egg (in the majority of cases) to the adults of the species that we are usually most familiar with.  This lack of familiarity is despite the fact that the adult stage is usually the shortest with many living days or weeks but spending years as a larva or nymph.

    The book is essentially in two parts – those insects that go through several instars (stages); looking to some degree like miniature versions of the adults, and those that undergo a complete transformation from what is essentially a tube of innards to something completely different (the most obvious example being the change from a caterpillar to a butterfly).

    IMG_3987IMG_3988

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    I started off wondering  so much of the book was devoted to the first class of insects; the hemimetabolous insects (the young of which are called nymphs) when the changes they go through are nowhere near as marked as those of the holometabolous examples.  But, as the author explains, the only way that an insect can grow is to shed its skin – and, in some cases (such as some of the shield bugs) I don’t think many people would match juvenile with adult.

    What makes this book a joy to read are of course the photographs.  Where many books show the adults in all their glory, Rupert Soskin shows the different stages in the life of the insect, from egg to larva / nymph, to chrysalis and adult. IMG_3989

    The photographs are beautiful and I can only begin to wonder at the patience of the author as he waited to get the shots.  Within the different chapters there are of course notes about the insects and their lives – after all, the photos only tell half of the story.  In some cases he has even shown the scale of the insects – a very helpful device.

    I was a little disappointed at first when I saw how many of the insects are from outside the UK and therefore something I am never likely to see (no matter how much the climate changes).  But, they were fascinating – I was completely won over by the stick insects and the Peruvian Horsehead Grasshoppers.

    IMG_3986

    All the main orders are included from grasshoppers to mantids, dragonflies to beetles, butterflies, moths, flies bees, wasps to hemiptera.  I began to wonder how he decided what to include and also what didn’t make the final cut.

    IMG_3991

    I thought that the sections on the butterflies and moths were interesting choices, showing the changes in size and coloration of the caterpillars and the resulting adult.  But, my favourite photo of all (other than the horsehead grasshoppers, mantids and stick insects) had to be the female wasp removing water from her nest after the rain – just fantastic, one of the best insect shots I have seen and behaviour I hadn’t heard about.  Just one of the many interesting aspects of insect life that Mr Soskin managed to capture and share.

    IMG_3992

    I have only two real complaints about the book; I would love to have known more about how he took the photos – he has a small section about this but it was very short on actual details and I would have liked it to have been twice the size with more fantastic insects and beautiful photos (this is of course selfish as the book is 250 pages long).

    This is a beautiful coffee table book that I could look at again and again, and a starter for anyone interested in insects showcasing some of the less well known stages of their lives.  Whilst it is only a starter, it does include some further reading suggestions that will be making an appearance on my birthday wish list.  Many thanks Mr Soskin for creating such a wonderful book (and to Northampton Library for stocking it so I didn’t have to wait until my birthday to read it).

    No comments.