Stick of rock

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 18 January 2013 10:07

On the 9th January I met up with Sharon Pilkington and Tom Ottley to look at some of the rare bryophytes growing on the sandrocks at Eridge Rocks. It was an interesting day, I managed to see seven species I hadn't seen before (4156) including some quite scarce ones for this region. It was good to talk about the management of these often over-looked plants and to see that we are mostly getting it right too. Tom thought that the rocks were probably looking the best they had done in the last 50 years for this rare assemblage of tiny plants. A few tweaks that we could make include clearing brambles from some of the boulders and removing some of the lower branches from evergreen shrubs to let the dappled sunlight that these plants demand (direct sunlight or complete shade are a sure way to eradicate most of the species).
Here are a few of the species we saw. This first was perhaps the rarest of the mosses, Dicranum scottianum (we only saw three tiny plants) but I was particularly pleased with this shot. It is taken with the lens looking directly up the side of the sandrocks. It was an incredibly dull, overcast day which I think the Coolpix 4500 does well in.
This TINY liverwort is known Scapania umbrosa and was yet another species the bryologists were quite excited by. Nearby, this boulder, with a birch growing from it, was also a hot spot for a few scarce bryophytes.
Including this endearing little acrocarp (did I just say that). Tiny luminous-green sea urchins spring to mind. It's yet another species that can thrive on the sandrock, Campylopus fragilis.
A phrase that kept popping up in the species accounts in the literature for these scarce species was 'hyper oceanic', essentially meaning of a far north-westerly distribution close to the Atlantic. In the Weald, we have many of these species, particularly on the sandrocks, but they are often very rare in the region (where they might be common in the north-west). It must be a specific set of climatic and substrate conditions that are provided here but it is something well worth holding on to. Without the appropriate management at Eridge we would certainly lose these plants to succession as Holly, Yew and Rhododendron cast their dense winter shade over the rocks. This is a great example of monitoring and management working hand in hand with the specialists feeding their knowledge and advice straight to us at the Trust in the field. If we want to hold on to rare and scarce species that have such specific requirements, we cannot rely on a 'one-size fits all' approach to their management and natural processes here would be damaging. Species-assemblage focused management is therefore vital if we are to maintain the more unusual plants and animals at Eridge. Small scale management like this is often referred to as 'gardening' by some conservationists these days. Call it what you like, I see it as exactly what is required to maintain a rare and precious assemblage and that's exactly why I have conservation written through me like a stick of rock!

Who wants to be an ecologist?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 10 January 2013 09:12

Here we have Rosie, Becks and Helen sorting out their saltmarsh plants at Titchwell RSPB after seeing the impressive Dune Tiger Beetle Cicindela maritima there (thanks to Mark Gurney for the photos). But why are they there and what are they doing? Nine years ago I was there carrying out an NVC survey and seeing the same exciting species...

...I started my life as an ecologist working for the RSPB out of their headquarters at the Lodge in Sandy working on a network of over 200 reserves in four countries. It was a great five years and I saw some amazing places and species. The RSPB is currently advertising four Ecologist Trainee posts in Bedfordshire and Scotland. There will be a focus on learning fungi or lesser known groups of plants and invertebrates. This training scheme the RSPB is running now, is not quite how I got into ecology, but it will be working within the same team and I would thoroughly recommend this rare opportunity to train as a conservation ecologist. A far rarer job than a consultancy ecologist with a far greater focus on species identification and habitat management and much less on planning and protected species. You would get about to lots of different nature reserves and see many rare and wonderful creatures under the watchful eye of some very competent ecologists! Here are the vacancy details. The closing date is the 14th January 2013 though, so hurry!

20 tonne sandcastle

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 5 January 2013 11:06

This huge block of sand has been deposited by the stream at Woods Mill over the last few weeks. A much smaller scroll bar had developed there over the last few years but was a fraction the size of this. I measured it as being roughly 7 x 3 metres and about 0.5 metres deep (my foot print can be seen for scale). So, approximately 10 cubic metres of wet sand at 2000 kg/cubic metre comes out an impressive 20 metric tonnes! Now this is insignificant to the amount of water that passes down there every day but it is still an impressive force of nature. To see it so neatly piled up in one place with so little in the immediate vicinity is also intriguing. Several new scroll bars have started developing further down the stream too.

I flushed a Snipe from the furthest ox-bow lake and a surprise was a Painted Lady behaving like it was on migration;VERY fast and VERY straight. Lots of little beetles flying around in the sun too, mostly Helophorus sp. and Aphodius sp.

Top ten natural history highlights of 2012

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 1 January 2013 13:01

I may be doing less natural history than usual but I still had an amazing year in 2012 so I thought it only fair to pull together some of the highlights and my favourite photos! I saw an additional 414 species in 2012 starting the year on 3735 and ending the year on 4149 species. So, in reverse order then my highlights were:

10). Crazy day of natural history in West Sussex
I found Marsh Clubmoss at Stedham after not being seen for a decade. We also then went onto Graffham and found three RDB saproxylic beetles on a single fallen birch tree including this Diaperis boleti.

9). Honey Buzzard at Butcherlands
I put this in as it was such a great view, shame the photos didn't come out so well.

8). Seaford Head
Really enjoyed working up there this year and this is my favourite photo of the year.

7). Rock-pooling!
Who would have thought such strange things are lurking just off Brighton Beach? This is the Long-spined Sea Scorpion.

6). Seven new birds in 2012.  
Getting the twitch on again is always good value. Common Yellowthroat, Spanish Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Paddyfield Warbler, Kentish Plover, Siberian Stonechat (photo {of a photo}) and Desert Wheatear.

5). A very painful first for Sussex!
This is Pogonocherus fasciculatus and I really did get bitten by Wood Ants whilst trying to get a photo.

4). Pan-species listers field meeting featuring Mr Lumpy.
This was the Fern Weevil Syagrius intrudens. A remarkable alien weevil that got everyone excited and was my highlight of the meeting. I hope someone is going to organise an event next year.

3). Ireland
The pictures say it all really. The Burren was one of the most stunning places I have ever been to.

2). Spiders at Stedham
This is the second cutest jumping spider in the world. Aellurilus v-insignatus

1). Pellenes tripunctatus
This is THE cutest jumping spider in the world, ever! So, 2012 was the year I got into spiders. What will 2013 bring? Seriously, I am running out of taxa.

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