Is this the only place in the UK you could take this photo?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 29 October 2017 19:57

Pevensey Marshes SWT reserve is an amazing place. Just one dip in the water with the net and all sorts of things can be found. So much so that it took me and Evan Jones all day to cover four ditches last week. I'll be going back to finish the survey tomorrow. The first ditch was FULL of Water Spiders and Fen Raft Spiders Dolomedes plantarius but this photo shows a Lesser Water-measurer Hydrometra gracilenta sitting on a Fen Raft Spider. I don't think the two occur together anywhere else in the UK.

And this nationally scarce wolf spider is the beefy Pirata piscatorius. It's like a Pirata went out on Halloween dressed as a Dolomedes and people do mistake them, mainly due to the relative bulk and the white stripes on the side of the cephalothorax. Note however that even this image has been photo-bombed by another Dolomedes showing it how it's done, those legs are huge! We only saw three P. piscatorius on this survey, all in the same ditch, the only ditch I have seen it in on site. It's not normally the sort of thing that would be recorded during an aquatic invertebrate survey but I will add it on to this survey. Outside of Pevensey it's only been recorded in West Sussex once at Burton Pond in its more typical habitat of a Sphagnum-rich bog. 

The molluscs and beetles are great out there too but I didn't have a lot of time for taking photos. I couldn't resist this one of a lovely Pike being photo-bombed by Notonecta glauca.

Vertebrates were pretty good too with only my second ever Brown Hare on a Trust reserve (my last one was over eight years ago at the Mens would you believe it), a Wheatear and a Golden Plover over. What will tomorrow bring?!

A bunch of suckers

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 20 October 2017 08:58

For the last two days I have carried out an aquatic invertebrate survey of Waltham Brooks. I  recorded seven species of leech there and have become quite taken with these bizarre animals. There are not that many leech species in the UK and they are not too hard to identify. So here are a few of my favourites and what they feed on. 

This is Hemiclepsis marginata. It feeds on fish and this is the only one I have ever seen. It has  a chequered margin to the body, is quite broad and has a large shovel shaped head and a big banded suction cup at the rear. Quite the looker.

When I used to do the electro-fishing for the RSPB, this is what I used to know as the Fish Leech Piscicola geometra (not knowing there was another species) regularly seeing it attached to fish. This is VERY thin and worm-like with a similar large head and suction cup.

Another one I had not encountered before. Glossiphonia heteroclita and this one feeds on molluscs. A different array of eyes to the following species.

And the darker Glossiphonia complanata which has  different eye arrangement of a 2 x 3 matrix. This also feeds on molluscs but Elliot & Mann states they get their first meal from...other leeches! That dark internal structure on these two species is the crop!

This is the Duck Leech Theromyzon tessulatum. I think someone needs to tell it that's not a duck. Wait, it's not a duck right? Actually it feeds on water birds, usually entering the nostrils. It has been known to even kill ducklings. 

This small leech has two eyes and a dot behind them called a 'callous dorsal scute' in Elliott & Mann. This is Helobdella stagnalis and feeds generally on aquatic invertebrates.

Birds were pretty good too over the two days. Two Hawfinches over but also Grey wagtail, Brambling, Siskin, Redpoll, Kingfisher, Black-tailed Godwit, Yellowhammer, Red Kite and Water Rail.

Portslade Man o' War

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 13 October 2017 17:32

So I'd planned a rare day of doing very little and somehow find myself writing a blog on spiders and rewilding for two hours. I thought I'd check my work email quickly and there was a message from Charlotte at work saying a member of the public had spotted a Portuguese Man o' War on Shoreham beach. I emailed them asking for more detail but then realised I had better chance it and  just started walking west along the strand-line until I found one! And then less than hour later I'm looking at one. Now, I've been up and down the beach several times over the last few week searching for one of these so really pleased to find my own one.

It was incredible to find this only slightly more than a mile from my house. It took a bit of searching for though. I was very twitchy about everything blue I could see up ahead.

Portuguese Man o' Poorly Secured Livestock. Tentacles: Check. Air sack: Nope. Onwards.

Portuguese Man o' Obsessive Cleaning. Air Sack: Check. Tentacles: Nope. That doesn't look right either.

Portuguese Man o' Weight Loss. No, that's not it. Although it has an air sack of sorts and some kind tentacles. Not transparent enough though.

Portuguese Man o' Colonic Inspections. Tentacles: Check. Air sack: Check (although deflated). Translucence: Check! But it doesn't smell right. Eww.

Portuguese Man o' WAR!!! All that jazz at the bottom is far stranger than I was expecting. Quite a bizarre alien like thing indeed. This one seemed to be lacking the big sail, more of a transparent pastie sitting on top of a bubble gum flavoured Slush Puppie. Awesome. Only one guy walked by and asked me why I was taking photos of a condom. I told him what it was and he actually took a photo and got really into it. 

Rewilding and spiders

Posted by Graeme Lyons 12:48

Butcherlands is a small (c80ha) series of fields adjacent to Ebernoe Common which were in arable until 2001. The site boasts some thick hedgerows but lacks veteran trees. It sits on Wealden clay so is very wet in the winter and the vegetation is neutral to slightly acidic in places. Sussex Wildlife Trust mainly manage Butcherlands by 'pulse-grazing', that is only grazing part of the year, say backing off with heavy grazing over the summer and moving animals back in in the winter for  a harder graze. We do not always stick to this plan though, in some years grazing a part of it harder and in other years not. We have maintained a network of fences and gates that allows for this flexibility. Fences act like predators by forcing animals to move around the site, it's vital that we keep them. 

We are also moving towards breaching one of our 'limits of acceptable change' when it comes to the amount of bramble cover present and so will intervene mechanically to control this. Grazing of woody vegetation by the livestock we have available is simply never going to control this plant and so a compromise has to be made or else we will lose the species-rich and invertebrate-rich grassland we have created over the past 16 years.

Which brings me to the invertebrate survey that Mike Edwards and I have been doing this year. We just finished the last visit to the site on the 9th October. Pretty late in the year but a good visit none-the-less. This also ends my season of terrestrial invertebrate survey field work! Wahoo! Anyway, I still have many jars of beetles to identify and all of Mike's records to add to the species list but my list currently stands at 447 species for the site. The one taxa I have completed is the spiders and that's what I am going to write about here.

I have been struck as I carried out this survey by how rich the spider assemblage is here considering it was arable only 16 years ago. Ebernoe Common is our second most speciose reserve (we count Butcherlands as part of Ebernoe), it's just gone over the 3800 species mark. It's actually Butcherlands that's pushed it over. You could say that the spiders have simply colonised from Ebernoe but many of these are species that have never been recorded on Ebernoe before. A total of 73 species were recorded on the survey of which 7 (or 9.6%) have conservation status. This is really high and really respectable for spiders on a nature reserve, one of the highest I have seen away from places like Iping and Rye Harbour (heathlands and coastal sites basically). So what's going on? Well, I believe it's all about the sympathetic structure provided by the pulse-grazing. It produces plenty of structural types in the sward that cannot be provided by all year round steady state grazing. In addition, plenty of structure is also being provided by the developing woody vegetation but as you will see this does not provide much of the habitat for the scarcer species.

The survey took the form of six visits. On each visit, the seven main fields were visited for half an hour each and the methods appropriate to the season were used to record invertebrates. These seven species lists were then bulked over the survey period giving a species list for each field and for the whole site. The order they were carried out in was varied. So here are the seven species lists. The conservation status is shown after the species name as being either Nationally Scarce (NS) or Nationally Rare (NR).

  Brick Nine Hill Church Lime High Spark
Species 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Achaearanea simulans 1            
Agalenatea redii 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Agelena labyrinthica 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Anelosimus vittatus 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Anyphaena accentuata             1
Araneus diadematus   1   1   1 1
Araneus quadratus 1 1       1 1
Araniella cucurbitina   1   1 1    
Araniella opisthographa     1        
Argiope bruennichi     1 1      
Bathyphantes gracilis     1        
Ceratinopsis stativa     1        
Cercidia prominens (NS)         1    
Clubiona brevipes     1 1      
Clubiona diversa   1          
Clubiona reclusa 1            
Clubiona subtilis 1            
Cyclosa conica           1  
Dictyna arundinacea 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Dicymbium brevisetosum             1
Erigone atra 1 1 1   1 1  
Erigone dentipalpis   1 1 1 1    
Ero cambridgei 1 1 1     1 1
Ero furcata           1  
Evarcha arcuata (NS) 1   1 1   1  
Gibbaranea gibbosa 1           1
Heliophanus flavipes             1
Hylyphantes graminicola   1          
Hypsosinga pygmaea 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Hyptiotes paradoxus (NS)             1
Lariniodes cornutus 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Lathys humilis     1        
Linyphia hortensis         1    
Linyphia triangularis         1    
Mangora acalypha 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Marpissa muscosa (NS)   1 1 1     1
Metellina mengei 1 1   1 1 1 1
Metellina segmentata       1   1  
Misumena vatia   1 1 1      
Neoscona adianta 1 1 1 1 1    
Neottiura bimaculata         1    
Neriene clathrata   1 1 1   1  
Ozyptila brevipes     1 1   1  
Ozytila simplex           1  
Pachygnatha clerkii     1 1 1    
Pachygnatha degeeri 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Padiscura pallens       1      
Pardosa amentata 1            
Pardosa nigriceps         1    
Pardosa paludicola (NR)   1 1        
Pardosa pullata         1 1  
Pelecopsis parallela   1          
Philodromus aereolus         1    
Philodromus albidus 1       1   1
Philodromus praedatus           1  
Phylloneta impressa   1 1        
Phylloneta sisyphia   1 1   1 1  
Pisaura mirabilis 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Platnickina tincta           1 1
Robertus arundineti 1            
Sibianor aurocinctus (NS) 1   1 1 1    
Tallusia experta         1 1 1
Tenuiphantes flavipes         1    
Tenuiphantes tenuis 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Tetragnatha nigrita       1      
Tibellus oblongus 1   1 1 1 1  
Trematocpehalus cristatus (NS) 1       1    
Trichopternoides thorelli           1  
Walckaeneria antica 1     1 1    
Xysticus cristatus 1 1 1 1     1
Xysticus lanio           1  
Zilla diodia     1     1  
Zora spinimana 1     1 1 1 1
TOTAL 29 28 33 31 32 32 25
Total spp. with cons status 3 2 4 3 3 1 2
%age spp. with cons status 10.3 7.1 12.1 9.7 9.4 3.1 8
So Hilland came out on tops and this has mostly been reflected in other taxa across the site. It sits a little higher than the rest and is more free draining (slightly sandier too) and this may explain it. Of these 73 species, only 10 (13.7%) were recorded in all seven fields while 31 species (42.4% were recorded in one field only (these are known as 'unique' species). This fairly typical for a survey of this type and shows just how hard it is to thoroughly survey a site as well as how some species naturally occur at such very low densities.

The seven scarcer species are as follows:

Cercidia prominens (NS). Only one of these beautiful spiders was found, an adult male during the October visit (photo of which is at the top of this blog). Found on Common Fleabane in Limekiln Field. I have previously only seen this on heathland and once on chalk downland. It was new to Ebernoe as well as Butcherlands. A species here associated with the grassland rather than the woody component.

Evarcha arcuata (NS). Before I started this survey I regularly would see this jumping spider at Butcherlands (especially in longer grass at Hilland). At this point it was new to Ebernoe Common. This species is abundant on the west Sussex Heaths. I have never seen it anywhere away from Heather except here at Butcherlands. I've also never heard of anyone else finding it  away from heathland so it's interesting what it's doing here so well established yet so far from heath. It's sandier here but a long way from being acid grassland. This survey proved it was widespread turning up in four of the seven fields. A species here associated with the grassland rather than the woody component.

Hyptiotes paradoxus (NS). I was amazed to find I had swept an immature one of these incredible spiders from Juncus in Sparkes Field! Nothing like what the text say it likes. This is only the second time I have seen this spider and only the first time I have seen it in Sussex. In fact this spider would have been a first for west Sussex if I had encountered it three days earlier (it was recorded at Kingley Vale). It was new to ALL Sussex Wildlife trust reserves not just Ebernoe. Although I encountered this in the grassland, it is known for being more arboreal.

Marpissa muscosa (NS). Our largest jumping spider was already well recorded from Ebernoe and is strictly not a grassland species. It's not all that scarce in Sussex, we get it in the kitchen at work! Rather this specie favours old trees and gate posts, especially if they are in the sun. In fact, it was on the gate posts that this species was more often recorded. It was recorded in four of the seven fields.

Pardosa paludicola (NR). The star of the show. By far. This massive blackish wolf spider was a totally unexpected find. It's only known from a few sites and was only the second record for Sussex (it turned up only two miles from here many years ago). In fact it's so are it hadn't even been recorded in the UK since 2004! This species is clearly an early successional species and would not do well here if it all went to scrub. So was it always here or has it moved in? (Photo above by Evan Jones). It occurs in two adjacent fields in a wet area not huge in extent and it was abundant in both those fields.

Sibianor aurocinctus (NS). This little grassland spider seems to be turning up much more frequently. I only recorded it for the first time last year but since then i have recorded it quite a few times. In this survey it was recorded in four of the seven fields and always in the grassland. Again dense blocks of scrub and woodland would not benefit this species. It was new to Ebernoe Common during this survey.

Trematocephalus cristatus (NS). This small but highly distinctive money spider was the only money spider of the survey to have conservation status and was recorded in two fields. An arboreal species already common in Ebernoe, it would also do well in a more woody dominated system not requiring a sward at all it would seem. However I have always found more of them on the edge of woodland so a mosaic of woodland, scrub and grass would be ideal.

Which is precisely what we are trying to achieve here at Butcherlands. So can you say rewilding is good for spiders? I don't think that would be fair, I haven't seen similar results at other sites where heavier grazing produces a less desirable sward for spiders. I think it's fairer to say that sympathetic and pulsed conservation grazing and the application of natural process is what's worked here. Would you call that rewilding? Many would but I see the human intervention of pulsing the grazing is what's worked here to produce a rich and varied structure so vital for spiders and many other invertebrate groups. Some might not call that rewilding but I think it's really important that we do and don't adopt a purist 'all or nothing' approach to it. It's important that we don't get tied up in semantics. 

The key thing here is to monitor and continuously adjust the management so that the grazing and the natural processes we apply (or their analogues when a more natural tool isn't available - such as the planned bramble cutting) are the best they can possibly be for wildlife. We have created some wonderful species-rich grassland here and it would be unfair to allow it to drift entirely into a scrub dominated system (and then eventually woodland) just because rewilding is the main approach to management. And that is what would happen with the livestock we have available, make no mistake. As far as I am concerned, this is the only way rewilding can ever work as a part of conservation, otherwise we are simply blindly walking into the dark being lead only by our own confirmation bias.

A hole in the groyne

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 7 October 2017 10:15

As Portuguese Men o' War have been creeping there way up the channel (seen in Dorset and even Hampshire I am informed last week) I have been searching the strand line after any easterly winds here in Hove but to no avail. Cornwall and the Scillies have had huge numbers over the last month. Walking along this beach is tedious due to the number of groynes there but one always catches my eye as it has a large hole at the end where water drains out. It's usually inaccessible when I walk by but a couple of days ago it was open and I stepped inside...

...there wasn't much in there accept this chiton. Now I only ever see the same species when rock-pooling in Sussex (Lepidochitona cinerea) so I was very pleased to see an Acnathodchitona, unlike Lepidopchitona, these species have a broad, spongy edge interrupted with little bristly tufts, the armour only covering about a third of the body. I am pretty sure this is Acanthochitona crinita due to the pear-shaped tubercles on the shell and the small size (it was about 3 cm). I have seen Acanthochitona fasciularis which is twice the size when adult and has much smaller, rounder tubercles. I have however only seen these on Jersey (the lower image is this species).

Christmas has come early

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 4 October 2017 16:13

Abut six weeks ago actually. I saw that Jim and Dawn Langiewicz, along with Mark Colvin, had found a Tiered Tooth Hericium cirrhatum at Ebernoe Common growing out of a fallen Beech. Now, as this fungus is known to be a bit of a delicacy, I promised I would wait a few weeks until I posted about it. I have to say this was the best looking fungus I have EVER seen. I was totally transfixed with it, I couldn't stop taking photos!

It conjured up images of flying into Superman's Fortress of Solitude. It was like someone had bought me a white-chocolate fondue set for Christmas and I was coating everything in it! It was like reading the Northern Lights by the actual light of the Northern Lights whilst eating coconut ice-cream. It was like exploring an ice-cave on Svalbard with Werner Herzog. Anyway, you can probably tell I was quite taken with it, enjoy some more photos of this spectacular fungus.

Mark had also found some Felt Saddles which amazingly was a new species for the site. It's really well recorded for fungi so it's not easy to find new species there.

And nearby plenty of Fluted Bird's-nest Fungi! What wonderful little creations these are. A huge thank you to Jim, Dawn and Mark for spotting all these wonderful fungi.

Nature Blog Network