School’s out for Summer (well almost)

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Orchard Park Community Primary School Children, Beetles Class, half way through the litter pick after the Wildflower Bank heading towards the Wildlife Area

Yesterday we ran the last of the sessions on local wildlife for Miss Williamson’s Year 4 Beetles class – around 30 pupils approximately 9 years old. We’ve had a great time exploring Orchard Park’s wildlife and finding out how we can help. Orchard Park Wildlife Project planned and delivered three sessions.

The first, focussed on the variety of Habitats around Orchard Park (wildflowers, scrub in the Wildlife Area, grassland, ponds, hedges, mature trees etc.) and the wildlife that lives in each. We had an interactive presentation followed by an exploration of habitats in the school grounds, and an activity to create habitat and wildlife diagrams.

Session two looked at Threats to Wildlife in the UK using local examples where possible. OPWP explained threatened species and population declines, and looked at some of the main threats – habitat loss and degradation, overharvesting/fishing, invasive species, climate change, and disease. As habitat loss is the reason most species are threatened, we played a game similar to musical chairs – the children enjoyed flapping around as bats to the Batman theme tune – to show the effects of habitat loss to local bats is much more detrimental than they might first imagine. As their habitat becomes fragmented, the bats can’t travel between fragments, and the fragments are soon unable to sustain any bats. We followed this by making 3D models of a range of habitats and animals that would be found in them.

Orchard Park has litter problem and the Wildlife Project came into being initially to address the terrible and dangerous litter levels in the Wildlife Area – a densely vegetated area set aside for wildlife, and intended to be undisturbed to provide a safe area for birds to nest etc. Through many litter picks, and work with the Orchard Park Community Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council, it’s getting better, but the litter remains – although right now, thankfully, at a lesser level.  Yesterday’s session focussed on Dangers of Litter to Wildlife and how it is dangerous in both the short and long term, and in particular to some of our local favourites: Hedgehogs, Lizards and birds. We explored ideas to help, donned high vis jackets, grabbed equipment, and a did a litter pick along the Wildflower Bank seeded with wildflowers to support insects, and up to the Wildlife Area. It was a lovely sunny day and the children got a lot of bags of little things. We stressed the importance of picking up the small pieces of plastic and cigarette butts, as they can release poisons and pollutants into the ground as they break down over many many years. The Ring Fort Bank wrapping around the school and approach to the Wildlife Area are all looking much better.

Thank you Beetles 🙂

We also thank Miss Williamson for inviting us into her class. We enjoyed all the sessions, and I know she’d like us to go back next year – this would be our third consecutive year running similar sessions.

School isn’t completely out for summer though, as we’re also planning an assembly on Wildflowers and an after school Wildflower and Insect Bioblitz, both feeding into the sign for the Wildflower Bank Habitat, and perhaps a Welly Walk with some preschool children to spot different birds and trees that live here…..All before they break for the long summer holidays.

Finally, many thanks indeed to Holly Freeman of OPWP for arranging the sessions with the school and organising activities.

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Local Land Plastic, Please Help

 

 

All photos kindly provided by: Andrew Chan

Since David Attenborough’s recent Blue Planet II, we all know that plastic littering the oceans is a big problem. However, we have a massive litter and plastic problem so local, it’s practically (and in many cases around Orchard Park quite literally) on our doorsteps. The Wildlife Area is in a terrible state and sadly even after five years of concerted efforts to clean it up – by Orchard Park Community Council, and volunteers from Orchard Park Wildlife Project, the local Scouts, and Orchard Park Community Primary School to name a few – the litter issue is as bad as ever see: Opwildlife litter.

Andrew Chan (OPCC) flew a drone over the Wildlife Area last week and recorded the flyover. The resulting photos and footage show the wide range and great level of the litter problem and it’s sickening. Literally.

Plastic is composed of toxic compounds which can cause harm to wildlife for many years by polluting land and water. Animals can get stuck in larger pieces of plastic (and cans), or they can ingest both large and micro pieces of plastic, resulting in suffocation and poisoning respectively. We found plastic bags containing dog poo hanging in the trees, obviously this is a human health hazard.

Andrew has made a great video highlighting the litter problem. To view video click here: Highlighting the litter problem at the Wildlife Area

 

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OPWP has used all the footage filmed by the drone to highlight some of the features installed for wildlife at the area, and it also shows just how wide ranging the litter problem is. To view video click here: Longer flyover showing features of the Wildlife Area, and the range and extent of the severe litter problem there

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A study by the University of California and Santa Barbara in the US found that “We are increasingly smothering ecosystems in plastic”. The lead researcher stated they are “very worried that there may be all kinds of unintended, adverse consequences that we will only find out about once it is too late” and “there is much more attention paid to how plastics are interacting with marine organisms but there is much, much less known about how plastics interact with terrestrial organisms – I would suspect there is something equivalent going on and it might actually be worse.” (source The Guardian: Taylor 2017).

Other research by Keep Britain Tidy has shown that the presence of litter simply encourages more litter to be tossed aside: if we can keep the Wildlife Area cleaner, it might deter additive littering.

We’re having a litter pick at the Wildlife Area, Ring Fort Rd, CB4 2GR, on Saturday 14 April from 10:00-14:00. Please come along and join us, it’s obvious the wildlife needs your help. Meet at the sports centre, join us for as little or long as you can. Refreshments provided. We look forward to seeing you. Thank you.

 

 

 

Seeking funding to investigate the presence of the amphibian chytrid fungus in a non-native species

Swabbing midwife toad. Photo by Steven Allen

Swabbing midwife toad. Photo by Steven Allen

By Steven J R Allain and Mark James Goodman, text taken directly from experiment.com

Backed by Brian Colin Eversham, Talita Bateman, Lindsay Stronge, and Clare Worden

About the project 

Click here for comprehensive information and how to fund from experiment.com

We’re currently studying a population of the common midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans) in Cambridge, England. The species is non-native and our current goal is to screen the population for the amphibian chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis), which has been implemented in amphibian population declines worldwide. As an introduced species, the disease is one of the biggest threats to our native herpetofauna.
What is the context of this research?

This project has been ongoing for the past couple of years. In 2015, the first midwife toads were confirmed. Since then, we have continued to swab toads for the fungus, although only a small number of samples have been analysed. Currently we are working on producing a manuscript to be published in a peer-reviewed journal with our initial results. We hope to raise the funds to pay for the analysis of the swabs currently in cold storage and also allow us to continue the project into the next year or two.

What is the significance of this project?

The chytrid fungus has already caused the extinction of 200 amphibian species and threatens hundreds more around the globe. One of the main introduction routes for the disease is through the introduction of non-native species. The disease affects different species and populations differently and so infected animals may not show clinical signs of infection. This means that screening them by swabbing for the disease is the only way we’ll know whether or not they are infected.

What are the goals of the project?

We aim to establish whether or not, as a non-native species, the midwife toads we are studying are acting as a vector of the chytrid fungus. Through analysis we also wish to determine how prevalent the disease is, if it is present, and how we can mitigate the spread to local amphibians. We’ve been taking morphometric data of all of the toads we swab (including tadpoles) so that we can build a better idea of the population structure too. This, twinned with the results from the swabs, will allow us to see which individuals were infected, the location they were found and their age-class. Using this information we should be able to track transmission pathways (if the disease is present).

Budget

Chytrid Swab Analysis$1,500
The only real cost we have is the analysis of our samples which cost ~$30 per sample. This analysis is a qPCR test which tests the samples for chytrid fungus DNA, which will be carried out at the Institute of Zoology, London Zoo. We estimate the population to be between 50 and 100 individuals, we’d like to sample at least half of these if possible. The budget will allow us to pay for the analysis of approximately 50 samples and will only be used on analysis.

 

 

Summer Safari 2017

SS17 poster

For more information see: Orchard Park’s Third Summer Safari Sunday 9 July 5.30-7.30pm

A final word

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Due to unplanned but necessary travel in December, unfortunately the activity we had planned didn’t happen. Many thanks indeed to all we collaborated with in 2016 to put events on, to Lush and Inder’s Kitchen for funding us, to OP Community Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council for their support, and to everyone who came to events and took action to help wildlife. We will be drafting our activity plan for 2017 early next year, we are looking at forging new links with existing groups. Having heard him speak in the Summer in the university building named after him, I’ll leave the last word of 2016 to David Attenborough ……

Tracking Terrapins in Cambridge

 

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Screen grab from Tracking Terrapins website homepage

Tracking Terrapins in Cambridge is a new website to track sightings of these invasive species in the Cambridgeshire area. It was set up by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Amphibian and Reptile Group.

From the website “Terrapins are an invasive species in the UK, they often find their way into local waterways after growing too large for their owners to keep. Here the terrapins are free from any natural predators and can have disastrous effects on local ecosystems. We would like your help to report any sightings within Cambridgeshire so we can build a better understanding of how numerous they are. Eventually we intend to assess how much of an impact they have on local wildlife”.

Click on the Tracking Terrapins in Cambridge link below the photo to go to the website, more details on the project, and to see how you can help.

State of Nature 2016

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Goldfinch Orchard Park garden. Thankfully a bird with an increasing population according to BTO reports.

The report and findings

The first State of Nature report released in 2013 revealed the severe loss of nature that has occurred in the UK since the 1960s. Last week, the 2016 follow on report was released (see: State of Nature 2016 full report pdf).

Amongst other headlines, this one stood out as a point that is perhaps surprising to some – often declines in wildlife are thought of as happening overseas, not on our doorstep:

A new measure that assesses how intact a country’s biodiversity is, suggests that the UK has lost significantly more nature over the long term than the global average. The index suggests that we are among the most nature-depleted countries in the world.” (State of Nature 2016 p.6).

7% of urban species are threatened with extinction from Great Britain.” (State of Nature 2016 p.40).

The causes for such decline include policy-driven agricultural change as by far the most significant driver, and climate change as one of the greatest long-term threats to nature globally. Other factors driving decline such as loss of green space including parks, allotments and gardens, and loss of habitats such as wildlife rich brownfield sites to development, are things that we can witness right here in Orchard Park. Many gardens here are paved over with little to help wildlife, we have no allotments, the sports field seems sterile, the Wildlife Area seems tiny, whilst the remaining established, large grassland site which is rich in invertebrates, birds, and lizards, is due for commercial development.

Why is this important?

We have a moral obligation to save nature and this is a view shared by the millions of supporters of conservation organisations across the UK. Not only that, we must save nature for our own sake, as it provides us with essential and irreplaceable benefits that support our welfare and livelihoods.” (State of Nature 2016 p.6).

Two recent research projects have now built on … methodology to understand children’s connection to nature in more detail…children who are more connected to nature rate their health and well-being as significantly higher.” (State of Nature 2016 p.67).

What can we do?

 Whilst as individuals and families we might feel powerless to do anything about, for example, farming practices, we can be effective at a local level.

…organisations, businesses, communities and individuals have worked together to bring nature back…We are fortunate that the UK has thousands of dedicated and expert volunteers recording wildlife. It is largely thanks to their efforts, and the role of the organisations supporting them, that we are able to chart how our nature is faring.” (State of Nature 2016 p.6).

Taken collectively, there is increasing evidence that citizen science is playing a central role in recruiting and training the next generation of nature enthusiasts; communicating the beauty and relevance of the UK’s wildlife to wide sectors of UK society; and catalysing positive attitudes and behaviours towards nature. In the face of growing concerns about a decline in taxonomic expertise and a disconnect from nature amongst the UK’s population, this involvement in citizen science gives real cause for optimism.” (State of Nature 2016 p.69).

Orchard Park Wildlife Project sends its species records to Cambridge and Peterborough Environmental Records Centre to add to their regional assessments of our wildlife. You can help by joining in our Summer Safaris and being a Citizen Scientist – reporting bee, butterfly and bird sightings using links to campaigns promoted via the Orchard Park Wildlife Project blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed and letting us know about anything unusual that you see.

You can do your bit in your garden/balcony/window box by creating a pond, feeding the birds, building a log pile and adding wildlife friendly plants.

You can help keep the Wildlife Area tidy, manage our Wildflower Bank, help at the Orchard, or keep basking sites clear for reptiles at the Balancing Pond.

Every little helps. See: Wildlife Trust page for more ideas.

We hope some of our upcoming activities will tempt you to come along and inspire you to do your bit for your nature if we’ve not managed to reach you already. We’re working on an approach to an event for information at the Orchard with local resident artists, which we hope will attract new people – more about that soon. I’m attending a Network for Nature event on Saturday, it’s at the David Attenborough Building in Downing St which houses Cambridge Conservation Initiative (focussing on international conservation) and Cambridge Conservation Forum (focussing on local conservation, Orchard Park Wildlife Project is a member). The closing speech is scheduled to be given by the building’s namesake himself, and I hope and expect that he will be very inspiring indeed.

Orchard Park Summer Safari Sunday 17 July 7.30pm

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Free, fun, helpful, healthy, accessible and informative – we hope you’ll join us for our Orchard Park Summer Safari in the evening of Sunday 17 July. Meet outside the Travelodge Hotel, Chieftain Way (click for map), at 7.30pm. You’re welcome to join us for as long or little as you like.

It’s an opportunity to have a closer look at the wildlife on your doorstep, learn about it, and what you can do to help. You’ll be surprised to see what lives here when you look… especially when guided by very knowledgeable naturalists – we are grateful to Tim and Carol Inskipp who will be providing their expertise again to help us identify the animals and plants we come across. We’ll have a look around the perimeter of where the lizards currently live in Orchard Park, this area is rich in invertebrates – which the lizards eat. We hope someone from Cambridge and Peterborough Amphibian and Reptile Group will join us. The area also has mature trees nearby, the only ones within Orchard Park, and they’re a microhabitat in themselves. We’ll see where the wildlife takes us before looking at the wildflower area on Ring Fort Road, the orchard and meadow, and then at dusk we’ll head over to Wildlife Area to have a look for bats with our detector (we thank #lushcambridge @lushcambridge for their Charity Pot event providing funds for our detector).

Orchard Park Wildlife Project will send any new wildlife records to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Environmental Records Centre, the Summer Safari is like a micro sized and laid back bioblitz, where we find and identify as many plants and animals as we can, but stopping to look and explore as we find wildlife to look at.

As well as being good for wildlife, activities such as the Summer Safari are proven to be good for you too:  “..a body of restorative literature focuses on the potential benefits to emotional recovery from stress offered by green space and ‘soft fascination'” according to Aspinall et al 2015. For more information from the scientific paper click the lead author’s name link above. If you’d like to see more in a popular science format, then have a look at this article: Science proves what we all know: Nature is Good for your Health!

This is a free and accessible event suitable for all ages and abilities.

To see a blog post about what we found to look at during our Summer Safari last year click: Summer Safari Summary

Snaps of Two of Twenty Lizards, Spotted in Just One Hour on Sunday :)

We had much better weather yesterday morning than forecast, the sun was shining, and the clouds were few. We spotted twenty lizards yesterday in around an hour surveying the fence, mostly adult males, and a few subadults.

I wonder how many there are out there….

‘Ere there be lots of (teeny weeny) Dragons: Zootoca vivipara

A good number of us went out today to look for lizards between 10.00 and midday. The weather was warmer than forecast, and we saw a total of 16 lizards comprising males, females, and sub adults basking on the fence. We’ll be heading over again next weekend, weather permitting, do join us if you can.

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Close up, adult male

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Female with previous year’s young

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Adult male

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Adult  female

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Adult male

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Young female re-growing tail

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Adult female

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Adult male

Short video