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Counting wildlife is not a shot in the dark any more

Richard Hollingum says we are all equipped to study wildlife

In Richard Jefferies 1879 book Wildlife in A Southern County he recounts how, being unsure as to whether the unusual bird singing was or was not a fieldfare – it being the breeding season and usually these birds are long gone – he shot one to see if he was correct. To our modern sensibilities this rather harsh act in order to carry out an identification is not only out of date but also unnecessary.

Even though the telescope and binoculars have been around since the 17th century, Jefferies was of an era that to catch, kill and display was an important part of studying nature. Nowadays high-powered binoculars and monoculars and super-telephoto lenses allow us to watch what is going on and to record whilst leaving nature intact.

In fact, recording what we see around us is becoming more and more important and we are all being recruited into looking for birds, butterflies and bumble bees. This years RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch at the end of January involved about 500,000 people. Birdwatch is possibly the longest running high-profile nature recording activity that involves the general public. Over 36,000 people also got involved in last years Big Butterfly Count and 15,000 took part in the Great British Bee Count.

Such public involvement is great and is a good opportunity to involve all the family in something that is interesting and important. However, it does not have to stop there. These three counts take place at specific times of the year but there is lots to see and to record all year round, and in Northamptonshire there are lots of opportunities to get involved.

The RSPB results for Northamptonshire show the House Sparrow, Starling and Blackbird occupying the top three top places. Probably no great surprise and whilst it is important to monitor these species there are others that need to be recorded to give a bigger picture of the county’s birds. As I write this, Twitter is showing sightings of Ospreys on Welford reservoir, a Glossy Ibis at Summer Leys and Nightingales have been heard near Titchmarsh. In most parts of the county you will now see Red Kite and Buzzard and in many places farmers are taking much more care in maintaining hedgerows and field margins offering more space for Linnet, finches, tits and Yellowhammer. In fact there are far more birds out of the garden to be seen than you may see in it. 

Other species being recorded in Northamptonshire include dragonflies, amphibians and wild flowers, as well as butterflies, bees and birds. The essential thing is that monitoring the state of our flora and fauna is not only important for now, but also for tomorrow. Counting the number of damselflies in a few places last year and then going back this year to count again will start to give a picture of the state of health not only of that insect population but also the habitat.  

So, go out and look, and then record what you have seen. And it is not that difficult. The first thing you will need is a camera but even a smartphone will do.You do not need to have pictures that could grace the centre pages of National Geographic, as long as the subject can be seen clearly enough for identification. Secondly make a note of where you saw it. This needs to be done as a 6-figure grid reference and again an app on the ubiquitous smart phone will easily provide you with the necessary coordinates.

A good starting point at home this time of year are butterflies and bees. Bees are more and more in the news as their importance as pollinators in the food chain is becoming better known. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s BeeWalk is a national scheme to see how the populations of the native bumble bees are faring and Friends of the Earth’s Great British Bee Count, which started on May 19, runs until the end of June. 

As climate change creates more of an impact on our seasonal temperatures, more butterflies are seen earlier and earlier. This year the Small Tortoiseshell and the Red Admiral were first recorded in January in the County. Another common early riser, the Peacock was seen in February. In the fields as well as in the garden there have been lots of Orange Tips around since early April and the occasional Holly Blue has fluttered over our flower beds during the first few weeks of May. The Big Butterfly Count is organised by Butterfly Conservation and runs from July 14 to August 6 and there is free app to help record your findings. But you do not need to restrict your sightings to that period. Any records of butterflies seen can be sent to the Northants Butterfly Recorder any time of the year.

As well as butterflies, there are local recorders for birds, amphibians, dragonflies, bats and wild flowers. A simple search in the Internet should show if there is a county recorder for your findings. However, if you prefer a one-stop-shop approach, then look at the Northamptonshire Biodiversity Records Centre (NBRC). On their website you can enter details and pictures of any of your sightings, irrespective of whether it be insect, animal, bird or plant. 

The NBRC is also running the WILDside Project which aims to encourage new recorders for the county. The project gives people the chance to learn about the flora and fauna of the County both through talks given by specialists and through training days held in nature reserves across Northamptonshire. To find out more about this search Facebook for WILDside Project.

Even Richard Jefferies knew the importance of a varied flora and fauna and bemoaned the loss of birds and animals from the land. I would like to think that he would be pleased with the recording methods of today – and hopefully regret his use of the shotgun.



Northamptonshire Biodiversity Record Centre: www.northantsbrc.org.uk

Butterfly Conservation: http://www.bedsnorthants-butterflies.org.uk/northants.html

Dragonflies: http://northantsdragonflies.blogspot.co.uk 

Northamptonshire Flora Group: http://bsbi.org/northamptonshire

Northants Birds: https://northantsbirds.com/latest-reports/


Big Garden Birdwatch (2017 results by county): https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/results/

The Big Butterfly Count: http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/about

The Great British Bee Count: https://www.foe.co.uk/bee-count

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust BeeWalk: http://bumblebeeconservation.org/get-involved/surveys/beewalk/ 

I'm the editor and owner of The NeneQuirer.

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