Nature Natters (4) Batty About Warrington

Imagine being able to fly at speed, day or night, weave in and out of natural or structural objects, detect, catch and eat food as you go and communicate with others whilst doing so?  Tricky maybe but not if you are a bat!

Bats are amazing creatures, a warm-blooded mammal that truly flies and often only noticed at dusk but which can be active throughout the night consuming thousands of insects in the process.  Most insects are eaten on the wing and although bats have good eyesight they prefer to hunt in the dark using a specialized form of sonar known as echo location, a high-pitched signal emitted by the bat which not only enables it to locate and avoid objects from the ‘echo’ it receives back from its calls but also as to where its prey is and even what size it maybe.

Although echo location is generally inaudible to most adult’s young ears can sometimes pick up the bat calls whilst the rest of us must rely on a piece of technology called a bat detector, a device which converts the high frequency sound of the bat to our level of hearing which in the process and with practice, allows us to identify the bats moving around us.

Of the 18 species of bat recorded in the UK, 17 species are known to breed here with a further 6 species regarded as rarities or vagrants.  Previous records show that in 1986 there were just six species of bat recorded in Cheshire with a further four species being added to the list by 2012 (The Mammals of Cheshire) and additional species being added since.

Species to look out for around the Warrington area include the Noctule one of the largest British species and usually the first to appear and easiest to recognize as they feed out in the open, often above tree top height where they are frequently noted going into sudden steep dives when chasing insects.  The Leislers is a bat of similar size and characteristics which also emerges before sunset and feeds in a similar manner to the Noctule.  Although Leisler’s bats are found throughout the UK there have only been a handful of records in Cheshire.

Other bats widespread in the region and most likely to be seen include the fast weaving flights of the Common and Soprano Pipistrelles, Daubentons and Natterer’s bats and in contrast the slower butterfly like flight of the Brown long Eared bat.  Two other species found around us include Whiskered and Brandt’s, both of which are similar in appearance and frequency of their echo location and only really identifiable in the hand or by use of sophisticated computer programs analysis of their calls.  In addition, albeit with limited data of its status and distribution, is the Nathusius Pipistrelle, a migrant species which appears to be on the increase in the UK generally and has been recorded on few occasions in Cheshire in recent years.  The Lesser Horseshoe is known to hibernate in the county and possibly recorded on rare occasions whilst there have been unverified records of two further species the Serotine and Barbastelle.

Although our knowledge of bats in the UK and Cheshire is continuously improving we still get the odd surprise and additions to the list when – through DNA analysis, a new species of bat is found to be present among similar types of bat as for example the Nathusius pipistrelle being separated from the Common and Soprano pipistrelle and more recently, the Alcathoe from Whiskered and Brandt’s.

You are never quite sure where you are going to find bats but generally if you venture out on a warm, calm night they can be seen and heard as they forage for insects in various locations such around barns, buildings, gardens, hedgerows, tree lined canals and waterways, ponds and lakes and where it is possible with the aid of a bat detector to listen too several individuals and species feeding there.

Although bats are warm blooded and very active between early spring and late autumn they are an insectivore and as such are dependent on temperature and especially the availability of insects.  Once temperatures fall and insects disappear bats are forced to go into hibernation which they might do so in caves, trees, tunnels or cavities in buildings during the winter period but may reappear for short periods during this time to drink or change location before going back into hibernation.

Sadly over the past 100 years the UK bat population has declined dramatically due in part to loss of roosting, hibernation and maternity sites, fragmentation and loss of habitat and in particular hedgerows which form important links between roosting and foraging sites but also the use of pesticides on crops which not only kill the insects but often the bats themselves whilst some timber treatments and roofing materials can also be harmful to bats.   Added to this is that UK bats also have a slow reproduction rate and only produce a single pup each breeding season as such population increase is slow and more long term but which can be quickly undone if they or their maternity sites are lost.

As a result, bats are now designated as a European Protected Species and are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) which not only gives individual bats and their roosts legal protection from harm or destruction.  Where building works are likely to impact on roosting or breeding bats then there is a legal and licensing process to follow as determined by Natural England, a necessary precaution in this day and age of fast change.

Bats are harmless mammals which do a great deal of good in the environment and cause no damage to property but if you are looking for more information and advice on bats check out the Bat Conservation Trust web site or ring the National Bat Help Line on 0345 1300 228.

You can also send Warrington Nature Conservation a message via our website http://www.wncf.co.uk/

Rob Smith is a founder member of the Warrington Nature Conservation Forum and a Consultant Ecologist.

 

Rob Smith

May 2017

Digital Path Wardens take to Facebook

Digital Path Wardens take to Facebook

 

Path Warden Geoff Settle has just started his annual audit of footpaths within the Parish of Poulton with Fearnhead. His duties, like those of other volunteer Parish Path Wardens are to send regular reports to the Rights of Way lead officer, John Thorp about the condition, accessibility and signage of footpaths across the Borough.

Building on his time as the first Digital Mayor of Warrington and Knowledge Management advisor for Vertex Data Science, Geoff has trialled social media to see what benefits it can bring.

He set up a new Facebook page called the Warrington Rights of Way Forum and posted photographs and comments about six definitive footpaths (i.e. the ones with green signs).

The trial went well and John said at last week’s quarterly meeting of the Rights of Way “This looks like it could be very useful. I could get on the Forum page you’ve set up to view the photos and comments. Thanks for those. I intend to be in the area soon so will walk the paths and consider your requests.”

The obvious benefit is that a picture is worth a thousand words said Geoff and I he found the current paper forms a bit cumbersome.

He continued “I used to deliver simple web sites using Microsoft SharePoint as part of a Knowledge Management Team for clients like United Utilities and Westminster County Council and I am applying the basic principles we developed.

The Facebook is a free resource that path wardens can use to share information, it is easily accessible, paperless and we can quickly alert John by sending a photograph or video of the issue.”

As Chair of Warrington Nature Conservation Forum, we have been using it as an effective tool for many years. We have also added a Twitter account to make the process even better. They are both proving to be very successful and effective tools that have broadened our area of influence and enhanced our ability to communicate with our partners, members and the public.

The only problem Geoff has experienced so far has been when he I decided to start getting fitter. He combined path audits with his passion for running. Unfortunately, two weeks ago, whilst running fast along a footpath he tripped over some concealed branches and fell head first.

He said, “As I flew through the air I knew that it was going to be painful but as I sat on the ground getting some wind back into my lungs I managed to take a selfie to view the damage to my head.”

He has of course posted the selfie on Facebook and recovery is progressing well but don’t make him laugh as his ribs are still a bit tender.

Everyone is encouraged to get out and use the footpaths and post any comments etc on the Facebook site. To access just enter Warrington Rights of Way Facebook into the Facebook search engine or use this link.

https://www.facebook.com/Warrington-Rights-of-Way-Forum-411639655698624/

Geoff Settle 6/8/2017

The Big Butterfly Count 2017

The Big Butterfly Count

The big butterfly count is a nationwide survey aimed at helping us assess the health of our environment.

Big butterfly count 2017 will take place from Friday 14 July to Sunday 6 August.

Chair of the Warrington Nature Conservation Forum, Geoff Settle said “I have taken part in this survey every year and it is a very important indicator as to the health of our Natural Environment and our members would love it if the Warrington public got involved. It is so easy to do and only takes 15 minutes on a sunny warm day wherever you happen to be at home or on holiday .”

It was launched in 2010 and has rapidly become the world’s biggest survey of butterflies. Over 36,000 people took part in 2016, counting almost 400,000 individual butterflies and day-flying moths across the UK.

Geoff continued “All you have to do is log on to the webite

http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/ 

where you will be able to download a butterfly chart and find out more information, there is even a phone app.

“Yesterday I walked to my local Blackbrook brook and within 15 minutes I had seen 4 beautiful brown/orange commas, 2 large whites and 4 small whites. The day before I only saw one butterfly a Holly Blue and later at the new Spittle Brook bridge a single small white but then it was late in the evening for both sessions.

Comma (Polygonia c-album)
Comma (Polygonia c-album)

“Even if you see no butterflies during your 15 minute spell that in itself is worthwhile recording but with the warm and sunny weather ahead I’m sure that you will see loads.

Geoff says that It’s good fun and a bit like conducting a treasure hunt, that you can do anywhere, but make sure that it is a safe place and well away from any hazards, especially underfoot. You don’t want to be focused on the butterfly working out the species and tripping yourself up as you try and get a closer look.

Geoff Settle July 2017

Nature Natters June 2017

Here is the full article sent to the Warrington Guardian and published on 29/06/17

Butterfly Beauty

Small tortoiseshell
Small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

We are now at the start of the butterfly season as they wake from hibernation or hatch out of their cocoons as the days get warmer and sunnier. On such a day, recently I saw not just one but two Orange Tip butterflies plus a few whites flying around the newly sculptured Spittle Brook area in Cinnamon Brow. Last week alongside the Blackbrook stream I saw a large clouded yellow, several speckled woods, small whites and a holly blue in the space of 5 minutes. So, plenty of variety and colour is out there already so go and see what’s in your neighbourhood.

The good thing with butterflies is that you don’t have to travel far to see them and they will visit your garden if you sew a variety of wild flowers seeds. This will also help counter the modern-day practice of councils cutting grass at the sides of roads and spraying weed killer which is destroying the insect’s natural habitat. For a chance of seeing a variety of butterfly why not visit Warrington’s Nature Reserves, especially Rixton Clay Pits and Moore Nature Reserve as well as our Parks. Many of these places have information boards that illustrate what you are likely to see there.

You might think they’d be easy to identify and most are but butterflies by their very nature do not stay still for long. You will often find yourself in a game of stealth and chase. Be sneaky and use binoculars, they will get you closer without disturbing them. To help identify what you’ve seen you can use your mobile phone to access the Butterfly Conservation web site. I however favour a pocket book like the Collins Butterfly Guide or a laminated card. You can purchase these at any good book, RSPB or National Trust shop or online vendor.

Try and take your phone or camera with you to record what you see before it flies away. You can then double check when you get home. Don’t forget that the Cheshire Wildlife Trust occasionally run butterfly courses so check their web site for details.

With practice and research, you will become more adept at identifying them and learn about the different types by understanding about size, markings and habitat. Of the three whites, mentioned above the easiest to identify was the Orange Tip with its bright orange edges to its wings and green veins underneath. The other whites were a bit trickier but the Large White is the that flies the highest whilst the Small White remains closer to the ground. The black markings and spots allow you to distinguish between male (one spot) and female (two spots).

The month of May is still a good time to sow wildflower seeds. They will attract the butterflies in the summer to your garden and only cost a few pounds a packet from any garden centre. I have even cultivated a buddleia from a cutting that attracts Peacock and Red Admiral butterflies. This took a couple of years to mature and flower but it was time well spent.

Peacock Butterfly
Peacock (Aglais io)

Finally, we have just launched our new web site  www.wncf.co.uk It is a work in progress but there are links to our partners one of which is www.record-lrc.co.uk where you can record your butterfly sightings and help record the Town’s biodiversity. Any problems or queries use the WNCF web site contact window to send us a message and we will get back to you.

 

Geoff Settle

 

Houghton Green Pumping Station Site Survey June 2017

WNCF members carried out a mini BioBlitz at Houghton Green Pumping Station on Friday evening and into Saturday 16th and 17th June 2017.

Large Skipper
Marsh Orchid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A bat survey was undertaken on the 16th June 2017. Four species were recorded with at least 2 each of Noctule and Common Pipistrelle noted and single records of Soprano Pipistrelle along with a brief feeding pass of a Myotis (Whiskered) species of bat. Prior to the start of the bat survey a Barn Owl was noted on the grounds. The walk over survey was carried out on 17th June 2017.

The purpose of the mini bio blitz was to create a base line list of species (Houghton Green pumping station site survey June 2017).This can be added to previously recorded site data as well as providing a starting point for future surveys and comparisons.