Unmanned aerial vehicles and habitat management

I’ve been up in Cumbria for 3 days at our Wildlife Advisor’s training conference. One of the things we saw and discussed was the use of ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ (UAVs) and their use in helping us manage wildlife sites. UAVs carry cameras and can fly over sites and photograph them. As a result they could be really helpful in allowing us to accurately map habitats and therefore aid our future manage of places.

UAV3They are small and portable and this model can carry a compact camera

UAV1In flight over Foulshaw Moss a lowland raised bog owned and managed by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust

UAV2This is a bigger vehicle which can carry a digital SLR and a GoPro

I was pretty impressed by the demonstration and am currently mulling over where we could use such technology to help us manage our places more effectively for wildlife. I think we will see UAVs being used more and more and not just for habitat management – they are also a great way to photograph / video buildings too – a cheap way of inspecting a roof for example without the need of erecting expensive scaffolding.

The scaly crickets have beaten Hercules

Back in February this year I wrote a blog about the impact of a huge storm called Hercules on the beach at Branscombe and the impact this might have had on one of Britain’s rarest animals – the scaly cricket. Yesterday I described how I was setting out to discover if the scaly crickets had survived. Well today I checked the pitfall traps I set yesterday along with a few few colleagues and we succeeded – 2 of the 24 pitfall traps contained 4 scaly crickets – all adult females – in addition three other adult females were seen scurrying around the traps.

Unfortunately all the pitfall traps at the Branscombe end of the beach had been pulled out of the shingle – presumably by seagulls after the Cornish pasty fragments – so I will have to go back again later in the month to try that area again but finding 7 adult females further along the beach was brilliant. So here are a few pictures of one of Britain’s rarest animals – the ones that beat Hercules!

Scaly cricket 1Female scaly cricket on Branscombe beach!

Scaly cricket 7Note the ovipositor i.e. its a female and the very long antennae

Scaly cricket 5They live in the shingle and are very adept at disappearing down the cracks

Scaly cricket 3My photography last tonight was nearly a disaster – the first cricket we caught jumped out of my collecting pot before I could snap it – fortunately 10 minutes later we found this female at another pitfall trap – I made sure this time I got a photo before she hopped off!

Scaly cricket 4Phew!

Really pleased to discover that the scaly cricket survived such a huge storm back in January and it would appear that they are thriving on Branscombe beach

Branscombe beach in search of the scaly cricket

I went down to the National Trust’s Branscombe beach yesterday to start the process of surveying for one of the rarest animals in the UK – the scaly cricket (in my capacity as the voluntary county recorder for orthoptera i.e. grasshoppers and crickets etc). Last winter the beach was hit by a huge storm which completely reprofiled the shingle banks on the beach and scoured out parts of the cliff. The survey I set up yesterday is an attempt to discover how the scaly cricket is faring. I set 24 pitfall traps along different parts of the beach and each was baited with a bit of Cornish pastry! This is a repeat of a survey I conducted a few years ago – see here and here.

Pitfall traps are quite simple – a small plastic cup sunk into the shingle – the idea being that a cricket wanders along and falls in – it then has some pasty to eat to keep it sustained. I will be returning to the beach at Branscombe with some colleagues from the National Trust and Natural England this evening to check the traps and see if we have caught any crickets  –  please note – any crickets that are caught will be returned to the beach unharmed!

PitfallOne of the pitfall traps baited with a bit of pasty

BeachBranscombe shingle beach – the home of scaly cricket

ChaletsThe storm damage at Branscombe is still very evident

The under cliffs at Branscombe are also nationally renowned as a fabulous place for a host of other rare animals and plants and are well worth exploring in their own right via the network of paths through and above the cliffs.

I managed to find and photograph a couple of the special species there.

Rufous grasshopper 4This is the rufous grasshopper – note the swollen ends to the antennae which then have a white tip along with the red on the abdomen and legs

Rufous grasshopper 3They also have characteristic markings on the top of the head (the pronotum)

RG mapHere is the distribution map of the rufous grasshopper via the National Biodiversity Network

Grey bush cricketThis animal is the grey bush cricket which can be found along the coasts of southern Britain – again a pretty uncommon species

S0 – back to Branscombe this evening and an update on our findings tomorrow.


Woodbury Common – some classic species

Spent a few hours at the Devon Wildlife Trust’s reserve at Bystock Pools. They are on Woodbury Common and the species I photographed are pretty much all classic Dartmoor species too. Keep an eye open for them over the next few days / weeks especially if the weather holds.

Bystock Pool 2The pools are very small and are acidic in nature being surrounded by lowland heath

Bystock PoolPerhaps mid September is a bit late in the season for some of the speciality species ….

Beautiful yellow underwing caterpillarThe caterpillar of the beautiful yellow underwing – a localised species that feeds on heather

Helophilus pendulusThe wetland hoverfly Helophilus pendulus

Sericomyia slientisThe Devon speciality hoverfly Sericomyia silentis

Common groundhopperA common groundhopper on bell heather flowers

Male common darterA male common darter dragonfly

Keeled skimmerClose up of a keeled skimmer dragonfly

National Trust in the finals of the Summer Team League

Last night saw the finals of the Devon and Exeter Squash and Racketball Club’s Summer Team League. 12 teams started off in June this year and amazingly the National Trust / Full Fat Photography team got through to the finals for the second year running. Unfotunately we lost on the night ….. we needed to win the last three games but we lost all three and therefore we went down 5-9. Nevertheless we have had a great summer and everyone has enjoyed themselves. Congratulations to McKinley White who beat us on the night. Thank you also to Adam and his team at the Devon and Exeter for organising the competition.

STL teamsHere are the teams before we commenced battle

photo-130Promoting the National Trust on Dartmoor to new audiences

Here’s to next year when we will do it all over again! Thanks to our team and thanks for your support!

Tour of Britain 2014 – Exmouth to Exeter

I took a day’s leave yesterday to go and watch the Tour of Britain. Cycled down to Exmouth with Caroline and Jon to see the start and then came back up the excellent cycle track (NCN2) to Exeter to watch the finish. The cyclists left Exmouth and crossed Dartmoor via Parke, Haytor, Tavistock, Lydford Gorge and Okehampton before returning to Exeter. Here are a few pictures from the day along with my fuller photo set here.

ToB1Pre-race entertainment in Exmouth

ToB23Stunt bike

ToB14Cycling journalist Ned Boulting in Exmouth

Cavendish 4Mark Cavendish at the start

ToB29Breakaway stage winner Matthias Brandle near the finish in Exeter

Ben SwiftSky’s Ben Swift in the Chain Reaction Points Jersey in Exeter

Wiggo1Sir Bradley Wiggins leaving Exmouth with a smile

ToB27Myself and Jon reflected in Caroline’s sunnies

Another great day for Devon and Dartmoor – bring it on again next year!