Long-winged Cone-heads in Devon

Prior to 1990 the Long-winged cone-head (Conocephalus discolor) was a nationally scarce species restricted to a few localised sites along the south coast of England. After 1990 the species underwent a dramatic range expansion. It was first recorded in Devon in 1994 at Dittisham. The species appears to be continuting to expand and it found in a wide variety of places in the county. It prefers to inhabit rough ungrazed grassland such as road verges and waste ground.

Long-winged cone-head

They are secretive animals which can be found by searching long vegetation. However the easiest way to locate them is by using a bat detector. Their call resembles an old fashioned chugging tractor!

Song of the Long-winged cone-head heard through a Batbox Duet bat detector set at 40KHz.

The current range of the Long-winged Cone-head is set out in the following map. This map is undoubtedly an underestimate of their current distribution.

Long-winged cone-heads can be confused with Short-winged cone-head (Conocephalus dorsalis) – in 2014 I produced a blog which enabled the reader to tell the two species apart – see here.

If you see or hear any Cone-heads in Devon – please let me know – I’m the county Recorder for Orthoptera – email me: adrian dot colston at gmail dot com …. many thanks

Great day in the field – Roesel’s Bush-cricket

The sun came out this afternoon so I headed into the field in search of Roesel’s Bush-cricket – a species first recorded in Devon in 2014 which until now I have failed to find! Went to a couple of areas where it had been recorded before. I found a single adult in an uncut road verge on the south side of Rewe and then found three individuals by the food alleviation scheme in Exwick directly adjacent to to the north side of Station Road.

Roesel’s Bush-cricket – long-winged specimen f.dilata in Exwick

Roesel’s Bush-crickets are tricky to find but with the use of a bat detector (which makes their distinctive but inaudible songs audible) they can be tracked down. I use a Batbox Duet set at 40kHz and their songs then become audible.

Roesel’s Bush-cricket played through a Batbox Duet at 40KHz

Here is the current known (to me) distribution of Roesel’s Bush-cricket in Devon

And this is the classic habitat – rough uncut grassland

If you see or hear any Roesel’s Bush-crickets in Devon – please let me know – I’m the county Recorder for Orthoptera – email me: adrian dot colston at gmail dot com …. many thanks

Roesel’s Bush-cricket in Devon

Prior to 1980 Roesel’s Bush-cricket had a restricted distribution in the UK being found in coastal grasslands from Kent to the Humber. After 1980 the species began a dramatic range expansion north and west.

The species was finally recorded in Devon in 2014 but is colonisation of the county has been slow.

Below is a list of all the records of Roesel’s Bush-cricket in Devon, I’m sure it is an under-estimate and I am keen to receive further records if you have seen it in Devon.

SpeciesDateLocationGrid ReferenceRecorderNumberComments
Metrioptera roeselii08/08/2014Flockmill, ReweSS960007Karim Vahed1f. diluta
Metrioptera roeselii29/07/2017Trinity Hall Nature Reserve, AxminsterSY308957Alex WorsleyMultiple 
Metrioptera roeselii06/07/2018Dawlish WarrenSX9878Philip Chambers1f. diluta
Metrioptera roeselii21/08/2019Flockmill, ReweSS960007Gabriel Vahed1Male
Metrioptera roeselii26/08/2019A3052, WestonSY173907Kevin Rylands1 
Metrioptera roeselii01/09/2019Seaton MarshesSY2591Dave SmallshireMultiple 
Metrioptera roeselii25/06/2020Ross Meadow, Fingle WoodsSX795888Tom Williams1 
Metrioptera roeselii21/07/2020Axmouth – Lyme Regis CliffsSY273896John WaltersMultiple 
Metrioptera roeselii08/08/2020Halsden Farm, ExmouthSX9982Will Scott1 
Metrioptera roeselii09/08/2020Exwick, Exe ValleySX9093Will Scott1 
Metrioptera roeselii03/08/2021Beer meadowSY213894Christopher HodgsonMultiple 
This is a photo of the first record – found by Professor Karim Vahed at the Flockmill in Rewe, near Exeter. This is a ‘macropterous’ (f. diluta) individual i.e. it has long wings which enables it to fly and therefore disperse and colonise new areas. (Photo Karim Vahed)
Here is a male (non macropterous, known as brachypterous) individual, photographed at the same site in 2017 and found by Karim’s son Gabriel. This discovery would imply that a founder colony was formed in 2014 and persisted to 2017. The green strip on the pronotum and spots on the side of the thorax are diagnostic. (Photo Karim Vahed.)
Here is another male, this time photographed at Ross Meadow in Fingle Woods on Dartmoor in 2020. (Photo Tom Williams)

To date this year I have received one record from a new site at Beer, found by Christopher Hodgson. The species favours long unkempt grass and can be quite difficult to spot as individuals skulk. However Roesel’s Bush-crickets have a very distinctive song which is audible to those with good hearing. I use a bat detector to pick up the call now I’m older!

Follow this link to the website of Orthoptera UK and you can play a sound clip to hear how distinctive the song is. The individuals which the long wings stridulate and produce a loud song which to me sounds like standing under a high voltage electric pylon in the rain!

Now is the time to go out and find Roesel’s Bush-crickets. Majority of the Devon records are to the east of Exeter. On a hot sunny day see if you can see or hear any…. and if you do, please let me know as I’m the County Recorder for Devon for Orthoptera.

My PhD

On the 7th July I had my PhD Viva – I passed with minor corrections which were mainly typos – I have now corrected all of these and re-submitted the thesis for final approval.

Some of you may be interested in what I have written so I am making it available as a download pdf in case you wish to read it!

Rather like the situation on Dartmoor’s Common my PhD may prove contested and controversial – either way here it is – I have told it as I have seen it.

To download my PhD press here.

Defra announcements: FIPL and initial response to the Glover Review

Defra has made a number of announcements this morning about the Farming in Protected Landscape scheme (FIPL) and have given their initial reaction to the Glover Review published in September 2019 (see here and here).

By Protected Landscapes, Defra mean National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). Defra have issued a press release (see here) which sets out the scope of the scheme. In essence this is a grant scheme to:- 

‘to make improvements to the natural environment and improve public access on their land – the next step in the Government’s landmark plans for a renewed agriculture sector outside of the Common Agricultural Policy. The funding will go towards one-off projects to support nature recovery; improve public access; mitigate the impacts of climate change; provide opportunities for people to enjoy and understand the landscape; and support nature-friendly and sustainable farm businesses.’

This is a grant scheme to fund works and is not an income support scheme for farmers and land managers.

More details on the Scheme are set out in a Guidance note (see here). To be eligible to apply applicants need to meet the following criteria – interesting to note that common land is included.

Additionally, for Dartmoor, the National Park Authority have produced a page on their website which expands on the Defra information (see here).

The page includes examples of the types of project which could be funded.

I haven’t yet discovered what the England and Dartmoor budgets are for this scheme, but this information will be needed so that applicants match their project aspirations to the available grant monies.

Initial response to the Glover Review

This is based on a Parliamentary Statement made by Secretary of State George Eustice (see here). Much of the Statement builds on previous announcements regarding nature recovery, access and inclusions issues. There are a few sentences on the future governance of protected areas.

‘Each of our protected landscapes has its own identity, and many of their functions require local accountability. However, we are also considering how their structures might be changed so that we can bring the family of protected landscapes closer together, and ensure there is more strategic direction nationally, while retaining their local functions.’ 

 These words seem to mirror the report from Tom Heap on Countryfile a couple of months ago, but we are going to have to wait until later in the year to receive the detailed proposals, which will then be consulted on.

It is good to see more information emerging but as with previous announcements the detail is partial and somewhat fragmented. The FIPL scheme is due to open in July 2021 so it will be useful to see the budgets for this sooner rather than later.

Re-wetting and slowing the flow on Holne Moor

Went on a long walk yesterday around Holne Moor with one of the owners of the Common, Kevin Cox. It was a glorious day weather-wise and Kevin showed me some of the works that have recently been carried out as part of the Natural Flood Management project based around the Mardle and some of the Upstream Thinking interventions. Some of the works have been carried out by contractors and some have been implemented by the Holne Moor Commoners. Here are a few photographs to give you an indication of what has been carried out.

Willow dams installed in a former tin mining gulley
Willow sticks planted to create small areas of new woodland
Woody dams in a gurt
Timber dams
Looking down upon a re-wetted area of valley mire – I remember standing at that mire a couple of years ago with a couple of Holne Moor Commoners discussing the possibility of re-wetting this mire!
Recently installed dams slowing the flow and re-wetting the mire
This is what valley mires could look like in the future

An uplifting day, augmented by my first ever adder sighting on Dartmoor and a fly past from a male Emperor Moth.

Congratulations to all involved with this project, I know it has not been an easy path to this point but these co-operative works should act as an exemplar demonstration of what can be achieved to all across the moor.

Gorse fire near Jurston

I was just thinking yesterday that I was surprised that Dartmoor hadn’t seen a wildfire in this recent period of tinder dry weather and then last night ……..

So today I decided to go and have a look at the site. Compared to the February fire which I wrote about here this was a gorse fire and was much smaller. It would appear that the fire service were able to access the area as it is by a road and were able to contain it. Good work. I would estimate that this fire covered an area of around 4-5 hectares.

You can clearly see the blackened remains of gorse bushes and purple moor grass – referred to on Dartmoor, after its Latin name, as Molinia. This photograph is looking south towards Hameldown.

The conditions have been very dry in recent weeks and there was a reasonably cold winter from the north last night. Such a combination dries out the vegetation and makes it very vulnerable to combustion.

This is what the vegetation looks like immediately adjacent to the fire site, a mix of European Gorse and Western Gorse, interspersed this the dry lanky white leaves of Molinia. This area also contained quite a lot of heather bushes (Calluna vulgaris). The hill-farmers on Dartmoor describe vegetation like this as a huge ‘fuel load’.

A fire like this occurring in late April is unfortunate as many birds will have started to breed and many less mobile animals such as amphibians and reptiles are not quick enough to escape, I did find a dead frog but nothing else. Dartmoor was lucky last night, this fire could have been much more extensive had it been in an inaccessible location like the last one near Tavy Cleave.

An unfortunate incident but not a disaster in my view, given the rain today, I suspect fresh growth in the fire site will quickly emerge as many of the plants found here are fire resistant. It is also early in the breeding season so perhaps some species can try again.

The cause of this fire remains a mystery, I have seen some speculation that it might have been a portable BBQ as the tell tale scorch marks were found nearby on some short grass, maybe, but it was pretty chilly last night in Exeter, and it would have been even chillier at Jurston Cross – not ideal weather for a BBQ in my opinion!

With the rest of spring and summer ahead of us, more ‘wildfires’ on Dartmoor are a real concern so it is good to see that the DNPA are clearly warning the public of the risks and pointing out that open fires and BBQs on Dartmoor are prohibited ………..

Photo by Charlie Elder

Broad-banded Nomad bee in my garden!

Whenever the sun came out yesterday I was out in my garden in Exeter looking for bees and other wildlife. There were a couple of Nomad bees hawking over my lawn and I managed to get some reasonable photographs of them. Nomad bees are cleptoparasites, they lay their eggs in the nest cells of other bee species and their larvae feed off the host bees pollen stores (and the larvae / egg) meant for their own off-spring.

At first glance I thought it was Nomada flava, the Flavous Nomad Bee but it didn’t look quite right, it looked much more like Nomada signata, the Broad-banded Nomad Bee. I have a list of Devon bees and that suggested that N. signata was now extinct in the county. So I posted the pictures on Twitter, asked the question and tagged in Steven Falk, the bee expert and author of the excellent Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland.

All rather unexpected and exciting! I’ve now checked the National Biodiversity Network and see that the species was recorded from the Cullompton area in 2020. Very possible that this little is undergoing a range expansion, possibly as the result of climate change.

It is / was a pretty scarce species and it parasitises the nests of the common bee Andrena fulva, the Tawny Mining Bee which is a resident in my garden.

In recent years I have started managing my lawn as a mini hay meadow, letting it grow until around September when I then cut it. As a result it has a lot of wild flowers and quite a few bees!

There is Steven’s book if you haven’t seen it and are interested in identifying bees – it is excellent.

Here are a couple of full size images on Nomada signata, the Broad-banded Nomad Bee.

Skylarks with Rosie

I’ve just finished reading the recently published new book by Stephen Moss – ‘Skylarks with Rosie – a Somerset Spring’. It is a very readable and enjoyable book all about his experiences with wildlife during the first lockdown in his home patch in the Somerset Levels.

I have known Stephen (who is a film maker and an author), on and off for nearly 20 years, I first met him when he and Bill Oddie came to Wicken Fen to make a 30 minute documentary on Britain’s oldest nature reserve, which at the time I was the manager of. My most distinct memory of that encounter was demonstrating how to use a ‘pooter’ – a piece on entomological equipment used to capture small insects – you hover a rubber tube over the said insect and then inhale which sucks the creature into a tube where it can be identified before being released. On this occasion, for some inexplicable reason I pooted a number of Red Ants and as a result ended up with a lung full of stinging formic acid – school boy error but made for good TV!

Skylarks with Rosie (Rosie is Stephen’s dog), gives a lovely account of his daily walks and cycle rides around the area where he lives – his patch, in birding speak. He describes the return of migrant birds, gives accounts of their lifestyles, where they have returned from and so much more from an ecological perspective. Whilst this book is about wildlife, particularly birds, it is about so much more and therefore has a much wider appeal.

Whether you are really into wildlife like myself and Stephen or whether you just like the outdoors, this book takes you through so many of the emotions we felt for the 13 weeks last spring – staring on the 23rd March. I focused on moths whilst Stephen focused on birds, but interspersed with all of that was the politics … the mixed messaging … Stay Alert …. Cummings …. Black Lives Matter ….. #bekind …. Marcus Rashford …. etc, Moss covers all of these aspects in a fairly brutal but very fair and accurate way. It brings the memories, both good and bad, flooding back.

He weaves in the biodiversity crisis we face along with the impending climate disaster but there are lots of moments of hope – how so many more people connected with nature during lockdown, how many more young people are showing a concern for nature and environmental matters. I loved this book and perhaps if I hadn’t spent so much time drinking Negronis I might I have penned something similar based on my Devon moth experiences ….. and with hindsight I wish I had ….

Can really recommend this book …. it is not a book for nature nuts … it’s a book for you, if you care about your world, your patch and the future. Perhaps the best thing about reading it now, is that everything from a wildlife perspective that it describes is about to start happening now …. my favourite time of the year …. swallows, cuckoos, warblers, butterflies and sunshine. The main message of the book is … connect with nature, it will make you smile, be happier and be less stressed in these on-going troublesome times. Couldn’t agree more.

And another fabulous Carry Akroyd cover painting!

I guess the only thing that let’s the book down is that it is set in Somerset and not Gloucestershire.