A ‘ghost in the landscape’ legally returns to Scotland

I must say I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when I read that the re-introduced European beaver population was to be added to the list of protected species in Scotland

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-22-18-00David Miller is the Special Advisor to the Scottish Government on the Environment so I guess it must be true!

beaver_pho34Photo courtesy of Per Harald Olsen via Wikimedia Commons

As a result of persecution, the European beaver went extinct in Britain around 300 years ago. As a result of their persecution and extinction I call such species ‘ghosts in the landscape‘. In 2009 a small trial re-introduction programme was undertaken in Argyll. The population has expanded from the original 3 family groups. There have been calls from some landowners to eradicate the beavers as there were concerns of the damage they might cause. Today however the Scottish Government has announced that the European Beaver will become a protected species and therefore will be allowed to spread and will not be eradicated. The full story can be read here.

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-22-12-28The John Muir Trust were obviously delighted with the news.

European beavers are often described as a ‘keystone’ species i.e. one that manipulates the habitat it lives in and as a result creates new and varied habitats for other species as well as providing important ‘ecosystem services’ for people as a by product.


This is an area where European beavers have been active in Latvia in Eastern Europe (I took this photo in the early 2000s when I visited the area) – it is clear that lots of interesting wetland habitats have been created and that the area also acts a flood storage reservoir in times of high water levels.

European beavers have also been re-introduced in Devon in a fenced enclosure, and this population has been the subject of considerable conservation work by the Devon Wildlife Trust and has been intensively studied by a team of scientists from Exeter University.

That research team led by Professor Richard Brazier has just published a paper entitled ‘Eurasian beaver activity increases water storage, attenuates flow and mitigates diffuse pollution from intensively-managed grasslands‘ You can download and read the full paper here.

The paper’s summary states

  • Beaver activity has resulted in major changes to ecosystem structure at the site.
  • Beaver activity increased water storage within site and attenuated flow.
  • Reduced sediment, Nitrogen and Phosphate
  • Dissolved organic carbon levels rose (but it is not known if this is problematic as flow rates are significantly lower – my italics).
  • Important implications for nature based solutions to catchment management issues.

 In light of all the current discussions around ‘natural flood management’ solutions (such as those at Holnicote – see here) it is thought that beavers in certain locations may play a useful role in reducing flooding by ‘slowing the flow’.

In addition there is another  unofficially re-introduced population of European beaver in Devon on the River Otter which the Government has allowed to stay for the next 5 years to determine their impact on the environment and local people. The Devon Wildlife Trust are campaigning to keep this population, so that this ‘ghost in the landscape’ can remain and flourish and also play an important part in reducing flood risk on adjacent land and villages.

You can watch this DWT video with Chris Packham which tells you more about their work and the campaign

The question, of course is what will happen now in England? My own view is that I believe that European beavers should be allowed to recolonise England and in so doing will play a useful role in providing new  habitats for wildlife whilst also playing a vital role in reducing flood risk. I very much doubt they will cause landowners and farmers any problems.


Emsworthy’s bluebell lawns

The bluebells at Emsworthy are coming into full flower – it is an impressive and joyous sight.

Emsworthy bluebells 4
Emsworthy is a nature reserve owned and managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust – see here for location and details

Emsworthy bluebells 1
It is located west of Haytor and Saddle Tor on the road to Widecombe

Emsworthy bluebells 2
Look out for the orange barn – that is where you need to head

Emsworthy bluebells 3
The spectacle is all the more enhanced by the calling of the cuckoo – zoology and botany hail our spring

A cuckoo at Emsworthy Farm

“Shall I call thee bird or just a wandering voice?”

Thus said William Wordsworth – a bird easier to hear than see. I have been lucky however over the past few days – I have seen  three cuckoos – two males and a female. I wrote about the male and the female near the Willsworthy Ranges yesterday – see here.

Yesterday I went to Emsworthy Farm, the Devon Wildlife Trust reserve on Dartmoor near Saddle Tor. I have seen and heard cuckoos here before so I took my camera in the hope I might be able to photograph one. I was lucky!  These are not the best photographs as a I failed to take a tripod but they give an impression of the bird.

Cuckoo 2
A male sat on a branch – cuckooing away

Cuckoo 1
Another shot in a different tree

I expect / hope that everyone knows and has heard the call of the male cuckoo – it is the clarion call of spring – listen here to  Sir David Attenborough talk about it. Less well know is the call of the female – listen here for the ‘Tweet of the Day’ recording.

If you haven’t seen or heard a cuckoo yet, don’t worry the peak doesn’t happen until mid May

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Here is the Birdtrack graph for cuckoo signings / calls.

Emsworthy 2
The DWT reserve at Emsworthy is a magical place and well worth a visit – lots of wildlife to see.

Emsworthy 1
The red roofed barn  with Saddle Tor in the background

Cuckoos are in trouble – they are a Red Listed Bird – see here for previous  posts. Devon Birds and the Dartmoor National Park Authority are currently carrying out a cuckoo survey – you can enter your cuckoo sightings / calls here.

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Here are the latest cuckoo sightings on Dartmoor as of the 19th April.

Bees, neonics and Devon County Council

Following a campaign by Friends of the Earth, Buglife and the Devon Wildlife Trust, Devon County Council councillors have voted to ban the use of neonicotinoid (neonics) insecticides on land they control.

Neonics are groups of systemic pesticides which are applied as a seed dressing meaning that the insecticide is taken up by the plant tissue and can then be ingested by non target species such as bees and other pollinators. Buglife have been campaigning for many years now to get neonics banned as there is now a substantial body of evidence shows that their use has caused declines in bee populations – see here and here.

Honey bee
Honey bee

Well done Devon County Council! Whilst this step on its own will not remove the threat to bees across Britain it does send a message which others elsewhere will hopefully now heed.

Neonics  don’t just impact on honey bees  they can also affect bumblebees and solitary bees (along with many other species of pollinating insects). Many of these species are now in serious decline across the country – not just because of pesticide use but also because of habitat change and the loss of wild flowers. However gardens are important places for many species of bee now and as individuals we can do a lot to encourage, support and protect bees. Flowers in our gardens attract lots of insects and we can help bees by providing nesting sites for them. I have recently acquired a bee hotel to do just that.

Bee hotel 1
In essence it is a structure which is protected from the worse of the weather which provides nesting places for a number of our solitary bees which nest in small cavities

Bee hotel 2The holes (either short sections of bamboo or holes drilled into pieces of untreated wood) are of different sizes to suit different species. You can make a bee hotel yourself (see here) or buy one.

I will report back over the summer to let you know whether my bee hotel is being used!




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

Migrant hawkers

There are still quite a few species of dragonflies and damselflies on the wing – enjoying the warm dry weather – here are a few photos of some I photographed at Little Bradley Ponds near Bovey Tracey a few days ago.

Migrant hawker 1This is a migrant hawker – a medium sized dragonfly – they live in lakes, gravel pits, canals and slow flowing rivers – they don’t like acidic water.

Migrant hawker 2During the 1940s this was a rare migrant species i.e. it came over from the continent during the summer. Since then it has colonised southern Britain and is now common.

Migrant hawker 3Here is a mating pair – the animal directly facing us is the male – note the yellow inverted triangle on the second segment of the abdomen – this is the characteristic ID feature.

Azure damselflies

Here are a couple of mating azure damselflies – one of our commonest species – the animal on the left is the male – note the thick broad black line with a thinner black line beneath it – this is one of the features that separates the species from the Common Blue Damselfly

Blue tailed damselflyHere is a blue tailed damselfly – again a common Devon species – blue on segment 9 and no others

There are still a few other species on the wing such as common darter, ruddy darter, black darter, southern hawker and the common hawker – this weekend could be a good chance to tack them down as it looks like the good weather will continue.