Bog bats and earwigs

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A soprano pipistrelle from one of the Flanders boxes.

Flanders Moss NNR

Flanders Moss is a great place for insects, supporting a huge population of a whole load of species (including midges!). And this attracts things that eat them, one of which is bats. But though there is plenty of food for bats there are few places for them to roost. usually they need big old trees that are hollow or have cracks but most of the trees at Flanders are too young. So to give the bats a helping hand we have put up boxes to allow them to live next to their food supply. The first lot of boxes have been up for a couple of years and we checked one for Chris Packham’s visit in July. So last week we checked the rest to see how many have been used and also put up some more.

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There are 9 boxes up in the woods along the edge of the moss and attached to the viewing tower and we put up another 5 including one big extra spacious box.

To check bat boxes you must be trained and have a licence so experts Eilidh McNab from the Central Scotland bat group and Lis Ferrell from the Bat Conservation Trust came out to do ours. I was just the labour carrying equipment.

 

Of the 9 boxes already up we found signs of bat activity (i.e. piles of poo) in all the boxes and counted 12 bats. All these bats were pipistrelles, and a couple were taken out on the boxes by Lis and Eilidh to identify them as soprano pipistrelles.

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One way of identifying the different pipistrelle species is to look at the vein pattern in the wing.

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3 Pips in one of the boxes.

What was interesting was that as well as bat poo there were also 2 birds nests, probably tit nests and it is possible for both tits and bats to share a box at the same time. There were also about a million earwigs so some boxes seemed a bit crowded!

 

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One of the birds nests removed from the bat box.

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New boxes to go up at Flanders.

For more information about the Bat Conservation Trust in Scotland go  here  

And for a link to the Central Scotland Bat Group facebook page – more info here

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Hen Harrier!

Flanders Moss NNR

Warning – very poor quality wildlife photos in the blog post!

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Some wildlife just gives you an extra lift and for me, hen harriers are one of them. I was just taking a well earned breather  from banging in piling dams on the moss on Wednesday when I looked up and saw a distinctive bird mooching across the moss. Even from a distance with bare eyes they have a wonderfully slow, buoyant, drifting way of flying that distinguishes them from other birds of prey that might be in the area such as buzzard and red kites. Plus the males, and this was a male, are striking birds, a soft grey and white body and wings with black tips.

What adds to the excitement was that this male was the first of the autumn season to be seen by me at Flanders. Hen harriers don’t breed on the Moss but we can see them out of the breeding season as the moss offers the sort of rough habitat packed with small birds and small mammals that they like.

And hen harriers are one of the most persecuted birds in the UK. In England there is potential habitat for up to 300 pairs but this year there were only 9 successful breeding pairs. In Scotland there are more but in a very patchy distribution across the country. Hen harriers are protected by law so should breed unhindered but are killed illegally especially when they try to breed on grouse moors. Because hen harriers can eat grouse chicks it means that they come into conflict with moors that are managed intensively for driven grouse shooting and so are killed illegally. So it gives even more pleasure to see such a threatened bird at Flanders Moss.

And it is almost as if the hen harrier knew as the timing couldn’t be better with this weekend events are being held all across the UK to highlight the illegal persecution of hen harriers. You can find out more about Hen Harrier Day 2018 here.

Unfortunately the 2 pictures don’t do them justice at all but were all I could managed when I grabbed my camera. maybe there will be a chance over the winter to get some more.

You can find out more about the Skydancer project for hen harriers here and up to date information on the Skydancer blog here.

 

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Bog myrtle – Myrica gale

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Our blog editor, Jane Petrie, writes about one of our special bog plants:

Like so many of our wonderful bog plants, myrtle, also known as ‘Sweet Gale’ has properties which meant it was valued and used by our distant ancestors for all sorts of purposes from medicine and candle making to brewing and more.  As is so often the case, as our close links to these plants and our connections to the environment they grow in have dwindled, we have largely lost the knowledge of the uses plants like this were put to.*

Bog myrtle is a small flowering shrub which grows up to 2m tall.  It’s found in bogs (such as Flanders and Blawhorn NNRs) marshes, fens and wetlands. Bog myrtle is a plant which features adaptations to suit its wet and acidic growing environment – for example, it thrives in nitrogen poor soil due to antinobacteria found in the roots that can bind nitrogen from the air.

But bog myrtle is perhaps best known for the evocative and unique scent of its leaves which are reputed to offer protection from the ferocious ravages of the Scottish midge.  Sprigs of myrtle were often tucked into hat bands and even horses’ bridles to ward off midges and flies and in recent years some research has gone into marketing insect repellants with myrtle in, though the effectiveness of anything other than a head net or midge suit against swarms of midges in warm summer evenings is open to debate!

Myrtle leaves contain essential oils rich in terpenes and bitter tannins.  The leaves were once added to beer, known as gruit, to increase its flavor and foaminess though it has mostly been replaced by hops now, partly due to myrtle’s reputation for causing severe headaches.  Myrtle beer (gruit) was known as ‘porsøl’ in Scandinavian countries and reputedly drunk in large quantities by Viking ‘berserkers’ to drive themselves into a fighting frenzy.  Myrtle is still added to some brands of schnapps and liquers today.  In more modest quantities the leaves can also be added to stews and roast meats or made into tea – but it’s always worth proceeding with caution before trying this out*.

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Its flowers are catkins and it also produces small fruits known as ‘drupes’.  When boiled, the natural wax coating from these fruits floats to the surface of the water and can be skimmed off to make candles which burn with a pleasant fragrance.  More wax can be obtained from the stone in the fruits by the same method.

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Bog myrtle catkins

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Bog myrtle “fruit” – drupes.

How to describe the scent? Well, everyone picks up something different in Myrtle’s unique aroma. From the first fragrance impressions from the leaves to crushing the leaves between your fingers and feeling the oil on your skin, the scent evolves.  It’s a complex scent which could accurately be described as smelling like nothing but itself but if you haven’t met the plant to find out for yourself, the following descriptions have been offered by staff here in the office – citrusy, warming, peppery, resinous, a bit like rosemary, sweet, soft – and sharp, oily, medicinal, woody, heathery….  From the first ‘hit’ of scent to the longer lasting ‘flavour’ one of the team likened the scent to ‘a good bottle of wine, but with no headache’, to describe the unique and multi layered aroma which evolves.DescriptorsMyrtle was also traditionally used medicinally, to treat wounds, acne and digestive problems.  In Scandinavia the plant’s dried bark was used to treat intestinal worms and relieve itching.  The plan has astringent and antiseptic properties (and actually helped preserve the beer made from it) and was used in wound dressings.  It’s also styptic which means it stops bleeding and its other properties encourage healing.  Myrtle’s ‘euphoric’ properties meant it was also used historically to treat depression and stress.  In dyeing, myrtle produces a yellow colour, also used in tanning leather.  Bog myrtle in Gaelic is known as roid and was the clan badge of some septs of the Campbells. (To hear how to pronounce roid explore SNH’s glossary of Gaelic nature words

Last but not least, myrtle is a traditional element in bridal bouquets, not just in Scotland but also in European and British royal weddings.   In the ‘language of flowers’ myrtle represents love, purity and long life and the flower is the Hebrew symbol of marriage.  Queen Victoria planted a myrtle bush at Osborne House, and plants there continue to provide sprigs for royal brides to carry on the tradition of including myrtle in their bouquet – as seen most recently at the wedding of Meghan and Prince Harry.

So, from this one plant, people could garner a whole host of useful properties – and the only way to experience it is by smelling the plant for yourself!

This is just one of the wonderful species found in our brilliant bogs – there are many, many more to explore!

*(As well as being less knowledgeable about the benefits of these plants in this day and age,  we’re all generally less knowledgeable about the side effects and potential hazards too, so always exercise caution when foraging, especially if you plan to eat or drink anything made from wild plants, especially as the side effects can be pretty powerful, even toxic. In a similar vein, myrtle also has abortifacient properties so should never be ingested by pregnant womenThe highly fragrant essential oil from the seeds is highly toxic and should never be ingested; it can also cause skin irritation).

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20 is plenty

Flanders Moss NNR

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I suppose it was predictable that as soon as we improved the track leading to the Flanders Moss car park then people started speeding down it. The problem with this is not only it is unsafe for those that walk and cycle to the reserve but also going too fast will damage the track, cause more pot holes and get us back quickly to the state we were in last winter. And the speedsters will probably be the first to complain about the state of the track then.
So please drive slowly. I have just put up new speed limit signs to remind you.
And look at the fields as you drive down to the car park as there is often interesting wildlife to see as you drive down, brown hares, pink-footed geese, buzzards, twite, golden plover, roe deer and curlew can all be seen in those fields.
By driving slowly the Flanders wildlife experience starts as soon as you turn off the main road.
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Moss Ambassadors

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Bat encounters

Flanders Moss NNR

Sometimes we do events and move straight on to the next one without knowing about the ripple effect that the event might have. Below is an article by Joyce Firth for the local community newsletter, the Thornhill Views, which is an interview of the youngsters who gave Chris Packham his guided walk around Flanders Moss a few weeks back. It is very pleasing to see the impact that such an event might have on those involved and very encouraging to see that there are young Flanders Moss Ambassadors already telling people in their community all about the fantastic site on their doorstep.

Early start!

So what made three young people and their Mums get up and out at 5.30 am, on a Sunday morning, in the summer holidays? UK Bioblitz did!

Chris Packham, TV presenter and naturalist and his UK Bioblitz expert team surveyed 50 sites across the UK during 10 days in July, including Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve. The purpose was to highlight the extent to which the nation’s wildlife is under threat. www.chrispackham.co.uk

Shona, Niamh and Deia  were the local guides for the visit spending an hour and a half with Chris Packham and sharing all their knowledge about the moss with him. Scottish Natural Heritage staff, volunteers and local partners were also present at the invitation only event.

I met Shona and her Mum by chance as they returned home and it sounded so interesting and exciting I asked the young people to tell me about it to share with Thornhill Views readers.

Shona explained they’d heard about the survey just before the end of term and all pupils in P5, 6, & 7 Thornhill Primary School were invited to attend. This class group had made five visits to the moss as part of their outdoor learning last term, had built a snake hibernaculum as well as taking part in the art/science project ‘Flanders Moss Under the Microscope’. She said, “We were called the Mossaholics!”

Niamh said “The visit started at the hibernaculum our class built – all 22 of us! But it takes 10 years for the wood to break down to make a safe and warm space for adders to hibernate.” SNH staff and volunteers make several such structures each year to support the resident adder population.

All three girls were really enthusiastic about getting a chance to see the bat expert handling a soprano pipistrelle from one of the 6 wood/crete bat boxes installed on the reserve. Shona explained this tiny bat is “more common than a common pipistrelle!” Niamh said “It was so cute to see it close up but that some people are afraid of bats.” Deia added “It’s amazing that something so tiny can eat thousands of midges a night.”

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Close-up bat experience.

Shona said the spider expert was really excited to have found a tiny bog sun-jumper spider to show to the Chris and colleagues. These are very rare spiders and I asked if it would be easy to spot. Niamh explained that was unlikely as “They jump really quickly almost teleporting from place to place.” Chris mentioned the spider on his Twitter feed that day and said “Look it up!” I did and was amazed to discover this tiny arachnid is championed by Angus McDonald MSP for Falkirk East. www.buglife.org.uk

The tour looked at many aspects of the reserve including dragon fly larvae and sundews. The girls loved being with Chris – seeing him getting down on his knees and enthusiastically getting into the action. Deia said “I really enjoyed getting to meet Chris Packham and he was really impressed with our ‘Under the Microscope’ Art Beat exhibition.”

Local artist Darren Rees was the ‘Artist in Residence’ for UK Bioblitz and made daily water colour sketches of the different sites.

I asked if the visit had been filmed. Deia said: “We recorded a little video for Chris Packham’s You Tube channel saying why we wanted wild life.”

The girls were given caps and badges and their parents were given campaign post cards to send to Roseanna Cunningham, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform asking for some bold and brave changes to improve the health of Scotland’s countryside. Shona thought it would be good if people put “their own ideas forward on it too.”

Niamh said “It was fun to look at things up close but it made me think I should help conservationists to look after these creatures because they’re cool.”

At the end of the visit Chris congratulated all the people working for wildlife. He said that this had been the only site visit led young people.

We should all be rightly proud of such a special nature reserve in our area and even more of the learning opportunities given to our community by reserve manager David Pickett, volunteers and other partners, especially Kate Sankey at West Mosside. www.nature.scot

Nature reserves may not be enough but the life lessons given to our young people at Flanders Moss offer a great start to them becoming champions for nature in the broadest sense.

We don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to be part of this national campaign but can take inspiration from our local children and join the new biodiversity group being set up in the village.

See you at the hibernaculum!

Joyce Firth

 

 

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1 year a blog

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Blawhorn Moss NNR, Loch Lomond NNR and Flanders Moss NNR

 

The 2 bogs, a swamp and some islands blog is 1 year old today.

It isn’t really a big deal. But these 3 nature reserves are relatively unsexy habitats (bogs and swamps), don’t have really have many iconic species (the bog sun-jumper anyone? – a spider and not some form of wetland summer knitwear) and are mostly fairly inaccessible unless you want to get your feet wet. So this blog is proving to be a good way of bringing the wet places to the people.

And over the last year we have had over 10 000 page views and 5 000 visitors (and they aren’t all my mother). Not much when compared with other high profile reserves with big exciting species but still an encouraging level of interest for these unfashionable habitats.

A few other facts and stats for the year.

The top 3 most popular posts were:

  1. The post about the mess left at Flanders Moss after an unofficial firework party (here).
  2. The post about whales found at Flanders Moss (here)
  3. The farewell post from Amee (here).

We have know reached 44 countries across the world. After the UK, we are big in USA, Ireland, Australia while also reaching Belarus, Slovenia, Japan and South Korea. Coverage in Africa and the Middle East is low and something our marketing team will have to work on.

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So just a thank-you to all the people who have taken the time to write posts, we would welcome more guest bloggers is anyone out there fancies having a go – fame and fortune beckons!

We hope you enjoy the next blog year, and please keep sharing and getting the word out there.

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The highs and lows of managing a nature reserve

Loch Lomond NNR

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An osprey watched the afternoon’s proceedings.

I spent the afternoon down at the Loch Lomond reserve earlier this week. We have had staff resources chopped so there isn’t as much time spent down there as before and because of this we have been unable to do much in the way of dealing with the invasive non-native plant species (INNS) that spread at the expense of the native plants. A lot of work has been done in previous years and the main problem plant,  Himalayan balsam, was on the decline so I wasn’t sure what I would find.

I headed out onto the reserve and climbed over the fence to the part of woodland previous infested with balsam. Just by the fence were a few plants so I immediately started pulling them only for things to turn pear shaped very quickly. A sharp pain in my arm told me that something was stinging me, quickly followed by others. A fast sprint with a lot of arm waving and swearing got me away from the wasps’ nest that I had disturbed but the final score was 5 – 1 (stings to dead wasps, in their favour).

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The last few Himalayan balsam plants left to pull

Once things had calmed down I was able to look around the rest of the woodland and found that where only a couple of years ago there were 10 000’s of Himalayan balsam plants now there were about 80. If the plants are pulled before they set seed then they won’t come back so all of the previous work, 100s of hours of pulling by volunteers and staff, had virtually conqueror the invaders in this corner of the reserve. Absolutely brilliant.

It is these successes that make reserve management so satisfying. A lot of effort put in but resulting in a good result, with native flora flourishing on a spectacular site. And it is an example to other teams working across the country that might be just starting on this type of INNS work. At times it can seem like it is making no difference but by keeping plugging away eventually you can achieve a great result.

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Himalayan balsam free natural wet woodland.

So from this amazing high, the afternoon went down hill rapidly, first there was an adverse reaction to the wasps stings that left me looking like a cross between Ronald MacDonald and a plate of baked beans.

And then the dog rolled in something disgusting.

It was a long drive home.

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