How to… Identify Chalkland Wildflowers

Colourful, radiant, buzzing with life, a piece of paradise in the summer sunshine. All words to describe a small piece of chalk habitat nestled within the heart of my family’s farm in Dorset. Amidst a clay-dominated landscape, this small creation aims to emulate the approximately 41,000 hectares of lowland chalk grassland that can still be found across the UK. This super rich habitat contains over 40 species of flowering plants in every one square metre, giving chalk grassland its reputation as the tropical rainforest of Europe! Sadly though, 50% of chalk grassland has already been lost in Dorset alone since the 1950s.

In 2017, my Dad made the decision to transform a small triangular area of land on our farm into our very own chalk paradise. Though we do not live immediately on chalk downland, it can be found to the North and South of us. This makes our location ideal to create stopover habitat or a wildlife corridor, for the myriad of species that rely on these diverse plant communities. Following bringing in 40 tonnes of quarried chalk and lots of wildflower plugs and seeds, we now have a thriving 10m by 3m and 2m in height chalk mound.

Though my family’s chalk habitat is still in its relative infancy, over time it is transforming into a wildlife haven. From Grasshoppers and Marbled White Butterflies to blue Butterflies and Carder Bees, new species are popping up each and every year. This mini habitat has also been a great place for my mum to teach me all about the plant species that call chalkland grassland home. With her inspiration, I have put together a simple guide to identifying just some of the many wildflower species that are appearing on our mound.

Chalkland Wildflowers

Wild Marjoram (Origanum vulgare)Wild Marjoram

  • Family: Mint
  • Lifespan: Perennial (lives for several years)
  • Size: Short to medium height (30-60cm)
  • Stems: Erect, dark-red, downy and either round or square
  • Leaves: Oval, often slightly toothed, stalked, and 1.5-4.5cm in length
  • Flowers: Dark purple buds in loose clustered heads, opening to pale purple 6-8mm long flowers. Strongly aromatic. Flowers July-September
  • Range: Found throughout the UK (particularly in the South), but scarcer in Scotland
  • Fun Facts: This culinary herb is a symbol of happiness descended from Roman legend, with Origanum meaning ‘mountain joy’

Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria)Kidney Vetch

  • Family: Legume
  • Lifespan: Annual (lives for one year) or perennial
  • Size: Sprawling and medium in height (up to 60cm), but very variable
  • Stems: Silkily hairy, round, and often greyish
  • Leaves: In pairs, they are silky white below and green above, and are 30-60mm in length
  • Flowers: Yellow, orange or a fiery red, and downy-white below. They are found in single heads (12-15mm across) or sometimes pairs. Flowers April-September
  • Range: Found throughout the UK, especially around the coast
  • Fun Facts: In the Middle Ages, it was known for speeding up wound healing, with vulneraria meaning ‘wound healer’. It was also once used to commonly treat kidney disorders

Wild Thyme (Thymus polytrichus) Wild Thyme

  • Family: Mint
  • Lifespan: Perennial
  • Size: Low to the ground, forming a mat of non-flowering rooting stems (up to 10cm in height)
  • Stems: Square with erect flowering stems
  • Leaves: Evergreen, short stalked, very small oval 4-8mm leaves in opposite pairs
  • Flowers: Faintly aromatic with pink-purple flowers in round and dense heads. Flowers May-September
  • Range: Widespread in South East England, but scattered distribution elsewhere
  • Fun Facts: Long regarded as the favourite flower of fairies, and associated with love. The Greek thumon though means ‘that which is included in a sacrifice’

Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum)Lady's Bedstraw

  • Family: Madder/Bedstraw
  • Lifespan: Perennial
  • Size: Short to medium in height, often sprawling (up to 100cm)
  • Stems: Four-angled, almost hairless stems
  • Leaves: Dark green, long, narrow, shiny leaves in whorls of 8-12. Said to smell of new-mown hay
  • Flowers: Bright golden yellow, 2-4mm wide, in clusters, with a sweet honey-like scent. Only Bedstraw species in the UK with yellow flowers. Flowers June-September
  • Range: Widespread
  • Fun Facts: Associated with the story of the Virgin Mary giving birth to the baby Jesus, leading to the belief that a woman lying on a mattress of Lady’s Bedstraw would have a safe and easy childbirth

Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare)Viper's Bugloss

  • Family: Borage/Forget-Me-Not
  • Lifespan: Biennial (flowers in its second year before dying) or perennial
  • Size: Medium to tall in height (up to 100cm)
  • Stems: Roughly hairy and spotted (red-based bristles)
  • Leaves: Narrow, oval-shaped lower leaves
  • Flowers: Flowers in drooping clusters of pink buds that open to become erect, blue, trumpet-shaped, open-mouthed flowers, 10-20mm long, in branched spikes. Flowers May-September
  • Range: Scattered distribution across the UK, being most common in the South
  • Fun Facts: The plant’s name comes from a time when it was believed to be a cure for snake-bites, reinforced by the dead flower-heads resembling a viper’s head

Rough Hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus)Rough Hawkbit

  • Family: Daisy
  • Lifespan: Perennial
  • Size: Short to medium in height (up to 60cm)
  • Stems: Very hairy, unbranched, leafless, and slightly swollen at the top
  • Leaves: Form a rosette of bluntly lobed leaves at the base of the flowering stem
  • Flowers: Golden-yellow, though often orange or reddish beneath, solitary and 20-40mm wide. Forms seed heads that look like dandelion clocks. Flowers late May-October
  • Range: Widespread and fairly abundant across the UK, apart from in the far North
  • Fun Facts: In Greek, Leontodon means ‘Lion’s tooth’, referring to the toothed leaves. The flowers are also rich in nectar and smell sweetly of honey

Greater Knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa)Greater Knapweed

  • Family: Daisy
  • Lifespan: Perennial
  • Size: Medium to tall in height (30-120cm)
  • Stems: Erect and grooved
  • Leaves: Lobed, where the lobes are positioned in pairs either side of the leaf centre. The leaves are 100-250mm long
  • Flowers: Purple, solitary and 30-60mm across. Flowers July-September
  • Range: Scattered across the UK, but predominantly grows in England
  • Fun Facts: Commonly used to treat wounds, bruises, sores and similar conditions

Common Bird’s-Foot-Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)Common Bird's Foot Trefoil

  • Family: Legume
  • Lifespan: Perennial
  • Size: Short or medium in height and sprawling (up to 50cm)
  • Stems: Solid not hollow, and trailing
  • Leaves: Greyish-green, downy or hairless, and oval-shaped tapering to a point
  • Flowers: Deep yellow or orange, often partly red, and 10-16mm long, often 2-7 per flower head. Flowers May-September
  • Range: Widespread
  • Fun Facts: It has more than 70 common folk names including Eggs and Bacon. The name Bird’s-Foot-Trefoil reflects the resemblance to a bird’s foot, and is a larval food plant of Green Hairstreak and Dingy Skipper Butterflies

Ox-eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)Ox Eye Daisy

  • Family: Daisy
  • Lifespan: Perennial
  • Size: Medium in height (20-75cm)
  • Stems: Round, angled or square, erect, and slightly hairy
  • Leaves: Long-stalked, dark green, spoon-shaped, toothed and in a rosette around the base of the flowering stem
  • Flowers:  White, 20-60mm across, solitary and on sparsely leafy stalks. Flowers May-September
  • Range: Widespread
  • Fun Facts: In past times, an extract was obtained by boiling the plant down, that  was used in salves and medicines to cure a variety of ailments from liver disease to runny eyes. Largest native daisy species

Common Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris)Common Toadflax

  • Family: Plantain
  • Lifespan: Perennial
  • Size: Short to medium in height (30-80cm)
  • Stems: Erect, grey-green, and hairless
  • Leaves: 30-80mm long, very narrow, untoothed, and spirally arranged up the stems
  • Flowers: 15-35mm long, yellow with an orange bulge and long straight spur, forming stalked spikes. Flowers June-October
  • Range: Widespread
  • Fun Facts: Most common Toadflax species in the UK, getting its name from previously being considered as useless, fit only for toads

Meadow Crane’s-Bill (Geranium pratense)Meadow Cranesbill

  • Family: Geranium
  • Lifespan: Perennial
  • Size: Medium to tall in height (30-100cm)
  • Stems: Hairy, erect, and often reddish
  • Leaves: Have 5-9 lobes, cut nearly to the base
  • Flowers: Soft violet blue, petals not notched, 15-30mm wide. Flowers June-September
  • Range: Found throughout the UK, but rarer in South West England and East Anglia
  • Fact: With lesser known names such as ‘Jingling Johnny’ or Loving Andrews, it is a horticultural favourite dating back to before the Elizabethan times

Black Medick (Medicago lupulina)Black Medick

  • Family: Legume
  • Lifespan: Annual or short-lived perennial
  • Size: Low in height (up to 60cm), and sprawling or erect
  • Stem: Round or square and hairy
  • Leaves: Trefoil, downy, and 5-20mm in length, with minute teeth
  • Flowers: Bright yellow and small, with 10-50 to one short-stalked rounded head (3-8mm wide). Flowers April-October
  • Range: Widespread across the UK, but sparser in Scotland
  • Facts: Name means ‘plant of the Medes’, referring to an ancient Middle Eastern people, whilst lupulina means ‘hop-like’, due to similarities with Hop Trefoil

 

Now get out there and see what you can find!

 

Drawings and photos all my own

How to… Be a Barn Owl Pellet Detective

Floating above the ground on silent wings. A white ghost standing out against the murky dark of dusk. Swooping to a stop on a standing post. Watching, waiting, listening for a rustle in the grass, before moving on. The reticent guardian of twilight – Original piece, September 2019

Though they can be found in a variety of habitats, the majestic Barn Owl (Tyto alba) traditionally conjures up the image of a ghostly shape floating through a farming landscape. Excitingly, they have now made their return to the farmland I call home, and we are lucky enough to have regular sightings of these birds. Previously, they have featured multiple times on this blog, with the last time being in my post ‘Barn Owls in the depths of Dorset’ from September last year. Now as part of my popular ‘How to…’ series, it is time for them to take centre stage once again, and for us to take a look at one of their more unusual sides.

Hunting on silent wings, the Barn Owl can be found at the top of the food chain, feeding mainly on rodents and shrews. Like most other birds, Barn Owls naturally produce pellets, thumb-length ovoid or sausage-shaped masses, that are regurgitated and ejected from the beak. It takes a Barn Owl about 6 to 8 hours to produce a pellet, with 1-2 being produced per day. As Barn Owls tend to swallow their prey whole, these pellets contain the parts of their diet that cannot be digested, such as bones, and are encased in softer material, such as fur. As pellets do not pass through the intestines like droppings, they are in fact odourless!

Pellets are one incredibly important source of information for the naturalist and scientist. They can tell us what a bird has eaten, how many different prey species and individuals have been caught, an individual’s hunting habits, and even information on its habitat. In this way, they allow us to play detective, giving us a really amazing insight into the world of the Barn Owl.

Dissecting Barn Owl pellets is an unusual but fascinating activity, in which you never know what you may find. Previously pellets have featured on my blog in a 2016 post called ‘Barmy about Barn Owls: Owl pellets’, where I took a brief look at the Barn Owls now living on my family’s farm and had a go at identifying the species that the Barn Owls had been eating. Now I want to pass on what I have previously learnt and help you to play detective too, dissecting and analysing your very own pellets. Read on to find out more!

Dissecting Barn Owl pellets

  1. To begin with, you will need to find some Barn Owl pellets. You can interestingly buy Barn Owl pellets online, but I think that it is more fun to go out and find your own. The best place to find pellets is either at a nesting or roosting site, such as a barn or old tree. The pellets are uniform in colour, black drying to grey, and are usually a couple of inches long. Fur and bones will also be noticeable within them.
  2. Once you have found yourself at least one Barn Owl pellet, it is up to you to decide if you soak them first before dissecting. I find soaking them makes them easier to tease apart and extract bones intact, but it makes the job a little messier too! If you choose to soak them, place them in a pot of water for half an hour to a couple of hours before dissection.
  3. Next, take a pellet and blot the excess water off its surface, before placing it on a hard surface, such as a tray. Now you can begin to tease the pellet apart using tweezers, taking care not to miss any bones. As you find one, carefully remove it from the pellet, and place it separate from the main mass. Do not be worried if you come across grubs in the pellets, as these are simply the larvae of Clothes Moths that feed on the softer material of the pellet, such as the fur. 13_06_20_Farm_Chalk_Barn_Owl_Pellet_Dissection_2
  4. Once you are sure that you have removed all the bones, carefully clean them using water with a bit of mild disinfectant,

Analysing Barn Owl pellets

Identifying types of bones

To begin with, take a look at all the bones from the pellet together. Some of the bones will be easily recognisable to you, like the skull or lower jaw, but others will look a little more odd. Once you have an idea of some of the bones, try to identify the more obscure with some help.

Here’s a general example of some bones, Vole to be precise, to give you an idea of where each bone may be found in the body. In different species though, such as shrews, be aware that the bones may vary in size, shape and detail to these.

Vole Bones

Identifying species

Now you have a good idea of the bones that can be found in your pellet, it is time to take a look at the skull and lower jaw bone halves in more detail.

You will tend to find 2 groups of species in Barn Owl pellets: the insectivores and rodents.

For an insectivore, all the teeth are small and pointed and are found in a continous row. This is because they feed on insects, and need teeth that are able to break up their prey’s tough chitinous bodies.

A rodent on the other hand has two main types of teeth – the gnawing teeth (incisors) and the cheek teeth. These are separated by a notable gap.

Insectivore vs Rodent

If you find the skull or jaw bones of an insectivore, it will most likely be that of a Shrew, or even possibly a Mole. You can work out if it is that of a Shrew by taking a look at the colour of the teeth, as they will have red tips. This is from iron found in the enamel that adds to their strength. There are then 3 British shrew species that you could find (Water, Common and Pygmy), which all vary in their jaw size and shape of the lower end tooth (the incisor).

Insectivore Jaws

If you find a rodent skull, then there are a few more choices. Take a look at the cheek teeth of the lower jaw bone and see if there are grooves on the sides of the teeth and if there is a zigzag pattern across their top surface. If so, then this is most likely one of 3 species of Vole.

For a Water Vole, the size of the lower jaw bone is a give away, with the species being the largest of the 3, otherwise you will need to extract one of the cheek teeth from the jaw. Bank Vole cheek teeth have a more rounded zig-zag pattern, with two small roots, and grooves that do not run all the way down the teeth. Field Voles on the other hand have a sharper zig-zag pattern, grooves running to the base of the teeth, and no roots at all.

Voles

If the rodent’s cheek teeth look more ordinary with cusps (knobs), then the lower jaw or skull belongs to a Rat or Mouse. A large lower jaw will belong to a Brown Rat, whereas a small jaw will belong to a Mouse.

If you have a skull for a Mouse, then you can also attempt to identify the exact species. First, extract the front cheek tooth of the skull and then take a look at the number of holes (sockets) left behind. Five sockets means Harvest Mouse, four means Wood or Long-Tailed Field Mouse, and three means House Mouse.

How did you get on?

For some extra help analysing the contents of the pellets, you can find some other great ID guides and matrices online. For example head over to either the RSPB or Barn Owl Trust websites for more information.

22_07_20_Farm_Gill_Hill_Stile

Important:

  • Make sure you always ask a landowner’s permission before entering private land, and be careful.
  • Do not disturb Barn Owls at their breeding site, as they are protected by law making it illegal to do so.
  • Always wash your hands after handling pellets or their contents, or consider wearing gloves.

Giving Nature a Home on the Farm

‘Give fools their gold, and knaves their power; let fortune’s bubbles rise and fall; who sows a field, or trains a flower, or plants a tree, is more than all’ – John Greenleaf Whittier 

‘Your deepest roots are in nature. No matter who you are, where you live, or what kind of life you lead, you remain irrevocably linked with the rest of creation’ – Charles Cook

My family and I live on a 250 acre mixed dairy farm in the heart of beautiful Dorset, complete with sheep and beef cows. My parents took the farm on from Dorset County Council in 1995, at a time when it was only 50 acres, and have now expanded it to the 250 acres it is today. As long as I can remember, the farm has been my home. It is a part of who I am, providing the backdrop for me to learn about the natural world, to make informed decisions about how I live my life, and to become passionate about conservation. I have my parents to thank for this.

In 2019, the latest State of Nature report showed that agricultural change has been the largest driver of biodiversity loss over the last 45 years in the UK. With 72% of UK land area being used for agriculture and food production, land management changes have had a significant impact on the wildlife that call these areas home. As we now move forward, we need to focus on agriculture, not with contempt and negativity, but with optimism. If we are to continue to produce food in the UK, we need to focus on working with farmers to make farming sustainable, cost-effective, and most importantly with wildlife in mind.

Growing up on a farm, I have always been aware of how agriculture is heavily intertwined with the environment. My Mum and Dad have always believed in their roles as guardians for the wildlife and natural habitats that call our land home, and are dedicated to conserving and increasing biodiversity. Though it can be tough to create a balance, my Dad believes that farming, through careful management, can produce food in an economically sustainable way, whilst supporting and enhancing the natural environment. Here are some of the examples of how my family are successfully working to give nature a home on our farm.

(1) The Bridge Field

Project:

The field is a small, triangular-shaped, 3 acre field, bordered by hedges and a river. It was taken on in 2014 with some other land, and is less ideal for agricultural use due to its shape and often being wet. Hence, it has been left untouched, apart from one late cut of haylage each year and dock management. This year my parents decided to begin the process of restoring the land, with the aim of giving it back to nature.

So far:

  • At the beginning of the year, we bought in and planted 219 native tree and shrub saplings of 9 species, including Goat Willow and Rowan. The hope is to create a rich and valuable habitat for wildlife.
  • We began managing the grass in the field, which is mainly Yorkshire Fog, to increase species composition. The grass has formed a dense stand across the field and is currently excluding nearly all other species.

Next aims:

  • See how the trees and shrubs grow on
  • Plant natural wildflower species using plugs, bulbs and seeds
  • Create a water source, such as a pond

07_05_20_Farm_Bridge_Field_Trees_2

(2) The Chalk Mound

Project:

Towards the centre of our land you can find a small triangular area of land that is bordered by hedges and a track. My parents took on this area with some other land in 2014, but it was not anything special. In 2017, my Dad decided to use it to make a small piece of chalk habitat, in our clay area, acting as a perfect stopover location between chalk downland to the north and south of us.

So far:

  • We bought in 40 tonnes of quarried chalk and shaped it into a mound which is 10m by 3m, and 2m in height.
  • We planted a selection of plant plugs and seeds gifted to us, ranging from Quaking Grass and Kidney Vetch to Rough Hawkbit and Lady’s Bedstraw.
  • For the first year, the mound was regularly watered as the plant plugs and seeds became established, but after that they were left to grow on, with minimal management.

Next aims:

  • Continue to enjoy the now thriving habitat that is attracting lots of insects, from butterflies to bees
  • Boost numbers of certain species such as Wild Thyme
  • Complete autumn management of the encroaching Yorkshire Fog grass at the mound’s edges

(3) Wildflower Verges and Rough Areas

Project:

As part of managing our land, my Dad leaves areas and verges uncut and able to thrive, providing valuable habitat for wildlife. One of my Dad’s inspirations for doing this is to provide rough grassland habitat for his favourite bird, the Barn Owl. Barn Owls use such areas to hunt, as it provides cover for their rodent prey. It is also great habitat for other species, such as the majestic Brown Hare.

Different forms so far:

  • Fenced off areas to keep livestock out but allow wildlife in.
  • Verges and strips left to grow up and increase in species diversity.
  • Wildflower verges planted to provide food for different species at different times of year.
  • Field margins created, maintained and protected, meaning a field is never worked up to the hedgerows.

Next aims:

  • Allow areas to continue to increase in diversity and composition
  • Continue to create a mosaic of habitats on the land

(4) Trees and Woodlands

Project:

I am a huge fan of trees, and my family are no different. Throughout our land you will find lots of different species, such as Ash, Alder, Wild Cherry and Oaks, varying in size, shape, and age. They play very important and varying roles in the landscape, from singular trees in fields and hedgerows, to the many growing in copses and woodlands around the farm. We now want to continue to preserve them and increase their numbers.

So far:

  • Over many years, we have been planting more trees wherever we can, with this year’s main project being the Bridge Field.
  • We continue to look after and manage the small woodland areas on our land.
  • We are putting up lots of different nest boxes around the farm, from small Tit boxes to larger Owl boxes.

Next aims:

  • Put up more nest boxes, including Little Owl and Kestrel
  • Monitor nest box use each year
  • Allow trees, such as mature Oaks, to naturally age and return to the ground

(5) Hedgerows

Project:

On my family’s land there are a lot of hedgerows, which are a hugely important habitat for a whole host of wildlife. They range in age and composition, including species such as Spindle, Blackthorn, Ash and Dog Rose. They also provide different services, such as food and shelter, throughout the course of a year, for lots of different species.

So far:

  • We carefully manage hedgerows with wildlife in mind each year.
  • Hedgecutting is practiced on a rotational basis and in late winter if the ground holds up. They are only cut by my Dad or brother who are skilled at cutting the hedges correctly and with care.
  • We annually manage and maintain field margins and ditches.
  • Hedgelaying has been used in the past but only when a hedge is in need of restoration.

Next Aims:

  • Maintain the high standard of hedgerows
  • Allow diversity to continue to increase

Future Aims

With 41% of species in decline since 1970, biodiversity loss and the latest State of Nature report cannot be overlooked. Whilst there is still hope that we can bring things back from the brink, and reverse the decline, to do so we need to act now. We need to create more homes for wildlife, protect what is left of our natural environment, and manage land with wildlife in mind.

On the farm this process is in full swing and gaining momentum each year. In this way, we are trying to make our land more wildlife friendly, managing and creating habitats for wildlife. Now, Skylarks can be heard singing all around the farm each morning, Brown Hares are increasing in number, Butterfly and Moths are becoming more species diverse, and Yellowhammers are becoming increasingly common. There are so many more examples from the big to the small, from Hedgehogs to Newts, but my Dad’s favourite has to be his Barn Owls. Over the last few years Barn Owls have made our land their regular home, with 2 Barn Owl pairs successfully breeding last year!

My Dad now wants to continue my Mum’s and his work dedicated to the environment, from helping farmland birds to reducing our carbon footprint. He wants to continue to show how conservation and increasing biodiversity can go hand in hand with conventional farming, allowing food to be produced whilst looking after the environment. A great example of this is the RSPB’s Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire, an arable farm where careful and targeted management is now having results. It makes me optimistic that if we now focus on working with farmers to give nature a home on their farms in the right way, then this could make a real difference to reversing species decline in the future.

30 Days Wild 2020: My Wild Month

I have always lived a wild life. For this I have my family to thank, being raised in the middle of the beautiful Dorset countryside, immersed in everything Mother Nature has to offer. It has been my playground, my classroom, my escape, and my counsellor. It is a part of who I am. This is why I am so passionate to protect and conserve our natural world, and why I now make it my mission to share all it has to offer with the rest of the world.

So when I heard about 30 Days Wild, I just had to get involved! The month-long challenge aims to bring people closer to nature, get people learning and exploring, and make a positive difference for wildlife in the UK. This year I made it my goal to spread the word, and before the month started, I began blogging about the challenge in the hope of inspiring others to also get involved (check out How to… Get involved in the June 30 Days Wild challenge). The response was amazing!

Once June was under way, I also made 30 Days Wild a focus of each and every day for the whole of the month. I got to try some new things, learn some new knowledge, help some worthy causes, share with others about nature and wildlife, and most importantly, I got to explore and spend valuable time out in nature. I enjoyed every minute, so join me now as I take a look back at how wild my month of June really was!

Wall Chart

30 Days Wild – June 2020

Day 1 – Monday 1st (Work):

For the very first day of my 30 Days Wild, I started with a bang, showing my support for my local Wildlife Trust by becoming a member. By joining Dorset Wildlife Trust, I have joined 25,000 other members helping to conserve and safeguard wildlife in Dorset and on my doorstep. I look forward to now doing my bit!

Day 2 – Tuesday 2nd (Work):

For my second day, I was faced again with the challenge of completing a Random Act of Wildness alongside a busy day at work. I achieved this though, by taking a break in the evening to watch a wild webcam in the form of BBC Springwatch’s live nest cams. It was amazing to get a different perspective of the nests, such as being right inside a Jackdaw’s nest!

Day 2

Day 3 – Wednesday 3rd (Day off):

On my first day off during the challenge, I was able to go for a long walk out in nature, seeing what I could discover on my way. Despite it being a rainy day, the wildlife did not disappoint, with lots of different birds and insects making their presence felt, from families of Long-Tailed Tits to chattering Magpies.

Day 4 – Thursday 4th (Day off):

With another day off work, I decided to combine taking in nature with another of my passions, horse riding. On a hack with my next door neighbour’s mare Marsha, I got to get some really great views of the beautiful countryside near where I live, combined with views of some great bird species, such as my favourites, the birds of prey.

Day 5 – Friday 5th (Work):

Over the last couple of months I have tried to regularly upload a new post to this blog every Friday. To combine 30 Days Wild with my recent How to… series, on this day I uploaded a piece about making a home for wildlife, and in particular a hotel for bees. To do this post, I got to make my very own hotel, which was very rewarding, so if you would like to make your own, why not check out my easy guide: How to… Make Your Own Bee Hotel

Day 5

Day 6 – Saturday 6th (Day off):

I love growing my own fruit and vegetables, and then being able to pick and eat them! So I was happy on this day off, that I got the pleasure of picking my family’s first gooseberry crop, though it took a while after to top and tail all of them! I also spent time listening to my bird songs and calls CD to do some revision before going out for a walk to test my knowledge. I now love being able to instinctively know when I can hear certain species, such as a Blackcap or Yellowhammer singing in the landscape!

Day 6

Day 7 – Sunday 7th (Work):

I spent the whole of my Sunday making a note of the species that I came across as I went about my usual day before, during and after work. I was able to realise just how lucky I am to work outside and spend so much time out in nature everyday!

I also spent the evening catching up on Springwatch with the company of one of my house cats!

Day 8 – Monday 8th (Work):

During my 30 Days Wild, I wanted to donate to a wildlife cause. I decided that one cause I wanted to support was the Marine Turtle Conservation Project, which without funding would not be able to continue their important work. It was also well timed as the 8th of June was World Oceans Day!

I as well finished my day excitingly helping with Barn Owl nest box checks in my local area, now that I am fully licensed. This included the Barn Owl box on my family’s own farm and it is definitely looking positive for them this year!

Day 9 – Tuesday 9th (Work):

On this day, I was lucky enough to go out hacking on horseback whilst at work, and rode through some really spectacular countryside. It was one very busy day at work, so when I got home I also relaxed with some wild reading, including a great fictional book by zoologist Delia Owens called Where The Crawdads Sing. Her imagery of the North Carolina marshland is absolutely stunning!

Day 9

Day 10 – Wednesday 10th (Day off):

For my day off, I wanted to spend time really taking in the natural world around me and exploring the finer details. In this way, I got to see some incredible things from a hunting Sparrowhawk and Digger Bee nests to strong smelling Honeysuckle and mating Yellow Shell Moths. There is just so much to see if you give yourself the time to take it all in!

Day 10

Day 11 – Thursday 11th (Day off):

The day before during my walks, I had collected some Barn Owl pellets from beneath two nest sites, a tree and a nest box, on my family’s land. I then spent the next day soaking the pellets and teasing them apart to see what they held inside. From the nest box site, there was Field Vole, Mouse and Common Shrew bones, whereas from the tree site there was Field and Bank Vole, Common and Pygmy Shrew, and Brown Rat.

I also spent some time identifying plants that I had seen out and about, including learning to identify a Male Fern that my cat was very interested in helping me with!

Day 11

Day 12 – Friday 12th (Work):

This Friday, I once again combined 30 Days Wild with my recent How to… series, uploading a post on making small changes to your own life to help our planet. For example, walking and cycling more, thinking before you buy, and cutting your water usage. If you want to get inspired yourself, check out my post: How to… Help the planet one small step at a time.

I also spent some time on this rainy day, appreciating the beauty of the falling rain.

Day 12

Day 13 – Saturday 13th (Day off):

I spent my Saturday wild and busy. My activities ranged from identifying pollinators to organising equipment ahead of the autumn bird ringing season. I am always happiest doing something but doing something outside is even better!

Day 14 – Sunday 14th (Work):

There is nothing more valuable than your own parents passing down their knowledge to you, and with mine it is no different. I have my Mum to thank for the foundations of all my wildlife knowledge today, from bird song to plant species. This year my Mum has been teaching me about chalkland species, using the chalk mound my Mum and Dad have created themselves on our farmland. It has been so enjoyable listening to my Mum as she IDs and teaches me each and every species on the ridge!

Day 15 – Monday 15th (Work):

The ever-changing sky is a source of wonder and life. I took time over the course of a whole day, appreciating it and watching it change, from cloud watching with white fluffy and dark rain clouds to an unexpectedly beautiful sunset!

Day 16 – Tuesday 16th (Work):

One of the acitivities I definitely wanted to do during 30 Days Wild, was to make my own bird food, taking me back to my childhood. I kept it simple with lard and bird seed, and packed the food into different shaped recycled containers for some variation. I then left it in the fridge overnight with the aim of testing it the very next day!

Day 16

Day 17 – Wednesday 17th (Day off):

I began my day off by putting out my homemade bird food in the garden. Unfortunately it was a bit hot, and the food kept melting off its strings! It was a hit with the local fledged Starling chicks though, and eventually disappeared within 48 hours.

I also took my mum and dad to my bird ringing trainer’s private nature reserve for a a different walk. It is such a lovely place to be, and gave us all some inspiration of how we can make more homes for wildlife on our own land. To finish the day, I helped pick some of the fruit growing in my family’s garden, my favourites being the strawberries!

Day 17

Day 18 – Thursday 18th (Day off) :

People who read my blog will know that I love the woods! It’s a place I go to when I want a break from the world or just to watch the seasons change in a place where it’s at its most noticeable. So as part of my 30 Days Wild, I headed into the woods for a spot of forest bathing and a refresher. The day’s rain did not even stop me!

Day 18

Day 19 – Friday 19th (Work):

Due to my love of spring and wildlife photography, for this Friday on my blog, I uploaded a post about my favourite photos from spring 2020. It was great to reflect on my own spring and to look back on some great moments, making it easily one of my favourite posts so far this year! If you want to take a look, check out my Spring 2020: In Photos

I also headed out into my family’s land after work, to revisit a favourite camera trapping spot from this spring. Once there, I set up my camera trap again, and looked forward to seeing what I might catch this time around.

Day 19

Day 20 – Saturday 20th (Work):

After work, I signed up to the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch, which is currently free for everyone to take part, and allows me to upload what I see in my garden at home every week. I also took time out to focus on my mental health, and completed a wild guided meditation, lying on the grass in my garden. I picked this particular meditation as it incorporates taking in the sounds around you, such as the sounds of nature. It was so surreal for me to relax outside and then reopen my eyes to see lots and lots of baby starlings looking back at me!

Day 20

Day 21 – Sunday 21st (Day off):

As it was Father’s Day, for my Sunday off, I got to spend lots of time with my dad. This included two walks also with my mum, where we tried to see what nature had to offer us, which included birds of prey and wonderful Skylarks. To top off an active day, I also pulled on my trainers for the first time in a couple of weeks, due to an injury, and went for a run through the countryside around my home. I just cannot get enough of being outdoors!

Day 21

Day 22 – Monday 22nd (Work):

For my Monday, I completed two different Random Acts of Wildness. Firstly, I began writing down all the birds I saw in my garden during the day as part of the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch.

I then made a donation to charity. I may not have a lot of money, but at times like these I realise how lucky and fortunate I am in life. So when I saw another great cause, I had to get involved and donate!

Two years ago, during my Master’s in Conservation and Biodiversity, I got the opportunity to go on a field course to Kenya, with a lot of organisation from Adventure Upgrade Safaris. They even got me a cake for my birthday! Now without tourism, the company are struggling and without our support, they will not be able to continue for the future. They need our help to survive!

Day 22

Day 23 – Tuesday 23rd (Work):

This day was an exciting day for me! It was the day that, after work, I got to retrieve my camera trap that I had put out last Friday!

Though I had previously captured my best camera trap photo this year in this location (a fox cub), I did not know what to expect this time around. My camera trap did not disappoint though, and the photos included those of the fox cub I had previously seen, a rabbit and some really great photos of some badgers!

Day 24 – Wednesday 24th (Day off):

On a day when I really needed it, I got to spend my day off doing some things I love. My bird ringing group starts the autumn migration ringing season on the 1st of August and so to start my Wednesday, I helped with some of the preparation for the season. For example, we completed an important but often overlooked job, re-dying our mist nets with a special dye mix.

I also excitingly spent some of my day ringing Kestrel chicks and, now that I am fully licensed, helped with Barn Owl nest box checks. This led to me also getting to ring Barn Owl chicks and getting some great views of some Little Owls!

Day 24

Day 25 – Thursday 25th (Day off):

Another activity I really wanted to do during my 30 Days Wild, was to do some wild baking. I decided on making some simple vanilla cupcakes and decorating them with minibeasts in different colours.

My time spent baking was not without some drama though, as I ended up modelling icing during an afternoon of over 30 degrees heat! Despite this, I soldiered on through runny icing, with the much needed help of my mum, and had some great fun, whilst making some yummy cakes topped with interesting and colourful creatures!

Day 25

Day 26 – Friday 26th (Work):

For my last Friday of 30 Days Wild, I uploaded to my blog another brand new post. This time my post followed on from last Friday’s spring upload, and focussed on how spring unfolded this year. If you want to have a read about how my extra special spring actually turned out this year, check out my Spring 2020: How It Happened.

Day 26

Day 27 – Saturday 27th (Day off):

This day was another day of relaxing in nature. This included watching and recording the birds in my garden, going for a long horse ride through the Dorset countryside, and exploring the flowers growing in my garden and on my currently ‘no mow’ lawn.

Day 27

Day 28 – Sunday 28th (Work):

With it being especially rainy during my day at work, I made it my priority to spend my lunch break outdoors during a break in the weather. It was a much needed refresher! Also, having completed my first week of the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch yesterday, I spent my evening uploading my results to their website. It was exciting to see how the week actually went!

Day 28

Day 29 – Monday 29th (Work):

I spent this Monday rushed off of my feet at work. To keep my brain relaxed though, I came up with the plan of spending my day attempting to noticing the wildlife around me and seeing if I could find a species for each letter of the alphabet. I had a very successful day of it, alongside being very productive at work, leading to only one species missing (the letter X)!

The response to me completing this activity was absolutely amazing on Twitter. It gave me a real sense of joy to see everyone’s support, so thank you everyone!

Day 30 – Tuesday 30th (Work):

Today was the last day of June and the final day of 30 Days Wild. However much I would have liked to have finished with a bang, it would not have fit my true and busy day. Instead, today was a day of appreciating and being grateful for the natural world around me. This may be in the form of what I encountered on my travels or seen out of my window, or by taking in other people’s experiences such as through books and on twitter. I treasured them all!

Day 30

My Highlights

This June has been a wild rollercoaster which I have absolutely loved! Spending time focussing on nature each and every day has enriched my days, relaxed me, and allowed me to connect further with the wild world around me. If I had to pick some highlights, these would include my wild alphabet becoming popular on Twitter, making wild cupcakes with my mum, expanding my knowledge of plants, ringing my first Kestrel and Barn Owl chicks, and sharing my 30 Days Wild on social media.

I have learnt and experienced so much this past month, and I am now inspired to continue making the natural world an important part of each and every day, and to share my passion with as many people as I possibly can. I hope that if you participated in this year’s challenge, that you also had a great month. Otherwise here’s to next year’s 30 Days Wild!

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