30 Days Wild 2022: My Wild June

Every June the Wildlife Trusts hold their annual 30 Days Wild challenge, aiming to connect more people with nature. It is free and easy to get involved with, and is a great way to have fun, relax, and learn something new. It is completely up to you how you spend your 30 days, with every ‘Random Act of Wildness’ counting. Now in its 8th year, the Wildlife Trusts hope that this year will have been the challenge’s best year yet.

For the last 3 years, I have been taking part in 30 Days Wild each June. From baking to birdwatching, this challenge has been an opportunity to slow down and spend more time out in nature. If you want to read all about my previous years participating in 30 Days Wild, check out my blog posts from 2020 and 2021.

For this year, I wanted to try something a little bit different. Instead of intentionally trying to do something wild every day, I wanted to simply appreciate nature in my everyday life. Being a very active, outdoor person, I wanted to see how in 30 Days I naturally connect with nature on an average day-to-day basis. Read on to find out all about my 30 Days Wild 2022!

30 Days Wild 2022

Wednesday 1st: The first day of the month was a busy one, but in my downtime I spent part of my evening exploring my farm’s and neighbours’ buildings for occupied swallow nests ahead of monitoring them over the coming weeks. So far I have found 4 that were either lined or already had eggs laid or chicks hatched.

Thursday 2nd: I spent my Thursday working, but also taking some time to relax out in nature. This included going out for a hack on my neighbour’s lovely mare Marsha with a friend and her horse, and watching a spectacular sunset with friends on Okeford Hill for Okeford Fitzpaine’s Platinum Jubilee beacon lighting.

Friday 3rd: This Friday was my first Wild Friday of the month on my blog. For this one, I went back to one of my very favourite times of the year: the blooming of the bluebells. This post had a twist though as I explored a little further and focused on the life amongst the bluebells this year.

Saturday 4th: As the breeding season for birds continued, I took some time today to check some of my nests. My barn owl nest box was looking good, and I discovered an interesting new nest tree on the farm (stay tuned!). I also discovered a robin’s nest hidden in the middle of a rubbish pile where the chicks are close to fledging.

Sunday 5th: On a more chilled work day, I began reading Simon King’s book ‘The Shetland Diaries’ and continued sketching butterflies and their caterpillars for my next blog post. A little bit of escapism!

Monday 6th: Today I got to ring my first swallow chicks of the year, with one nest that has done well and is 2 weeks ahead of all the others. I hope the chicks continue doing well and fledge successfully! The rest of the day I was out working in nature, until I ended up hurting my knee and going to A and E!

Tuesday 7th: Despite a stitched up knee, between rest and easy jobs, I still went to check my current bird nests. I now have 5 swallow nests, 1 with my ringed chicks and 4 with eggs, and discovered my second kestrel nest of the year.

Wednesday 8th: My wild highlight of the day came in the form of fluffy goslings. At lunch my neighbour’s family of Canada geese got spooked and the parents flew off. The 6-8 goslings fled in fright and I did my best to catch them back up. I only found 4, but I was able to successfully release them back to their lake and their parents thankfully returned to them later on in the day.

Thursday 9th: I began my busy day, that included some habitat maintenance, bright and early with the dawn chorus and a wonderful sunrise. It was a great start to the day, listening to the songs of robins, song thrushes, chiffchaffs, and more.

Friday 10th: Today’s wild time was spent out in nature walking a lovely little dog called Kaya for the Cinnamon Trust. It was also Wild Friday on this blog once again, and this Friday’s post was one of my favourites to put together. With a collection of facts, my photos, and my own drawings, my post was a How to.. guide to identifying common British butterfly species.

Saturday 11th: Today I had a lot on my mind, weighing me down. So I thought it was the perfect time to take a break and be mindful in nature. It was just what I needed to clear my head and calm my body, allowing me to pick myself up and carry on.

Sunday 12th: I took the day easy, giving my knee some more time to rest. I did though check my bee hotel, which is currently being well used, and spent a really lovely summer’s evening with my brother and his family in their wonderful little garden.

Monday 13th: Today was another day when I got to walk the little dog Kaya, and this time we escaped the hot day by walking in the shade of a huge avenue of trees and looking out for all the wildflowers we could find.

Tuesday 14th: Today was a special day on the farm for me. I got to ring the first of this year’s barn owl chicks, which is always a real pleasure, but I also got to ring our very first kestrel chicks on the farm! Stay tuned to this blog later on in the year to find out how our barn owls (and kestrels) have fared this year.

Wednesday 15th: My wild highlight of today’s work day was seeing fox cubs. On my daily travels around our land, I saw not one family of fox cubs, but 3, all out playing and exploring. Whatever people might think of foxes, fox cubs are a real joy to watch.

Thursday 16th: Though a day late, today I made my usual swallow nest checks. My 5 nests are doing well, 1 ringed brood of 5 staying close to their nest, 2 nests nearly ready to be ringed, and 2 more that are just hatching.

Friday 17th: I was outside most of the day, but my wild highlight has to be watching 4 red kites swooping over the fields following grass being cut by tractors. It was also Wild Friday on this blog, and so this Friday’s post was a collection of some of my favourite photos from spring 2020.

Saturday 18th: In between work hours, I used my free time to finish hand painting the bee hotel I had been working on for my niece’s 4th birthday. I really enjoyed painting it and I was very happy with the end result! Maybe I will have to do more wild wood painting in the future!

Sunday 19th: As I had a more relaxed day, I headed out and collected recent photos and videos from my two camera traps that are out and active at the moment. This is my favourite part of camera trapping, and my cameras did not disappoint. Check out my blog post coming next week to see all about my camera trapping adventures this spring!

Monday 20th: Around work today, I picked the first gooseberries of the year, explored what flowers are currently out right now, and watched a lovely sunset.

Tuesday 21st: Today I spent most of the day working away from the main hub of our farm, provided with wild moments including listening to yellowhammers sing, watching adult kestrels feeding their chicks, and escaping a swarm of honey bees. To finish the day, I got to ring another 2 of my 5 swallow nests. I am enjoying monitoring my small swallow population!

Wednesday 22nd: As Wednesday rolled around once again, I was back checking on my swallows that have yet to reach the ringing stage. Now 1 nest has completely fledged, another 2 have been ringed, 1 is ready to ring, and unfortunately 1 of my nests has been predated. This year has definitely been a tough one for swallows once again, but it is good to have seen some chicks fledge already.

Thursday 23rd: After a couple of weeks resting up from my knee injury, I was finally back out on horseback. I went for a lovely chilled hack out around my local area on Marsha, taking in lots of wildlife, including singing greenfinches and a hunting buzzard.

Friday 24th: Today I enjoyed sharing the last Wild Friday on my Laura’s Wild World blog this June. This particular post celebrates spring by looking at how spring happened in 2022. It was an interesting post to put together!

Saturday 25th: For the first day I had had off in a long time, I had been invited to a ‘Greylag Goose Roundup’. This event was being held at Poole Park to catch geese for a project where each year as many as possible of the current population are being coloured ring. It was a great day of catching up with other bird ringers and getting to ring my very first greylag goose!

Sunday 26th: Today I woke up to the rain falling and quenching the thirst of the land right now. It was great to take some time to appreciate the falling rain, before getting some drier spells to walk the countryside.

Monday 27th: Again another day begun with rain, before heating up and drying out. After a busy day, I enjoyed taking a break from life and walking around our land, exploring nature. Flocks of juvenile goldfinches, knapweed blossoming into purple flowers, and hares grazing in the fields, just some of the few sights to be beheld.

Tuesday 28th: This morning I had another lovely ride out on Marsha, with some of my wild highlights being a buzzard trying to hide in a tree, painted lady butterflies on the wing, and hedgerows full of wildflowers. This afternoon I had a good walk with my Dad watching butterflies and birds, including meadow browns and red kites.

Wednesday 29th: Today when I was not working or going to appointments, I spent time organising my wildlife photos and camera trap photos, and playing outside with my young nieces, who both love nature in their own individual ways.

Thursday 30th: For the last day of this year’s 30 Days Wild, I have been travelling up to London by bus to spend a few days exploring with my mum. For something a little different, I challenged myself to my annual A-Z of wildlife, but a travel edition. Here’s how I got on:

Looking back at my June this year, I was very busy, but the month shows that I naturally take time each day to connect with and appreciate nature. This could be through harvesting food, walking out in nature, or even getting involved in conservation projects. Being outside out in nature is important for my mental health, for my inspiration, and for my lifestyle, and so after this year’s 30 Days Wild, I now appreciate our natural environment even more so. Here’s for living every day a wild one!

Spring 2022: How It Happened

This year spring has been a blast of colour, abundance, and new beginnings. Though April experienced some cooler weather, and storms blew up here and there, on the whole spring was calm and dry. What characterised this spring most of all though was the weather being warmer in general, making spring 2022 the 5th warmest on average with a quarter less rainfall. Turbulent winter weather led to a slower start to spring, but the increasing warmer days led to spring speeding up and going out in a hurry in my home area of Dorset.

Last year weather patterns had a big influence on spring events, with events moving earlier or later as a result. For many species, events actually occurred later in spring in Dorset in 2021 due to cooler and wetter weather overall. For example, compared to 2020, oak leaves unfurled 31 days later, bluebells flowered 4 days later, and swallows arrived 5 days later. It was an unsual spring that was still joyful, but showed the unexpected impact that climate change is already having on spring events.

After the unpredictability of spring 2021, it will be interesting to see how spring events have fared this year in 2022. How is spring looking as a season overall in 2022? Did specific spring events get back on track or continue to become later? And did spring events continue to follow weather patterns? Read on to find out!

Trees

This year on my family’s farm we have seen a general trend for tree budburst, first leaf and first flowering occurring earlier than in 2021, showing dates more similar to those of 2020 or ones that were even earlier. This was true for beech (Fagus sylvatica), field maple (Acer campestre), horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), english oak (Quercus robur), wild cherry (Prunus avium), and Norway maple (Acer platanoides) trees, all between 9 and 28 days earlier. This was similar for ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and silver birch (Betula pendula) trees, but ash showed budburst 10 days later and silver birch first leaves 4 days later.

For first flowers, horse chestnut and ash trees shared the earlier trend with them blooming 2 and 34 days earlier respectively. For field maple, english oak, silver birch, wild cherry, and Norway maple flowers though, flowers actually appeared anywhere between 1 to 24 days later.

Shrubs

For blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), dog rose (Rosa canina), elder (Sambucus nigra), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), lilac (Syringa vulgaris), and hazel (Crataegus monogyna) first flowering occurred earlier than in 2021. This ranged from hazel flowers 5 days earlier to blackthorn flowers 21 days earlier.

Surprisingly for first budburst and first leaf, the opposite trend was actually shown. For blackthorn, dog rose, elder, hawthorn, and lilac these spring events were seen to occur on the same day as 2021 or later by 2-13 days. As these shrub events occur more towards the start of spring, maybe the slow start to spring was having an effect. Hazel budburst occurred 12 days earlier instead, but first leaf was delayed and ended up fitting the trend, unfurling 13 days later on 24th March.

Flowers

Though snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) first showed their snowy heads 12 days earlier on 6th January, first flowering was 6 days later for daffodils (Narcissus spp.) on 25th January, 11 days later for lesser celandines (Ficaria verna) on 26th January, and 45 days later for primroses (Primula vulgaris) on 14th February.

Other spring flowering species had a more mixed response to the season, either appearing earlier or later compared to 2021, as we moved from March to April. The earlier appearers were:

  • Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) – 6 days earlier on 26th March
  • Early purple orchid (Orchis mascula) – 11 days earlier on 7th April
  • Yellow archangel (Lamium galeobdolon) – 22 days earlier on 11th April
  • Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) – 1 day earlier on 19th April
  • Oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) – 16 days earlier on 18th May

The later appearers were:

  • Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) – 2 days later on 1st April
  • Greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea) – 3 days later on 4th April
  • Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis) – 2 days later on 10th April
  • Cowslips (Primula veris) – 9 days later on 11th April

Grasses

This year all recorded grass species flowered earlier. Meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis) first flowered 18 days earlier on 22nd April, Yorkshire fog (Holcus lanatus) 33 days earlier on 10th May, and cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata) 21 days earlier on 19th May.

Birds

With birds, the first spring events of the year occurred later on average. For example, song thrushes (Turdus philomelos) were first heard singing 18 days later on 19th January, rooks (Corvus frugilegus) were first seen building their nests 2 days later on 27th February, and blackbirds (Turdus merula) were first heard singing 6 days later on 16th February.

As we reached March, events occurred earlier than in 2021, with chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita) arriving 3 days earlier on 13th March, cuckoos (Cuculus canorus), blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla), and yellowhammers (Emberiza citrinella) first singing 3, 7 and 14 days earlier respecitvely in April, and great-spotted woodpeckers (Dendrocopos major) first fledging 10 days earlier on 6th June. Swallows (Hirundo rustica) were an exception though first returning to our land 1 day later on 11th April.

Insects

The majority of insects I recorded were first seen on the wing on our land earlier than in 2021, making the most of our more stable weather, These were:

  • Red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) – 27 days earlier on 3rd March
  • 7-spot ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata) – 1 day earlier on 19th March
  • Peacock butterfly (Aglais io) – 10 days earlier on 20th March
  • Small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae) – 16 days earlier on 22nd March
  • Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) – 26 days earlier on 23rd March
  • Red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) – 14 days earlier on 24th March
  • Speckled wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria) – 53 days earlier on 21st April
  • Small white butterfly (Pieris rapae) – 14 days earlier on 8th May
  • Painted lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) – 43 days earlier on 17th May
  • Meadow brown butterfly (Maniola jurtina) – 27 days earlier on 22nd May
  • Comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) – 31 days earlier on 17th June

The exceptions were the buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) that emerged 19 days later on 18th March and orange-tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines) first seen 18 days later on 18th April.

Summary

This year during spring, plants tended to flower earlier, which could be due to the on average less turbulent weather, alongside the possibility of stress responses being triggered by the increasing temperatures at times. As a result flowers appeared earlier and went over more quickly.

Budburst and leaves did not follow as consistent a trend, but on average plants went through these spring events later than 2021. This may be due to many of these events occurring more towards the beginning of spring, when day length and temperature increases would have only just started to take an effect. Bird events followed spring in general with a slow start and a quick finish, whilst insects emerged earlier, as expected after last year’s unpredictable weather.

This year I have enjoyed all that spring had to offer, though it felt like once it got started it rushed through to its finish. In the moment it was a glorious season, but was cut short in its splendour. Being my favourite season, this year I was particularly sad when the season went over in to summer. Let’s see what will happen during the seasons to come and enjoy the adventures to be had!

Spring In Photos 2022

Spring this year has been a joyful and colourful experience. In 2020, spring was a lifeline during lockdown. In 2021, spring was a turbulent and unpredictable season, with some real wonderous moments to behold. This year though, I have simply enjoyed every moment that spring had to offer, watching as the season swelled into being and slipped out once again with the heat of the summer sun.

This spring the season began slower, but reached its peak quickly once it got going. In Dorset, from blossom and bursting leaves to nesting birds and breeding mammals, spring bloomed spectacularly, with so much new life on offer. During this time I made lots of adventures out with my camera and took many, many photos. Here are just a few of my favourites from spring 2022.

Spring 2022: In Photos

Sunset Damson Blossom – This year the blossom of fruiting trees was fantastic. Our damson tree blossomed without being bitten by frost or hit by strong winds, so hopefully it will be a good year for damsons

Lambing at Home – My mum has her own mini flock of Lleyn ewes, a Lleyn ram, and a Charolais ram, and for us spring would not be spring without lambs springing around the fields!

Horse Chestnut Flowers – Often tree flowers are simple, green and unassuming, but not those of horse chestnut trees. Horse chestnut flowers form a candelabra of fantastic white flowers with dots of pink and yellow, towering high in the boughs of the trees

Woodland Minibeasts – This year during the bluebell bloom, I focused on exploring the hidden life amongst the bluebells (check out my previous post for more). One of my finds during my hunts was this fly which looks to be a St. Mark’s fly. This fly gets its name due to emerging around St. Mark’s Day in April each year

Oak Flowers – Though horse chestnut flowers are showy, some tree flowers are fantastic in a subtler way. The flowers of English oak trees hang down in green streamers from their branches, looking pretty swaying softly in gentle spring breezes

Up Close With Stitchwort Flowers – Stitchwort flowers or ‘Shirt-buttons’ are white stars spotting the countryside throughout spring. Taking a closer look, this particular flower looks weird and wonderful with stamens that curl around each other

Super Snail – This white-lipped snail is a simple, but colourful individual amongst the green of spring. Their swirling shells are a great subject to photograph

Wild Cherry Blossom – Every year one of my favourite flowering trees is the Wild Cherry. There’s nothing like banches covered in blankets of white set against a bright green backdrop of new leaves

Fabulous First Frogspawn – In 2020, we started digging a pond in our own mini nature reserve at home on our farm. This year we were excited to find our very first frogspawn! It was amazing to watch the tadpoles change and transform over time

1 O’Clock, 2 O’Clock, Dandelion Clock – All children find magic and wonderment in dandelion clocks and their parachute seeds. Even as an adult I still find inspiration in their fragile globe-like forms

Majestic Beasts – My mum has her own herd of beef cross suckler cows and an Aberdeen angus bull that are free range and raise their own calves. We especially enjoy watching the calves grow up and grow into themselves over their very first year of life

Apple Blossom – As a family we have always enjoyed growing and foraging for our own food in our local area. Though last year was not a very good year for fruit, this year looks to be a better year, apples included

Woodland Spider – Just like the St. Mark’s fly, whilst exploring a woodland of bluebells, I found this species of orb-weaver spider. The bluebells were home to many, many of these little arachnids all weaving their webs between flowers, waiting to catch a meal

Beautiful Blackthorn Blossom – Every year one of my favourite parts of spring is blackthorn. The snow white flowers of blackthorn winter bring colour to the landscape at a time when things are still grey and spring is only just trickling in

Portland Pets – This year I spent some time photographing my neighbour’s pedigree Portland flock. These small sheep, topped off with curling horns, have a great character and warm colour to them which make it a joy to take their portraits again and again

How to… Identify UK Butterfly Species

A flash of colour flitting by in the heat of the summer sun. Twisting this way and that, showing off amazing aerial acrobatics above a meadow of long, waving grass. A butterfly, small but standing out against a backdrop of browns, yellows, reds, blues and whites. Floating like a leaf down to a flower, the butterfly stops, flicking its wings before coming to a stop, wings outstretched in the sunshine. What could this beauty be?

Butterflies come in all shapes, sizes and colours, and can be found in a variety of habitats, from big cities to more remote areas. They are also a popular cultural symbol across the globe, with symbolism ranging from rebirth and transformation to representing the human soul. Along with their long history of capturing the mind and imagination of people, in nature, butterflies are great indicators of the health of habitats and are an important part of the food chain. As is the common story right now, butterflies are unfortunately threatened by habitat loss and degradation, as well as climate change, pesticide use, and invasive species. They need our help!

To be able to help butterflies, we need to understand them better. In the UK, we have 59 species, with only 2 being migrants. Though butterflies are more noticeable for people to identify, most Brits can only name but a handful of species. As we ease into summer, now is a great time to brush up your knowledge of what species you can identify. Here’s 13 to get you started!

Butterflies

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)

  • Family: White and Yellow butterflies
  • Size: Large (60-74mm wide)
  • Butterfly appearance: Look like veined-leaves with pale-yellow undersides and an orange dot on each wing. Uppersides: Males= sulphurous yellow; Female= paler in colour
  • Caterpillar food plants: Buckthorn and Alder Buckthorn
  • On the wing: Can be seen throughout the year, but most commonly during spring
  • Winter: Hibernate as adults in wooded areas
  • Distribution: Common in England and Wales, less common in Ireland, and very rare in Scotland

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

  • Family: Brush-footed butterflies
  • Size: Medium (45-60mm wide)
  • Butterfly appearance: Bright orange wings with a black pattern, white patch close to each outer top edge, and a border of blue half-moons. Underside dark and light brown
  • Caterpillar food plants: Nettles
  • On the wing: March-October
  • Winter: Hibernate as adults in sites, such as tree hollows and sheds
  • Distribution: Widespread throughout Britain

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

  • Family: Brush-footed butterflies
  • Size: Large (64-78mm wide)
  • Butterfly appearance: Black wings with red bands and white markings. Underside is similar, but paler and more mottled
  • Caterpillar food plants: Nettles
  • On the wing: March-October
  • Winter: Hibernate as adults
  • Distribution: Widespread throughout Britain

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

  • Family: Brush-footed butterflies
  • Size: Medium/Large (58-74mm)
  • Butterfly appearance: Orange wings with black and white markings. Underside is similar, but paler and more mottled
  • Caterpillar food plants: Thistles and sometimes nettles and mallows
  • On the wing: March-October
  • Winter: Migrate from Africa each spring
  • Distribution: Widespread across Britain

Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)

  • Family: Brush-footed (brown) butterflies
  • Size: Medium (37-48mm wide)
  • Butterfly appearance: Orange and brown wings on top with a black false eye on each wing. Males are smaller and richer in colour than females, with distinct dark band across the forewing. Underside of the forewing is largely orange and the hindwing yellow and brown
  • Caterpillar food plants: Fine grasses, such as fescues
  • On the wing: June-September
  • Winter: Hibernate as caterpillars
  • Distribution: Most common in southern and central England and Wales

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea)

  • Family: Brush-footed (brown) butterflies
  • Size: Medium (53-58mm wide)
  • Butterfly appearance: Distinctive black and white chequered wings that vary in pattern between individuals. Undersidesnot so brightly marked with eye-spots and grey or yellowish bands
  • Caterpillar food plants: Grasses, such as red fescue and sheep’s-fescue
  • On the wing: June-August
  • Winter: Hibernate as caterpillars
  • Distribution: Southern and central England and Wales

Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus)

  • Family: Brush-footed (brown) butterflies
  • Size: Medium (42-52mm wide)
  • Butterfly appearance: Begin velvety with deep blackish brown wings bordered by white. Iconic rings on wings vary in number, size and shape. Females larger with more pronounced markings
  • Caterpillar food plants: Various grasses including cock’s-foot and tufted hair-grass
  • On the wing: June-August
  • Winter: Hibernate as caterpillars
  • Distribution: Everywhere apart from northern Scotland

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

  • Family: Brush-footed (brown) butterflies
  • Size: Medium (46-56mm wide)
  • Butterfly appearance: Dark brown with cream spots, though the female’s are larger. Forewings have a false eye and hindwings have three false eyes. Undersides mottled brown
  • Caterpillar food plants: Various grasses including false brome, cock’s-foot, Yorkshire fog, and common couch
  • On the wing: March-October
  • Winter: Hibernate as caterpillars or a chrysalis
  • Distribution: Throughout England (except the far north), Wales and Ireland, and in northern Scotland

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)

  • Family: Brush-footed (brown) butterflies
  • Size: Medium (40-60mm wide)
  • Butterfly appearance: Male= dark brown with dark scent patch on forewing and faint orange smudge; Female= lighter brown with more orange on wings. Underside is largely orange with mottled brown hindwing
  • Caterpillar food plants: Wide range of grasses from fine fescues to coarse cock’s-foot
  • On the wing: May-September
  • Winter: Hibernate as caterpillars
  • Distribution: Widespread across Britain

Comma (Polygonia c-album)

  • Family: Brush-footed butterflies
  • Size: Medium/Large (50-64mm)
  • Butterfly appearance: Orange wings with brown patterns and scalloped edges to wings. Mottled underside with white, comma-like mark on hindwing
  • Caterpillar food plants: Nettle, elm and hop
  • On the wing: Spring after hibernation; Summer brood= June-July; Autumn brood= August-September
  • Winter: Hibernate as adults, camouflaged as a leaf
  • Distribution: Widespread across England and Wales, rare in southern Scotland and Northern Ireland

Peacock (Aglais io)

  • Family: Brush-footed butterflies
  • Size: Large (63-75mm wide)
  • Butterfly appearance: Red wings with four large false eyes. Undersides almost black
  • Caterpillar food plants: Nettles
  • On the wing: Spring after hibernation, and June-September
  • Winter: Hibernate as adults in hollow trees and buildings
  • Distribution: Widespread across Britain

Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris)

  • Family: Skippers
  • Size: Small (25-34mm wide)
  • Butterfly appearance: Orange on top with a black edge, and paler undersides. Male= dark stripe in centre of fore-wing. Antenna tip is orange below
  • Caterpillar food plants: Yorkshire fog and other tall grasses
  • On the wing: June-September
  • Winter: Hibernate as caterpillars
  • Distribution: Widespread up to North Yorkshire and Scottish border

Large Skipper (Ochlodes venatus)

  • Family: Skippers
  • Size: Small (28-36mm wide)
  • Butterfly appearance: Wings rich brown with orange patches, but male has a dark bar in the centre of the forewing. Underside mottled orange
  • Caterpillar food plants: Cock’s-foot and other tall grasses
  • On the wing: May-September
  • Winter: Hibernate as caterpillars
  • Distribution: Throughout England, Wales, and in Dumfries and Galloway

Life Amongst the Bluebells

‘When you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise’, and in late April to early May, this surprise comes in the form of a fantastic mass event! During this time, our woodlands are blanketed with a sweeping carpet of colour; a rich mass of violet-blue, made up of thousands of nodding heads. This popular spring spectacle is a heady treat for the senses, epitomising the beauty of British springtime. This is not all that our woodlands have to offer at this time though, with the Bluebells making us overlook some humbler stars of the show.

So when walking through the Bluebells, why not stop and look around you for a moment. ‘Daddy’s-shirt-buttons’ or Greater Stitchwort can be found dotted throughout the woodland carpet, white star-shaped flowers on slender stems. In thicker patches of green, clusters of green-centred stars can also be found on sturdy stems, their pungent scent giving them away as the flowers of Wild Garlic. These are joined closer to the ground by the white-cupped faces of the Wood Anemone, heads turned to the sun, merging into the galaxy of colour.

The palette is added to by splashes of pink and yellow. Shining yellow stars of Lesser Celandine float above heart-shaped leaves. The green-spiked Yellow Archangel, like a nettle, adorned with rings of butter-yellow flowers, each with their own hood. You can also find Early Purple Orchids beneath the trees, pink spikes growing from purple-splattered green leaves. Closer to the ground, the glittering pink faces of Herb Robert add to the show.

Amongst the Bluebells, there is not just a colourful backdrop of flowers to be found, but a hidden world to be discovered. Down at Bluebell level, the woodland floor comes alive. Spiders spin webs from Bluebell to Bluebell hoping to catch a meal, whilst Bumblebees fly from flower to flower collecting nectar and pollen for their colonies. They are joined by a fantastic array of flies, varying in size, shape, and colour.

If you take an even closer look at the flowers, you might even find some more hidden characters that capture your mind and inspire your imagination. Camouflaged spiders, weird and wonderful weevils, colourful shield bugs, fascinating beetles, and even patchwork snails are waiting to be found. Minibeasts and their tiny worlds can create a sense of calm and simple joy, an easy example being a graceful Butterfly gently flitting by through dappled spring sunshine.

Walking through the Bluebells is a wonderful visual experience, but if you open your ears, then another world can also be added to this. The fluting notes of the Song Thrush, the onomatopoeic song of the Chiffchaff, the melodic Robin, or the powerful trilling song of the Wren. All flow together to create a symphony of bird song, a soundtrack fit for the spectacle that is the blooming of the Bluebells.

‘When you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise’, and in spring this might just be bigger than you expect. Next time the Bluebells are blooming, why not stop and see what you might find amongst those nodding heads.

Beautiful Barn Owls Breeding In 2021

Heart racing with excitement as I take that first step on to the ladder. One step, two step, and the next and the next, until I reach the box high in the rafters of the empty barn. Tap, tap on the side of the box to double check that the adult has left, before reaching quietly for the latch. As I carefully open the little door to the box, I then get my first peak of what may lay inside. There, at the back of the box, balls of downy feathers topped each with a pair of inquisitive eyes outlined by a heart of new feathers. Hope, elation, and pure joy – Original Piece

Iconic, distinct, and delightful, Barn Owls are a much-loved species of the British countryside. This protected species is often less commonly seen though, emerging on silent wings to hunt mainly at dawn and dusk. They are a particularly special species for my family, being an important indicator of the health of British farmland, such as our own, whilst also being a charismatic species to live alongside.

My family’s relationship with Barn Owls began in 2015, with the putting up of a nest box in one of our farm barns. Though Barn Owls have always been in our area, previously in very low numbers, our nest box finally allowed us to draw a pair of Barn Owls right into the heart of our farmland. This box has led to 7 years, so far, of regular Barn Owl sightings, the annual ringing of chicks, and a growing Barn Owl population. To find out more about the last 7 years, check out my previous Barn Owl blog posts.

The year of 2020 was a tough one for humans, but a more productive one for Barn Owls. Though we did not end up discovering any wild nesting pairs on the farm that year, we once again had Barn Owls in our barn nest box. The pair hatched 4 chicks from 4 eggs, and raised 2 successfully to fledging in August. This was a special moment as these were the very first Barn Owl chicks that I got to ring myself. Following this success, we had a super winter of seeing Barn Owls hunting every day the weather was settled.

For 2021, I had the privilege of getting more involved in Barn Owl nest box checks across Dorset with Conservation Action (CA). This project aims to preserve and conserve nature, to promote wildlife conservation, and to undertake research and monitoring of wildlife populations. As part of CA’s work, the last few years Barn Owl boxes have been checked on Dorset County Council farms (in which my family’s farm originally came under). From being involved in some of these nest box checks and from a few private Barn Owl boxes (not including my family’s own), I got to check 6 boxes and ring 10 chicks. It was a great experience, not to be missed!

My own Barn Owl nest box was first checked last year on the 15th June. On this day we found that the resident pair had hatched 4 chicks from 4 eggs in the box, all 4 being under 7 days old. We were also able to catch and ring the adult female, allowing us to identify her as a first time breeder at 2 years old. We then made sure the Barn Owls were not further disturbed for a month, before excitingly checking the box once again. Unfortunately the 2 smallest chicks and 1 of the larger chicks did not make it, probably due to the weather, leaving 1 strong healthy chick to survive to fledging.

What happened with our Barn Owls fitted in with the trend for 2021. Out of 81 boxes checked, only 21 boxes (26%) were being used by a pair, down from 39% in 2020. This reflects that Barn Owls were having a more difficult year, following a cold, then wet spring. Despite this, on average 2 owlets survived per box, a better statistic, reflecting the similar brood size average for 2020. With such turbulent weather, we were still very happy to have one Barn Owl chick fledge from the box in 2021.

After another winter (2021-2022) seeing Barn Owls hunting most days, we are looking forward to this year’s Barn Owl breeding season. By now we have seen a pair regularly around our nest box and have made a first licensed check of the box. Things are looking positive, so stay tuned to see how breeding goes on my family’s farm this year. Each year habitat changes and improves on our land, so we will also be interested to see how a new year and hopefully more stable weather will affect our Barn Owls. Here’s to a hopefully more successful 2022!

Barn Owls are a protected species, so all nest boxes were checked under full license, with all Barn Owls being ringed under license and special supervision. All birds handed were always put first in all situations, with minimum disturbance being made to the nesting birds and sites. Barn Owls are ringed to allow us to gain greater knowledge of this species to help better conserve this species and their preferred habitats.

How to… Identify British Tree Species (Part 2)

A holly.tree shining bright with red berries and prickly green leaves in the grey of a wintertime woodland. An ancient evergreen yew standing watch over the final resting place of our ancestors. A colour-changing spindle cream flowered and glossy green in spring, turning to psychedelic pinks and oranges in autumn. Trees come in all shapes and sizes, often differing wildly from each other, but all can be found embedded in the landscape and culture of Britain.

In the last chapter of my How to… Identify British Tree Species guide, I focussed on 10 tree species that can easily be found across the UK, from the majestic oak to the graceful silver birch. These are but a few of the now 80 odd native and non-native species that can be found in the UK. From providing food to flood prevention, from the countryside to the city, trees can be found playing important roles across the country right now.

Following on from my last guide, part 2 covers 10 more tree species that can easily be found across Britain. This handy guide of facts, drawings, and photos is here to help you to identify these species at any time of year. Here’s to learning something new everyday!

Tree Species

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

  • Family: Rose – related to fruiting trees such as cherry and plum
  • Origin: Native
  • Shape and Size: Large shrub, occasionally small tree, up to 4m, forming impenetrable thickets
  • Stems and Twigs: Young twigs downy, maturing to dark brown bark, that shows orange beneath, with thorns
  • Leaves: Small, oval, alternate, tapering to a point, toothed margins, dull above and hairy beneath
  • Flowers: Flowers are white with 5 petals and red-tipped anthers. Flowers appear late March-April, before the leaves, often alongside cold weather known as Blackthorn winter
  • Seeds: Produces round, blue-black fruit (sloes) with a single seed (stone)
  • Range and Habitat: Grows on the edge of scrub woodlands and in hedgerows

In Winter: Twigs are dark and not shiny, with thorns at least 2cm long

Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

  • Family: Sapindaceae – related to lychee and horse chestnut
  • Origin: Non-native (introduced in the 17th century from Europe and Asia)
  • Shape and Size: Shorter and more slender tree, reaching up to 30m
  • Stems and Twigs: Bark is grey with many small fissures (not flaking), and twigs are slender and brown with tiny white spots
  • Leaves: Thin, light green leaves, opposite and have long pointed lobes
  • Flowers: Erect clusters of pale yellow flowers, before the leaves (April-May)
  • Seeds: Winged keys in opposite pairs
  • Range and Habitat: Increasingly planted and self-sown in parks, gardens, and hedges

In Winter: Distinctive shape and bark, and individual buds that are green and red

Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

  • Family: Aquifoliaceae – holly trees
  • Origin: Native
  • Shape and Size: Narrow-crowned, conical tree with regular branching, reaching up to 20m
  • Stems and Twigs: Bark is green when young, becoming smooth and grey with age
  • Leaves: Alternate, long, glossy, spiny teeth, and waxy on top, matt and pale green beneath
  • Flowers: White, 4-petalled and in close clusters, with male and female flowers on separate trees (May-August)
  • Seeds: Red berries with small seeds, only found on female trees
  • Range and Habitat: Can be found everywhere across the British Isles but prefers drier soils

In Winter: Evergreen spiky leaves and red berries, a symbol of Christmas

Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea)

  • Family: Cornaceae – dogwoods
  • Origin: Native
  • Shape and Size: Tall and deciduous sending out suckers to form dense thickets (up to 10m)
  • Stems and Twigs: Bark grey and smooth with shallow ridges, giving off a fetid smell when bruised, attractive to insects
  • Leaves: Opposite, long, oval, pointed, hairy on both sides, side veins curving forward, and no teeth. Crimson colouring in late autumn
  • Flowers: Greenish-white 4-petalled flowers (June-July)
  • Seeds: Round, bitter, black berries in clusters (sometimes called ‘dogberries’), ripening in August or September
  • Range and Habitat: Frequent in Midlands and South, grows chiefly on chalk soils, but also found in woodlands, scrub and hedges

In Winter: New twigs are bright red

Common Lime (Tilia x europaea)

  • Family: Mallow family – related to trees such as cotton and cacao
  • Origin: Native
  • Shape and Size: Tall tree with long slender branches that start near the ground (up to 40m)
  • Stems and Twigs: Young bark is smooth and grey, whereas old bark is fissured
  • Leaves: Long and heart-shaped with small teeth and tapering to a point. Dark green and hairless above, whereas undersides are paler with white or buff hairs in the vein junctions
  • Flowers: Greenish-yellow 5-petalled flowers that are sweet smelling (late June-July)
  • Seeds: Encapsulated in small round hanging fruits, hairy, faintly ribbed and with pointed tips
  • Range and Habitat: Widespread in rows or avenues in streets, parks and also hedges

In Winter: Red, hairy twigs and shoots

Elder (Sambucus nigra)

  • Family: Adoxaceae – previously in the honeysuckle family , but now reclassified in moschatel
  • Origin: Native
  • Shape and Size: Bushy shrub with many stems or growing into a small tree (up to 10m)
  • Stems and Twigs: Light brown bark is thick, corky, fissured, and strong smelling
  • Leaves: Long, dark green, and opposite, with leaflets in pairs, rounded, stalked and with teeth
  • Flowers: Creamy-white, small, and sweetly fragrant in flat-topped clusters with yellow anthers (May-August)
  • Seeds: Produces a juicy, edible, purplish-black berry
  • Range and Habitat: Widespread and common throughout Britain, particularly flourishing where nitrogen content high

In Winter: Pungent, hollow-stemmed twigs and often dotted with light-brown bumps

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

  • Family: Rose – related to fruit trees such as apricots and apples
  • Origin: Native
  • Shape and Size: Quick growing, becoming a dense shrub or single stemmed tree (up to 15m)
  • Stems and Twigs: Bark is hairless and greyish-brown, with many small scales and sharp spines
  • Leaves: Alternate, long, toothed, shiny, lobed, and roughly oval-shaped
  • Flowers: Showy white and fragrant (sickly sweet) with 5 petals, and pink or purple anthers (late April-June). Become deep pink as they fade
  • Seeds: Fleshy fruits (haws) turn dark wine-red and contain a single seed
  • Range and Habitat: Widespread and common throughout Britain, in hedges, scrub or woodland margins

In Winter: Spines emerging alongside buds on the twigs

Beech (Fugus sylvatica)

  • Family: Beech – includes chestnuts and oaks
  • Origin: Native
  • Shape and Size: Older trees have a massive, many-branched dome, whereas young trees are slimmer and more conical in outline (up to 36m)
  • Stems and Twigs: Smooth grey bark may break into small squares
  • Leaves: Long, wavy margins, alternate, hairy leaf edges, and shiny green on both surfaces
  • Flowers: Young leaves appear with yellow long-stalked male flowers on tassel-like stalks, and greenish white female flowers (May)
  • Seeds: Four-lobed husk are two triangular nutlets (mast)
  • Range and Habitat: Native in woods in the south, but widely planted elsewhere

In Winter: Often hold on to leaves and have sharply-pointed buds

Spindle (Euonymus europaeus)

  • Family: Staff-vine
  • Origin: Native
  • Shape and Size: Small tree or big bush up to 6m
  • Stems and Twigs: Young, smooth, greenish bark later turns grey
  • Leaves: Light green leaves are opposite, thin, oval-shaped, and pointed, with small finely toothed margins. Turn pinkish-red in autumn
  • Flowers: Small greenish-yellow flowers with 4 narrow petals (May-June)
  • Seeds: Four-lobed seed capsules, which turn a deep pinkish-red when ripe.
  • Range and Habitat: Grows throughout England and Wales, most frequent in the South, but rarer in Scotland and Ireland. Found in woods, scrub, and hedgerows, in particular on lime

In Winter: Buds and twigs are angular with four sides

Yew (Taxus baccata)

  • Family: Yew
  • Origin: Native
  • Shape and Size: Round-headed tree with dark foliage, often has many trunks (reaches up to 20m)
  • Stems and Twigs: Smooth, light brown bark flakes to red patches
  • Leaves: Needles dark green on top and matt yellow-green on underside
  • Flowers: Male and female flowers are found on separate trees. Male flower is yellow, and tiny female flower is green (February-April)
  • Seeds: Bright red ripened fruits, much enjoyed by birds, partially encloses a single seed that is poisonous to humans
  • Range and Habitat: Found in woods, scrub, screes, downs and often on lime

In Winter: Evergreen needle-like leaves present all year round

Drawings are my own work

Spring in Bloom in Dorset 2022

‘There is no time like Spring, When life’s alive in everything… Before the sun has power, To scorch the world up in his noontide hour’ – Christina Rossetti

Where for me Winter is a grey, bleak, and quiet time, Spring is the opposite. Those first Snowdrops of January whisper of the season to come, leading the way ahead for new life to follow. This opens the door for change and the blossoming of Spring. A vibrant season, Spring arrives with an explosion of colour, awe-inspiring after tough Winter months. Yellows, pinks, purples, blues, and whites, amongst others, paint a landscape of reviving green. It is a magical time!

This year has been no different, with Spring unfurling in style, though with some added meteorological unpredictability. Right now though, woodlands are carpeted with the purple hues of Bluebells, pastel blossom drips from fruiting trees, and leaves begin to envelop trees and hedgerows. It is a time to be enjoyed and relished after another tough Winter, with promise now of more new life as this season continues. Let us now celebrate the blooming of Spring 2022 so far.

Rural Dorset vs. Urban Manchester: Exploring Winter’s Wild Birds

Series in collaboration with guest writer Emma Rogan

Winter is a time when a stillness grips the landscape, activity slows, and nature slumbers. This said, if you know where to look at this time of year, life can still be found. Barn Owls hunting along rough edges at first light, chattering Starlings feeding in flocks in open spaces, or Robins fighting to defend their small territories. For birds, winter is a time when migrant visitors, such as Redwings and Fieldfare, mix with resident species, such as Greenfinches and Great-Spotted Woodpeckers. Side-by-side through cold spells and stormy showers, in cities and the countryside, these birds are staying busy to try to survive.

Last time in Rural vs. Urban, we explored the wildlife that live close to home and delved into their hidden lives, all through using simple camera traps. For Dorset-born naturalist Laura, camera trapping has allowed her to record and explore the species that live on her family’s 250 acre farm, opening up a world that would otherwise be overlooked. For Manchester-born wildlife enthusiast Emma, her highlights included seeing a Badger, a Hedgehog, and getting to know the frequent visitors to her garden, such as a lovely Blackbird couple. For both, camera trapping has been a great way to connect with nature, whilst acting as a form of escapism!

For this last instalment of the current Rural vs. Urban series, we are now in winter, with days of sparkling frosts, stormy skies, and low-hanging mist. Last weekend was the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch, so for this week we explore the bird species that call our local patches home during winter. As bird species try to survive, what may differ between the challenges of a city and of a countryside landscape? Are there differences or similarities in the species seen or in their behaviour? Lets explore winter on the wing to find out!

Laura’s Rural Garden Bird Survey

Over the last few years, I have taken part each year in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch and the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch in 2020, and have enjoyed gaining a deeper knowledge of the species that visit our garden all year round. Winter is one of the best times of year for a variety and abundance of species to be experienced in our garden, and at this time of year my parents and I often enjoy a lunchtime accompanied with birdwatching from our living room window.

So on the 12th December we did just that, spending 30 minutes recording the diversity and abundance of bird species we saw in half an hour. For such a short period of time, the bird feeders in our garden delivered, with 17 species, varying from Greenfinches and Robins to a Great-Spotted Woodpecker and Starlings! By far the most abundant species though was the Goldfinch, with 14 spotted at one time, closely followed by 12 Chaffinches and 9 Blue Tits. A very good representation of our garden’s winter visitors, just missing Long-Tailed Tits and Coal Tits, the latter being amiss this year!

Emma’s Urban Garden Bird Survey

I combined my bird count with the event of the year, the Great Garden Birdwatch! We sat down with cups of tea and my dad’s iPad to record our garden visitors and contribute to this important monitoring exercise.

Expecting our birds to use their sixth sense and avoid our garden for an hour, we were pleasantly surprised to see a lot of our regulars! The Robin stopped by, as did Mr and Mrs Blackbird, who come every day for their plate of mealworms. Our bird feeders are also popular with Coal Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits, and of course the neighbourhood Squirrels! We also have a Nuthatch who visits frequently, nibbling at our bird feeders in his distinctive upside-down stance.

My absolute favourite though are the Long-Tailed Tits, they’re so round and fluffy! Although, I will always have a soft spot for our Dunnock, who we recognise by his extra-fluffy head feathers. Even a bird can have a bad hair day! Sadly though, our Woodpecker didn’t make an appearance.

Laura’s Countryside Bird Walk

Today (Sunday 9th January) was the first beautiful day of a new month and new year. Though the air was cold, it was calm and the sun was shining, a soft golden glow. Stepping out from my back door, I was immediately hit by an abundance of avian activity. Two Carrion Crows flew over my head, cawing as they went. Goldfinches chattered from the garden, hinting at a visit from a good sized flock. A Blue Tit sung its distinctive song, a Robin ‘ticked’ in alarm, and a Blackbird watched me from a nearby fence post. I could not miss this perfect opportunity to explore the bird life that could be found on my family’s land at this time of year.

First, I headed down to our farm buildings, joined by the chattering of Starlings feeding out in the nearby fields. As usual at this time of year, the still hulking forms of the barns were being brought to life by busy birds living alongside our wintering animals. House Sparrows could be heard singing in the eaves of the barn, complimented by Great Tits calling from a lone Hawthorn tree, Collared Doves flapping here and there, and a flash of a yellow rump as one of our resident Grey Wagtails was disturbed from where it was feeding. The only thing that could add to the scene would be a Barn Owl floating by, a common sighting at dawn on the farm.

Satisfied with my sightings on the farm, I then headed away from my home hub, following the tracks out into the wider expanse of our land. Here I could find birds flitting along the hedgerows, such as feeding Redwings and wary Wrens. and fields busy with bird feeding activity, including Gulls, Rooks, and Pheasants.

As Fieldfare flew over head, I finished my wintery walk with a meander along one of the larger rivers on the farm. Here I could see the first Snowdrops beginning to push green shoots up from the river bank, marking the start of changes to come. This was joined by the calls of Dunnocks and the twittering of Meadow Pipits out in the fields across the river. With a count of at least 22 bird species, I felt this was a good end to my adventure.

Emma’s City Bird Walk

Manchester is home to a huge variety of urban birds. From Herons and Cormorants fishing under motorway bridges along the River Mersey, to hardy Woodpigeons in the city centre, to garden birds drawn in by feeding stations, there is always something new to see! I always love to see how many birds I can spot when I’m out for a walk, and I find that watching the birds in my garden brings me a moment of peace in the middle of busy days.

For my bird walk, I decided to head to a different park for a change! I’m lucky to live in a part of Manchester with a lot of nearby green spaces, and one of these is Didsbury Park, one of the first municipal planned parks in the city, and redesigned in the 1920’s to include recreational features which still exist today. There is also thought to be an old air-raid shelter under the football pitch! The impact of both World Wars One and Two on the local area, just a small village when WW1 began, is commemorated by a beautiful poppy field mural in the park created by graffiti artist Russell Meeham, also known as Quebek.

Suffice to say, I’ve spent many happy hours in Didsbury Park, and my bird walk was no exception! Although, I didn’t have a lot of success at spotting birds. The highlight of the walk was wondering why a group of people were gathered around a particular bush and wandering over there, to find a flock of House Sparrows singing away! My Mum and Dad remember House Sparrows as the most common bird about when they were growing up, but we’ve never actually seen one in our garden. Sadly, their populations have declined substantially in the UK in both rural and urban populations.

It’s All About The Birds!

If you open your eyes, wherever you go during winter you will see life and activity. Though from Laura’s and Emma’s adventures, Laura experienced more bird activity out and about in the countryside, both currently have vibrant gardens. This is testament to how everyone’s gardens right now are a lifeline for our wildlife, whether you live in a bustling city or a quieter piece of the countryside. They provide a valuable home in a changing landscape and prove that we can all do our bit for nature. Why not put out a bird feeder and see what you can see today?

Rural Dorset vs. Urban Manchester: Wildlife Camera Trapping in 2021

Series in collaboration with guest writer Emma Rogan

Fox cubs playing in secluded hedgerows, badgers wandering along field margins, and male pheasants displaying in woodlands. Wildlife cameras are a great way to capture the behaviour and presence of wildlife, and can open up a hidden world not so easily accessible in person. More often wildlife cameras are associated with exploring the rural, but they are also a great way to explore the world closer to home. Hedgehogs snuffling through gardens looking for food, birds jostling for space on feeders, or even rodents clearing up after avian visitors. Camera trapping allows us to connect to nature wherever we live, from rolling hills to suburban oases.

Last time in Rural vs. Urban, we embraced autumn in all its colours and forms, with the main focus being the plant and fungi stars of the show. Dorset-born naturalist Laura delved into the magnificent and colourful display autumn had to offer, and found inspiration in the season, from her writing to her baking. Joining Laura for this series, Manchester-born wildlife enthusiast Emma explored the history and culture rooted in the plants she discovered, and found a much-needed moment of calm in her busy day-to-day life. Though both found differences in their comparative landscapes, they both found fungi to be fascinating and wondrous, but an area of knowledge in need of improvement.

In this next instalment of Rural vs. Urban, we explore the use of camera traps in the two different landscapes and see how they have allowed Laura and Emma to connect with their local wildlife. We will see how species may differ between the city and countryside, as well as behaviours and even interactions between species. It will be interesting to see what we may learn from looking back at fantastic camera trap photos from both locations, as they help us to uncover the secret lives of wildlife. Join us on our adventures to find out what we discovered!

Laura’s Camera Trapping in Dorset

Over the last few years I have become well known online for my camera trap photos exploring the lives of the wildlife living on my family’s land in Dorset. In particular, each spring I keep my camera trap out 24/7, moving it between locations, to capture spring unfurling for my animal neighbours. By doing so I have gained a lot of enjoyment from seeing what I could discover, and have been able to expand my own knowledge of my local wildlife and their hidden lives. To experience some of my previous camera trap adventures, check out my earlier blog posts from 2019 and 2020.

Last year, in 2021, my camera trap did not fail to amaze me and allowed me to continue my adventure exploring and capturing local wildlife. Throughout the spring my camera moved between 6 different locations across 250 acres, varying from badger setts to woodland. Between these locations I captured a total of 13 different species in 2021, which were rabbit, badger, roe deer, fox, partridge, pheasant, grey squirrel, magpie, blackbird, field vole, hare, woodpigeon, and the humble bumblebee.

One of my highlights from 2021 was capturing some new species for my collection, even if my first photos of them were blurry . These included my first hare (or the back of one!), a field vole climbing up cow parsley stalks, and even a bumblebee buzzing about. This is one of the reasons I get excited when checking my camera trap photos, as you never know what you may discover!

Another part of camera trapping in 2021 was getting to further experience animal species living side by side in harmony. For example, at one badger sett I saw a family of badgers sharing their home with rabbits and a family of foxes. Also, at another location, I got to see fox cubs learning about their surroundings and interacting with other species, such as roe deer. Very cool!

One of my favourite parts of 2021 though, has to be all the fox families I discovered! During this year, the most commonly seen species on my camera trap, to my surprise, was the fox (at every location!). In some cases I specifically aimed to capture this species, such as staking out a possible fox den, but in others foxes just happened to be living there or passing through. So by the end of spring, I had discovered 3 litters of fox cubs and a number of frequently used fox trails. What was most special of all was getting to experience fox cubs exploring their natural habitat and interacting with each other without me disturbing them. Magical!

After camera trapping in spring, my camera trap was given a well earned break until November. To round off the year, I staked out my garden to check out the birds that call it home. To find out more, stay tuned for next week’s blog post!

Emma’s Camera Trapping in Manchester

Although the past two years have been strange and sad in many ways, my little rectangle of garden has been a constant source of joy. During the first lockdown I started to spend a lot more time in the garden, which made me curious about the lives of the insects, birds, squirrels and foxes that also call our garden their home. So, in December 2020, I got my first wildlife camera!

The first time I left my camera out overnight, I was delighted to have captured a variety of animals including squirrels, the neighbour’s cat and a fox. It’s far from unusual to spot a fox late at night in my area, but something about seeing a fox going about its usually secret business made this sighting feel special. “I got a fox!” I yelled excitedly down the stairs. From that point onwards, I had caught the camera trapping bug.

Camera trapping has allowed me to get to know the unique personalities of our garden visitors, and also to see how their behaviour towards us changed over time. Our lovely Mrs Blackbird used to wait until we’d gone back inside before she’d sneak up the side of the garden to eat her evening plate of mealworms, but now she feels brave enough to hop around the empty plate chirping indignantly until someone gets the message. We also realised that Mr and Mrs Blackbird would always come for their dinner one at a time, and would only eat half the plate each! Now that’s true love.

My most exciting capture came on an equally exciting day. On the morning of the day I was due to get my Professional level ACA results, I checked my camera and was amazed to see that a badger had stopped by for a drink! The badger must have brought good luck with him, as thankfully I passed the exams. I was also delighted to see a hedgehog wandering through my boyfriend’s garden one night. We named him Podge, and for a while he was an extremely cute regular visitor. Finally, I can’t talk about camera trapping without mentioning my love for our magpies, who have kept us well entertained all year swaggering around the garden and stealing all the snacks we put out!

One thing I’ve learned from my experience camera trapping this year is that although cities may be full of people, we have a huge variety of wildlife roaming around just outside our front doors. I hope that more people will feel inspired to get to know the wild visitors passing through their streets and gardens, and even leave out some food and water to make them feel welcome!

The Wonders of Camera Trapping

Camera trapping is a learning experience and an eye-opening adventure, providing an unedited and up-close view of the more secretive lives of our wild neighbours. For Laura, camera trapping in 2021 continued to expand her record and understanding of the animals that call her local area home. Moving forward she would like to begin collecting videos of her local wildlife and buy a new camera trap to expand her camera trapping efforts.

Giving nature a home is something every one of us can do. For Emma, camera trapping taught her that even a small green space in an urban landscape can support a huge variety of wildlife; bees, badgers, woodpeckers, nuthatches, squirrels, hedgehogs and many more! In 2022, Emma wants to make her garden a haven for wildlife, and hopefully capture a frog moving into the frog pond she and her mum built.

At a time when nature is struggling most, it is important for us all to do our bit. Sometimes it is difficult to know how, but if you can understand your local patch better, this can become a lot easier. Using a camera trap is a great and easy way to do this, allowing you to create that connection with your local wildlife, however big or small. If you would like to know more or are inspired to try it out yourself, check out Laura’s blog post about ‘How to… Use and Make the Most of a Camera Trap‘.