Guest blog: Always something new to discover

Sawfly larvae by Sue Taylor

In her guest blog, BBOWT volunteer surveyor, Sue Taylor discovers there's always something new to find when you stop and look closely.

Even during the age of Covid-19 life goes on. One way of assuring yourself of that is to get out and about and take a look at the diversity of wildlife on BBOWT reserves.

As soon as I was allowed, I was out and about on my local reserves and looking to see what I could find. There was always something beautiful and nearly always something I had never seen before.

I am one of the many volunteer BBOWT recorders and I specialise in invertebrates. One of my favourite places is Dancersend, which has a long history of invertebrate records starting with the Rothschilds who recognised how special it was for wildlife.

Despite the long history of recording at Dancersend the species list is constantly being added to. Some species are genuinely new to the reserve as they move with climate change or are accidentally introduced, but others are small and over looked or genuinely rare and dependent on the continued management of the reserve. 

Recently I was on my way back to the car and saw something lurking under a hazel leaf. It was a sawfly busy laying an egg, but which one? I got my camera out and took some shots. When I got home I checked out the British Sawflies website and discovered it was one of four Nematus species, and it might be something rare.

I put it on iRecord and, to my delight, the expert for this group Andrew Green tentatively agreed with my identification that it could be the first sighting of this species in over 70 years in the UK!

Sawfly larvae

Sawfly larvae by Sue Taylor

A week later more excitement as the eggs hatched. We kept a close eye on them, but unfortunately now they are bigger it seems that after all it is not the rare species but the more common Nematus septenrionalis, otherwise known as the flat-legged birch sawfly… on hazel.

Identification is not always easy, but it is so important to get it right. Meanwhile it has been fascinating watching the larvae hatch and develop and I have learned a lot about sawflies. 

False slender-footed robberfly

Leptarthrus vitripennis, the false slender-footed robberfly, a rarely seen species. Photo by Sue Taylor

I have been privileged to find some rarities like the false slender-footed robberfly or the reserve’s very first Downland villa beefly.

Although it is fun to know I have been the first to see a species on the reserve, I get as much pleasure from seeing insects that may be common, but which I have not noticed before, or the first sighting of an ‘old friend’ that year like the wonderful marbled white butterfly.

Marbled white

Melanargia galathea, the marbled white butterfly, favours unimproved grassland especially chalk grassland. Photo by Sue Taylor

My sightings all go onto iRecord where they can be accessed by BBOWT and the various national recording schemes. Important sightings are sent straight to the BBOWT conservation team as understanding what is on the site will inform management decisions. Nationally the data is used to see how species are doing across the UK and can be used to inform local and national conservation strategies.

BBOWT welcome all wildlife sightings from their reserves and these are easily put onto iRecord or sent to the conservation team. You just need to know exactly what it was*, when and where you saw it, and provide a clear photo too so the experts can verify that you got the species right.

Despite the feeling that Dancersend is somehow timeless, it is not. It is constantly changing and evolving, left alone it would soon all be woodland and the precious chalk grassland species would be lost, so a team of volunteers help the BBOWT staff manage the reserve to ensure a good balance of healthy habitats.

There are challenges too, ash dieback will change the feel of some areas, but this will present new opportunities for many species and we will be ready to observe and record the changes. 

They say where there is life there is hope. Well I am pleased to report there is a lot of life out there so go on take a look and tell us what you see.

Sue Taylor, BBOWT volunteer Surveyor

*there are good online resources to help with identification of invertebrates, try ispot or take a look at Steven Falk’s Flickr site. If you prefer a book then P. Brock ‘Insects of Britain and Ireland’ is a good place to start.

Downland villa beefly

Villa cingulata, the downland villa, once considered rare but spreading rapidly probably due to climate change. First recorded at Dancersend in July 2017 now common on the site. Photo by Sue Taylor