One of our most exciting new programmes in 2020 involved a series of visits to private sites around the margins of the New Forest National Park to undertake wildlife surveys, with a view to collecting baseline data and potentially initiating longer-term monitoring in support of wildlife enhancement projects (note that we deliberately use the term wildlife enhancement projects rather than rewilding, for reasons outlined later). Most site visits involved a nocturnal bioblitz of a few hours’ duration, targeting crepuscular and nocturnal species that are often poorly recorded. Surveys typically included a walk around the site at dusk followed by nocturnal moth trapping and bat detecting, often with the landowner present. These surveys were offered at no cost to the landowner and were undertaken as part of our ‘community benefit’ portfolio. In total we visited six private sites during the summer and autumn, delivering about 30 hours of survey effort and discovering a range of nationally scarce and rare species. The accounts below describe each of these initial visits, followed by a short summary of follow-up work in autumn 2020, and our plans for expansion of this programme in 2021.
1. Brune’s Purlieu
The first site to be visited was a relatively small paddock at Brune’s Purlieu near Godshill, bordered by mature broadleaved trees, hedgerows, and a small stream, and which the landowners are keen to improve for wildlife. After an initial reconnaissance visit on 21 June, we arrived for a nocturnal bioblitz on 12 July. A stroll before dusk produced Roesel's Bush Cricket, a couple of roosting Essex Skippers, and a rather beleaguered wasp nest that appeared to have recently been dug out by a Badger. A fortunate Rabbit evaded the attentions of a marauding Fox, and a healthy herd of Fallow Deer bucks kept a close eye on us. As the light faded a Nightjar flew low overhead, with another or the same heard churring in the distance a few minutes later. The moth highlight was probably Cloaked Carpet, a nationally scarce species that is known to have a stronghold along the western margin of the New Forest. Two other nationally scarce species were Festoon and Pediasia aridella, the latter more typically associated with coastal saltmarsh habitats. A Round-winged Muslin was also notable, and pristine Large Emerald and Pine Hawk-moth provided the wow factor. The bat detector picked up plenty of Common Pipistrelle calls, a few Soprano Pipistrelle and Noctule calls, and one Serotine that hung around for a couple of minutes.
Roesel's Bush Cricket at Brune's Purlieu
2. Pilley Bailey
Our next visit was for a nocturnal bioblitz on 07 July at a small parcel of unmanaged land attached to a cottage garden in Pilley Bailey. A Nightjar croaked overhead at dusk, a Tawny Owl was heard, and both Common and Soprano Pipistrelles were recorded. The moth highlight was another Festoon, with a couple of Elephant Hawk-moths and a migrant Diamond-back Moth also noted. An area of long grass hosted a healthy colony of Wood Crickets, as well as Marbled White butterfly, Black Snail Beetle, Bronze Leaf Beetle and Brown Chafer. The biggest surprise was probably the Dusky Cockroach found in a moth trap, which is one of three species of small native cockroach. A follow-up moth trapping session on 03 Aug produced additional records including Light Crimson Underwing (a rare Red Data Book species with a stronghold in the New Forest) and Jersey Tiger.
Festoon and Elephant Hawk-moth at Pilley Bailey
On 19 July we visited a good-sized smallholding in the far west of the New Forest near Ogdens, that is already being carefully managed for wildlife by the owners. A stroll around the grounds in the late evening produced the now inevitable Roesel's Bush Crickets in an extensive area of meadow, as well as several Labyrinth Spiders who were no doubt benefiting from the profusion of grasshoppers. Family groups of Spotted Flycatchers and Stonechats were also seen taking advantage of the abundant flying insects. While checking out a likely Badger run, we were surprised to find a distinctive jumping spider in the grass; it was quickly potted for photos and later identified as the nationally scarce Evarcha arcuata - this is a heathland species confined to central southern England that had clearly wandered from the adjacent heath, showing the importance of these linked marginal habitats. As it got dark a Nightjar began churring nearby, and the first Common and Soprano Pipistrelle bats were recorded. A single Noctule was also picked up on the bat detector, while Lesser Stag Beetle and Leopard Slug were seen emerging from their daytime hideaways. A pair of lights were run for moths, with over 60 species recorded. In terms of rarity value, the highlight was probably Evergestis limbata, which first arrived in the UK in 1994 and has since spread throughout southern England - however, this appears to be the furthest northwest it has been recorded in the New Forest. Oak Eggars and Elephant Hawk-moths provided a welcome splash of colour, and both Rivulet and Small Rivulet were recorded - their larvae feed on Red Campion and Common Hemp-nettle / Hedge Woundwort, respectively, and all three of these larval food plants were recorded on site, showing the important link between food plant and insect species at a local level.
An 'in-the-pot' shot of the nationally scarce jumping spider Evarcha arcuata at Ogdens
On 30 July we conducted another nocturnal bioblitz in the far northwest of the New Forest, this time at a large site near Blissford that is already being managed sympathetically for wildlife. The site comprises a series of meadows bisected by hedgerows, including a permanently damp (and particularly wildlife-rich) meadow adjacent to a forest stream and bordered by mature woodland. We wandered around for a couple of hours in the evening and were soon immersed in a sea of Water Mint, Gypsywort, Marsh Willowherb and Greater Birds-foot Trefoil, marvelling at the vibrant colours of Mint Leaf Beetles and Mint Moths. The biggest surprise was the realisation that we were surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of colourful Wasp Spiders, at densities we had never seen before! They were clearly thriving and taking advantage of the large numbers of grasshoppers and other large insects on the site - we wouldn't be surprised if these are some of highest densities of this species anywhere in the UK. Notable birds seen (that are probably breeding on or near the site) included Buzzard, Tawny Owl, Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, Stonechat and Bullfinch. Common Frogs were abundant, and Foxes were heard calling at dusk. A couple of Long-winged Cone-heads, abundant Amber Snails, and a Fox Moth caterpillar were all found in the fading light. We fired up a couple of moth traps as it got dark, but the large moon and falling temperatures in the valley meant that numbers were fairly low. However, a Twin-spotted Wainscot was notable, presumably having wandered from reedbeds in the nearby Avon Valley, and several Sallow Kittens and Oak Eggar were also recorded. Both Common and Soprano Pipistrelles were picked up on the bat detector.
Wasp Spider with prey at Blissford
5. Southeast New Forest
On a sultry evening on 09 Aug, with temperatures peaking at 33oC at 1700 hrs, we arrived at an extensive site in the southeast of the New Forest for another nocturnal bioblitz. After a tour of the site with the owner we set up two moth traps in an area of meadow and started the bat detector. The distinctive echo-location calls of a Noctule alerted us to one flying overhead at dusk, and the species continued to be regularly recorded throughout the session together with both Soprano and Common Pipistrelles. The first insect of note attracted to light was an Eared Leafhopper – the largest of the UK’s leafhoppers and associated with lichen-covered trees, particularly Oaks. Several more were recorded during the session, suggesting a healthy colony on site. Other notable insects included Acorn Weevil Curculio sp, the Nationally Notable Sexton Beetle Nicrophorus interruptus, and a Giant Cranefly Tipula maxima, the UK’s largest cranefly species. Less welcome were at least ten Hornets, that had to be carefully boxed and released later in the night! However, it was the moths that stole the show, with an amazing total of over 150 species recorded (the true total was probably much higher as there were several of the smaller and more obscure micro-moths that remained unidentified due to time constraints). The flow of new arrivals to the two lights continued at a frantic pace, even after the moon emerged during the early hours, perhaps unsurprising given the temperature barely dipped below 20oC all night! The highlight was probably a rather battered Dark Crimson Underwing that had presumably wandered from nearby ancient woodland. It was accompanied by a pristine Light Crimson Underwing that may have originated from the many large Oaks on site. These two rare Red Data Book species have their UK stronghold in the New Forest, but to catch both species on one night is a rare treat! Other nationally scarce species that had probably wandered from the nearby bogs and heaths of the open forest included Crambus silvella (a proposed Red Data Book species), Pediasia contaminella, Rosy Wave x2, Bordered Grey x3, Cream-bordered Green Pea x2, Marsh Oblique-barred and Dioryctria sylvestrella. Other notable species recorded included Celypha rosaceana (rare in the New Forest), a pair of Four-spotted Footman, Grass Emerald, White-line Dart, Double Kidney and Old Lady. Migrant species arriving from further afield included Rusty-dot Pearl, Vestal, Dark Sword-grass and Silver-Y. A Tree-lichen Beauty was also a potential migrant and appears to be only the second record for the New Forest. A remarkable total of at least 13 Cydia amplana suggests they are breeding on site - the species is a recent colonist in the UK, and the count of 13 is potentially a new record count for Hampshire (if not the UK). As we reluctantly packed up at 0315 hrs, a shooting star from the Perseids meteor shower plunged over the horizon, a fitting end to what we both agreed was probably one of our best ever wildlife experiences in the New Forest!
A rather battered specimen of the nationally rare Dark Crimson Underwing
This daytime visit on 01 Oct to a six-acre site near Landford commenced with a dozen or so Lesser Redpolls noisily congregating in a Silver Birch, whilst later on both Woodlark and Buzzard were seen and heard overhead. Exploration of an extensive area of meadow produced furry Fox Moth and Ruby Tiger larvae, and an encouragingly high density of mature Garden Spiders, indicating plenty of insect prey. Common Centaury was still flowering on the mowed paths and Common Blue and Speckled Wood butterflies were seen. A block of mixed woodland contained plenty of fungi, including fruiting Fly Agaric and Green Elf Cup, with Goldcrest and Chiffchaff feeding high up in the canopy.
Fly Agaric at Landford
Follow-on activities in 2020
After these initial six visits, we identified two of the sites as having the greatest wildlife enhancement potential, and where our survey and monitoring input would be likely to have the greatest impact. The southeast site is now being surveyed by Marcus on a monthly basis and has already yielded valuable observations of wintering Woodlark and Firecrest, with the added bonus of an Otter that was camera-trapped on a couple of occasions as it moved along a small stream. In addition, following his recommendation, the owner has invested in the installation of two Barn Owl boxes, based on the potential of this site to host this species – encouragingly a Barn Owl was recently seen on site by the landowner, so fingers crossed for the coming years. The plan is to survey one of the smaller sites on several dates in 2021 to establish the wildlife baseline and monitor the impact of initial actions.
Firecrest at the survey site in the southeast New Forest
Future plans for 2021
We are looking to expand our portfolio of wildlife enhancement projects in 2021 and will be making a call in Feb-Mar for landowners to come forwards with prospective new sites for us to survey and potentially monitor on a longer-term basis. Our specific offer is to deliver general wildlife survey and monitoring, both to assess baseline flora and fauna on site and potentially to undertake longer-term monitoring to assess the (hopefully positive) impact of any management interventions - this includes conventional daytime wildlife surveys, more specialist nocturnal moth and bat surveys, and mammal camera trapping where appropriate. Recording is focussed on species of high conservation priority, e.g. UK Biodiversity Action Plan species. Our target ‘customers’ range from homeowners with a large garden who are seeking to increase the wildlife value of their land whilst retaining a useful amenity space (hence our use of the term wildlife enhancement rather than rewilding) to those landowners who will be eligible for future Environmental Land Management (ELM) payments and require assistance with general wildlife surveys and longer-term monitoring to underpin proposed management interventions. Brief summaries of our survey experience can be found at the link below:
Russ and Marcus undertaking moth surveys at a site in the southeast New Forest
We are committed to contributing about 30 days of survey effort for free to this programme in 2021 as part of our community benefit activities (worth about £4500 based on our typical New Forest survey rate); this will enable us to conduct a further series of initial site visits at no cost. We will also be seeking matched funding from grant-awarding bodies to enable us to increase the number of sites we can visit and monitor while minimising costs to landowners; our optimistic target for 2021 is 100 days of survey effort, worth about £15,000. We have also recently had positive discussions with the New Forest Land Advice Service (see link below) and hope to be able to support and complement their activities in 2021.
Strategically, we see the marginal lands of the New Forest (outside of the existing highly protected areas) as having greatest potential for wildlife enhancement / rewilding in the short- to medium-term. However, the current fiscal environment means that many wildlife NGOs and statutory bodies are struggling to maintain fieldwork activities, so we hope our small contribution will ensure that landowners in and around the New Forest can continue to access wildlife survey expertise at little or no cost. The good news is that there are already several great wildlife enhancement projects underway, some supported by existing HLS subsidies and informed by the Land Advice Service, and some initiated independently by wildlife-friendly landowners. Our hope is that some of these projects can be linked up in the future to form wildlife-rich clusters and corridors that connect up extensive areas of high-quality habitat around the New Forest. It is already obvious from our visits this year that several rare and protected species that breed within the New Forest SSSI routinely use the marginal lands of the forest for feeding or over-wintering – the best example is probably Nightjar, a designated feature of the New Forest Special Protection Area that targets insect-rich meadows supporting a high density of their macro-moth prey during the summer breeding season (see link below for a recent study on this).
Finally, although we won’t be making a formal call for new survey sites until early next year, any homeowners or landowners interested in our wildlife surveys are welcome to contact us at any time for an initial discussion, and of course we welcome approaches from (or suggestions of) potential grant funders or sponsors for this programme.
Mint Leaf Beetles enjoying the high-quality wet meadow habitat at Blissford