2014 flight season meeting

Its been a hive of activity recently in the rangers office, getting ready for season 2014. We are recruiting for this years large blue volunteer ranger (more to come about that later), and yesterday we had a meeting over at Collard. Primarily, it was to look at last years season; the highlights and the lowlights. We also looked at the season to come and what improvments can me made. There were various people in the meeting (key people from butterfly conservation, our grazier for the site, Pat Burroughs, consultants from the National Trust, (Specialists in wildlife conservation) David Simcox and Sarah Meredith.) It was a great oppertunity to chat to all the specialists whilst we were at Collard.

2014 pre flight season meeting

The ground conditions at Collard Hill are improving. (If you have been there recently, you will understand how wet and rutted some of the ground has become.)The cattle and ponies were taken off the hill when it became really wet to prevent any futher poaching. After yesterdays meeting, it was decided that the gate could be opened again to let the grass munchers through to the hill. This will help in several ways:

The dexters (cattle) will walk around the site, hopefully flattening some of the ruttier areas, making it easier for us to walk on.

Dexters are very happy to munch on newly shooting bramble so all the work that we did this winter (clearing bramble), as the new shoots grow, they will be nibbled off.

They also like newly shooting thistles (the ponies have learnt to pull them out of the ground whilst they are young, turn them around, then swallow them backwards so they dont get too prickled!) We are aware that we have the rarer thistle (wooly thistle), We are managing the grazing in a sustainable way to keep a stable population of this type of thistle.

The grass is just starting to grow so nibbling it whilst its young will help us futher in the season.

Of course, weather conditions can change everything and as we are expecting a little rain at the end of the week. We are keeping a close eye on ground conditions and will move cattle back across if needs be.

Mobile grass munchers

Finally, as I said at the start of this post, we are recruiting for the 2014′s large blue volunteer ranger. We are looking for an enthusiastic conservationist, confident in communication and an active outdoor type. You will be based at Collard Hill, near Glastonbury, monitoring the Large Blue butterfly and co-ordinating visitor engagment for a 6 week project from 2nd June – 13th July. For details, phone 01934 844518 or email the head ranger at: ian.clemmett@nationaltrust.org.uk. The closing date for applications is 28th March.

2013 – An Eventful but Successful Year for the Large Blue at Collard Hill

Farmers and conservationist alike must adapt quickly to the extreme weather events that we have regularly experienced over the last ten years.

At the time of writing this article (February 2014), the Somerset levels, which can be clearly seen from Collard Hill, resemble an inland sea, the army have been deployed to help the emergency services rescue local residents from their houses, politicians are donning waders for photo-shoots and everyone seems to have a theory as to who should shoulder the blame.

A quick search on the Met Office website confirms that we are indeed in unchartered waters:

Spring 2012     – drought with hosepipe bans

Summer 2012  – wettest summer for 100 years

Autumn 2012  – wettest Autumn since records began

Spring 2013     – coldest for 50 years

Summer 2013  – 7th hottest and 16th driest since records began

January 2014   – wettest January since records began

The Large blue butterfly, like all other wildlife, must negotiate a way through this meteorological hiatus and adapt accordingly, or perish! In 2012 the population increased for the eighth year in a row and nearly 50,000 eggs were laid on Collard Hill. However, detailed scientific research undertaken by Oxford University and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has shown that Myrmica ants do not prosper during cold springs which prevent them from foraging and collecting food to feed their grubs, which are the staple diet of the Large blue caterpillar. In a particularly long cold spring, like in 2013, the ants begin to starve and will eat their own grubs and any caterpillars that are living in their nest!

I have been fortunate to be working on a piece of research with Sarah Meredith (funded by Oxford University and The People’s Trust for endangered Species), exploring the synchronicity between the flowering of Wild thyme and the emergence of the Large blue. Because the butterfly will only lay its eggs on young tight flower-buds, it is vital that they emerge when the majority of the flowers are in the right condition. For the last three years Sarah has been monitoring the flowering phenology of the Thyme on Collard every 4 or 5 days between Mid May and the end of July and carrying out butterfly transects at the same time.

Since the early 2000s Large blues have emerged on Collard during the last week of May but in 2013 the first was seen on 14th of June, over two weeks late. Encouragingly the Thyme was also late to flower so the synchronicity between food-plant and butterfly was maintained. The cold spring did have a major impact on the size of the Large blue population and egg surveys revealed that the number of eggs laid on the site was just over 24,000, about half of 2012’s total. This trend was replicated across all monitored populations in Somerset and, although disappointing, is what happens to populations under adverse climatic conditions. Thankfully, because the management at Collard has been so good, a 50% drop in a large population is not catastrophic and I fully expect Large blues to be flying in good numbers in 2014.

The National Trust Rangers, Hayley Dorrington and Ian Clemett, together with Pat Burroughs the grazier had delivered perfect grazing on the site and once again organized signage and volunteer wardens to welcome the hundreds of visitors who came to see the butterfly. The site has been improved by excellent scrub management, carried out by NT staff and contractors, and partially funded by SITA under the Butterfly Conservation led project Expanding the Large Blue Landscape in the Polden Hills. Additional scrub was cleared by the generous efforts of volunteers recruited and encouraged by Butterfly Conservation’s Caroline Kelly and Rachel Jones. It is the combined efforts of all these people that have ensured that the prospects for Large blues on Collard in June 2014 are good.

Finally I must pay tribute to the late Barry Hillier who recently passed away. Barry volunteered for the National Trust and put in a huge amount of effort and will be remembered by many as one of the volunteers who helped visitors to Collard to see the Large blue and to understand their remarkable ecology. I will miss his kindness, knowledge and great sense of humour.

By David Simcox

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mist is rolling in over Collard Hill as well as my computer brain.

Well its pretty grim out there today weather wise so I thought I would take the opportunity to give you an update as to where things are. I was chatting to Caroline (Butterfly conservation) the other day and we are just confirming dates for some scrub management on Collard Hill as well as doing some Thyme planting on Walton Hill with Somerset Wildlife Trust and the Clarks Trust. Once these dates are confirmed, I will put them on the blog.

During the quieter months at Collard, as well as looking after the other sites; I will be working on the blog, making sure everything will be up to date for the 2014 season. I am at the moment learning all about Widgets?? I thought you get them in cans of beer, oh how I am wrong…

Anyway, things are still really busy here in East Somerset and I will update you with things when we get some more news.

Just a bit of fun…

In the depths of you tube, we have found a really great song. Jonny Berliners creates songs all about science so I am guessing he thought it would be fitting if he created a song all about the large blue. Here is a link to a video with song covering the Ancestory trail 2012.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwJW3mTqwno

Enjoy!

Large Blue Season Is Now Over

Hi all, the large blue season has now been declared over.

There hasn’t been a sighting for almost a week now and yesterday Hayley, Ian and I decided to call it a day. I have thoroughly enjoyed being the ranger for the site and would like to thank all the rangers, volunteers and experts for all their help and support.

Ive been trying to work out the distance i must have been walking each day and from what i can gather from google maps it must be at least 5km per day which would mean i’ve walked a total distance of around 200km in 40 days! About the same distance as it is from Collard Hill to London. My knees are certainly feeling it!

I’ll soon be writing a report on what has been a rather bizarre season, cold enough to wear gloves in June then hot enough to get heat stroke in July! In fact if we’d had a nice bit of snow I think that would have completed the checklist.

-Steve, Large Blue Ranger 2013

A ragwort here and a ragwort there.

Well,  It was a busy day for us all on Collard Hill as we spent it Ragwort pulling.

“Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) is a specified weed under the Weeds Act 1959. It contains toxins, which can have debilitating or fatal consequences if eaten by horses and other grazing animals.

Ragwort may need to be controlled when its presence and the likelihood of it spreading to neighbouring land poses a risk to horses and other grazing animals or land used for the production of forage.” Taken from DEFRA’s guidance notes.

We cleared the ragwort that would potentially spread its seeds over to the neighbouring land, what with the usual south-westerly winds we have across the site.

There didn’t seem to be much flying, certainly no large blues; however, I did see a very lonely looking common blue at the bottom of the Eastern Glade. We also saw a lovely Brimstone flying amongst the grasses near the oak tree.

It was pretty warm weather again yesterday so by 11am we were all glad of a sit down, cold drink and yummy cake! (Bread pudding for those who want to know the way to a rangers/ volunteers heart/stomach so to speak.)

The wholly thistles are really beginning to come out in flower and they are looking great, the burnet moths and marbled whites are loving them too.

After a hard days work we had cleared and covered quite a large area – thanks guys an gals who helped out!

Could I point out that we were coming across a lot of ragwort that had already been pulled out of the ground. We think its great that visitors to the site know the issues surrounding ragwort but could I just mention and make people aware that when ragwort is pulled out of the ground and left to rot, it becomes more palatable to cattle and ponies, increasing the ingestion risk more than if the ragwort was just left to grow in the ground.

I will leave you with a picture of the volunteers hard at work. Thanks guys!

Hayley – Ranger for the Mendip and Polden Hills

Volunteers ragwort pulling, Collard Hill

Photos from the last few days.

Thanks to all who have been sending us photos of their visit to Collard Hill, they are really great photos. The weekend has been quite quiet with Steve not seeing any large blues yesterday at Collard Hill. This does not mean the season has finished. It could indicate the season maybe slowing down a bit but it was also a little windier yesterday than it has been the past week so that could also have something to do with it too. We shall see how numbers are over the next few days.

Anyway, Collard hill is still looking great with some funky looking seed heads on the remains of the bee and wasp orchids, wholly thistles coming out into flower and plenty of Burnet moths flying around the ragwort.

Here are a few photos taken over the last few days…

Taken by Hilary

Taken by Hilary

 

Taken by Harry Faull

Taken by Harry Faull

 

Taken by Paul Brewster

Taken by Paul Brewster

 

Taken by Hilary

Taken by Hilary

 

Both myself and Hilary both think this butterfly is a small heath (the last photo on what looks like bramble flowers). If anyone thinks different and knows what it is then please let us know. Thanks.

Hayley – Ranger for the Mendip and Polden Hills

 

Big butterfly count

For all those reading this blog, you may already be aware of the big butterfly count that is happening from the 20th July to the 11th August. The survey is being run by the charity Butterfly Conservation.

The big butterfly count is a nationwide survey aimed at helping us assess the health of our environment. It was launched in 2010 and has rapidly become the world’s biggest survey of butterflies. Almost 27,000 people took part in 2012, counting 223,000 individual butterflies and day-flying moths across the UK

http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/

The link above will take you to the website where you can log your sightings. You can even count the butterflies in your own back garden. I don’t have a garden so I plan to walk a route on Cheddar cliffs (Cheddar Gorge) next weekend.

Start counting!

Hayley – Ranger for the Mendip and Polden Hills

Burnets galore and plenty of heat.

I havent been up to Collard recently as I have been looking after some of the other sites we manage. The woolly thistles are just starting to come out into flower so there’s Marbled whites everywhere; it’s looking great. With the ragwort there are lots of burnet moths, in fact, we don’t have lots, there are loads of them – they really are a pretty moth.

unfortunately, I am guessing down to the heat, I didn’t see any large blue butterflies today – in direct sunlight, the thermometer was reading 48′c!

Both me and Steve headed for the big oak tree to get shade and still under there, the thermometer was reading 30′c.

I would suggest that if you plan to visit Collard over the next few days, an early morning visit might be better; when temperatures are lower – you may have a chance of seeing a blue then.

I did notice how noisy the hill actually was (in a good way) today. The place was chirring with the sound of crickets and grasshoppers.

If you visit and have some photos you would like to share with us then please send them to collard.hill@gmail.com

Hayley – Ranger for the Mendip and Polden Hills