Farewell

I have watched the crops grow golden, the Large Blues come and go and the sun rising and falling in Somerset since the 30th of May. What a wonderful experience it has been, but all good things must come to an end. Therefore, it is time to say goodbye to Collard Hill and all of it’s inhabitants. A new chapter of adventure awaits me.

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Here are a few images I have taken over the course of my time on Collard Hill which I did not manage to put on the blog posts:

Goodluck to the 2017 Large Blue Butterfly Volunteer Ranger. May the Large Blues be another success in your presence!

Abbi

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Newbies!

 

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Sunny Collard Hill

What a great day today turned out to be. There was sunshine, there were new butterflies and there were visitors to keep me company. But there were no Large Blue butterfly appearances, instead I was graced with the presence of another beautiful butterfly; a Peacock butterfly.

Peacock butterfly.JPG

Peacock Butterfly

It was also a great day for Cloud Busting! Can anyone else see a Poodle in the clouds?

cloud poodle

Cloud Busting

I also saw these, but wasn’t sure on what they were exactly, can anyone help?

Silver Y moth

Silver Y Moth again?

bee or wasp

Bee or Wasp?

It is getting closer and closer for the end of my time at Collard Hill, even with the extra week I still do not want to leave. It is a gorgeous site and no-one should under-appreciate it for a moment.

Abbi

Common Blues are back!

Well I never! Today I saw a very fresh Common Blue. So, as the Large Blues are dwindling their way into the second week of July, the Common Blues are returning.

Common Blues have orange on their underwings, have no black spots on the upperwings, do not have a thick border and are a sky blue colour. Large Blues – as you all should know by now – have no orange on their wings, have prominent black spots on their upperwings, do have a thick black border and are a deep shade of blue (when in flight the colour blends with the purple shades of selfheal).

Common Blue in flight

Common Blue in Flight

Common Blue

Pristine Common Blue

Large Blue

Today’s Large Blue

The weather today was cloudy with few sunny spells, very windy and a little rainy towards the end of my shift today. All in all, I saw just the one Large Blue a few times and that was in the space of 20 minutes. It was fluttering about the sign that directs visitors onto the Eastern Glade or down the slope towards the bottom of the site.

Here is what else I found on site today, any ideas on the moth identification would be wonderful:

Skipper

Skipper

Pied Shield Bugs

Pied Shield Bugs

Moth id me

Moth

Plus some visitor images of their time at Collard Hill this year:

Both Graham and I would love to know what caterpillar is in his photograph – the caterpillar and parasitic wasp.

Abbi

Weekend Blues

Sadly, the Large Blues are nearing the end of their reign on Collard Hill. Plus, the weather conditions do not help the last few that still remain, but there is hope that they will stay for the beginning of next week at least. Therefore, I am set to stay volunteering at Collard Hill for an extra week, than was originally planned, in order to see these last few off.

Today on site, the winds were blowing at 25mph! The sky was cloudy in the morning and blue in the afternoon, however there was quite a bit of mist hanging about, which I don’t think the butterflies liked (again, I believe this causes the air pressure to be wrong for them to fly).

However, here are some pictures I have taken from today, including a Large Blue, a Green Woodpecker, an unidentified Caterpillar and a photo of lots of grasses:

Bee

Red-Tailed Bumble Bee

Caterpillar

What is this species of Caterpillar munching on rose leaves?

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper

Grasses

Grasses

Green Veined White

Green-Veined White

Green Woodpecker

Green Woodpecker

Large Blue

Large Blue

Large Skipper

Small Skipper

Painted Lady closed wing

Painted Lady

Ringlet

Ringlet

If you can identify the caterpillar or any grasses you can see in the photographs that would be fantastic!

Abbi

An Eventful Day

When arriving on sight to the sun warming my face, the bird’s singing away, and a gentle breeze on through my hair, it was just so peaceful. I then came across some early birds who had traveled from Hampshire and Kent to see the Large Blue butterflies. After a quick chat, I put up the flag and prepared for my day. Then it was time for me to go to Ivythorn Car Park (by the YHA) where I was to meet and greet some National Trust Somerset Rangers and Volunteers.

It was great fun showing them about, teaching them about the site and talking about the Large Blue with them. When arriving on site with them, within 10 minutes we had spotted some visitors that had collected just off of the pathway -always a good indicator that a Large Blue is at their feet. So as a group we crept up to see the Large Blue in all its glory.

I then walked the transect route with them sharing knowledge of hotspots for Large Blues and for specific plant species, such as the wasp and bee orchids (although most of them are no longer in pristine condition).

Within the Quarry we saw a freshly emerged Large Blue with its wings still crumpled and curled. It was beautiful! Other visitors today spoke of similar sightings at different parts of the site, meaning the Large Blues could be around for an extended period of time. We shall just have to wait and see.

Here are some images from today, including some challenges for you to try and help me identify:

6-spot burnet moth

6-Spot Burnet Moth

C.Restharrow with unidentified bug

Challenge: What is this bug?

Common Restharrow

Common Restharrow

Field Mushroom

Field Mushroom

Scarlet Tiger Moth...

Challenge: Is this a Scarlet Tiger Moth

Unidentified bg

Challenge: What is this bug (2nd picture)?

I also found what I thought was a Pied Shieldbug and another unidentifiable bug, but these proved more difficult to snap up a picture.
Any ideas on the identification of the bug and the moth is welcome.
Abbi

 

Glastonbury Festival Fun!

Today’s traffic was madness; it reminded me of ‘Operation Stack’ back home in Dover! Complete gridlock.

After waiting around for a long time at the bus station, I jumped on the first one that was seen that morning. I then endured a walk from Street in the rain and when arriving on site hoped it would have brightened up or to be greeted by butterflies or visitors. Instead, there was quiet, not even the busy road nearby had many cars whizzing down it. It was rather eerie. Just the rain, the birds, the bugs and me.

I paced the first transect of the day at 11:30am, when the rain had stopped and was around 20ºC, there was hardly any wind and so I expected to see a lot of butterflies. However, this wasn’t the case. The clock hit 12:40 and I had only seen a few Meadow Browns. At this time I was in the Quarry, the Western side of the site, the sun had just started to peek through the dark clouds when I saw BLUE! Blue wings were fluttering by! At the end of the transect I had logged 13 sightings of Large Blues.

 

LBlue.jpg

Large Blue

Around 2pm, there was a huge sunny hole in the clouds, this was when I was having a late lunch and managed to count roughly 5 Large Blues, Meadow Browns, Small Heaths and at 2 Marbled Whites. So I thought I would get on with pacing my second transect of the day, by the time I had finished it was 4pm, the wind had picked up, but it was now 30ºC. I had sighted 11 Large Blues, 2 Common Blues, 2 Small Tortoiseshells, 3 Marbled Whites, 31 Meadow Browns and 9 Small Heaths. Overall, a good day was had (even if I had started the getting soggy socks).

Common Blue.jpg

Common Blue

Also, some identification challenges of some other wildlife on site:

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If anyone knows there mushrooms I would be grateful if you could confirm the above species for me.

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If anyone is good with plants, moths and grasshoppers then please let me know about the above images.

Thanks,
Abbi

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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