We’re always being told that wildlife thrives anywhere- towns and cities, the countryside, gardens, nature reserves etc. And while it’s true, we only ever go to our local Country Park or Reserve to see it- either that or we watch it in our garden. So what about everywhere else? The village pond (yes, they do still exist!), the verges alongside the bypass, or the copse of trees you used to play in as a kid. You know, the forgotten about places. We’re concentrating so hard on the areas that are being managed (whether that’s a charity or the local Council, or even ourselves in the garden) that we forget about the rest of it. Sure, we now all cater for wildlife at home, and that’s great, but it takes more than just our back gardens and public parks to provide green corridors and/or habitat. We seem to have this mentality where everything belongs in it’s place, and nature simply doesn’t work that way. If you need an example, just look at the plants growing in the gaps between paving slabs. The beautiful thing about wildlife is that it’s, well, wild. It doesn’t pay any attention to the rules we lay down. It doesn’t know that we want it to go to the park so we can see it in it’s natural environment. As far as it’s concerned, a tree in a park is just as good as a tree by the road, so it uses them. When surveys are done, they tend to be done in the same places- managed places that I’ve mentioned. Why? because it’s safe. The tendency is to think “I’m recording birds, I’d better go where the birds are most likely to be.” What we need to do, is to monitor and record what’s going on in these unsung places. It could be a patch of wasteland, a cemetary, or even an abandoned building- it doesn’t matter. What we need are people – either as individuals or as groups – dedicated to noting what’s in these places. We need a website to record these findings on, and we need a willingness to continue doing it. The beauty of this is that anyone can do it, regardless of experience or knowledge level. And with next to no expense too- all you need to start off is pen and paper. You can use the library to ID anything or everything, whether that’s borrowing fieldguides to take with you, or taking pics on your phone and IDing later. If you take pics, you don’t even need to use the library- there are many useful guides online, and Ispot is perfect for those things you can’t quite get.
Almost a year ago I decided to do this in our local Country Park. Normally Country Parks already have monitoring in place, but I knew that at Porthkerry, the Rangers had so much on their plates that they simply didn’t have the time, so I set up the Porthkerry Wildlife Group. I made a few posters and arranged a date for our first meeting. I was so nervous, but both Rangers were very supportive, even helping with the meeting itself, as well as imparting their knowledge. That first meeting had thirteen other people turn up (and I only knew one of them beforehand!) including one of the County Ecologists and our Councillor for the Environment. Now, a year down the line, we still have a core of 10 people (including the Councillor). We spent the first meeting discussing what we as individuals wanted from the group, and got to know each other and what our areas and levels of expertise were. The next two meets were spent getting to know the park, with important, relevant and unusual things being pointed out by the Rangers. After that, we basically made it up as we went along, literally walking as a group or splitting into smaller groups and writing down what we saw. Sometimes we were recording everything, whilst other times we were more specific- for example wildflowers. I think part of the success of the group was down to the fact that members were encouraged to feel comfortable pointing things out, or ask questions without being made to feel silly, and we all learned from each other- no one member was any more or less important than any other (and still aren’t). We had a lot of fun too- I don’t think anyone can say they didn’t enjoy the pond-dips, or they putting out of rodent boxes, or looking for badger tracks and marks. I should point out that we decided to make our group adults only!
Although I am proud of what we’ve achieved, I haven’t told you this in order to show off, but instead I hope it shows you that it is possible to do something useful without having training or a qualification. Apart from the Ranger that remains, none of us are experts (the Ecologist doesn’t attend, but is available to us for help), but we are all determined to help make a difference. I’m not going to get political, but I will say that a right wing government makes it harder for our wildlife to get by, attacking it on many fronts, and so the need to encourage people to get more active is greater than ever. Last year’s State Of Nature report highlights that. You don’t have to set up a big group or anything anywhere near as official as we did, but do record even the most ordinary of sightings. Provide a time and date, weather, site, species (if possible binomial/scientific/Latin name) and quantity seen. If you don’t know where to send your sightings, don’t worry- send them to me and I’ll sort it out for you.
I’d love to see a network of enthusiastic amateurs making a difference. Imagine if we could get it to the point where the big charities are able to dedicate more of their manpower and funds to actual practical conservation because there were enough of us to provide the information for them! Realistically, I’d be happy if we could get enough of us to warrant a central database. This is a rallying cry. If you know the difference between a Blue Tit and a Great Tit; if you watch Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch and still think that there’s justification for a Summerwatch too; if you can look at an Adder without wondering why they still let poisonous things roam free; if you wonder why you see less of a species now than when you were little; if you can see the word Turdus without giggling (OK, maybe that’s pushing it!), then I call on you to do something useful. It’s not enough to donate X pounds a month. Do something real. Give yourself a sense of achievement. I dare you. If you’re not sure how to go abnout it, send me a message- I’ll help.