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Training Events

We have been running various training events and workshops as part of the Blythe Alive! project, to engage and involve local people in the importance of the River Blythe by demonstrating the ecological value it both provides and has the potential to provide.

There have been workshops on riparian plant identification, freshwater invertebrate identification and the importance of river habitats.

We plan to run a second round of training events in 2021. Check our social media pages and Events page to book tickets nearer to the time.

Gravel input into the River Blythe

Part of the Blythe Alive! project involves restoring clean gravels within the River Blythe to reduce sedimentation and provide fish spawning sites.

So far we have deposited gravels into a section of the river at Temple Balsall, and plan to address three more sites throughout the project.

Gravel input into the River Blythe at Temple Balsall

The introduction of clean gravels into the river will provide significant environmental benefits. The gravels will work alongside other anticipated improvements to the river to improve the bed structure, flow variation and habitat diversity. They will mean that rate of sedimentation within the river will be reduced, improving light levels and reducing turbidity, which will improve the conditions for submerged and marginal plants for which the River Blythe is a habitat.

Gravel introduction will also create new fish spawning sites. Fish such as salmon and trout use gravel beds in the river to build nests in which to deposit their eggs. The water flowing through the gravels carries oxygen to the eggs, which is essential for their survival. The gravels also act as habitats for invertebrates, which are good food sources for the fish.

Once input into the river at specific sites, the gravel will gradually move and settle into the river beds.

Nature Spots 5.0

It’s been a while since we last posted about nature spots but the wildlife around the Tame Valley Wetlands has continued to thrive! We’ve had a lot of butterfly photos and a few interesting plants too.

Here are some great shots of a brimstone butterfly, Gonepteryx rhamni. You can see from these photos how the shape, colour and vein patterns of its wings resemble leaves, giving the butterfly the ability to camouflage well whilst it hibernates over winter, one of the few butterflies in the UK that do this.

This gatekeeper butterfly, Pyronia tithonus, shows off the false eyespots on its wings which act to deter predators such as birds, giving the butterfly time to escape. The eyespots might also act as a secondary form of defence by encouraging birds to attack the wings rather than the body – damage to a butterfly’s wings is much more tolerable than harm to its body!

Robin’s pincushion is a red hairy growth that appears on wild roses, caused by the larvae of the tiny gall wasp that feeds on the plant. Despite looking significant, robin’s pincushion causes little damage to the plant. The gall holds many of the wasp grubs, which feed on the gall tissues throughout winter. The adult wasps emerge in the spring.

Photo submitted by Debra Starkey

A common blue butterfly, Polyommatus icarus, displaying the patterned underside of its blue wings whilst feeding from a dahlia. The caterpillars of common blues have a fascinating mutualistic relationship with ants during their development. The caterpillars secrete a substance called honeydew that attracts ants. The ants will eat the honeydew and tend to the chrysalis, often taking it into their nests to protect the caterpillars from predators. The butterflies effectively use the ants for free childcare, and the ants receive a tasty meal of honeydew in return. This kind of mutualism is seen in some other species of butterfly too.

Photo submitted by Stephen Powell

This interesting plant is the fruiting stage of Arum maculatum, commonly known as Lords and Ladies, or cuckoo pint. Its berries are highly poisonous, although you’d struggle to eat many of them as they have a acrid taste and would burn your mouth! During the flowering stage, Arum uses a method of trap pollination, in which it attracts fly pollinators to itself by emitting odour and heat. Flies fall down into the trap where the flowers are located and are prevented from escaping by a layer of hairs at the entrance. The flies deposit pollen from other plants on the female flowers, and the male flowers deposit their pollen on the flies. Once pollen transfer is complete, the trap collapses and the flies are able to escape… until the same thing happens at another Arum flower!

Keep sending your nature spots to enquiries@tamevalleywetlands.co.uk!

Welcome back, TameForce!

We’ve recently been able to welcome back our volunteer team, TameForce.

We weren’t able to hold sessions for four long months due to Covid-19, but we’re happy to say that TameForce have now returned (of course, with social distancing measures in place) and we’re so pleased to have the team back.

Last week TameForce spent the day taking care of the walled garden at Hams Hall Environmental Centre. We had a small bonfire to burn some of the excess brash.

If you would like to get involved or find out more about the TameForce volunteer team, click here for further information or contact us by email at enquiries@tamevalleywetlands.co.uk.

Hedgehogs in your garden

Have you seen any hedgehogs in your garden this summer?

Over the summer months, hedgehogs will have been active from March when they first emerged from hibernation. Now, from August to September, is typically when second litters of hoglets are born. Compared with the litters born earlier in the summer, it is often more of a struggle for these late-born hedgehogs to build up their fat reserves enough before hibernation – their natural diets of insects, slugs and worms begins to diminish.

It’s a good idea to put out food and water for hedgehogs all summer long, but often particularly important during these last summer months when other food sources are harder to come by.

You’re most likely to spot hedgehogs at dusk, whilst it’s not daylight, but there is just enough light to be able to see. The hedgehog in the picture above appeared just as the light was starting to fade, out in search of sustenance!

If you see a hedgehog that looks like it needs help, for example if it is injured or out during the day and not moving, it’s a good idea to contact British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

What can I feed the hedgehogs in my garden?

Cat biscuits, meat-based cat or dog food, and specialist hedgehog food are all great to leave out for hedgehogs. Make sure to also leave out a shallow bowl of clean water so the hedgehogs can stay hydrated in the warm weather.

Avoid leaving out milk, which hedgehogs are intolerant to; bread, which is of little nutritional value for hedgehogs; and mealworms, which can be harmful if eaten in large quantities.

Let us know if you’ve seen any hedgehogs in your garden! If you manage to take any pictures, we’d love to see them too. Email enquiries@tamevalleywetlands.co.uk to get in touch.

Action for Insects

The Wildlife Trusts have recently published a new report ‘Reversing the decline of insects’, showing how we can each contribute to helping the insect population.

Evidence from around the world has shown that many insect populations are declining, and we are facing the risk of species extinctions. It’s widely known that insects are depended on by much of life on Earth: they play a vital role in pollination of wildflowers and crops, they act as food sources for other animals, many plants depend on them for seed dispersal, they are important in nutrient cycling, and they can often get rid of pests.

Where would we be without insects?! It is essential that their populations are restored.

Insects need a ‘recovery network’. They need more good quality, linked-up, pesticide-free habitats. The Wildlife Trusts have called on the Government to help reverse the decline of insects by taking actions such as reducing pesticide usage, encouraging insect-friendly farming techniques and working towards this recovery network.

Common blue butterfly, photo from Stephen Powell

There are a few simple actions you can take to helping reverse insect decline:

  • Stop using pesticides
  • Create insect-friendly habitats in your garden, such as ponds, long grassy areas and areas of nectar-rich flowers
  • Reduce your frequency of lawn mowing to create more food and shelter for insects
  • Build a ‘bug hotel’, or simply leave a small pile of rocks or logs to create habitats
  • Try to shop more consciously, maybe by buying local food that isn’t grown using pesticides, or choosing environmentally-friendly cleaning products.

Click here to receive a copy of an Action for Insects Guide from the Wildlife Trusts, with more information and guidance about how you can help insects at home.

Wildlife you didn’t know was interesting

The world is full of under-appreciated wildlife. Here are four species that, despite their mundane reputation, have fascinating characteristics.

Houseflies

House fly on a plum. Image credit: Jon Dunkelman via WildNet2 -WildNet

Houseflies… yuck, no thanks! Wait – actually, the common housefly has incredible capabilities.

Like most insects, they can walk upside down thanks to pulvilli, pad-like structures covered in tiny hairs on the bottoms of their feet. The importance of their feet doesn’t stop there, however, as houseflies also taste with their feet. Chemoreceptors, organs which detect taste, are located on the lower legs, allowing the fly to taste as they walk over food materials. You might have seen flies rubbing their legs together – this is them cleaning their legs to ‘reset’ the chemoreceptors before a new meal.

Their intricate compound eyes allow houseflies to see in an almost 360° field of view, allowing them to watch out for predators whilst flying. They can process images seven times faster than humans, which is why flies can always get away so fast when someone tries to swat them. Studies have shown that male houseflies’ eyes also contain a ‘love spot’, a region important in detecting female flies to mate with.

Houseflies are adapted to an exclusively liquid diet. Their mouthparts are modified to form a proboscis which acts as a straw with a sponge on the end to efficiently suck up liquids.

We should be jealous, really. However, they can spread some pretty harmful disease-causing bacteria, so make sure they don’t land on your food!

Snails

Image credit: Jon Hawkins via WildNet

Perhaps interesting to some, but to many snails are another commonly overlooked garden-dweller.

Snails have ‘teeth’. Not the type of teeth we have, though. Their radula, an internal feeding organ which acts like a tongue, has thousands of tiny ‘teeth’ arranged like a conveyor belt along its surface. In different species of snail, these teeth are adapted for different diets. The teeth are also constantly replaced as they are worn down, ensuring snails can always feed effectively.

Most snails are hermaphroditic, meaning they can mate with themselves if needs be. From an evolutionary point of view, this gives species a better shot at continuing the family line if no mates are available.

Snails also grow their own homes. Well… their shells. Shells are made of calcium carbonate, a strong substance which gives snails the protection they need. Sclerites are the plates making up the shell, and are secreted by the snail itself.

Grass

Image credit: Emily Reilly

If you have a garden with a lawn, you might value grass for its aesthetic properties. Or maybe you appreciate its softness during a picnic in the park. Or its smoothness on golf courses. But did you know that across the world, there are 11,400 different types of grass?

All grasses belong to the Poaceae family, which is one of the most species-rich families in the world, and the 4th largest flowering plant family.

Grasses leaves are arranged in special patterns to optimise photosynthesis. Optimal photosynthesis requires maximum light capture, so leaves tend to be spread out to avoid being shaded by each other.

Most grasses can tolerate grazing, or mowing in the case of lawns. This is because their apical meristems, the part from which shoots and leaves grow from, is at or below ground level. New growth can always continue if grasses are cut – something which isn’t true for many other plants.

Finally, the Poaceae family provides around 80% of global food supply, containing over 1/3 of the most important food crops such as rice, wheat and maize. However, typical lawn grass has undergone so much artificial selection and forced evolution that it is unrecognisable from its food crop relatives!

Dandelions

Image credit: Eddie Asbery

Are dandelions a weed? They grow prolifically, and usually exactly where you don’t want them if you are a gardener. However, they boast unique and useful properties that might make you reconsider their reputation.

The name ‘dandelions’ is derived from the French “dent de lion”, meaning “lion’s tooth”, like the tooth-like serrations on their leaves. Their bright yellow flower heads are actually formed from many many tiny individual flowers, called florets.

Every part of a dandelion plant has a use to humans, whether that be for food, medicinal properties, or dyes. Dandelions are thought by many to have possible healing properties, although their effectiveness is debated.

Dandelions can make clones of themselves without the need for fertilisation. This is in fact a feature shared by a number of other plant species, but is the reason why their growth seems so prolific.

They also adopt the widely-used technique of nyctinasty, involving the closing of petals at night. Dandelions ‘go to sleep’ at night as a response to an ‘internal clock’. Photoreceptors, structures which detect light, have the important job of ensuring the the internal clock is set in time with levels of light in the environment.

Finally, dandelions are important flowers for pollinators such as bees. They have a long flowering season, so are depended on for consistent nectar production. Letting dandelions grow is an easy and effective way to make your garden more environmentally friendly.

Nature Spots 3.0

After a spell of heavy rain in the Tame Valley Wetlands, we have welcomed back the glorious sunshine this week. Here are some lovely wildlife pictures from over the last few days.

With fewer people around at Hams Hall Environmental Centre and less opportunity for maintenance of the walled garden, the plants are thriving. There is an abundance of nettles, of course (which are inconvenient for people but do act as an important habitat and food source for insects such as butterflies), but also there are many beautiful wildflowers such as this field poppy and a group of orchids.

Field poppy at Hams Hall Environmental Centre
Early purple orchids at Hams Hall Environmental Centre

We have also been sent images of wildflowers from around the Tame Valley wetlands, such as this Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis).

Pyramidal orchid spotted in Nether Whitacre, submitted by Debra Starkey

This time of year is peak season for caterpillars, often spotted munching away on leaves or trying to stay hidden from predators. Here is a peacock butterfly caterpillar (Aglais io) spotted at Whitacre Heath Nature Reserve, and a fantastic image of a Mullein moth caterpillar (Cucullia verbasci) resting on a buddleia.

Peacock butterfly caterpillar
Mullein moth caterpillar submitted by Stephen Powell

Finally, the butterflies have again made beautiful photos this week. Here is a comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) – you can see how its wings, with their scalloped edges and cryptic colouring, give the butterfly strong camouflage – especially useful when hibernating in piles of leaves during the winter months.

Comma butterfly submitted by Debra Starkey

Otters on the River Blythe

Over the past few weeks, there have been numerous sightings of otters, which is great news and usually an indicator of a river having fairly clean water and enough good-quality habitats.

Otters are not often seen by people as they are largely nocturnal. The most common indicators of an otter population are tracks or spraints (droppings). Otters often leave their spraints in conspicuous places along their territory, as a warning for other intruding populations to stay away.

Despite their elusive nature, Nick Martin, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s Wetland Project Officer, has managed to record some fantastic footage of otters on the River Blythe.

In the video below you first see a mink cross the river. Mink are an invasive species and are a considerable threat to UK native species such as the water vole. Towards the end of the video however, three otters come swimming up the river. This group is likely a mother and two large cubs.

Video credit: Nick Martin

Otters communicate with whistles and twittering sounds, often heard at night when they are active and their surroundings are quiet. Click on the video below to hear an otter calling.

Video credit: Nick Martin

This video shows another otter on the Blythe, possibly the father of cubs. The male otter parent is known to play no part in rearing the cubs, leaving that to the mother.

Video credit: Nick Martin

And finally, here is a quick clip of an otter swimming along the river.

Video credit: Nick Martin

Education at Hams Hall Environmental Centre: Session Plans

Click on the links below to download copies of lesson plans for each education session at Hams Hall Environmental Centre.

Please contact enquiries@tamevalleywetlands.co.uk if you have any queries or would like to book a school visit.