Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Wildflower & Butterfly Count

I recently signed up to take part in the Wildflowers Count organised by Plantlife. After registering online, I received a Survey Pack in the post, which included a map of my allocated 1km square and a wildflower identification booklet which had photographs of the 99 wildflowers they want you to look out for. This was really informative and useful. You really don't have to be an expert to do this and Plantlife make it very easy for you to take part.
The idea is to plot a 1km route through the middle of your square, preferably on a north-south line. My square had a convenient footpath running through it, which then joined a lane. When I first looked at the map in the pack I had no idea where my allocated square was, as it was in an area I was unfamiliar with even though it was only a few miles away. But it did make it really interesting, exploring a new area and I was glad of the reason to discover some new hills!

My route generally followed field boundaries and hedgerows, going through small patches of woodland and following a lane with a ditch. Luckily the footpath was well signed, but we did have to negotiate a very inquisitive herd of cows!
The grassland was generally devoid of wildflowers. The hedgerows and verges proved the most prolific.
Meadowsweet : Brooklime          Great Plantain : Hemlock
Spotting a patch of Brooklime growing on the path alongside a ditch was a highlight as it was a new plant to me and has the most lovely little blue flowers. Most of the wildflowers are easy to spot as your eye is trained to lookout for them as you're walking, but it is the common, nondescript ones that you tend to take for granted that I had to be more aware of. We stopped for a picnic lunch near the end of the path and I realised I was sitting next to Great Plantain and Silverweed, which was on the list to spot and I had previously walked past them. This process definitely opens your eyes to what is actually around you rather than just what you notice!
Spear Thistle : Burdock : Lesser Knapweed
The survey wants to know the presence of any of the 99 species on the list, but there were several wildflowers on my path which weren't on the list, such as Spear Thistle, Burdock and Knapweed. It's funny how you become focused on 'collecting' species on the list and you get a little frustrated when you spot a 'good' wildflower that isn't on the list or it's outside of your 2m wide path! We parked just outside of the 1km square and son #2 spotted Agrimony which was on the list, but not in my square! Arghhh! I had to remind myself of the scientific purpose of the survey, a snapshot of plants in a randomly allocated place, not where all the best wildflowers are!
Another aspect of the survey is to record the wildflowers in a small plot in the centre of your 1km square. I'm going to go back and do this shortly to do a more thorough job, now that I'm more familiar with the area.
Meadow Brown : Skipper : Shaded Broad-bar : Silver Y
During the survey, we came across a good verge and field which had lots of butterflies flying around, so I did a quick recording for the Big Butterfly Count. This has just started and runs for 3 weeks where you record your butterfly sightings during 15 minutes. Again this gives a good snapshot of the state of our butterflies, especially important after last year's washout and the cold spring. We saw a Skipper which I don't often see and a Silver Y moth which the Big Butterfly Count are particuarly interested in hearing about. I was previously unaware of the existance of these moths, so I was delighted to spot one flying accross our path! Participating in these surveys does teach you a lot, I love it!

It was a great morning for all of us, the boys racing across the field on the way home. They were generally very patient waiting for mum with her clipboard, constantly stopping staring down at the ground! I'm looking forward to going back to 'my square' in the years to come, recording the wildflowers and seeing if there are any changes. Next year I shall do it in the spring and again in the summer to get a better picture of what's growing there throughout the season.
So thank you Plantlife for giving us an interesting dimension to our Sunday morning walk! Thank you too to wildflower enthusiast Celia for telling me about the survey (she also writes a great blog over at Purple Podded Peas).
Please excuse the poor photo quality, as I was too busy concentrating on spotting wildflowers and butterflies rather than photographing them!

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