During May our volunteers have been out every Friday helping to carry out surveys of our sites. We've been to Haydon's Pond in Almodington (pictured below), three ponds in Birdham, and Redlands Meadow in West Wittering.
We focus on surveying the flora of the sites. This is not weather-dependent nor does it need to be done at a particular time of day - and plants generally don't run or fly away! A huge variety of flora was found on all the sites. We also found a variety of invertebrates, birds, and signs of various mammals, including the endangered Water Vole (feeding stash shown below, found near Haydon's Pond).
The diversity of flora on a site is a good indication of the variety of life that might be found there (or biodiversity). The more varieties of native plants and trees there are, the more invertebrates, birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians there are likely to be. When you think about a 'food web' or 'food chain', everything starts from the plants ... for example, the caterpillars of some moths only eat one type of plant, whereas others will eat a much broader range. If an adult moth is able to find the right food plant and lay its eggs then the caterpillars have suitable food to eat and so there will (hopefully) be more moths of that species. There will also be more food for animals that eat caterpillars and moths. Common Frogs eat moths (as well as plenty of other invertebrates) ... Grass Snakes eat Common Frogs ... Badgers and Foxes eat Grass Snakes ... and so on it goes.
This Fleabane Tortoise Beetle (Cassida murraea), above, was found by one of our volunteers whilst we were surveying in Birdham. This little beetle only feeds on Common Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica) and Marsh Thistle (Cirsium palustre). The presence of these plants means this little red beetle can live here, and it may become prey for creatures that eat insects.
A variety of different plants is also important for our pollinators as different plants flower at different times throughout the year and flower for varying lengths of time, and different pollinators prefer different plants. A wide variety of flora provides food for pollinators right through the season so that when one plant 'goes over' another will be still be flowering. This stunning Thick-legged Flower Beetle (Oedemera nobilis), above, is a pollinator of many open-structured flowers such as this Meadow Buttercup in Birdham.
Our volunteers are not all wildflower experts - some come with their own invaluable knowledge and some are complete beginners. Everyone is welcome! Everyone finds the surveying process very relaxing and some say it is almost like meditation. There's also plenty of time for chatting and also laughing at some of the weird and wonderful common wildflower names! 'Sneezewort' sounds like it comes straight out of Harry Potter, and 'Sticky Willy' always raises an eyebrow!
As well as looking around the ponds we also did a little pond-dipping to see what lurks beneath and found damselfly and dragonfly larvae, water beetle larvae, water boatmen, pond snails, water fleas, and midge larvae amongst others.
Our visit to Redlands Meadow, above, was on a rather soggy day but we still enjoyed our visit to this important Wet Meadow site in West Wittering. This is a rare site of unimproved grassland and flower meadow and we visited by kind permission of the owners.
We recorded 88 different species of plants and trees at this site and were as impressed by the number of majestic mature English Oaks surrounding the meadow (such as the one below) as by the floral diversity. Mature trees like this are hugely beneficial to wildlife, and Oak trees in particular are thought to support 2,300 wildlife species*! It was too wet to see bees and butterflies but we did see native Roe deer enjoying the floral buffet on offer!
*according to the Woodland Trust.