What happens on a moth course at Bushy Park?

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Course participants at Bushy Park in 2014

Course participants at Bushy Park in 2014

What happens? Lots of things! We’ll be opening a moth trap, sorting moths into their correct families, studying the niceties of species identification, exploring woodland, meadows and hedgerows for moths by day and by night, joining in with quizzes and exercises, and much more. If you’ve ever wanted to find out more about how moths live, what role they play in habitats and food chains, and how to observe them for yourself, this is your chance.

This course runs on Saturday 14 May 2016 at Bushy Park in west London. It starts at 2pm with classroom and field sessions, and then in the evening we’ll head out with moth traps to put our skills into practice. Click here for full details and to book a place.

Six-spot Burnet on Field Scabious in the flower meadow at Bushy Park

The course is based in a part of Bushy Park that is not normally open to the public, and allows access to flower-rich meadows, woodlands and wetlands. We’ll use a mix of classroom presentations, activities and fieldwork to help you get to know more about moths and what makes them special. You don’t need to know anything about moths already, beginners are welcome, and if you’ve already started taking an interest in moths the course will help you develop your knowledge further. Contact FSC to book your place, and come prepared to be amazed by moths.

[This was originally posted in 2015, and has been updated for the 2016 course.]

Putting wildlife on the map

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Last week I had the pleasure of teaching my first course for the fantastic Field Studies Council, at their Epping Forest centre. The day seemed to go well, and for me it was great to be out talking about wildlife-watching among the venerable old trees of the Forest.

I’ve added some of the materials from the course to a new biological recording section of my website, including information on recording, tips for photography and using keys, suggested surveys to try out, links to further resources and some field exercise sheets (downloadable). As ever, feedback welcome to improve what’s there and fill in any gaps I’ve missed.
While reading up for the course I went back to the late Oliver Gilbert‘s very enjoyable book The Lichen Hunters. Despite not being any sort of lichenologist myself I loved reading about the exploits of Dr Gilbert and his colleagues in tracking down unusual lichens in a range of habitats, from pristine rocks high in the Cairngorms to the ‘ancient tarmac’ of abandoned WWII airfields. Finding lichens in mountainous habitats requires impressive feats of physical endurance – anyone want to start a campaign for lichen-hunting as an olympic sport?
The book contains one of my favourite biological recording quotes, capturing some of the emotions that come from close contact with wildlife and wild places:
“You go to look for lichens and find in addition familiarity, beauty, companionship, laughter and the warmth of friends.”

reactions to insects

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Spent today manning the Bucks Invertebrate Group stall at a family wildlife fun day for Bucks County Museum. I used a video microscope to show off insect (plus spider, centipede etc.) specimens (alive and dead), plus some quizzes and games.

Most people, and nearly all the kids, were fascinated by the insects under the microscope, but the quiz produced a range of responses. I asked people to sort a selection of insect photos into three categories: good to have in a garden (“friends”), bad to have in a garden (“foes”), or not sure/neither good nor bad. The photos included a range of species, from Garden Snail and Large White butterfly caterpillars to hoverfly and lacewing, bees and wasps, etc. I reckoned that the snail and caterpillars could reasonably be classed as “foes”, but the others were neutral or good. Perhaps unsurprisingly many people (adults and children) tended to put more into the “foes” category. Wasp, ant, and often the bees as well, went straight into “foes”, presumably as people couldn’t get past the fact that they can sting (if you annoy them). And not at all surprisingly the lacewing and hoverfly larvae (see photo) went straight into “foes” on the grounds that people didn’t know what they were and therefore assumed they must be bad.

An answer sheet was provided with some information about what the photographed insects actually did for a living, and this seemed to achieve its task of giving people a little more insight into the benefits of having insects around. But still couldn’t persuade everyone that wasps were a good thing. One adult demanded to know what was the “purpose” of wasps, what good did they do, with the implication that things didn’t really have a right to exist if they didn’t benefit humans. However, she did eventually agree with me that perhaps other creatures had a right to live on their own terms.