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.]

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OpenLearn – free courses from the Open University

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[… mutters usual apology about lack of blogging for ages …]

I’ve been delving in to the huge range of OpenLearn courses that the Open University makes available for anyone to try for free – that is, for no money whatsoever! There’s quite a range of topics available, at various levels. They’re done on-line, and you don’t get any points or qualifications from doing them, but they provide an excellent way of getting an idea of what OU study is like, as well as being a fantastic source of information.

You can browse from the main subject areas, or see the full list of courses. Here are a few that caught my eye from the perspective of wildlife, conservation and computing:

Science and nature

Computers

If you enjoy any of these, and would like to go on to do an assessed course, have a look at Neighbourhood Nature – okay, I’m a bit biased as this is the course that links to the iSpot project, but it really is a good course if you’re looking for an introduction to studying wildlife.

iSpot – helping people learn about wildlife

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iSpot was launched last summer: “iSpot is the place to learn more about wildlife and to share your interest with a friendly community. Take a look at the latest spots, start your own album of observations, join a group and get help identifying what you have seen.”

iSpot has been developed by the Open University as part of the Open Air Laboratories project (OPAL), with funding from the Big Lottery Fund. I’ve been part of the team working on it for the last year or so.

Here’s an introduction to what iSpot is all about:

So far we have over 1,000 registered users on the site, including a healthy mix of beginners and more experienced naturalists, all busy helping each other identify what they’ve seen. One thing we’re trying to encourage on the site is for people to explain why a species is that particular species, not just give its name. Of course, not all species can be identified from photos or descriptions, and the site allows this to be shown clearly where necessary.

Several national and local recording schemes have representatives active on the site, and they are being ‘badged’ with a logo next to their user name so that every time they are active on the site a link is given back to their society’s website. If you’re involved with a recording scheme or society and would like to find out more about this please do contact iSpot.

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.