Exmoor Wildlife Newsletter

 April 2015

Edition 8

In This Issue
Exmoor Wildlife Research and Monitoring Framework
Wildlife Interpretation
New Ecologists Project
Wild Watch
Training Opportunities for Wildlife Volunteers
Moorland Breeding Bird Survey
Exmoor Shoresearch Project
Ecological Monitoring of Hawkcombe Woods
Exmoor Knotweed Control Project
Make the Small Things Count
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Welcome to the new Exmoor Wildlife Newsletter


This is the first edition as an e-newsletter, which brings you up to date with action to understand, promote and conserve Exmoor's special wildlife.


This year has seen exciting progress towards achieving the National Park's nature conservation goals. These goals are set out in the Exmoor Partnership Plan (2012-2017), with a real emphasis on working together to protect and enhance Exmoor for everyone. Representatives from conservation organisations and landowners meet twice per year as the Exmoor Nature Conservation Advisory Panel, to oversee and help deliver the wildlife goals and tackle any issues.


Progress over the past year is reflected in the wide range of articles in this e-newsletter, involving the work of many partners, from the development of a Wildlife Research and Monitoring Framework, action for individual species, to a range of public engagement activities that have enabled the public to get involved in action to help conserve Exmoor's wildlife.


We welcome any comments, suggestions or articles for future editions of the newsletter!

Helen Booker, RSPB

Chair of the Exmoor Nature Conservation Advisory Panel

Exmoor Wildlife Research and Monitoring Framework
Ali Hawkins, ENPA

The Exmoor Wildlife Research and Monitoring Framework, which has been developed by a sub-group of the Exmoor Nature Conservation Advisory Panel, provides a strategic outline of wildlife research priorities until 2020. It includes an audit of current survey, monitoring and research being undertaken on Exmoor. In collaboration with local wildlife specialists it has developed lists of Exmoor Priority Species and Habitats, the aim of which is to identify those species and habitats on Exmoor of national or international biodiversity importance, populations that have reduced to levels of serious concern, and/or which would achieve most for biodiversity conservation if targeted for local action.


The framework sets out priorities for future action on survey, research and monitoring and is organised according to key habitats with additional sections on invasive species and data management and dissemination. The progress of these actions will be reviewed annually by the Exmoor Nature Conservation Advisory Panel.


The Framework is aimed at anyone interested in helping to record information about Exmoor's wildlife including natural history recording groups, conservation bodies, universities and other academic institutions, landowners and interested members of the public. It is hoped that the development and promotion of the Framework will help further develop a robust science base to underpin the management of Exmoor's wildlife.  


Wildlife Interpretation
Bea Davis, ENPA

Since the publication of the last edition of Exmoor's Wildlife, staff at Exmoor National Park Authority have been busy producing new wildlife interpretation material. This has included a series of pocket guides covering a range of topics, from Exmoor's wildlife through the seasons to the butterflies of the National Park. These guides can be downloaded from the ENPA website. More wildlife pocket guides are planned for the next few years.

The refurbishment of the National Park Centre at Dunster involved the production of a series of beautiful paintings showing some of the most important and exciting species found within the key habitats of the National Park. These fabulous paintings are available free from National Park Centres.

New Ecologists Project
  David Rolls, Heart of Exmoor Project





Exmoor's amazing wildlife and wild places have given inspiration and joy to generations, yet the very remoteness that makes Exmoor so special means we do not have a full understanding of the wildlife that lives here. The New Ecologists Project works with many wildlife experts to provide an exciting programme of workshops and events so that we can all add to our knowledge of Exmoor's wildlife.


2014 saw more than 30 events with over 2000 participants through the New Ecologists Project. 2015 also sees a wonderful range of wildlife events on Exmoor. An undoubted highlight will be Bogtastic on Wednesday 29th July at Simonsbath. To see the full range of events please click here.


There are lots of wildlife ideas and free activities for schools of course through the Moorland Classroom. Indeed, 6000 students have now engaged with these free resources.


And finally, are you involved in a wildlife or conservation group? If so we would we would love to hear from you and work with you on Exmoor. Thanks to our funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Exmoor National Park, through the New Ecologists Project, we can provide a small amount of funding for resources etc to help make this happen. To find out more please contact David Rolls on 07875 565823 or email DRolls@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk 


Wild Watch
Ali Hawkins, ENPA

Our Exmoor Wild Watch Survey which was launched in early 2014 has had an amazing response and sightings over the last year have given us an invaluable snapshot of the status of 10 key species which we wanted to know more about.  For example, over the last few years there have been very few reported sightings of brown hare on Exmoor, but the data has given us a fascinating insight into their present distribution with over 58 records being submitted. 


Top of all the sightings is the cuckoo where we had over 120 records with the earliest recording being on 15th April. A bird of concern is the kingfisher as we only had 14 sightings throughout the year. Could this precious bird be a victim of the flooding of recent years? 


We had 50 reptile records mainly from moorland areas and 45 records for the comma butterfly. New sites for important waxcap fungi have also been discovered which highlights the importance of Exmoor's traditional grasslands.


Wild Watch has recently been launched again for 2015 and whilst we have included some of the same species from last year where we are still keen to learn more, we have chosen some new species including kestrel, red kite, hedgehog, string-of-sausages lichen, green hairstreak butterfly, green tiger beetle and red wood ant. We are hopeful that we will break last year's record this year so please go to the ENPA website to submit your records. 


Training Opportunities for Wildlife Volunteers 
Bea Davis, ENPA
Over the last few years staff at Exmoor National Park Authority have been working in partnership with many organisations to deliver a programme of wildlife training events for volunteers.
This began with a pilot project in 2013 during which time 21 training events were held which were attended by over 400 people. This pilot was subsequently taken forward as part of the New Ecologists Project in 2014, again with over 400 people participating in the free training workshops. During 2013 and 2014 the training programmes included a mix of one-off 'taster' events and specific survey training events, designed to help volunteers take part in future surveys for species such as otters and dormice.
The training programme for 2015 is now available, with events ranging from wildflower and winter tree identification, to otter and nightjar surveys. Some of these events have been run in previous years while some are new events for 2015, which will cover subjects including hedgehogs, bees and beetles. This year's events are set to be very popular; indeed the first training event of 2015, a lichen training day which took place at the end of February, was fully booked within 48 hours of advertising. Where possible popular events will be repeated. 
Full details of the 2015 training programme and instructions on how to reserve your place can be found on the ENPA website.
Moorland Breeding Bird Survey 
Helen Booker, RSPB

The Exmoor moorland breeding bird survey has been undertaken periodically since the late 1970s, providing valuable information on the status of bird species and the moorland habitats they rely on. The survey in 2014 was conducted by the RSPB with funding from ENPA, NE and SWW.

Linnet (RSPB images)


The headlines are that of the 27 target bird species, 14 increased and 9 decreased in abundance since the previous survey in 2014. Lapwing, red grouse and ring ouzel were not recorded on Exmoor in 2014. Dipper, grey wagtail, linnet, reed bunting, stonechat and snipe continued their population increases found during 1992-93 to 2008, while moorland specialists curlew and wheatear, and also kestrel, continued their population decreases.


Visual assessments of habitat suggested there were increases in the cover of short (0-5 cm), and short-medium (6-15 cm) vegetation, purple moor grass and other grassland, medium and large grass tussocks, bracken and rushes. However, the cover of tall (30+ cm) vegetation, heather, gorse and scrub deceased. Increases in the extent of burnt ground cover, tracks, footpaths, bridleways, walls, fences and grazing pressure indicated a potential increasing influence of humans and stock animals on Exmoor during 2008-14.  


Estimated increases in the cover of short and short-medium vegetation were associated with increases in meadow pipit, skylark and willow warbler. Decreases in Dartford warbler, stonechat and whitethroat were associated with areas where short vegetation cover increased. Grasshopper warbler, linnet and lesser redpoll increased in areas where tall vegetation cover had increased.


Willow warbler and whitethroat (RSPB images)

Reed bunting increased in areas where ground wetness had increased, whereas skylark numbers decreased in such areas. Decreases in Dartford warbler, stonechat and whitethroat were associated with higher altitudes, with snipe, tree pipit and yellowhammer increasing at higher altitudes. Whinchat increased on south-facing slopes and in areas with the greatest variation in slope, and decreased in areas with increasing gorse cover.


Of particular importance and interest is that in comparison with UK-wide trends passerine (song bird) species tend to be faring much better on Exmoor than in the UK as a whole. Several passerines largely associated with lowland agricultural areas have likely been displaced from these habitats by increased agricultural intensification and/or habitat loss. The maintenance of semi-natural habitats such as Exmoor moorland may well be providing important refuges for these species, both now and in the future.


Shoresearch Exmoor - exploring Exmoor's seashore wildlife
Richard White, Devon Wildlife Trust

Volunteers from Devon and Somerset Wildlife Trusts went down to the sea last summer to explore the seashore life of Exmoor. In the first season of a two-year project funded through the Exmoor National Park Partnership Fund, eight beaches were surveyed using the Shoresearch framework developed by The Wildlife Trusts.


Public survey events gave interested people the opportunity to take part in timed species surveys for key marine species. No previous knowledge of the marine environment or survey techniques was required, just enthusiasm! All eight sites were also surveyed by trained volunteers, using transects and quadrats to gain a more detailed picture.


This first year has helped iron out some wrinkles in the methods used. Devon surveys focus on a small list of indicator species, chosen to reflect a range of possible pressures. In 2015 we will be carrying out more comprehensive species surveys to provide a background context for the detailed indicator data.


But the long-term future of the project depends on local people taking up the survey challenge and an important part of our work this coming year will be to seek out keen residents who can continue this important work.


Ecological Monitoring of Hawkcombe Woods
Caroline Giddens, Exmoor Natural History Society

Exmoor Natural History Society agreed to undertake a wildlife survey in Hawkcombe Woods, Porlock as their contribution to the Exmoor Partnership Plan 2012-17. Previously ENHS had conducted botanical surveys and nest box monitoring here but no attempt had been made on an overall survey. The scheme was therefore considered to be an exercise which should prove useful to both ENHS and ENPA.


Some work sheets were drawn up by ENPA for recording data in five coppice plots and at eighteen permanent monitoring points. These were distributed to Society volunteers and other members were invited to join in and help with recording plants and animals. In addition the Society organized a moth trap, a fungus foray, and a general walk. Wood ant nests, butterflies, ferns, mammals and water life were scrutinized and a dawn chorus walk (culminating with breakfast at Luckbarrow) took place.


Since 1989 the Society has monitored 24 bird nest boxes in the woodlands. These were aimed at increasing the number of breeding pied flycatchers. The Society had also conducted various botanical surveys in the woodlands. A full account of this work was included in the final report which was handed in to ENPA in November 2014.


Although we have now drawn this particular study to a close, ENHS hope to continue their normal recording work, including the monitoring of nest boxes and will advise ENPA of any future interesting finds at Hawkcombe.


Exmoor Knotweed Control Project
Ali Hawkins, ENPA

The Exmoor Knotweed Control Project, which has been running for over 10 years, has had a major impact on reducing the spread and extent of knotweed on Exmoor, particularly on important river systems such as the Exe, Barle and Lyn. The project is a successful partnership between the Environment Agency, Natural England, the National Trust and Exmoor National Park Authority.


Over 1000 knotweed sites on Exmoor have been recorded covering an area approximately the size of 8 Wembley football pitches. Thankfully annual treatment means that on over 70% of these sites knotweed is now reducing in vigour or is no longer apparent. Treatment of knotweed involves a programme of spraying with a suitable herbicide in early autumn when the herbicide most affects the extensive rhizome system. The project is unable to treat organic sites at present but is looking into potential effective methods.


To date the project has been able to offer free treatment of all sites, the location of which includes gardens, riverbanks, hedgerows and woodlands. Certainly without the work of the Exmoor Knotweed Control Project, Exmoor's beautiful natural river systems would look very different today being choked by this incredibly vigorous and unwanted plant which has the ability to spread at a phenomenal rate.


For further information on the Exmoor Knotweed Control Project, please contact Ali Hawkins at the National Park Authority on 01398 322282 or ahawkins@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk 


Make the Small Things Count
Rachel Jones, Plantlife

Exmoor's woodlands are so teeming with wildlife that it can be hard to take it all in. Plantlife's Make the Small Things Count project has been inviting members of the public and land managers to pause for a moment and take a really close look at some of the more unassuming but none the less fascinating of woodland dwellers; the lichens.


Through the project land managers from Exmoor have been meeting with colleagues from across the South West in order to learn more about lichens and consider how they can work to conserve some of the rare lichens that inhabit Exmoor's woodlands.


Trained volunteers have been working with the public to share knowledge with local people and visitors that helps them to see the woods in a whole new light. Schools have been using a learning resource designed to get children out into the woods to carry out scientific investigations. A group of lichen apprentices are being trained in lichen identification by our colleagues at the British Lichen Society in order that they can contribute to lichen recording in the region in the future.


The project has just been awarded the 'Park Protectors Award' from the Campaign for National Parks in recognition of the work we are doing with partners such as Exmoor National Park to conserve lower plants and help more people to learn about them.  

We hope you have enjoyed our first e-newsletter. For more information about any of the projects mentioned above, or to let us know how you found this newsletter, please email bdavis@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk.


Bea Davis & Ali Hawkins

Conservation Officers (Wildlife)
Exmoor National Park Authority