Exmoor Wildlife Newsletter

 November 2015

Edition 9

In This Issue
Exmoor Wildlife Forum
Wild Watch
New Ecologists Training Events
River Barle Signal Cryafish Survey
Exmoor Otter Survey 2015
Bogtastic 2015
Moorland Butterfly Project Receives Funding Boost
Exmoor Mires Project
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Welcome to the Exmoor Wildlife Newsletter

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

As ever there has been a tremendous amount of activity over the past year involving increasing amounts of people. In particular, the Heart of Exmoor New Ecologist's Project has engaged local people and visitors in recording some of Exmoor's more elusive or scarcer wildlife, and has considerably added to knowledge of the numbers and distribution of these species. Also in this edition, read about the great work to tackle the invasive signal crayfish, survey otters, conserve threatened butterflies and restore, survey and celebrate the important mires. To bring it all together, the first ever Exmoor Wildlife Forum event in October highlighted the range of work, successes and enthusiasm for wildlife on Exmoor.  Read on to find out more...
 
Helen Booker, RSPB
Chair of the Exmoor Nature Conservation Advisory Panel
Exmoor Wildlife Forum
Bea Davis, Exmoor National Park Authority
 
  
Eighty people gathered in Dulverton Town Hall at the end of last month to celebrate the wonderful wildlife of Exmoor and the work of the numerous volunteers and organisations who help to safeguard it. It was clear right from the outset that the work of the organisations present (including Exmoor National Park Authority, RSPB, Devon Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation) has been considerably enhanced by the invaluable contribution of a dedicated network of volunteers and by working together in partnership.
 
The event also celebrated the success of the New Ecologists project, a two year project which comes to an end next month. The New Ecologists project has helped to reach nearly 5,000 individuals through a programme of training and family-friendly events spanning the last two years. In addition the project has developed a series of resources for schools and engaged with over 900 school children.
 
The Exmoor Wildlife Forum and the New Ecologists Project received generous support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Exmoor National Park Authority through the Heart of Exmoor scheme.
 
Wild Watch
David Rolls, Heart of Exmoor Project

A huge thank you to everyone. There have now been 333 sightings of our twelve key species in the year to date so we are knocking on the door of the 2014 total of 348. Many of the records are from people who we had not previously engaged and who have gone on to participate in one of the many wildlife events on Exmoor.
 
Each of these records are vital in helping us all have a better understanding of the wildlife in the National Park . The data are currently being analysed. Here is a snippet. There have now been over 30 reported sightings of hedgehogs within the National Park which is fantastic. The geographical spread is most intriguing with sightings of hedgehogs up on moorland areas such as Blackpitts and Winsford Hill as well as in Dulverton, Withypool, Winsford, Bossington and Exford. However, the best location to date must go to 'in my tent at Westermill Farm'.
 
Victoria Hillman, Secret World
 
The number of red kites sightings now exceeds 30. The timings of these sightings has been fascinating. The first red kite was spotted in March, six in April, a similar number in May, peaking with 10 in June, but not a single sighting since! It is particularly positive that a pair of birds of have been seen on a number of occasions; are they breeding on Exmoor?
 
Please do keep the all the records coming for all the Exmoor Wild Watch species - kestrel, string of sausages lichen, brown hare, waxcap fungi and wood ant nests, green tiger beetle, green hairstreak butterfly, hedgehogs, red kites, kingfishers emperor moth and caterpillar. Simply go online to the Exmoor Wild Watch page. Exmoor Wild Watch is  h osted by Exmoor National Park Authority through the Heart of Exmoor Scheme.  
New Ecologists Training Events
David Rolls, Heart of Exmoor Project
  
Bats, bees and beetles have been just some of the topics of the free New Ecologist Training Programme. Over 500 people have participated in more than 50 workshops over the course of the last two years, many of them going to undertake vital survey work. A huge thank you to everyone who has provided their expertise, venues and equipment free of charge to make these events happen. We are particularly grateful to the all the various wildlife groups, such as the Somerset Otter Group, Devon Bat Group and Riverfly Monitors who have delivered visits, training sessions and events with us. 
 
We would love to see even more groups here in 2016 so please don't hesitate to contact Ali Hawkins with ideas and proposal for future events; we are currently putting our programme for 2016 together.   The training coordination is financially supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and Exmoor National Park Partnership Fund through the Heart of Exmoor Scheme. 
 
River Barle Signal Cryafish Survey
Nicky Green

This summer as many as 40 local volunteers have been helping with the River Barle Crayfish Project, a trial of a new invasive crayfish control technique. The project is innovative as the technique, male sterilisation, has never been trialled in the field in the UK before.
 
Volunteers spent up to two days each week trapping invasive signal crayfish on a 1.5km stretch of the Barle in the Withypool area. Between early May and the end of October a total of 2,848 crayfish were caught and humanely despatched whilst 427 large 'dominant' males were sterilised and returned to the river.   Large males dominate breeding activity and suppress the actions of smaller animals. By returning sterilised males to the river they will continue to mate but fail to produce offspring, resulting in a reduction in juvenile recruitment. This, combined with intensive trapping, is hoped to cause a drastic decline in crayfish numbers. If successful this method could be used to control invasive crayfish across the country, even the world!

Trapping will run for three years and volunteers are needed to continue the work in 2016 and 2017. Volunteers are key to the project, especially local people with an interest in the river. If the method is successful, we hope the project can be continued over the long term by local people.  

Exmoor Otter Survey 2015
Jo Pearse, Somerset Otter Group
  
As in previous years, in April 2015 the Somerset Otter Group worked alongside Exmoor National Park Authority to survey both the Devon and Somerset sides of the National Park over two days. All the major rivers were surveyed and many of the tributaries.
 
The survey revealed that much of the waterways are used at some point by an otter, with 75% of those surveyed showing some recent activity. The point of repeating the survey on a second day is to provide an insight into how many territories can be located by recording only evidence of an overnight visit. By adjudicating this information an estimate of 19 otter ranges across Exmoor were located.
 
Signs of cubs were found in one location and, in another, a holt was identified. A used mink den was also found by one surveyor, but this was the only report of mink. Eight reports of dipper sightings, one kingfisher and two little egrets noted. Other surveyors reported deer, heron, moorhens, a grey wagtail and rat droppings. At one site there was also an uncovered (and therefore illegal) Fenn trap. One lucky person watched a water vole in the East Lyn catchment.
 
In 2016 the survey will be held on the 23rd and 24th April.
 
Bogtastic 2015
David Rolls, Heart of Exmoor Project
  
Bogtastic is a celebration of fun and learning about Exmoor's amazing bogs, wildlife and heritage. This year's event saw literally hundreds of people of all ages enjoying the activities based in and around Simonsbath.
 
  The many highlights included Bog Safaris, live bats, crayfish, hedgehogs and barn owls. We even made BBC news! A huge thank you to all the wildlife groups and volunteers who came and exhibited all their amazing work.  

It was great to see so many people out enjoying Exmoor's wonderful wildlife and heritage. Thank you to all the event sponsors, especially, Exmoor National Park, South West Water and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Public donations to the event raised over £600!

The proposed date for next year is Tuesday July 26th. Check out the facebook page  for updates and the National Park webpage for details. To book your place please contact David Rolls.
Moorland Butterfly Project Receives Funding Boost
Simon Phelps, Butterfly Conservation

A project to protect the south west's threatened moorland butterflies and moths has received support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The 'All the Moor Butterflies' scheme, run by Butterfly Conservation, will operate across the region's three major moorland landscapes - Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor. Much of the UK's most important moorland mosaics occur in South West England and it is here that many threatened butterflies and moths have suffered the most severe declines.
 
Butterfly Conservation are currently developing plans for the full 3 year project, which will focus on two of Exmoor's most beautiful landscapes. The Holnicote Estate and Heddon Valley (both managed by the National Trust) are vital strongholds for two of our rarest butterflies; the heath fritillary and the high brown fritillary. The project will work with landowners to help them manage their land for these species, as well as the other targets; dark green fritillary, small pearl bordered fritillary, pearl bordered fritillary, marsh fritillary and narrow bordered bee hawkmoth.
 
Heath fritillary (Jim Asher)

High brown fritillary (Peter Eeles)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
There will be considerable opportunities for people to get involved in the project, from events such as guided walks and practical work parties, right through to attending training in how to survey the butterflies. The project will work with schools and community groups to help people discover and learn about these fantastic species, as well as exploring these wonderful landscapes.
 
Butterfly Conservation would like to hear from you, to aid them in the development of this exciting project. If you are from a school, college, youth group or community group, or an interested member of the public, please do get in touch. You can contact Simon Phelps, the All the Moor Butterflies project development officer, on 01823 690514 or  sphelps@butterfly-conservation.org
Exmoor Mires Project
Morag Angus, South West Water
Over the period from 2010-2015 the project has been continuing its extensive programme of survey, monitoring and research aimed at understanding the effects of restoration of the blanket mires on Exmoor. Some of the preliminary findings are:

Water:
University of Exeter research and monitoring of water quality and eco-hydrological changes has demonstrated within the Spooners monitoring catchment an increased water storage (30% more and an increase in water table on average of 2.2cm) and some water quality improvements following restoration. The Environment Agency has been monitoring the effect of restoration on base flow using the Brushford gauging station as the down-stream comparison to the restoration site micro catchments. Spooners catchment shows base flow has increased.
 
Green House Gases:
University of Bristol research has shown restored mires have started emitting small amounts of methane and that methane emissions are greater where the water table is higher (i.e. 10cm below the ground surface).
University of Exeter research shows drained purple moor grass dominated bog is the most likely carbon source. The effect of restoration on carbon dioxide fluxes still requires more data.
 
Vegetation:
Research by First Ecology, Project Staff & volunteers covering 16 years of vegetation monitoring at 35 sites across Exmoor has shown that 5 out of the 7 earliest restoration sites have changed from purple moor grass dominated areas before restoration to significantly improved mire vegetation following restoration works.
 
 
 
Wildlife:
David Boyce Consultancy research on the aquatic and terrestrial invertebrate fauna of Exmoor's mires has seen species richness at 5 out of 6 sites increase in response to restoration between 2009 and 2014 . Rare species such as the Haworth's Minor moth have now been found at restored sites such as Blackpitts.
 
Farming:
University of Exeter research using time-lapse photographic monitoring of livestock movements on Aclands revealed restoration did not have any negative impacts on the size of the area grazed by cattle as the purple moor grass dominated areas most effected by restoration were rarely used by livestock. No change was detected in the levels of harmful tick and liver flukes following restoration.
 
Over the next funding period (2015-2020) the project aims to continue this research in order to get a longer term understanding of peatland restoration on Exmoor.

We hope you have enjoyed our second 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.

Best wishes,
  

Bea Davis & Ali Hawkins

Wildlife Conservation Officers
Exmoor National Park Authority