In search of small things

Macclesfield Express - - YOUR PICTURES - SARAH ROE

IT’S sum­mer­time on our cy­cle paths and across the coun­try we’ve been hand­ing out nets and poot­ers – prim­i­tive, snorkel-type de­vices which help us pick up the tini­est of in­ver­te­brates and record them.

But­ter­flies and bees are the pea­cocks of the in­sect world, flut­ter­ing their vi­brant plumage through the trees, but in­sects have a sub­tler beauty which re­quire real at­ten­tion to de­tail.

With a pooter (a jam jar with two pipes) vol­un­teers can suck the small­est flies or grubs from a leaf or piece of bark into the vac­uum of the jar, with­out swal­low­ing them, and ap­pre­ci­ate the fine de­tail of an ear­wig, a leaf hop­per or a wee­vil.

Vol­un­teers are the back­bone of a na­tional project to record the wildlife across traf­fic-free routes like the Fal­low­field Loop on Sus­trans’ Na­tional Cy­cle Net­work.

Ev­ery record of a liv­ing crea­ture helps to cre­ate a clearer pic­ture of the whole ecosys­tem of an area and tells us how we can fo­cus our ef­forts to at­tract even more wildlife in the fu­ture. In­sects are busy in the sum­mer so it’s a great time to record them and ob­serve the suc­cesses of var­i­ous man­age­ment tech­niques for grass­land and wood­land, car­ried out in au­tumn and win­ter.

On sev­eral sites Sus­trans vol­un­teers have been work­ing to en­cour­age the dis­tinc­tive Cinnabar Moth, a jet black dancer of a moth with bright red un­der­wings.

This day-flying species was once a stal­wart of English grass­lands and mead­ows but its main food is rag­wort, which is of­ten re­moved by farm­ers and horse own­ers as it’s poi­sonous to some an­i­mals. As a re­sult its num­bers have de­pleted con­sid­er­ably. By leav­ing the rag­wort to colonise nat­u­rally in grass­land Sus­trans hopes the Cinnabar Moth will soon be­come a reg­u­lar fea­ture of our cy­cle lanes.

Late sum­mer is a time for rak­ing the grass and cut­ting back chok­ing bram­bles and vig­or­ous hedges.

By re­duc­ing the com­pe­ti­tion from dense grass and un­der­growth which clogs the ground sur­face there is a bet­ter chance to cul­ti­vate a colour­ful meadow of wild pop­pies, but­ter­cups or prim­roses to bloom the fol­low­ing spring.

Cy­cle and walk­ing paths may be used by peo­ple by day, but at qui­eter times they are high­ways for na­ture too. Roads and build­ings can cut off an­i­mals like hedge­hogs, bad­gers and bee­tles from their for­ag­ing ground, which in some cases can be three miles away from where they live.

Lin­ear tracks with no mo­torised traf­fic can be a life­line for an­i­mals to find food, they stop colonies be­com­ing iso­lated and in­bred and help them move be­tween ter­ri­to­ries to adapt to chang­ing con­di­tions, such as dis­ease, fire or cli­mate change. Cy­clists and walk­ers also play their part in nat­u­ral distri­bu­tion, as seeds catch a ride on muddy tyres and on the soles of boots.

If you would like to help record wildlife on your lo­cal green­way please con­tact Abi­gail.pound@ sus­trans.org.uk or log your finds on http://www.brc. ac.uk/irecord/sus­transen­ter-record

Sus­trans is a na­tional charity which helps more peo­ple cy­cle, walk or use pub­lic trans­port for short jour­neys.

Find out more at www.sus­trans.org.uk

●» Sus­trans vol­un­teers help man­age the Fal­low­field Loop for na­ture

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