In search of small things
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