In this wettest of Februaries we watch impatiently for signs of Spring. And as we spot the emergence of each new bud and shoot, we find ourselves wondering: when, in the preceding year, did the first snowdrops open, or the leaves on the ash trees begin to unfurl? Are they earlier or later this year than last?
Something about the changing seasons urges us to chart these little episodes in nature’s calendar as they occur.
As the years roll on in their familiar pattern, with spring following winter, and summer following spring, we know more or less when to anticipate the appearance of each living thing; but the precise timing of these arrivals shifts from year to year. And so we watch for the inhabitants of our gardens, fields, woodlands and hedgerows (our beaches and seas too) with eagerness; noting their arrivals, their numbers, their movements and departures, as markers throughout the year.
Nature notes and diaries provide interesting comparisons. A favourite of mine is Edith Holden’s Nature Notes for 1906, published in 1977 as The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. Holden’s seasonal observations of flora and fauna were made just three years after the House at Nab End was built, and so I like to try to imagine what natural wonders each month here would have yielded in that same year.
Today, our observations can be hugely beneficial to wildlife organisations, many of which are eager to harness the enthusiasm of volunteers to record sightings of plants, animals and insects. Armed with this knowledge – of what species occur where and when – they are better able to monitor the state of the nation’s wildlife and to ascertain the overall health of the natural world.
For us, the participants, the surveys offer an excuse to set aside time to study our surroundings. They encourage us to appreciate the little things around us that so often go unnoticed or are taken for granted.
Last year I took part in two national surveys: Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count and the UK Ladybird Survey.
Harlequin ladybirds welcomed our arrival at the House at Nab End and have remained a constant feature ever since. You can see our loveliness of ladybirds here. With so many of these bright beetles congregating in and around the house I wanted to contribute their number to the nationwide picture of the spread of this invasive species that the survey is establishing.
In July, a sunny afternoon was spent in the garden looking for butterflies as part of the Big Butterfly Count. As well as contributing data to the survey of British butterflies, this was a great way to learn a few identification skills. The next count takes place between 19 July and 10 August 2014, so make a note in your diary and visit the Big Butterfly Count website here to find out how to join in.
This year, two more surveys have caught my eye: the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s BeeWalk and Plantlife’s Wildflowers Count. Both involve things that lie close to my heart, and so I have signed up to take part.
BeeWalk aims to monitor bumblebee populations and to detect signs of their declines. Volunteers walk a fixed route each month and record the bees that they see. To find out how to take part, visit the BeeWalk website at http://www.beewalk.org.uk/
Wildflowers Count monitors common wildflowers in an effort to see how healthy our countryside is. Volunteers note down the species they find whilst walking their wildflower path or monitoring a wildflower plot. You can find out more on the Plantlife website at http://www.plantlife.org.uk/things_to_do/wildflowers_count
There are many others too. For instance Hedgehog Street is asking people to record hedgehog sightings between now and 31 August to see whether there is a link between climate and when hedgehogs come out of hibernation. You can find out more here. Or help the Freshwater Habitats Trust to study the importance of garden ponds for our native amphibians by taking part in the Big Spawn Count. Visit the Trust’s website here to complete their easy online form.
I’d love to know if you are taking part in any wildlife surveys this year or if you keep a nature diary of your own.