Towards the end of July 2018, Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Weeting Heath was invited to take part in Chris Packham’s UK BioBlitz. What follows is a summary of the day written by Weeting warden James Symonds.
“We may not have had quantity but we did have quality – two new Norfolk records’. Both Ascobolus crenulatus and Sporormiella lageniformis growing on rabbit dung were new for the county”
Tony Leech – Fungi specialist
Despite the scorching heat and what has felt like an endless drought this summer, the collective effort of all the recorders, volunteers and staff who took part in the Weeting Heath BioBlitz helped to make the day a great success. To date we have managed to identify and record over 753 species across the reserve, including a few new ones for the reserve and the county, between 1pm on the 22nd and 1pm on the 23rd of July. There are still a few more records to come in, such as some exciting bat data from the detectors we put out, so the final number should be near 800.
Specialists turn out in force
We had a fantastic turnout from our county recorders and experts with Peter Lambley covering Lichens, Alex Prendergast covering Flora, Tony Leech and Donna Welch covering Fungi, Nick Owens covering Bees, Mark and Luke Welch covering Diptera and some Hymenoptera, Helen Smith, Pip Collyer, Alan Thornhill and Joe Myers covering Spiders, Peter Lack, Phil Hassel and his partner Lesley covering Birds, Andy Musgrave and Family, and James Emerson covering a bit of all groups, and the hugely admirable Steve Lane and Andy Brown who covered absolutely everything else including a huge number of Coleoptera and Hemiptera, racking up more than 200 species between them (and all this after being up all night the previous day recording at a BENHS field meeting at Cranwich heath)!
From our bird recorders, Peter Lack, Phil Hassel and Lesley, our top highlights included stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) of course, spotted flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) with fledglings and a minimum of four turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur) calling, the most we have recorded from the reserve all year.
Of the flora recorded from across the reserve many Breckland specialities and nationally scarce or rare species were found including spiked speedwell (Veronica spicata), maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids), Spanish catchfly (Silene otites), and sand catchfly (Silene conica). But perhaps the most exciting plant records of the day came from our plant recorder Alex Prendergast; an expert in Bramble identification. Alex found at least eight species of Rubus growing on the reserve, one of which is new for Norfolk.
Nick Owens, county bee recorder, Mark Welch, a dipterists, and his son Luke, did a fantastic job of recording the Hymenoptera and Diptera, and found some excellent species on the day including the nationally scarce Oxybelus argentatus, a wasp which provisions the larvae in its burrow by bringing in Therevid flies impaled on its sting.
However, the real fly and bee drama was going on under our feet in the Carpark the whole time; our carpark cuckoos. Nick and Mark fascinated us all with the incredible relationship between our resident pantaloon bees (Dasypoda hirtipes) and their ‘Satellite’ fly (Miltogramma germari). The pantaloon bee provisions its larvae with pollen in its individual burrow, but the fly, a brood parasite, follows the bee everywhere (like a satellite in orbit), waiting for it to reveal the location of its burrow. Once the bee heads into its burrow the fly waits patiently until the bee emerges before nipping in to deposit its own larvae which consume the bee larvae along with the pollen provisions.
Our spider recording team Pip Collyer, Helen Smith, Alan Thornhill and Joe Myers did a sterling job of recording our eight-legged friends. I think we were all blown away by two of the spiders they found; the stunning wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi) and Neoscona Adianta, both new spider records for the reserve.
With the ongoing drought things looked a little bleak for turning up interesting Fungi records but Mycologist Dr Tony Leech had a cunning ‘Plan B’ for such an event. Several weeks before we had collected some dung from the heath that Tony had been kindly incubating in his airing cupboard to investigate what croprophilic fungi occurs at Weeting. Tony puts it best with “We may not have had quantity but we did have quality – two new Norfolk records’. Both Ascobolus crenulatus and Sporormiella lageniformis growing on rabbit dung were new for the county – not a bad a result for the hottest summer on record since ’76.”
As well as the rare and unusual records that came in on the day, some of the species that went unrecorded during the 24hr BioBlitz window are equally as interesting. Despite this being a particularly good year for butterflies with the warm weather this summer, nobody recorded small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae). Could they have gone into hibernation already? And finally, the ‘elephant in the room’; the biggest ‘dip’ of the day was rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Not a single rabbit was seen and recorded during the 24 hours! I think this is a somewhat fitting metaphor for conservation challenges that lie ahead in the Brecks, and the importance of not taking this rare, beautiful and unique habitat for granted.
On behalf of myself and Norfolk Wildlife Trust, I would like to say a huge thank you to all the recorders who gave up their free time to take part and generate such fantastic records, to all the volunteers and staff who committed to make the day run smoothly. Many thanks to Norfolk Wildlife Trust CEO Pamela Abbott for attending the day and championing Norfolk’s wildlife and the conservation work we do in the Brecks. Finally, thanks to Chris Packham and his team for choosing NWT Weeting Heath and helping to promote the wonderful and unique biodiversity of the Breckland.
The day wouldn’t have been possible without our wonderful volunteering team at Weeting Heath with Diane Ridgley accumulating the records on the day, Sandi Kneale making sure all our recorders were kept topped up with sun-cream and water on such a hot day. Julia and Richard Symonds who supplied the home-made cakes, and Kevin Folan, David Bird and Sandra Walmsley who kept everything and everyone coordinated and happy on the day. Centre Co-ordinator, Fay Jones, kept me sane and helped me to coordinate and organise the BioBlitz.
Thanks also to Allan Archer, our volunteer cameraman and photographer who captured the magic of the day for us. For myself it was very humbling being around such knowledgeable and enthusiastic natural historians and I’m very grateful to Allan for capturing your passion on film.
With thanks to James Symonds both for the article and for the invite to a brilliant event.
A very important date for your diary.
Sat, 22nd September
Join Chris Packham for the People’s Walk for Wildlife
“Your wildlife needs you – more than ever!”