Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The 2013 Garden Bioblitz, #GBB13

On the weekend of the 1-2 June 2013, hordes of people all over the UK went out into their gardens and scoured them for wildlife - birds in the trees, ants in the lawn, bees on flowers, the trees and flowers themselves were all spotted and logged. Two weeks after the event, 495 people have submitted 22,632 records of 2,424 taxa, 1,743 of which have been identified to species.  On average, each and every recorder submitted 46 sightings - an amazing effort from everyone! 

The reason for this burst of activity? The first national Garden Bioblitz!

With 29 million trees and 5 million bird boxes in 23 million gardens across Britain, there's a lot of private habitat tucked away nationwide. While hedges and fences parcel up the area in human terms, they're a trifling obstacle to most (although not all) wildlife - birds, butterflies and the like can happily soar or flutter up and down entire streets or more, taking advantage of the fragmented mosaic of different plantings. At the small end of the scale, springtails and snails may never reach the distant hedges, and scrubby corners of the lawn can host entire populations, undisturbed by the outside world.  Although the more obvious wildlife - the deer, otters, peregrine falcons – may be more often associated with wilder areas, they can all appear in gardens if you look at the right time, and smaller species – butterflies & bees, frogs and toads – are year-round residents.  Once you start looking – and especially if you have a pond, or leave an outside light on – you’ll be amazed by the diversity of life living alongside you.

As digital cameras get better and cheaper, more people are using them to take pictures of the weird and wonderful wildlife around them, and getting sucked into natural history.  Luckily, with the rise of the internet, more ID resources - keys, photo galleries, discussion threads - are more widely available now than ever before (self-serving plug: check out my previous blog post for a list of what's where!), and more experts are easily contactable to check what you've found.

The most important thing you can do with your sighting is to record it, and turn your sighting into a biological record.  These records build into data, which can be used in myriad different ways - scientifically, to indicate the general health of the countryside, to determine the effects of an invasive species on native populations, or just to prove that this particular field is a wildlife haven that shouldn't be built on.  None of it is possible unless you write down what you've seen and when!

Garden wildlife refuges, biological recording and the internet come together in the form of the Garden Bioblitz, the brainchild of Liz Shaw and brought to life by Liz, John van Breda, Jane Adams, Ryan Clark & myself. After a small trial event in 2012, 2013 was the first national event - even BBC TV's Springwatch got involved!

A huge range of wildlife was encapsulated in the 1,743 species identified to date. Plants were the biggest group (687 species), possibly reflecting the uncertain weather (and the comparative ease of working on something that doesn't fly off as soon as it sees you!), but insects were close behind on 605. Birds didn't quite reach three figures, ending on 92.

Taxon Group Species
Plants 687
Insects 605
Other inverts 185
Birds 92
Lichens 50
Fungi 49
Mosses and liverworts 35
Mammals 27
Amphibians and reptiles 8
Fish 4
Bacteria 1

Within the insects, moths came out best, on 159 species. Almost half the UK's butterflies were seen, while more exotic creatures like scorpionflies also put in an appearance.  It was striking how few bees, moths, and particularly ladybirds were seen, despite many people looking out for them specially - last year's washout summer and a long, cold winter, on top of the existing long-term declines, seem to have done nasty things to the populations of these most charismatic insects.

Insect group Species
Moths 159
Beetles 124
Flies 97
Bugs 77
Bees, wasps & ants 71
Butterflies 25
Springtails 18
Dragonflies and damselflies 9
Barkflies 5
Lacewings 5
Earwigs 3
Fleas 3
Grasshoppers and crickets 3
Mayflies 2
Bristletails 1
Scorpionflies 1
Silverfish 1
Stoneflies 1

David Fenwick's Penzance garden was particularly striking, a 10-metre by 10-metre square producing 189 species, including a springtail and flatworm currently unnamed by science, and another half-dozen flatworm species more at home in Australia than Cornwall - clearly an amazing site! 

After rushing around Cornwall to bioblitz three separate gardens, Sally Luker spotted just under 300 species, and several people made it over the 200-species barrier. Natural history is alive and well in modern Britain!

With a virtually non-stop 24-hours of searching and then identifying, I managed to find 301 species (and lose a lot of sleep!). Loads of species new to me for the year, even a couple of species I've never seen before, despite having spent a lot of time poking around the garden in the three years I've been in the same house - just shows how much there is to see once you start looking properly!  My personal favourite sighting of the weekend was a tiny ladybird, Scymnus interruptus - there's fewer than 20 sightings in the national database for this 2mm-long, black-and-red species, but it seems to be on the increase over the last couple of years.  

Elsewhere, there were garden Pine Martens (Martes martes) in Scotland, a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) in Norwich, and six records of Ravens (Corvus corax).  Roe (Capreolus capreolus), Fallow (Dama dama) and Muntjac Deer (Muntiacus reevesi) all made appearances, along with the bright pink Rosy Woodlouse (Androniscus dentiger) and yellow Brimstone moth (Opisthograptis luteola).  

Maybugs (Melolontha melolontha) were spotted bumbling around lights; cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) were spotted on, then removed from, pet cats.  For the full list and more, check out the Garden BioBlitz info centre.

Same time next year? :)

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