Wall lizard – a true Jersey resident

By Nina Cornish

The common wall lizard Podarcis muralis is one of four species of reptile in Jersey with green lizard Lacerta bilineata, slow worm Anguis fragilis and grass snake Natrix helvetica. The green lizard and wall lizard are found nowhere else in the British Isles except for recently introduced populations of green lizards in Guernsey and England and around twenty separate introduced wall lizard colonies in the UK.

Wall lizards in Jersey live mainly in relatively small, fragmented populations around the east and north east coast, with some very small colonies found on the south coast. Their largest population is at Mont Orgueil Castle, St Martin.

Wall lizards are small and agile, with adults an average snout to vent length of 58.5mm but can grow up to 75 mm. They live for approximately 38 months in the wild and mate in April or May. Wall lizards are oviparous (produce young by means of eggs), with most females laying two clutches per year with an average of five eggs, typically in June and July under low growing vegetation exposed to sunshine. Adult males are the first to emerge from hibernation, generally in February, although unseasonably warm spells of weather can tempt them out in any of the winter months. The females tend to emerge later, usually in early March. In these early months the males become aggressive, chasing and fighting for territory and females.

 

Wall lizards exhibit tail autonomy, a function which allows the tail vertebrae to break by the lizard contracting it muscles in the tail. This is an important anti-predator mechanism in lacertid lizards, with tails being shed more easily in populations where levels of predation are high. In Jersey the wall lizards’ main predators are rats, certain birds like corvids and kestrels and domestic cats. The older an individual, the more likely it will have suffered the loss of its tail during its lifetime.

Wall lizard populations vary greatly in terms of colouring across their range, although males and females are do have different coloured patterns which allows identification in adults possible. Jersey female lizards can usually be identified as having pale back and side streaks, whereas males have more dark spots and blotches.  Both sexes have camouflage markings and coloration, on top of beige – olive coloured background, and with a lighter throat and belly, which can vary in colour from cream to bright orange, pink or red in males. Red throats and belly coloration are commonly observed in breeding males in Jersey.Habits

During the day, wall lizards constantly ‘shuttle’ between areas of light and shade, with the amount of time spent basking per day decreasing as the strength and duration of sunlight increases. As a result, in the early morning one can expect to see the most lizards as they emerge to bask, conversely the least at around midday when most are foraging or inactive in the shade.  Activity will then peak again in the late afternoon. Body temperature is regulated utilising this ‘shade mosaic’, i.e. the dappled light effect produced by partial vegetation cover. This means that an ideal situation in terms of vegetation cover would be partial cover in some areas, suitable for foraging and protection from predators with an adjacent area on which to bask and display social, sexual and territorial behaviour. 

 

Wall lizards spend much of the day foraging. In Jersey they feed mainly on Hemiptera (true bugs), Isopoda (woodlice), Hymenoptera (bees, ants etc), Arachneae (spiders), Dermaptera (earwigs), Orthoptera (grasshoppers), Lepidoptera larvae (caterpillars) and Annelids (earthworms). The type of prey varies between sites, not as a matter of preference, more of whatever types of invertebrates are prevalent at each location.

The story behind their distribution and origins

Wall lizards on Jersey are near the northern limit of their geographical range. The species has a wide distribution in continental Europe including France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and the Balkan region, with the northernmost limit of distribution being Maastricht in the Netherlands.

As the name suggests, the wall lizard is most often seen on vertical surfaces including cliffs, rock piles and walls and are especially associated with human habitations. The Jersey populations are typical of other northern European localities in that they are mainly restricted specifically to walls of houses, gardens, fortifications and castles and are widely used provided they are south-facing and have refuges like holes, piles of debris and some form of vegetation cover nearby. Outside the foraging home range of around 15-25 m2, sightings of wall lizard rapidly decrease from the exterior of the forts that they inhabit.

The distribution of wall lizards on Jersey has never really been explained. Despite some intensive local research, no-one has been able to prove why they have such a fragmented distribution or why they have not spread over the Island despite there being large areas of suitable habitat on the north and west coasts. Jersey’s wall lizard presence and distribution was first mentioned in Ansted & Latham’s 1865 The Channel Islands. It stated that wall lizards (although first mistaken for sand lizards), were comparatively rare and were limited to certain districts in the Island. By 1907, Sinel (Notes on the Lizards of the Channel Islands) recorded wall lizards from the cliff, rocks and walls off a thin coastal belt from the east to the north-east coast of Jersey (Le Sueur, 1976). Sinel (1908: The Reptilia, Batrachia, and Mammalia of the Channel Islands, their Origin and Modification by Isolation) also mentions a very interesting historic account concerning French prisoners being held in the Napoleonic forts after the Battle of Jersey (1781) when France attempted to invade Jersey. During this period French prisoners were imprisoned in the Napoleonic forts and it was suggested that they kept wall lizards as pets. Whether these were pets they bought with them or lizards they captured while being imprisoned is uncertain. Alternatively, colonisation could have occurred subsequent to Jersey becoming isolation via rafting (lizards hitching rides on natural materials blown out to sea) or the transportation of quarried granite, between France, Chausey and Jersey.  It has been documented that lizards in Jersey were part of a wider pet trade, with lizards being sent from Jersey to England as far back as 1761. Sinel stated in 1908 that ‘The Green lizard is becoming very scarce. This is partly due to the dealers, who have set a price upon its head’. Pyecraft (1927: Jade green lizards of Jersey) wrote ‘The wall lizard, in the locality where I found it, swarmed, but wild horses will not drag from me the place of its retreat, lest a demand be created for specimens.  The consequent exploitation by dealers could exterminate it in a single summer!’ By 1947, the pet trade in lizards had reached such proportions that the States of Jersey passed the Wildlife Protection (Jersey) Law 1947, which prohibited the buying, selling, exportation or killing of all reptiles and amphibians of Jersey, as a measure to control the roaring trade for these animals as pets destined for England.

In 1976, Frances Le Sueur published the first distribution map of wall lizards (included below) demonstrating their distribution to be substantially the same distribution as recorded by Sinel in 1907. Since 1976, the wall lizard has been recorded in an additional three-kilometre squares.

In 1988, Chris Perkins (1989: The biology and conservation of the green lizard and wall lizard in Jersey) carried out an Island survey of both wall and green lizards and in 1997, Rosie Smith (2000: Census of Jersey wall lizards Podarcis muralis and ecological correlates of distribution at fort sites in Jersey) studied their distribution and ecology. In 2008 the States of Jersey carried out a public survey to determine the distribution of green and wall lizards. Both St Aubin’s Fort and some very small populations in public and private gardens along the south coast were added to their known distribution. Presence in these areas is thought to be through accidental introductions carried out sometime in the 20th Century.

Distribution map 1965-2005

The lizards fragmented distribution could be partially due to Jersey being on the extreme edge of their distribution. Jersey’s wall lizards may only be able to utilise small areas of suitable habitat due to its northern range (Strijbosch et al. 1980) or their patchy and restricted distribution on the north-eastern, eastern and south coast could have been through introduction following the construction of these forts and towers.

To determine Jersey’s wall lizards’ origins and genetic fitness, a study was carried out to investigate the phylogeography and genetic structure of peripheral populations on Jersey (Channel Islands) and the French Chausey archipelago. In 2014, mitochondrial DNA (cytochrome b gene) from 200 individuals was sequenced to infer the phylogeography of the island populations using Bayesian approaches. In addition, 484 individuals from 21 populations at 10 polymorphic microsatellite loci were genotyped to evaluate the genetic structure and diversity of island and mainland (Western France) populations.

The data provided strong evidence that the wall lizard populations on Jersey and Chausey belong to a single origin. Furthermore, the analyses suggest that this mtDNA clade was isolated from mainland Europe for a long period of time and should be considered native. The origin of the wall lizards on Jersey and Chausey Islands appears to result from increasing sea levels 7,000 BP, isolating island populations from each other, creating independent population histories and hence divergence. It remains possible, however, that there has been occasional gene flow between islands. This could explain the presence of lizards on very small islets in the Chausey archipelago which are unlikely to be large enough to sustain populations for thousands of years independently. In addition, the presence of the most common haplotype (genetic ancestor) in mainland France appeared on the island of Chausey. This might provide evidence of occasional geneflow between mainland France and the islands via retention of ancestral genetic variation or a more recent introduction.

Anecdotal evidence also suggested that human mediated dispersal might be the most likely explanation for one of the four current locations in Jersey, the population on St. Aubin Fort. Although our mtDNA data revealed a different haplotype from other Jersey populations, the nucDNA clusters all Jersey populations together. This suggests that the source population was most likely animals from other Jersey populations and that the difference in haplotype represents a founder effect (the loss of genetic variation that occurs when a new population is established by a very small number of individuals from a larger population). Overall, these results confirm the suspected native status of Jersey and Chausey wall lizards. Thus, the lower genetic diversity of island populations compared to the mainland populations is expected given the lack of gene flow. This may have significant implication for the long-term persistence of the species on Jersey and Chausey Islands. However, since our data suggests the species have been present on the islands for thousands of years it might have already been subject to a severe genetic bottleneck. The species might also have undergone a substantial reduction in abundance more recently.

As this study clarified the native status of the wall lizard population on Jersey, it validates its current full protection status sunder the Conservation of Wildlife (Jersey) Law 2000 (as amended). The law prohibits the unlicensed taking, sale, keeping, injury and destruction of places for shelter (e.g. nest, dens or burrows) and disturbance of any resident animals. Given our results, it is important that Jerseys conservation planners recognise the wall lizard’s restricted distribution, vulnerability to future inbreeding depression, susceptibility to disease, predation and the island’s ever-increasing urban development when determining species management strategies. For instance, should the granite walls and ramparts of historic fortresses where lizards are at highest abundance be developed or destroyed, the population’s continued survival could be at risk. The lizard’s long-term conservation status will depend upon increasing habitat connectivity, especially via coastline protection, connecting their north-eastern and eastern coast populations on the island.

How they are doing?

The most current population estimates were made by Perkins (1988) and Smith (1997) at specific Jersey forts and towers. Due to their protection, restricted distribution and vulnerability there is a need to monitor populations. In 2007 the National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme (NARRS) was launched in Jersey by the States of Jersey Department of the Environment (now Natural Environment) as part of its integrated ecological monitoring programme. The scheme was developed by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) and has been run in partnership with Natural Environment and Jersey Amphibian and Reptile Group (JARG) over a 12-year period (2007-2018) to assess and detect changes in the conservation status of Jersey’s native amphibians and reptiles.

In 2019 12-years of NARRS data was analysed to determine changes in occupancy and distribution of Jersey’s native amphibians and reptiles. The result of these analyses determined wall lizard are still restricted to coastal localities. The scheme was not able to determine the wall lizard’s detectability due to their restricted distribution and during the 12-year survey period their occupancy on the island decreased.  Additional data was sourced from the Jersey Biodiversity Centre which showed occupancy to have remained stable. The restricted distribution combined with uninformative detection and occupancy results indicate NARRS is not well suited to monitoring wall lizards being better for more widespread species. As a result, the agile frog, grass snake and wall lizard, being rarer and / or more restricted in their distributions, require monitoring with separate surveys. Therefore, future monitoring should (i) apply survey methods specific to the species, (ii) focus on determining species occupancy status at known and suspected sites and (iii) aim to better understand the factors driving species occupancy and detection.

In 2019 new monitoring schemes were designed for amphibian and reptiles with robust and practical data collection in mind. Reptilewatch JE was created with the aim to detect changes in the conservation status of Jersey’s reptiles, through changes in occupancy (levels 1 and 2 surveys) and detect site-level population changes (level 3 surveys). Level 2 Wall Lizard Survey was created to specifically consider Jersey’s wall lizards’ restricted distribution.

 How can you help?

We are looking to recruit ‘Wild Volunteers’ to join our Reptilewatch JE team and search for wall lizards at known and suspected wall lizard sites. Wall lizard surveyors are required to carry out six surveys, between March and October, spending 30 minutes at each site visually searching (either walking or looking from a fixed vantage point). You will need training at one of our training events, but no previous experience is needed. Please contact wildaboutJersey@gov.je  or go to the Jersey Amphibian Reptile Group (JARG) Reptilewatch JE webpage for more information. There are opportunities for everyone to get involved, with three levels of surveys depending on your interest, available time and experience.

Download the report Phylogeography and conservation genetics of the common wall lizard, Podarcis muralis, on islands at its northern range here 

JBatS 2020 training and surveys

From WildAboutJersey 

The dates have been set for the 2020 training sessions and survey period!

The Jersey Bat Survey 2020 (JBats) is a pilot study for an island-wide citizen science scheme.  Each volunteer will get a detector to record bat echolocation calls throughout the survey period. Using the latest automated call recognition systems, data is extracted from these recordings which provides information towards the long-term monitoring of bats in Jersey.  This scheme is still in a pilot phase as we develop the scheme and links with the British Bat survey.

JBatS 2020 survey period: 1st -31st July

JBatS Training: Tuesday 23rd June 7pm

This year training will take place in your own home via Zoom !!

We will be providing some background to the project and an update on the progress we’ve made so far. We’ll also let you know how you can be involved with the 2020 fieldwork should you be interested. Even if you participated in the 2019 JBats surveys, we encourage you to join the training session. 

This year we can’t get together for a more traditional training event and practical field session but there will be a chance for volunteers to familiarise themselves with the equipment when they collect their kit pack. We will be arranging kit collections that meet Covid-19 guidance and physical distancing measures. So if you can’t make the training session online but would still like to get involved please do let us know. 

In 2020, the survey period is the month of July. We are asking volunteers to deploy an audiomoth detector at three different locations during the survey period. Deploying the detectors is quick and easy to do, and provides a great chance to explore the island!   

This year we are collaborating with the Bat Conservation Trust’s BBats project. The BCT BBats project will process a sample of the data we record this season to test a new system of providing feedback to volunteers. 

If you are interested please contact WildAboutJersey on wildaboutjersey@gov.je  You will receive a follow up email with more details of the event.

Jersey Great Garden Bat Watch coming to a garden near you 6-7th June

Pipistrellus nathusii photo taken under licence by Miranda Collett Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th June, 20:55 until 22:00

From Jersey Bat Group

Please join the Jersey Bat Group for the second Great Garden Bat Watch!

This event combines the joy of (hopefully!) watching bats with citizen science-based research that can help us better understand bats across Jersey.

The Group are particularly keen to receive sightings of bats from St Helier and other urban areas around the Island to help with their research into Jersey’s urban bat populations.

We are asking if you could look for bats on the 6th and 7th June, but please do feel free to use the form (below) to submit your bat sightings throughout the summer.

However: if you are submitting sightings on dates other than 6th and 7th June then, to get the right timings, please go to sunset times here and ensure that you are outside looking for bats at least 15 minutes before sunset. That way you will ensure you spot the first bats…though it may mean you wait up to 30 minutes before seeing your first one.

Les Augres Manor, a good place to spot bats. Photo by Glyn Young

The Great Garden Bat Watch

We are asking you to go into your garden, or to an open space near your house or really anywhere in the Island to look for bats.

We ask that you do this whilst maintaining social distancing and by following any other requirements of the Government of Jersey’s safe exit framework.

  • Main event: Saturday 6th or Sunday 7th June (or both!)
  • Where: Any outside space (garden, park, lane, beach)
  • What time: From 20:55 until 22.00

You do not need a bat detector as we are not asking you to identify bat species, all you need to note down is:

  • The time you saw the first bat
  • The direction the bat flew from
  • Details of the recorder, date and location

Great Garden Bat Watch data entry form

We are working in conjunction with the Jersey Biodiversity Centre who have designed a bespoke data entry form for you to enter your sightings –  through the form here.

If you manage to take any photos or videos of bats in flight during the Great Garden Bat Watch then please post them in the comments box for this event on the Jersey Bat Group Facebook page or email them to the Jersey Bat Group

We look forward to receiving news of your local bats!

For any further details about the bat watch or to submit your data by email then please email the Jersey Bat Group

Happy bat watching!

Myotis nattereri photo taken under licence by Amy Hall

Jersey’s birdwatching and bird photography code of conduct updated

By Romano da Costa and Glyn Young

Many bird species in Jersey are endangered locally or globally. Their survival depends on their chances to feed and breed safely. Birdwatching and bird photography may cause disturbance to birds, and, in certain circumstances, this disturbance might cause them harm or even death. The following is a simple good practice code of conduct that puts the interest of birds first and offers simple advice on how to enjoy birdwatching and bird photography whilst minimising the disturbance to the birds or their habitats:

  1. Avoid getting too close to birds, if a bird flies away you’re too close! Do not be tempted to keep chasing the bird (some birds will freeze when approached). If a bird is making repeated alarm calls you are also too close
  2. Stay on roads, footpaths or in bird hides to avoid going too close to birds or walking through their habitats. Disturbing habitats is just as bad as disturbing the bird itself
  3. Think about your fieldcraft. Disturbance is not just about going too close – a flock of wading birds on the foreshore can be disturbed from a distance if you stand on the seawall or walk directly towards them while a bird of prey on a kill will abandon it if you get too close!
  4. DO NOT use playback or birdsong recordings to lure out hidden birds or to make them sing at any time of year. Provoking this behaviour may cause unnecessary stress to the bird, make it waste vital energy, keep it from feeding its mate or young, and put it at increased risk from predators. You may also be breaking the Law
  5. DO NOT use flash when photographing birds at night. This might distract the birds or daze them, making them more vulnerable to predators
  6. Know the law: Disturbing a wild bird feeding, roosting or at its nest or nesting area is an offence under the Conservation of Wildlife (Jersey) Law 2000
  7. Make your sightings count: Report your observations in the records book at the hides or
  8. If you witness anyone who you suspect may be illegally disturbing or destroying wildlife or its habitat, phone the Police on 01534 612612 or the Department of the Environment on 01534 441600.

A copy of the code can be downloaded here

Jersey’s cirl buntings in spring 2020

 
When cirl buntings returned to Jersey after an 8-year absence in 2011, we waited anxiously to see whether they could fully recolonise (see update). We knew that there was adequate nesting habitat available, not least as their hosts, Royal Jersey Golf Club, were happy to help them. The limiting factor seemed to be the availability of adequate food in the winter when the buntings live out in the fields. We sought advice, not least from the RSPB’s Cath Jeffs, developed a plan for the buntings and it was suggested that we provide grain for them in winter and have done this each year (many thanks to Richard Perchard), the buntings quickly learning to use the special feeders. 
 
 
So, how are our buntings doing now? A good walk around the golf-less golf course by Mick Dryden on 3rd May found buntings at six sites. Our recording of the sites is easy as golf clubs, unsurprisingly, number and map their course. However, while the buntings’ presence on the course is widely known, to avoid disturbance we have removed those numbers and replaced with sites (below). Please respect the Royal Jersey Golf Club’s course, the neighbours and, of course, these rare birds who’s foothold in the Channel Islands is still very vulnerable. Here are Mick’s findings: 
  • Site 1. A pair of cirls at the northern end of the gorse, on the road side both feeding together (female above and male at bottom of page)
  • Site 2. A pair at the usual area, both feeding together
  • Site 3. A second male in the large trees, close to the Site 2, singing strongly and flying out to the centre of the course to sing again
  • Site 4. A third pair together on their usual area
  • Site 5 A fourth pair together in the tree. These flew down to the cut down area
  • Site 6. A male singing strongly and holding territory. I didn’t see a female with this one.
So, four pairs plus two additional males = 10 birds. This is at the start of the breeding season and Mick’s survey in 2016 found 17 birds including eight young from three pairs in July, after they’d bred that year.  So, 10 years on from their return, our cirl buntings are still here and, while still vulnerable, they are definitely hanging on. 
 
 

Insect declines and why they matter

Bumble bee. Photo by Mick DrydenInsects in trouble

From The Wildlife Trusts

We’re facing a global biodiversity crisis, with many species declining at an alarming rate. Animals and plants that were once common are now scarce, and insects are no exception. Recent evidence suggests that insect abundance may have declined by 50% or more since 1970, but insect declines are not as well studied as those in larger animals, like birds and mammals. The best data we have in the UK and Channel Islands is for butterflies and moths (see Jersey here and report 2004-2013), which show a broad decline. You can read more in The Wildlife Trusts’ new report about our disappearing insects Insect declines and why they matter.

The bulk of all animal life, whether measured by biomass, numerical abundance or numbers of species, is comprised of invertebrates such as insects, spiders, worms and so on. These innumerable little creatures are far more important for the functioning of ecosystems than the large animals that tend to attract most of our attention. Insects are food for numerous larger animals including birds, bats, reptiles, amphibians and fish, and they perform vital roles such as pollination of crops and wildflowers, pest control and nutrient recycling.

There have been several recent scientific reports describing the rapid decline of insects at a global scale, and these should be a cause of the gravest concern (summarised here). These studies suggest that, in some places, insects may be in a state of catastrophic population collapse. We do not know for sure whether similar reductions in overall insect abundance have happened in the UK. The best UK data are for butterflies and moths which are broadly in decline, particularly in farmland and in the south. UK bees and hoverflies have also shown marked range contractions. The causes of insect declines are much debated, but almost certainly include habitat loss, chronic exposure to mixtures of pesticides, and climate change. The consequences are clear; if insect declines are not halted, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems will collapse, with profound consequences for human wellbeing.

The good news is that it is not too late; few insects have gone extinct so far, and populations can rapidly recover.

We urgently need to stop all routine and unnecessary use of pesticides and start to build a nature recovery network by creating more and better connected, insect friendly habitat in our gardens, towns, cities and countryside.

Only by working together can we address the causes of insect decline, halt and reverse them, and secure a sustainable future for insect life and for ourselves.

This report summarises some of the best available evidence of insect declines and proposes a comprehensive series of actions that can be taken at all levels of society to recover their diversity and abundance.

But it’s not too late. Insect populations can recover rapidly if given the chance. To bring about this recovery, we have to make more space for insects. Gardens can be a haven for wildlife, helping connect up wild places in our wider landscape, creating a Nature Recovery Network that enables nature to live alongside us. Examples of how you can help can be found here and Jersey and Guernsey’s Pollinator Project.

The full Wildlife Trusts report Insect declines and why they matter can be downloaded here

 

Wild about Jersey activities suspended until review at end of April

From Wild about Jersey

Wild about Jersey volunteer monitoring and survey activities are suspended until review at the end of April

This includes participation in our monitoring schemes and surveys  (e.g. Jersey Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, PondWatch JE and Reptilewatch JE, National Plant Monitoring Scheme, Jersey Bat Survey).

In the current challenging situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic we hope that everyone is coping and keeping well. In these difficult times the health and well-being of our wild volunteers is our priority. It is vital that we follow the latest government instructions ‘Stay at Home’: Advice for Islanders. All islanders are instructed to ‘stay at home’ this means, everyone in Jersey is ordered to stay at home at all times except for a limited number of reasons. Doing this will, protect our health workers and save lives.

We appreciate and value all those who expressed an interest in helping with surveys and counts and we hope that all who expressed a desire to take part will, in time, get to do that. Please be reassured that reduced survey coverage in any one year is not detrimental to the long-term value of the surveys you participate in. Thank you for your continued commitment.

During this time why not consider what you can do in your garden, yard, balcony or window boxes. Use this time to encourage appreciate the wildlife there and please don’t forget at any point you can still record any wildlife encounters you have using iRecord or the Jersey Biodiversity Centre website.

Wild about Jersey will have information about online training support and surveys you can do in your garden later this month. Any questions please get in contact.

Please stay safe.

Best Wishes

Wild about Jersey

Natural Environment

 T: 01534 441600

Government of Jersey

Growth, Housing and Environment | Natural Environment

Howard Davis Farm | La Route de la Trinite | Trinity | JE3 5JP

Restoring farmland ponds attracts more farmland birds

From Rare Bird Alert

Less than 70 years ago, ponds were a common feature of the farmland landscape, and were routinely managed just like hedgerows. Since the 1950s, many ponds have been filled in to reclaim more land for farming; however, a large number have been left unmanaged, meaning they have become overgrown with trees and bushes, making them dark and uninhabitable to many species.

Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust has been working with the Natural History Museum and University College London on research that shows reinstating traditional pond management methods, of tree and mud removal, can benefit not only pond species, but also farmland birds.

Ponds restored by the Norfolk Ponds Project, were compared to neighbouring unmanaged and overgrown ponds; restored ponds contained twice as many bird species and almost three times as many birds, as the overgrown ponds.

Bird species at the restored ponds included skylark, linnet, yellowhammer and starling, all species that are Red Listed in the UK because they have declined drastically in recent years.

There were 95 sightings of these four species in and around the restored ponds, which compared to just two sightings of yellowhammer and none of skylark, starling or linnet at the unrestored ponds.

The total number of birds visiting was also greater at restored ponds with almost three times as many birds attracted to the restored ponds. This was shown to be linked to the abundant insect food resources emerging from restored ponds.

According to lead researcher, Jonathan Lewis-Phillips of UCL’s Pond Restoration Research Group:

“Restored ponds are teeming with insects, and because different ponds have insect peaks on different days, birds can move from pond to pond, and get the food that they need. A network of high-quality ponds is, therefore, brilliant for birds in the breeding season.”

With a network of restored ponds across the landscape, birds were able to move between insect emergence events, providing an ongoing insect food resource during the breeding season.

The research comes at a time when farmland birds are under huge threat, having declined by 55 per cent in the last 50 years, largely due to changes in agricultural management to increase food production, according to the recent State of Nature 2019 report.

As well as providing a beneficial habitat for woodland birds, farmland ponds also provide an important landscape feature, and act as stepping-stones for other wildlife including frogs and dragonflies.

Despite their importance, according to a report published by the RSPB, WWF and the Wildlife Trusts, there are no plans to protect them included in the UK’s new Agriculture Bill.

“Our research shows how important it is to restore and manage ponds in farmland. Here in Gloucestershire, preliminary evidence suggests we have lost around two-thirds of our farmland ponds since 1900. That’s why we have been working with Farming & Wildlife Advisory group (FWAG SouthWest) and local farmers to restore a number of ponds across different farms on the Severn Vale.”

“Even following long periods of dormancy, overgrown farmland ponds can quickly come back to life, with plants, amphibians and insects starting to colonise them in a matter of months. That is why this research could be an important pointer of where the UK’s environmental and agricultural policy should focus post Brexit.”

Carl Sayer of University College London Pond Restoration Group said: “The research on birds was inspired by Norfolk farmer Richard Waddingham. His constant belief has always been that farming and wildlife can co-exist and with wildlife declining at an alarming rate, at no time in history do we need to make this work more than now. Restoring farmland ponds is clearly part of a positive way forward.”

 

A Shire for Jersey’s puffins

By Cristina Sellarés

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit puffin. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit puffin-hole, and that means comfort.”

And so the story begins for the puffins, I mean the hobbits, according to J.R.R. Tolkien, of course. I could be forgiven for hoping that J.R.R.Tolkien was inspired by puffins when he devised the short, wobbly, round-bellied, food-loving, funny-looking creatures that live in a hole in the ground, which he named hobbits. Even his own fictional etymology traces the word to ‘holbytla’, which he created by combining the two real Old English words ‘hol’ (hole) and ‘bytland’ (to build) – a name that would be not completely unfit for the puffins either.

Like hobbits, Atlantic puffins build their homes underground, digging holes using their bills and powerful claws, to create a tunnel that leads to a larger inner chamber for the nest. And also like hobbits, puffins like their home comforts and line their nests with soft grasses and feathers, to keep the egg and later the chick safe and warm. They are very tidy too, and manage to keep the chick clean by using a toilet chamber located in a bend before the main room.

And finally, like hobbits again, they do not like unexpected visitors, defending their burrows from envious neighbours, fighting food thieves like gulls, and avoiding, however they can, attacks from invasive predators such as rats, cats and ferrets.

Knowing all this, Birds On The Edge has been trying to improve the homes and breeding grounds of our Jersey puffins, especially in view of he precarious state of the population – down to four pairs from more than a hundred in the space of a century. Sadly, this follows the trend of many other puffin colonies around the world, which have declined or collapsed due to causes ranging from loss of habitat, predation from invasive species and human-caused disturbance, amongst others.

Over the last year we have been monitoring the puffins and other seabirds in their breeding cliffs of the north coast, studying the potential predators in the area and noting the presence of people for leisure and commercial purposes too.

We have also built and installed puffin nest-boxes in some cliffs in the north coast, so that they can be used as artificial burrows by prospecting new pairs. Our breeding puffins, all four pairs of them, already go back to the same burrow each year, so with the boxes we are hoping to attract new pairs recruiting into Jersey’s population, especially ones who were born here and are ready to settle (puffins take 5-6 years to be mature).

As for the boxes themselves, there have been various designs, all following the concept of a tunnel leading to a main chamber. We have stuck to this, building a closed box with a roof, which is completely buried. The access to the chamber is via a 1m-long pipe which is buried too, so that the entrance from outside looks like a hole in the ground. The box is almost one metre long and has a small partition near the entrance, to create the illusion of the toilet chamber, should they like to use it for this purpose. As finishing touches to the installation we packed a layer of mud and soil against the back wall, to give the puffins the chance to dig a bit if they wanted to, without going too far, and for the same reason the boxes have no floor, but a good layer of soil so that the puffins can shift the ground about and decorate their nest as they please.

Digging and burying the boxes in the cliffs wasn’t an easy task; Geomarine sent their “rope team” to assist the rangers of the National Trust and Natural Environment for the job. The team successfully installed some of the boxes in an otherwise inaccessible slope, which was deemed suitable for the artificial burrows.

With the breeding season upon us and our puffin pairs due to arrive anytime now, we will be keeping a close eye on the seas around Plémont, hoping to see the faithful locals come back to their usual spots, and even better to see new pairs flying into the cliffs, their purpose-built homes waiting for them.

The boxes might be a bit too small for a hobbit, but we hope our puffins will approve of their very own Puffin Shire.

 

Jersey Bat Group Open Meeting and Volunteer Drive

When:              1 April 2020

Where:            Société Jersiaise

Time:               19:30 – 21:00

The Jersey Bat Group are holding an open evening 1st April to welcome anyone who would like to know more about the work they do. The group invites anyone with an interest in conservation, wildlife volunteering, public engagement or arts and crafts to come along to find out about the volunteering opportunities and training they have to offer.

PLEASE NOTE there may be disruption to planned events through concerns over Covid-19 so watch out for any changes to plans.

Over the last few years, the Jersey Bat Group has been busy. They have discovered new records of bat species in the Island, learnt more about the roost sites of different bat species, increased public awareness by providing talks and walks for schools, building professionals and other organisations. Members have learnt new skills including identifying different species of bats from sounds and appearance, rope access skills to check for roosts in trees, advanced survey skills to carefully trap bats for analysis in the hand and release. Members have also assisted with the ringing of bats as part of licenced projects studying the movement and migration of bats and help track radio-tagged bats to find out where they live and forage.

As the hibernation season draws to a close, the group are gearing up for another busy season of public engagement and research. There are lots of activities that you can get involved in even if you haven’t got any previous experience. For the seasoned bat enthusiasts there are plenty of opportunities for you to develop and grow your skills with the advanced surveys.

The April meeting will give an overview of some of the activities volunteers can get involved in and you will be able to sign up on the spot!  Activities include:

  • Public engagement – including stalls, public walks and talks. This year’s focus is on light pollution and the effect this has on humans as well as nocturnal wildlife
  • Fund raising – e.g. pub quizzes, stalls, cake sales, bat themed merchandise and any other great ideas volunteers may have
  • Transect surveys – walking a set route after sunset with a bat detector to record bat activity 
  • Passive acoustic surveys – assisting with the collection of data from bat detectors left at sites to record activity at a specific site (great for those who prefer to volunteer during daylight hours!)
  • Sound analysis – learn to analyse the recordings from the surveys above to identify the species of bat present and see if the bats are feeding or socialising as well as echolocating to find their way around
  • Members’ activity walks – informal walks, usually monthly, where members can learn to use bat detectors and chat to others about all things batty
  • Roost monitoring
    • counting bats as they emerge from known roosts. This helps us to see how bats are doing year on year and if populations are increasing or declining
    • Checking bat boxes
  • Advanced bat surveys – trapping bats so we can find out more about the breeding status of different bat species within the Island and learn more about the cryptic species of bat in Jersey (these sound similar on the acoustic survey, so the way we find out more is by looking closely at the bats to identify the specific species)
  • Arts ‘n’ crafts – we are keen to recruit artistic or creative volunteers to make batty themed products for the stall and liven up our website and social media.

Amy Hall, Chair of the Jersey Bat Group, said “Bats are fascinating and often misunderstood mammals.  We are hoping that this open meeting and volunteer drive will help both dispel the negative myths about bats and also to enthuse members of the public to help us with bat conservation and research. 

You don’t need to be a member of the group to attend but there will be some membership forms available on the night for anyone wanting to become more involved, or just to support the work we do.”