Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Wildlife Trust welcomes back long-lost crab

A species of crab which had not been seen in Devon for more than 30 years has been found living on a popular stretch of coast close to Plymouth.

The crustacean in question goes by the scientific name Clibanarius erythropus but is more commonly known as the St Piran's crab. The find was made in Wembury Bay by Devon Wildlife Trust volunteer John Hepburn on one of the many regular rockpool safaris run by the charity from its popular Wembury Marine Centre.

The last record of a St Piran's crab in Devon was made in 1985. Once common along the southern coastline of the South West it's thought that the crab, which measures no more than 15mm long, fell victim to pollution resulting from environmental disasters including the wrecking of Torrey Canyon oil tanker in 1967, along with other factors including changing sea temperatures.

Wembury Marine Centre's rockpool safaris have been running for 25 years bringing a unique insight into marine life along our coasts to thousands of holidaymakers and local people. John Hepburn has been volunteering at the Marine Centre for 13 years helping with hundreds of safaris. However, on this occasion he came across something very special among the seaweed and sand of the Bay's tidal rockpools.

St Piran's crab is a type of hermit crab which uses the empty shells of other molluscs to make a home. Spotting what he thought was a relatively common find in the shape of a 'netted dog whelk' shell, John made his amazing discovery. He said:
"Picking up the shell I realised it was not empty. What I assumed was a hermit crab was more confident than usual and came out a long way to examine the end of my finger. Being colour-blind I asked the family I was showing around the rockpools if the crab was red, and having been told it was reddish, I thought it worthwhile trying to get a picture in case it was a St Piran's crab."

Once back home John examined his picture, comparing it with on-line videos of St Piran's crabs. His find matched the videos, a fact confirmed later by the Marine Biological Association of the UK. This Devon discovery of a St Piran's crab follows its re-discovery in March in Cornwall, close to Falmouth. The Cornish find was the first in the UK since the 1980s and generated widespread media attention. Viewers of BBC's Spring Watch programme were asked to give the crustacean a 'common' name which up until that point had only been known as Clibanarius erythropus. St Piran, the patron Saint of Cornwall, was the popular response.

Now St Piran's crabs have also been found alive and well living in Devon and their proud discoverer John Hepburn said:
"This is a pretty special find. There were lots of other people hoping to be the one to discover the first St Piran's crab outside Cornwall. That it's now making a comeback after being absent from our shores for so long shows that it is always worth making the effort to save our seas."

Coral Smith, Marine Education Officer at Devon Wildlife Trust said:
"John's discovery came during one of our regular rockpool safaris. It just goes to show that our local marine wildlife still has the capacity to surprise and how important places like Wembury are, it's why it holds one of the highest forms of statutory protection as a Special Area of Conservation. We're honoured that Devon's first St Piran's crabs have been found here - they are certainly very welcome back!"

The answer to the question of how these small crabs may have re-established themselves in the South West after an absence of decades remains something of a mystery. However some marine biologists think the new populations of St Piran's crabs may have been carried across the seas as plankton from existing populations on the west coast of France.
Wembury Marine Centre's rockpool safaris continue through summer into the autumn. For more details visit www.wemburymarinecentre.org

St Piran's crab - Photo copyright Devon Wildlife Trust volunteer John Hepburn (All rights Reserved)
St Piran's crab  - Photo copyright Devon Wildlife Trust volunteer John Hepburn (All rights Reserved)
A rockpool safari at Wembury Marine Centre. Photo copyright Nigel Hicks (All rights reserved)
A rockpool safari at Wembury Marine Centre. Photo copyright Nigel Hicks (All rights reserved)

Friday, 19 August 2016

Generosity of local people gives rare bats a boost

Bats in North Devon should see a better future thanks to the generous response to a Devon Wildlife Trust fundraising appeal - but more support is needed for the target to be met.

The Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat Project works to secure the future of one of Europe's rarest bats - and the wildlife-rich farmland and woodland they rely on. The project works around several key maternity roosts in Devon including one near Braunton.

Staff from the bat project, which is led by Devon Wildlife Trust working in partnership with local organisations such as North Devon AONB, identified £26,000 of funding required for work to improve bat roost sites. After the first month, the Homes for Bats appeal had reached 80% of that target, leaving £4800 still to raise.

Project Manager Ed Parr Ferris said: "We're delighted to see such a generous response from local people. We've been working with children from Southmead Primaryand Braunton Academy to inspire them about their local greater horseshoe bats and show them what amazing animals they are."

Ed continued: "People in North Devon can feel proud that their landscapes can still support such special wildlife - but these bats have suffered around a 90% decline in England over the last century so they need all the help they can get. Every donation to our appeal really can help improve things for North Devon's wildlife."

North Devon AONB Manager Jenny Carey-Wood said: "Greater horseshoe bats, and the hedges, grasslands, orchards and woodlands they rely on, are great examples of what a beautiful part of the country North Devon is. That's why it's so important that these areas are protected for nature. One of the reasons North Devon AONB is involved in the Greater Horseshoe Bat Project is to inspire people about the wonderful wildlife around us - so we hope that more local residents and visitors will support the Homes for Bats appeal this summer".

The Homes for Bats appeal is trying to raise £26,000 to cover enhancement of at least one damaged maternity roost as well as restoration of insect-rich habitat around roosts such as the one near Braunton. Thanks to match-funding of this project by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), every £35 donated to the appeal releases a further £65 of funds for bat conservation work from HLF.

Donations can be made online at www.devonwildlifetrust.org/homes-for-bats-appeal or by phoning Devon Wildlife Trust on 01392 279244
DWT Homes for bats appeal. Roosting Greater Horseshoe Bats Photo copyright John J Kaczanow All rights reserved)
Roosting Greater Horseshoe Bats Photo copyright John J Kaczanow All rights reserved)

Shining a light on hidden side of the moor

A new community project is to bring to life the 'hidden' side of Dartmoor, the internationally important blanket bogs which cover around 10% of the moor

The Magnificent Mires project will highlight, for both local residents and visitors, the wealth of wildlife that relies on this threatened habitat and the many services Dartmoor's mires provide for people.

Thanks to a grant of £57,800 from Heritage Lottery Fund, the one-year project is to be launched later this month by Devon Wildlife Trust and project partners, Dartmoor National Park Authority, The Duchy of Cornwall and Dartmoor Preservation Society.

Dartmoor has the largest expanse of upland peat in southern England and supports a unique mix of Devon's wildlife. Carnivorous plants such as sundews and butterworts, as well as the rare bog orchid, thrive in the wet ground. This flora supports a wide range of wildlife including scarce insects like the bog hoverfly and the marsh fritillary butterfly. Birds on the mires include the most southerly breeding
population of dunlin in the world.

This rich landscape performs important functions which are crucial to our daily lives. Peatlands are a vital carbon store: Dartmoor alone stores an estimated 10 million tonnes of carbon in its peatland soils - equivalent to an entire year of carbon dioxide emissions from UK industry.

Bogs also act as sponges, absorbing water in times of flood and delivering clean, naturally filtered supplies in times of drought. Almost half of the 157 billion litres of water annually supplied by South West Water is extracted from rivers and reservoirs that have their source on Dartmoor's mires.

The wild blanket bogs of Dartmoor have attracted myth and folklore over the centuries and have provided inspiration for many writers, from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles to the poetry of Ted Hughes.

Dartmoor's peatlands began life as much as 10,000 years ago steadily forming a blanket swathing the high moorland landscape. Dartmoor supports the largest concentrations of archaeological remains in Europe from Neolithic through to Medieval, as well as remains from more recent mining industries now often cloaked within the mosses and heathers. This cultural landscape has been, and continues to be, shaped by human activity through extensive livestock farming and tells a fascinating story which the new project will bring to life.

But Dartmoor's bogs are often perceived as barren, inaccessible and simply too wild to explore safely. The Magnificent Mires project will bring people to the bogs through a programme of wildlife walks and other events at sites such as DWT Emsworthy Mire nature reserve, near Widecombe.

The project will also bring the bogs to people with a Bog Garden, managed and funded by the Dartmoor Preservation Association and the National Park Authority at the National Park Visitor Centre at Princetown, as well as hands-on interpretation materials that will reveal the crucial role the mires play in supporting our everyday lives.

An education programme will invite schools to be 'champions' of their moorland rivers - the Dart, Tavy, Okement, Bovey and Teign - celebrating the blanket bogs at the headwaters, and taking positive action to care for their local patch, including a 'Bog in a Box' for each school. The important role that farmers play in managing the land through extensive stock grazing will be brought to life.

While there are still some areas of high quality blanket bog, the future of much of Dartmoor's peatlands is uncertain. There are concerns about the health of mires in some areas due to drying out and possible erosion, along with uncertainty over the impact of climate change.

But in the words of Sir David Attenborough: "No one will protect what they don't care about - and no one will care about what they have never experienced". The most recent survey of visitor activity on Dartmoor shows that 82% of people walk less than 5 miles. The blanket bogs are mostly found in remote locations and so are rarely experienced, while knowledge of their importance for wildlife and people remains low.

By providing a variety of ways to experience and learn about Dartmoor's Magnificent Mires, the project aims to engage people with these unique places, encourage them to explore and learn more, and inspire them to care about halting the decline of the blanket bogs and securing their future.

Peter Burgess, Director of Development, Policy and Research at Devon Wildlife Trust, said: "Dartmoor's blanket bogs are alive with some of the most special wildlife in the country, our most southerly breeding dunlin and carpets of carnivorous sundew. Through the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund the partnership will reveal these hidden treasures and reconnect people with the stunning sights and sounds of the high Moor."

Phil Hutt of Dartmoor Preservation Association said: "The Dartmoor blanket bogs are a hugely significant environment, act as a critically important carbon store and deliver an enormous amount of clean water to the South-west. The Magnificent Mires project will help to change the public perception of this wonderful, fragile habitat and reinforce the need to protect it for the benefit of future generations."

Alison Kohler, Director of Conservation and Communities at Dartmoor National Park Authority said: "We are pleased to be part of this project to celebrate the fantastic mires we have here in Dartmoor National Park. We hope people of all ages will get involved and take advantage of this opportunity to get up close and learn about the history and wildlife associated with this habitat and its ongoing management by local farmers."

Tom Stratton of The Duchy of Cornwall said: "This project will bring to life the special qualities of Dartmoor's blanket bogs - a little known resource to many - and demonstrate the important role that they have in terms of biodiversity, water management and carbon sequestration. The Duchy of Cornwall is pleased to provide its support."

Nerys Watts from Heritage Lottery Fund said: "Dartmoor's blanket bogs are important for any number of reasons, be it as a carbon store or wildlife habitat. By connecting people to these areas, and opening them up for exploration and discovery, this National Lottery support will increase understanding and interest in these hidden parts of the legendary moor and ensure they are protected for the future."

Dartmoor mire at DWT Emsworthy Mire nature reserve, near  Widecombe. Photo copyright Simon Williams (All rights reserved)

Dartmoor mire at DWT Emsworthy Mire nature reserve, near  Widecombe. Photo copyright Simon Williams (All rights reserved)
Photos of well-managed Dartmoor mire at DWT Emsworthy Mire nature reserve, near
Widecombe copyright Simon Williams (All Rights Reserved)
The Magnificent Mires Project is managed by a partnership led by Devon Wildlife Trust, with Dartmoor National Park