Friday, 31 October 2014

Wood Ants

I've become obsessed with wood ants recently, after finding nest after nest in my local forest. They're fascinating, and so easy to watch (so long as you don't mind getting bitten!). A 'keystone species', colonies can number up to 400,000 individuals and several queens, with workers responsible for tending to the young, foraging for food and maintaining the nests. To capture the busy worker ants in action, I set up a time-lapse camera outside a local nest. 

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Oxfordshire Goes Wild!

Recently I visited Oxfordshire Goes Wild, an event aimed at getting kids into nature which is now making its rounds in local communities, this year in Bicester. Run by Wild Oxfordshire- which coordinates a partnership of many organisations from across the county- the event saw 22 contributors come together at a local primary school to show children how amazing the wildlife around them really is.

And with such a diverse range of groups in attendance, there was plenty for kids to see and do. The Oxfordshire Reptile and Amphibian Group brought Newts, Lizards, Slow-worms and Grass snakes for children to get up close and personal with. For many this was the first time they had ever seen a British reptile before (it would've been my first time too, had I not spotted a Common Lizard a few weeks ago), and excited gasps offered much deserved appreciation to these often overlooked animals. But the lack of one iconic species echoed its worrying decline in the area-Adders are confirmed at just one site in the whole of Oxfordshire, and the Reptile and Amphibian Group are appealing for sightings through their website.
The kids got the chance to hold live frogs (Photo courtesy of Cynth Napper)
There were plenty of other live animals on show too. David Endacott from the Oxfordshire Bat Group showed off his 26 years of research into the world's only flying mammals with the help of a young Soprano Pipistrelle, who kindly demonstrated her echolocation to the kids. Meanwhile a dozen Brown-lipped Banded Snails were used to show natural selection in action. The yellow and black shelled snails are perfectly camouflaged against long grass, where they can't be seen and picked off by hungry Song Thrushes, but put against brown leaves and they become painfully obvious. 

Aside from seeing the animals, there were loads of other activities for the kids to get stuck in to. Pond dipping and bug hunting were particular favourites among the kids, but what stood out for me was dissecting owl pellets. Unlike faeces, pellets are composed of all the parts of its prey which an owl can't digest, such as fur and bones. Studying the remains allows us to build an incredibly accurate picture of an individual's habits and lifestyle. For example, my owl turned out to be a proficient hunter- he'd caught four rodents in one night, all of them wood mice. 
Making 'bee hotels' was another great activity (Photo courtesy of Cynth Napper)
All in all Oxfordshire Goes Wild was a fantastic success. It was great to see kids interacting with nature in a hands on, meaningful way. It's only through events like these, where children are actively engaged in the natural world, that we can inspire future generations of naturalists. If you live in Oxfordshire and would like to get involved in local conservation, please visit Wild Oxfordshire's website for details.