June, 2017

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Natures Home magazine uncovered

Behind the scenes at the RSPB magazine and much much more...
  • Another day, another origami challenge

    As deputy ed Emma recently blogged, there’s lots of fun working on our two magazines for primary-age RSPB members.  

    Wild Times (for kids up to 7) and Wild Explorer (8-11 ish) are packed full of fun ways to engage kids with nature; whether it’s making bird-seed cakes, dens in the woods or torch-on-a-bedsheet moth lures. Then we work in lots of nature know-how and wild challenges for older kids, and colouring, cutting and sticking for younger ones. (Trust me as a mum of two kids under 7 – it’s all about the cutting and sticking). 

    Our pages are packed with things to do (whether indoors or outdoors), including puzzles, things to make and outdoor challenges. But it’s not just the pages that entice their little souls into a wild world of amazing wildlife…

    We even cram extra activities onto our address carrier sheets! 

    The mags are sent out to each young member with a cover sheet, laser-printed with the address. That’s a whole extra sheet of paper, right there, ready to be packed with two more sides of nature fun.

    This week, we’ve finished off the first-version proofs of the September-October issues, and the team at RSPB Sandy are having a look to see which bits might need amending. Meanwhile, Emma and I turned our attention to the address carrier.

    I recall making little origami fortune-tellers in my schooldays – they were easy and lots of fun. So back when we planned this issue with Jack, we came up with the idea of creating one with a wildlife design – probably marine, to tie in with the issue’s theme. Jack proposed doing a basking shark (I’ve seen them close-up in Cornwall, they’re huge, harmless and awesome!). And then we developed the idea into a two-person activity by lifting the origami flaps. 

    On Tuesday this week, we grabbed some squares of paper and started bringing the idea to life. 

    Computer-generated prototypes… it took a few goes to get the inside of the mouth right. Basking sharks are plankton-eating filter feeders. 

     Then our designer Nicole created the origami design template and added it to the address carrier layout. 

    We printed out the entire address carrier design, cut out the shark and folded it.... Success!

    Yup, that works!

    Following the fortune-teller idea, we added the names of different animals to the underside of the flaps in the shark's mouth, with the idea that you would have to do an impression of the animal you landed on. Of course we had to test these, too – I particularly enjoyed pretending to be a hungry chick in my office chair! The things we end up doing in the line of duty...

    And here's the finished activity – an early proof.

    I have a captive audience here at home to test ideas on, so this weekend I'll be testing it out on my young ones! There may yet be a few tweaks to make, but come next issue we hope our young members enjoy making, and playing with, this extra bit of fun bundled into the mag.

  • Slugs: a discovery

    I began my blog last week by expressing how hot it’s been. This week, some parts of the country saw a month’s worth of rain in a few days. The important thing to remember though is that there’s still plenty of wildlife to see at this time of year regardless of what the weather is doing. With the rain hammering the bathroom skylight as I got ready for bed, this friendly looking chap scaled a sheer cliff face without the need for ropes and climbing axes, or arms and legs for that matter.

    I share my home with lots of different creatures – read all about it here (Photo: Sophie Lightfoot)

    This intrepid climber got me thinking: I know almost nothing about slugs. I thought I’d do some investigating and share what I find out on this blog.

    There are around 40 species of slug in the UK

    The one I found in the bath is either a tree slug, Balkan threeband slug, or greenhouse slug – it's hard to tell when they are still juveniles apparently. In the UK, slugs range from the ashy-grey slug, up to 30 cm when fully grown and the biggest slug in the world (yes, the biggest slug in the world lives in the UK), to the relatively small common garden slug that can be up to 3 cm when fully grown.

    All terrestrial slugs evolved from terrestrial snails

    Instead of lugging your house around on your back, why not enclose it in your own body? While many slugs now have shells inside their bodies, some slugs – semi-slugs – have tiny shells on their backs. They kind of look like little saddles – think Tinys from the Neverending Story, zooming around on racing snails.

    A slug is basically a wet foot

    Imagine moving around by secreting mucus from your bare feet onto the floor, scrunching your toes up, and propelling yourself forward. Pretty elegant I’m sure you’d agree. Slugs move by creating rhythmic muscle movements on the underside of their body known as their foot. To lubricate their path, they secrete pedal mucus and just glide along. A slug can follow its mucus trail back home once it's finished its very important slug business.

    Slugs can smell through their eyes

    Pretty handy if you come across something that both looks horrible and smells horrible. Just shut your eyes and it’s gone! The optical tentacles at the head of the slug contain a light sensitive dot, can be regrown if lost, and provide the slug with a sense of smell. The two tentacles below are used for feeling around and taste testing. What a great system.

    Slugs have massive dentistry bills

    With around 27,000 tooth-like protrusions called denticles covering a tongue-like muscle called a radula, kissing a slug would be slightly uncomfortable. Fortunately a slug would never catch you during a game of kiss-chase, but I won’t be dozing off anywhere damp anytime soon.

    Slugs eat, and are eaten

    Most UK slugs are herbivores, chomping their way though leaves, flowers, fruits, mushrooms, lichens, and decaying plant matter. Some slugs eat carrion, and there are a few carnivorous species that hunt other slugs and snails. It’s a good thing they’re not hunting anything faster as they’d get hungry, quick. Slugs also provide food for some UK favourites: thrush species, hedgehogs, toads and some ground beetles.

    Slugs like it wet, cool and foggy

    Great news! If it’s sloshing it down, go on a slug hunt. If it’s too hot and dry, slugs will encase themselves in a kind of thin cocoon-like structure to maintain moisture levels, so it’s probably best to just stay in and complain.

    For better or worse, I don’t think I’ll ever look at a slug in the same way again.


  • Nature's nightshift – the 10 best sights, sounds and smells...

    Big Wild Sleepout, supported by Rohan, is taking place from 28–30 July, so to help get you in the mood for a night under the stars, here are my 10 top night time wildlife delights to look out for...

    Are you a lark, or an owl?
    I can get up early when I must, but am much, much happier in the twilight and always have been. It's that mysterious period when the day shift gives way to the creatures of the night and spooky things happen (allegedly). So as a self confessed night wildlife nut, I thought I’d share my favourite experiences of watching nature by night. Please let us know about your favourite night time wildlife, and your best experiences, by leaving a comment below, or emailing natureshome@rspb.org.uk

    What goes on in your garden as the night shift takes over? (Chris Shields rspb-images.com)

    1) Badger parade
    I’m really lucky to be able to watch these stripy-faced animals literally on my doorstep in the evenings. I’ve been feeding my local badgers for a few years now and they come about half an hour before dark every night to parade a few feet from our back windows – more precisely, they come to stuff their faces. For a truly wild experience to put your tracking and fieldcraft skills to the test, seek out a badger sett at dusk and wait patiently with the wind blowing into your face to keep your scent away from these super-sniffers and watch their fascinating behaviour.

    2) Go batty for bats
    Much easier to see than badgers, and just as much fun to watch, are our bats. There are several species in the UK, many of them rare and localised, but if you get a bat detector you should be able to identify several from their echolocation calls, that help them locate food. Common pipistrelles are easily seen around gardens and you might also find the rather brilliant brown long-eared bats with their Batfink style ears and habit of hovering at vegetation to pick off insects. Noctule bats are big and fly high across the sky on long wings.

    3) A kaleidoscope of moths
    There are around 2,500 species of moth on the UK list and they come in a tremendous variety of shapes, sizes and colours. From the angle shades that looks like a crumpled leaf to the super shiny burnished brass; the colourful chunky hawkmoths to the ghostly swallow-tailed moth. If you thought moths were all small and brown, you’re in for a treat.

    You might even get tigers visiting you at night (tiger moths that is) – this is a garden tiger (Tom Marshall rspb-images.com)

    4) A quartet of owls
    Tawny, little, barn and long-eared – four owls that you could find near you if you tune in to their calls at dusk and through the night (there are no tawnies in Northern Ireland though). Barn owls have an unearthly hiss that will really make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It doesn’t fit their cute, dewy-eyed appearance, or graceful look as they patetiently fly over a field or roadside verge looking for small mammals to eat or take back to their nest. Little owls are full of character. Look and listen for them before it gets fully dark. We have one that pops up on a tree by our garden every evening.

    Barn owls are surely on everyone's favourite night wildlife list? (John Bridges rspb-images.com)

    5) Anyone for cricket?
    One of my favourite sounds of dusk is the “chirp” of this secretive cricket coming from hedges, bushes and taller plants. Have a listen between July and October and you’ll realise it is one of those sounds you hear all the time, but perhaps have never checked out what’s making it. When you hear it, approach carefully and slowly, peer in and you should be able to see the cricket.

    6) Take a moonlit walk along the beach
    It might seem a strange entry to the top ten – but bear with me... Waders are returning from the Arctic throughout July, stopping off on our beaches and estuaries to rest and refuel on the abundant, often slimy, goodies that live in the soft sand and mud. Not all birds go to sleep at night, including waders who take the opportunity to continue feeding. You should be able to pick out several wader calls, from the excitable piping of oystercatchers to the "cour-lee" of curlews. Choose a still, moonlit night and enjoy.

    7) Hedgehogs!
    The decline of the nation’s favourite animal has been all too apparent in my part of the world. I rarely see them on my patch now, but when I do it’s very exciting. I know many of you do enjoy them regularly though, from the great pictures and stories you send. Keep them coming – it’s good to know they are still around.

    8)  Glimpse a goatsucker
    As you’ll see on the next cover of Nature’s Home magazine, nightjars look like nothing else you can see in the UK. There’s still plenty of time to enjoy these crepuscular crackers over the next few weeks, so head to a heath, moor or woodland clearing and peel your eyes and ears for the males’ churring calls and their erratic, graceful flight. They also have lots of spectacular alternative names, including the goatsucker!

    Mysterious nightjars come out at about 9.30 pm at this time of year – well worth staying up for (Chris Shields rspb-images.com)

    9) The sweet smell of honeysuckle
    We have three honeysuckles in our garden and they smell nice in the day. In the evenings, they smell amazing though! To attract night time pollinators such as moths the scent increases, and what a smell it is! Just brush past a honeysuckle bush and you’ll be immersed in one of nature’s nicest niffs.

    10) Stay up late for a stag party
    I thought long and hard about including this one because the truth is I have never seen one. I am assured though that it really is an experience to savour! It remains my most wanted to see species of UK wildlife and there is a horrible stag beetle shaped hole in my “lifelist”. I was confident of breaking my duck at the end of June when I made back-to-back visits to a hotspot where they had been seen just the day before, but no joy (just its lesser stag beetle cousin).

    For more ideas of things you can do at night to make your Sleepout extra special, check out Anna's blog post from the summer solstice.

    A special offer for RSPB members
    To help you enjoy your Big Wild Sleepout and enjoy nature by night, we’ve teamed up with our partners at Rohan, official supporters of Big Wild Sleepout. They pack a whole load into their clothing from sun protection to waterproofs and are offering RSPB members 10% off, including sale items. Plus Rohan will donate 5% of sales from this offer to the RSPB. Simply visit rohan.co.uk and enter code NHM3 at the Basket Page or mention the offer at your nearest Rohan shop. Offer ends 13 August 2017 and cannot be used to purchase gift cards.

    Watch the Big Wild Sleepout film!
    Make sure you also check this superb Big Wild Sleepout Film from our friends at Rohan! It's sure to get you in the mood for a night under the stars.