September, 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.

Way out west

South west England is rich in wildlife - from the high moors to the coast and out to sea, it's one of the most wonderful regions in the UK. This blog celebrates all that's wild about the region. Here we will share insights into our work to protect
  • Less is More this Autumn by Morwenna Alldis

    Less work equals more wildlife in your autumn garden. Morwenna Alldis, spokesperson for the RSPB South West, offers some top tips on how to help the wildlife that calls our autumn gardens home.

    Welcome to Keats’ “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. I’ve already felt autumn’s early morning nip, smelt nature’s seasonal perfume of mulching vegetation and fattening conkers, and I’ve even heard my first crunchy leaf underfoot. But before you succumb to the hibernation urge, there’s some key prep you can do in your gardens this autumn, to help your local wildlife survive the ensuing winter.

    Photo 1: Hedgehog by Ben Hall (

    Don’t tidy your autumn garden
    At this time of year it’s really important to avoid the urge to cut back and tidy too much – it’s more beneficial for nature to leave any decaying plants intact, as they create a cosy layer for garden mammals and insects to snuggle down in when winter hits. Hollowed stems and seedheads also provide a safe insect hidey-hole from frosts.

    If you have any dead wood in your autumn garden, or if you’re already sweeping up rust coloured leaves, gather them into a pile in a corner of your greenspace – again insects and small mammals, including our struggling hedgehogs, will thank you for creating a snug home for them.

    Photo 2: Garden dead wood pile by Andy Hay (

    Ivy wears the crown this autumn
    Ivy is one of the most beneficial plants for your garden wildlife all year round, but especially during autumn and winter. Whereas most nectar rich plants are starting to die off, ivy’s flowers are now beginning to blossom, providing a vital late source of food for bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

    Ivy is an all-round winner for nature because it’s evergreen leaves offer crucial shelter for birds and insects even throughout the colder months, when other natural cover is thinning out.

    And let’s not forget ivy’s ripe, winter jewels – its berries. These are a crucial, calorie-rich source of food for your feathered garden friends, just when they need that extra energy hit to enable them to maintain their body temperatures.

    If you do one thing this autumn, nurture and pay homage to your garden ivy – and if you don’t have one, plant one!

    Photo 3: Ivy bee by Adrian Thomas, RSPB

    The garden bird vanishing act
    During September we’re often contacted by concerned members of the public who have noticed that their much loved garden birds, who once flocked to well-stocked feeders, have suddenly vanished. But fear not, this is a totally natural occurrence at the end of the summer/beginning of autumn.

    Nature’s hedgerows are now studded with blackberries and other fruit – all delicious to garden birds. Birds will always favour feeding directly from nature’s pantry, so whilst her stocks are bountiful you will naturally see a drop in garden feeder visitations. However, keep their food and water sources topped up, because as soon as temperatures drop and the berry crop dwindles, your favourite garden birds will be back to your feeders in abundance. They rely on your high-energy, high-fat winter food to fuel them through the colder months.

    Photo 4: Robin by Ray Kennedy (

    New house guest
    In the lead up to winter you may spot in your house either a small tortoiseshell or peacock butterfly perched on the wall in a corner of a room, unmoving - they have entered their winter dormant stage. Butterfly conservation explain that only these two species like to over winter in our homes and will often enter in late summer/ early autumn – when our houses offer cool, dry shelter. But as temperatures continue to drop outside and our central heating rises inside, these butterflies can be woken up too early by the increased indoor temperatures, which fool them into thinking spring has sprung early. This isn’t a good thing for a butterfly as their outside environment is too cold and offers little nectar for them to eat.

    Photo 5: Peacock butterfly by Grahame Madge (

    If you spot an early rising butterfly in your home between now and spring, follow Butterfly Conservation’s guidance:
    · Catch the butterfly carefully and place it into a cardboard box or similar, in a cool place for half an hour or so to see if it will calm down.
    · Once calmed down you might be able to gently encourage the sleepy butterfly out onto the wall or ceiling of an unheated room or building such as a shed, porch, garage or outhouse.
    · Just remember that the butterfly will need to be able to escape when it awakens in early spring.

    Photo 6: Small tortoiseshell butterfly by Grahame Madge (

    This autumn, before you poetically lament, “Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?” follow Keats’ advice and “Think not of them, thou [autumn] hast thy music too” and you can best enhance this season’s symphony, by stepping back and letting nature do her thing.

    For more top tips on how to give nature a home, visit:


    Photo 7: Autumn leaves by Andy Hay (

  • Listening to the ocean

    Chris Watson is a BAFTA award winning wildlife and natural history field recordist who frequently collaborates with Sir David Attenborough. He is currently creating a sound installation called "No Man's Land" at Berry Head National Nature Reserve in Devon. It has been produced for "The Tale", a Torbay based arts event which takes the audience on an immersive journey through the interconnected sounds of our oceans and seas.

    A founding member of influential 70s/80s band Cabaret Voltaire, Chris approaches his installations like musical collages, seeking to engage and entertain through his carefully molded compositions. The following interview with Chris, appears on The Tale's blog. Here Chris talks about his piece, the process so far and working at Berry Head.

    What can you tell us about your installation? What can audiences expect? What will it feel like?

    No Man’s Land begins on the cliff at Berry Head with the familiar sounds of nearby Paignton Harbour, before evolving into the sounds of the vertical sea cliffs at Berry Head, which slowly slips into the ocean with the incoming tide. Sound travels so well through the seas.

    Once the tide comes in and the recognizable sounds of Brixham Harbour and the sea cliffs disappear, the aim is to create the effect of the audience standing on the seabed with these sounds happening all around them, and in particular above them. The audience are immersed in this oceanic environment for most of the duration of the piece, while the sounds of the animals and the waves create the piece that’s happening all around them.
    No Man’s Land takes the audience on this journey through the gloriously rich musical sounds of the ocean and then back onto the quayside at Berry Head as the tide ebbs away and back on to dry land. That’s the ambition for the piece.

    What is special about the site of your installation, Berry Head Quarry, and the relationship between your installation and the site?

    It’s a site-specific piece; the first series of sounds have been recorded in that location, taken from Brixham harbor, the wave wash on the quayside at Berry Head and the sounds underwater directly under the quay at Berry Head. The audience will be perched on the edge of the largest and most sound rich habitat on the planet. The audience will be able to turn around and look across the ocean whilst simultaneously hearing what’s actually underneath this vast, trackless place, this No Man’s Land, a place which is very hostile to us, a place we know very little about.

    It’s often been said we know more about the dark side of the moon than the surface of the ocean. No Man’s Land is a sonic journey of the imagination through this dreamlike seascape. From Weddell seals singing under the Antarctic sea ice to the coral reef in the South China seas; the songs of humpback whales in the Caribbean to the hunting sounds of pods of Orca in the North Atlantic, to the songs of grey seals in the North Sea, and throughout, the slow rhythm of the oceans controlled by the tide, as our many of our lives.

    These ocean sounds are very familiar to us. Underwater sounds are the sounds we hear when when our hearing first develops at 16 weeks old in our mother’s womb. We first hear the world through a fluid and so we have an association with listening to sounds underwater which echoes back to before our memories kick in and listen to the world in the way we first heard it, before we were even born.

    The other thing to discuss is the fact that it’s a spatial audio piece, it’s a very challenging piece to create and install practically, and I’ve never made a sound piece that’s for a vertical space, which is really interesting. In my studio I’ve had to set up something that’s not a conventional surround sound system but a vertical system so that I can recreate on a smaller scale the place. Once the tide comes in and the sounds of Brixham harbor and the seacliffs disappear, the aim is to create the effect of the audience standing on the seabed with these sounds happening all around them, and in particular above them, so you’re literally immersed in this environment, this oceanic environment for most of the duration of the piece and you can imagine that you’re free standing on the seabed while these sounds, these animals and the waves action creates the piece that’s happening all around you, particularly above you. That’s the ambition for the piece.

    How do you approach the recording and editing process for No Man’s Land?

    It’s a bit like fishing for sound. Some of the earlier recordings in the piece were recorded off the quayside at Berry Head, the sounds of pistol shrimps snapping and cracking just below the surface. I use hydrophones (an underwater microphone) and target the place I’m going to record thinking of the animals. There are also sections we recorded in the rock pools with Sound Communities (a local arts project). A lot of the sounds from Torbay are from the collaboration of the young people from Sound Communities.

    And finally, could you tell us a little more about the sounds audiences can expect, or listen out for?

    This morning I’ve been working with the sounds of the coral reef in the South China seas, the snap, crackle and pop of these tiny crustaceans - it sounds like Rice Crispies! The piece then moves on to the Caribbean to the sounds of humpback whales. It goes from sounds of very tiny microscopic animals to some of the loudest animals that have ever lived. The sound of humpback whales is an incredibly powerful physical sound, and I’m really looking forward to it coming out of the system at Berry Head.

    Find out more about The Tale, and how to get involved,  here:

  • A night in the life of an RSPB little tern Residential Volunteer!

    RSPB Residential Volunteer, Lizzie Forrester, reveals what it's like to man the night shift protecting Dorset's special little tern colony

    The only little tern colony in the South West of England is located on Chesil beach, near to Weymouth and the Isle of Portland.

    (Photo 1 by Lizzie Forrester: The public enjoy views of the little tern colony)

    The colony is a 24 hour operation, and three of us residential volunteers are responsible for the night shifts. In the day, mostly the time is filled with looking for new nests, checking the existing ones and conducting chick feeding surveys. We also help to sand patch nests, which involves moving the eggs from the shingle and placing them on buckets of sand (before 2013, a large proportion of the eggs didn't hatch, and it was suspected that this was due to chilling when the eggs were laid on the shingle. So the team created sand patches on the beach for the little terns to lay on as sand is more insulating for the eggs, and this dramatically increased hatching success. Sand patches are now created every year). 

    (Photo 2 by Lizzie Forrester: Little terns eggs)

    The most important job on site is watching for predators, of which there are many - kestrels, peregrines, lots of gulls and the main protagonist of the night shifts…. the fox! We start our shift at 10.00 pm and spend the night patrolling around the colony, chasing away any foxes that try their luck, as well as the occasional badger. On clear nights the skies full of planets, satellites, shooting stars, the Milky Way and sometimes a sighting of the international space station - these night shifts certainly offer amazing views. 

    (Photo 3 by Lizzie Forrester: Getting ready for the night shift at the little tern colony)

    Thankfully, Weymouth has a lot to offer in terms of additional activities away from the colony site. A highlight, gaining some bird handling experience with a local ringer and being shown around RSBP reserves and sites usually out of bounds for the public. Just a 5 minute walk from Chesil beach and you can hire canoes and SUP boards. The coastal walks in the area are lovely, the 13 mile walk around Portland and coastal path to Weymouth are definitely ones to try, keep an eye out for the breeding peregrines, kestrel, auks and fulmar on the Portland cliffs. There are plenty of places to eat out in Weymouth and Dorchester is only 10 minutes by train.

    (Photo 4: Views from the colony)

    I'm pleased to report that the hard effort of the team and our many sleepless nights have paid off - it's been a great season, both for the little terns with 38 pairs nesting – producing 73 fledglings to date - that's the best productivity ever in the history of the project! It's also been an amazing season for us the residential volunteers, an incredible experience for us all :)

    (Photo 5 by Lizzie Forrester: The sun sets on a wonderful year for Chesil's little terns)