Way out west

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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
  • Remember, remember to check your bonfire for hedgehogs this November

    RSPB's Morwenna Alldis and the RSPCA, ask the public to check their bonfire heaps for hedgehogs before lighting them this year. Morwenna also offers some top tips on how the public can help give hedgehogs a home in their gardens.

    Since moving to a house with a garden, and basically tripping over a hedgehog whilst hanging out the washing one evening (I can’t remember the last time I’ve been that excited), I’m determined to do all that I can to provide a comfortable home for my local hedgehogs in my own greenspace. I say hedgehogs in the plural, because did you know that up to around ten individual hedgehogs can visit your garden in one night?

    Photo 1: Hedgehog by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)

    The most important action you can take to help your hedgehogs at this fizzing, whizzing, sparkly, marshmallowey time of year, is to check your garden bonfire before you light it. Hedgehogs hibernate between November-March and your warm, sheltered bonfire pile is the perfect, seemingly safe haven for them to snuggle down in and begin their long zzz’s. The best option is to build your bonfire on the day you’re going to light it and not before. This will prevent your garden wildlife from bedding down in the pile and save you the hassle of trying to light a potentially sodden bonfire due to last night’s rain. Remember it’s not only hedgehogs that may have sought shelter your bonfire pile, but also amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts too.

    RSPCA Wildlife Scientific Officer, Llewelyn Lowen, said: “While bonfires may look like large piles of leaves and wood to us, to a hedgehog and many other animals they are great places to find food and build nests.

    “Sadly it’s not uncommon for burned hedgehogs to be rushed into our care after they have been caught up in a lit bonfire - and at this time of year the risk is especially high.

    “Because of this we are just reminding people about the importance of taking the time to check bonfires before they are lit.”

    Llewelyn added: “It can be very hard to see a brown hedgehog in amongst a pile of wood, and the only way to be sure is to move the bonfire by hand before actually lighting it. It helps to build the bonfire as near as possible to the time of lighting, to ensure hedgehogs and other wildlife are not sleeping in the pile when it is lit.”

    For more information about caring for hedgehogs please click here.  

     If you see an animal you have concerns about please call the RSPCA's emergency line on 0300 1234 999.


    Photo 2: Check your bonfires before lighting this November by RSPB

    RSPB’s Morwenna offers some top tips on how to give hedgehogs a happy home in our gardens all year round.

    Our UK hedgehogs are really struggling - since the year 2000, rural populations have declined by at least a half and urban populations by up to a third. This terrible decline is in part down to changes to the hedgehog’s natural habitat and ability to access suitable food. Here are some year round top-tips to help your garden Mr and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle.

    Put a hole in it: Our modern preference to swap hedges (safe animal corridors) for impenetrable fences has hindered the ability of small garden mammals, such as hedgehogs, to travel between our gardens to forage. Hedgehogs will journey for around 12 miles a night to seek food and a mate. So if you have a fence place a 13cm x 13cm hole along the bottom of your fence to allow more access – do check with your neighbour first!

    Photo 3: Hedgehog hole in a garden fence by Eleanor-Bentall (rspb-images.com)

    Feeding hungry hogs: The tradition of bread soaked in milk for hedgehogs is a big no-no and could give the hungry hog an upset stomach. Instead, pop out a saucer of fresh water, some tinned dog or cat food, or some of our dried RSPB Buggy Crunch a healthy and nutritional snack made specifically for hedgehogs: http://bit.ly/2BuggyCrunch. Feeding is especially important now as hedgehogs need to reach the right body fat in order to survive hibernation, especially critical for hoglets born late in the season.

    Bridge the gap: Whilst hedgehogs can climb and even swim, they can easily get into difficulty in our garden ponds or even drainage holes and ditches. Install a hedgehog ladder or ramp for easy access out of the hole or pond e.g. bricks stacked in a pond/ditch so they can climb out.

    Green mess is best: Hedgehogs like to hibernate and nest in a cosy, sheltered spot so keep your gardens a bit messy, especially at this time of year. If you have a lot of leaf litter, rather than discarding it, sweep it into a pile up a quiet corner of your garden. A messy bottom when it comes to hedges is also beneficial, offering lots of cover for hedgehogs to safely travel between our greenspaces. But be careful when it comes to turning over your compost – hedgehogs will hunker down there too, so please check before you start forking.

    Photo 4: Long grass and wood piles are perfect for hedgehogs to shelter in by Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com)

    Don’t be a litter bug: Tidiness in your garden is really important when it comes to storing litter. Plastic bags, netting (including garden fruit nets or tennis nets), the plastic rings from a pack of tins – can all be potentially lethal to hedgehogs if they get trapped. Ensure that litter is stored safely out of harm’s way.

    Ditch the slug pellets: Garden chemicals including slug pellets, are extremely harmful to hedgehogs and can cause death. Use natural alternatives such as beer traps, crushed egg shells or coffee grounds. And remember that hedgehogs love to munch slugs and snails, so if you create a chemical free garden haven for them, they’ll sort your pest problem anyway and fill their bellies at the same time.

    For more information on how to give nature a home, click here.

    Photo 5: Hedgehog by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)

  • The RSPB Marazion Marsh Mystery! A spooky Halloween tale by Jane Comer, RSPB Cornwall Administrator

    Strange things have been reported on RSPB Marazion Marsh….sightings of weird and wonderful phenomena that will chill the blood and freeze the soul!

    On a misty Tuesday morning in West Cornwall RSPB volunteer, Christine Moore, ventured out on our Marazion Marsh nature reserve in search of dragonflies. Little did she know that she would be facing something so bizarre, so unusual it would have her scratching her head in bewilderment and disbelief for at least 25 minutes. 

    While walking across ‘the meadow’ she found nestled among the blades of grass, a strange, stiff jelly-like substance….it was approximately 20 cms in diameter and congealed into odd viscous blobs.

    Photo 1: Strange slime at Marazion! by Christine Moore

    Could this be ectoplasm manifested by some ancient spectral being wandering lost through eternity? Perhaps astral slime disgorged by visiting aliens on a mission to conquer our beautiful planet? Better still could this possibly be the nocturnal deposits of the infamous (and extremely elusive) Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal?

    Christine said: "As for what I thought? Oh! Well, I had no idea what it was, something from a giant amphibian was the joke, who knows what lurks out there in the reeds!  Seriously I thought it was animal of some sort, vomit (ugh!) or something out of the bum-end!"

    Unfortunately none of these wild speculations are even close to the truth - although the real story is almost as fascinating. In February 2013 a similar sighting was made at RSPB Ham Wall in Somerset and at the time generated wild speculation as to its origins - it even made the national press! It stumped experts until Peter Green, a Devonshire vet who works with wildlife, contacted the RSPB with a very simple and logical explanation. He believed it to be amphibian in origin.

    Photo 2: Common toad by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)

    At the time Public Affairs Manager Tony Whitehead stated: “At this time of year amphibians are spawning. The spawn is held in a substance known as glycoprotein which is stored in the female body. If the animal is attacked by a predator it will quite naturally drop its spawn and the associated glycoprotein. However, if it’s unfertilised, it is just empty glycoprotein that is dropped – which on contact with the ground will swell and give a clear slime like substance.

    “While this is our favoured explanation for the appearance of the slime, it’s also worth remembering that other things can give a similar appearance. Certain slime moulds can. So can the wonderfully named crystal brain fungus, but this appears on wood. Also certain algae and blue-green algae can also appear as a clear slime”

    So the mystery appears solved, but strangely the RSPB Ham Wall incident occurred in February and Christine’s sighting in October….surely too late (or 5 months early) for frogs and toads to be even thinking about spawning? Some may speculate that this is probably due to the mild weather we enjoy here in Cornwall. Some might say that it is evidence of climate change blurring the seasons for many species. After careful consideration of all the facts, and examination of the evidence, I think my money’s still on the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal!

    Photo 3: RSPB Marazion Marsh by Dave Flumm

  • Best year ever on Chesil Beach for tiny South West seabird

    One of our smallest and most elegant seabirds has broken recent breeding records at its sole South West England stronghold on Chesil Beach with up to 73 chicks taking to the skies.

    Thirty-eight pairs of little terns bred on Chesil Beach’s pebbles this summer, and up to 73 chicks fledged, a recent record number of young for the colony and making it one of the most successful sites in UK.

    Photo 1: Little Tern Chick by John Dadds

    Volunteers have once again played a key role in the Little Tern Recovery Project’s success, with 56 people devoting hours of their time to watching nests, and helping make sure the vulnerable birds were not disturbed by passers-by, pets, or predators.

    Helen Booker speaking for RSPB said: “It’s been a great year, and we’re all delighted with how the chicks have done. In total 77 hatched and up to 73 fledged, so over the summer we only lost four chicks.

    “It just goes to show that with the right amount of management and the support of our dedicated team of volunteers these birds can succeed. We really believe they are now well on the way to recovery on this wonderful part of the Dorset coast.”

    Photo 2: Little Tern Waters monitoring the site by Angela Thomas, Assistant Warden, Chesil Bank and the Fleet Nature Reserve

    Chesil is South West England’s only little tern colony and as recently as the late 1990s as many as 100 pairs bred there. The number dipped to only ten pairs in 2008 and the colony’s productivity this summer is the result of eight years hard work by organisations involved in the Little Recovery Tern Project.

    Jane White from Portland Court Leet, project partners who have offered further vital funding for next year's season, said: “We are really proud to be able to support this successful project that is really helping these amazing seabirds to make a strong recovery on the Fleet. There is still a lot to do though and the project will need continued support to build upon this success.”

    One of the smallest seabirds, the little tern, which migrates to Africa in the autumn before returning in the spring, has been in decline because of predation, food shortages and extreme weather conditions. It is on the UK’s amber list of birds of conservation concern – the second highest category.

    Photo 3: Little tern adults by Angela ThomasAssistant Warden, Chesil Bank and the Fleet Nature Reserve

    Protecting Chesil’s little terns has been made possible by a coalition of organisations including the RSPB, Chesil Bank and Fleet Nature Reserve, Natural England, The Crown Estate, Portland Court Leet, and the Dorset Wildlife Trust.  

    ** We’d like to say a massive thank you to Angela Thomas, Assistant Warden, Chesil Bank and the Fleet Nature Reserve., for her incredible help throughout the project and her amazing photos.