Invasion!

There is a very long list of species that are non-native to the UK, many (if not most) are harmful to our native wildlife. I am regularly finding non-native species in my garden as well as further afield, Grey Squirrels are one such example. They were introduced to the UK nearly a century and a half ago from North America and since then they have severely affected our native species, through the severe population decline in Red Squirrels to the predation of young birds and eggs.

You might remember that last year I found several individuals of the slug Ambigolimax nyctelius. It was the first record of this non-native species in Surrey and had most likely come from the nearby garden centre. Well, a few weeks ago I found a small black slimy flatworm under one of the logs in my garden, which upon closer inspection appeared to have two pale lines running down its body. I used this character to identify it, which wasn’t as tricky as I thought it might be. There are 14 species of terrestrial flatworms in the UK, however many are really distinctive, coloured bright yellow or with distinctive head shapes.

Looking through the species in this very helpful PDF, I could see only two species that looked similar to mine: Kontikia ventrolineata and Australopacifica coxii. I originally thought it might be Australopacifica coxii however when I looked closer I could see that on my specimen the two lines were grey and not blue as is more commonly found in that species. So I concluded that my flatworm was most likely to be Kontikia ventrolineata, however as I have never identified any flatworms before I sent a couple of photos to the leading expert on flatworms, Hugh Jones. To my delight he replied and said that there was no doubt that it was indeed Kontikia ventrolineata. He also sent two distribution maps, one before my record had been added and one with my record on the map. I am very pleased to say that this is the first time Kontikia ventrolineata has been recorded in Surrey!

Ever since I found that first Kontikia ventrolineata I have been seeing more and more under logs and stumps in my garden. This isn’t very good news, as this species is believed to prey on our native small snails and possibly slugs. Therefore the flatworms will be in competition with the thrushes and the hedgehogs, reducing the amount of food for them. They might be insignificant at the moment but if the numbers keep on increasing like they have already, then they will be a major blow for the hedgehog population especially.

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Only a week after I found the first Kontikia ventrolineata I found another alien species! This time it was found in our new beetle trap which is baited with bananas. It is tub shaped with a hole in the bottom through which the beetles enter and stay until I check it a few days later. The trap was full of many different types of fruit flies and several wasps but only one beetle, which would have been disappointing if it wasn’t an interesting species.

The beetle was tiny, but identification was aided by the interesting shape and the markings. After a lot of research I was able to narrow it down to a family, Nitidulidae, and from there I eventually reached species level and identified it as Carpophilus hemipterus, also known as the Dried Fruit Beetle. Its favourite food is overripe fruit, which explains its presence in the trap. Although it is native to Asia, it has spread all around the globe on exported fruit and now inhabits all continents apart from Antarctica! map

However, looking at the NBN Gateway map for this species (above) it doesn’t appear very common but seems widespread, at least in England. The NBN Gateway doesn’t always show all of the records of a species on the map, so I don’t know if this might be the first record for this species in Surrey outside of London, however it certainly isn’t common!

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Carpophilus hemipterus. Not the best photo: the beetle was really tiny!

The NBN Awards 2016

Last year I was very lucky to receive the Gilbert White Youth Award for Terrestrial and Freshwater Recording, which you can read about here.

I have been passionate about nature for as long as I can remember, and I visit my local reserve or just comb my garden for interesting bugs at every opportunity. Winning an award for what I love doing was such a surprise, but it has inspired me to take an even greater interest in the natural world that is everywhere around us. The Gilbert White award demonstrates the importance of biological recording and highlights the importance of the records collected for the future of biodiversity on this planet! I am proud to have been the inaugural winner.

So, this year, for the second time, the National Biodiversity Network is presenting awards for biological recording and information sharing. There are 6 awards this year, which are:

  • Gilbert White youth award for terrestrial and freshwater wildlife
  • Gilbert White adult award for terrestrial and freshwater wildlife
  • David Robertson youth award for marine and coastal wildlife
  • David Robertson adult award for marine and coastal wildlife
  • A group award
  • John Sawyer NBN Open Data Award

All of the awards apart from the John Sawyer NBN Open Data Award require nominations of people who you think are suitable for the award. The youth awards are for people under 18 years of age by the deadline. If you know someone who has made an outstanding contribution to the world of biological recording, please nominate them here before the 31st July.

 

Gilbert White Youth Award… what an award!

Firstly, a bit about Gilbert White. As the NBN are saying, Gilbert White has become synonymous with biological recording. Having lived in the 1700s, he’s far from a modern-day recorder. He lived in the parish of Selborne, near the Sussex-Hampshire border and recorded all of the natural history in the parish in his most well-known publication: The Natural History of Selborne. A book review will appear in the Book Reviews page on this site as soon as possible.

So, a few months ago, the NBN launched a new awards scheme to help celebrate biological recording in the UK. There are four main awards:

  • The Gilbert White youth award, for terrestrial and freshwater recorders under the age of 18
  • The Gilbert White adult award, for terrestrial and freshwater adult recorders
  • The David Robertson youth award, for coastal and marine recorders under the age of 18. The marine and coastal awards are named after David Robertson, who died in 1896 but founded the University Marine Biological Station at Millport which now goes by the name ‘Millport Field Centre’.
  • The David Robertson adult award, for adult coast and marine recorders.

Tony Davis, my ringing trainer and an inspirational pan-species lister, nominated me for the Gilbert White youth award. However, I had no idea about it, it was done completely behind my back! I only found out when I received an email from the NBN with a subject line reading ‘Gilbert White youth award winner’! I was invited to the awards ceremony, which took place last Thursday evening (19/11/15).

The awards were presented at Merchant Taylor’s Hall in York. Just before the awards were announced I was able to chat to a few people, including two members of the Sussex Biodiversity Records Centre, Bob Foremand and Clare Blencowe. I was already in a good mood: Bob had told me that the only record he could find for a Closterium species I had recorded was in Romania! We’ll have to wait and see, but it looks like it might be my first ever first for Britain!

My award was the first to be announced and it had a long introduction. The Earl of Selborne was presenting my award and he was quoting from my nomination. Several times I heard him say ‘the winner is…’, at which point I would make a sudden movement in the direction of the front of the hall, but he actually only went on to say ‘the winner is a…’. It was a nerve-wracking experience! Finally the Earl of Selborne said ‘The winner is…. James McCulloch’ and I was kind of relieved!

It was very interesting to see who the other winners were:

  • The winners of the Gilbert White adult award were a husband and wife partnership, Ian and the late Pat Evans.
  • The winner of the David Robertson youth award was Callum Ullman-Smith, a 13 year old who has conducted impressive research on Palmate Newt populations in saline waters near his home in Scotland.
  • The winner of the David Robertson adult award was David Fenwick, a great photographer as well as a recorder.

There were also two other awards:

  • The Open Data award, which went to the Mammal Society.
  • The Special Award, which was another posthumous award and went to Nigel Jee.

Congratulations to all the winners!

After a bit of site-seeing around York (mainly lichen hunting for me!) we had to leave. My first plant tick for a while was a worthy end to the trip: Mexican Fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus) on the edge of the car park near the city station!

Unfortunately, John Sawyer, who came up with the idea to create these awards, sadly died of a heart attack recently. He was the CEO of the NBN. He was very young and will be missed by all who knew him and many who didn’t. These awards are a fitting tribute to him.