Lee Davies, Collections Manager, gave an informative and lively talk on Zoom to 23 members.
The collection has 1.3 million specimens from all over the word with nearly 4,000 being added each year, sent in by the British Mycology Society and from expeditions. Dry condition of 43% humidity and cool conditions of 18°C are needed for storage.
Fungi are a kingdom of their own and are essential for the survival of plants. Their mycelia (thread-like roots) are linked to trees to provide nutrients and known as the ‘wood-wide-web’. They have been and are used in many ways: food, medicines and vaccines, biofuel, plastics, vitamins, agriculture, washing powder, paper manufacture, beverages, leather and cotton processes. In the future they will be used for: replacement for styrofoam, combining with waste cardboard to make insulation boards, eating plastic, manufacture of imitation leather, and tackling chemical and oil spills.
Birds, climate and habitat in a changing world
Speaker: Alan Perry (HNHS Committee member and Emeritus President of Sussex Ornithological Society)
In the UK global warming is affecting birds, butterflies, moths and plants which are known to be moving northwards from areas that are too warm for them to thrive.
Species moving north: Golden Plover, Dunlin, Ptarmigan, Dotterel, Ring Ouzel and Curlew. Puffin, Kittiwake and Storm Petrel are affected by decrease of Sand Eels and Asian Bird ‘Flu has affected Gannets and Skua.
As regards bird populations in Sussex the picture is depressing. There are no Spotted Flycatcher or Wood Warbler; Willow Warbler numbers are very low; so too Swallow, each needing 850 insects a day even before the young hatch.
However, there have been gains: Little Egret, Great White Egret and Spoonbill. Cattle Egret, Common Crane have appeared; introduced Storks, Great Bustard, Ring-necked Parakeet and White–tailed Eagle are increasing; as are Buzzard, Red Kite and Ravens.
Speaker: Richard Fortey (Paleontologist with research interests including trilobites, long-time career as Paleontologist at Natural History Museum, London, writer of 14 books on wildlife, presenter of television programmes including BBC4 “Nature’s Wonderlands: Islands of Evolution”).
The subject of the talk was taken from the title of Richard’s recent book of memoirs of his early years. He is the author of more than eight popular science books on geology, palaeontology, evolution and natural history and has presented wildlife TV programmes.
It was in the form of “a conversation with” between Andy Swan and Richard who began by reading paragraphs describing a Brown Trout in a glass case which had been caught by his father, an avid fisherman. While his father fished Richard was free to explore the nearby countryside.
As a boy, from books, he taught himself about birds, flowers, fungi and chemistry. On family holidays he discovered an ammonite and later a trilobite which started his great interest in those subjects.
His career culminated with being a long-time Palaeontologist at The Natural History Museum, London.
His talk concluded with photographs of Walliserops trilobite which had long trident appendages at the head. Consulting with other palaeontologists, Richard surmises these were used for jousting and turning over an opponent.
Many of the audience of 75 said how much they had enjoyed the talk, laced with Richard’s amusing anecdotes.
Speaker: Dave Elliott (Lead Ranger: National Trust, South Downs West Area)
Dave spoke to an audience of 60 members.
The Valewood Project, was aimed to increase the biodiversity by natural processes: bringing in Longhorn Cattle and Beavers (a keystone species). Beavers feed on soft vegetation, the cambium layer of tree trunks, shoots and buds of trees. Their nocturnal activity, including felling small trees to provide dam-building material enables more light to reach the stream. Dams slow the water flow and help with any pollution, the water being notably clearer below the dams.
Originally there were two ponds, but now there are more than 12. The Beavers have moved earth, make little canals, created scallops in the stream sides and braided the water course.
VIRTUAL PRESENTATION ON ZOOM by Rupert Soskin (nature photographer, naturalist, writer and author of the impressive book “Metamorphosis.”)
This was held as a Zoom presentation with 26 members logging on.In higher creatures the young gain intelligence from their parents but young insects and spiders develop by themselves and are given no survival techniques.
Rupert posed the question: “How is intelligence evaluated?” Humans tend to judge animal behaviour for their own prospective (anthropomorphism).
Rupert has studied and often photographed young spiders, Passalidae beetles and young stick insects. The latter were clones with different colours and markings but that had no bearing on the way they behaved. He has closely watched an ant summoning help from others and the hunting technique of a Portia Jumping Spider.
Social insects such as bees and wasps appear to be more intelligent than those living singly. Bees do a “waggle dance”; some cut into flowers to reach the nectar more easily; and some can recognise each other’s faces –and even humans.
Matthew Phelps, Safari Guide at Knepp Estate
The illustrated talk with videos had 4 sections:
1.Introduction of herbivores: Tamworth Pigs, Fallow and Red Deer, Exmoor Ponies and Longhorn Cattle are now established.
2. Wildlife successes: Arable becoming wood pasture; layering of scrub; no flaying of hedges; spreading of laggs (ribbons of water) and river restoration have resulted in population increases of: wetland birds, Nightingales, Turtle Doves, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, Water Voles and Water Shrews. Organic carbon and microbial biomass have doubled in the soil.
3. Reintroductions: White Storks population increased with third successful season in 2022 when 20 chicks raised in 10 nests. 2020 male and female Beaver brought in.
4. New projects: Sussex Cattle now raised on 300 acres near Shipley. Knepp Castle’s walled garden to be rewilded. Surveys to continue. Participation in “Weald to Waves” Project to establish connectivity corridor from Ashdown Forest to Climping Gap.
By member, Martyn Phillis
Excitedly, Martyn was present, from the very beginning, at the discovery of a maternity roost of this rare bat, located in South-East England. Found between Midhurst and Petworth the exact location cannot be revealed until the site is properly secured.
In February 2019, Scotty Dodd was undertaking an ecological survey and saw a bat roosting in a hanging downwards posture. Martyn and Tony Hutson (an international bat expert) were able to confirm it was an immature female Greater Horseshoe Bat. Later that year more females and even a one-day old baby were identified by sonograms and the next year one of Martyn’s photographs revealed a baby clinging to its mother. All this evidence confirmed it was a maternity roost.
Vincent Wildlife Trust (to whom this Society contributed £1000) and Sussex Bat group will be monitoring and carrying out conservation work in the future.
Martyn’s audience was so appreciative of his knowledge and admired his on-going enthusiasm.
Nicola Peel, Solutionist
Nicola, an award-winning environmentalist prefers to call herself a Solutionist. Her Zoom presentation “Amazon Adventures and Natures Solutions” described her time with indigenous people in Ecuador where, to offset the problem of oil pollution, she helped by devising a scheme for rainwater catchment from the roofs of their homes.
She has been associated with other solutionist schemes such as the making of eco-bricks by packing plastic bottles with plastic rubbish, and growing Inga adulis (a nitrogen-fixing tree) in alleys which protect food crops.
Click these links for her website and a video she made.
Nicola is prepared to talk to local schools on environmental ideas and Biomimicry. Click here for details.
She is a co-founder of The South East Climate Alliance
Sarah Ward, Sussex Wildlife Trust
Sara’s work encompasses marine conservation policy, marine advocacy and engagement, and the co-ordination of Sussex Shoresearch (a volunteer scheme identifying species and habitats) and Seasearch (with volunteer divers also recording).
Coasts have importance for: mental health and well-being; a source of protein for humans; a source of building materials; and a source of energy from off-shore wind farms or tidal energy.
The shoreline in Sussex has various habitats: shingle, vegetated shingle; sandy beaches and rocky shore. On the last can be found: Common Shore Crab, barnacles, snails, slugs, anemones, sponges, echinoderms, sea squirts and fish.
To provide a healthy environment with sustainable fishing a new byelaw “Sussex Nearshore Trawling Byelaw” was implemented in 2021.
Underwater Kelp, once prolific from Selsey Bill to Brighton, has diminished greatly since 1980. Kelp forests are a crucial habitat for fish and many other sea creatures, lock up carbon, pump out oxygen and so reduce climate change. A number of organisations have collaborated with The Sussex Kelp Restoration Project. For more information go to: sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/what-we-do/living-seas/kelp
Sarah’s presentation brought to our attention the diverse and rich qualities of our local shorelines and also the need for them to be protected.
Mike Waite, Living Landscapes Manager and Policy Research Manager, Surrey Wildlife Trust
24 members logged on to this Zoom talk.
Mike explained that Hankley is the driest of three Wealden Heaths, the other two being Frensham and Thursley. The three key species associated with heathland- Dartford Warbler, Nightjar and Woodlark are all present and their breeding progress is closely monitored. All six native reptiles are present, including Sand Lizard and Smooth Snake.
Because of the dry, sandy environment, some species usually found on the coast are present: Ompatrum sabulosum (a species of Tenebrionid beetle), Attulus saltator (a jumping spider) and Sand Sedge. Victory Jumping Spider, Mottled Grasshopper and Grayling butterfly are also present and there are rare or nationally scarce plants.
Surrey has the longest county list of spiders. This now includes Alopecosa fabrilis, the Great Fox-Spider, that was thought to be extinct in the UK until Mike rediscovered it in 2020. He knew of past records in Dorset and Hankley; that it is a fast, agile night hunter with four pairs of eyes. He set pitfall traps where a male was found on 2nd September 2020. Such was the excitement that articles appeared in nature and national press, on BBC “Autumnwatch” and a personal mention in Wikipedia.
In 2020 he found 20 adult or sub-adult males in pitfall traps, but only one mature female which was free-ranging. In 2021 the finds were: 47 adults, sub-adults and immatures, both male and female.
Professor Mark W. Chase FRS, retired Senior Researcher, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
This was held as a Zoom presentation with 26 members logging on.
Cone-bearing plants first appeared 350 million years ago, whereas flower-bearing plants evolved later at 150 million years ago. There are no intermediates, so it is not known how flowers came to be.
Wind-pollinated plants are always green as insects are not needed for pollination. Primitive flowers (magnolias and waterlilies) have many parts in a spiral arrangement and insects can approach from any direction.
Advanced flowers have few parts, often a definite number. Some have special structures (e.g. snapdragon) to encourage particular insects to visit and pollinate. Orchids can trick insects into visiting them, such as the Asian Slipper Orchid. The British Fly Orchid attracts wasps; a species in Madagascar is pollinated by a moth; and the pollinator of an orchid in Reunion was found by night-vision camera to be a cricket.
Ian White, Dormouse and Training Officer, People’s Trust for Endangered Species
23 members logged on to Ian’s presentation on Zoom.
Ian manages the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme and has developed training courses for volunteers as a licence is needed to check this protected species (they are on the Biodiversity Action Plan list). Dormice are a key indicator of the quality of the environment, but being nocturnal and arboreal it is difficult to count the population and their range has shrunk to only southern counties in UK. However, comparing statistics for 1990 and 2018 there has been a huge increase in the number of sites being monitored, boxes and records.
They need a connected tree canopy with an understorey of early stages of woody vegetation with bramble; continuous, dense hedges; and, ideally, a mosaic of coppicing.
Dormouse bridges have been used over roads and on underpasses. In any reintroduction programme their health has to be determined, enthusiastic volunteers needed and a suitable release site found.
Rupert Soskin, Professional Photographer and Author
Rupert, nature photographer, presenter and naturalist, gave a virtual Zoom presentation from his home in southern France to 30 participants. His book entitled “Metamorphosis” took three years to write.
In his study he has photographed sequences of instars of various insects by providing controlled, precise environmental conditions (light, heat, humidity). His photographs included instar growth of Giant Atlas and European Swallowtail butterflies and a shield bug’s larva with dramatic colour changes. He showed the life-cycle of a solitary wasp that collects mud to make mud pots in which she lays a single egg. She then catches up to 20 tiny spiders for each pot which she paralyses to provide food for the larva.
Rupert’s tenacity and patience to follow day by day and hour by hour the metamorphic sequences seen in his beautiful photographs astonished and impressed his audience.
Dr. Tony Whitbread, President Sussex Wildlife Trust
The talk was held on Zoom with 32 people logging on. Tony (formerly CEO of Sussex Wildlife Trust, now President) accompanied his talk with beautiful wildlife photographs from the Trust.
During the three national lock-downs nature seemed to be recovering and people noticed more wildlife. All around the word skies were clearer of pollution, air quality improved and there was questioning of our relationship with nature.
There needs to be a move from exploiting nature to regenerating ways to work with nature. We need to treat nature as assets. Tony believes there cannot be an economy without nature and we can act by lobbying local councillors and national influential people.
Two areas where there have been improvements in the environment: an increase in provision of landfill sites in the UK; a soon-to-be implemented by-law to protect the kelp forest off the Sussex coast to enable the marine environment to recover.
Tony recommended the following references and links relating to his talk:
First is a link to his “Your Better Nature” webinars, where they are recorded – this is the first in the series of 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srWwSyivivg&t=1s
The books he referred to were:
“Doughnut economics” by Kate Raworth
“Dead zone” by Philip Lymbery
“The economics of biodiversity” by Prof P Dasgupta, and here’s the link – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/final-report-the-economics-of-biodiversity-the-dasgupta-review (he suggests you just look at the “headline messages”!)
Dr Colin Ryall, retired Principal Lecturer in Environmental Management – Kingston University, London
This was held on Zoom with 42 people logging on.
An alien species is one that has been introduced by man to a new location for form a self-sustaining population. In UK there are more than 3000 non-native plants and animals, with about 40% being flora introductions.
About 10% of introduced species present a problem and are known as Invasive Alien Species (IAS). These are a result of man’s activities globally and the second most serious cause of upsetting biodiversity. Often without a predator, they can proliferate to out-compete endemic species, modify habitats, hybridise, and bring in diseases. Colin showed many examples of these.
Globally IASs have wreaked havoc in Hawaii, Galapagos, New Zealand and other countries. A dramatic example is on the island of Guam where most bird species have been made extinct by the accidental introduction of the brown tree snake.
On-going and future surveillance with international cooperation is needed and there are various organisations dealing with this. Colin suggested that should members come across and wish to notify any unwanted species they can use various apps which are listed here.
Dr Nikki Gammans FRES, Project Manager, Short-haired bumblebee introduction
This PowerPoint presentation was presented on Zoom. 26 members logged on. Dr Gammans was one of the writers of “Bumblebees – an Introduction.”
There are 278 species of bees in UK of which 250 are solitary bees, one species is the non-native honey bee and 27 species of bumblebees (although 3 are thought to be extinct).
Bumblebees (which include cuckoo bees) have 50-400 workers with only the queen surviving the winter. They forage for shorter distances than honeybees and with a long tongue they can pollinate a wide range of flowers.
Nikki has worked on The Short-haired Bumblebee Project since its start in 2009. The last recorded sighting had been at Dungeness in Kent in 1988. In 2016 204 queens were brought to Kent from Sweden. On-going monitoring is still taking place.
Ways to help bumblebees: go to bumblebeeconservation.org to see their list “Flower Finder” which suggests plants that flower at different times throughout the year; provide a south-facing bee-hotel for solitary bees; join Bumblebee Conservation’s monitoring programme “Bee Walk” to ID and record on a transect between March and October.
Dr Andrew Swan, HNHS President
To ensure that the Zoom procedure would run smoothly for the Winter Talks to be held in November 2020 and January, February and March in 2021, our President, Andy Swan, said he would give a power-point presentation. The subject was “The Haslemere Flora Project,” his own project, and was held on Saturday, 31 October. 26 members logged on.
Andy’s aim was to record the changes that have taken place and why; to ID important locations; and to establish a database to assist with any future conservation project.
The scopes considered were: biological to include vascular plants; and geographical, that is within 10km of Haslemere and therefore encompassing parts of three counties.
His sources of information were: Laura Ponsonby’s 1978 published lists and unpublished archives; and the county floras of Hampshire, Sussex and Surrey.
The current list has 1257 species. Changes since 1978 reveal: an increase of 6 native and 13 non-native species; a decrease of 19 native and 13 non-native species; and 21 probable local extinctions*.
Andy thanked HNHS members who have been assisting him, especially Judith Kusel who was pivotal in getting the project started. Andy hopes that the findings will appear as a HNHS publication “The Flora of Haslemere and the Surrounding Area” in 2021.