Our First Garden BioBlitz

Wild about Bath’s first Garden Bioblitz was held as part of the first BANES Climate and Biodiversity Festival. We wanted to show that our gardens harbour lots of biodiversity, much of it hidden or taken for granted, so we can carry out significant conservation work very easily in our own backyards. 

Our first activity was to attend to the Longworth live mammal traps which had been set overnight, baited with seeds and a bit of cat food to attract in carnivorous shrews. Trap number one by the compost heap – the door was still up, so nothing there. Trap number two – under the iris plant on the edge of the pond – door still up, no visitor there then. Tension mounts – final trap in the hedge bordering onto Shepherd’s Walk – door shut! A bit of careful maneuvering with the trap and a tank… and a bank vole scuttled under the hay in the tank to be admired by all present . 

Bank Vole in a tank
Our bank vole

Next was the moth trap, also set up overnight. This live trapping device where the moths are attracted by the light, has been set in this garden frequently over the summer, but every time there is something different, as the moths change with the seasons. Today the new moths included a grey pine carpet, which was only there because there is a Scots pine tree in the garden where the moth larvae can feed. Another was the black rustic moth, which only appears in September and October and gorges itself on over-ripe blackberries and ivy flowers, which are a favourite late season source of food (both available free of charge on Shepherds’ Walk).

Black rustic moth
Black rustic

The compost heap is a favourite place for all kind of creepy crawlies, but we focused on looking for toads, mice and slow worms. Alas, none there today, but another piece of cardboard left around the roots of a recently planted tree yielded a beautiful slow worm (after our expert burrowed in the soil a bit). 

Slow worm held in a hand
Slow worm

Another slow worm was revealed as we turned our attention to the pond.   We learned how to hold them safely – never by the tail, which they will drop if stressed (as a defence mechanism).  In the water were two distinct dragonfly nymphs. They are linked to the adult dragonflies that we have seen flying above the ponds in recent days (but not today as it was cloudy)  – the smaller nymph is from the common darter and the larger is the young of the southern hawker. 

Dragonfly nymphs

Meanwhile a bee aficionado helped us to see the different colours of the pollen being collected by buff-tailed bumble bees (today carrying yellow pollen) and carder bees (orange pollen, probably from the mullein plant). Our ornithologist alerted us to the yaffle of the green woodpecker, the “chiff- chaff” call of the migrant of the same name, and the high pitched squeak of the goldcrest, which are again often to be seen and heard on Shepherd’s Walk. 

Common carder bee with orange pollen sacs on yellow mullein flower
Common carder bee on mullein flowers

Of course, we mustn’t forget the flora – a botanist and some botanical enthusiasts peered at and pored over plants in the lawn, borders, meadow area and boundaries of the garden, logging over 50 species, including the delightfully named Squinancywort, which is related to Goosegrass and has tiny pink flowers.

In total nearly 20 people saw over 100 species of flora and fauna in the short time we had available, in between making new friends, greeting old ones, drinking coffee and eating delicious lemon drizzle cake. As well as sheer numbers of species it’s fascinating to start to understand the interconnections between species and their habitat- different bee species specialise on different flowers, bank voles like hedges, moth caterpillars have different requirements from the adults. We plan to hold another garden bioblitz in early summer to see what is around then. Do join us next time. 

By Jenny James

“Taking an Autumnal snapshot of the wildlife in the garden has been eye-opening. It’s been fascinating to focus in on different animal groups and change perspective about who and what are living here.”

– Event attendee

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