Part 2: Bioblitz – 14th may 2022
Early on Saturday morning, we met at Springfield Quarry for a bioblitz. “What is a bioblitz?” I hear you say. A bioblitz is an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species at possible in a short period of time. They are a great way to have a look at what is in an area, and they encourage communities to come together as a group, learn and get up close to nature. This one helped us to find out just how good Springfield Quarry is for nature, as well as being a secluded spot to walk your dog. We had a vague itinerary: birds and moths, then mammals and plants, ending with minibeasts. Having had a great bat walk the night before, at which time I had set out a wildife camera and Ann and Simon had set out some Longworth mammal traps in the quarry and a moth trap in a nearby garden, we arrived excited for what we might find!
Alan Hodge had brought along some old maps of the area with the quarry on. Springfield Quarry was once the largest open stone quarry in Bath, mining golden Bath stone and while open it yielded an impressive 160,000 tons of stone! I don’t recall when it closed, but Alan recounted his experiences as a child, coming over to Springfield Quarry to collect newts from one of several ponds and pools, fed by natural springs. Alas, these pools and ponds are no more. When the surrounding houses were built the springs were re-routed or piped off, and with the water went the aquatic life. Fortunately, the council are hoping to do some work in Springfield Quarry in the future, and last year held a public consultation on possible ideas. These include buidling a path from Hawthorn Grove to improve access, installing additional benches for people to enjoy the area more, and building ponds and wood piles to improve the habitat for wildlife. Developing a “Friends of Springfield Quarry” group to assist with conservation work would be a huge benefit to the area, so do contact the council if this is something you are interested in!
Birds and Moths
Throughout the morning we heard, more than saw, several birds. There was great emphasis on the sorts of garden birds you would expect to find: we heard great tits, blue tits, robins, blackbirds, blackcaps and wren. There were lesser black backed gulls circling the skies overhead, and when we first arrived that morning we were supervised by a beautiful jay. Later in the morning we encountered some particularly annoyed sounding birds, especially a robin, which are known to be very territorial.
Simon and Ann had set their moth trap up in Alan Hodge’s garden, which neighbours the quarry, the previous night, and their friend Robert came along with some of the moths found in his own moth trap. These traps use UV light to lure night-flying moths into a box from which they find it hard to escape. The next morning you can look at the moths, try to identify them, and then safely release them unharmed. Unfortunately, the cool weather and bright moon that night had reduced the number of moths we caught, but we still found some lovely ones!
First out of the box wasn’t a moth at all, but a cockchafer! These large bumbling beetles are attracted to light and are often found in moth traps. Also recorded included the macro moths: Treble lines, Flame shoulder, Brindled beauty and Heart and Dart, as well as several micro moths that we would have struggled to identify. There are around 2500 species of moth in the UK, 1850 of which are the micro moths which aren’t always easy to identify. Robert told us that he has recorded an impressive 600 different moth species since he first started trapping them!
Mammals and Plants
Unfortunately, the wildlife camera was fruitless. Although at least one of the Longworth mammal traps looked hopeful, these too were bare. One of the traps had been moved, so perhaps it caught something that later escaped, or a nosey fox or dog had investigated having smelled the food inside. The wildlife camera had been set up beside a hole that looked like it could have belonged to a small animal (such as a rabbit or fox), and one of the attendees of the bat walk last night reported having seen deer and foxes in the quarry before. Alan also reported bagers in the area, and I had spied a squirrel on a previous visit. Other mammals that the quarry could be home to include hedgehog, mice, voles and shrews, and the bioblitz was supervised by a curious neighbourhood cat. Of course, bats are mammals too, so we must include them! It would be interesting to pop the Longworth traps and camera trap out again for a longer period of time (one night isn’t really long enough), install a static bat detector to get a better idea of the number and species of bats here, and even footprint tunnels to find hedgehogs!
You might be surprised to discover that the large central tree that greets you as you enter the quarry is in fact a walnut tree! Walnut trees were introduced to Britain by the Romans, and is now naturalised. It is a beautiful tree, dotted with lichen, and we could just see the walnuts starting to form. Looking carefully at the ground you might find some walnut shells too! Mark Baggot and Carol Stone led us around the quarry, pointing out beech, lime trees (with edible leaves and flowers!), spindle, holly, field maple, hawthorn, alder, goat willow and ash. One of the trees had died, leaving behind a rotting stump about 9 feet tall, from which I was excited to see a lone European hornet queen enter (my first of 2022)! I do hope she’s making a nest there as it seems the perfect place. Don’t worry though, hornets are remarkably docile members of the wasp family and the nest, if she builds one, is safely off the main path. There was lots and lots of cow parsley in the wooded area, this plant is enjoyed by bees, beetles and hoverflies. Other plants spotted included bluebells, dandelions, white dead nettle, herb robert, catchweed bedstraw, nettles (edible, if you can stand the sting when harvesting), willowherb (a favourite for elephant hawkmoths), garlic mustard, ferns, ivy, sedge, hedge woundwort, and even some slightly different plants such as strawberry and honeysuckle (garden escapes, perhaps?), figworts and hemp agrimony. Surrounding the open grassy area are scrubby areas, filled with brambles (perfect for blackberry picking in autumn). A few weeks previously (in sunnier weather) this part was filled with butterflies: tortoiseshell, peacock and speckled wood, but during our bioblitz we only saw large white butterflies.
Apart from the moths earlier in the morning, number of insects and spiders had already been spotted. Using a sweep net in the cow parsley had yielded a malachite beetle, a click beetle, a rustic sailor beetle and some pollen beetles, as well as many tiny hoverflies and a green shield bug. The net also found many long-jawed orbweaver spiders and a tiny running crab spider. Bumblebees were making great use of the bramble flowers, and we even found a tiny mining bee. Lifting wood from the ground revealed slugs and snails, ground beetles, woodlice and pill millipedes, white-legged millipedes and centipedes. I knew from my previous visit that there were dung beetles here, though we found none on the day. If the weather had been sunnier and warmer, we would have certainly found a lot more butterflies and beetles.
– By Cat Baker