Citizen science project to explore different species

Look at those feelers,” cried a youngster with a magnifying lens aimed at a small blue and green moth with antennae twice as long as its body.

Tuesday, 7th May 2019, 17:01 pm
Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust BioBlitz on Wadsley Common: Bella Paynter (2) looks at a snail shell

Longhorn moths, oak apple gall wasps, goat willows, tawny mining bees, worms, snails, spiders and even a curious cuckoo all made the team sheet on Saturday’s ‘Bioblitz’ on Wadsley and Loxley Common.

“A Bioblitz is a citizen science project where the public are invited to find as many species as they can,” said Narelle Willis of Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust. “It’s a snapshot of what we can find on this one day, it helps people learn about the wildlife of the common and it compiles important biological data too.” Over 150 species of animals, birds, plants, lichens and fungi were logged by scores of naturalists young and old as they scoured the common’s 100 or so acres of woodland, scrubland and lowland heath.  Wadsley and Loxley Commoner Alan Smith was delighted with the turnout for the day, with over 150 people (from families to experts from the University of Sheffield’s Wildlife Society), joining the Bioblitz from early morning mammal sightings to late night bat walking.  “For me the highlight of the day was the stream of kids doing the minibeast bug hunts - I don't think we got to count all the children involved.” Usually, counting and recording is Alan’s thing. A regular Wadsley Common dog walker, he started noting down the common’s trees five years ago after being inspired by a natural history walk, and quickly moved onto flowers until he’s now recorded over 1,000 separate species of plants, insects, birds and animals. “It got under my skin a bit,” he said. On a week when the United Nations warned of the dire consequences to our own species of the increasingly rapid loss of the world’s insects, plants and animals, Alan and colleagues from the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust felt the work on Wadsley and Loxley Common mirrored what’s needed around the rest of the UK.  “We’re aiming to protect heathland and its species and educate the next generations,” said Alan. “We hope the children who’ve taken part will keep that interest in wildlife, wherever they are.”  The day’s activities were part of the Wildlife Trust’s new Sheffield Lakeland Landscape Partnership initiative around the Outdoor City’s ‘lakeland’, primarily funded by £2.6 million pounds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Part of the project’s aim is to help local groups in northwest Sheffield to manage and conserve the area’s landscape and history.  “The Wadsley and Loxley Commoners are a very active, very effective and very hardworking team,” said Danny Hodgson of SRWT. “There’s a lot up here to celebrate, and these people are responsible for keeping this common like it is.” Like many parts of the traditional English countryside, the common is effectively a man-made landscape, with over 1,000 years of livestock grazing, coppicing, mining and quarrying leading to an increasingly rare ‘lowland heath’ environment, said Danny, which is particularly valuable since the common is so close to the city. Maintaining the heathland means regular management and removal of encroaching ‘pioneer’ tree species like silver birch, which would otherwise overwhelm other plants like heather. “The common is good for wildlife because it has a mixture of habitats,” said Narelle Willis. “For example, cuckoos and yellowhammers which are in national decline. The work being done now and in the future will keep these species hanging on in there.”   An initial grant to the volunteers of Wadsley Common will allow them to train more of their members to carry on monitoring work and help increase their conservation efforts.  After years of doing their best with reducing budgets from the city council, who own the site,  John Robinson of WALC said the new opportunities offered by the Lakeland Landscape Partnership project over the next three years will move the voluntary work of the Wadsley Commoners “into a different league.”  Lowland heath species like nightjars, reptiles and adders could return as the conservation work  progresses, said Danny. “We hope we can make an already very rich site even more valuable,” he said. 

Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust BioBlitz on Wadsley Common: Narelle Willis of Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust looking at a young oak tree
Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust BioBlitz on Wadsley Common: Mary O'Connell of Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust seeping for insects with Rose Coats (3)

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Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust BioBlitz on Wadsley Common: Astrid Joy Venables (7) marvels at a snail
Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust BioBlitz on Wadsley Common: Lilah Moore (6) finds a spider