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Saturday, 24 June 2017

Sycamore tree

In a recent survey of Callis Wood at Charlestown, we saw some leaves of a mature Sycamore that looked different. They were on the end of a low, large branch and if shown in isolation it would be easy to assume they are from an ornamental maple.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Birdwatching Ramble at Rishworth

On Saturday 17th June, nine of us met at Heathfield Prep for a birdwatching ramble in the Rishworth area, taking in Booth Dean and Turner Clough with its breathtaking views of the River Ryburn. Some of the terrain was a tad challenging but the rewards were worth it - wild and untamed areas of woodland where we spotted some fascinating moths as well as birds. Steve did his usual half-hour count of bird species which totalled 17. Later, we saw two Buzzards, the first of which was of such a size that Charlie said he would possibly have identified it as a Golden Eagle had we been in Scotland! Out of the woods, we were treated to more butterflies and moths, with a possible first for Calderdale identified by Charlie as Grapholita compositella, or the Clover Seed moth. There were a good number of Speckled Wood butterflies and I was very excited to see a Yellow Shell moth for the first time in two years! Julian took an excellent shot of it, shown here, which was no easy task on such an extremely bright and sunny day. As for mammals, one young Roe deer was spotted, one rabbit and one squirrel. There was also evidence of moles in the form of molehills.
Plant species were also noted; Julian photographed a Southern Marsh orchid - identity now verified by Peachysteve.
On our way back down the road, Steve and Charlie spotted a Ruby-tailed wasp, which Steve managed to photograph very well in spite of the insect buzzing around at high speed.
It was a great ramble despite the heat, and - as always - it was a wonderful privilege to be walking with experts!

(Possibly) Southern Marsh orchid Julian Birkhead

One of the many exquisite scenes we saw along the Ryburn Julian Birkhead

Yellow Shell moth Julian Birkhead

Ruby-tailed Wasp Chrysis ignita SB
Charlie Streets explains it would have been searching the cracks in the wall for other wasp nests or those of  mining bees to parasitise. Only about the size of a bluebottle fly, it must qualify as one of the most superbly-coloured insects in Britain. 


Had a pleasant surprise this week. When inspecting my apple tree I discovered two new mistletoe plants in addition to the one that germinated four years ago.

I've not added any berries in that time so assume the seeds have lain dormant since then.

Fingers crossed I now have both sexes!

Wanted! Butterfly survey volunteers

Natalie at the National Trust has asked me to share this request for butterfly volunteers with you:

We are currently recruiting for survey volunteers at Hardcastle Crags!

Mainly we survey butterflies in the peak season and record our results onto the UK BMS database in partnership with Butterfly Conservation.

We want to expand our group so that we can collect more records, survey other critters as well as carrying out survey work which will influence our practical countryside work plans, habitat management and natural flood management work.

See the link below for the survey role profile and Hardcastle crags information packs.

The survey team meet up once a month for a catch up meet with a guest speaker accompanied with a survey on site. In the last meeting we had a student studying bumblebees on our hay meadows and for the next meeting we have a local mosses and liverworts chap talking about his crags discoveries and helping us to I.D.

Interested? Contact me directly on the email below with any other questions and information regarding a taster day.

Best wishes,

Natalie Pownall
Academy Ranger
West Yorkshire Group
National Trust

Friday, 16 June 2017

Bashing balsam update!

On Wednesday I went balsam bashing at Hardcastle Crags - the balsam is quick and easy to pull up and 7 of us cleared quite an area fast, which is always satisfying!  If you'd like to have a go and help trying to rid Hardcastle Crags of this non native plant which is threatening to out compete other native plants, please help the National Trust by going along to sessions on 19th and 27th June, and 6th, 14th and 19th July, all at 18.00 - 20.00.  Wear protective clothing (nettles and brambles can sting!) and bring insect repellent. Stay for as long as you like. Meet at Midgehole Car Parking (if volunteering and you are not a member of the National Trust, there is no car parking charge.)

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Rhinoceros Beetle

Continuing with the beetle theme, here are a couple of pictures of a male rhinoceros beetle, Sinodendron cylindricum, which I found in my garden in Halifax last night. It was struggling to walk - all caught up in thick cobweb which I removed with a pin and set him free to amble up the path, pointing him in the direction of the woodpile.

Interesting Beetle

We saw this ground beetle, Elaphrus cupreus, swimming about at the edge of a pool on the moor above Pecket Well yesterday on the impromptu Halifax Scientific Society walk. Turns out not to be uncommon in this environment, but a handsome beast and interesting to watch as it paddled around with it's antennae in the air.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Ash Dieback

There are reports this season from respected arborists, that the advance of Ash dieback disease is breath taking across Yorkshire and Lancs/Cumbria.

I travelled over to Gisburn a few days ago and the majority of Ash trees, both young and mature, had severe thinning and dieback, with many looking near death. Plenty of evidence also on mature trees in Calderdale.

In the adjacent limestone areas where virtually every other tree is an Ash, it will have devastating effects.

Plenty of 'woodlands' being planted but no one is replacing the landscape trees which we all love and make the land what it is.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Bash that Balsam!

If you fancy some fun and useful practical conservation work, the HSS have been invited to join the National Trust in doing some balsam bashing at Hardcastle Crags.  Come for as long or as short a time as you like, it’s very informal – dates are : 14th, 19th, 27th June and 6th, 14th and 19th July, all at 6.00 – 8.00pm.  There will be signposts from Midgehole Carpark directing you to where the balsam bashing that evening is taking place.  Please note, car parking charges for non National Trust members may apply.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Fallow Deer

I saw these 5 Fallow Deer today at Bingley. Obviously a wild population as they all jumped over the wall and away.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Joys of Nest Recording

Rare birds are few and far between, but while nest recording you can sometimes get a rare view into the biology of a common bird, like these two newly-hatched Woodpigeons at Todmorden on 28th May. Their nest was so low I just walked up to it to get this picture. We found another Woodpigeon nest nearby, a little higher up in a hawthorn, and earlier that day we had recorded a Wren's nest with eggs and a Kestrel's with at least three downy white chicks with their eyes open. All details to go on BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) Nest Record Cards, and all monitoring is carried out to BTO procedure to avoid causing desertion of nests.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Bumblebee Survey Training

On May 24th Charlotte Weightman and I attended a 'Bumblebee Survey Training' workshop led by Moors for the Future's Tom Aspinall (Community Science Project Officer) and Joe Margetts (Community Science Communication and Engagement Officer). The workshop took place at the Todmorden Community Resource Centre.

First we were given a brief outline of the importance of blanket bogs; pollution caused by the Industrial Revolution stripped the moors of sphagnum moss, reducing their capacity for water retention, resulting in the erosion of the peat so vital for the health of the moorland. A 2005 photograph taken at Black Hill, in the Peak District National Park, shows a bleak and barren landscape, but in the space of a mere 6 years, after treatment with heather brash, seeding and the application of 3/4 million sphagnum fragments, the landscape is now lush with cotton grass, heather and sphagnum moss. And a healthy habitat of course draws many species of birds, insects and mammals.

Our concern today was with the Bumblebee, whose numbers have declined through loss of habitat. To make identification simple, we were given only 3 target species: the Bilberry Bumblebee (Bombus monticola), the Red-Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) and the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) although we did touch on a number of other species - Early, White-tailed, Buff-tailed, Garden, Heath and Common Carder.

The talk was fascinating and informative; we learned, for example, that with climate change the southerly bees are moving northwards, but those already resident in the north are not moving north but remaining, meaning that the bee population is becoming more concentrated at a certain latitude. We also learned that Bumblebees have the longest tongues of all bees and are therefore able to pollinate more plants than other bees. We were all amazed to learn that Bumblebees travel at average speeds of 30mph even when fully laden with pollen! They are also able to fly in perfectly straight lines ('bee-lines'!) in 30mph winds. One truly fascinating fact is that a Bumblebee can disengage its wing muscles in order to raise its body temperature quickly; on cold Spring mornings this tactic enables the bee to get going and pollinate plants long before other insects have warmed up enough to do so!

After lunch we were taken into the Community Centre's garden and shown a nesting box where a colony of bees had taken up residence. We then went to one of Incredible Edible's gardens in the grounds of the Health Centre to try out our identifying skills. At that point, it had grown a little cool and windy so we did not see as many bees as we had hoped, but we were still able to find a number of Early Bumblebees and 3 other species - Tree, Common Carder and Garden Bumblebees. We also visited Tipside, an area adjacent to the Market and Bus Station, that has been developed by TRIG (Todmorden Riverside Improvement Group) as a biodiverse space for wildlife. It holds many bee-friendly plant species such as Comfrey, Ragged Robin and Cuckoo Flower.

Our thanks go to Tom and Joe for a truly enjoyable and enlightening day.

A PDF version of the talk is downloadable here:


If you think you would like to volunteer and walk a transept route to find out  how our bees are faring, you can find out more by emailing:


or by visiting the website:


Saturday, 20 May 2017

Today's walk - Soyland's Green Lanes

Eleven of us plus the very cheerful and enthusiastic Meg the dog went on today's walk  which was a mixture of green lanes, woods, pasture and country roads, walking the paths which  folk would have taken many years ago to go to and from the mills near Mill Bank and Kebroyd up to the 18th century textile entrepreneur Sam Hill's Making Place Hall in Soyland. We saw a variety of things - including a bumblebee's nest which had been disturbed; an English Oak (Quercus robur) which is a rare find in Calderdale; a Marsh Harrier being mobbed by crows; the wonderfully named Pick-a-back plant (Tolmiea menziessi) on the river side; a deer bounding over a meadow; Changing Forget-me-Not; different walling styles and scratchings of vegetation by a badger.  Peachysteve taught us how to recognise Broad Buckler Fern easily and showed us fascinating aspects of specific trees.  Everyone added to the mix of knowledge and of friendship and it was lovely to see new faces join us!  And the rain came only at the very end of the walk!

Friday, 19 May 2017

Smith's Medlar

The hybrid between a Medlar and Midland Hawthorn is in full flower in Todmorden Park. Known as xCrataemespilus grandiflora, it was originally referred to as Smith's Medlar in the early 19th C. James Edward Smith was a botanist and founder of the Linnean Society. It was he who managed to buy Linnaeus' herbarium from his widow, which is a bit of a story in itself and the King of Sweden was not best pleased.

It is a most unusual large bush and I haven't come across the hybrid anywhere else. I believe it to be a bit of a rarity. I have yet to see it produce any berries.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Spring drought exposes casual war on trees

This exceptional dry weather has put many trees under stress. I have noticed in particular some Beech and Sycamore are reluctant to open their buds.

On this note, I have never quite understood why the grass under mature trees in parkland or wide verges is either sprayed off or mown to death.  It exposes the tree roots to desert like conditions.

With this drought and drying easterly winds it is important the rooting environment is looked after. Why waste money and risk the health of mature trees?

 Long grass keeps tree roots moist.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Our May indoor meeting and talk - Tuesday 9th May


Re the walk on 6th May; due to a mild winter the daffodils have all finished blooming, but we will look at their leaves and see if they have set seed. Also we have a stock of them multiplied from one single bulb unearthed on the hillside when some cows got in, so we will be doing a bit of practical conservation by replacing this stock of bulbs. You can help if you come along. I'll have some trowels.  (And a photo of the native daffodil flowers.)

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Bumblebee Survey Training - 24th May

This training event will incorporate a presentation on bumblebee ID with a focus on three species that are the targets of our long-term surveys, along with methods to survey those bees. Following the presentation will be an outdoor session along a bumblebee transect where we will practice the methods described and ID some bees in the field.
This event is aimed at beginners or those who have attended training in previous years who would like to refresh their knowledge and skills.
For more information please contact moorcitizens@peakdistrict.gov.uk
Date and Time
Wed 24 May 2017
11:00 – 15:30 BST
Todmorden Community Resource Centre, Lever Street
Todmorden  OL14 5QF