Posts Tagged ‘wilderness’

Ben Connor

Here at Meet the Species HQ, we have had an amazing time searching for wildlife all over the UK, so we decided to each do a blogpost about our favourite wildlife experience whilst working on the project. Ben gets up close and personal with some scaley friends.

Being a part of Meet the Species, and discovering the incredible diversity of wildlife just waiting to be encountered on anyone’s doorstep, has been a truly eye-opening adventure. From leaving a light bulb and trap out for a single night to be rewarded with dozens of delicately patterned moths; to dipping a single net into a shallow pond to discover a world teeming with life; or taking a walk in the woods at dusk to see a host of bats flitting overhead, there have been many fantastic experiences.

 However, my personal highlight of the last eighteen months was the opportunity to meet, for the first time in my life, some of our reptilian neighbours; the slow worm and the grass snake. The slow worm is an especially fascinating and unusual creature – a legless reptile that is a lizard not a snake, contrary to its name it is definitively not a worm, and can move extremely quickly when required.

Slow worm at Wilderness festival: one of our Meet the Species feature events

At last year’s Wilderness Festival, our resident herpetologist brought along both a specimen collected during a nearby survey, and visitors to the Meet the Species HQ were able to learn more about this intriguing lizard. It was a privilege to be able to introduce these usually elusive creatures to a wider audience.

Grass Snake at Wilderness Festival: one of our Meet the Species feature events

 I am still yet to encounter a slow worm in the field, and am increasingly jealous of those who see them frequently in compost heaps and gardens, but rest assured I will be keeping my eyes peeled for any sudden movements in the undergrowth, and hoping for a chance to meet one of these amazing reptiles again very soon!

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Here at Meet the Species HQ, we have had an amazing time searching for wildlife all over the UK, so we decided to each do a blogpost about our favourite wildlife experience whilst working on the project. Eleanor got up to her elbows in pond dipping at Wilderness festival and loved it!

Whilst working on the Meet the Species project, my knowledge of wildlife and nature has come in leaps and bounds. Not only have I picked up a plethora of fascinating facts from the naturalists we’ve worked with, but I have learnt that to fully appreciate your natural surroundings the most beneficial thing you can do is engage all of your senses. Getting stuck in, wading through the underbrush, crouching low enough so that your chin is touching the ground, looking up at the trees and the sky forgetting all else around you can be highly therapeutic. I’ve learnt to use my ears to pick up on the noises and calls of birds and insects, my nose to smell out plants and trees, my eyes to seek the tiniest of creatures, my touch to identify the texture, size and armour of trees and mammals. It’s exciting that you can find species wherever you may look, even whilst surrounded by urban civilisation and the humdrum of large gatherings of people.

My favourite Meet the Species memory, has got to be the pond dipping we were able to do at Wilderness Festival. Everything from the amble down to the ponds, to the cluster of heads peering closer to see the tiniest of insects, had memories of my childhood embedded in them. The poetic sight of children and adults wading through long grasses carrying bug pots and pond dipping nets, had me reciting “We’re going on a bear hunt….” In my head!

Pond Dipping at Wilderness

Beneath the calm and reflective surface of our destination, the hub of live activity is astonishing. The children take it in turns to swoop and sweep their nets back and forth, like birds searching for a feast from above. We huddle closely to eye up the winnings, some expecting toads and fish but being met by a tank full of micro civilisation. Pond shrimp, water skaters, blood sucking worms, a terrific mix of insects and bugs can definitely come up trumps. We all join in a chorus of what, who, where, when, why and how. The group is collectively thirsty for more information on this alien environment, which is all part and parcel of our own magnified lifecycle.

In our urban habitats we’re surrounded by opportunity, green spaces, parks, ponds, rivers, but this friendly access and insight into pond life is like a confidence boost, disguised as a guide. I like watching people come out of their own shells. Parents, who come on our pond dipping walks, solely to accompany their offspring, transform into inquisitive participants, children who resent their parents for dragging them along quickly become eager to showcase their findings with parents. A net will never be pulled in empty. Everyone is a winner in our race to find species.

My favourite find at Wilderness was the parasitic wasp, which lays eggs into the greater pond snail’s (Lymnaea Stagnalis) shell. The wasp then grows whilst eating the snail from the inside out. It sounds like a torturous process but a wily and clever way for the wasp to thrive. If the Meet the Species project was a pond snail, and the public were parasitic wasps, then the idea of people joining in, hitching a ride, and hungrily eating all knowledge we can offer from inside the project, then the parasitic wasp seems like a brilliant metaphor for the perfect participant!

If you fancy a go at pond dipping yourself, why not take part in Pond Conservations’ Big Pond Dip!

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On Thursday the 9th of August, we were back in the van and on the road again, on our way to Wilderness Festival in Oxfordshire for it’s second year of fun and frolicks.. As we pulled up past the grand 19th century house we spotted our first species and a stunning one at that…. Peacocks! This certainly set the weekend off to a good start.

Wilderness by Jenny Garrett

Wilderness by Jenny Garrett

Wilderness is a small and unique affair to say the least! Costumes, masks and face paints are a relentless theme. Around every corner are secret venues, mock Olympic competitions and spontaneous flash mobs… at this festival having your wits, creative appreciation and sense of humour about you at all times is a must! The festival is situated at the heart of a large estate, complete with deer park, mystical woodland, grand house with gardens, boating & swimming lakes and many other beautiful features. Having attended the festival last year (2011), we knew the site was a greatly diverse area for wildlife but we’d forgotten the astonishing beauty of the place.



We set up the stall under the shade of a large oak tree (possibly 300+ years old) and had a quick wonder around the site. It was an early rise on Friday morning to start our Wilderness species count. We were quickly joined by Richard, our resident bug expert for the weekend. Little did we know that Richard is an all-round nature & wildlife tycoon, spilling an endless plethora of knowledge on all things natural. What a champion! Richard led walks throughout the weekend, set his own moth traps, and was always on guard to answer both adult’s and children’s inquisitive who, what, where, when, why and hows!



We were also joined by Nick and Mary, who took walks and hosted the arts and crafts section of our stall. Our meadow board was a popular feature, just as it was at our previous events. Children came in mass to colour in insects, birds, flowers, butterflies etc. and stick them to our colourful collage. The saw and hand drill made a 2nd appearance of the summer, with the return of our wood chip necklaces, which went down a chipper treat (oh yes I did)! Nick lead some nature walks over the weekend, as did Martin who brought with him his enthusiastic son Dominic in addition to some expert equipment, including a bug sucking machine which is a great way of collecting smaller bugs without harming them. The machine is basically a hoover with a net inside which prevents the bugs being sucked up completely. You can empty the net into a tray and have a good old peek at what you’ve caught. A brilliant tool, if not slightly noisy for the peaceful festival goers!

Pond Dippers

Pond Dippers

Perhaps the best thing over the weekend was the use of the lakes for our Pond Dipping walk. Adults and kids turned up in their droves, to find out what really lurks beneath the surface of the lakes they’d been swimming in just hours before! As we made our way down to the boating lake through the festival, our quirky procession carrying fishing nets, tanks and butterfly nets was something of a spectacle! Good for us though as the further we wondered the more people would tag along with intrigue! We gathered at the shallow end of the lake and got dipping! We found all sorts of small creatures such as pond shrimp, damson nymphs, water skaters, blood-sucking worms, pond snails, whilst having overhead visits from plenty of butterflies, moths and dragonflies. The scenery was as stunning and diverse as some of our finds!

Dominic Pond Dipping

Dominic Pond Dipping

We were able to add red deer to the list as the festival is situated in the close proximity to a deer park, but we drew the line at the camels that were brought in for rides! We topped the weekend with a soaring total of 265+ species, with special thanks to both Mark and David our guest Lichen experts, who tallied a highly ‘likable’ figure of Lichen during their visit on Saturday. To top it off we had a very special guest, Hugh Warwick join us to tell us some amazing things about hedgehogs! (Look out for more from Hugh during our 12 day finale starting 22nd August).

Hugh Warwick

Back to reality and rain on the windows (we can’t complain, we were treated with glorious summer sunshine at both Womad and Wilderness!), we are full steam ahead on our plans for the Meet the Species finale which starts in just 6 DAYS!! Our schedule is choc-a-block with exciting, cool, fun and fascinating content for you to feast your eyes on… Don’t forget to set the alarms for 9am on Wednesday 22nd August because that’s when our grand finale begins! See you there (here)!

Wild Flowers at Wilderness

Wild Flowers at Wilderness

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Grass Snake

Getting up close and personal with a grass snake

This week’s Meet the Species adventure saw the team continuing the hunt for our 2012 species deep in the heart of the Oxfordshire countryside, where we made our latest trip to the fantastic Wilderness Festival at Cornbury Park. Deep in the wilds of England, the festival proved a perfect place to explore a range of habitats, from grassy meadows humming with grasshoppers, to ancient woodlands of gnarled trees, and beautiful ponds just waiting to be investigated.


After setting up the now well-travelled Meet the Species gazebo on Friday afternoon, our first wildlife walk headed out as the sun was setting, as we explored the woodland by moonlight on the search for bats. The enthusiastic crowd, equipped with bat detectors and led by our naturalist Lydia, managed to seek out a number of pipistrelle bats flitting between the trees, and when we returned on Saturday evening, Daubenton’s bats along the edge of the lake.

Martin leads a bug hunt

Martin leads an enthusiastic army of bug-hunters

Each day kicked off with visitors gathering round the moth traps laid the night before by our bug expert Martin, and we were rewarded with a number of different species each morning. Groups set out throughout the day to explore the different habitats of the site, including armies of bug hunters equipped with nets, who uncovered an amazing number of insects, in particular an incredible range of crickets and grasshoppers – with some literally hopping straight into the hands of our explorers! Plant and tree walks, led by Graham, also found a great diversity of wildflowers and trees, from venerable old oaks to the forebodingly named deadly nightshade.

Speckled bush cricket

A speckled bush cricket, one of many species found over the course of the weekend

As well as going out in search of wildlife, a number of species could be found back at the Meet the Species tent, as people brought their own finds to us from the nearby fields, or even from their own tents, including an variety of beautiful beetles and spiders that we helped to identify and examine further under the microscope. Our pond dipping expeditions also returned with some great samples, with signal crayfish, a three-spined stickleback, a great water boatman and freshwater shrimp, amongst many others, all being ticked off the species list. Finally, on Sunday we were granted a special treat, as Rod, our reptile and amphibian expert, brought along two grass snakes and also a slow worm –  one of our twelve feature species– that he had found during a nearby survey, allowing people to get a closer view of these often elusive reptiles.


Just two full days of species hunting managed to produce a total of almost two hundred species, many of which we were able to tick off the 2012 species list for the first time. Thanks must go to Lydia, Martin, Nina, Dominic, Graham and Rod, for their assistance over the weekend, and to all our fellow Wilderness explorers who helped to hunt down the different species. Just a few days rest now, and then we head off to Green Man Festival in Wales for our next adventure – come and join us there as we continue the race!

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