AES Invertebrate Conservation Conference 2014 report

Published: 02 December 2014

Our first invertebrate conservation conference, chaired by Humphrey Crick, Principal Specialist in Conservation Ecology at Natural England, was held on October 31st at Charles Darwin House, London, and was a huge success, with every seat booked.

Most notable was the diverse mix of delegates with representatives from wildlife trusts, the RSPB, the Natural History Museum, and local authorities together with a number of amateurs from the AES, BES and BENHS. The atmosphere was enhanced by the wide age range of the audience. I spotted one junior AES member, there were a number of recent graduates in ecology or habitat management, and of course, many senior experts in their fields.

A message common to the presentations was the decline of many insect species and their habitats, for the most part due to human intervention. However, as the Earl of Selborne pointed out, the needs of the human population inevitably need to be taken into account as we try to mitigate our adverse influence on the environment.

We would like to thank Amelia Simpson of the British Ecological Society (BES), Helen Roy of the BES Citizen Science Special Interest Group (SIG) and the BES Conservation Ecology SIG for permission to publish the abstracts below. Special thanks are extended to Gitte Kragh, who managed the presentations, ushered the speakers and helped with numerous other jobs with quiet efficiency. We also thank the presenters for their interesting and thought-provoking talks, and Charles Darwin House for the use of its conference facility and its staff for being so helpful during the day and for providing interval drinks and such an excellent lunch.

Colin Hart

Abstracts and Biographies provided by presenters

The habitat mosaic approach - its importance for invertebrates in grasslands, heathlands and other open habitats.

by Jon Curson, Senior Environmental Specialist - Invertebrate Ecology Biodiversity Delivery Team at Natural England. 

I will run through what we mean by the habitat mosaic approach, based on the importance of providing structural heterogeneity, and the role natural succession plays in providing this structure and mosaics in open habitats such as grassland and heathland. I will provide slides to illustrate what we mean by grasslands and heathlands with both good and poor mosaic structure, and will then discuss how good mosaics can be managed for in these habitats. I'll finish off with a few examples of invertebrates that rely on mosaics, and on particular types of structure catered for in the mosaic. The central theme is that there are loads of invertebrates and they are generally adapted to particular parts of a habitat, bare ground, short turf, long sward, scrub edge etc., and many rely on several of these 'features'. So, by providing a good mosaic structure you cater for the full range of invertebrates associated with grassland, heathland etc., rather than just some of them.

Climate change drives insects up the sea wall

by Tim Gardiner, Environment Agency 

Sea walls are vegetated earth embankments with the primary function of preventing tidal inundation of low-lying coastal land. England has over 2000 km of seawall, with 450 km in south-east Essex alone. They form an important green corridor with near continuous unimproved grassland habitat on some parts of the coast. Sea walls have a rich mosaic of habitats from scrub, tall grassland to sparsely vegetated ground disturbed by vehicles. In response to climate change, scarce bumblebees such as the Shrill Carder Bee Bombus sylvarum have expanded their range from the threatened brownfield sites of the Thames Gateway to north-east Essex, a northwards movement of approximately 30 km. This range expansion was monitored by volunteer recorders in combination with recognised specialists such as Professor Ted Benton, an excellent example of citizen science in action. Seawall grassland has been the primary green corridor utilised during this range expansion. In recent years, Environment Agency (EA) mowing regimes have been altered to allow the continuation of the northward spread of bumblebees. Modifications to EA management regimes include delaying mowing until September or October to allow bumblebees to forage and nest throughout the summer. Rotational cutting regimes are undertaken at some nature reserve sites to produce a mosaic of habitats. 

Brief Biography

Tim Gardiner moved to Essex in 1997 and studied conservation and ecology at Writtle College near Chelmsford for many years, obtaining a PhD in Entomology in 2006. While studying at the College he worked as a lecturer in conservation and also as a researcher, roles which saw him initiate the Essex Glow-worm Survey in 2001. He has worked as a biodiversity officer at the Environment Agency since 2009, a role which sees him involved with maintaining and enhancing the ecological interest of rivers and seawalls in Essex. Tim is currently working on a Seawall Biodiversity Handbook which is due to be published soon. Tim was made a Fellow of the British Naturalists' Association (BNA) in 2007 and has been included in the 2013 Marquis Who's Who in the World for his significant contributions to the study of the conservation of insects and plants in the UK. Tim's first book 'Hopping back to happiness?' published in 2009 dealt with the conservation of our declining farmland grasshoppers, a subsequent book 'Glowing, glowing, gone?' published by the BNA in 2011 reported the results of a 10-year survey of Essex's glow-worms. Tim was awarded the David Bellamy Award in 2013 by the BNA for his significant contribution to conservation and the study of natural history. Tim is currently completing his first collection of natural history poetry, a children's story, and a book on the natural history of Waveney Forest in east Norfolk.

Don't Forget the Little Things - Springtails

by Thom Dallimore, Research Technician at Edge Hill University

Conservation efforts around the world are being driven by more ecological theory than ever before. However, there are still areas within our ecological knowledge that struggle to find their way into conservation practice, most notably those that function on scales that are disproportionate to general human perception. Here we will discuss the role that mesofauna, groups of tiny arthropods, play in ecosystem function. We will present the difficulties which general practitioners and amateur naturalists have in involving these groups in their conservation outputs, and we will present the early stages of a new methodology, 'SHADES'. This method attempts to change the way we record mesofauna to make them relevant to conservation management practices and to promote these difficult groups to citizen science.

Brief biography

Thom Dallimore has previously worked in the conservation sector for a number of years designing and promoting habitat restoration projects. He currently works at Edge Hill University researching the population genetics of Collembola (springtails) and methods by which we can measure mesofauna habitats. He also is engaged in taxonomic and ecological surveillance work on mosquitoes, and is in the process of developing a new key to the mosquitoes of Great Britain with the Field Studies Council.

Using citizen science data for conservation

by Dr Zoe Randle, Surveys Officer at Butterfly Conservation

Species occurrence and population data gathered by volunteer recorders underpin multiple approaches to the conservation of UK butterflies and moths. In addition, such citizen science also contributes to ecological research and engages wider audiences in natural history and biodiversity conservation.

Brief biography

I have worked for Butterfly Conservation for seven years. I am the Surveys Officer and I co-ordinate the National Moth Recording Scheme and the Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey. Prior to this I worked for the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Dorset where I did my PhD looking at how habitat management for the Large Blue Butterfly Phengaris arion benefits other rare species and the role of Myrmica (red) ants within semi-natural acid grasslands. Whilst at CEH I also spent a couple of years studying cynipid gall wasps and their parasitoids in the UK and Europe. I worked on the Farm Scale Trials of GM crops and carried out River Habitat Surveys across the UK.

Bare Ground for Insects - An Important but Frequently Overlooked Habitat Resource

by Stephen Miles, FRES, Independent

This presentation will examine the optimum conditions for insects and other invertebrates in their use of the bare ground of bridleways, tracks and footpaths with particular reference to lowland heaths. The impact on the bare ground resource of modern human access and leisure will be covered. The loss by disturbance of many bare ground habitats will be explained in the context of the insect species that utilise bare ground for their life-history. The British Entomological and Natural History Society's Heathland Flies Project will be mentioned in relation to the implications of this project's findings regarding the Mottled Bee-fly Thyridanthrax fenestratus and its host wasp Ammophila pubescens in bare ground situations. The use and importance of other bare ground habitats will also be briefly mentioned. Finally, solutions that enable the creation of new bare ground excavations to balance the problem of the loss of existing bare ground sites will be considered.

Keep taking the tablets

by Paul Buckland, Independent

The Thorne and Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum was formed some twenty-five years ago to bring together various groups involved in attempts to preserve the last remaining areas of lowland raised mires in eastern England. From its inception, long before the introduction of the trendy term 'Citizen Science,' its objectives included facilitating research, drawn from both the academic/professional and amateur communities, to provide facilities for the publication of these results, and where possible, to commission and seek financial support for projects which might otherwise fail to be carried out. To these ends, the Forum was instrumental in the first invertebrate survey of Thorne Moors, carried out whilst the opencast mining of peat was still going on, and it initiated subsequent surveys of both flora and fauna after the purchase of both moors by the State, a move which effectively absolved the extracting company from any reinstatement plan. Management by Natural England seeks to 'restore' the wetlands to raised mires, although the longer timescale provided by the palaeoecological record indicates that what may eventually result will be something new and not a return to the past. The Forum's interests extend over the whole of the Humberhead Levels, an area roughly bounded by the 10m contour and encompassing the rivers draining towards the Humber Gap. Much research in this region by both professional and amateur scientists has been published as monographs, working papers or in the Forum's occasional journal, as well as in various national or regional journals and conference proceedings. Most recently, the Forum has supported, edited and published an illustrated flora of Thorne Moors, which combines fieldwork by local amateurs with more academic introductory papers. The ninth volume of Thorne & Hatfield Moors Papers is currently with the printer, again combining results from both professional and amateur research.

Both Thorne and Hatfield Moors had been entirely stripped of their raised mire component and what was passed over for 'restoration' was largely a desert of bare peat traversed by numerous ditches cut into the underlying Quaternary deposits. Fifteen years later much of this has developed into a varied mosaic of wetlands, largely poor fen dominated by soft rush. There remain, however, a few small areas of more acid wetlands and at least one fragment which approaches a lagg fen. The latter has been surveyed under the aegis of the Forum, a project whose real cost was subsumed by amateur and professional contribution of unpaid time. The outcome, based on the results of both floral and entomological survey, has been the purchase of the area by an independent conservation trust. Similarly, part of Lindholme, in the centre of Hatfield Moors has also been dedicated for conservation by its owners, and survey and management work there relies on local amateur involvement.

Brief biography

Paul Buckland graduated in geological sciences and archaeology from the University of Birmingham, where he subsequently completed a doctorate in Quaternary entomology. He has taught in the universities of Birmingham, Sheffield, Bristol and Bournemouth, and is currently a self-employed technician specialising in work with fossil insects.

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