Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Bat and moth evening with Norfolk Wildlife Services

Barry Madden, NWT volunteer

Smokey lines of straggly cloud silhouetted against an horizon of red and orange pastel hues; ragged streams of gulls silently and purposefully moving westwards towards their roost on the mud wastes of the Wash; shadow forms of rabbits hopping across the open grassland in the quickening dusk; and the fetid smell of rotting flesh emanating from stinkhorn fungi attracting flies to carry its spores to pastures new. 

Just a few impressions from an evening spent with NWT colleagues at the Mars Foods factory in King's Lynn helping to run a bat and moth evening for staff. First off we were given a tour of the site, extending over several acres, by Dave a most enthusiastic champion of all things wild and natural. He is working hard to develop the whole area into a wildlife haven and our job was to help spread some of this joy to other employees of the company.

But first some context. Mars Foods occupies a site on the Hardwick Industrial Estate in Kings Lynn, an industrial complex like many others scattered around our county and on first impressions the very antithesis of a wildlife friendly landscape. But let's look a bit closer. Behind the facade of iron fencing, beyond the tarmac car parks full of our expensive tin cans and rows of utilitarian warehouses lies another hidden world. A world that cannot be seen from the road; a world that by its very nature and because of its very location can remain largely undisturbed and peaceful. And it is here that enlightened staff, with advice and guidance from Norfolk Wildlife Services (NWS), are giving nature a helping hand, shaping what already exists into something better; creating something new from neglected tracts of otherwise sterile space. 

The space in question comprises small areas of mixed woodland and bramble scrub, tall boundary hedging and a large tract of open grassland some of which is being left un-mown to encourage wild flowers to flourish. The northern edge of the site is bordered by a small river, itself edged with mature trees, offering another dimension for wildlife to thrive. Log piles have been deposited in sheltered nooks, a pond has been dug, nest boxes positioned and a walkway created so that staff have somewhere to stroll during their breaks. It really is very simple, but so very effective.

Our primary concern this evening was to guide a small party of staff members on a bat hunt around the more wooded parts of the site. To this end we furnished each participant with a bat detector device that picks up the echo location calls of bats and converts them to electrical output that we humans can hear. Each species of bat emits signals at a particular frequency and by setting the dial on the bat detector to frequencies favoured by the common, more likely, inhabitants of the area their chatter can easily be picked up. It wasn't long before we were picking up the chipping calls of pipistrelles hunting around the top of a high hedge. At least three of these tiny winged mammals were present hunting mosquitoes and other flying insects of the night. On more than one occasion we were able to listen to the so called ‘terminal  buzz’, a series of increasingly rapid signals made as the bat zeros in on its prey. These emissions, very much akin to someone blowing a raspberry, are proof that ample food is present here and the bats were feeding well.

On one occasion we also picked up the slower more rhythmic call of a noctule bat, a much larger species sadly in steep decline over much of the country nowadays. Its presence here is therefore all the more welcome.

On then to the moth trap which tonight seemed to provide an irresistible lure for numerous crane flies that festooned the dew laden grass. Moths were few at this season and unfortunately we didn't have time to wait for the main emergence. However both large and lesser yellow underwings appeared as well as a few square spot rustics and a snout. A small taste late in the year of what the site could produce. Further trapping events are planned and will certainly produce many more species.

A most enjoyable and informative evening. The management and staff of Mars Foods must be congratulated for their excellent efforts in sympathetically managing this site for the benefit of people and wildlife. It doesn't take much you know; just an appreciation of the positive impact working with nature can bring to the workplace, a realisation that we are part of the natural world and not aliens within. Most importantly the boundless energy of committed individuals such as Dave to make it happen. NWT and NWS are proud to be part of this activity.

NWS can help your company too. For further details visit their page on this website.

Read Barry's own blog at http://easternbushchat.blogspot.co.uk 

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