Updated: Jun 26, 2018
On a sunny evening at Birdfair 2017, we were approached by the documentary maker, author and the worlds first's 'Gonzovationist' Ceri Levy. He told us of a hidden piece of land that was saved by his local community, forming the Three Villages Conservation Trust over ten years ago. Ceri's passion for the land was clear to see, and he invited kindly us to make a trip to this 3 hectare site in Allexton, Leicestershire.
Nestled on the banks of the meandering Eye Brook, this lovely spot had been lovingly planted with an array of native trees, though since this time little had been done to the site forming a fantastic opportunity not just all for the people who lived around the local area but AFON too, and thus a collaboration was born!
Since this initial trip, we have worked alongside Ceri to clear the site from tree guards which were littering the site and restricting tree growth, and then we set to planning a great event that would not only help us get a greater understanding of all the creatures that lived on the site but teach and inspire people about how to record and identify a whole range of taxa.
Therefore after months of planning on the 12th and 13th May 2018 A Focus on Nature (AFON) and the Three Villages Conservation Trust held a successful bioblitz event at the site, with the aim of recording as many species as possible in just 24 hours!
The site sits between the A47 and the winding Eye Brook, a tributary of the River Welland. Young native trees form the majority of the interior, with a thick understory of nettles, grasses and wildflowers, while some older oaks straddle the riffling water. A mowed path gives full access to all corners of the site and creates a circular walk that takes about 20 minutes to stroll along. All in all, an ideal site for a small bioblitz!
On arrival we were pleased to find the site in full spring bloom - insects buzzed past patches of forget-me-nots and alder catkins waved gently in the breeze. It was clear that wildlife was abundant and we were confident that we could produce an impressive species list by the end of the following day. Although we didn’t know exactly what to expect, we predicted a good number of birds, invertebrates and plants, and optimistically hoped that the river would present us with a star species such as a kingfisher or otter.
We certainly weren’t going to be disappointed. In the first hour of the bioblitz the species were coming in thick and fast, but we had barely moved 10 metres from the entrance. In order to get people exploring more of the site, AFON committee members Elliot and Charley took the attendees on a wildlife walk, showing them some of the main features of the area and further adding to our species list.
Photo by Ceri Levy
While this was taking place, we were delighted to welcome several natural history experts, many of whom were county recorders, each bringing their own specialism and decades of combined experience. Chris Leach identified 32 species of parasitic galls, the abnormal growths on plants caused by wasps, flies, mites or fungi. This was an impressive find considering that spring is not the best time to find galls, and Chris hypothesised that he may be able to find around 70 different species if he came back in September.
Next, Graham and Anona Finch from the Leicestershire Entomology Society seized their sweep nets and produced a marvellous list of beetles, finding 30 species. This was added to by Annie Smith, who also identified a host of other invertebrates and took some stunning macro pictures. To round off the afternoon on the first day we were very lucky to be joined by Geoffrey Hall, who added 66 species of plant to our list after a thorough inspection of the site.
Our recording efforts slowed as the sun set and after dinner we moved on to our nocturnal species, bats and moths. Jenny Harris from the Leicestershire & Rutland Bat Group led a night walk around Allexton village, finding both common and soprano pipistrelles using a bat detector. The prize find, however, was a group of brown long-eared bats roosting inside the small church, hanging above our heads just visible in the torchlight.
The last task for the first day was to set the moth traps with the help of county recorder Adrian Russell, utilising the gardens of some of the local residents. After putting out Adrian’s ingenious home-made light traps we turned in for the night, prepared for a very early start the following day.
Tim Mackrill leading a dawn bird walk - photo by Ceri Levy
There aren’t many good reasons to wake up at 5 o’clock on a Sunday morning, but a dawn chorus walk is certainly one. We were joined by local expert Tim Mackrill on a stroll around the site, learning some of the calls of the resident birds including whitethroat, garden warbler and willow tit. After some much-needed breakfast and coffee we met once again at the site, where moth expert Adrian Russell had collected his traps from the night before. The wet conditions overnight meant that we had only caught 10 species, however these included some breathtaking specimens such as the gigantic poplar hawk-moth.
One of the brilliant finds from the moth traps - photo by Ceri Levy
The rest of the morning was spent collecting final records, including aquatic invertebrates and a bullhead fish from the river and checking the camera traps. Roe deer and water shrew were welcome finds from the video footage, but the most exciting discovery was the elusive otter, one of the star species we hoped to see.
The otter on our camera trap
With a total count of over 200 species, the bioblitz was a resounding success and brought together members of AFON and the local community at Allexton. Highlights included a rare longhorn beetle, an under-recorded snail, nesting willow tits, a huge poplar hawk moth and perhaps most impressively, the otter.
We are very grateful to the Three Villages Conservation Trust for allowing us to use this site and to local 'Gonzovationist' Ceri Levy for helping make the day possible. We hope to run some exciting new events for our members at Allexton in the future, so keep an eye out on our social media pages!
Russell Barnett is the A Focus on Nature Events Officer. He graduated from the University of Exeter with a degree in Conservation Biology and is now a freelance filmmaker.