From Zero to Hero

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 15 January 2017 11:26

So it soon became clear after my first draft of the spreadsheet that our little reserve in Brighton, the Deneway, had zero records. I couldn't release too much about the spreadsheet until this had been rectified, so a chance encounter with Huw Morgan on Friday was very welcome. I had two hours in this fenced off reserve to record as much as I could yesterday whilst a volunteer party bashed away scrub. I wasn't expecting to add anything to the master list OR my list but I did both!

It took me 11 minutes to take the Deneway from 32nd place (bottom) to 31st, beating our part of Withdean Woods. About an hour later and the Deneway was ahead of Marehill Quarry in 30th place. The highlight for me was a surprise encounter with two patches of Cobalt Crust. This striking encrusting fungus is an easy one to identify and I didn't expect it at all yesterday being a new species to me. I also added the naturalised Bay Laurel which is scattered throughout the site. This was also new to the master list, along with...Chives?! Two unwanted species added to the list and nothing to celebrate really but it's diversity of a kind.

You see the Deneway is a half mile strip of woodland and scrub along the railway line. It's only about 10 or 20 metres wide and is hemmed in by houses on one side and the railway track on the other. So garden waste and escapes are rife. It's a low priority for monitoring for me compared to all those SSSIs and SACs but I'm glad I got in there and got a few records made. I added 77 species.

This came to 18 birds (best being Bullfinch), 5 crustaceans (including Landhopper), one fern, one conifer, 28 plants, 7 fungi, a moth, a bug (so only 2 insects), a liverwort, 2 millipedes, 7 mollsucs, 4 mosses and a mammal. That was me. The first record I made there was Human which makes this our most widespread species and the only one to be recorded in all 32 reserves. It just goes to show that you can find something new pretty much anywhere! Casual recording is a really valuable tool for understanding sites, it's not as good providing insight into management as structured surveillance and monitoring but it certainly has its place. The reserve network list is already on 9790 species.

Holding out a nudibranch

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 9 January 2017 09:32

I went to catch up with my good friend Oli Froom after way too long. I think last time we went coastal we stumbled across this poor Poor Cod. Anyway, I had heard about this lagoon at Eastbourne, specifically Holywell and had some gen from Evan Jones. Shortly before heading out I said to Oli that if I saw a nudibranch, I'd be happy. Not in anyway thinking I would see one.

So, when I found one under maybe the third rock I turned over (along with Shanny, Five-bearded Rockling & Edible Crab) I was rather stoked. This olive sized critter had the look of animated cloudy-lemonade jelly with a star shaped structure at it's back end and some yellowish structures at the front. These are known as rhinophores and were completely retracted in this individual. I had a stab at identifying it in the field and got to a species that I then realised had the wrong density of tubercles. Anyway I started thinking it might be Acanthodoris pilosa and soon after this a number of people on a marine-life forum, suggested this was likely too. It was about 20 mm long and as predicted, we didn't see another one all day. But we did see a lot more. Such as the other denizens of the above rock.

From star ascidians to sea-squirts. From a huge Dahlia Anemone to the brightest Snakelocks Anemones I have ever seen. We found one Rock Goby too.

And the we found one of the mythical Velvet Drawing Crabs. You literally have to present these crustaceans with a pencil and a subject and they will draw anything for you. This one drew us a Shanny before going on his merry way.

Something's been bugging me about Sussex Wildlife Trust's reserves...

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 6 January 2017 14:52

It's how many bugs do we have of course! And by that I mean Heteroptera, the true bugs that I am county recorder for. It's not so easy to do that for other taxa from the Recorder 6 output as the hoppers, plant-lice and aphids are all mixed in too but I have removed the offending species for this analysis. So, I thought it was also about time I put together a definitive county list (both for East and West Sussex) as well as the reserve list. And my list. So many lists.

So the Sussex list is up 5 species to 429 including the tiny introduced Buchananiella continua I recorded at Ebernoe in the summer. Estimates were right in saying East Sussex is the richer county, almost certainly due to more open habitats like Rye that do well for bugs. East Sussex has 387 species with West over 40 species behind on 346. It's important to remember we have two counties and that a first for West Sussex is just as significant as say a first for Surrey. East is also more recently recorded, the mean year of the last record per species is 2007 compared to 2002. With 2008 overall which is not bad really. Sussex Wildlife Trust reserves have 486 bugs (but that's ALL bugs). Just the Heteroptera comes out at 308 species. My Heteroptera list is 255, almost all of which is in Sussex.

Guess what the best reserve is for Hets? Surprise, surprise it's the greedy Goliath Rye Harbour with a whopping 146 species. It has some bugs found nowhere else in the county like Arenocoris falleni. Followed by Malling at 112, Ebernoe at 90, Woods Mill 86 and the unexpected jewel Flatropers at 74. 

The most frequent species at 16 of the reserves is the tiny but super abundant Plagiognathus arbustorum. Again I'm surprised it's not a shield bug, this is a bug you are unlikely to identify if you haven't made any effort with mirids and I certainly don't have a photo of it. After this it's Hawthorn Shieldbug, Capsus ater and Sloe Shieldbug at 16. The unique species account for 97 of the 308 species.

Across the county, the Dock Bug is the most frequently recorded bug with 639 records. The number of Heteroptera records ha risen to 16977 from 12011. A 41% increase in two years. This is in part to several new and prolific recorders but a big part of this is iRecord. Which leads me to the shieldbug atlas that we have been working on at the SxBRC which I'll be talking about at Adastra in a few weeks. Watch this space for an update on this project really soon! Really interesting to see how poorly recorded our most recorded and easy to identify bugs are. Not for long at this rate though. We are definitely in a new age of bug recording in Sussex!

373 species of spider recorded on Sussex Wildlife Trust reserves!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Monday, 2 January 2017 11:03

I was very pleased to see that my post on pan-listing Sussex Wildlife Trust's reserves is already almost my third most viewed post of all time which is pretty good considering I only wrote it on the 29th December and I've been blogging for nearly seven years now. Anyway, I'm going to be running a series of posts on this list. There are so many different ways to look at and cross-reference this list, I was going to start with the reserves but what I really wanted to do was have a look at a specific taxanomic group. Here then the spiders (not arachnids pan-listers, just the spiders) of Sussex Wildlife Trust's reserves.

We have 373 species, a fairly impressive list that is well over half of the British fauna. The top site is Rye Harbour with 201 species closely followed by Iping & Stedham Common with 199 species. It drops off really quickly after that with Old Lodge on 133 then Flatropers on 92. More surprisingly is the fact that 13 sites have less then ten species recorded and three sites don't have a single spider record! These are Gillham Wood, Brickfield Meadow and the Deneway. Jane Willmott wins the prize for the reserve manager with the most spiders overall with 245 species on her sites. Interestingly it was at Graffham where I found the as yet unidentified Philodromus last year, the specimen I kept didn't make it through the winter to reach maturity so I will be going back in the summer to look for that.

The mean last year of all spider records is 2008, showing that they have on average been recorded relatively recently. A total of 112 species have only been recorded on one of the 32 sites. Rye Harbour has the most unique species with 47 found only there out of our reserves, then Iping & Stedham which has 32 uniques. After this it plummets rapidly with Graffham, Old Lodge and Woods Mill all with only five unique species a piece. The most frequently recorded species is the Nursery-web Spider Pisaura mirabilis which has been recorded on 17 sites. Closely followed by Garden Spider Araneus diadematus and Misumena vatia on 15 of the sites.

Here is one of Rye Harbour's unique species, Pellenes tripunctatus. It will almost certainly always remain only there out of our sites being shingle specialist.

And of Iping's uniques. The awesome Aelurillus v-insignitis. It could be discovered on other heathlands in the county but as it stands it is very restricted. It benefits greatly from the management for Heath Tiger Beetles as do many other bare ground loving species.

And the most frequently recorded spider, Pisaura mirabilis. Big and easy to identify. So what do people want to hear about next?

The state of pan-species listing at the end of 2016

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 31 December 2016 09:14

Well, 2016 has been the worst year and for a multitude of reasons, I am very glad it's over. Natural history was kind to me though, with the find of my career landing in front of me whilst the rest of the pan-species community were having the annual field meeting up at Holm in Norfolk. A meeting I was not able to attend as I had too much freelance work to do wandering hundreds of miles around winter wheat fields when it jumped out in front of me. Oh the irony. Have I mentioned Calosoma sycophanta by the way? Yes? Sorry, didn't think I had.

Anyway, this is my annual post about the PSL community (couldn't help gripping everyone off one last time there). So, last year I wrote this post a few months late after grabbing the data in Tasmania of all places. I'll follow the same format, so here is the top ten from the rankings and the changes that have took place in the last year.

2015 2016 Change
1 Jonty Denton 12240 12399 159
2 Dave Gibbs 11110 11327 217
3 Mark Telfer 7172 7478 306
4 The late Eric Philp 6878 6878 0
5 Simon Davey 6513 6722 209
6 Brian Eversham 6271 6650 379
7 Nicola Bacciu 6074 6515 441
8 Graeme Lyons 6029 6398 369
9 Malcolm Storey 5915 6230 315
10 Matt Prince 5840 6142 302

So there are no actual changes in the top ten rankings order. Last year I added the 100th lister which was Rowan Alder on 903. Now it's Adam Harley on 1183. He might not of updated for two years or more but it shows that the top 100 listers have all seen 1183 species or more, a jump of 280 species! That's really great stuff.  Our youngest lister remains 12 with a new recruit in the form of young lad from Northern Ireland and our oldest is 72. Thanks in part to James McCulloch's excellent article on PSL in Wingbeat about him reaching 2000 species, we had a wave of under 20's joining the rankings with 10 people listed now! The average remains 38 with 75 people having submitted their age now. We have 381 users on the website (up from 300) with 192 on the rankings (up from 154). The facebook group has been quieter this year but it works fine with 288 people (up from 261).

So, what about the site rankings?

2015 2016
1   Wicken Fen 8674 Wicken Fen 8674
2   Esher Commons 7945 Esher Commons 7945
3   RSPB Minsmere 5928 RSPB Minsmere 5928
4   Thorn Moors 5052 Thorn Moors 5052
5   RSPB Abernethy 4735 RSPB Abernethy 4735
6   RSPB The Lodge 4290 RSPB The Lodge 4290
7   Hatfield Forest 4184 SWT Rye Harbour 4274
8   SWT Rye Harbour 3540 Hatfield Forest 4184
9   Northwich Community Woodlands 3118 SWT Ebernoe Common 3708
10   SWT Iping & Stedham 2800 Northwich Community Woodlands 3118

The changes are in bold. The only changes here have been those made by myself in the last week by updating the Rye Harbour list with Chris Bentley and adding the Ebernoe Common list, this is still a part of PSL and the website that hasn't really taken off. My recent work on pan-listing the whole of Sussex Wildlife Trust's reserves is hoped to help reinvigorate this by showing the benefits to maintaining site PSL lists. Watch out RSPB the Lodge, Chris Bentley will have that 6th place slot by the end of 2017!

And now for the top taxa listers. Again changes in bold.

2015 2016
Algae Jony Denton 288 288
Slime Moulds Malcolm Storey 51 51
Protists Jony Denton 24 24
Lichens Simon Davey 1195 1228
Fungi Malcom Storey 1391 1391
Bryophytes Simon Davey 467 480
Vascular Plants John Martin 2205 2278
Sponges Richard Comont   8 12
Comb-jellies Lee Johnson   2 3
Cnidarians Richard Comont 37 44
Molluscs Jonty Denton 216 222
Bryozoans Richard Comont 23 27
Annelids Richard Comont 48 51
Platyhelminth worms Brian Eversham 17 18
Sea-spiders Richard Comont 4 4
Arachnids Jonty Denton 492 493
Myriapods Keith Lugg 71 77
Crustaceans Brian Eversham 98 99
Springtails Richard Comont 35 44
3-tailed Bristletails Mark Telfer   6 8
Odonata Mark Telfer, Dave Gibbs 48 48
Orthopteroids Mark Telfer 41 41
Hemipteroids Jonty Denton 850 861
Hymenoptera Dave Gibbs 792 809
Coleoptera Mark Telfer 2562 2632
Diptera Dave Gibbs 3123 3146
Butterflies Seth Gibson 62 62
Moths Tony Davis 1617 1628
Remaining small  Jonty Denton 194 195
Echinoderms Richard Comont 19 19
Tunicates Richard Comont 17 22
Fish Richard Comont 95 97
Reptiles Dave Gibbs,  Richard Comont   9 9
Seth Gibson, James Harding-Morris, Simon Davey  
Paul Clack  
Amphibians Jonty Denton 13 13
Birds Dave Gibbs 519 527
Mammals Mark Telfer 64 64
Other animals Jonty Denton 36 36
TOTAL 16739 17051
So lots of new records broken there! It feels like PSL is really starting to reach a wider and much younger audience and this has to be a good thing, I wish I had had PSL when I was 12 I can tell you! It's been so rewarding to see this unfold and to know that I've personally been so involved at making the website happen and promoting the movement etc. 

This year I've done a talk on PSL in pub in Brighton. I'd had two pints before I started and I have to say it's so much more fun doing talks when you can swear like a trooper! It turned in to stand up by the end but I got the message across. I must make an effort to get out more to do natural history for fun, almost all of my ticks this year have been through work again. This is hugely rewarding and I think is when PSL works best but it's not a good way to stay in the top ten!

Anyway, I will try and make the field meeting this year rather than working (did I mention I saw Calosoma sycophanta during the last field trip?) so I can finally meet some of the community, in the meantime, happy listing and let's hope 2017 is a better year than 2016!

So I pan-listed the WHOLE Sussex Wildlife Trust

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 29 December 2016 12:48

Pan-species listing: If you haven't heard of it yet, then where have you been for the last six years? Seriously though, if you need a re-cap have a look at our most excellent website. My own personal pan-species list has took something of a back seat over the last two months and so has entering records. The reason: You see, on the website beyond your own personal quest to see as many species as possible we set up the 'location rankings' too. This way a site can have a pan-species list, collated down the decades by a complementary consortium of naturalists. This, I always thought would have profound implications for wildlife conservation...but the dream of every reserve manager in the UK creating and maintaining a pan-species list for their sites never took off. Yet.

So I felt like I needed to kick start things and show everyone the benefits. Now I'd had a stab at some of our sites before but I hadn't maintained a list, just the species totals. So what better way is there to celebrate all the amazing wildlife I help look after than to know EXACTLY what it is and, to really add some value to it, WHEN (year) it was last recorded. So I started it and I've just 'finished' it. Obviously it will never be finished and it's been designed to be continuously updated. This is the first of a series of posts I'm going to write to explain why I did it, what can be done, what analysis there is and how to come to terms with my life after the list (maybe to get ALL the wildlife trusts to create one mega-list?!). So not too many spoilers yet on the stats, I'm going to drip feed them as I actually figure out new and novel ways to analyse this behemoth of a spreadsheet. So where to start? Perhaps with why. And what I think we'll be able to use it for.

  • Straight off, fun and interesting facts. I can now pretty much tell you anything about the species on our sites. Such as we have recorded 9770 species (expect this to be constantly changing). 5537 of these are insects and 6188 are invertebrates. 63.3% of everything recorded on our reserves is an invertebrate. Vertebrates come in at 406 species (4.2%). And people wonder why I am always banging on about insects? Anyway, this is going to be a treasure trove for the Communications team. Take for example 'unique' species. Species seen on only one of the 32 sites. Of the 9770 species, 3799 have only been seen at one site! (38.9%). Rye Harbour has the lion's share of uniques with 1276 being recorded there (29.9% of what is there has only been recorded there on our reserve network). All the photos in the above collage are of unique species. Perhaps analysing by reserve manager will be the most controversial (i.e. who has the most species on their reserves - and yes I have already done it!).

  • It has value in its own right as an inventory of what we have and when it was last recorded. Using the conservation statuses, you can do all sorts of analyses on site quality. You can also use this to inform the management plans. The biological site description is going to be rather effortless from now on. The plan from now is to only update each site from the records that come in to the SxBRC when the plans are up for renewal or mid-term renewal, every five years basically. This is only then a few hours work. In the mean time...

  • A copy of the spreadsheet will be given to anyone that wants it: Reserve managers, volunteers, keen naturalists. They can then update and fill in the gaps but the deal is EVERYTHING has to be submitted to the SxBRC, putting it in the spreadsheet doesn't count other than as a guide for these people on the ground as it is the records that are put in to SxBRC that will be used to update, by me, every five years. The plans are all on a rotation, three or four come up each year. Only three staff are going to have access to the master list though.

  • You can run the invertebrate data through a resource database to tell you more about your sites that way.

  • It highlights gaps. And there are some huge gaps that I would never have realised if I hadn't gone through this process. I'll be talking about these briefly at Adastra. Two of our big sites have not a single fly record!!! In one case, this is already being addressed in 2017.

  • The whole thing is modular. You can say pull out just the moths and do a talk to Sussex Moth Group, which is already happening by the way. It works the other way too. Imagine what the WHOLE wildlife trust network species list would look like?! Then you could like at the unique species to Sussex!
These are just some of the reasons that I have always believed pan-species listing is such a good thing for nature conservation. It's an approach that leaves no stone unturned and favours the little guys as much as it does the big obvious ones. 

So what's next? Some talks coming up and various articles to go out on this. I'm keen to run a series of blogs on it over the next few months, the next might be on uniqueness but it could be on the beetles of Sussex Wildlife Trust reserves, I'm open to suggestions. I feel like I have created a monster/a thing of beauty and I am yet to know quite how to realise all of its potential. I'm looking forward to getting on with other stuff again though.

I'd like to say a huge thank you to all the people that have helped particularly Bob Foreman, Chris Bentley (for compiling Rye Harbour's species list), Frances Abraham and many many more.

My top ten natural history highlights of 2016

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 18 December 2016 12:05

What a year. I started with the first month in the southern hemisphere, then had possibly the busiest and often most stressful year of my life but I found some great stuff on the way, Including what I think is the highlight of my career so far. As ever, natural history and conservation has been my rock. So, in reverse order...

10. I don't do slugs but back in February I went all the way to Wales to see a whole slimy bunch of them. Here is the Alsatian Semi-slug.

9. I've wanted to see these freaky Tompot Blennies for years and was pleased to find loads off Saltdean in September.

8. It wasn't my first record of this as I had one last year but it was the first for West Sussex and the first for one of our reserves (Levin Down). Here is the awesome Platyrhinus resinosus.

7. Resurveying the ditches at Amberley was great as there was such positive changes. Like this Marsh Cinquefoil appearing in of our ditches after it was cleared.

6. Surveying the Murray Downland Trust's sites with Mike Edwards produced lots of surprises, such as this Villa cingulata at Heyshott Down.

5. I don't often see new longhorn beetles but the beetle season started with a bang with this Mesosa nebulosa found at Sheffield Park on a BMIG meeting by Nathan Clements in April.

4. The repeat of the big farm surveys in 2016 showed one of the farms in East Sussex become internationally significant for arable plants. I stumbled across three species I had never even seen before, like this Stinking Chamomile.

3. New Zealand was an incredible place. Perhaps the best memories are of the amazing seabirds. I'll never forget the first time an albatross flew right over our heads!

2. Sometimes a hunch pays off. An early morning start and we bagged the first records for Columbus Crabs in Sussex off Brighton Beach, all the way from the Sargasso!

1. Do I need to say anything other than CALOSOMA SYCOPHANTA!!!

Saprotrophy hunting

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 12 November 2016 14:41

It's been a funny year for fungi. Nothing was growing on the ground in the woods or on the grassland but the fungi growing out of dead and decaying wood are going bananas (I bet this is out of date now with the rain we've finally had in the last week). It's clear why, we've had a dry summer and autumn and dead and decaying wood holds water for longer than soil does. It got me thinking about what the difference between saproxylic and saprotrophic is. I realised I didn't know other than the former refers to how invertebrates consume the resource of dead and decaying wood and the latter, fungi. A bit of research shows that the difference seems to be in how the nutrients are processed. Internally for invertebrates and externally by the fungi. Anyway. Lots growing in and around trees at the moment including this young Spectacular Rustgill. I tried to turn it into a rare webcap but fortunately Clare Blencowe had a look and passed it on to Nick Aplin. I should of realised as there were some open ones around the corner which were the biggest typical shaped mushrooms we saw all day on my fungi course at Ebernoe but I didn't connect the dots.

Here is Yellow Shield at The Mens a few weeks back. Thanks again to Clare Blencowe and Mike Waterman from WWFRG for clinching the ID.

And here the much larger and commoner Deer Shield also at the Mens. A quarter-pounder of a mushroom.

And from Knepp we have Ganoderma resinaceum. Unusually for a Ganorderma, the cap was slightly squidgy and yielded slightly upon compression .

Back to Ebernoe and my course last week and moving away from the trees. We spotted these Lilac Fibrecaps in the churchyard at Ebernoe. I was surprised to see I'd seen this species before but I had no memory of it, I think it must have been a washed out specimen as this was a right little stunner.

We had a look at the cricket pitch too and added a few waxcaps but very low numbers compared to last year. We did find a ring of these odd 'foamy' mushrooms. Quite like the texture of those shrimp sweets you used to get and not waxcap like at all. Any ideas?

Black Teeth and Purple Stockings

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 13 October 2016 17:00

That's my Halloween outfit sorted then! No, in fact I went out looking for some new species the other day for the first time in ages. Thanks to a tip off from James and Dawn Langiewicz, I was off to an undisclosed site in West Sussex to look for not one but two tooth fungi. I'd not seen any tooth fungi (other than Wood and Terracotta Hedgehogs) so was pleased to be on a quest for two of these BAP species. It didn't take long before I spotted them growing close together. Above is the Black Tooth. Quite an odd looking thing. Especially this stunted one that does actually look like a rotten tooth.

Growing close by was the much more numerous Zoned Tooth.

My Coolpix hasn't been working quite so well since I dropped it in a rock pool (last time I blogged actually - it's been my usual end of summer burn out) but you can still see the teeth these fungi have instead of gills. Nearby I saw some Terracotta Hedgehogs too, so three tooth fungi in one small area.

And who doesn't love a Trumpet Chanterelle?

Finally, I was also directed to some Purple Stocking Webcaps. Quite a slimy-capped species for a webcap. You can see the purple stype. Right, this has got me in the mood to go out with the WWFRG this weekend...

Even the sea creatures have gone hipster in Brighton

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 21 August 2016 12:04

You can't walk far in Brighton without being confronted with an array of outlandish novelty beards these days. Except perhaps when rock-pooling. Or so I thought. Olle found this Bearded Mussel under a stone at a Shore Search event. So even the shellfish have turned hipster. What's next? Anemones with tattoos? Crabs with dungarees? Fish with over-sized glasses, daft hair-cuts and weird moustaches?

Precisely my point, look at this idiot. Who does he think he is?! You don't have any of this nonsense with a Shanny. No the Tompot Blenny is a true hipster. That moustache is ridiculous. Take a look at yourself mate.

In all seriousness I was totally stoked to find Tompots at Saltdean just off Brighton beach. We also found:

Rock Goby (2) - new to the site.
Tompot Blenny (2) - new to the site
Shanny (1) - always the commonest fish, can't believe we saw (well caught) only one.
Five-bearded Rockling (many young ones)
Long-spined Sea Scorpion (1 young one)
One unidentified fish that I think was a small Sea Bass.

In the past I have also had there:
Sea Bass
Corkwing Wrasse
Narrow-headed Clingfish
Garfish (dead)

So it's proving to be a great spot for fish. I always get really carried away with fish rock-pooling. So much fun.

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