Native plants, fungi and animals we featured each week for the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity.
(27 December 2010)
The greater horseshoe bat is one of Britain’s largest and rarest species of bat, characterised by its horseshoe shaped nose-leaf. Numbers have declined dramatically throughout the last century due to a combination of loss of roosts, habitat fragmentation, habitat loss and pesticide and herbicide use.
(20 December 2010) The turtle dove is our fastest declining farmland bird – breeding numbers have fallen by a staggering 70% since the mid-1990s. The bird is a summer migrant that feeds exclusively on seeds. The decline is strongly linked to the intensification of farming in this country and, possibly, to illegal hunting on mainland Europe .
The adder is one of three snake species native to England. Adult adders typically reach a length of around 55cm (2ft), and have a distinctive dark zig-zag pattern down the back. Males tend to have black markings on a grey background, while females have dark brown markings on a reddish-brown background. The adder is found in most counties, but is patchily distributed. It occurs most frequently on free-draining soils in areas open to plenty of sunshine, mostly on heathland, moorland and open woodland. In recent decades, adder populations have declined in many areas. For example, adders are now considered extinct in Hertfordshire, and very rare in Nottinghamshire. Factors such as habitat loss and fragmentation as well as persecution are important. Thankfully, robust populations still exist in counties with large tracts of good habitat, such as North Yorkshire.
(6 December 2010)
The Pepper pot is related to puffballs and earthstars. In these fungi, ripe spores are usually puffed into the air from a hole at the top of the fruit body when raindrops hit the sides in a bellows-like action. Pepper pot fruit bodies are unique in having several holes, hence the old English name (and spelling) Cullender puff-ball. This is a rare species with few British (1600s to 1800s) records, mostly from sandy parts of Kent and East Anglia. English sightings ceased in 1880 and it was regarded as extinct in Britain until its rediscovery, over a century later, at two sites in East Suffolk.
(29 November 2010) The short-snouted seahorse is one of two species of seahorses found in the British Isles, the other is the long-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus), which has a longer snout and elongated protuberances along the back of the neck, giving the impression of a 'horses mane'. Seahorses are unusual, because unlike most animals it is the male that becomes 'pregnant' following the transfer of eggs from the female. He then incubates the eggs in a sack-like brood pouch and gives ‘birth’ to live young.
(22 November 2010) The otter, at about 1 metre long, is one of our largest carnivores. Once widespread, otter numbers in England crashed from the late 1950s-late 1970s, largely due to pesticide pollution and habitat loss. Otters have now re-colonised much of their former range, apart from south east of England, making this a conservation success story.
(15 November 2010)
Smuts are microscopic fungi that occur inside living host plants. They are usually only noticed when they hijack parts of developing flowers or fruits and replace pollen or seeds with dark brown masses of spores. The distribution of Bird’s-eye primrose smut is tied to that of its host, the pink-flowered Bird’s-eye primrose, a nationally scarce plant of the northern Pennines. The very few known British records of this smut ceased in 1904 and it was regarded as extinct until its rediscovery in 2010.
(8 November 2010) The hen harrier is one of our most spectacular birds of prey, the smart grey body and black wing-tips distinguishing the male from the more camouflaged female. Each spring the males indulge in an acrobatic tumbling display flight over their remote moorland breeding haunts. During the winter, some birds disperse to lower ground where they hunt over saltmarsh, downland, heathland and less intensively managed areas of farmland.
(1 November 2010) Named after its distinctive, far carrying ‘whooping’ calls, this is one of two species of ‘wild’ swan (the other being the Bewick’s swan), which moves south from their arctic breeding grounds to winter in Britain and Ireland. Numbers wintering in England have increased in recent years and large herds (as they are known) may be seen at traditional roosting sites or feeding on surrounding farmland.
(25 October 2010) Despite appearances, Meadow saffron is in fact a lily rather than a crocus, having six not three stamens and broader leaves. Sometimes known as “naked lady” its goblet-shaped, bright pinkish-purple flowers emerge from the ground long after the leaves have died back. Flowers have orange anthers, which can be used to produce a form of saffron.
(18 October 2010) The sand lizard is our largest and rarest lizard. It lays eggs in bare sand, and the young hatch out in late summer. Much of its former habitat has been destroyed through development, or has become unsuitable due to shading as scrub takes over. It is restricted to lowland heaths and sand dunes. Until recently sand lizards could only be found in small parts of Dorset, Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey and the Sefton Coast. Thanks to a reintroduction programme operated by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (with support from Natural England), sand lizards have been returned to other areas they used to occur in, such as Devon.
(11 October 2009) Found throughout England, apart from central London, hedgehog numbers have been steadily declining, especially in Eastern England, and they are now listed as a UK BAP species. Many hedgehogs are killed crossing roads but this is not thought to be the main reason for their decline in numbers.
(4 October 2010) Devil's-bit scabious is an attractive perennial herb of damp places and is found in meadows, marshes , woodland rides, stream banks and in grasslands on calcareous or slightly acidic soils. Its pincushion-like, violet-blue flower heads provide an important nectar source for late flying butterflies, bees and hoverflies. Species of scabious were used to treat scabies, and many other afflictions of the skin including sores caused by the bubonic plague. In fact the word scabies comes from the Latin word for scratch. According to folk tales the plant’s panacea properties so angered the devil that he bit off the short black root giving the species its unusual name.
(27 September 2010)
The bittern is a rare fish-eating bird, breeding exclusively in our larger, wetter reedbeds. Once found throughout the country, wetland drainage and persecution had caused the species’ extinction by the end of the nineteenth century. Breeding re-commenced in 1911 and numbers increased, but after the 1950s, numbers fell steadily as reedbeds dried and became further fragmented. It’s a Red-listed UK Bird of Conservation Concern and a UK BAP Priority Species.
(20 September 2010) The dormouse has disappeared from half its former range in England and is now found mainly in the south, with tiny populations in Northumberland and Cumbria. Dormice spend up to half the year hibernating. During the summer, they weave compact nests in cavities or low shrubs and raise litters of up to eight babies.
(13 September 2010) This crust-forming lichen is critically endangered. The lichen reproduces by spores which are produced in the dark, sinuous structures visible on the surface. It is a specialised species found on ancient smooth-barked tree species (e.g. Beech) where it is confined to shaded, wet or wounded areas. It shows a preference for leaning, twisted or damaged trees which reflects a requirement for a complex tree architecture producing wound and rain tracks.
(6 September 2010) The Large blue butterfly became extinct in England in 1979. Subsequent re-introductions from Sweden have established colonies in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Gloucestershire. The caterpillar feeds in the flowers of Thyme and Marjoram, later leaving the plant and being taken into the nest of the red ant, Myrmica sabuleti. There it is fed on ant grubs until it pupates.
(30 August 2010) This is one of nine native oil beetle species, though five are now extinct in the UK. They secrete an oily substance which often gives them a greasy appearance and, coupled with their short wing cases and generally large size (up to 30mm), they are often noticed.
(23 August 2010) A close relative of the more widespread and familiar yellowhammer, the Cirl bunting is a much scarcer bird in Britain, now restricted to parts of south Devon and a single site in Cornwall. It is far more common in southern Europe and is now starting to make a welcome comeback in England as a result of dedicated conservation efforts.
(16 August 2010) The huge leatherback turtle, which feeds mainly on jellyfish, is listed as Critically Endangered. Populations all over the world have crashed to worryingly low levels. People are often surprised to learn that a marine turtle which breeds on tropical beaches in the Caribbean can be found off English coasts. Yet recent research has shown they are regular visitors to our seas.
(9 August 2010) As its name suggests, the Sulphur clover is distinguished by its showy upright flower heads of pale yellow flowers. Once a characteristic plant of meadows and unimproved pastures on chalky boulder clay in East Anglia, it has been all but banished to road verges and railway banks, where it is vulnerable to disturbance and inappropriate management.
(2 August 2010) A handsome thistle particularly characteristic of fen meadows in the South West, the meadow thistle bears its solitary magenta flower heads atop slender stems. Its spear-shaped leaves are softly prickly not spiny, have slightly toothed edges and a distinctive web of white cottony hairs below, which extend up the stem. Like most members of the thistle family it is visited by many insects and seed-eating birds.
(26 July 2010) The Purbeck Mason Wasp is found only on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. The wasp stocks its burrow with caterpillars of a small moth which feeds mainly on Bell heather. The adult wasps bite holes in the flowers of this heather to obtain nectar, so the association with this plant is very close.
(19 July 2010) The skylark is England’s quintessential farmland bird. Although still one of our most widespread breeding birds, the skylark population plummeted from the mid-1970s to the mid-180s, and numbers have continued to fall at a slower rate ever since. The decline is strongly linked to the intensification of farming.
(12 July 2010) A UK horny coral related to soft corals and attached to rocky sea bed habitats. Sea fans are colonies of tiny anemone-like creatures whose hard skeleton is composed of protein reinforced with calcium carbonate which runs through the fan. Colonies can be up to 80cm high and up to 100cm across and are very slow growing. This makes them particularly sensitive to the damaging effects of mobile fishing gear (usually scallop dredging).
(5 July 2010) This aquatic plant is inconspicuous unless flowering when its delicate white flowers stand proud of the water surface in clear water lakes, ponds and canals. It is generally confined to the north and west of England but has been lost from many sites due to nutrient enrichment. It is sensitive to competition from other aquatic plants and algae, so is vulnerable to increased levels of plant nutrients from sewage and agriculture.
This species currently has no common name.
Haliclystus auricula is a stalked jellyfish up to 2.5 cm high with eight tentacled arms radiating from the mouth, connected near the tips by a thin membrane. Colour varies from grey/green to red/brown. It spends all its life attached to the seabed, usually on seaweed or seagrass. It can move by using one of its tentacles as an anchor, detaching its base and then cartwheeling to a new position.
Wood crane’s-bill is an attractive flower of meadows, verges, river banks, open woodlands and mountain ledges and slopes in upland areas of northern England. It occurs in some of the most scenic landscapes in England, including the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks and the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Sometimes known as thunder-flower, it belongs to the Geranium family and has beautiful blueish-violet flowers.
In its flower-rich upland hay meadow habitat, wood crane’s-bill is sustained by traditional hay making and grazing management.
(14 June 2010) This small dark dragonfly is found near bog pools with extensive growth of Sphagnum moss. Often described as looking as though its face has been dipped in off-white paint, the male has red markings on the thorax and the narrow black abdomen. The female’s markings are yellow. It has a jerky flight, often low over the water. Females lay their eggs in open patches of water between the moss.
(7 June 2010) The short-haired bumblebee needs large areas of flower-rich pasture and field margins, especially those with an abundance of red clover. It became extinct in England in the 1980s but colonies were established in New Zealand more than 100 years ago and still survive there.
(1 June 2010) This striking perennial has delicately fringed pink flowers, similar to those of a carnation, with a dark basal stripe and delicate pale spots. The narrow, pointed leaves are greyish with hairy edges. It thrives in thin, drought-prone soils in sandy grasslands, heaths and basic rock- outcrops such as dolerite. It also occasionally occurs on mining spoils contaminated by metals where competition from other plants is low.
(24 May 2010) The northern pool frog is England’s rarest amphibian. Once found in the Fens and Brecks of East Anglia, it went extinct in the 1990s following a long period of decline. There is currently one reintroduced population near Thetford, which originates from frogs caught in Sweden under licence, and released in 2005-8. Swedish frogs were used because research showed they were a close match to the recently-extinct English pool frogs. The northern pool frog is found in England, Sweden and Norway. There have been some unauthorised releases of pool frogs from central and southern Europe, but these different from the northern pool frog and are of no conservation importance.
(17 May 2010) The green-winged orchid is one of a group of threatened plants dependent on infertile or nutrient poor grasslands. Once widespread, it has declined steadily over the last 60 years due to agricultural improvement of its grassland habitat. The prominent green veins which line the flower’s hood give it its common name. Despite lacking nectar, the sweet flowers makes them attractive to insects, particularly queen bumblebees which have just emerged from hibernation.
(10 May 2010) The field cricket is confined to a small area of the South Downs in Sussex and Hampshire. Its habitat has been destroyed over much of its former range and it now exists in only one native site but has been introduced to a series of other suitable sites.
(4 May 2010)
The large garden bumblebee can be found throughout England but is more plentiful in wetter areas such as the washes and levels of the East. Its current distribution is unclear because of confusion with a very similar looking species, Bombus hortorum.
(26 April 2010) The water vole, appearing as ‘Ratty’ in ‘Wind in the Willows’, has undergone a massive decline in recent decades, disappearing from over 90% of the places it formerly occurred. This is partly because of habitat loss, but predation by the introduced American mink has had a devastating impact in many areas.
(19 April 2010) The Southern Damselfly is a rare species that is protected in Britain and which occupies small streams and runnels. Like all damselflies, the larval stage lives under water and emerges to become a flying adult. Poor quality habitat and low genetic variation continue to threaten this species although the situation is improving.
(12 April 2010) Snake’s head fritillary is one of our earliest flowering and beautiful meadow flowers, with its dusky purple and lilac chequered bells nodding from slender stems. It occurs in ancient flower-rich floodplain meadows often under traditional ‘lammas’ management . During the spring/early summer a hay crop is grown and sold off in lots to local farmers. The hay is cut after 1 July when the wildflowers have set seed and has to be removed by mid August. After the hay is cut the meadow becomes common grazing land for sheep and cattle during the autumn and winter months.
(6 April 2010) The Fan shell is one of our rarest molluscs. Individuals can reach 70 cm in length and may be very old. Fan shells occur from just below Low Water to a depth of 400 m and live in mud, sand or fine gravel. The shell is vertically embedded with just the top part exposed.
(29 March 2010) One of our most beautiful native flowers, the Pasqueflower is known as the Anemone of Passiontide. A low-growing perennial with downy feathery foliage, its vibrant purple petals encircle a tuft of yellow stamens . There is a legend that Pasqueflowers spring from the blood of Romans or Danes, as they typically occur on old earthworks such as barrows and boundary banks. However it is more likely this association reflects the plant’s need for undisturbed chalk/limestone grassland which has survived in these places as they have always been too steep to plough.
(22 March 2010) The marsh fritillary butterfly was once found throughout England on wet meadows, heaths and downland where its foodplant, Devil’s-bit scabious grows. Land drainage and agriculture pressures have fragmented the landscapes that once supported this attractive butterfly and are still causing local extinctions.
(15 March 2010) Though still widespread, the common toad has declined precipitously at some sites. Springtime counts of toads have decreased from thousands to tens, and at some sites the toads have disappeared. The south and east of England are the main areas of concern. Road traffic mortality, changes in pond management and disease are possible reasons for decline. Yet, many sites still support thriving toad populations.
(8 March 2010) Following its reintroduction, the red kite is making a welcome comeback in England. Increasing numbers of people now have the chance to see this impressive bird of prey in their local countryside.
(1 March 2010) The white-clawed crayfish was once widespread in English rivers and lakes with calcareous (‘hard’) water. Over the past 30 years, populations have been decimated by the spread on non-native crayfish species and a disease that they carry. Few strongholds remain, and many remaining populations are vulnerable to extinction.
(22 February 2010) The freshwater pearl mussel is one of the longest living invertebrates known, surviving for over 100 years. They can grow to between 12 - 15 cm in length. The mussels live in fast-flowing rivers and streams, where they are found half buried in sand or gravel and often between boulders. They are very sensitive to any kind of pollution and their breeding cycle depends on a host relationship with salmonid fish. This species is listed as a UK BAP species and protected by law.
(15 February 2010) The enigmatic, red-billed chough (pronounced 'chuff') is a close relative of our more common members of the crow family, including the rook, jackdaw and magpie. It was once a familiar sight around the wilder parts of our coastline, particularly along the south coast and in the south-west of England. It became extinct in England in the 1940s due to changes to its habitat and persecution but has now started to make a welcome comeback.
(8 February 2010) The brown hare can be found throughout England, but is most common in the open arable landscapes of Eastern England. Surveys have shown that the population has declined substantially in recent decades, probably as a result of changes to farming practices, though, thankfully, it has been more stable recently.
(1 February 2010) This tiny snail, not more than 3mm tall, is found in south and south eastern England around the edges of ponds, streams and rivers. In the warmer months it lives on the leaves of tall wetland plants when it is easiest to see. Desmoulin's Whorl snail is a priority species on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
(25 January 2010) Thought to be England’s most threatened native timber tree, Black poplar is found across lowland England but is rarer in Northern England. It is typically found along floodplains, rivers and by other water bodies. It has deeply fissured dark-brown bark which can appear almost black, and produces fluffy white catkins in the Spring. The timber of the Black poplar is strong, lightweight and resistant to shocks and splintering. It has traditionally been used to make shields and more recently artificial limbs and children’s toys.
(18 January 2010) The red squirrel is England’s only native squirrel, but it has been replaced across most of the country by the grey squirrel, which was introduced from North America in the 19th Century. Red squirrels eat seeds, particularly pine seed; but will also eat fungi, fruits and bird’s eggs. Although many have bright russet red fur, the colour can vary greatly, with some appearing almost grey; they have ear-tufts that are most obvious in the winter. They do not hibernate, but store food during the Autumn in order to help themselves get through the winter.
(11 January 2010) This beautiful, large (c.10 mm), iridescent green species is now found only along a 30 km stretch of the banks of the River Ouse around York. The beetle is endangered not only here but across its worldwide range. Its food plant, Tansy, is widespread, but factors such as shading by willows and Himalayan Balsam and livestock grazing have led to Tansy clumps disappearing, creating isolated beetle populations that can no longer reach one another.
(4 January 2010) Once extremely common in our town and cities house sparrow numbers have fallen by over 50% since the 1970s and over 70% in London. A lack of available food for young sparrows is a major factor in this decline. House sparrows are now a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
Pink sea fan
New Forest beech-lichen