August: Butterfly monitoring and more...
Charlotte, Ecology Volunteer at Attingham and Wildlife Volunteer at Wenlock Edge.
Meet Charlotte, Ecology Volunteer at Attingham and Wildlife Volunteer at Wenlock Edge. Read on to find out more about some of the insect and wildlife monitoring that takes place at these two National Trust places in Shropshire.
Tell us about your volunteering roles.
I’ve been volunteering for the National Trust in Shropshire for about six years. When I started volunteering I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do - I knew I wanted to be outdoors, and so began as an Engagement Volunteer at Attingham helping out with guided walks. I learnt so much about the estate and the wildlife, and this developed into my current nature based volunteer roles.
I’m currently an Ecology Volunteer monitoring butterflies at Attingham and assisting with other habitat surveys, and I’m also a Wildlife Volunteer based at Wenlock Edge where I’m involved with monitoring butterflies, small mammal surveys, and dormice monitoring.
" What do I enjoy most about what I do? Being outside and feeling that I’m contributing to nature conservation. And I’m learning new things all the time!"
How do you monitor butterflies?
The main season for butterfly monitoring at Attingham is June to August. We have specific paths and set areas that we monitor to spot butterflies. It’s always good to pair up with another person as they can be tricky to count and identify as they fly past so quickly – and often you’ll find they’re be behind you!
One area that I monitor on one of the farms at Attingham has around two to three hundred metres of wildflower hedgerows and field margins that is just full of butterflies, insects and wildlife! There’s almost too many to count! The farmer has seeded it with native wildflowers and it’s really beautiful to see – and a perfect habitat.
Many of the rarer species are harder to spot as they don’t fly close to the ground – we recently spotted a Purple Hairstreak butterfly – it had just come out of its pupa and was resting on the ground. It should have been flying around at the top of a nearby oak tree!
I find that it’s not always the colours and patterns on butterflies that I use to spot them – you learn to recognise how they fly and behave. For example, Red Admirals tend to glide, Common Blues fly close to the ground, but the similar looking Holly Blues fly higher up – that’s the only way to tell them apart when they are ‘on the wing’ (in flight). Painted Ladies often sit with their wings open, and others prefer different plants and flowers.
Monitoring butterflies gives us information on the varieties and numbers in population, and where they are most seen or found – this can help us decided how to manage habitats.
How do you monitor small mammals?
So, around March to April and September to October we carry out the small mammal surveys at Wenlock Edge. To do this we put out around 20 ground-based tube traps out with food and bedding in them in a specific area to monitor, leave them overnight and return in the early morning to see if we’ve caught any anything, what they are and how many there are, before releasing them back into their habitat.
We usually find wood mice and bank voles – if there are small mammals in most of the boxes we know that there’s a healthy population. We do occasionally find yellow necked mice – these are only found in the South of England and in the Severn Valley areas.
By repeatedly monitoring the same areas we can see if there’s any patterns to populations or species.
We monitor dormice separately as you have to be licensed to handle them. We do the surveys in the winter months when they are hibernating by looking for hazelnuts with their distinctive teeth markings. Dormice live and move around above ground so we don’t find them in the ground-based tube traps.