Wednesday, 12 October 2011

From the bottom to the top

You may well recall that I’ve been involved in something of a challenge this year. Along with colleagues at the BTO in Thetford, I have been attempting to record as many different species as possible on the Nunnery Lakes Reserve in Thetford. This is part of a challenge with RSPB and their reserve at Sandy in Bedfordshire. While light-hearted, though in some quarters rather competitive, the challenge has the underlying aim of identifying the species we have on our respective reserves, particularly beyond the large and more obvious groups like birds, butterflies and mammals. An inventory of what we have on the site is the starting point for targeted conservation measures.

Last week, we turned our attention to the offices themselves, seeking out the creatures with which we share our daily lives. The BTO offices are centred around an old nunnery and chapel; with such a long history we hoped that they might support some particularly interesting species. We have a small population of Wall Bedstraw, for example, a rare plant nationally that is found on very old walls. Our population is centred on the 12th Century ruin in the grounds that was once used to accommodate visitors and treat the sick. It is not an impressive plant, unless you happen to like your plants small, unobtrusive and best viewed from a ladder!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the offices themselves have not turned up a great deal in the way of species new to our growing list. Last week, however, we decided to investigate some of the more tucked away parts of the building, the first of which was the cellar. I have always had something of a romantic notion of what our cellar would be like: a bit damp, rather dark and hosting some interesting spiders, woodlice and slugs. To say I was disappointed would be something of an understatement. The cellar was very dry, shockingly clean and there seemed little chance of finding anything of interest. The one creature that seemed to be doing well down here was the Daddy-Longlegs Spider Pholcus, several individuals of which hung from loose, fragile looking webs. Quite what they were living off was difficult to comprehend. Thankfully, they were not the only spider present and Iain, our spider expert, soon had several specimens to take away and identify with the aid of a microscope.

We then turned our attention to one of the attics, where there were more signs of invertebrate life. The attic was clearly the hibernaculum of choice for the dozens of lacewings that were perched on most surfaces and the presence of several large wasp nests hinted at several summers’ activity.  It was good to see so much life making home alongside us.

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