Ecology and conservation of breeding Black-tailed Godwits in the UK

The Black-tailed Godwit is a large, elegant wading bird that once commonly bred in eastern England, but is now largely restricted to the Nene and Ouse Washes. In this article, the authors discuss the ecology of breeding Black-tailed Godwits in the UK and describe the conservation interventions that have been trailed to reduce predation pressures and

Yardley Chase Training Area, Northamptonshire: a hidden gem

Yardley Chase Training Area, a military training area in Northamptonshire, is little known, but the secrecy and protection it benefits from as a consequence has resulted in an unique site. Jeff Blincow describes the history of Yardley Chase Training Area and the wonderful variety of habitats and wildlife found there. Northamptonshire rarely features in conversations

Brampton Racecourse SSSI: history and natural history intertwined

In the valley of Alconbury Brook, near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, lies Brampton Racecourse SSSI, a site that is the result of a combination of local interest in natural history and the establishment of a racecourse. This led to the preservation of one of the best examples of unimproved lowland hay meadow in Cambridgeshire, and here

The dark world of Henbane

Henbane has long been a source of fascination in the realms of medicine, religion and science, and in this article Peter Marren describes the history of Henbane in Britain, how its poisonous properties have been used since the fourth millennium BCE, and its occurrence in Britain today. Henbane Hyoscyamus niger is a favourite plant of

Field Scabious or Gipsy Rose – an ‘insect plant’ par excellence

Often seen in well-drained, calcareous grassy habitats, such as limestone grasslands or even road verges, the Field Scabious is a familiar and beautiful plant that supports a large number of insect species. Richard Jefferson explores the biology, ecological importance and status of the Field Scabious, and the insects that are associated with it. In summer,

Long-distance dispersal and establishment by orchids

How do orchids successfully travel to and grow in far-away lands? Dave Morgan examines the biology of orchids, from the morphology of seeds to the ecological demands of the flowers themselves, to explain their remarkable dispersal abilities. In 2014, a botanist couple looking for native Early Spider Orchid Ophrys sphegodes in Dorset found a single

The Devil’s Dyke: its wildlife, history and restoration

Estimated to be built between the 5th and 7th centuries, the Devil’s Dyke, in Cambridgeshire, is not only of great historical interest, but is also a chalk grassland of national and international importance. In recent years, however, it has suffered due to scrub encroachment, and there have been concerns over the future of some of

Moonshine, myth and magic: the strange world of the Moonwort

Moonwort, a small fern found typically in old unimproved grasslands, has captured the imagination of many and inspired a rich folklore. Peter Marren explores why this small, seemingly insignificant plant was regarded as special by early botanists. The first time I saw a Moonwort Botrychium lunaria it was high up in a gully on Ben

Spiders in the grass: the effect on upland spider communities of grazing

Upland calcareous grasslands are well known for their botanical interest, but they also support a diverse community of invertebrates, including a number of scarce and endangered spiders. While grazing is common in these habitats, there has, until recently, been little information available on how this affects spider communities. Ashley Lyons, Paul Ashton, Ian Powell and

Long-term changes in chalk grassland

Calcareous grasslands support a remarkable diversity of plant species but, despite being widely recognised for their conservation importance, many have suffered from a lack of management. This has meant that even some of our most famous sites have been left to deteriorate and are now in poor condition. Peter Hawes, Richard Pywell and Lucy Ridding outline

Recognising wood-meadows in Britain?

Woodland and meadow are generally regarded as distinct habitats – but has this perspective reduced our appreciation of places where these habitats come together? After describing European wood-meadows and outlining the history of equivalent habitats in Britain, George Peterken suggests that wood-meadows should be more widely recognised. Until recently, wood-meadows were a common and extensive

Brampton Meadow SSSI: a case of institutional amnesia?

This is a well-documented case of a well-meaning attempt to save part of an SSSI by translocating species-rich grassland that failed because of a lack of monitoring and management following the initial work. Brampton Meadow Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) lies to the north-west of the village of Brampton, in Cambridgeshire (in the old

A study in pink

Not all plants sit easily at one end of the spectrum running from ‘native’ to ‘alien’. The author considers the case of Deptford Pink, which leads him to take a sideways look at wild-plant conservation and the urge to garden. This is the story of a delightful little pink which has been the subject of

Reserve focus: Fontmell and Melbury Downs, Dorset

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Thomas Hardy’s first published work. Today, the Dorset landscape that the novelist and poet so loved can be admired from a reserve, rich in wildlife, that was acquired in his memory. Think of Dorset and most people will conjure up images of its glorious coast, or perhaps the

Sheep grazing and the management of chalk grassland

A unique investigation at the chalkdownland National Nature Reserve Aston Rowant (SU 727972) could help to illuminate best practice in management for other reserves in southern Britain. The study, which was partly repeated after 45 years, considered the effects of sheep grazing regimes in order to explain ecological differences brought about by variations within livestock

Translocation of waxcaps

A new method for translocating fungi has been trialled in Lancaster. Here, the author reveals why it was necessary, and how it took place.  When surveys for the construction of the Heysham to M6 link-road scheme in Lancaster by Lancashire County Council were completed in 2004, it was shown that it would affect an important

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