Habitats and Conservation

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Habitat Loss

Rimac, Theddlethorpe Dunes, Lincolnshire, June 2016.

Habitat Types

There are many different kinds of habitats that are colonised by many different types of wildlife. Insects will adapt to a wide variety of habitats. Others how ever have very specialised needs and require very specific plant types, growing in almost virtually unique situations. It is impossible to conserve and protect some species, without conserving the habitat in which they thrive.

Two of the biggest threats to our native wildlife at this time is habitat loss, and global warming. Habitat loss is caused by many factors, most are directly connected with catering for the needs of humans, such as intensive farming, commerce, industry and house building. Although in more recent years global warming is changing habitats, and putting more, and more pressure on wildlife to survive.

By designating an area as a nature reserve, not only are we protecting the endangered target species, but many other species such as birds, plants and animals residing within that reserve. A good example of this is the Purple Emperor butterfly which requires large woods with a good size population of mature oak tree's.

There are two main types of nature reserves, Local Nature Reserves (LNR), and National Nature Reserves (NNR). Some of these have achieved SSSI status, Site of Special Scientific Interest. These sites often have many rare, or scarce species, and occasion just on Red Data Book species (in danger of extinction.

There are hundreds of nature reserves of varying sizes throughout Britain. Many of these reserves have free parking, and public access to them, some are even found within city boundaries. They are managed by local authorities and conservation groups such as 'Butterfly Conservation', the RSPB, your local wildlife trust and various other groups of like minded people.

The links on my home page will put you in touch with some of these groups, and by going on to their websites you can find out more about places to visit in your area.

There is a huge variety of  habitat types that support their own, and often unique communities of insects, as well as supporting a wealth of tree's, shrubs, wild flowers, birds, reptiles and mammals. Some have already attained nature reserve status, for example, 'Gibraltar Point National Nature Reserve', Lincolnshire.

Others near to you have achieved Local Nature Reserve status. Many nature reserves have been designated S.S.S.I. status, Site of Special Scientific Interest. At least one, and often more rare or/and endangered species reside in these areas.

Some habitats are difficult to classify as they may have the characteristics of two, or more habitat types. An example of this is the local commons which around the country are so varied. These commons can consist of wild flower meadows, light wood land, pasture, heath land, ponds and marshes, or often a mixture of many of the listed components.

Heath land generally consists of some of these features, Heather, Bilberry, Gorse, Hawthorn scrub and other smaller tree's and shrubs with open area's. These heaths are good for species like the Emperor Moth, Fox Moth, Wood Tiger, True Lovers Knot, Green Hairstreak and many other species.

Grassy sea cliffs and coastal sand dunes with a good selection of wild flowers are great places for butterflies and moths. Often migrant species like Clouded Yellow, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Humming-bird Hawk Moth, Rush Veneer, are first spotted each season in these coastal regions. Also many native species like these coastal area's such as Lulworth Skipper, Chalkhill Blue, Brown Argus, Small Heath, Brown-tail moths, the Sand Dart and many others.

Inland dunes, ancient heath and woodland provide unique habitats for species, some of which are often only to be found in these places. Limestone area are essential to the nationally scarce High Brown Fritillary.

A beautiful lightly grazed wild meadow, lightly wooded on the edges, behind the old established sand dunes just inshore on the Lincolnshire coast. Nearby is further grass land, with salt marsh and pools.

This reserve is the habitat for hundreds of insects, including many scarce species. Rimac is a National Nature Reserve, and something of a national treasure. It's one of my two Lincolnshire favourites, I see something different every time I visit this wonderful place.

Here at Rimac Four-spotted Chasers, Common and Ruddy Darters abound. Another scarce creature to be found here is the  Natterjack Toad. Many migrant birds and insects arrive on this coastal reserve each year.

There are many butterflies and day flying moths, Burnet Companion are quite common. Latticed Heath, Shade Broad-bar, Barred Straw and Small Scallop are also fairly common.


Knowing what to Conserve

Scarlet Pimpernel, Spurn Point, Yorkshire, May 2009.

Equipment for observing Moths and Insects

How do conservationist know what to protect and conserve, and just as importantly, where? There are many thousands of people in the UK that send in records of what they see, and where they observed their sightings of various kinds of wild life. The majority of the people that send in these records are not employed full time in the various conservation societies, but are just ordinary people who  take note of what they see, and report it to the appropriate county recorders. Most of these people when they start taking records are novices, and often over the years they become some thing of an expert in their own chosen interest.

There are many good books on the market that will assist in identifying most kinds of wild life in the U. K. There is a contact on my homepage, for an online book shop that supplies these specialist books. County recorders will be pleased to accept your records, but on occasion they maybe need a photograph to confirm some difficult to identify species. These days with mobile phones and tablets, a photograph shouldn't be a big problem.

Admittedly some of ID manuals, and other wildlife books can be expensive, but they are educational, and can bring many hours of pleasure. One good book I purchased recently was entitled, 'The British Moths and Butterflies' by Chris Manley, it cost me 115.00. Another good book is, 'Moths of the British Isles' by Bernard Skinner, this recently cost me 75.00. Used copies in good condition can be a lot less. There are many websites where you can identify many different species of plants, animals, fish, insects etc, etc

Digital camera's are relatively inexpensive these days, and a camera with a macro facility, and a resolution of at least 12Mpx would give good clear pictures. Camera's with interchangeable lenses of different focal lengths are heavy, and cumbersome. Modern day bridge cameras with up to 50x zoom lenses will give good results. Mobile phone cameras are improving all the time, and can give a good result.

Your local county wildlife trust will put you in touch with county recorders, or accept your records directly. The minimum data that is usually required is the date and place, and the grid reference or postcode, of where the specimen was seen. There are some links on the contacts page which will help put you in touch with your county recorders. Butterfly Conservation coordinate all the UK moth and butterfly records, you can find your local branch using the link to Butterfly Conservation (National).


There are many hundreds of species of moths, and other insects in the UK, a good place to start in your own back garden. In my garden I have recorded nearly four hundred species of butterflies, and moths, and many other insects.

Most species are harmless and don't bite, or sting. There are a few hairy caterpillars to watch out for, the hairs of which can really irritate the skin. You will be surprised how many moths, and butterflies visit town and suburban gardens. Moths are attracted to light, and will often come to doors and windows that are lit up after dark. Often they can be seen at dusk flying around before the last day light has faded. After dark they can be seen with the aid of a good torch, feeding on wild and garden flowers.

Care must be taken in catching them, they are reasonably delicate and should not be harmed. Only release night flying insects after dark, the following night. Unless of course you can be sure that you are releasing them into safe place, where predators like birds and cats are unaware of the release. Fishing nets are not suitable for catching insects, they are to rough and inflexible and will invariable damage some of the specimens caught. Proprietary butterfly nets, designed for this purpose can be purchased, and are reasonably inexpensive. Again there is a contacts link on my homepage for purchasing field equipment.

Moth traps can also be purchased, these catch moths without harming them. The specimens caught can then be studied at leisure the next day, then released unharmed after dark.

There are two basic types of trap, low voltage portable traps, and mercury vapour traps that need a mains input, or a portable generator. I had a Heath Trap which uses a 12 volt motorcycle battery, and an eight watt actinic tube. If you are trapping in your own garden these low voltage traps are less intrusive to neighbouring properties, and they have the advantage of being portable. They are quite successful, one night this summer I had seventy seven moths the following morning. In the past I have had over one hundred  and fifty moths on several occasions.

Scarlet Pimpernel, a member of the chickweed family, it's not often that you see it nowadays. Yet here it is in all its glory on Spurn Point on the Yorkshire coast. Spurn Point is a nature reserve that I used to visit quite frequently. Since the bad storms on the east coast in the winter of 2012/2013 it is less accessible than what it was. Now my wife and I with our health problems find it a bit impractical. However people in good health should find it no problem to walk out  a couple of miles from the visitor centre.

This reserve has many species including Brown-tail, Garden Tiger which are both very common some years. In June many Brown-tails can be seen during the day, clustered around a external light fitting on one of the buildings related to the lifeboat station. I must point out however that the Brown-tail nests, caterpillars and adult moths have hairs that can be extremely irritating to human skin. They can cause severe debilitating rashes, that can on occasion cause hospitalisation, and in rare cases blindness.

On a more cheerful note it is a lovely place to visit, and there's something for everyone. There are many birds, wild flowers, butterflies and other insects to see. It also has a cafe and a lighthouse and makes a nice day out for all of the family.

Habitat loss is a world wide problem.

Global Warming, Forest Fires, Agriculture and Human Construction.

All contribute towards species extinctions, what can we do?

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