A weekend in the wilderness

20 August 2011

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Grass Snake at Wilderness Festival, Cornbury, Aug 2011Grass Snake at Wilderness Festival, Cornbury, Aug 2011

This week’s Meet the Species adventure saw the team continuing the hunt for our 2012 species deep in the heart of the Oxfordshire countryside, where we made our latest trip to the fantastic Wilderness Festival at Cornbury Park. Deep in the wilds of England, the festival proved a perfect place to explore a range of habitats, from grassy meadows humming with grasshoppers, to ancient woodlands of gnarled trees, and beautiful ponds just waiting to be investigated.

After setting up the now well-travelled Meet the Species gazebo on Friday afternoon, our first wildlife walk headed out as the sun was setting, as we explored the woodland by moonlight on the search for bats. The enthusiastic crowd, equipped with bat detectors and led by our naturalist Lydia, managed to seek out a number of pipistrelle bats flitting between the trees, and when we returned on Saturday evening, Daubenton’s bats along the edge of the lake.

Martin leads a bug hunt at Wilderness Festival

Each day kicked off with visitors gathering round the moth traps laid the night before by our bug expert Martin, and we were rewarded with a number of different species each morning. Groups set out throughout the day to explore the different habitats of the site, including armies of bug hunters equipped with nets, who uncovered an amazing number of insects, in particular an incredible range of crickets and grasshoppers – with some literally hopping straight into the hands of our explorers! Plant and tree walks, led by Graham, also found a great diversity of wildflowers and trees, from venerable old oaks to the forebodingly named deadly nightshade.

As well as going out in search of wildlife, a number of species could be found back at the Meet the Species tent, as people brought their own finds to us from the nearby fields, or even from their own tents, including an variety of beautiful beetles and spiders that we helped to identify and examine further under the microscope. Our pond dipping expeditions also returned with some great samples, with signal crayfish, a three-spined stickleback, a great water boatman and freshwater shrimp, amongst many others, all being ticked off the species list. Finally, on Sunday we were granted a special treat, as Rod, our reptile and amphibian expert, brought along two grass snakes and also a slow worm –  one of our twelve feature species – that he had found during a nearby survey, allowing people to get a closer view of these often elusive reptiles.

Not so slippery Grass Snake found at Wilderness Festival

Just two full days of species hunting managed to produce a total of almost two hundred species, many of which we were able to tick off the 2012 species list for the first time. Thanks must go to Lydia, Martin, Nina, Dominic, Graham and Rod, for their assistance over the weekend, and to all our fellow Wilderness explorers who helped to hunt down the different species. Just a few days rest now, and then we head off to Green Man Festival in Wales for our next adventure – come and join us there as we continue the race!

By Ben Connor, Bristol Natural History Consortium

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