At RSPB Scotland Loch Lomond, our volunteers are incredibly important to the work that we do. Whether it’s helping us to talk to the public, take photographs, or carry out practical conservation work, we simply couldn’t get as much done without our dedicated team. One such volunteer is Sam Buckton. Sam’s passion is recording species, and this year, he set himself a remarkable challenge:
My name’s Sam. I recently graduated from university in zoology and I’m hoping to enter the field of conservation, with a particular interest in wildlife monitoring.
Sam the species hunter! - pic Helen Pugh Photography
I love volunteering at RSPB Scotland Loch Lomond. It’s a stunning place, with its diverse mixture of habitats – including both dry and wet woodland, bogs, burns, beaches, ponds and meadows – and its spectacular views: Ben Lomond is a constant, majestic presence in the distance. I’m always coming across little corners of the reserve that I didn’t know existed, and it’s the kind of place you could never get tired of exploring. This year I set myself a challenge: to find, between May and August, 250 species which had never been recorded on the reserve before.
There are several reasons why I decided to undertake this one-man bioblitz. Loch Lomond is still a relatively new reserve (it was acquired by the RSPB in 2012) and as such we’ve still got a fair bit to learn about what species call it home. Although the reserve’s birds and plants have been well-studied, less is known about the invertebrates, for instance. I’m reminded of a previous warden stumbling across a handsome dark spider in one of the reserve’s bogs, which turned out to be the nationally scarce great otter spider Pirata piscatorius, and has since become one of the reserve’s star species and a target for conservation. Other rarities such as this could be out there waiting to be found, and to better inform the RSPB’s management of the site.
Great otter spider - pic Becky Austin
Even records of common species are important. It might be the case that a widespread and common species suffers a dramatic population decline, at which point historical records of the species are urgently sought after. With large numbers of species threatened by human activity worldwide, recording biodiversity has never been more critical. How can we know what we’re losing if we don’t know what exists already? Climate change is also causing many species to shift their distributions, which can only be detected if we have the type of baseline data that I’m collecting.
The aim of my species challenge is also to celebrate the biodiversity that RSPB reserves, such as Loch Lomond, provide a haven for; to learn more about the variety of life, how we classify it and how to identify it; to have some fun; and to make the point that even many common species right under our noses are greatly under-recorded. One of the surprises I’ve had since undertaking this challenge is finding out that many of the species I’ve noted are the first records for any RSPB reserve – particularly aphids and plant galls caused by mites - even though most are very common. For example, galls caused by the mite Phyllocoptes sorbeus are ubiquitous on rowan leaves in the north of Britain, but my record of this species at Loch Lomond was an RSPB first.
I’ve already crossed the 250 species threshold (I’m currently at 379 and counting) so have subsequently upped the target to 500. Most of the species found so far are insects, but I’ve also recorded new flowering plants, mosses, liverworts, lichens and other fungi, and species in many other groups of invertebrates, from spiders to flatworms. I try to identify as many species as possible in the field, but otherwise take live specimens back to the reserve office to look at under a microscope before releasing them again, and when necessary send specimens or photos to get verification from experts.
Epiphragma ocellare - pic Sam Buckton
A substantial number of the species I’ve come across are scarce in Scotland, whether due to under-recording or genuine rarity. Three of my favourites so far have been the cranefly Epiphragma ocellare, which has beautiful ripple patterns on its wings; the moth Brussels lace, which has been confirmed as a first for the county; and the strikingly coloured parasitoid wasp Ichneumon stramentor, which is the first verified record for Scotland and caused a bit of a media frenzy last week!
It’s been satisfying to confirm that the RSPB’s habitat management on the reserve is providing a home for some unusual and specialist species. One part of the reserve, Aber Bog – which has a diverse community of wetland plants – provides a good example. A moth trap I put out here one night caught the uncommon caddisfly Limnephilus elegans, a specialist of bogs and fens, and my sweep-netting in the bog turned up the scarce leafhopper Macrosteles septemnotatus, which is associated with meadowsweet and is only the second record for Scotland according to NBN Atlas (though this atlas may not show all records).
Ichneumon stramentor - pic Sam Buckton
I’ve been encouraging the staff at the reserve to note down any new species they notice as well (they’re up to 33, including a beetle found in the Assistant Warden’s hair!). It’s easy to think, “someone must have recorded that already, I’ll ignore it”, but in many cases even common species haven’t been officially recorded and have turned out to be new to the reserve. We’ve even had schoolchildren discover new species for the reserve whilst bug-hunting, including two new ladybird species. This goes to show that anyone can be a bioblitzer. All you need is a pair of sharp eyes, and you’ll be amazed at the wealth of wildlife waiting to be found.
If you'd like to have a go at recording species, why not take part in an official survey. Visit https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/centre-for-conservation-science/working-with-us/surveys/ for some suggestions.
One survey happening right now is Butterfly Conservation's Big Butterfly Count, which you can take part in until August 11 https://www.bigbutterflycount.org/
If you'd like to find out more about volunteering for the RSPB, then visit https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering-fundraising/volunteer
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