Anyone that has spent time in conservation or farming will most likely shudder when the words ragwort and pulling enter the same sentence. Not known to be the most enjoyable job, ragwort pulling involves uprooting these unwanted plants using a specially designed fork; turning often rather yellow fields, not so yellow. Part of the management plan for Labrador Bay, is that Dartmoor ponies are grazed periodically throughout the year. Unfortunately ragwort is rather poisonous to horses so, although bees and cinnabar moths and caterpillars are rather keen on the plant, it must go.

Becky turning yellow fields yellow-less.

Although it was quite a hot and sweaty day of fairly back breaking work, it was enjoyed by all. Team RSPB Exe is a little bee obsessed at the moment, so being in amongst what is a fantastic bee habitat (the fields are full of a brilliant diversity of wildflowers), provided the perfect chance for some identification practice! Notoriously hard to identify, and notoriously busy, a great deal of time was spent saying things like, “that must be a white-tail, or wait, could it be a worker buff-tail?” and “I’ve found a red-tail, hang on, it might be a red-shanked carder” – far more unlikely as red-tailed bumblebees are rather more common than red-shanked carders.

Red-tailed bumblebee enjoying the pollen rich thistles.

This new obsession has come around because of a fantastic book about bumblebees called A Sting in the Tail. Written by one of Britain’s bumblebee experts, Dave Goulson, the book provides a huge amount of information about these characteristic, and really rather essential insects, whilst also being hugely entertaining and inspiring!

There were also plenty of cinnabar moths out and about. These stunning day moths, are a slate black with two vibrant red spots, and appear to shimmer in the sunlight. The name cinnabar originated from the bright red mineral ‘cinnabar’, which artists historically used as a red pigment for red paints. The very same poison we are worried about the Dartmoor ponies consuming, cinnabar moths seem to really enjoy making them unpalatable to predators, hence the vibrant red colour.

We are looking for volunteers to join us on days at Labrador bay. We will be carrying out volunteer days on every second Tuesday of the month, the next one being the 14th of august. I promise ragwort pulling isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be – in fact it is a great day out in beautiful surroundings – and we also carry out a real range of jobs.

Not a bad backdrop. Steve getting stuck in – Steve seems to know everything there is to know about wildlife and is a brilliant guy to have out on volunteer days!

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