Data compiled the Woodland Trust shows that Shropshire is one of the counties with the highest number of threats to ancient woodland.

"While woodland cover is only slightly lower than the national average (9.3% compared to 10%) Shropshire needs to do more to protect its precious ancient woodland. Sadly 10 ancient woods have come under threat in the last 10 years – seven of which have already been lost or damaged

Action is needed to stop further loss and work towards the recommended woodland cover of 15%."

See the infographic here

Lion Coppice is one of the 10 threatened ancient woods and the last one that lies within the boundary of Shrewsbury Town.

 

When I first embarked on the task of making a list of the flora and fauna of Lion Coppice and its immediate surroundings I had no idea just how long the list would become or how much time would be involved in compiling it.  So it was quite a surprise to find that the list of moths alone has now passed the 100 mark.

Following the discovery of ghost moths in the field adjacent to the coppice, almost a year ago now, I had begun to pay more attention to the Lepidoptera of the area.  Most of the butterflies were already familiar to me; there are maybe a dozen species seen regularly during each year, but the moths were a bit of a mystery.

Finding moths isn't that hard; just leave a light switched on at night and many (most?) will be drawn to it.  Catching and photographing them is not much more of a challenge, but identifying them can be a painstaking and time-consuming process but one which I found ultimately to be a lot of fun.

Whilst some species have unique and distinctive markings or other characteristics, others require a good deal of research and the invaluable assistance of experts to be confident of an identification.  And some are just impossible to identify accurately from a photograph and a few simple measurements of length or wingspan.

But despite the difficulties and the occasional failures I think I am getting much better at making a correct first time identification which can then be confirmed by those more experienced than me.

What I wasn't prepared for and which came as a complete surprise to me, was just how many moth species can be found.  On the evening of 30 June 2012, a little under a year since I began looking at moths in more detail, I found and recorded the 100th moth species and there must be many more still to come as the rate at which I'm coming across new species is showing no sign of abating.  It's certainly not unusual to add 3 or 4 new species to the list each week.

I really don't know how this figure would compare with a "regular" area of woodland or even an urban back garden, but it suggests to me that Lion Coppice, the last remaining area of ancient woodland within the boundary of Shrewsbury Town, is a bit of a hotspot for biodiversity.  If there are over 100 species of moth then how many spiders, flies or beetles might be expected?  Moths are relatively easy for an amateur such as myself to identify with confidence; these other groups are a lot harder.

The other point to make is the very insanity of assessing the value of an area with an ecological survey involving just one or two days of observation.  It really is no wonder that the survey carried out on behalf of Persimmon failed to find any of the six moth species on the NERC Section 41 list.  After almost a year of observations I would hesitate to say that the number of Section 41 species is limited to just those six.

It takes a lot of time to carry out a proper investigation of an area.  It would be a tragedy if the site were to be damaged by money-grabbing property developers just as we are beginning to truly understand the value of Lion Coppice.

Time flies and it's hard to believe that it's now over a year since Ghost Moths (Hepialus humuli) were discovered on the field next to Lion Coppice and Shillingston Drive. It certainly took me by surprise when I noticed that we are now entering the period when these beautiful moths emerge and exhibit their characteristic "lekking" behaviour.  So I took the opportunity of a dry Saturday to walk over the field during the day to see what moths, if any, were visible during daylight and I planned to return at dusk to see if any Ghost Moths were flying.

I came across a fair number of micro moths, Celypha lacunana, and I managed to get Celypha lacunana.  But the real surprise came when I disturbed a large white moth that flew a short distance then settled on a grass head.  I suspected immediately from the way it flew, with widely separated pairs of wings that appeared brilliant white, that it might be a Ghost Moth and a closer examination confirmed it.  It was quite docile and I was easily able to get close enough for a photograph.  This is the first time I have seen on of these moths during daylight; they normally remain hidden deep in the undergrowth until dusk.

Knowing that the moths were definitely about made me much more confident of seeing them that evening and sure enough I saw five males doing their characteristic lekking dance as the light faded that night.

It's good to see that the moths have successfully made it through another winter despite weather conditions that might easily have adversely affected them.  These moths are sensitive to disturbance and the population that appears to be well-established here is still under threat from the Persimmon housing development that could so very easily wipe out their entire number.

Last week I was in Germany for a conference and was unable to make my regular forays into the coppice.  Before I left there were few, if any, moths coming to the lights at night, most likely due to the rather wet and generally cold conditions.  But by the time I returned the weather had changed to something much more like summer and a walk through the woods during daylight revealed a great deal more insect life than previously.

So on Friday evening I switched on the moth lamp (which is really nothing more than an ordinary bulb at the end of a very long extension lead) and waited for what I hoped would be a good haul of night-flying insects.

And a good haul it certainly was.

The bright yellow Brimstones are more reminiscent of tropical species than something you would find in Britain, but no less attractive are the Clouded Silver and Common White Wave.  The iridescent colours of Adela rufimitrella are also reminiscent of lower latitudes and the antennae of Nemophora degeerella have to be seen to be believed, extending as they do to many times the length of the insect's body.  From the small to the very large: the Poplar Hawk-moth is one of the largest British moths with a wingspan of around 3 inches.

Less welcome is the Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner.  This was first identified in Macedonia in 1985 and was later found in London in 2002, since when it has been gradually spreading across the UK.  The fact that it is now definitely in Shropshire is bad news for our horse chestnut trees.

Apart from the moths, a lot of other insects are starting to appear.  Click Beetles seem to be just about everywhere in substantial numbers.  The green iridescent beetle Polydrusus sericeus is not to be missed.  Scorpion flies are quite numerous and the aptly-named Beautiful Demoiselle is a very welcome visitor to the woodland edge.

In total, 16 moth species were added to the Lion Coppice species list in just one weekend. A very good haul indeed.

It seems that Britain is finally living up to its reputation of being a rather damp country by experiencing a decent amount of rain again.  For the past couple of years we have been in the grip of a drought that has seen the ponds and wet places in and around Lion Coppice dry out to an extent that I have never seen before.  The big pond in the woods was bone dry for the second winter in succession and pond 3 was so dry this winter that its base exhibited cracks that went down over 30cm in depth.

But it's been raining on and off for almost two weeks now and although this is nowhere near enough rain to get us back on track, it has been enough to at least partially recharge some of the ponds and ditches.  The perimeter ditch on the north side of the coppice now has several inches of water and the various depressions scattered throughout the coppice contain standing water for the first time in many years.  This won't last of course, but such ephemeral pools are an important habitat for many species.

Outside the coppice, pond 2 has gained a good quantity of water but is nowhere near capacity as yet.  Pond 3 now has a decent quantity of water and I'm looking forward to the return of some amphibians this summer.  In normal years this pond is full of frog and newt spawn, but the last couple of dry years has completely eliminated the population there.  Considering that this pond had 30cm deep cracks earlier in the year, whereas it now has a good 30cm water depth, it gives some idea of the amount of water that has been draining across the area in the last couple of weeks; in fact mostly in the last couple of days.

Pond 3 at the south end of the site is now full to the brim, which probably represents about 60cm of water.  There was little or no standing water in this pond over winter with its base being reduced to a springy mud that could easily be walked on.  The marshy area towards the south east corner of the site is finally living up to its name and the pond at its corner, designated as pond 4, has come back into existence.  Far from being confined to a small corner of the field it has now expanded to look more like a small lake.  Our resident pair of Mallard ducks seem to have taken a liking to the area and look like they may be nesting nearby.

The drainage ditch running along the edge of Shillingston Drive is also sporting a decent amount of water (it's referred to as a "dry ditch" on the plans) and the "footpath" adjacent to the coppice has become a shallow stream with water visibly trickling along it towards the south-west and presumably ending up in the "dry ditch".  All the water on the site, apart from the little that will be retained in the ponds, will eventually drain into Battlefield Brook.

It is interesting to compare the current water extent with the indicative plan put forward by Persimmon in their outline planning application.  Right now, the whole of Avenue Square, all the houses on the south side and several houses on the north side of Eastern Avenue would be sitting in several inches of water.  Indeed, there are a couple of houses sitting directly on top of pond 3.  I wonder if they intend to tell their future home-owners that their properties are sitting on an area that is normally submerged during wet periods in most years.  If they do get planning permission then let this page stand as testimony to their lawyers that they were warned that the area is prone to flooding.

And there is plenty more rain forecast for the coming week.

 


The official start of spring this year was on March 22 at the equinox, but for me spring is always marked by when the first Chiffchaffs arrive from their long migration and their distinctive calls can be heard from the coppice.  This year that happened on the morning of March 14th and within a couple of weeks it has gone from being just the odd bird to the regular sound of their calling indicating the consistent presence of breeding pairs.

But there is really no doubt that spring has arrived now.  The honeysuckle is putting out lots of leaves and there are buds on almost every tree and shrub you come across.  The emerging leaves of the Wood Anemones are now clearly visible above the leaf litter with many now in flower and the Bluebells are developing nicely.  Each morning the dawn chorus now includes the additional sound of a Great Spotted Woodpecker hammering on a rotten trunk to attract a mate; a drummer backing up the vocals.

And then there are the moths.  Towards the end of March I was recording quite a range of moth species with Diurnea fagella (which doesn't have an English name) being particularly common, in both its normal and melanic forms.  On one evening I counted 53 individual moths of 15 different species, 4 of which were new to me.  However, since that early peak, moth numbers have declined considerably and the recent damp weather has reduced sightings to a trickle.

I decided to put all my ongoing moth records as well as some other observations in a new section of this website.  You can see the latest observations pages listed at the bottom right of the home page.  To reduce pressure on my hosting account I have uploaded the images to box.net and used an embedded image viewer, so I apologise if image loading is now rather slower than it used to be.  Doing it this way saves me from having to rent extra storage space from the hosting company.