Yesterday I went along to the Wildlife Information Centre conference, which this year focussed on the wildlife and management of grasslands. There were some excellent speakers on a range of topics.
Ali Murfitt from Plantlife Scotland talked about grassland fungi, which are indicators of unimproved grassland (ie grassland that has not been farmed). She talked about the most common families of grassland fungi (Clavariaceae - the coral fungi; Hygrophoraceae - waxcaps; Entolomatacea - pink gills; Geoglossacea - earth tongues and Dermoloma - crazed caps). Waxcaps are a relatively easy group to identify but the others often can only be identified to species level through microscopic examination of the spores. If you're interested in learning more about identifying and recording fungi in Scotland you can find out more on the Scottish Fungi website.
Duncan Davidson of Butterfly Conservation talked about grassland butterflies and moths. Scotland has significantly fewer species of butterflies and moths than does England, but whereas most species are declining in England, many are remaining stable or even increasing in Scotland. Some species are starting to move north into Scotland due to climate change. I was fascinated to discover that in one species of moth - the ghost moth - the males gather and display to the females. I was also fascinated to learn that in the UK birds eat a total of 35 billion moths a year!
Andrew Jarman of Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society talked about recording this interesting group of insects, concentrating on the solitary species. If you think of bees you probably think of honey bees that live in hives with a colony structure that includes a queen and a lot of sterile worker bees. Solitary species don't have this colony structure, though often they are more sociable than their name suggests, they often nest close together. Many species are difficult to identify. I was fascinated to learn about the parasitic species that invade the nests of other bee species, kill the eggs and steal the food supplies!
Stuart MacPherson from East Lothian Council talked about how the council manages its grasslands and the balance that needs to be struck between protecting the grasslands habitat (which is rare in the area) and protecting scrubland (which can encroach on grassland and is a good habitat in its own right but common in the area). There are also sometimes potential conflicts with golf courses. The expense of good management was discussed, including the potential of grazing by livestock. At one point rabbits were discussed as a good management strategy, apparently there aren't enough of them in the area!
Heather McHaffie from the Royal Botanic Gardens talked about the work the gardens do in conserving and reintroducing native species. The garden has an extensive seed and DNA collection for Scottish plants and is involved in several projects including helping to sustain the population of the unique species of rowan trees found on the Scottish island of Arran.
The Wildlife Information Centre itself plays a vital role in collating records of all sorts of wildlife in Edinburgh, the Lothians and the Scottish Borders. They are currently running a special 'Spots and Stripes' survey focussing on badgers and leopard slugs. So if you can help them with that survey or with general wildlife sightings do get in touch with them via their website. If you're in another area of Scotland, you can find out your local records centre from Biological Recording in Scotland Campaign and if you're outside Scotland, you probably have a wildlife recording centre or similar close by.
Wildlife recording is a great way to learn more about nature and it helps conservationists to know how well (or badly) species are doing in the wild.
As ever, red text takes you to other webpages where you can find out more.