Talk by Julian Hector at the AGM on 6th March

Gloucestershire Naturalists’ Society 

“Big Natural History Television and the Conservation of the Natural World”. 

A Talk by Julian Hector, 
head of the BBC Natural History Unit. 

Julian heads up the BBC Studios Natural History Unit, a department of nearly 300 staff making best in the world content for BBC channels, digital platforms and broadcasters around the world. Julian has worked for the NHU for over 25 years with an executive producer portfolio across radio, TV and digital. Under his leadership the NHU has delivered Planet Earth II, Blue Planet II, Dynasties, Springwatch, Blue Planet Live, Seven Worlds One Planet and other cutting edge series such as Earth from Space and Animals with Cameras.

Date: 6th March 2020

Venue: Gala Club Gloucester, Fairmile Gardens, Longford, Gloucester. GL2 9EB

Time 19.30

Talk to be preceded by short (10 minutes) AGM of the Gloucestershire Naturalists Society.

Refreshments available

Hedgehog in winter

Here’s one hedgehog at least that hasn’t gone into hibernation. A hedgehog has been coming to this feeding station in a garden near Redmarley throughout the winter so far, including the night of 15 January 2020.

Winter wildlife of the Cotswolds – 8th December, Edge Common/Haresfield Hill

On a fine winter’s day, the beech woods and the limestone grassland near Edge are lovely. The light flooding through onto the woodland floor, the twittering flocks of little birds in the canopy, the elegant boles of the trees, then out onto the common where the  landscape is laid out before you from the micro scale of the ant hills, to the old quarryings, to the Painswick valley and arrow-straight horizon of the Cotswold tops.

Juliet Bailey will be leading a general interest meeting of the Gloucestershire Naturalists’ Society, Sunday 8 December, starting at 10am from the Shortwood car park on Beacon Lane (SO832086, GL6 6PP gets you close). All are welcome.

The first hour will be round Shortwood to the topograph where there are magnificent views down the Severn Vale and across to the Forest of Dean and beyond. Then at 11am we will set out to explore Edge Common and Haresfield Hill. We will finish by 1pm.

WWT Slimbridge – Estuary Tower Opening Weekend – Lots of events – 16-17 Nov

WWT Slimbridge are having a huge celebratory weekend with lots of activities on 16th and 17th November.  All the details and event booking information is on their website here.

Join us for a celebratory weekend as we launch the NEW Estuary Tower Hide with ecologist and presenter Mike Dilger.

This new, fully accessible tower offers unprecedented views of the spectacular variety of wildlife here at Slimbridge. With two spacious floors and a wide open terrace, it really does fulfil Sir Peter Scott’s vision of bringing people closer to nature.

To celebrate, we’re hosting a packed weekend of activities, talks and demonstrations. We’ve invited some special guests, too, including the renowned naturalists Mary Colwell and Mike Dilger. So whether you’re a keen birdwatcher, or someone who simply enjoys the great outdoors with your family, there’s something for everyone to enjoy this weekend.

On all weekend

  • Head out to our hides and meet our expert ‘guide in the hide’ volunteers who will be on hand to help you identify a wealth of wildlife across the reserve.
  • Visit the South Lake Discovery Hide to find out how you can take part in the Wetland Bird Survey, and help us monitor and conserve our precious waterbirds.
  • Marvel at the expert skills of the Severn Wildlife Carvers as they shape pieces of wood into breath-taking pieces of art with their display and demonstration in the Visitor Centre Foyer.

Saturday’s special events

  • 12 noon – 1pm: WWT’s Jackie Harris explains how Slimbridge 2020 is transforming the reserve with immersive, stimulating experiences:BOOK NOW
  • 11am, 1:30pm & 3pm: Take a fascinating tour of Scott House Museum where Sir Peter Scott championed the cause of conservation throughout his life: BOOK NOW
  • 2 – 3pm: Watch us guide wild birds into our historic duck decoy, allowing our team to catch them and attach identification rings. Book on arrival at admissions desk.
  • 4 – 4:30pm: As the light fades, enjoy the spectacular sights and sounds of thousands of wild birds being fed by floodlight at a Wild Bird Feed. No booking required, just meet in the Peng Observatory.
  • 5 – 6:30pm: Join naturalist and broadcaster Mike Dilger for an entertaining evening as he shares his unbridled passion for nature: BOOK NOW

Sunday’s special events

  • 11 – 11.45am: Hear naturalist Mary Colwell’s expert insights into the plight of one of our most beloved and endangered birds, the curlew: BOOK NOW
  • 12 noon – 1pm: Find out how we’re working with farmers and landowners to save the curlew, Europe’s largest wading bird: BOOK NOW
  • 2 – 3pm: WWT’s Elle Von Benzon explains how we’re working to repair, restore and conserve the UK’s precious waterscapes: BOOK NOW
  • 2 – 3pm: Watch us guide wild birds into our historic duck decoy, allowing our team to catch them and attach identification rings. Book on arrival at admissions desk.
  • 11am, 1:30pm & 3pm: Take a fascinating tour of Scott House Museum where Sir Peter Scott championed the cause of conservation throughout his life: BOOK NOW
  • 1:30 & 3pm: Join our willow weaving experts as they show you the techniques involved in shaping this fine, flexible wood.

National BTO award presented to Mike Smart

Each year the British Trust for Ornithology presents awards for outstanding contributions to ornithology.  They are sponsored by the Marsh Christian Trust and therefore known as the Marsh Awards for Ornithology.  There are five categories: one for a professional ornithologist; one for innovation; one for international work; one for local ornithology; and one for a young ornithologist.

This year’s Marsh Award for Local Ornithology was awarded to our very own Mike Smart for his work on Curlews.  The presentation was made at the Mall Gallery in London on October 23rd, coinciding with the opening of the annual exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists.  The photo shows Mike receiving his award from Frank Gardner, President of the BTO (and the BBC’s security correspondent), with BTO’s Director Andy Clements in the background.

Mike’s breadth of experience and popularity is evidenced by the fact that his nomination was put together by myself (as Gloucestershire’s BTO representative), the Curlew Forum, and a RSPB conservation manager, with enthusiastic support from GNS’s Mervyn Greening and from Roger Mortlock, Chief Executive of the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.  Here is the citation from the programme for the award ceremony…

“Mike’s passion is the Curlew and he has worked tirelessly on this species’ behalf for decades, seemingly almost single-handedly at first.  Winning over landowners and involving them in conservation measures, he laid the foundations for the establishment of new nature reserves and, mostly importantly, undertakes meticulous fieldwork to monitor breeding outcomes.  Mike’s regular Curlew reports are legendary for their completeness and attention to detail and are an extraordinary example of how regular monitoring can lead to conservation actions.   As the plight of the Curlew worsened, Mike’s determination and work-rate on its behalf accelerated.  Mike’s vision, powers of persuasion, endless list of contacts and his enthusiasm have enabled the Curlew Forum to establish the multi-agency Severn Curlew Project, based at WWT Slimbridge in Gloucestershire and launched in 2019.  This professionally staffed project aims to help Curlews using the techniques being used for Black-tailed Godwits, Cranes and Spoon-billed Sandpipers.”

 Gordon Kirk

Discovering Bats Day at John Moore Museum, 26 October 2019

Discovering Bats Day – Event for October Half-Term Week 2019

A Live Animal Event

OrganiserJohn Moore Museum
DateSaturday 26th October 2019
TimeFour sessions to choose from:
10.30am to 11.30am
11.45am to 12.45pm
2.30pm to 3.30pm
3.45pm to 4.45pm
VenueThe Old Baptist Chapel, Old Baptist Chapel Court, Church Street, Tewkesbury GL20 5RZ
DetailsWhy do bats hang upside-down?
How do they find their way in the dark?
What different types of bats live in the UK?
How can I encourage them to visit my garden?Bat expert David Endacott will be at the museum with a selection of live, rescued British Bats to explain all about these fascinating creatures of the night.  Also displays by the Gloucestershire Bat Group where you can learn about their work and how to join.  This is the perfect opportunity to find out the truth about these much misunderstood animals.


Pick up FREE information on how you can help bats, and craft activities for children – make your own origami bat or bat mask!

Tickets available on the door or in advance from the museum
Adults £6.00 / Seniors & Students £4.50 / Children £2
(Includes admission to The Old Baptist Chapel & The John Moore Museum).

Notes for editorsContact: Simon Lawton (Curator)
Telephone: 01684 297174


Talk on Carnivores at John Moore Museum, 23 November 2019

Small & Deadly: The Changing Fortunes of Britain’s Carnivores – a talk by Lizzie Croose of the Vincent Wildlife Trust

OrganiserJohn Moore Museum
DateSaturday 23rd November 2019
Time11am to 12pm
VenueThe Old Baptist Chapel, Old Baptist Chapel Court, Church Street, Tewkesbury GL20 5RZ
DetailsThe fortunes of Britain’s carnivores have changed greatly over the last couple of hundred years. This presentation will discuss changing population trends and the current status of Britain’s carnivores, including Vincent Wildlife Trust’s conservation and research programmes on pine marten, polecats, weasels and stoats.

Did you know a weasel needs to eat roughly one-third of its body weight per day?
Did you know that stoats can take on prey more than five times their size?
Did you know that polecats were hunted almost to extinction in the UK by gamekeepers in the 1900s?
Did you know that pine martens are omnivores? They have a diverse diet which includes eggs, squirrels, rabbits and insects.

Tickets available on the door or in advance from the museum
Adults £6.00 / Seniors & Students £4.50 / Children £2
(Includes admission to The John Moore Museum).

Notes for editorsContact: Simon Lawton (Curator)
Telephone: 01684 297174

University Award Scheme – Hybridisation of Bluebells

This paper was presented by Guy Copperthwaite as part of the requirement of an award within the Undergraduate Modular Scheme at the University of Gloucestershire.

NS6244 Ecological and Environmental Science Dissertation
Topographical and Plant Density Effects on the Rates of Hybridisation of Bluebells (Hyacinthoide) (PDF).

Ecology and Environmental Science Assessment 02
May 2019

The GNS ‘Curlew Meadows’ project

For many years now studies of breeding waders have been carried out in the Severn estuary and up the Severn and Avon Vales. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) organised its first survey of Breeding Waders in Wet Meadows in 1981, with a repeat in 2002, while there was an extensive study led by Jim Quinn from Slimbridge in 1995.  I was involved in organizing the 2002 BTO study in both Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, and for most summers since then have tried to gather data from the whole area, including estuarine sites like Aylburton Warth and Guscar Rocks, the New Grounds at Slimbridge and Frampton, through inland riverine wetlands like Walmore Marsh, the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust (GWT) reserves at Coombe Hill Meadows and Ashleworth Ham or Longdon Marsh in Worcestershire, to the many former gravel extraction areas in Worcestershire at Ripple, Clifton and Grimley along the Severn, or Lower Moor along the Avon. The results have been published as articles in the annual bird report, and have of course contributed to the 2013 “Birds of Gloucestershire”.

Curlew nest

The principal wader species involved historically were Lapwing, Snipe, Curlew and Redshank; in recent years three new breeding waders have joined them: Avocet, Oystercatcher and Little Ringed Plover. Snipe presents the saddest story, since its wonderful drumming display has totally disappeared from the Severn and Avon Vales since 2003 (though there are still viable breeding populations in the Somerset Levels and at Otmoor in Oxfordshire); Lapwing and Redshank hang on in greatly diminished numbers. Whereas these three species require quite damp conditions, Curlews breed in slightly drier habitats, generally on hay meadows in the floodplain, and their breeding numbers seem to have been maintained rather better in the Vales. Nevertheless, there has been general recognition of a decline in breeding Curlew numbers right across northwest Europe, from Finland to Ireland, and the species figures on the IUCN Red List. In December 2015 a highly significant article in the journal ‘British Birds’ suggested that Curlew numbers had decreased so sharply (mainly through poor production of chicks) that Curlew was probably the most important bird conservation in the UK, because just over 25% of the world population nests in UK, while another 25% comes from northwest Europe to winter in UK.

In December 2015, it was decided, at a meeting held at the headquarters of the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust (GWT), with participants from Natural England, the Gloucestershire and Worcestershire Wildlife Trusts, BTO, the North Cotswold Ornithological Society (which has since amalgamated with GNS) – not forgetting of course GNS itself – to organize in 2016 a survey of breeding Curlews covering not only the Severn and Avon Vales, but also sites on the Cotswolds, where a small number of breeding Curlew still survive. Those surprised by the idea of breeding Curlews in the Cotswolds may remember the reading at the opening of the GWT’s reserve at Crickley Hill (formerly a County Council reserve) of the Gloucestershire poet Ivor Gurney’s poem “Crickley Hill”:

High above Gloucester and the Severn plain,
Few come there, where ever and again
The Curlew cries faintly.

The 2016 survey was carried out by volunteer observers, and succeeded in finding 30-35 pairs, 16 to 20 of them along the Severn, with 14 to 15 along the Avon. In addition, three pairs were found on the Cotswold sites in Gloucestershire and three or four pairs on higher ground away from the valleys in Worcestershire. Of the 30-35 pairs in the Severn and Avon Vales, six were definitely successful in producing fledged chicks and two more were perhaps successful; 18-22 pairs failed and the outcome of four to five nests was uncertain. During the 2016 field season, contacts were made with other groups working on breeding Curlews in southern England, and in particular with Mary Colwell, who that year had made a 500 mile ‘Walk for Curlews’ which took her from the Republic of Ireland, through Northern Ireland and north Wales right across central England to Lincolnshire; her book “Curlew Moon” recounts her adventures during her walk, with many examples of Curlews in literature and folklore. She highlights the dramatic situation in Ireland where the number of breeding Curlews has crashed from many thousands to less than 200 pairs. Through Mary’s efforts, a first ever all-Irish Curlew meeting was held in November 2016, and led to the creation of an official Task Force to remedy the situation.

In the United Kingdom a major RSPB five year project is investigating the reason for the decline in breeding Curlew numbers at six trial management sites in Scotland, northern England, north Wales and Northern Ireland; but all the trial sites are in the uplands: what of our small remaining populations in lowland sites? During 2016, we realised that there were lowland sites, similar to those in the Gloucestershire and Worcestershire vales, in the Somerset Levels, the Thames Valley, the New Forest, Salisbury Plain, north Wiltshire, Herefordshire, each with a maximum of 30 or 40 pairs, hanging on in the face of habitat change, agricultural activities, predation by foxes, crows and badgers; what was being done to conserve these small remaining populations, highly valued not just by naturalists, but by farmers and landowners, local people, all those with an appreciation of the wildness and special characters of the Curlew? In order to focus on lowland Curlews a workshop under the title “Call of the Curlew” was hosted at the headquarters of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge on World Wetlands Day, 2 February 2017, with presentations by observers of all these local Curlew populations, but also with the participation of national bodies like the BTO, Natural England and many local naturalists and the farming community. The conclusions were: it is important to maintain not just overall numbers of breeding Curlews, but the broad distribution over southern England; surveys like those in 2016 should be continued, and there should be greater exchanges of information between surveys in different parts of the lowlands. To ensure that the momentum was not lost a very informal body called the ‘Curlew Forum’ was established, and a special website was established at the address ; (this website has been funded since its inception by GNS). The website carries regular reports on Curlew surveys in the different breeding areas on the lowlands, plus news and views of all kinds relating to lowland Curlews. Please take a look!


In 2017 therefore a renewed survey was carried out in the Severn and Avon Vales, this time with Natural England generously covering the travel costs of the volunteer observers.  Detailed results are available on the website, but in summary 31-32 pairs were found, a similar number to 2016, but only three young birds were known to have fledged. Some of the regular breeding sites are at places like the Severn Ham at Tewkesbury or Upton Ham in Worcestershire, which are widely used by ramblers, joggers and dog-walkers from the neighbouring towns; GNS provided the funding to erect signs at Tewkesbury and Upton, inviting Curlew lovers to encourage successful nesting by keeping to footpaths and maintaining dogs under close control and these were in general well respected; since then similar signs have also been erected at Coombe Hill, at Twyning and at Asham Meadows near Eckington. In 2017 too, greater emphasis was placed on habitats, with botanical surveys of the hay meadows where most birds nested, in an attempt to obtain more precise information on exactly what areas were being used by the Curlew; while some of these meadows are of very high botanical value, it often turned out that the Curlews chose spots in the hay meadows with lower vegetation, where water remained a little longer and any young Curlews hatching would not be lost in very high, luxuriant vegetation. In addition there were surveys by the Gloucestershire Invertebrates Group at several of the major nesting sites to identify the insects present in the grassland, and to identify the availability of insect food for young Curlews which feed themselves on hay meadow insects almost as soon as they have hatched.


Putting up signs at Upton

Putting up signs at Upton

The exchanges with other groups studying Curlews in lowland England made us reflect on our basic approach to the question: hitherto we had been monitoring presence of breeding Curlews, and judging the success or failure of the nesting attempts by observing the behaviour of the adults or, if possible, the presence of fledged chicks. We had not actively searched for nests (a difficult enough proposition in the long, lush grass of the hay meadows where they normally nest). But did this mean that we were just monitoring extinction? Other groups (notably the very active Shropshire ‘Curlew Country’ project) were much more oriented towards protection measures – finding nests, protecting them from predators by erecting electric fences around the nests, working closely with farmers to avoid nests being damaged during hay-making operations. At a GNS Committee Meeting during 2017, the Treasurer suggested that some of the Society’s funds, accumulated through generous legacies from members, should be used to support a more adventurous ‘Curlew Meadows’ project providing ringing equipment, electric fencing, and even raising of chicks in captivity; this would also be a new approach from the financial point of view, since most GNS projects involved relatively small sums of money for purchase of specialist equipment. For once we could be more ambitious, and this might provide an example for other larger projects.

Example of a hay meadow where Curlew nest

In 2018, as a result, the approach was different: the aim was to find and protect nests, to take some eggs from wild birds (with of course the proper authorizations from Natural England) and to raise the chicks in captivity before releasing them in the wild, and to ring as many wild birds as possible with colour rings, so that they could be identified in the field. Alas, the best laid plans o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley: the weather in 2018 was absolutely disastrous for nesting Curlews in the Severn and Avon Vales. To begin with, there were two major floods, one in March, one in April; the birds returned to their traditional nesting fields (they are known to be highly site-faithful, nesting year after year on the same field, sometimes in the same spot), but found them under several feet of water, once in mid-March, then again in mid-April; the breeding season was thus delayed by several weeks, and then, even worse, there was a six week heatwave in late May and June which absolutely burnt the grass and probably limited insect food. Despite the best efforts of the four principal observers (Juliet Bailey, Mervyn Greening, Andy Jayne and Mike Smart), no nests were found; indeed it was strongly suspected that many birds abandoned the attempt to nest. So there was no opportunity of protecting nests with electric fences, nor of raising chicks from wild eggs in an aviary provided by a sympathetic farmer. The hot conditions meant that farmers cut their hay early to save it from drying completely, often by mid or late June, whereas the young birds need cover into July. Once again, 34 to 36 pairs of Curlews were thought to be holding territory; it was at first thought that not a single chick had been raised in the vales in 2018; just one family of two chicks aged 14 days was colour-ringed, but were not seen to fly; it was thought that they had perished, but in April 2019 one of them was seen and its colour-coded ring read on the Camel estuary in Cornwall, so at least one survived.

Hay meadow with meadowsweet

Natural England, which had once again covered travel costs in 2018 for the four main observers, recognised the work of the four GNS members by giving each of them a West Midlands Conservation Award; other awards went to volunteer groups and to conservation-conscious farmers. It should be emphasized that the GNS volunteers have aimed throughout the course of the project to work as closely as possible with farmers and land-owners. Survival of the Curlew as a breeding species in the vales depends on maintaining the current traditional extensive agricultural system, based on a hay crop with grazing by cattle (or often, nowadays, sheep) once the hay has been cut. In the long run the aim must be to adapt current practice to the needs of the birds – by late cutting, by leaving areas where the birds are nesting uncut until after fledging, ultimately by amending farming subsidies to reward farmers on whose land Curlews prosper. It is a pleasure to acknowledge the willing cooperation the GNS team has met from so many farmers.

At the end of the 2018 season, a comprehensive report was submitted to for Natural England, documenting in detail the findings from 2015 to 2018, and identifying the prime sites where Curlews traditionally nest. This should form a basis for future work in the area on nesting Curlews. Also in 2018, further meetings devoted to lowland Curlews (like those in Ireland and at Slimbridge) have been held in Wales (at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Showground in Builth Wells in January) and Scotland (at the Battleby Conference Centre near Perth, under the title “Whaup’s Up?”); the Curlew Forum and its website go from strength to strength. Already, there have been major developments in 2019. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge has decided to embark on a ‘Severn Curlew Project’ involving continuation of the field surveys and active conservation measures initiated by GNS, and a major operation using their traditional avicultural expertise to raise young Curlews from eggs; the eggs have been sourced from wild nests on East Anglian airfields, where the nests would otherwise have been destroyed to prevent bird-strikes. WWT and GNS plan to continue to work together to promote the success of this operation. Another valuable outcome has been the increased recognition of the botanical value of the hayfields along the Severn and Avon, through cooperation between GNS, the Floodplain Meadows Partnership, Natural England and the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group; it is hoped that this may lead to increased conservation measures (perhaps designation of new or extended Sites of Special Scientific Interest) in these very rich riverine meadows. And there has even been a lowland Curlew Summit at 10 Downing Street, with the aim of defining measures to reverse the decline of breeding Curlews throughout lowland areas of the United Kingdom.

Mike Smart
August 2019

Butterfly Backsides

Here is a selection of less than perfect photos of butterflies currently using my Buddleia. With the warm weather and fuelled-up on nectar they don’t stay still for very long in the perfect open position, but perhaps closed or half-closed is the view that most people will get of them.
Painted Lady – star of the show in great abundance this year. In flight, the general impression is of an apricot coloured butterfly.

Painted Lady

When perched with its wings folded the Painted Lady shows pretty pale stone-coloured mottling on the reverse of the hind wing with a dusty band of apricot and flecks of black and white on the upper wing.

Painted Lady

Red Admiral – very handsome black with brilliant red and white and a highlight of blue. On the reverse, the bottom wing is dark but there is dull red, white and blue on the upper wing.

Red Admiral

Peacock – when the wings are open it is basically orange with big eye-spot discs on the top and bottom wings. With the wings folded these disappear and it looks almost black, unlike the Painted Lady and Red Admiral which are still moderately colourful on the underwing.



Small Tortoiseshell – this butterfly is a little smaller than the previous three and when open is a brick red with black, white, red and yelllow blocks, rimmed on the edge with little blue beads. With folded wings it is the dark brown of a dead leaf.

Two Small Tortoiseshells with Painted Lady

Comma – another smaller butterfly the same sort of size as the Small Tortoiseshell, this butterfly is ginger orange, and its characteristic when perched from either view point is the scalloped edge to the wings as if something has been taking bites out of it, which is much more pronounced than the other species. I did not stay long enough to get a photo of one perched on Buddleia flower.


Small White – there are three possible Whites on the Buddleia – Small, Large and Green Veined. This is Small White. It is about the size of the Small Tortoiseshell whereas Large is the size of the Peacock etc. The perspective in the photo is giving the wrong impression, the white butterfly is closer than the other two. Green Veined would show dingy dark lines (the so-called green veins) on the reverse of the wings. The wings here are a relatively unmarked white/yellow, hence it is Small White.

Small White in middle with Peacock (L) and Painted Lady (R)

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