Garden Challenge Update – Autumn 2023

The garden challenge is still ongoing so please continue to send any records to GNS News editor ( (preferably verified by the relevant county recorder where necessary).

Records are welcome for any taxa, from gardens or other local public spaces.

Our target species for 2023 continues to be woodlice and there are considered to be five common species “the famous five”, to look out for:

Common rough woodlouse (Porcellio scaber)

Common shiny woodlouse (Oniscus asellus)

Common striped woodlouse (Philoscia muscorum)

Common pill woodlouse (Armadilidium vulgare)

Common pygmy woodlouse (Trichoniscus pusillus)

Some links for online ID and recording help are on the GNS website ( In addition, the autumn is a good time to watch out for and record Fungi. The Dean Fungus Group meet regularly and contact information can be found at

Also, if you have any flowering ivy in your garden/public space, this can be a real draw for invertebrates in the autumn when other forage is scarce. Whilst a number of species are attracted, keep an eye out for the Ivy Bee Colletes hederae. This looks similar to a honey bee but is solitary and flies late in the year. It can partly be distinguished by the yellow-orange hairs on its thorax and head. More info can be found online including Ivy plasterer bee – Bug Directory – Buglife or from our county recorder.

Garden Challenge 2023: Summer Update

Hope everyone is enjoying their garden and local spaces this summer, and the hot, dry weather hasn’t been too detrimental.

Please continue to keep an eye out for woodlice (our target species for 2023) and get in touch with the Society for any ID help or queries.

For the summer months, we would like to encourage recording of mammals and hoverflies. Mammal records can be sent to Barrie Mills at Hoverfly records can be sent to David Iliff at David has provided some extra information for hoverfly ID resources and has given some descriptions for two distinctive species to
keep an eye out for:

Volucella zonaria: easily the largest British hoverfly and a hornet mimic, this is a female (the male has a black rather than a chestnut thorax). The female lays her eggs in the nests of social wasps (including hornets) and the larvae develop there. It is on the wing from June onwards.

Scaeva pyrastri: this is one of the largest of the many hoverflies with larvae that are predators of aphids. It is around from June onwards and its frequency varies from year to year. The UK population is sometimes augmented by migrants from Europe.

He has given the following comment on hoverfly recording (thanks David):

“I should be delighted to help in any way I can with your plan to target hoverflies as a group, and I would also be glad to receive queries from GNS News readers who seek help with identification.

As far as suggested resources are concerned, I would nominate two in particular. The first is Steven Falk’s excellent on-line aid which can be found by typing the following link into a search engine or merely by googling “Steven Falk hoverflies”: Collection: Syrphidae (hoverflies) (

The second is the book “Britain’s Hoverflies: A Field Guide to the Hoverflies of Great Britain and Ireland Third Edition Fully Revised and Updated (WILDGuides of Britain & Europe, 45) paperback by Stuart Ball and,Roger Morris. However, I should stress that this book is the third edition, and it is not yet published; expected publication date is December of this year. The second edition is still purchasable, but I would advise people to wait for the new edition which is considerably updated. It can be pre-ordered (my copy is on order) and costs about £22.”

Garden Challenge 2023

Following the great interest the Garden Challenge had in 2020 we want to resurrect it for 2023 to encourage more recording within gardens and other public spaces around the county.

There are no limits or boundaries for recording, and we encourage you to observe and record whatever you find. If you don’t have a garden, then we’ll gladly welcome records from local churchyards, parks and greenspaces which you enjoy visiting regularly (just make sure you have permission to access the land and to collect samples, if required).

To focus recording we are going to suggest some target groups/species for each season (see below), but please record anything and everything. The relevant recorders can be contacted to help with identification if you need it (see the WRIS at the back of this issue, or the website), or you can also use the GNS Playground (on Facebook). Please also come along to the GNS ‘Pub Chat’ Zoom meetings (every 3rd Wednesday of the month) to share what you’ve found with other members.

Please send your records to me using the details at the end of this article, so they can be collated at the end of the year, and we can feedback on the findings. Please send as a minimum:

  • Date
  • Location (name of location and minimum 6 figure grid
  • Species
  • Recorder’s name

It would also be useful to have a note on abundance, habitat/behaviour and where appropriate, a description of the species or notes on how identification was made. Please include ‘Garden Challenge’ in your email heading or on any post. Any photos, stories or notes on interesting finds are also welcome, to be shared on Facebook/website/GNS News.

So for this coming Spring season (March to mid-June) please keep an eye out to record Amphibians and Bumblebees which will be especially active in the next few months.

Here are some helpful identification links for our target species:

And drumroll… our target group to be recorded in 2023 is the humble Woodlouse which are no doubt abundant in most of our gardens but very overlooked. Tips on identifying the target species for this season/ year will be available on the website (

Pencils, pooters, nets and notepads at the ready….! Happy Recording
Kate Kibble
(56 Penrith Road, Cheltenham, GL51 3QB;

A Wilded Churchdown Garden

A Wilded Churchdown Garden by Ann Smith

Our small 1930s suburban garden on the edge of fields and in the vicinity of Gloucestershire Airport has been home to us and to many creatures for 30 years. As I have aged, I’ve allowed the humble plot to become wilder and wilder and I encourage others not to panic at the sight of a little unkemptness. While I have not yet, to my shame, photographed many fauna for you, I show examples of how to create pockets of different habitats. Hedgehogs no longer raise their young here, but I suspect there are many intricate food-chains plus regular bird visitors. A common whitethroat popped in and a grasshopper warbler once came close. I have submitted bird records to
GCER. When we extended a couple of years ago, we added integral sparrow nestboxes within the brickwork, high up under the eaves. They were soon in use, alongside the 15 other varied non integral ones (including a starling box). Every day when I wander outside, I am thrilled by another seedling poking up through a paving slab crack, another jumping spider warming itself on the rubble I left especially, by the blackbird feasting on pyracantha berries or on the heritage apple varieties from Gloucestershire Orchard Trust. A thousand tales to tell, one hundred nooks and crannies, a single soul uplifted with happiness. All is welcome here.

In memory of my mother, Jennie, who inspired me so.

Please read the captions for each photograph for ideas.

Garden Illustrations 2

Thanks again to Sue Gage for sending in more of her excellent illustrations produced from wildlife found in her garden. You can see more of Sue’s work here.

“I started making a record of our garden in 2016 with illustrations of the plants and wildlife through the seasons.

Once I had done the whole year (on 20 pages) I started to look closer at the insect life. So far I have 9 A4 pages of various butterflies, bugs, spiders etc.

I do a watercolour painting of each creature using my own photos for reference as much as possible, and annotating them with the common and latin name, size etc.”

Garden illustrations

Thanks to Sue Gage for these samples from her collection of garden-inspired illustrations…

“I started making a record of our garden in 2016 with illustrations of the plants and wildlife through the seasons.

Once I had done the whole year (on 20 pages) I started to look closer at the insect life. So far I have 9 A4 pages of various butterflies, bugs, spiders etc.

I do a watercolour painting of each creature using my own photos for reference as much as possible, and annotating them with the common and latin name, size etc.”

An Omnivorous Shrew

Many thanks to Alan Waterman for his observations from his Clearwell garden.

Clearwell is where I live. You may well have heard of it because despite being quite a small village it does punch above its weight a bit because of Clearwell Caves and Clearwell Castle which both put the village on the map. I live almost equidistant between the two. For those of you who do not know where it is, it is close to Coleford, on the western edge of the Forest of Dean and only 5 miles from the River Wye and Wales.

My garden is quite small and very steep. It has been terraced and there are five levels. These are held in place by old stone walls, some of which are supported by concrete and others by gravity! Either way they provide homes for a wide array of life including lichens, mosses, ferns and various flowering plants along with a range of invertebrates and vertebrates. We often see Field mice who regularly pop out to pick up material from under the bird feeders. I also sometimes put a little handful of bird food in odd spots which attracts the mice and also Bank voles.

During the lockdown I sometimes took to sitting at the top level of my garden with my camera and telephoto lens just to see what came along. I got various shots of birds, butterflies, bees and others. On one occasion I caught a flash of something darting from one hole in the wall to another, some sort of small mammal so I put a little handful of bird seed close by. Nothing visited but the next day, as expected, it was gone. It could have been the mammal or maybe the birds. In any case I replaced it and did the same for several days running. Then I set myself up where I had first seen the little chap having first placed another little handful of bird seed and sure enough after a short time it appeared. It was a vole and I believe it was a Bank vole, Clethrionomys glareolus. It did not hang around for long, just darted out picked up a seed and returned to the safety of the wall. I suspect it was not eating what it had collected as it soon returned and gathered another seed and this went on for some time so he was probably laying in a bit of a store. I did get some photographs but had to be quick.

A few days later I repeated the operation and sure enough Mr Vole quickly made an appearance, but then from a different hole in the wall another snout appeared, a rather longer, tapering and twitchy snout. It also took a seed and disappeared. At first it only had to emerge a short distance to gain access to the food and was not fully visible, but I knew it was a Shrew. Bit by bit it collected the food that was closest and gradually had to venture further and further out and more into view so I could get better photographs showing it to be a Common Shrew, Sorex araneus. I always thought that Shrews were insectivores and that is why using small mammal traps is as they harmful to them as they cannot survive without insects. This one was definitely collecting the seeds and sometimes even eating them whilst in view.

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