Thursday, 31 January 2013

Star Slime! Mystery of ''tree frogspawn' solved

What leaves frog spawn six foot up a tree? There is a rational answer, and it doesn't involve a new breed of super-frog! Staff at Devon Wildlife Trust's Working Wetlands project recently made a surprise discovery when working on land near Roadford Lake, in north Devon. They were quickly able to identify the jelly-like substance as frog spawn but weren't able to fathom how it had come to be on a tree trunk. Project Manager Mark Elliott picks up the story: 'Finding frogspawn at this time in winter is not that unusual, especially the mild weather of the past week. But finding it up in a tree was. It's not something I'd come across before. Common frogs lay their spawn in water and it's there that tadpoles develop. Not in trees!' Mark took a photo of the frogspawn and sent it to Devon Biodiversity Records Centre for identification. It is DBRC's job to keep a central archive of the county's wildlife records. Staff there process thousands of biological sightings each year. The experience and expertise gained from this work meant that staff member Ellie Knot had seen similar cases before and was able to add an explanation to the puzzle. Ellie said: 'This kind of finding is commonly known as a 'star slime' - a lot of animals and birds eat frogs, but they don't eat their ovaries because the eggs or spawn contained in them expand massively when they come in to contact with water. This expansion would be enough to give anyone stomach-ache! Freshly laid spawn is fairly small - the eggs (in their jelly cases) are less than 5mm across, but once it has been around for a few hours the eggs expand to more than 1cm across. The clump of frogspawn usually ends up much larger than the frog that laid it. So, when birds, etc eat a frog they leave the ovaries behind, which then expand and burst when they get wet, leaving a clump of spawn.' 'In fact, it is not that uncommon to find frogspawn in trees - buzzards and crows will often take frogs, retreat to a nearby perch and then eat their prey there, leaving the ovaries and the spawn behind after their meal.' 
Working Wetlands staff were surprised to find this frogspawn in a tree high above the ground.
Photos copyright Mark Elliott, Devon Wildlife Trust

Monday, 28 January 2013


A vast wildlife haven is to be created at the former Meeth Quarry, a 150 hectare site recently purchased by the Devon Wildlife Trust thanks to funding from Viridor Credits Environmental Company and generous individual donors. The Trust is now set to implement a programme of improvements for wildlife and local access thanks to financial support from Natural England. Meeth Quarry is a former clay works located close to Hatherleigh within the Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area and the North Devon Biosphere. 'The site is a spectacular, recovering landscape, with vast areas of open water, wet grassland, stone quarry face and woodland' said Matt Boydell, Devon Wildlife Trust's Land Manager. 'It incorporates six threatened wildlife habitats, supports 18 species of national importance and will provide a haven for a huge range of bird life, making it an excellent winter wildlife-watching destination for local communities '. There is currently no public access to the site, but the Quarry adjoins Devon Wildlife Trust's existing nature reserve at Ash Moor and is adjacent to the Tarka Trail, so the potential for public access and enjoyment is huge. Thanks in large part to the support of Natural England, Devon Wildlife Trust is able to carry out essential infrastructure and access work and plans to open the Quarry to the public in the spring. Natural England funding is also supporting essential work to preserve and enhance the sites biodiversity and wildlife value. 'Meeth Quarry has the potential to become a flagship nature reserve in the heart of the Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area' explained Harry Barton, DWT's Chief Executive. 'One that will offer year-round opportunities to see fascinating wildlife and a living demonstration of landscape restoration in action. There is still a lot to be done, but we will continue to work hard to secure the funding and resources needed to realize the full potential of this fantastic asset in terms of benefits to both wildlife and the wider community. ' 
To find out more about Meeth or any of Devon Wildlife Trust's 47 other nature reserves then visit 
Barn owls could be amongst the local wildlife to prosper at Devon Wildlife Trust's new nature reserve at Meeth, near Hatherleigh (photo copyright DWT)
Devon Wildlife Trust staff begin surveying their new nature reserve - the former clay quarries at Meeth, near Hatherleigh (photo copyright DWT)

Slip, sliding away Peppercombe

Happy New Years Day and a walk down to Peppercombe Meadows. It's dark and dank in the wooded valley with signs of slippage and erosion as a result of the non-stop heavy rains. Looking over the bridge by the Pink Cottage I can see a mud fall slithering down to the stream and round the bend, up on the bank, where one of the big old trees fell last month, a holly tree has now been uprooted. The abundant ferns are still green and new wildflower shoots are appearing on the verges by the path which is furrowed from the torrential rain. A low brooding light out on the meadows and above an almost motionless Peregrine Falcon fixed on its prey below. I took some photos, as the sun came out for just a moment. A blue haze washed over Bideford Bay, Lundy and Clovelly were faint but visible. There were a few walkers braving the coast path and families exploring the rock pools on the beach. A few days later we were back and arrived to see a Cormorant diving down as the waves broke on the shore.On this walk I noticed more casualties of the winter storms, one of the old trees which had arched across the path for years was now a pile of logs on the wayside and the end wall of the old stable block had completely gone, the rubble slip-sliding away.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Devon demonstrates huge support for strong marine protection

A huge wave of public support will shake Westminster today as a quarter of a million people call for greater protection for UK's seas and coastline. 250,000 signatures on the Wildlife Trusts' Petition Fish will be presented to Natural Environment Minister, Richard Benyon at a Parliamentary reception at the House of Commons, hosted by the Wildlife Trusts. Devon Wildlife Trust collected 6,500 of these signatures across the county. Devon Wildlife Trust hopes to meet local MPs to highlight the unprecedented opportunity that this country has to protect our marine environment using Marine Conservation Zones. There are 14 recommended MCZs off the coast of Devon of which just 4 made it onto the Government's consultation list recently announced. Sites not designated include some of south and north Devon's most spectacular scenery and wildlife. The list of non designated sites in north Devon include: Bideford to Foreland Point, Hartland Point to Tintagel and the Taw-Torridge Estuary; for south Devon the list includes: the Axe, Otter, Dart, Avon, Erme and Tamar estuaries. A new poll, commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts, also shows the extent of public support for greater marine protection. 92% said that in circumstances where sea life is threatened by commercial activity such as industrial fishing or dredging, priority should be given to protecting nature, even if this means putting restrictions on where commercial activities can take place. A new report published today highlights the benefits to be gained by society and the economy if the Government adopts a network of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) around UK shores in 2013. Our surrounding seas have an astonishingly varied range of submerged landscapes which support wonderful marine life: from cold water coral beds to sponge meadows, canyons and sandbanks. MCZs were conceived to protect the plants, animals and habitats within them from the most damaging of activities, whilst mostly allowing sustainable activity to continue. Securing the benefits of the Marine Conservation Zone Network was written by the Centre for Marine and Coastal Policy Research at Plymouth University and commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts. Its publication coincides with The Wildlife Trusts' parliamentary event and with the Government's current public consultation on MCZs (which closes on Sunday, 31 March). The report reveals that designating MCZs is likely to increase current benefits such as food security, resilience against environmental challenges and pollution at these sites. It predicts that there would be potential additional benefits for commercial fishing, improved natural coastal protection and recreation too. The report highlights the importance of MCZs working together as a network and points out that non-designation of sites is likely to result in their deterioration. Devon Wildlife Trust was disappointed that the full network of 127 recommended MCZs were not on the Government's list published for public consultation in December. Today, Devon Wildlife Trust calls for: 
  • The Government to designate all 31 of the proposed MCZs in 2013 and enforce appropriate management in these sites as soon as possible. 31 Marine Conservation Zones are a step forward, but nowhere near enough for an ecological coherent network. 
  • The Government to set a clear timetable for the rest of the network to be designated, including the 10 Devon MCZs that have been left off the list of sites in the first round of designation. 
  • The sites identified by Natural England as being most under threat to be designated urgently. 
  • The evidence that the Government spent £5m collecting last year (which has not yet been used) to be taken into account immediately, along with that collected by stakeholders in 2012. 
  • Proper protection of sites as soon as they are designated - including banning bottom-trawling and dredging in these areas.
Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts' Head of Living Seas, said: "We'd like to encourage the public to respond to the Government's consultation. The public can help us ensure that the 31 sites that the Government have selected are only the start. We need to ensure that the remaining sites are not forgotten." 
Simon King OBE, The Wildlife Trusts' President, said: "Whilst disappointed all 127 recommended Marine Conservation Zones are not immediately being designated, we are heartened to hear the Government confirms it has every intention of designating 127 and more if necessary. We understand that resources don't allow this to happen in the first year - nonetheless the pressure is on. Time is of the essence. With every passing week, month, year, we are at risk of losing more of this precious resource.
Go to to respond to the consultation.
Recently, The Wildlife Trusts asked a leading polling organisation, ICM, to conduct a UK-wide survey on attitudes to our seas and their protection. More than 1,100 people took part. Here's what they had to say across the UK........

Monday, 21 January 2013


The world's biggest wildlife survey, Big Garden Birdwatch, now in its 34th year, is nearly here and you could help make it the biggest one yet! Please help the RSPB create a 'snapshot' of bird numbers in your area simply by counting the birds in your garden (or local park) for one hour at any time over the weekend of 26-27 January.  Big Garden Birdwatch helps the RSPB understand how garden birds are doing, so the more people who take part, the more they can learn. Register today and make submitting your results on the weekend quicker and easier. Plus, you'll also get £5 off your next purchase on the online shop as a thank you (offer runs until 3 February 2013).

Monday, 14 January 2013


Make Time for Winter, that's the message from the Highways Agency. You never know when you might need an Emergency Pack! It’s easy; just gather together the items below and pack in the car at the start of the winter season, leaving you concentrate on more immediate matters, like how you are going to get there…
Your emergency kit should include:
• Ice scraper and de-icer
• Torch and spare batteries
• Warm clothes and a blanket
• Boots
• First aid kit
• Jump leads
• Mobile phone charger
• Food and a warm drink in a vacuum flask
• A shovel
• Reflective warning sign
• Road atlas
• Sunglasses (the glare off snow can be dazzling)
Don’t forget to take any personal medication too

For more handy tips when driving this winter visit