Counting buttterflies because butterflies count (and so do moths)

One of the great joys of summer for me is the arrival of colourful butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies. We get fantastic numbers here. While Winnie the Pooh might consider that ‘nobody can be uncheered with a balloon’ ( and I agree with him whole-heartedly) for me the cheeriest thing has always been the sight of a butterfly, beetle, damselfly or moth on a sunny day.

With that in mind ‘Big Butterfly Count’ time of year is always one of my favourites. This is the 5th year that Butterfly Conservation have been running the programme and last year over 44,000 people took part and submitted their results. Hopefully this year there will be even more. Butterflies are a particularly good indicator of environmental decline or issues. Their short lifespans and fussy eating habits mean that any problems are quickly shown up in a reduction of numbers in particular species or groups of species.

In my busy days of often noisy pursuits, taking the time to spend 15 minutes counting butterflies quietly in the sunshine is a joy. Granted it was partway through a litter pick of mostly beer cans and filled doggy bags making me smell like a brewery, and worse, but taking the time to focus on the wildlife despite the mess we humans make can only cheer my day. Feel free to do the same, I thoroughly recommend it! The counting finishes this Sunday (9th August) but they give you plenty of time to submit your results which you can then take a look at online when all the data has been collated. You can go old school (-ish ) by printing the sheet from the website and input your results when you get home or download the free android or apple apps so you can complete the whole process on the go.

Poplar Hawk Moth visiting my trap

If you are a moth person ( or just a general bug-hugger like me ) you are very welcome to join me on Sunday September the 13th to see what my trap has attracted overnight. Counting moths on national Moth Night is obviously a little more involved than counting butterflies in a field in broad daylight, but my home-made Skinner trap usually gets good results ( weather permitting ) and I can pretty much guarantee that you will be surprised what turns up. Moth trapping provides a fascinating insight into what goes on in your gardens in the middle of the night and the visitors you get that you probably never see. Poplar Hawk moths, like the one in the picture, are regular visitors and one of the most spectacular with a wingspan of over 7cm. If you fancy coming along just give the office at Dapdune a call to book your place ( 01483 561389 ) so I know how many cups of tea and slices of cake I need to prepare. I think  we are asking for a donation of a couple of pounds  to cover baking supplies but they can fill you in on the logistics when you call. The more the merrier!


A bit of help in the fight against litter


It’s great that most of our river and towpath users take great pride in keeping the Navigation clean and tidy, disposing of their rubbish carefully and even picking up the odd runaway crisp packet. We also have staff and dedicated regular volunteers that do their bit to clear the inevitable litter that finds its way into and alongside the river. It all helps to make the Wey Navigation a beautiful hidden gem of the waterway system. We really do appreciate all the volunteer hours and days we receive here, we couldn’t function without them.

In more urban areas litter can become a problem and in Guildford town centre the towpath attracts more rubbish than our more rural sections and requires more attention to keep it looking pristine. When Marks & Spencer staff offered to come out for the day and litter pick with us, we were more than happy to accept their help. The 23 volunteers from 5 local stores joined our Lengthsman Richard and Chris to blitz an area of central Guildford. They collected 17 bags of rubbish, over half of which we were able to recycle and everything from cigarette butts to a suitcase.

This is the third year running that they have come out and helped us clean up and with the extra pairs of hands we really manage to get into those nooks and crannies. The event is part of the national “Big Beach and Waterways Clean-up” campaign, so we are just one of the lucky waterways that have received help this week. The projects are all funded by the 5p carrier bag charge in M&S stores when you forget your reusable ones.

Some of the M&S team enjoying the sunshine after their hard work.

Some of the M&S team enjoying the sunshine after their hard work.

A loss in the family


When you get the call you just drop everything and go. 

I might not know all Trust properties intimately but working here makes you part of a family and when one of you is in trouble you know you have to do what (little) you can. The River Wey team were just some of the staff from all over the region who joined the emergency services when a fire struck Clandon Park yesterday. As part of the salvage team we were able to help get some of the irreplaceable furniture and paintings to safety but unfortunately much was also lost. It is heartbreaking to see a much loved and important building reduced to a shell but obviously that loss is felt so much more by those who live, work and have loved the place for so long. Whatever you do it never seems enough.

It is a tribute to the place and the organisation that as I was leaving after 1 a.m another property team was arriving having travelled an hour to get there and ready to get stuck in.



Searching for Spring and springing a leak


It’s true to say that no two days as a lengthsman are alike and yesterday was no exception. It started off peacefully, getting myself organised for a guided walk. The plan was to have a nice sedate walk looking for horticultural, ornithological and entomological signs that spring was ( or wasn’t ) upon us in the week of the equinox. All went to plan with the sun kindly coming out and making our celandine, catkin and bumblebee hunting a pleasure on a beautiful Sunday morning.

My happy mood was overtaken by a rapidly sinking feeling ( if you’ll pardon the pun ) on hearing that we had a breach in the bank above Papercourt Lock. Working on a Navigation that is the one thing you don’t ever want to hear. The implication if it is a major breach is that boats could be damaged and that there is not enough water left to get our repair equipment easily to site. That is before you even consider the issues for wildlife.

I rapidly made my way back to the start of the circular walk with my very supportive walkers in tow and put out boards to warn boaters that they wouldn’t be able to travel above Newark Lock. By the time I made it there the potential disaster had been averted so all there was left to do was help with a few more barrow loads of soil to level the surface and deliver some hastily grabbed mars bars. The Maintenance Team had been mobilised and with the help of Chris the Lengthsman stemmed the flow with clay, soil and some carefully placed skill and brute force. It turned out the water had made its way through holes in the piling and scoured out some of the bank underneath the surface and suddenly forced a way out. Having the luxury of an in-house team who can deal with these issues at a moments notice means we can get to these situations before they become major incidents and operational and financial headaches.

Like I say no two days are the same. Today it’s back to painting and mowing, if all goes to plan, but I know better than to count on it.