Were you, like me, inspired to look more closely at wildlife as a child by Ladybird “What to look for…” books, and the little pocket I-Spy series? At first, it’s all about identifying the most obvious, but gradually the observation skills develop, noting the subtle differences between species. Then you begin to notice which species tend to be found together, and how the seasons change, and it’s like a story that gradually unfolds. Now I’m retired, what an expert I should be, but unfortunately my memory for names lets me down a bit these days!
Volunteering with the Yazor Brooks project
Herefordshire Wildlife Trust provides loads of opportunities to learn more, at all levels of knowledge. There are plenty of talks, and of course there’s nothing like volunteering, in the company of experts. As well as being on the Committee of the HWT City Branch I have become one of the Yazor Brook Guardians. Yazor Brook enters Hereford on the north-east side, becomes Widemarsh Brook, and then runs underground to meet Eign Brook and the River Wye. Within the Yazor Brooks Restoration Project I have learned how to monitor “riverfly” invertebrates regularly at chosen survey points, as indicators of brook health. What’s an invertebrate? Well, it’s a creature with no backbone, so in the brook that means the freshwater shrimps that occur in most samples, and larvae of insects such as mayflies and caddis flies.
The survey involves what is called kick-sampling. One of us stands in the brook (in wellies or waders!) and kicks the bottom for three minutes so that dislodged beasts can be caught in a net. We then empty the net into a bucket and view the contents of the bucket in a white tray that helps to show up things that move. Sometimes, particularly in autumn, there is a lot of debris that makes it difficult to see what we’ve caught, so we can also move things of interest to a compartmented tray for closer examination. We are not counting fish, but it’s always good sign to see a nice plump little stickleback.
Is the brook polluted? Well yes, in parts it is, so we work with the Environment Agency and other organisations so that our citizen science can help provide the background data they need. There is also the problem of litter thrown in the brook. How can someone throw their beer can in, when they’ve just passed HWT volunteers doing a litter pick? Well, I’ve seen it happen. At this time of year some of the team also try and clear the brook of natural plant debris and some of the overhanging boughs so that more light gets through to help the brook wildlife thrive.
Most people realise that being in the outdoors makes them feel better, especially in these anxious COVID times. So exploring wildlife habitats, with a definite purpose to observe and help nature with the HWT, is one of the best things you can do to help and maintain your mental health!