Wild Wharfedale
The Wharfedale Naturalists Society 

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

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Walks in Wharfedale

 to the Wharfedale Naturalists Society

- and to the wildlife of Wharfedale

Looking forward to

July 3 Botany
Arncliffe area
July 15 Rodley Nature Reserve
July 17 Botany
Grass Wood
July 24 Butterflies at Stainburn Forest
July 26 Otley Wetland Nature Reserve
Please Note: Botany walk on 7th of August (John o' Gaunt's Reservoir) replaced with Threshfield Quarry (See programme)...

Full programme here

Anti-bloodsports group’s notices warn of ‘jaw-like’ traps on Ilkley Moor
Ilkley bluebell woods’ park sign ‘is misleading’
Nell Bank centre's extension is vital for survival
Stepping up work on Ben Rhydding moor path
Chance to join in Dales decisions

Wildlife ponds

Garden pond

Gardens make a major contribution to biodiversity in our tight little island, and one of the major factors in this is the garden pond. A pond can support local populations of frogs and toads, newts and also dragonflies and other water insects.

Although it's too late now to watch tadpoles, you could have a pond ready for later in the year when the new generation disperses. Avoid fishes in a wildlife pond - even tiny sticklebacks can prevent newts from breeding. Also avoid alien water plants - New Zealand pygmyweed, floating pennywort and water fern - which can take over local wetlands. Don't import your fauna - you might bring in disease. Amphibian diseases such as red leg virus can wipe out entire frog populations locally.

Go for native plants, such as water crowfoot, water starwort, water forget-me-not and water mint. Local dragonflies and amphibians will quickly find your pond, and, if it is attractive, will stay.

There's more advice on pond-building here. Natural England have published some excellent booklets (.pdf) - 'Amphibians in your garden' is here and 'Dragonflies and Damselflies in your garden' is here.

What's that butterfly?

Butterfly guide

Butterflies are back on the wing! Download this free UK Butterfly ID Guide from Butterfly Conservation here.

Brush up on your ID skills in time for summer!

Tick time


Take home a tick - and spend a few weeks in pain, maybe with serious organ, joint and skin problems.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. These bacteria are transmitted to humans by the bite of infected ticks. They are carried by deer, sheep and also birds. Spring is the most dangerous time, and moist, shaded areas with leaf litter and low-lying vegetation in wooded, brushy or overgrown grassy habitats the most risky habitats.

To protect yourself against ticks, wear suitable clothing, covering legs and arms, use insect repellents and check for ticks and remove any that are attached when you come home. Take care - the safe way is illustrated here.

Symptoms include, among others, a pink, slowly expanding “bull’s-eye” rash, which is not usually itchy or painful; fever, malaise, fatigue; facial nerve palsy. If you suspect a tick infection, see your doctor. Antibiotics can cure the disease but if left untreated, the infection spreads into organs, nerves and joints, becoming extremely debilitating and hard to treat.

Warm weather warnings


When the thermometer climbs up high, think what you can do to help the wildlife.

Hedgehogs will appreciate a bowl of water (make sure they can get out if they fall in). If using a lawnmower or strimmer, take care - small animals, and their offspring, may be sluggish and less able to escape. The hard ground may prevent birds getting food so increase the mealworm diet, but keep bird tables and feeders clean to avoid disease.

And, if you're lighting a bonfire, first make sure nothing's using it as a home!

Wildlife in

High summer - at last.

  • Gatekeeper butterflies
  • Chiffchaffs singing
  • Migrant Hawker dragonfles - maybe a Lesser Emperor?
  • Baby frogs underfoot
  • Bog asphodel on the moors
  • Roe deer rutting

More here

Feather forecast

Spotted flycatcher

Take a walk in the Washburn Valley, around Dob Park, and try to spot a spotted flycatcher! This undistinguished little brown-and-buff bird has the delightful habit of sitting still, then dashing out to catch a passing insect, and returning to its branch to wait for another - diagnostic behaviour which helps identification no end!

They are among our latest summer visitors and in national decline, but last year we had a good season. The upper Wharfe is actually now a more likely area - try Lower Grass Wood and Littondale - but Strid Wood has been reliable in the past.

A black-and-white bird behaving in just the same way is probably a Pied Flycatcher. Strid Wood and Grass Wood, and Folly Hall Wood in Washburndale, are local strongholds, with breeding helped along by nestboxes. Again, 2005 was a good year, and perhaps 2006 will be another - this year's warmer weather will help the birds in their search for insects.

Plants now


Of course, we all know that weeds are just plants in the wrong place, but the bright yellow plant which dominates over-grazed fields and roadsides has such a bad reputation that most people regard it as simply disposable.

Numerous web sites advise how to wipe it out, the Highways Agency spends hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to extirpate it and it is the only weed dignified with an Act of its own (the Ragwort Control Act), which specifies how its spread can be controlled, particularly on land used for horses and livestock. It does contain alkaloids which poison animals which eat it, but they won't normally do so if it is alive (it tastes bitter and the smell crushed is such that the Scots called it 'Stinking Willy'). Only when it is harvested with grass, when it loses its taste and smell and is easily eaten, does it become a threat.

Even if we could destroy ragwort, it would have major effects on wildlife. At least 30 species of insects and other invertebrates are totally dependent on Ragwort as their food. 52 insects are known to regularly feed on Ragwort as a significant foodplant - it is well know as a food plant for the Cinnabar moth. Trying to eradicate ragwort risks losing other similar plants - St John's wort, tansy, hawkweeds, and so on - which may have much more fragile populations.

Nature Notes
by Society members
featured in Wharfedale Newspapers

Banded Demoiselle

If a prize were being offered for the most beautiful insect ever spotted in the centre of Leeds, I think I'd stand a good chance of winning it.

My 'prize-winning' observation took place on a warm day in July, when bright sunshine and high humidity were tempting insects usually restricted to the banks of the river Aire to venture far from the water - into unfamiliar urban settings.

I first became aware of the unusual winged visitor as I made my way towards the rail station through a throng of office workers and bargain hunters. As it zipped across in front of me I initially thought the insect was a piece of litter caught in the breeze - perhaps a sweet wrapper cast carelessly aside by a city centre shopper.

The 'sweet wrapper' then fluttered towards the middle of the road and it suddenly became animate, as my eyes and brain made sense of the form and pattern of what was now clearly a living creature. I realised that I was, rather incongruously, watching a male banded demoiselle - one of Britain's most stunning damselflies - flit its way delicately along Neville Street in the direction of the Dark Arches and city square!

The banded demoiselle is a dramatically-patterned insect that measures just four and half centimetres from head to tail. It is one of just two species of British damselfly that have coloured wings, the other being the aptly-named beautiful damselfly, which is much scarcer in Yorkshire.

The male banded demoiselle is highly distinctive, with an iridescent blue-green body and those characteristic blue-back patches in its wings. Although the female lacks the strongly-banded wings, it too has a metallic body - mainly green with a bronzy tip.

Banded demoiselles fly with delicate flicks of the wings, creating a pleasing bobbing effect as they make gentle progress around their territories. During their main flight period from May till August, males are often seen performing a fluttering, butterfly-like display flight to capture the attention of females.

Despite its exotic appearance, the banded demoiselle is still reasonably common throughout England, especially south of the river Humber. In more rural parts of Yorkshire it is frequently encountered along well-vegetated river and stream margins, especially at lower elevations where the water flows more slowly and the channel has a more muddy base.

There is no doubt that the banded demoiselle is one of those insects that packs an awful lot of interest into a tiny frame.

More Nature Notes articles here .

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