Worcestershire Record No. 26 April 2009 pp. 7-8
Brett Westwood (who chaired the Annual Meeting)
If like me you take British Wildlife … and if not, why not …. I’ll bet you skim through the main articles first, then head straight for the wildlife reports section. Mainly I suspect to see what’s new. Will it be an obscure weevil, a new cricket that’s escaped from a nursery, or even a bird that’s never bred here before, like the cattle egrets in Somerset in 2008?
Whatever it is, we naturalists like a change of scene. When the dreaded harlequin ladybird was first heralded a few years back as the “fourth Horse-beetle of the Apocalypse” whose coming would bring dire consequences, how many of us secretly welcomed it as an exciting new addition to the county, however destructive? And who would find the first one? Well since you ask, it was me actually in 2005. Now they’re everywhere and reportedly chomping their way through aphids and their relatives. While we’re on the subject of harlequin ladybirds, isn’t it interesting that we despise the new beetle because we had a hand in its arrival in the UK, whereas the other native ladybirds are venerated. Is that what psychologists call transference?
But whatever its origin or intent, the new is always fascinating. Worcestershire wildlife is changing so fast that Harlequins are already so ‘last year’, as they say in the fashion industry.
It’s quite stirring to think back to when I was born nearly 50 years ago. Collared doves were the new kids on the block then, noone had heard of Guernsey Fleabane and we’d never have dreamed of being vocally mugged by Cetti’s warblers every time we went to Upton Warren. Essex Skippers weren’t around …. or if they were we never noticed them, and Danish Scurvy-grass didn’t line our motorways and main roads with a tidemark of white. Buzzards and ravens were rare birds. So were hobbies, and dragonfly fans would drool over pictures of migrant hawkers in the hope that one would turn up one late-summer day. Nowadays it’s quite common in late summer to see one making a meal of the other.
Even within our county there are subtleties of distribution so that creatures newly arrived in one area are still local or rare in others. Way up north in Stourbridge in Worcestershire’s Ultima Thule, the unexpected still happens, even on the doorstep. Last autumn stepping out of the front door, I caught sight of an unfamiliar shape on the wall of the house which turned out to be a new harvestman, Dicranopalpus ramosus splayed out against the brickwork …
So what makes a new plant or animal?
The first and most blameless method of arrival is to fly in naturally as a result of adventurous frolics brought on by population pressures or more favourable climatic conditions. The Little Egret is a good example, or the bumblebee Bombus hypnorum or crickets such as the coneheads and Roesels’s Bush cricket. These aren’t all from abroad either … warmer winters have encouraged a few residents to spread their wings. Bees and wasps and crickets all fall into this category and it’s an exciting time.
Then there are those species that we’ve introduced, and there are a lot of these! As well as the harlequin ladybird, in the past we have brought in little owls, Canada geese, mandarin ducks, ruddy ducks (though we’re setting the balance right there at some expense). Will we see what the ornithologist Derek Goodwin described as the patent absurdity of a parrot on the British List, the Ring-necked Parakeet , become established in Worcestershire? There are a multitude of insects that we’ve introduced hitch-hiking from Southern Oak Bush Crickets to the dreaded harlequin. Insects include the newly arrived oak processionary moth in London and the pine tree lappet in Scotland, both suspected stowaways. Or are they?
Garden escapes are a very special group. I’m not sure what proportion of our wild flowers are non-native, but it’s a large fraction, maybe over half. Furthermore the plants that we dump from our gardens have a climatic advantage nowadays, so that they’re ready to romp away or hybridise with native flora at the flick of an anther.
Some new species sidle out of the shadows as they’re re-classified. Birders are a particularly fickle bunch and spend a lot of time manufacturing armchair ticks based on complex DNA components. So we now have the privilege of being able to look for Yellow-legged and Caspian gulls at the local tip and search for Water Pipits and Rock Pipits on passage at the local gravel pit. Insects have their cryptic species too … look out for fun and games with the White-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lucorum, which may conceal two other hidden species. As we spend more time under the microscope, expect more species to make themselves known.
It’s an exciting time … what will be next? Harry Green has asked me to urge everyone who reads this to record, record, record … so that’s what I just did .