Just got back from the New Forest Bioblitz, where I was helping out with the forays and also showing visitors around the Open University’s iSpot site, https://www.ispot.org.uk.
A Bioblitz is like a 24-hour natural history marathon. All the wildlife experts in the region descend on a chosen area and, with help from visitors and local residents and their families, record as many species as they can in 24 hours. Everything is counted: birds, mammals, insects, plants – everything! Each species is checked by an expert and a running total of species is kept at a control centre set up nearby. Most Bioblitz days end up with a list of several hundred species; although the actual number isn’t important as only a tiny fraction of the real wildlife population can ever be found in a single day. What is important is that the wildlife of the area is brought to the attention of as many people as possible, at the same time bringing experts in contact with amateurs. Now I know my birds, but having the chance to walk out across a New Forest heath with a botanist, an arachnologist (spider expert) and several mycologists (fungi experts) was a real eye-opener.
The most surprising thing for me at the New Forest Bioblitz was the lack of butterflies. This was on a hot day in May when the landscape should have been full of them. Personally I saw just one, a holly blue, and heard of only one other being seen the whole day. Of course butterflies depend on flowers to provide them with food and this could have been the explanation. There were plenty of plants to be found, but very few were in flower. Some people were blaming the wet spring weather of recent weeks but I suspect something else. Or two something’s to be more precise – deer and ponies. Between them the Forest’s huge population of grazing herbivores keep the heaths and lawns grazed to an inch or two in height. Even the woodland has relatively little in the way of flowering plants, with massive areas dominated by the few unpalatable species that the ponies avoid, such as bracken and holly.
The part that ponies have to play in this can be demonstrated by visiting a Dorset heath. We have just as many deer but, for the time being at least, most of our horses and ponies are kept in fields. For a real butterfly heaven just visit the Isle of Wight – no free-roaming ponies and no deer at all!