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Have your say

Farmland wildlife is in decline.

We need to invest in our countryside to stop the decline of our wildlife. Figures released recently by the DEFRA revealed that the number of birds reliant on farmland have halved in number since 1970. Additionally, the State of Nature report launched by Sir David Attenborough in May shows that 60 per cent of 1,064 species monitored on farmland have declined, and a third of the total, including the small skipper butterfly, have declined strongly. At this moment the UK is deciding how to spend their farming and land management budgets for the next seven years. By investing in the countryside and boosting support for farmers who give nature a home, our governments could help wildlife thrive again. In the next few weeks, the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson will have to decide how to spend the £2bn of public money available each year from England’s agricultural budget and for the first time the public is being consulted on how this money should be spent. Agri-environment schemes have helped farmers restore farmland wildlife for almost two decades. These funds have provided a valuable lifeline in helping threatened species recover. But the State of Nature report, published in May by a coalition of 25 UK wildlife groups, revealed worrying declines of many species of farmland wildlife, including wild flowers and butterflies. Conservationists believe that against the backdrop of declines in farmland wildlife these funds are needed now more than ever. The RSPB is asking public and supporters to express their views on the future of the countryside. Please visit www.rspb.org.uk/votefornature or www.wildlifetrusts.org/living-landscape/farming.

False Widow Spiders

There seems to have been a lot in the press recently regarding false widow spiders, and I suspect that some of you are getting concerned about them. Well my message is there is no need. The reality, according to the British Arachnological Society (BAS), is that the risk of being bitten is small compared to the risks of being bitten by a wasp or bee and unless you suffer from an allergy or are compromised by other health problems the outcome will be no more unpleasant. The BAS tells us, “The risk of being bitten by a false widow spider must surely be relatively small. False widows are sedentary by nature, remaining in their webs and the males are only likely to wander when they are ready to mate. Being bitten is therefore likely to be the result of putting a hand into a web, handling one roughly or sitting or lying on one by mistake. Reports of bites by false widows are difficult to substantiate and may be exaggerated by the media.” Well this writer isn’t going to be implicated in any of that. There are three species of false black widow spiders in the UK, found in association with or near buildings and gardens, rabbit hutch spider (Steatoda bipunctata), cupboard spider (Steatoda grossa) and the noble false widow Steatoda nobilis. All have globular shaped bodies and their name derives from the fact that they are commonly mistaken for black widow spiders, which are in fact a different genus (Lactrodectus), but the same family (Theridiidae). Black widow spiders are not found in the UK but are very rarely unintentionally imported. The true black widow spider can easily be distinguished from the preceding species. It is black with a distinctive bright red ‘hour-glass’ mark on the underside of its abdomen. Megan Dickinson wrote, “I found this spider by the front door of my house in Harrogate and was wondering if you could confirm if it is what I think a suspected false widow?” I was intrigued, not only by the fact that it might be a false widow but also if it was then Harrogate is a very northerly, although not impossible, location for it. I contacted Peter Harvey of the BAS who told me it was in fact an “orb web spider Zygiella x-notata, a species of walls, fences, eaves, window frames etc.” This spider is also known as the missing sector orb weaver spider, so called because there is always a missing sector in its web. We have a spider that frequents our house, despite me evicting it, or a family member, on numerous occasions. Probably a house spider, we call it a ‘frightens the living daylights out of Jackie’ spider!

Sightings

In the past few days (October 30) at RSPB Fairburn Ings have been seen 70 curlew, one red-throated diver, whooper swans, bean geese, plus butterflies such as red admiral, comma, peacock, small tortoiseshell and green-veined white. Dragonflies include migrant hawker, southern hawker, common darter, whilst ruddy darter dominate.

Today as I write this, November 4, no less a red admiral butterfly is fluttering around my garden. Last night was the first frost that I noticed of the winter, so I hope the butterfly has a better antifreeze system than my tingling fingers seem to have nowadays.

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