Fingle is Full of Surprises
When taking a retrospective view of the interesting flora and fauna found at Fingle Woods since the project began, we have seen a few pleasant surprises along the way. As habitat creation, restoration and improvement projects are planned, they are usually aimed at target species or groups. Whether this is for plants that may respond well to favourable conditions or song birds that find a suitable home to meet their needs for food and a place to nest, these species help us to focus on a desirable outcome. There are often prescribed ways to manage habitats where we think we can, in part, predict the result and the impact on the local wildlife but there seems to be a growing number of unexpected species discovered during the first stages of woodland restoration work. A few exciting revelations have emerged from the undergrowth.
Can you see the bee? Ross Meadow in Fingle Woods [photo: John Walters]
As well as the scarce and unusual plants that have been holding on or even expanding their range at Fingle, wildlife surveyors, ecologists and naturalists have been reporting a number of rarities in the world of invertebrates. It may seem obvious, but when a more botanically diverse habitat is restored, wildlife responds and nature finds a way to reward us. Looking back over the last few years, this has happened again and again, just going to show that some species can be quite resilient if given the opportunity. To see the important changes, close observation and recording is vital and the careful identification from knowledgeable specialists is key. For these little success stories that might grow into a landscape scale trend, a lot of work has been put in from woodland managers and volunteers across Fingle Woods. Tom, the Fingle bird and insect surveyor, in his understated way recently said, “it seems like the restoration process is really paying off!”
Local expert entomologist John Walters had been catching up with Tom in 2020 and after a few ‘interesting’ species had been spotted in Ross Meadow, decided it would be worth a visit on a warm sunny day. After a conservation effort to bring back a floodplain meadow from the encroaching ranks of young conifers, numerous wildflowers and invertebrates have been spotted, John responded with, “What a fabulous site for bees! I immediately found the red banded ones and they are Large Gorse Mining Bees Andrena bimaculata. I have seen a few at Spitchwick but this is the largest known aggregation in Devon. I still can’t find an image of one that is red-banded like many of these ones, they varied from all dark to completely red banded”.
Later in the year, John visited again and said, “I checked the second brood in July and all the ones I saw were dark. I think the red markings are a result of developing in warm conditions, for example, the Large Gorse Mining Bees in Morocco are extensively marked in red”.
Large Gorse Mining Bee Andrena bimaculata [photo: John Walters] Ashy mining bees Andrena cineraria [photo: John Walters]
“I also saw Andrena similis, another one that likes gorse, I have never come across this bee before. Lots of other Andrena – cineraria, nitida, dorsata, praecox, scotica and all the Nomad bees I checked were bimaculata’s cuckoo Nomada fulvicornis. Also, this is only the second site I have found where both Black and Violet Oil Beetles are common. I hope to get back soon, there will be other bees to find here”.
Grey-patched mining bee Andrena nitida [photo: John Walters] Grey-patched mining bee Andrena nitida [photo: John Walters]
Other sets of records that have caused a flurry of activity among the county species recorders include crickets, beetles and spiders. In a recent blog, Adrian Colston (former National Trust manager in Dartmoor) wrote, “Prior to 1980 Roesel’s Bush-cricket had a restricted distribution in the UK being found in coastal grasslands from Kent to the Humber. After 1980 the species began a dramatic range expansion north and west.” The blog also refers to a Fingle Woods record from Tom Williams in 2020 and he explained that “It’s really exciting to see this species expanding its range into our area of Devon and satisfying to know that our habitat management work is providing them with safe refuge.”
Wood cricket [photo: Tom Williams] Roesel’s Bush-cricket [photo: Tom Williams]
An early find, and a Teign valley specialist, was the golden haired longhorn beetle (Leptura Aurulenta). There are several longhorn beetles that can be found in Fingle but this is a nationally scarce species, and is a mimic of the hornet. It is found in broad leaved woodlands where dead and decaying wood is available for their larvae to develop. It can be found in southern Devon and Cornwall and there is a small cluster of records along the Teign valley which we hope to help by increasing the volume of dead wood on the site.
Again, an unintentional find was a type of crab spider, known occasionally as the Lichen running spider (Philodromus margaritatus) but with other names it is as variable as its colour and camouflage that resembles the lichen on trees where it hides. There are fewer than 100 records in the UK. The species is known from scattered localities in the south of England and central Scotland and occurs on trunks of trees, both pines and broad-leaved, especially when these are covered with lichens. This little arachnid was spotted when checking dormouse nest boxes in Fingle Woods and is now recorded on the British Arachnological Society database … showing the benefits of carrying a camera with you when you are in the woods.
Another connection between lichen and spiders emerged later on when expert lichenologist Nicola Bacciu visited Fingle recently and was pleased to report, “We finally visited Wooston Castle in July. It was too late in the year for the spider we were checking for – Civizelotes civicus – but we did find a lichenicolous fungus called Polycoccum minutulum which parasitises the Trapelia placodioides growing on well lit metamorphic outcrops. I have attached a link to its distribution … as you can see, there are very few records! Next spring ideally we would check all the sites again … Civizelotes civicus is a significant find in this country, it’s possible a money spider could go unnoticed but more difficult for a ground dwelling spider of this size.”
National distribution map of Polycoccum minutulum
We wish them better luck next time! And, as for the future, the benefits of engaging with specialists from across the UK will be time consuming but often worthwhile. The more we keep looking, the more we will probably find.
by Matt Parkin