Pest Alert
Horse Chestnut Leaf Mining Moth

At the Commons Conservators Meeting on 24 July 2008 it was reported that the Horse Chestnut trees on the Commons have been badly affected by the Chestnut Leaf Miner Moth this year.

The Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner - Cameria ohridella - is a leaf mining moth which attacks the leaves of horse chestnut. Larvae mine within the leaves of horse chestnut and the severely damaged leaves shrivel and turn brown by late summer and fall early, well before normal leaf fall in the autumn.

The Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner was first found in Great Britain in 2002 in the London Borough of Wimbledon. Over the last two years its range has expanded, and it can now be found at many locations in south-east England. Experience from Europe indicates that once established, the moth will cause severe damage to the foliage of horse chestnut on an annual basis.
Damage can be reduced by removing fallen leaves during the autumn and winter and either composting them thoroughly, to destroy the over-wintering pupae, or if the leaves are collected into smaller heaps, by covering them with a layer of soil or other plant material to prevent adult emergence in the following spring.

Forestry Commission
www.forestry.gov.uk/ www.forestresearch.gov.uk - August 2008



Regional wild bird indicators
for the English regions: 1994-2006

In the West Midlands, the South West and the South East, the farmland bird population fell by more than 10 per cent between 1994 and 2006. There was no significant change in any of the other English regions. This compares with an overall England decrease of 7 per cent over the same period

The largest increase in woodland bird populations between 1994 and 2006 was in the North West, which saw a rise of 32 per cent. There was also an increase of 19 per cent in the Yorkshire and the Humber region. There was a decrease of 19 per cent in the South East and 10 per cent in the South West, but little change in the remaining regions. This compares with an overall England decline of 7 per cent over the same period.

Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
www.defra.gov.uk/news - 22 May 2008



Fungus could lead to the end of the toad

Toads in Kent are in danger of being wiped out by a fungal infection. The disease is presently confined only to the county, but scientists are worried it could spread – putting the national population of the amphibians at risk. It was started by imported frogs, reports the Royal Society journal. Now, experts want tighter controls on the aquarium trade. The disease is known as batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or BD. It infects the skins of frogs, toads, salamanders and newts, and kills off a third of the global population every year.

"We strongly suspect BD is being introduced into the UK on a daily basis through the amphibian trade," said Dr Matthew Fisher, of Imperial College London. "Our borders are wide open to the introduction of this infectious disease." He said he is worried if BD is not properly controlled it will lead to the extinction of some native British toads within a decade. Dr Fisher said: "Under the worst-case scenario, you could lose the common toad in the UK. That’s highly unlikely but it has to be taken into consideration."

www.kentnews.co.uk - KOS Media / December 2007



FROGS, TOADS, AND NEWTS

Each year Kent Wildlife Trust receives many enquiries relating to amphibians. We hope this information sheet will answer some of your questions.

Which amphibians live in Kent?

big warty toad / Kent Wild Life Trust The common frog, common and natterjack toads and three species of newt - palmate, smooth and great-crested, together make up Britain’s native amphibian population. With the exception of the natterjack toad, all are found in Kent. Smaller numbers of introduced species also live in parts of the county including the marsh frog, particularly associated with Romney and Walland Marshes. The edible frog is also present in some Kent marshes.

Where are they found?

The life cycle of these amphibians means their habitat requirements are two-fold. They need a dry-land habitat where there is a plentiful supply of small-animal food - such as slugs, snails and insects. There must also be cover from predators such as birds and mammals and a place to shelter for the winter. Suitable habitat includes woodland, rough grassland, hedgerows and scrub. However, relatively close-by they also need a pond in which to lay their eggs.

Why are they declining in numbers?

Habitat loss, and in particular the loss or degradation of rural ponds has had a marked effect on our amphibian numbers.

Is it a frog or a toad?

common frog / Kent Wild Life Trust Frogs have moist skin ranging from brown or grey in colour to yellow or orange with reddish blotches. Behind the eyes there is a brown patch. When they move frogs will hop.

Toads are plump with dry, warty skin and are normally brown/grey in colour. They tend to waddle or crawl rather than hop.

....or is it a newt?

By comparison newts are slim, have long tails and short slender legs. In the breeding season, males have a bright orange belly and a crest along the back (wavy on a great-crested or smooth newt but more of a straight ridge on a palmate newt). Male palmate newts also have a truncated tail with a fine filament at the tip and webbed hind feet.

male great crested newtmale palmate newt

The great-crested newt can grow to 6 inches (16cm) in length and has dark brown or black skin with a warty appearance.

Both smooth and palmate newts have smooth skins and grow to about 4 inches (10 cm). Females of these two species are almost identical.

Do amphibians hibernate?

Strictly speaking amphibians do not hibernate. The only animals in Britain to hibernate, in the sense that they go through a complex metabolic change at the time, are dormice, bats and hedgehogs. Even true hibernators have short periods of slight activity.

Rather than true hibernation, amphibians enter a state of torpor in winter. They become less active as the temperature drops and they are unable to warm up. However, they do not go through any major physiological change. They may wake during periods of warmer weather and briefly become active.

Toads, newts and most frogs will overwinter in sheltered places on land. However, some frogs will overwinter at the bottom of a pond.

When is the amphibian breeding season?

Following their winter sleep-over, our amphibians move into water to breed. They are very much creatures of habit and usually return to the same pond each year - often the one in which they were born. This is particularly the case for toads. Frogs are more willing than toads to consider a change of venue - hence the success of garden ponds in providing a breeding site for frogs.

Depending on the temperature, frogs usually arrive at their breeding ponds in February. However, spawning may not take place for several weeks. Toads usually begin their migration to their breeding ponds in March and newts in April or May. There is some evidence to suggest that with recent climatic changes, frogs in some areas are starting to breed earlier in the year.

How can you tell the difference between the spawn of frogs, toads and newts?

Frogspawn is laid in tapioca-like clumps. Toadspawn is laid in long strings. Newts lay eggs wrapped individually on leaves of water plants.

The attraction of garden ponds!

Frogs in particular like shallow ponds for spawning - making most garden ponds ideal sites.

Some garden ponds may attract so many frogs that the surface becomes thick with spawn.

However, although a female frog may lay anything up to 3,000 eggs, few will survive to become baby frogs and even fewer will make it to adulthood. Some eggs may not have been properly fertilised, others will be killed by ice or spawn fungus.

Others will be eaten by newts, fish, birds and other predators. The tadpoles themselves are eaten by just about any passing carnivore.

It therefore takes thousands of eggs to ensure the survival of a few to adulthood. In this context you can rarely have too much spawn!

If you have a garden pond - and no amphibians, there is likely to be a reason for it. The pond may be too new and nature has yet to take its course. It may be deep and steep-sided - making it unattractive to frogs. Toads are unlikely to colonise new garden ponds, preferring old established ponds. Fish are not a good idea if your plan is to create a wildlife pond. Garden ponds are generally too small to re-create the ecological balance of a pond in the wild that may have both fish and amphibians. It may also be that there is no suitable cover in the vicinity of the pond for foraging and safe overwintering.

Moving frogspawn

By taking spawn or adults to another pond you may increase the risk of spreading unwanted predatory fish or invasive plants, artificially inflate the frog populations elsewhere and reduce tadpole numbers in your own pond. There is also the danger that you may be introducing the animals to an unsuitable area or spreading diseases and parasites

Moving spawn should only be considered where a pond is about to be destroyed. In these circumstance spawn should only be transferred to a garden pond nearby and not into ponds in the wild.

NB. The great-crested newt is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The adult newts, their spawn and their habitat should not be destroyed, damaged or disturbed in any way.

If you need more specific information about amphibians or would like details on creating a wildlife pond in the garden, please write to Kent Wildlife Trust enclosing a s.a.e.

The Kent Reptile and Amphibian Group (KRAG) would be grateful for details of any sightings of frogs, toads or newts (with grid references if possible). Send to: KRAG Recorder Lee Brady, c/o Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent, Canterbury CT2 7NJ.

http://www.kentwildlife.org.uk / February 2006





FLY AGARIC (amanita muscaria).

Can mushrooms growing on the Commons turn you into a fearless Viking?

Fly Agaric / KM2005

In France, the autumnal wild mush-room season opens with the appearance of the first cepes in August, continues with chante-relles and ends with the sinister-looking trompettes de la mort (trumpets of death), another chanterelle relative which is coal black and grows until November provided there are no nocturnal frosts. A Frenchman or Italian would have great pleasure going through the Common and seek for wild edible fungi.

How can Continentals enjoy wild mushrooms, while we know there is a true English 'fungophobic' tradition?

In France, Luxembourg, and Austria there is a network of official inspectors. Any amateur mushroom hunter in these countries can be assured of never biting down on a poisonous fungus. All you need to do is take your basket of goodies into the nearest pharmacy. All pharmacists are required to study mushroom taxonomy as part of their formal training, and will helpfully - and for free - identify your finds, often with the aid of an instructive, official chart picturing the poisonous species for the edification of the fungus-drunk public.

On the other hand there must be a clientele over here having great appetite for hallucinogenic mushrooms. Why else under Clause 21 of the Drugs Act 2005 is it now an offence to import, export, produce, supply, possess or possess with intent to supply magic mushrooms, including in the form of grow kits?

The mushroom you find most abundantly on the Common is the fly agaric (amanita muscaria). It is one of the most mystical mushrooms and strangely does not fall under the Drugs Act 2005. Any amateur mushroom picker would however be astonished that studies in rats have shown that the inactivation of an area of the brain through the use of muscimol and ibotenate will inhibit fear learning and the startle reflex - A kind of beta blocker for fear.

These undeniably impressive mushrooms were effectively used by the Vikings when they were getting ready to invade a land and they must have found plenty of supply when they raided Kent. The Vikings essentially turned off their fear emotions, thus gaining their reputation for their fierceness. Vikings would enter a village fearlessly, wreak havoc among the people and carry off the women. Before entering battle, the Vikings would go through a religious ritual in which they would dance around the woods and consume amanita muscaria. So the main reason the Vikings were able to fight without fear is that they were on drugs!

As it turns out the Vikings were lucky that they didn't have to endure a lot of nasty side effects. In many parts of the world these mushrooms also contain toxins that make a person violently ill. The substance is apparently metabolized by the body while the hallucinogens are passed through unchanged. For this reason, some people used to drink the urine of other people (or animals) that had ingested the mushrooms, to get high without any of those nasty side effects. Some specimens contain a great deal of the chemical that makes you sick and very little of the hallucinogen.

Therefore I do NOT recommend the recreational use of the fly agaric, even if you wish to loose all your daily anxieties. - And please claim no responsibility if however you foolishly decide to do so. - How is that for a disclaimer?

Daniel Bech / Autumn 2005

JAPANESE KNOTWEED

Knotweed / KM2005

Japanese knotweed - Fallopia japonica - was introduced to the UK in the mid-19th century as an ornamental garden plant. It has now become a serious problem in a range of habitats by out-competing the native flora.

THE LAW

  • The Wildlife and countryside Act has made it illegal to spread Japanese knotweed.
  • Contaminated soil must be disposed of at an Environment Agency Licensed Landfill Site.

IDENTIFICATION

  • early spring - red/purple shoots;
  • canes grow up to 3 metres tall with leaves;
  • white flowers occur late summer/autumn.

CONTROL

  • early identification of contaminated land is essential;
  • effective control can be obtained by using a glyphosate based herbicide;
  • control using a herbicide takes at leas three years;
  • approval for herbicide applications must be obtained from the Environment Agency prior to use when near water.

SPREAD BY VEGETATIVE MEANS - e.g.

  • root fragments and base of the stem;
  • river bank erosion, flytipping and mechanical flails;
  • regeneration occurs from pieces of plant, the size of a penny.

www.environment-agency.gov.uk / Autumn 2005

SPOTTING BUMBLEBEES

Bumblebee on the Common / KM2005 Readers may well have heard about the decline of bumblebees, and the efforts that are being made across the country to raise their profile and improve conditions for them. Bumblebees are vitally important for the pollination of wild and cultivated plants, and they are attractive and interesting creatures in their own right. They are active throughout most of the year, from the earliest sunny days in February to the end of autumn. Their furry coats enable them to carry on visiting flowers even in dull and cool weather when most other insects are immobilised. In our recent mild winters, as described in a previous article, some have been seen on the Commons even in December and January. Here they make good of the perpetually flowering gorse bushes.

Bumblebees live in colonies founded in the spring by a queen who has slept through the winter. Queens are the large, often seemingly enormous, bees that we see in the early weeks of spring as they search for places to make their nests. Once they have found a suitable home, they start to rear large numbers of smaller workers. These are the bumblebees that we see at work through the rest of the year, gathering nectar and pollen from flowers to feed the growing colony. As summer progresses, a new generation of queens is produced along with males. These pair off, and at the end of the year the fertilised queens go into hibernation to start the cycle off again next year.

In the past, bumblebees relied on the wide expanses of flower-rich grassland that traditional farming provided. The widespread improvement of grassland over the last fifty years, creating fields with only one type of grass and hardly any flowers, has been bad news for bumblebees along with many butterflies and other creatures. Places like the Commons where unimproved grassland still survives are therefore important bumblebee refuges.

All of the six commoner bumblebees can be found on the Commons, and recognising them is generally quite straightforward. The White-tailed and Buff-tailed both have two yellow bands, but in the latter the tail is brown or at least off-white rather than pure white. The Garden Bumblebee also has a pure white tail, but it has three yellow bands. The Early Bumblebee has yellow bands and a light orange tail, while the Red-tailed Bumblebee is all black apart from its deep orange tail. Finally, there is the Common Carder Bee, which is mostly brown with some black hairs but no distinctive pattern.

Less commonly seen, because they lack an extensive population of workers, are the cuckoo bumblebees. As their name suggests, the females lay their eggs in the nests of true bumblebees. There are six British species, each dedicated to one of the commoner bumblebees described above, although only three have so far been recorded from the Commons. They resemble their hosts quite closely, but they are less furry and have smoky wings.

Finally, there are the rarer bumblebees, some of which are seriously endangered. Of the nine British species in this category, one has been confirmed as an inhabitant of the Commons. The Heathland Bumblebee, most likely to be seen visiting heather, looks like a much smaller version of the Garden Bumblebee but has a round rather than a long face. One very rare bumblebee recently found at Groombridge is worth looking out for. This is the Shrill Carder Bee, which has a very pale orange tail and bands which are a curious greenish-white colour. The colour scheme as a whole gives the impression of a bumblebee in pastel shades, and is very distinctive.

Ian Beavis / Summer 2005

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