As the stand-in Chairman, I apologise for not having paid the attention to all the details of what has been happening in the branch in the past year, that they have undoubtedly deserved. However, it has been another busy year constrained by the exigencies of Covid.
Sue Davies has produced three very attractive issues of Arion with a wide variety of articles on moths and butterflies in all sorts of interesting contexts and places. It is the channel of communication between the committee and the 1300 or so members. She also holds the Branch membership lists which are being re-organised by a rapidly changing HQ. Thank you.
Ross Harley as the Somerset and Bristol Butterfly Recorder has produced the 2020 Atlas from the rather more than 50,000 records presented as distribution maps illustrating the current state of the butterfly distribution in Somerset – more technically VC 5 and 6. Thank you for such an elegant and useful document.
BC Reserves: there have been developments on all the reserves.
Tony and Anna Spiess have been getting to grips with Mount Fancy and gathering volunteers to help with its management and keeping the transect going. Thank you for taking on this herculean task.
Charlotte Wray has taken on Haddon Moor and is getting to grips with the management issues there. It would be useful for the transect to continue so as to monitor the good population of Small Pearl-bordered fritillaries that the site holds.
John Ball and I (Peter Bright) have continued to pay attention to Stoke Camp and Westbury Beacon along with Jenny Plackett who has taken over the Reserves management role at BC HQ. Grazing has continued at Stoke Camp and the small blues population has remained small but reliable. The dry then cold Spring this year seems to have been difficult for them though the kidney vetch remains plentiful. There has been some winter grazing by sheep on the Beacon but Jenny Plackett and Julian Bendle have spear-headed efforts to get water onto the Beacon so that grazing with cattle becomes possible. Meetings with the water company, the landowner over whose ground the pipe would go and a pipeline laying company have led to proposals that need to overcome the effects of gravity on water movement and the overall costs. They are all being worked on, as is the replacement of the fencing that would be needed to keep cattle on site. On the bright side, the Chalkhills did rather better than they have in recent years and dark green fritillaries, having disappeared for several years, were seen on five separate occasions. Perhaps they have found their way back? In front of the green shed on Westbury Beacon there is now a stone bench commemorating the life of Derek Arthurs who has contributed much to the butterflies and their monitoring on Mendip and a ceremony was held there by his family for its inauguration.
AONBs: John Andrews has engaged with the Nature Recovery Plans organised by the Blackdown and Quantocks AONBs as they develop their new strategies as they take up opportunities following the changes in the way rural payments are made.
Peter Bright and John Ball has been involved in a similar way with the Mendip AONB delivering identification training for volunteers as well as contributing to the development of Nature Recovery Networks plans. Similar connections are being made and maintained with the Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Mendip Reserves managers and volunteers. The small pearl-bordered fritillary is the flagship butterfly for the AONBs developing plans along with another half a dozen important keystone Mendip animals.
Bristol: The Committee recognises that Bristol has a good number of BC members and therefore merits some Bristol based events. Maggie Moss, whose obituary is in the last Arion, began this process with energy and enthusiasm but how to continue this process is far from easy. The walkers of three of the Bristol transects have agreed, I think, to contribute to a Bristol based meeting in the New Year if a suitable place and organisation can be put in place. Lucy Cunningham, from Munching Caterpillars, has kindly offered to help with the Bristol meetings as has Flora Tiley who lives in Bristol. I am in communication with Ray Barnett about Bristol Naturalists joint meeting possibilities and am hoping for something similar with the Avon Wildlife Trust too.
There is a Nature Recovery Ranger based in Southmead Hospital who is developing butterfly friendly habitats on their extensive site. There is a tennis court sized patch of greater bird’s foot trefoil and attendant common blues! Not in our area but close, South Gloucestershire Council are developing a site near Parkway station for small blues by encouraging kidney vetch. I have not been there yet. The Munching Caterpillars project remains on hold in Bristol and how to support its starting again with the difficulties of Covid is something the Committee needs to address.
Jen Harley has been calm, cool and collected in bringing a collection of hesitant users of social media up to speed. She has worked hard on the Branch website and has dealt with the frustrations of having to move to a new provider. So far, I have got lost on the way, but I am now using the branch transect coordinator's email address ( email@example.com ). She has ensured that Committee meetings on Zoom work well and that activities are advertised online and effectively.
Julian Rawlins is retiring from the Committee. He has been doing the secretary job for several years and keeping the committee informed and up to speed. He has organised the walks programme this year which was only really able to get going following the opening up on 19th July. Thank you to him for doing this and to all the leaders of this year’s walks programme. I am hoping that Alison Uren whom we are going to welcome onto the Committee – all being well, will take over his role as secretary.
John Marshall is also retiring from the Committee and has been a stalwart contributor to the survey work that has been going on in the Blackdowns and nearby on reserves that I have yet to visit. Thank you to him for his contributions and enthusiasm within this committee.
Walks Booklet: This successful publication is down to its last few copies, I have 6, and so is up for review and maybe reprinting. Help with updating the maps and information is needed and it is possible that it might be better to put the information onto the Branch Website though it would be more difficult to ‘monetise’ it there.
Social Gathering: The spring social gathering online was a success and Sue Davies and Jen Harley brought their skills together to run the Zoom event along with the photo competition. Ray Barnett gave the keynote talk on ‘factors that affect butterfly numbers’ which was really thought provoking. Thank you to Jen Harley and Sue Davies for their meticulous organisation. We can look forward to the next event, the Social Gathering at Ruishton on Saturday 12th March 2022. We expect this to be ‘in person’.
Enquiries and engagement: There continue to be many opportunities for engagement with other organisations and, sadly, often too little time to take them up. Such enquiries have come from East Hill near Frome, Haugh Farm, Chesterblade Hills and as already mentioned from Southmead Hospital and South Glos. Council.
Wider Countryside Butterfly Scheme (WCBS): Penny Wills has done this job for a couple of years and is stopping. Thank you to her for all her efforts. This means we need a new champion. Squares have been chosen at random across the County and there are available squares seeking recorders. See website ( https://www.somersetbutterflies.org.uk/wcbs ) to sign up.
Transects: It looks like there might have been 81 transects walked in Somerset in 2021 though there are 15 or so that have yet to enter data. The 2020 season’s transect booklet is being worked on now and 2021’s will follow in the Spring in, I hope, a rather more timely manner. Entering data from transects before the end of October helps both the County recorder and the transect organiser and prompt responses to enquiries helps us deal with the tens of thousands of records in a reliable and consistent way.
Head Office and their New Strategy: HQ have developed a new strategy the headlines of which are to halve the number of threatened species of butterflies and moths, to improve the condition of 100 of the most important landscapes for butterflies and moths and to transform 100,00 wild spaces in the UK for people, butterflies, and moths. The supporting plans are available on the BC website and has been shared with the Chairs of the country’s 31 local branches. It picks up on Nature Recovery Network strategies that are also being produced by the AONBs (about to become National Landscapes) and the Wildlife Trusts. While each expresses its strategies for its own organisation it is self-evident that cooperation across all these, and other land-owning organisations is essential for the Nature Recovery Network plans to deliver the Wildlife gains that they are all talking so enthusiastically about.
The Branch Committee: I would like to thank all of the branch Committee for their varied contributions to the overall activity of the Branch. The Committee would like to welcome one or two members from Bristol if at all possible. We do welcome Nick Redman as the new treasurer and would like to thank John Andrews for his role as treasurer which he carried out for several years along with being Chair and Secretary! As a Branch Committee all we need now is a Chair so that if there is anyone with a wide range of butterfly interests willing to help develop the new strategies from BC HQ, the AONBs and the Somerset Wildlife Trust there is a role waiting for you.
Acting Chairman for the AGM
Updated 25th November 2021
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