More on Ash Dieback

Another very interesting article about Ash Dieback disease from Patrick Barkham in The Guardian yesterday, plus a statement from The National Trust.

Also, the ASHTAG app is now available for free, for both iPhone and Android phones, or you can submit photos of suspected Ash Dieback disease on the website.

New Lincolnshire colony confirmed

Sunshine was streaming through my bedroom window as I woke this morning, so I decided it was definitely a good day for a trip out to the Lincolnshire Limewoods for a spot of egging. Our most exciting find last winter was the discovery of BH eggs at College Wood - a new site from which we had no former records. I was keen to see if the apparent colonisation last year was indeed establishing here. With a fair bit of foliage still on the blackthorns, I was delighted to find 68 eggs in a couple of hours along the SE wood edge, where last year we found a total of 52 eggs over the whole winter on this section. The butterfly has clearly had a succesful breeding season at this new colony, despite the poor summer. Good signs that our Lincolnshire streaks continue to go from strength to strength!

Ash Dieback Disease

Some very worrying news about the spread of the Ash Dieback disease in East Anglia today. Some excerpts from the article, plus additional links below.

++  ASHTAG app launched to prevent spread of devastating tree disease.
++  Deadly disease threatens to devastate ancient woodland.

Ministers have confirmed that 100,000 trees have been destroyed to try to prevent the spread of the deadly ash dieback disease. A ban on the import of ash trees came into force on Monday and an expert tree disease taskforce has been established.

The Chalara fraxinea fungus, which causes Chalara dieback - also known as ash dieback - has already killed 90% of ash trees in Denmark.

The disease was first spotted in the UK in February, at a nursery in Buckinghamshire, and was subsequently identified in other nurseries and newly planted areas.

But it has now been found in the wider countryside in East Anglia, sparking concerns the disease, which has the potential to devastate the UK's ash tree population, has spread to mature trees.

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh accused the government of "dithering" over the summer. "Why did ministers sit back, cross their fingers and wait until the disease was found in the wild in June?" she asked. "After the forest sell-off fiasco, this incompetent government has been asleep on the job with ash dieback."

Experts say that if the disease becomes established, then ash dieback could have a similar impact on the landscape as Dutch elm disease had in the 1970s. This outbreak resulted in the death of most mature English elm by the 1980s. Elms have recovered to some extent but in some cases only through careful husbandry.

Visible symptoms of ash dieback include leaf loss and crown dieback in affected trees and it can lead to tree death.

Experts are urging people to report suspected cases of dieback in order to prevent the spread of the disease to the wider environment becoming established.

An app, ASHTAG, has been launched to try and map the spread of the disease by allowing users to upload pictures and report possible sightings to a team who will pass any information to the Forestry Commission.

Streaking in France

Well around about now I would usually be commencing the annual winter egg search in the Lincolnshire Limewoods, but this year for a change my first egging session took place in South Brittany during a long weekend visit to my father's house some 20 minutes north of Vannes (19th-23rd October 2012). The habitat here is a mosaic of copses, tree lines and fields, with occasional larger woods. Bracken and Gorse is common, as is heather - it has a distinctly heathy feel - and blackthorn is not particularly common, although there are scattered plants here and there. Not ideal Brown Hairstreak country in my experience, and yet a quick look on a blackthorn in my father's front garden revealed 10 eggs of betulae - most unexpected!! The area is good for Purple Emperor, Large Tortoiseshell, Map Butterfly, Sooty Copper, and a few Fritillary species, so it was nice to be able to add Brown Hairstreak to the list. Clearly French BHs have a different habitat requirement to Lincolnshire ones! Once the rain stops I will be out to begin mapping our local hairstreak eggs, but in the meantime I would be interested if anyone else has experience of BH abroad, particularly with reference to them breeding in areas of relatively low blackthorn density!

Thursday Streakers Club

At 10am yesterday, Mike Williams, Hugh Glennie and I met at Grafton Church car park to mark the start of the TSC for 2012/2013. It had been decided to conduct this first search of the season in the vicinity of a well known assembly tree near the hamlet of Cowsden in Worcs.

This tree was discovered 5 summers ago and has consistently been one of the most reliable trees known for the Worcs colony. However.....the extensive blackthorn on the lane it sits on, and in most of the surrounding fields, has always been heavily flailed so finding winter eggs has always been a bit of a struggle. In addition, summer 2011 also yielded very few adult sightings in the tree. Nevertheless, a reasonably large group of us went there in January, earlier this year, to conduct a thorough egg search of the surrounding area and turned up.....a rather worrying total of only 3 or 4 eggs. Our general view was that after both the low 2011 adult, and then subsequent egg, count then that would probably spell the end of this tree's assembly status. However, Mike Williams visited the tree a few weeks ago during this year's flight period and was very surprised to see two males in it, and it was this sighting that prompted yesterday's visit.

Well, much more encouragingly, yesterday we found 16 eggs in a relatively short space of time without really trying (as this was just a cursory look, whilst the leaves are still on etc.) including 7 in a 'hidden' meadow behind the tree that contains large amounts of some of the best looking young blackthorn I've ever seen. I strongly suspect that this meadow has been the main supporting habitat for the tree over the years - even though we didn't manage to find a single egg in it last winter. But, dare I say, it seems to be back in business now so hopefully things are on the up again!!

Afterwards, the three of us unsuccessfully attempted to find eggs in an adjacent 1Km grid square, that has resolutely refused to EVER give us a record of either egg or adult, even though its closest boundary is less than 1Km from the assembly tree. Lack of blackthorn in the hedgerows and apparent lack of suitable habitat structure - ie large and exposed field layouts - seems to be the problem here.

Let The Egging Commence!

Egg searching in Warwickshire has now officially started! After confirming the presence of a master tree bordering Ryton Wood Meadows (RWM) and Ryton Pools Country Park (RPCP) during this years flight period, i was dying to start searching the blackthorn in the immediate area. The SE facing blackthorn in RPCP was first on the list yesterday and after Simon Primrose and I conducted a thorough search of a small area of young/semi-mature blackthorn, we found 18 eggs, including 1 on the NW facing side. Only 6 eggs in this area last year so this is great news. In fact, i was so pleased, i even performed my happy dance when i was sure no one was looking. We also made a point of pulling down some branches with heights over 3 metres as an experiment to see how high the females might have laid. It turns out that 8 of these eggs were laid at over 2 metres high, including a record breaker for Warwickshire - 2.54m! Does anyone know of any eggs that have been laid higher than this?

So, we're off to a good start! The problem we now face is that there isn't much blackthorn between the area searched yesterday and the next closest area. In which direction would the females have flown? This is usually the point at which us Eggheads start placing bets :)

I also must say a huge thank you to Ben Coleman, Craig Earl and the other rangers/volunteers at Ryton Pools Country Park for all their help, enthusiasm and cooperation over the past year or so. A blackthorn management plan for 2013 is being drawn up as we speak that should help improve future blackthorn distribution and suitablity for our favourite Hairstreak. Quite excited about next year already!

It's not all over 'til the fat lady sings

Still hanging on in Worcs as well with at least two different females seen on Sat at Grafton Wood. By the condition of them it may not be the last sighting either but still a long way to go to beat our previous record of 22nd October set in 2008.

Thanks to Dave Williams for the photo.


Spurred on by the successes of the previous week: Gill, Geoff and I returned to the Redditch area on Wednesday last week in an attempt to find more eggs that would add new grid squares to the Brown Hairstreak distribution, as well as finding eggs over the Worcs border into Warks.

We began by searching an area of extensive blackthorn within Redditch town, close to where the adult female had been reported in August, later making our way down to Studley Common NR in Warks.

Redditch appears quite unique for a large town in that a high number of ‘green open spaces’ remain within the town itself, most of them seemingly containing large amounts of rarely cut blackthorn. Equally, the Common, and more especially the fields immediately surrounding it, support some of the most fantastic young, vigorous and apparently un-touched, blackthorn we’ve ever seen. However….after much searching, and a drenching from a passing cloudburst, no eggs were forthcoming.

Our perception, here in Worcs/Warks, is that egg searching this autumn (while the leaves are still present) is proving very much more difficult than at the same time last year. In 2011 some of our most successful hunts, in terms of locating new areas of distribution for the BH, occurred in Sept and Oct before many of the key hedges had been flailed. Our thinking is that this year, due to the cool wet summer, leaf growth has been much more vigorous and sustained than usual making searching, especially on the lower parts of tall suckers, extremely tricky. (Would be interested in others’ observations on this topic from around the country?).

After drawing a blank at Studley Common we moved camp, down to an area of Warks closer to where we’d found eggs the previous week (on the Worcs side of the county boundary beside the A441), to the southwest of Rough Hill Wood. More great blackthorn, (AND more passing cloudbursts!!), but after about an hours’ squelching and unsuccessful searching, we decided to call it a day.

I then also stopped off in Redditch the next day, while passing through, and briefly searched another  area of the town with great blackthorn – Morton Stanley park – where eggs had been recorded for the first time last winter. The same suckers that the eggs had been found on in the late winter have since put on some amazing growth. Again though, no eggs were found but I’m hoping this is simply due to the searching difficulties and that once the leaves have fallen we will start finding eggs, in all of these locations.

Hanging On

Brown Hairstreaks are still hanging on in West Sussex, with recent sightings of females on 4th October at RSPB Pulborough Brooks (Andrew House) and on 6th October at Henfield (Richard Roebuck).

Rachel Goes To Prison!

As Gillian has worked so hard to create this wonderful resource, I thought it was about time I shared my first brown hairstreak egg hunting experience!

It was in January of this year that I joined a group at Bullingdon Prison led by David Redhead, having been inspired by Patrick Barkham's 'Butterfly Isles'. I found an awful lot of specks and white blobs before finally discovering my first egg. Is it any wonder when you consider that they are about the same size as the queen's nostril on a one pence coin?!


As always I got so engrossed in my photography that I soon got left behind! Fortunately, it was a very mild day, nothing like Patrick's, and a very rewarding one!

I plan to return in the new year, and hopefully next time I will know what I'm looking for!

If you don't know me and would like to look at more of my butterfly photos, I can be found at:


Noticed this in the Daily Mail today about importing diseased ash trees from the continent. A few excerpts from the article:
All ash trees are threatened by a fungus called Chalara fraxinea. It is marching through the continent, and the effect has been devastating. First reported in Poland in 1982, it has already wiped out 90 per cent of Denmarks ash trees.

Now, the fungus has crossed the Channel. It struck for the first time in February, when a shipment of diseased ashes from Holland were found in a Buckinghamshire nursery.

Then, in June, it killed another imported ash tree in Leicestershire. Nurseries across the country — and any other owners of ash trees — have been asked to check for giveaway blackened leaves on recently-bought trees.

Should the disease take root here, the loss to the British countryside would be incalculable. Some fear it could take an even greater toll on our trees than Dutch elm disease did in the late Sixties and Seventies.