Wood Habitats on Campus

We love to create wood habitats on campus as they are essential for wildlife and provide food and shelter for countless tiny invertebrates.

The habitat piles in these photos are made from the dead branches of the trees they surround, so any fungi or minibeasts are still near their habitat.

So if you see log piles on our grounds, we haven’t forgotten to clear away debris following tree works …………………… we are doing our bit for nature and the environment!

Dealing with Ash Dieback at the University

Ash Dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) is a fungal disease first recorded by the Forestry Commision in 2006 becoming prominent in the South East of England in 2012.

We have confirmations on Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) specimens within our University since 2018, as has been the case for other well monitored sites in Devon and Cornwall.

The infection is permanent with no control and, although mostly terminal, there is a high degree of variability with respect to the seriousness and speed of the symptoms. We are gifted with a high number of people exploring, enjoying and being amongst our grounds and any sign of symptom is considered with great caution so physical management of these trees today and in the future is a certainty.

The dilemma amongst the Grounds team is that we know how valuable Ash is to biodiversity as a habitat. It hosts Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos major), Tawny Owls (Strix aluco), Redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) and the team favourite the Nuthatch (Sitta europaea), all for nesting. The lichens and moss which grow freely are a food source for caterpillars.

We are able to balance these interests and find opportunity where people are safe, and friends of other species can continue to share the space together.

The solution we have employed, which you can see in the photo below, is to carry out a veteranisation process on a tree. The major limbs are completely removed until the crown has gone and there is only a trunk left standing. The tree is then ringbarked which involves removing the living tissue from around the trunk. With the xylem and phloem severing the plants’ ability to transport water and nutrients, the tree will die and decay and this breaking down process will become host to insect species.

Importantly as the trunk is short and wide with developed buttress roots, there is no expectation that this tree will fall.

The top of the trunk can now be coronet pruned. This describes a technique that aims to replicate the natural fracturing effect seen after a limb failure, where insect species can easily reside within and rainfall can sit and gather amongst the dead wood.

Trunk segmentations have been cut out, hollowed and an entrance point made. These have been re-attached to the trunk around all four compass points as a future bird nesting habitat.

For anyone that would like to visit this work its location can be found here – http://ex.ac.uk/veteran-ash-specimen

For the future, the best course of action is regularly monitoring the species we care for. After all a minority will also be genetically tolerant and that stock of trees amongst our collection will be vital for the long-term future of the woodlands and specimens here when we begin to repopulate.

 

Diseased tree upcycled into wildlife habitat tree stump and bird boxes

Unfortunately a diseased Ash tree behind the IAIS Building on Streatham Campus has had to be removed, but our Arb Team were keen to use this as an opportunity to help wildlife and increase wildlife habitats on campus, in keeping with our biodiversity and sustainability work practices.

It is now a wildlife habitat high stump which will harbour and benefit insects and wildlife for years to come and the team have also carved bird boxes into the trunk.

Great job team!

More Wow Wildflowers!

The wildflower areas at St Luke’s Campus are looking fantastic.

Wow Wildflowers!

The wildflowers at the Reed Hall beds are in flower and looking glorious.

Last year we trialled having wildflowers instead of the customary formal planting in these beds and they proved so popular with everyone and the bees, butterflies and insects that we’ve done it again!

Duck nesting in planter

We have discovered a duck nesting in one of the planters on the Forum North Piazza.

Although this is very exciting, please keep your distance and do not disturb the mother. We will be putting up signs and cordoning off the area to keep her and the nest safe.

We’re looking forward to welcoming some new ducklings to our university family.

 

 

 

 

New Research – big bumblebees learn locations of best flowers

Big bumblebees take time to learn the locations of the best flowers, new research shows.

Meanwhile smaller bumblebees – which have a shorter flight range and less carrying capacity – don’t pay special attention to flowers with the richest nectar.

University of Exeter scientists examined the “learning flights” which most bees perform after leaving flowers.

Honeybees are known to perform such flights – and the study shows bumblebees do the same, repeatedly looking back to memorise a flower’s location.

“It might not be widely known that pollinating insects learn and develop individual flower preferences, but in fact bumblebees are selective,” said Natalie Hempel de Ibarra, Associate Professor at Exeter’s Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour.

“On leaving a flower, they can actively decide how much effort to put into remembering its location.

Bumblebee flower

Bumblebees carry out “learning flights” after leaving flowers (credit: Natalie Hempel de Ibarra)

Bumblebees carry out “learning flights” after leaving flowers (credit: Natalie Hempel de Ibarra)

“The surprising finding of our study is that a bee’s size determines this decision making and the learning behaviour.”

In the study, captive bees visited artificial flowers containing sucrose (sugar) solution of varying concentrations.

The larger the bee, the more its learning behaviour varied depending on the richness of the sucrose solution.

Smaller bees invested the same amount of effort in learning the locations of the artificial flowers, regardless of whether sucrose concentration was high or low.

“The differences we found reflect the different roles of bees in their colonies,” said Professor Hempel de Ibarra.

“Large bumblebees can carry larger loads and explore further from the nest than smaller ones.

“Small ones with a smaller flight range and carrying capacity cannot afford to be as selective, so they accept a wider range of flowers.

“These small bees tend to be involved more with tasks inside the nest – only going out to forage if food supplies in the colony are running low.”

The study was conducted in collaboration with scientists from the University of Sussex.

The bees were observed in greenhouses at the University of Exeter’s award-winning Streatham Campus, and Professor Hempel de Ibarra thanked the university’s Grounds and Gardens team for their continued support.

The study was funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

The paper, published in the journal Current Biology, is entitled: “Small and large bumblebees invest differently when learning about flowers.”

Sustainable Practices – seed propagation and plants grown in-house

We have been busy with seed propagation this week in our Estate Services Centre Nursery.

The cuttings are soft-wood material using the techniques of nodal, heel and mallet cuttings.

This important work, of growing plants in-house and planting them on campus and by residences, means that we are reducing our carbon footprint, working within our sustainability practices and reducing costs.

  

Hedgehog Awareness Week – 3rd to 9th May 2020

It’s Hedgehog Awareness Week, so we thought it would be a good time to highlight the problems hedgehogs face and how you can help them, especially as we are spending more time in our gardens at the moment.

There are many simple things we can all do to help hedgehogs:

  • Create a log pile that will offer shelter and food.
  • Cover drains or deep holes.
  • Avoid using pesticides and slug pellets in your garden, not only can these harm hedgehogs but also damage their food chain. Use organic methods instead.
  • Make sure hedgehogs have easy access to your garden. Ensure boundary fences or walls have a 13cm x 13cm gap in the bottom to allow hedgehogs to pass through.
  • Keep a corner of your garden wild to offer shelter, protection and natural food for hedgehogs and other wildlife.
  • Encourage hedgehogs into your garden, but you should never just move one in from another area, as it may well have a nest of dependent young that you would be condemning to death.
  • Provide a shallow dish of fresh water for all wildlife, and food such as hedgehog food, meaty cat or dog food or cat biscuits for hedgehogs, especially during long dry spells.
  • Make or buy a hedgehog home (see plans), this offers a hibernation site safe from predators in the winter. It may also be used as a nesting box for a mother and her hoglets in the warmer months.
  • Check areas thoroughly for hedgehogs and other wildlife before strimming or mowing.
  • Keep pea netting 22-30cms (9 – 12”) off the ground so hedgehogs can pass under
    and plants will grow to the netting.
  • Dispose of litter responsibly. Every year hedgehogs are injured by litter and starve to death by getting trapped in discarded rubbish.
  • Bonfires offer a tempting home for a hedgehog. Ideally collected materials should be re-sited just before the fire is to be lit, if this is not possible, the base should be lifted up with poles or broom handles (not a fork!) and a torch shone in to look for any wildlife or pets in need of rescue before lighting.
  • Hedgehogs are good swimmers but can become trapped in ponds or pools with
    sheer sides. Keep water levels topped up, provide a gently sloping edge if possible or place half submerged rocks in the water as an escape for them.
  • Finally, take care on the roads, hedgehogs are nocturnal so are often seen out at
    night. A hedgehog’s natural defence mechanism is to roll into a ball – this is no
    match for a motor vehicle.

British Hedgehog Preservation Society Chief Executive, Fay Vass, said 
“Our gardens take up such a lot of habitat, and by getting together with neighbours to ensure hedgehogs have access points and hedgehog friendly features in the garden, we can open up a really useful amount of habitat for them.  You could become a Hedgehog Champion for your area at Hedgehog Street – a project run by BHPS and our partners People’s Trust for Endangered Species.  Join 70,000 Champions by signing up at www.hedgehogstreet.org – there’s even a Hedgehog Street app you can download from The App Store or Google Play!”

 

Winter Bird Survey Highlights

The results of the winter bird survey carried out by an independent consultant on our campuses have been received and we wanted to share the highlights:

Streatham Campus recorded its highest number of birds on campus since 2013/14 with 1,392 birds.

This represented 36 different bird species, 24% of which are listed on the the RSPB Red/Amber List; suggesting that the campus continues to be an important habitat for threatened species including the Grey Wagtail, Thrush, Sparrow and Redwing.

Grey Wagtail

Thrush

Sparrow

Redwing

St Luke’s Campus, although smaller than Streatham Campus, recorded 290 birds; up from the 2013/14 baseline of 236 birds and continuing an upward trent.

Out of the 19 species recorded, 6 species are listed on the RSPB Red/Amber List including the Starling which had not been recorded at Streatham Campus.

Starling

It’s great to see that the work of the Grounds Team, to manage the environment and use maintenance techniques that consider and promote biodiversity and habitat conservation, continues to deliver positive benefits for wildlife.