Biodiversity - Wildlife

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BATS
Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) - photo by Plazacameraman
Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) - photo by Plazacameraman

There are 17 species of bat in the UK and four of these can be found in the Dearne Valley and Denby Dale region, with probably two of them visiting Churchfield to feed and occasionally roost. One is our smallest bat, the pipistrelle. They are frequently seen just after the sun sets, flying jerkily around buildings or between trees in places like Churchfield, as they search for flying insects such as gnats and midges to eat. Pipistrelles weigh around 3 to 5 grams. That’s less than a £1 coin.

We also have the Uk’s biggest bat, the noctule. This bat, which is still smaller than the palm of an adult hand, mainly lives in the hollows and holes of trees. They fly high above the trees and can be quite quick as they hunt for moths, their main food. Noctule bats also start flying just after the sun sets, so if you are in Churchfield at dusk and you see what appears to be a late flying bird over the trees by Bridgwater House, have a really good look, it may just be a noctule bat!

Bat facts:

• Bats are not blind
• Bats are mammals – they are warm blooded, furry and suckle their young
• A bat can eat up to 3000 midges in a single night
• Bats do not build nests – they usually roost in holes, caves, and roofs
• Bats are sociable animals and live in colonies

Noctule (Nyctalis noctua) -
 photo by Belizar
Noctule (Nyctalis noctua) - photo by Belizar
BEES

Bumblebees:

In Churchfield when you look at the wildflowers you may see a Buff-Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris), and a Red-Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius), collecting the nectar and pollen.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) photo by Tim Melling
Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) photo by Tim Melling

Bumblebee facts:

• Bumblebees have a sting, although they are not usually aggressive.
• You are not likely to be stung.
• Bumblebees live in small colonies, each colony has its own queen.
• In early spring the queen builds a nest insulated with moss, often in an old mouse hole.
• Bumblebees and their larvae eat nectar and pollen from flowers and blossom.
• The number of bumblebees is in rapid decline.

Solitary Bees:

Not all bees live in colonies. Some lead individual lives and are called Solitary bees. In Churchfield you may see a Leafcutter bee (Megachile centuncularis). A leafcutter looks a little like a honey bee. It has dense hairs under its abdomen to collect pollen. A leafcutter bee lives in a tunnel in dead wood or a plant stem, which is lined with semicircular pieces cut from the edges of a leaf.

BUTTERFLIES & MOTHS

As well as their beauty, with rich and diverse colours, butterflies and moths play a very important role in nature. They act as pollinators for our plants, the caterpillars are a main source of food for many birds, and they are an excellent indicator of how our ecosystems are performing. In other words, the more butterflies and moths we see, then the healthier our natural habitats are for all wildlife.

Each species of butterfly and Moth has its own favourite plant or tree. On this it lays eggs, and the caterpillars hatch, feed and grow. Each butterfly and moth has favourite flowers where the adult butterfly drinks the nectar. Even plants that we regard as weeds, such as thistles, are important sources of nectar for them.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) - photo by Alan Coe
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) - photo by Alan Coe
Six Spot Burnet Moth (Zygaena filipandlae) -
 photo by Alan Coe
Six Spot Burnet Moth (Zygaena filipandlae) - photo by Alan Coe

The butterflies of Denby Dale include the White Letter Hairstreak, which roosts and lays eggs in elm trees.

The loss of many elm trees due to disease and building development has lead to a decline in this butterflies numbers. We have tried to help by planting an elm in Churchfield.

Other species that can be seen here includes the Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown, Speckled wood, Orange-tip, Ringlet. Small tortoiseshells lay eggs on stinging nettles , whilst meadow brown and speckled wood use grasses for their eggs.

One moth you may see in Churchfield is the 6 spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae). This is an almost black moth, and is the only British moth that has 6 red spots on each wing. They like flowering grassland and woodland rides.

Did you know? Some butterflies migrate. In a good summer you may be lucky enough to see a Painted Lady butterfly that has come over from North Africa. They will bread and lay eggs on nettles here but cannot survive British winters.

RED FOX
Photo courtesy of Tim Melling
Photo courtesy of Tim Melling

Foxes are found all over Britain and are one of our most common predators. They are able to live in a huge variety of habitats such as woodland, farm land, coasts, mountains, and even in towns and cities.

Foxes have a longer, more pointed muzzle than most domestic dogs, and the back of their ears have black tips. Although known as hunters feeding on rabbits and voles, foxes also eat a variety of other foods. This includes a high number of earthworms, some insects, fruit and berries in autumn, and carrion. Urban foxes will scavenge for leftovers from bins.

Family facts: Foxes often live as a small community or family, consisting of the male (dog) and female (vixen) and their cubs. The group may have additional males and females, often from a litter born the previous year.

Despite the family group, a fox will spend long periods on their own, and generally hunt and forage alone. A country fox will roam a territory of about 5 acres, but city foxes cover an area ten times that.

Photo courtesy of Tim Melling
Photo courtesy of Tim Melling

In the mating season, around January and February, a male and female will hunt and travel together for about three weeks before breeding. Foxes are quite noisy at this time. There are barks and screams, that are often described as sounding like a human baby screaming.

HEDGEHOG (Erinaceous europaeus)
Hedgehog (Erinaceous europaeus) - photo by Tim Melling
Hedgehog (Erinaceous europaeus) - photo by Tim Melling

Hedgehogs are amongst our most familiar and favourite mammals. They are nocturnal and will roam over large areas each night in search of a variety of food, including slugs, worms, insects, berries, and seeds. They may be seen under garden bird tables picking up the scraps dropped by birds. Hedgehogs hibernate during the winter, so you may be lucky to see them on autumn evenings and nights foraging for food to eat, giving their bodies enough stored energy to last until spring. Recent studies have shown that hedgehogs may wake from hibernation in mid to late January for a “top up” of food, before going back to sleep.

Hedgehog dangers: Hedgehog numbers have dropped dramatically, partly due to loss of hedgerow and increased use of pesticides, including slug pellets. Another major hazard is litter, with rubber bands, plastic bags, and plastic drinks can rings to blame for some fatal hedgehog accidents.

MOLE (Talpa europaea)

Moles are amongst our commonest mammals, but they are rarely seen, because they spend most of the time underground. You know they are present by the mounds of earth, or molehills, which they create when tunnelling their burrows. In the middle ages, a mole was known as a moldewarp, which means earth thrower.

A mole is about 15 cm long, with a muscular body, short tail, black velvety fur, and large shovel like front feet with 5 strong claws, used for digging through the soil. They are a relative of hedgehogs and shrews and you can see a slight resemblance in the long pointed nose.

Mole (Talpa europaea) - photo by Tim Melling
Mole (Talpa europaea) - photo by Tim Melling

Moles mostly eat earthworms and slugs but they will also feed on insects and grubs that fall from the walls of their burrows. They are active both during the day and at night, as they run through their tunnels looking for food. A mole eats half its own body weight every day, and it will hunt and feed for four hours at a time, and then sleep for another four. Moles can run backwards through their tunnels and turn completely around by doing a somersault.

Did you know? that moles are territorial and each one has its own burrow of tunnels, which can be up to 70 metres long. They defend their territories fiercely and fights between moles may end in death.

VOLE (Microtus agrestris)
Photo courtesy of Tim Melling

Field voles are small rodents, much like mice, but with a shorter tail, blunter nose, and less prominent ears. Voles are about 14cm long, including the tail, and have yellowy brown fur. They are very common in Britain (but none in Ireland) and they like to live in open fields with damp tussocky grass. The margins of Churchfield make an ideal habitat.

Voles eat grasses, roots, and bark, but they will sometimes feed on insects and snails. They can be active both during the day and at night, looking for food. Voles themselves may be eaten by several birds of prey, including, kestrels, barn owls, and tawny owls. Grass snakes are also one of their predators.

Did you know? Voles can be very aggressive with other voles. Each vole has its own small territory, which it will defend fiercely from other voles. They fight noisily with loud squeaks and chattering noises.

Photo courtesy of Tim Melling
Photo courtesy of Tim Melling
WEASEL (Mustela nivalis)
Weasel (Mustela nivalis) - photo by Alan Coe
Weasel (Mustela nivalis) - photo by Alan Coe

Weasels are our smallest carnivores, but at only 28 centimetres long, they are fierce and agile hunters. They will chase voles down their burrows and climb trees to get to birds nests. Weasels are related to stoats, otters and ferrets, and although common all over mainland Britain, they are usually only seen as a tan streak dashing across a road.

Weasels mostly eat voles, mice and other small rodents, but something as large as a rabbit may also be prey. They hunt mostly at night, but sometimes appear during the day. However, they disappear very quickly when humans are around.

A male weasel has a territory about the size of two football pitches, but he will roam much further in spring when he is looking for a female mate. This is the only time of year when males and females associate with each other.

Friend or foe? Weasels have often been regarded as pests by farmers and gamekeepers because they will eat the eggs and chicks of grouse and pheasants. As a result, they have been much persecuted by man. Weasels are also prey to foxes, owls, and other birds of prey but they will defend themselves quite ferociously. A weasel will eat several hundred mice in a year, so is it good or bad? Or is it just nature?

WOOD MOUSE (Apodemus sylvaticus)

The wood mouse (aka Long Tailed Field Mouse) is bigger than a house mouse and has bigger hind feet. It also has large ears and distinctive big, bulging eyes. Wood mice are almost entirely nocturnal, hardly ever being seen during the day. They build nests of shredded grass, usually underground, where they have a network of burrows. Wood mice mostly eat seeds, fruits, berries and nuts.

Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) - photo by Wildlifesnapper
Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) - photo by Wildlifesnapper

Cool wood mouse facts:

• Although rarely seen, it is probably Britain’s most numerous mammal.
• A wood mouse will store seeds and nuts in hollow logs.
• In very cold winters, wood mice go into a torpid state, a bit like hibernation. They use less energy and need less food.
• If a wood mouse is caught by the tail, the skin pulls off from that point, allowing it to escape.