Joy of Wildlife Walks - guest blog by Keith Fowler

Bluebells in Shropshire

2018 will be the seventh year in which I have arranged wildlife walks within the county of Shropshire. These are attended by a number of individuals with a wide variety of interests and skills who like to enjoy what nature has to offer and each other’s’ company. We are not a closed group, anyone who wants to can come along (although any child under 18 must be accompanied by an adult who is responsible for that child). No expertise is needed to attend but it is always welcomed. There is no commitment to attending a set number of events – you can come to one, all, any number in between or even none if you just want to keep in touch with what we are up to.

Beating for invertsHow did it start?

As a student of the Field Study Council’s Invertebrate Challenge on the hoverfly and cranefly streams I did my “practice” in my local patch in Dothill. At the time it was under consideration as a potential Local Nature Reserve so any records I could make would help build up the case for acceptance. Then the Project Leader, Pete Boardman suggested that I should broaden my horizons and sent me a list of tetrads in Telford that had no invertebrate records. So every now and then I would visit one of these tetrads and record what I could identify. After a while I was a lonely entomologist so I asked some colleagues with similar interests if they wanted to join me – and, to my amazement, they did! As a result the series was born.

In the first couple of years as we concentrated on tetrads that had no invertebrate records the walks were called “Invertebrately Challenged Tetrad walks” and they were based mainly in and around Telford.

Over time we have spread our wings throughout Shropshire and the emphasis has changed from tetrad bashing to visiting sites of interest. As the original name became inappropriate it was changed firstly to “Joy of Invertebrates” and then, as some of the group were not in the least bit interested in invertebrates, to the current “Joy of Wildlife”.

Sweeping for invertsWhat do we do?

Throughout the period of April to September we go out once a week on the Wednesday to a site which we believe will hold some interest to the majority of the attendees. Sites of interest may because of their location, their designation, their previous recorded species, their lack of recorded species or just because someone has suggested we go there. Occasionally we are invited to a site.

Once on site we meander around, sometimes as a pack, sometimes as individuals but usually in groups of two or three who share similar interests. We find and record things of interest that we are able to identify. Some of the group are avid species recorders, some look for “photo-opportunities”, others just enjoy the walk and the ambiance of the site. What we all share is a love of nature and the company of like-minded people.

Four spot orb weaver

At the end of a visit a list of the species found is compiled and formal records prepared. The list of species is sent to the land owner/manager of the site and any other interested party such as a friends group. The records are also sent to the appropriate County Recorder.

Finally a report of the visit is usually written. These are available on the internet and can be viewed here

What have the walks achieved?

In preparing for generating a programme for 2018 I trawled through my old files and extracted a list of the sites we had visited. This was to remind me of where we had been in case I thought that any would be a good site to revisit. I was amazed to find out that we had visited 117 sites distributed as shown on the following map:  Map of JoW sites

So we have improved the level of biological recording throughout the county.

I have not kept statistics about attendees but, at a rough guess, I would say that at least 50 individuals have attended at least one walk, probably a lot more. On one occasion we had 18 – this really was too many as I do have to ensure that we leave a site with as many as arrived - but it was great to see so many interested in nature. Normally we are between six and ten.

Nor do I have a count of the number of records that we have generated but it will be well in excess of 10,000.

Shropshire entomologists

Achievement should not just be measured by statistics. The development of individuals has been rewarding. We have experts who have broadened their knowledge as they have interacted with each other and we have novices who have learnt from the experts but also found groups that interest them and built up their expertise in those groups.

Finally the walks provide a resource to be utilised by anyone who is interested in doing some biological recording or just wanting to get out and about in places of interest.

Will this idea work anywhere?

I do not know. Perhaps the circumstances in Shropshire with successive FSC projects, starting with Invertebrate Challenge, followed by Bio.Fell and then Tomorrow’s Biodiversity, provided a unique opportunity for this programme to succeed.

What I do know is that unless you try you will never find out.

Heading home!


My thanks to the Field Studies Council for their past and continuing support of the programme.

The distribution map was produced using DMap © Alan Morton.