On a Mission: Invertebrate – How volunteering, recording centres, and BioLinks courses have benefitted me.

 

Charlie LintonI’m Charlie and I work for The Royal Parks on Mission: Invertebrate, a project supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery that aims to help discover, celebrate and protect the invertebrates that call the parks their home. Invertebrates have always fascinated me - I am always keen to discover more about them. And what’s great about these species is that there are always so many new things to unearth!

I got into outdoor education through volunteering with a local charity. I enjoy volunteering, and have done so with several organisations, allowing me to gain skills, build my confidence and learn about nature. These organisations and charities are varied and include a local outdoor education centre (Hill End Centre), my local Wildlife Trust, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Thames Valley Environmental Records CentreThis assortment of organisations has given me a valuable insight into how different sites operate.

Recording Centres

 To focus in on just one of these organisations, the Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre (TVERC) collects biodiversity data from recorders to share with local groups and decision-makers across Berkshire and Oxfordshire to help encourage sustainable development and to help conservation efforts. I was already interested in biological recording and got to see the workings of a recording centre through my volunteering in the TVERC office, where I mapped and transcribed species records from paper survey sheets.

 TVERC Spring Conference 2019

Additionally, I’ve attended TVERC conferences and the London Recorders’ Day, where people with an interest in nature and recording meet up and share opportunities to get involved. These are fantastic chances to hear from passionate people about projects they have been working on and how recording has benefitted local groups to manage and protect their sites. The recording of invertebrates is important in order to understand the distribution and population trends of species, and this is one of the aims of Mission: Invertebrate – to learn more about the distribution of invertebrates in some of London’s busiest greenspaces. 

 Mission: Invertebrate

There are 5 strands to the Mission: Invertebrate project: formal learning, informal learning, citizen science, specialist surveys, and park projects.Our formal learning involves going out to schools across London to deliver assemblies, as well as welcoming classes into the parks for fun practical sessions. Our Bugmobile is used to deliver informal learning activities on our roadshow across the Royal Parks during school holidays, with crafts, storytelling, and bug hunts. For lifelong learners, we offer an adult programme of events ranging from moth trapping and solitary bee walks to more creative sessions like macrophotography and invertebrate life drawing.

The Mission: Invertebrate Bugmobile

We have amazing volunteers participating in citizen science projects, who have been monitoring butterflies along transects in Brompton Cemetery and Greenwich Park, measuring the size of yellow meadow ant hills in Richmond Park and Bushy Park to assess age, and assessing the quality of different habitat types around Regent’s Park. Furthermore, we commission specialist surveys around the parks, which have found many interesting things including two new species to Great Britain. Some other highlights include over 100 species of spider in Brompton Cemetery, 24 dung beetle species in Richmond Park, and 793 species of invertebrates in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, including 60 that have a conservation designation, highlighting the importance of green spaces in the centre of London for supporting these particularly precious species.

The data collected from our citizen science volunteers and surveys goes to park managers to inform and help plan works. Mission: Invertebrate also helps fund park projects, such as woodland management to support habitats for detritivores in Kensington Gardens, creating a new pollinator garden in Richmond Park, and running a conservation grazing trial in The Green Park next to Buckingham Palace to traditionally manage a wildflower meadow with rare breed sheep (and the occasional cow). This year, we will also be using the records to share/highlight with visitors to the parks about what is around them with some new nature trails. 

  FSC BioLinks courses

Helophilus pendulus - Bushy Park Field Recorder DayAfter working on the Hoverfly Lagoons project, a fantastic citizen-science project from The Buzz Club at the University of Sussex, I have been interested in hoverflies and am keen to improve my ID skills - and learn more about other fly families. The first Field Studies Council (FSC) BioLinks course I attended was Field ID of Flies with Martin Harvey, which covered how to identify some distinctive fly species in the field. We looked at distinguishing features to look out for in the major groups before venturing out into Dinton Pastures to practice what we had learned. Following on from this course, I have been on further diptera courses using microscopes and focusing in on soldierflies (Stratiomyidae) and allies.

Another FSC BioLinks course I attended was Field ID of Shieldbugs, led by Joe Gray. I inevitably find a variety of true bugs when I’m leading habitat hunts with children in the parks and I felt shieldbugs seemed like a good place to start with Hemiptera. We looked at features of common species as well as suitable microhabitats to search in. I was particularly enchanted by learning about the parent shieldbug (Elasmucha grisea), that live on the underside of birch leaves, with females exhibiting parental care, often seen sitting with her eggs or nymphs. I have not yet seen a parent shieldbug, but I am determined to find and record one in 2020.
Bishops mitre - Bushy Park Field Recorder Day 2019Crucifer shieldbug nymph - Bushy Park Field Recorder Day 2019

These introductory courses were enjoyable days during which I learned a lot from supportive course leaders; they have given me more confidence in and enthusiasm for finding and identifying invertebrates. Following my Field ID courses, I attended the Bushy Park Recorders Day (also through BioLinks), which allowed me to apply what I have learned. This day helped increase my confidence in recording species, particularly the groups I covered in my BioLinks courses. The knowledge I gained has also helped me when working with groups around the Royal Parks, as well as being useful for my own interest in invertebrate identification. This year, I’m looking forward to attending other FSC BioLinks courses to become more proficient in identifying and recording; I am joining field recorders days and volunteer ID days to reinforce my learning, and will record more of my own casual sightings when out and about. And I can’t wait to see what I find! 

 

Ways to get involved:

-Blog by Charlie Linton, Mission: Invertebrate