Nov 262016

Polecats have not in living memory been very common in Gloucestershire but are now believed to be increasing as the population rises in the west and Wales so that more animals are spreading eastwards into the county. In the GNS News of March 2014, John Field, the county Mammals Recorder appealed for members to “Keep an eye out for Polecats”.

In January 2014 Andrew Bluett found a road casualty near The Swan Inn at Coombe Hill; around the same period, another road casualty was found by Andrew Bluett and Juliet Bailey near Westbury on Severn, both were reported to John Field.

In the past couple of months, a GNS member has accidentally trapped Polecats in his garden near Woolaston, to the south-west of Lydney:

“On Thursday 20th October 2016 I caught a well-marked Polecat in a squirrel trap in our rural garden; it had entered the trap during the afternoon and was released unharmed.  It looked well-marked, with dark paws and was in excellent condition.  I weighed the trap with and without it with a small 7lb spring balance, the net weight of the Polecat being 1lb 12oz.  The Polecat had a very strong smell.

On Sunday 6th November 2016 we caught a second Polecat in the garden – in the same trap but a different Polecat, as evidenced by the very different colouring/markings. This one had a paler head but still had a good mask and brown paws, again it was 1 lb 12 oz.  Not nearly such a strong smell as the first one.  I released it in the garden where it made a high speed dash for a hedgerow!

Our previous polecat records were daytime views on 8th August 2001 and 11th July 2002; we had not seen any since then until these recent animals appeared and none have triggered our infra-red ‘trail’ camera. Perhaps there are many more around than would seem from sightings?”

Polecats are wary of humans and are rarely seen alive, most sightings being road casualties. I had seen many such animals on extensive travels in mid and south Wales on business, often on the hard shoulder of the M4 between Chepstow and Swansea, occasionally I saw live animals in more rural areas in daylight. Clearly there are more to be seen and no doubt most are not reported, but if you see one, let us know, or send your records direct to John Field at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust or to GCER (Gloucestershire Centre for Environmental Records). If you come into direct contact with a Polecat that is alive, be very careful of handling it, they do bite, hard and deep…!


Road casualty, Coombe Hill, January 2014


Road casualty, Coombe Hill, January 2014


Woolaston Polecat No 1 – dark mask – the smelly one!


Woolaston Polecat No 2 – more distinct mask


Woolaston Polecat No 2 makes a dash for freedom after release

Nov 152016

Curlews, with Mary Colwell, 7.30 Wednesday 23rd November, Gala Club, Fairmile Gdns, Gloucester, GL2 9EB. Free – no booking necessary, donations welcome on the evening.

Mary works with BBC Wildlife in Bristol, and has been deeply concerned at the decline of the Curlew, not only in UK, but in Ireland, where the decline has been even more dramatic. To draw attention to this issue she undertook a 500 mile walk in May, beginning in Ireland and ending in Lincolnshire. Details of her walk and of many other Curlew projects are presented on her website She is currently active in promoting  actions to conserve Curlews, and in raising funds for this purpose. She is organising (in cooperation with the Irish official conservation authorities) a conference on Curlews at Tullamore, County Offaly, in early November, is holding a series of public Curlew evenings to publicise Curlew issues, and is a key figure in planning the major workshop planned for Slimbridge on February 2nd.

 Posted by on 15th November 2016 at 17:34
Nov 102016

Gloucestershire Ornithological Co-ordinating Committee organises an annual Winter Garden Bird Survey in Gloucestershire and would like more volunteers to take part during the coming winter – January and February of 2017.

As the umbrella body for recording in the county and as members of GOCC, GNS is supporting this project and on behalf of the organisers and is appealing for volunteers who might wish to take part – this is an easy and informal survey that is of real use and can be done from the warmth and comfort of your own home – no need to get wet, cold and muddy…!

Details as follows:

Gloucestershire Ornithological Co-ordinating Committee – Winter Garden Bird Survey Anyone?

The Gloucestershire Ornithological Coordinating Committee runs a winter garden bird survey each year for nine weeks in January and February. We would love to have additional surveyors who can recognise all the common garden birds and some of the less common ones.  Only those living within the Gloucestershire county boundary can take part. The survey involves counting the number of birds you see which have actually landed within your garden boundary and keeping a tally of the maximum number of each species seen (simultaneously) in the garden each week.  It doesn’t matter if you are away for a week or two in January and February.

A report is sent to all surveyors after the results have been analysed.  All the records are sent to the County Bird Recorder, who says that they constitute an important part of the county’s bird records.

If you would like to take part, please contact Vic Polley – 01453 842896

mvicpolley at (at =@)

Nov 062016

The next GNS Indoor Meeting is due to take place on Friday 11th November 2016 at Watermoor Church Hall, Cirencester, GL7 1JR; 7.00 for 7.30 pm – the subject of the meeting being “A Lane in the Midlands Forest” presented by Mike Lane FRPS. Mike is a full-time wildlife photographer specialising in birds and mammals and with a particular interest in the new and little known Heart of England Forest in Warwickshire; excellent photos and an interesting commentary.

Details of all forthcoming meetings are available on the GNS Web-Site together with a map & directions for Watermoor Church Hall –

Nov 022016

The next GNS Field Meeting is due to take place on Sunday 6th November 2016 at Frampton On Severn – a meeting of Autumn Birds and general interest along the canal and river to be led by Andrew Bluett (01452 610085). Meet in the car park by the swing bridge at the north end of the village SO 746 084, 10 for 10.30 to approx. 1.00pm. Please dress appropriately for the weather and conditions under foot. Come along and take a look at the wildlife and countryside in Autumn along the Gloucester-Sharpness Canal and River Severn.

Nov 022016

Gloucestershire Raptor Monitoring Group are holding an indoor meeting on Thursday 8th December 2016 at The Gala Club, Fairmile Gardens (off Tewkesbury Road) Gloucester, GL2 9EB, 7.00 for 7.30pm.

Buzzards, with Robin Prytherch: Robin has been studying Common Buzzards in an area south of Bristol for many years, making extensive and very detailed observations of breeding behaviour and monitoring individual birds. He has had several papers published in the journal British Birds, most recently on the way territorial size and productivity have changed as numbers have increased, and (in March this year) on “nests, nest trees and prey remains”.

Tickets are available via the GRMG web-site at

Sep 302016


Time Four sessions to choose from:
10.30am to 11.30am
11.45am to 12.45pm
2.30pm to 3.30pm
3.45pm to 4.45pm
Venue John Moore Museum, 41 Church Street, Tewkesbury, GL20 5SN
Details Discovering Bats!
Why do bats hang upside-down?
How do they find their way in the dark?
What different types of bats live in the UK?
How can I encourage them to visit my garden?
Renowned bat expert David Endacott will be at the museum with a selection of live, rescued British Bats to explain all about these fascinating creatures of the night.  Also displays by the Gloucestershire Bat Group where you can learn about their work and how to join.  This is the perfect opportunity to find out the truth about these much misunderstood animals.

Pick up FREE information on how you can help bats, and take part in our craft activities – make your own origami bat!
Tickets available on the door or in advance from the museum
Adults £4.00 / Seniors & Students £3.50 / Children £2
(Tickets include admission to the John Moore Museum & The Old Baptist Chapel).

Notes Contact: Simon Lawton (Curator)
Telephone: 01684 297174
 Posted by on 30th September 2016 at 14:46
Sep 272016

The National Bee Unit has confirmed a sighting of the Asian hornet in the Tetbury area of Gloucestershire – the first time the hornet has been discovered in the UK. The Asian hornet is smaller than our native hornet and poses no greater risk to human health than a bee. However, they do pose a risk to honey bees. The hornet found in Tetbury is currently undergoing DNA testing at the National Bee Unit in North Yorkshire to help establish how it arrived in the UK. The hornet arrived in France in 2004 and is now common across large areas of Europe. It was discovered for the first time in Jersey and Alderney this summer. It is believed the species will not be able survive in the north of the UK due to colder winters.

Defra press release:
Links to the ID guide:
Online recording page:

 Posted by on 27th September 2016 at 10:14
Sep 132016

The next GNS Field Meeting is due to take place on Sunday 25th September at Cleeve Hill to be led by Ellie Phillips.

BIOLOGICAL RECORDING – What it is and how to record your observations.

Biological recording is the main purpose of the GNS and this is an important chance to learn or update your skills. You can stay for as much or as little of the meeting as you wish, there will be a mixture of background context and practical sessions.

There is a handout booklet to help with this event; it would therefore be helpful to have some idea of numbers beforehand. Please contact Des Marshall 01242 245143 or to register your interest.

Meet in the Quarry Car Park (next to the Golf Club), Cleeve Hill, at SO 989 271 at 10.00am (bring a packed lunch).

Sep 102016
Water-Lily and Water Fern at Willersey, 7September 2016

Willersey, 7 September 2016

During several recent journeys through Willersey, in the north of the county, I had noticed that the ornamental pond on the village green seemed to have become largely covered by some kind of vegetative growth, much of it a reddish colour. I eventually took an opportunity to park nearby and had a closer look. It turns out that the surface of most of the pond has been colonised by the Water Fern (Azolla filiculoides), an introduced species from the Americas which was first recorded over here, at Pinner in Middlesex, in 1883. I have come across this fern from time to time but it is sensitive to our winter temperatures and I am not aware of any persistent colony in our part of the country. It is quite likely that there will be no sign of it at Willersey next year!

Water Fern is very different from any of the other ferns found in the British Isles. It does not root itself in the soil, but floats free on the surface of still waters it has colonised. The individual plants remain tiny and reproduce readily by simply breaking apart. By this means the plant can spread quickly across the surface of a suitable body of water.



Water Fern close-up, Willersey

Although it is not well-known in this country (as a non-native, it has been given rather limited cover in the standard field guides) Azolla is a significant member of the flora elsewhere, particularly in rice-growing areas. Pockets within the leaf lobes floating at the water surface usually house the nitrogen-fixing cyanobacterium Anaboena azollae. In China and Vietnam the native Azolla pinnata was cultivated for hundreds of years so that the nitrogen rich ferns could be used as fertiliser for the rice crop;  quite recently  A. filiculoides has largely taken over this role as it has proved to be a little more cold-tolerant and a great deal less susceptible to insect attack.  Azolla is also used as animal feed in its native regions, and for mosquito control (principally by denying egg-laying females access to the water surface).

Like other ferns, Water Fern can reproduce by means of spores, but very little seems to be known about the extent and significance of this within the British Isles.


The pond at Willersey, showing the extent of the Water Fern cover this year

Elsewhere, attempts to stimulate significant spore production for commercial purposes have apparently failed, so taking advantage of the plant’s capacity for prolific vegetative reproduction remains the only viable option where cultivation is practised. It is likely that accidental and deliberate introductions by aquarists account for much of the Water Fern’s British distribution but transport of spores and plant fragments on the feet and feathers of birds is also a possibility.

There is evidence that Water Fern has become more common in recent years; this could be a reflection of our changing climate. Perhaps we should be showing more interest in this introduced fern that may have become an established resident, particularly in view of the unique features of its biology and lifestyle. It would be interesting to know whether it is, in fact, persistent at any Gloucestershire sites and whether there is any obvious pattern to its occurrence in the county.

Martin Matthews


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