On Saturday, I took part in another wildlife training day at the Ecology Centre, with Dave (Sutton councils Biodiversity Officer) at the helm. This time, we were exploring the lives of dragonflies, or Anisoptera (warriorflies) and Zygoptera (damselflies) as I now like to refer to them. In a concise, informative and enjoyable classroom session, the fellow students and I were guided through their taxonomy, anatomy, life cycle, behaviour, habitats and identification. This influx of information was easily digested thanks to a well earned coffee and biscuit break.

Common darter 8 (male)

Male common darter (Sympetrum striolatum)

At the end of the day and after a cloudy and therefore unsuccessful trip to Beddington Park and the river Wandle (no dragonflies to be seen, but heigh-ho that’s nature!), we arrived at the Ecology Centre to see what would be on offer here. After catching a Naiad (the immature form of a dragonfly) our attention was drawn to a whopping Southern hawker (Aeshna cyanea) elegantly zapping around the pond. This is a magnificent warriorfly, whose stunning green, brown and black colours make her hard to miss. After buzzing around, she found a suitable position at the pond side where she began ovipositing, which for any enthusiastic amateur naturalist allows for a fantastic photo opportunity. A great end to the day.

Southern Hawker

A female southern hawker ovipositing

Up close with a female southern hawker

Up close with a female southern hawker

For those who haven’t attended a wildlife training day, Dave goes into great detail in how best to identify the species we are learning about. This is because identification is a critical component in surveying and underpins all good nature conservation, as without knowing what is there, how can we conserve it? At Sutton council, there is a service level agreement (SLA) with ‘Greenspace Information for Greater London’ (GIGL), the biological records centre we send all of our surveying records too. With this, GIGL provide information to a number of interested parties, such as ecological consultancies and property developers. Importantly, in return for our records, every quarter GIGL send us records collated throughout the whole borough and therefore provide us with information that we do not have the manpower to attain. For example, various nature groups carry out surveys within Sutton, and through GIGL we are able to access and make use of this data.

Nationally surveying can help monitor the impacts of climate change, such as the northerly dispersal of numerous butterfly species or phenological changes in a species emergence/arrival. Surveying can also highlight whether previous conservation efforts are actually working, as these records can indicate whether management has benefited a target species. Moreover, identification and surveying, for these reasons, are critical for nature conservation and for achieving our targets at the SNCV.

male common blue damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum)

Male common blue damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum)

Britain is the most surveyed and recorded country on Earth, and this is primarily due to the enthusiasm and knowledge of amateur naturalists. At the SNCV, we promote this marvellous tradition whereby we all help out with conservation and get surveying. Being a complete novice in the art of identification, I can know that this is quite the daunting task, as there is so much diversity out there! Personally, I have found the wildlife training days incredibly useful, as well as being part of the surveying schemes that are currently ongoing at the SNCV – check out the task programme and volunteering opportunities. The joy in successful identification and knowing you are making a valuable contribution to conserving nature certainly makes the effort worthwhile, and who knows, you may see something incredibly exciting (see picture below).

Tiger Spider

Female wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi)  at the ecology centre

So why not give surveying a go? Taking a camera out and photographing the things you see on a stroll or in your back garden can help you identify species at a later date from the comfort of your computer or a field guide. Or why not send me in some of your photos while out and about? Email: biodiversity@sutton.gov.uk. We’d love to see what you can find and help you with any identification that may be bothering you! Further still, you can create your own species records, to do this you need to: 1. provide your name 2. provide the date 3. provide the name of the site 4. provide an Ordnance Survey Grid reference 5. provide the name of the species. Please feel free to contact me with any queries or how you can develop your skills in identification, I am more than happy to help. Here’s how to download a GIGL data entry sheet.

Happy surveying!

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