20 Dec 2019

Wildlife at the Garden: a review of 2019

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

Two of our most exciting finds this year have been the long-horned bee (Eucera longicornis) and the marsh fritillary butterfly (Euphydryas aurinia), which both come under Section 7 of the Environment Act in Wales. This means they are protected due to their ‘principal importance for the purpose of maintaining and enhancing biodiversity in relation to Wales’.

The males of the long-horned bee (Eucera longicornis) are one of our most easily distinguishable bees, with their exceptionally long antennae. This species is one of Britain’s most declined bees, losing huge areas of its previous range within the last century due to the loss of the unimproved, legume-rich habitat it requires. Favoured plants of this bee include meadow vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis), everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius) and bird’s-foot trefoils (Lotus spp.). Although a solitary bee, they usually nest in aggregations within bare ground on south-facing slopes. This bee is usually found in coastal regions such as Rhossili Bay and Kenfig Burrows and was last seen in Carmarthenshire in 2005 until I found it at the Garden in July. This suggests that this bee may be under-recorded in some areas.

The marsh fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia) is a threatened UK species of high conservation priority. Previously found across Britain it is now largely restricted to west Britain and Ireland, where it requires large areas of damp tussock dominated or chalk grassland. Larvae feed almost exclusively on devil’s bit scabious (Succisa pratensis) and form conspicuous silk webs which help to protect them from predators. Adults, like most butterflies, feed on nectar and have a particular preference for bugle (Ajuga reptans), cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis), and thistles (Cirsium spp.) The Cross Hands area is a stronghold for the marsh fritillary and holds large areas of invaluable habitat. There is a lot of devil’s-bit-scabious in our wild garden and in May this year, a single marsh fritillary was recorded there by science placement student Lydia Cocks, representing the Garden’s first ever record.

The marsh fritillary is not the only exciting member of Lepidoptera that has been found by Lydia at the Garden in 2019. Notable species include the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Priority Species, the double line moth (Mythimna turca), which is associated with the same habitat as the marsh fritillary (rhôs pasture) and Mompha divisella, a micro-moth with only 27 records in Carmarthenshire up until 2016. This is another species which is likely to be greatly under-recorded as Lydia found many here over the year. Pachyrhabda steropodes, an Australian moth species first discovered by Jon Baker at Aberglasney Gardens in 2005 was also found at our site in 2019. Since its discovery it has been noted at several sites around Llandeilo and is now known from six 10 km squares in Carmarthenshire. The individual found at the Garden by Lydia is the most westerly record either Lydia or the Carmarthenshire moth county recorder (Sam Bosanquet) are aware of. It may have arrived on ferns imported into the Garden or has dispersed from its other known sites in Carmarthenshire.

Every fornight, our conservation volunteers place a moth trap out in the Garden and identify its contents. This team is led by Marigold Oakley and this year they recorded a rosy footman (Miltochrista miniata) for the first time. This species has increased in abundance across the UK in recent years, seeing a 488% upturn between 1968-2007 (The State of Britain’s Larger Moths 2013).

It’s not just invertebrates that have been spotted at the garden.

A green sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) was seen on Llyn Mawr, a bird which is classified in the UK as amber under the Birds of Conservation 4: The Red List for Birds (2015) and protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Although not as rare, it is always a lovely sight to see a grey heron (Ardea cinerea) in the Garden which was spotted by conservation volunteer Peter Williams.

For orchids in the Garden, 2019 has been a fantastic year. We saw the return of bee orchids (Ophrys apifera) after a two-year absence, even expanding its range to two sites. We also got greater butterfly orchids (Platanthera chlorantha) growing in Cae Derwen for the first time, along with the common spotted (Dactylorhiza fuchsia), heath-spotted (Dactylorhiza maculata) and southern marsh (Dactylorhiza praetermissa) orchids after the application of green hay from our wildflower-rich hay meadows in August 2016.

Lydia also taught us all about smaller bugs and beetles that are more difficult to come across. She spent a lot of time recording wildlife on site and Waun Las during her year at the Garden. Notable finds included Cytilus sericeus, a small pill beetle with few if any nearby records; Mecinus labilis, a weevil which parasitises ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) with few records from Carmarthenshire; and Apteropeda globosa, a nationally notable leaf beetle classified as scarce in the UK with no nearby records. Many fleabane tortoise beetles, Cassida murraea, were found on our vast swathe of fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica) outside the Science Centre and although not a rarity, many entomologists fail to spot this species.

Biological recording is extremely important for conservation. It allows us to monitor species over time and to predict extinctions. If you would like to get involved in recording, join Facebook groups such as UK Hoverflies or the UK Bees, Wasps and Ants where there are hundreds of experts and amateurs eager to help you with identification. Alternatively, contact Jane Down at jane.down@gardenofwales.org.uk about how to join our conservation volunteers at the Garden who meet every Tuesday.

Be sure to record any of your wildlife sightings on iRecord, a platform used by recording schemes to monitor different groups.