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The Water Meadow Chronicles, part 24

Two years ago a few members of the trustees began to toss around the idea that we might host a Bioblitz during 2021. The idea took hold and was discussed only to realise that the Covid pandemic was going to scupper the idea. The proposed dates  were revised and May 21st and 22nd 2022 was chosen. We anticipated that the water meadows would be at their best and the weather was likely to be excellent. With the benefit of hindsight we were right about the former and, typically, the latter was mixed ranging from lovely sunshine to heavy rain. The enthusiasm of the participants and visitors was not dampened in the slightest; everyone concluded that the event was a huge success.

Our plan for the first day was to have pupils from a number of schools come along and enjoy outdoor discovery and learning opportunities. Activities included learning more about trees, turning leaves, in their variety, into pieces of art and learning more about the diversity of insects. Enthusiasm showed itself in the joy of discovery – “come and look at what I’ve found!” – and the intensity of concentration linked with a bombardment of questions. Several students went from fear and disgust (“oh yuk”) to fascination.

The second day was open to the general public. There were guided walks led by experts. Places could be booked online in advance. Almost all the walks were fully booked and visitors who “walked up” were sometimes squeezed in as well. Some were children who had attended the day before returning for more and bringing their parents as well.

The first walk of the day was the “dawn bird walk”. The second session was on moths and other flying insects that had been caught in the moth traps set up in the Abbey Gardens overnight. Once examined all the moths were released. The third  and fourth walks were called “A wildlife wander” and “Where the wild flowers are”. The last three walks were about insects. Entitled “Insects on the wing “, “All abuzz at the Abbey” and “Beetling about in Bury”. The depth of knowledge of each of the leaders was astounding to me; their enthusiasm was contagious.

I was a “tail walker” on an insect walk during the afternoon. Tail walkers are needed because the groups can tend to spread out as individuals fix on something interesting. The risk is they get left behind by the main group who are clustered around the expert/leader. The leaders  have no time to keep an eye on stragglers because they are subject to a constant stream of questions as well as gathering samples in little pots for examination under the microscope or magnifying glass back at the base in the Abbey Gardens. We had scheduled an hour for each walk but all walks lasted much longer such was the enthusiasm of both adults and children. Speaking for myself, I was enthused enough that, later in the day, I decided to buy a capture net with accoutrements, a portable microscope which can be linked to a laptop and some sample insect specimen pots. Further, in my role as organiser of the Biodiversity survey, I will be asking my volunteer team to include insects in their bi-monthly recording brief.

By the final evening when the marquees had been dismantled and the data and feedback gathered in, the organisers and volunteers were exhausted but satisfied in the recognition that all the organisational effort had been  worthwhile and a huge success. The most frequently asked question from visitors, participants and the organising team was “When will we do the next Bioblitz? “.

Iain Carruthers-Jones