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CALL FOR CITIZEN SCIENTISTS TO HELP KEEP VITAL CONSERVATION PROJECTS ON TRACK

Exmoor National Park is calling on people to help rescue conservation projects that have been hit by the coronavirus lockdown by reporting sightings of important plants and wildlife spotted in their garden or while out walking on Exmoor.

The plea follows the launch of #30DaysWild this month, the Wildlife Trust's challenge to the nation to carry out Random Acts of Wildness every day in June. It's a great way of giving something back to the landscapes we love.

The National Park relies on records submitted by volunteers and the general public to help monitor the condition of habitats on Exmoor through its WildWatch scheme. This helps paint a picture of overall ecological health to help target conservation efforts and tackle problem invasive species.

The lockdown has meant many volunteer teams were stood down and far fewer records are being submitted. This is a particular problem for projects with short term funding such as the Exmoor Non-Native Invasive Species (ENNIS) project - a 2-year collaboration between Exmoor National Park Authority, the Environment Agency, the National Trust, and Natural England that was set to scale up work to control invasive species in the National Park.

Ali Hawkins, Exmoor National Park Conservation Officer, said: “Prior to the lockdown we had a dedicated team of trained volunteers ready to start surveying for invasive species. But, even with some volunteers now returning to surveying, we have nothing like the numbers needed for large-scale monitoring. Meanwhile the clock is ticking down on our 2 years of funding and, if we don’t find a way to get some records in, it could have a serious impact on the whole project.

“We’re appealing to everyone locally to take a little time out to check what’s growing and living in their gardens and, if out walking on Exmoor, to report what they see. Many of the invasive species that threaten our precious habitats started life as garden plants and it’s surprising how many private gardens still harbor them. Equally we would absolutely love to hear about all the bees, butterflies, song birds, bats, owls, fungi, and wildflowers that signal nature is thriving.

American skunk cabbage “Now is a good time to look out for the invasive species ‘American skunk cabbage’, with its large green fleshy leaves and distinctive yellow flower spikes. Sightings of this plant will help us tackle it as part of our ENNIS Project, which is funded by Defra and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. You will also spot the emergence of Japanese and Himalayan knotweed, Himalayan balsam, and montbretia. We’d like to hear about these species too.”

Submitting a record is quick and easy and can be done on your mobile phone via the iNaturalist App or at www.inaturalist.org.

There is even a category for unidentified species, so you don’t necessarily need to know the name. If you don’t have a smart device, head to www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/wild-watch to submit an online record and also download a handy spotter guide.

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