Campus Biodiversity Survey

Following the approval of the University’s Biodiversity Standard, the Sustainability Service asked for volunteers to help bring the organisation closer to achieving the ambition of becoming an exemplar of urban biodiversity.  To do this, volunteers were assigned a section of the campus to survey and to identify locations that may have potential to improve the habitat value to support urban wildlife.  These findings would then be used to start developing the new biodiversity action plan.

So on a cold but bright January afternoon I set off with a map, clipboard and coloured pencils to the Western Campus to survey the fairly substantial area around the Maurice Keyworth, Liberty, Charles Thackrah and Michael Marks Buildings.

The first stage was to use the Phase 1 habitat classification survey technique to record the current types of habitat in place, such as woodland, scrub, grassland, marsh, tall herb and fen.  The second stage was to identify and suggest biodiversity opportunities and improvements that could be made in this part of the campus.  For example, leaving grass to grow a little longer, planting hedgerows, swapping annual plants for perennial species which are better for bees, increasing tree cover, creating log piles for invertebrates and increasing shrub cover for smaller mammals.

I was impressed to discover that quite a few initiatives were already in place, including a log pile, bird feeders, a bee hotel and a wildflower meadow.  However, I was pleased to be able to make further suggestions such as areas suitable for growing creepers, putting in more log piles and bug hotels, and I even suggested one place suitable for making a pond!  I will look forward to seeing what developments arise once all of the surveys of the different parts of campus have been completed and put together.

Joanne Sutherland, SDDU

IntoUniversity visit

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The Sustainability Service recently hosted a workshop for students from IntoUniversity (http://intouniversity.org/) on the importance of biodiversity.

The session started with an introductory activity on biodiversity and its importance, then the students were asked to become landscape designers for the day and design new flower beds for our campus, encouraging them to use their knowledge of different species and their role in the ecosystem. They were also given some guidance before designing the flower beds such as examples of plant species that could be planted on campus and incest species that could be attracted to the flowers.

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The workshop not only allowed the students to embrace their creativity, it allowed them to work in teams and make decisions together about the design of the flower beds.

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The 3 final winners will be picked soon and they will be planted at the entrance of the Parkinson building in spring to enhance biodiversity on campus. Don’t forget to follow our blog and social media accounts for updates on the designs.

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BIG Campus Bird Watch 2017

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On the 27th January 2017 we will be holding our seventh annual ‘Big Campus Bird Watch’. This is an opportunity for our staff and students to get involved in the campus biodiversity work by helping us to record the bird species on the campus.  This event links directly with the RSPB national event, the BIG Garden Birdwatch which takes place on the weekend of 28th/30th January.  As corporate sponsors of the RSPB, we have invited them to assist us by doing some guided walks around campus on the day. This will be an excellent opportunity to develop skills, get some advice on how best to survey, or even join the RSPB!

Two walks have been arranged on the day. If you would like to register, please email sustainability@leeds.ac.uk to book a place. The walks will start from the sustainable garden at 12pm and 1pm. Places are limited, so book early to avoid disappointment.

Completing the survey

You can do the survey in any area of campus you like.  If you have the time and enthusiasm, you are more than welcome to submit multiple forms for different areas of campus!

You can complete the survey in a variety of ways.  We would encourage electronic reporting wherever possible and have set up an electronic form here that you can complete on the day.  Alternatively, you can download a copy of the form, along with a guidance sheet below and email to sustainability@leeds.ac.uk, or post in the internal post to Sustainability Service, Facilities Directorate Building, Cloberry Street, Leeds, LS2 9BT.

We will post the results of the survey on our website later in the spring.

Happy Surveying!

COP21 Guest blog – Dr. Chris Hassall, evolutionary ecologist

Chris Hassall is an evolutionary ecologist working on human impacts on ecological systems (with a focus on freshwater ecology and climate change) and large-scale evolutionary patterns (with a focus on invertebrates as model systems to look at ageing and mimicry) at the University of Leeds.

 

The focus of the negotiations at COP21 will be on avoiding dangerous climate change to ensure the planet remains suitable for people. However, in striving for this goal we will also provide a wide array of benefits to the other biological organisms with which we share the world. My research over the past decade has focused on trying to understand the biological implications of climate change, and I have focused on the role that changing environmental temperature plays in driving changes in insect populations.

Insects form a significant percentage of all animals. Indeed, as Robert May, the former President of the Royal Society once quipped: “…to a first approximation all species are insects“. We are fed upon by mosquitoes, our crops are munched by caterpillars, and our homes are gnawed by termites. However, we are also reliant upon bees and other pollinators for our food, and many other insects consume the pests that would otherwise damage our crops. Understanding this complex network of beneficial and malefic species requires not only an understanding of how they interact, but also how climate change will influence their distributions, numbers, and behaviour.

Dragonflies

Early on in my career I became fascinated by one group of insects in particular: the dragonflies. These animals have been considered traditionally to be indicators of clean water by Native American peoples – a link that has also been made through the use of various dragonfly groups as barometers of ecological water quality in the Water Framework Directive. Dragonflies are an important part of the environment as they live for most of their lives in the water as predatory larvae (sometimes up to four or five years) before emerging as the winged adult with which most of us are familiar. This means that their health reflects the quality of aquatic and terrestrial environments. The dragonflies evolved in the tropics and so are well adapted to warmer temperatures, meaning that as the environment becomes warmer under climate change they are one of the first groups that are able to take advantage. My work, published in 2007, was the first to demonstrate that aquatic species are emerging earlier in the year in response to climate change. DRAGONFLY

Since then I have worked on species that are expanding their ranges under climate change, particularly the small red-eyed damselfly.  Work in which I was involved has suggested that the number of animals coming into the UK is far greater than expected, which runs counter to our earlier assumption that species extend their ranges through the colonisation of new habitats by a small number of pioneers. I have also demonstrated in a number of species that the animals at the leading edge of an expanding range tend to have far more developed flight equipment (wings and muscles). This sort of information is important in our understanding of how other species might respond to climate change, and how animals may evolve in a dynamic world.

Hoverflies

A second group of insects with which I work is the hoverflies.  These small flies are often seen buzzing around flowers in our gardens where they pollinate plants, and there are around 270 species in the UK. My current research, funded by an EU Marie Curie Fellowship, is investigating the consequences of climate change for this group of insects, with a focus on when they emerge. This is particularly important in the case of pollinators like the hoverflies because if the pollinator does not emerge at the same time as the plant that requires it then both the plant and the insect may suffer. We call this problem “decoupling”, and we know that it is already happening in other species such as birds that rely on particular caterpillars, and aquatic crustaceans that rely on particular algae.hoverfly

Along with pollination, hoverflies are also known to mimic various species of stinging wasps and bees. In the group of photos to the right there are five stinging insects and seven harmless hoverflies. As you can tell, this mimicry poses a problem for the animals that eat hoverflies, as those predators need to be able to distinguish the harmless hoverflies from these stinging insects. My EU-funded research is investigating how the relative changes in the distributions of the wasps, bees, and hoverflies might further confuse predators by altering the locations and times of year when the different species occur. Hence my current work focuses not only on the environmental and conservation aspects of climate change, but also uses climate change as a “natural experiment” to explore more fundamental evolutionary processes.

 

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Volunteer Days

University staff and students regularly take part in volunteer days with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust in the Leeds area each year. These activities bring together staff and students from a number of University managed sites across both Central and North West Leeds. So far this year, groups have undertaken hay meadow management at Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve, and willow coppicing at Esholt, near Rawdon.

The Kirkstall event saw the volunteers helping to clear cut hay in October, thereby preventing the nutrients from returning back in to the soil. This action limits the growth of invasive or dominant species, and allows the natural wild flowers to grow and prosper, thus encouraging further insects and bird life in the hay meadows, and broadening the reserve’s biodiversity. The team were supervised by two members of staff from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, and one was even a graduate from the University.

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The work at Esholt in November consisted of coppicing or cutting three year old willow stems, and sorting them by thickness, for subsequent use as posts, or willow whips. The willow will then be transported for use at either Meanwood Beck in Leeds, Pudsey Beck near Bradford, or Otterburn Beck near Skipton, all located in the River Aire catchment. The willow will be used in a process called spiling, whereby the posts are driven in vertically along the water’s edge, and then the whips are woven or laid as fascines between the posts. The final structure acts as an initial barrier to erosion, but the beauty of the willow is that it will grow again in spring. The new roots will help to anchor the riverbank, provide habitat for water larvae, and reduce silt/improve the water quality. The new shoots will also help provide extra cover for insects and bird life along the becks, thereby helping to expand the existing biodiversity.

Kirkstall Valley 2015 (5)

 

Further events are planned for spiling at Otterburn Beck; tree planting at Water Haigh Woodland Park; and scrub bashing at Ledston Luck Nature Reserve in the New Year.

Apple picking and Juicing with Leeds Urban Harvest

 

Meet at the Sustainable Garden at 12pm and we will set off to collect apples from our fruit trees on campus. We’ll get back to the garden around 1pm where we’ll scrat and juice the apples. Please wear suitable clothing.

If you come late and want to join us en route, call Rita – 07837 800579 or John – 07800 874069

The regular edible gardening session will start at 2pm as usual.

Honey bee talk

This Tuesday there was a really interesting and informative talk presented by Pre Carbo and Jen Dyer from SRI on honey bees and their roles in the hive.

The talk started off with two quizzes – one where the group had to guess which of the animals on the screen were wasps and which were bees, and the second one where we had to decide whether the bees are workers, drones or queens. Hint: the drones (males) have bigger eyes and bodies.

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The queen

So how can you tell which one is the queen bee in a hive? Well, it’s important to note that there’s only one queen per colony. They have a larger abdomen than other bees and their legs are red. Queen bees live for the longest in the colony – they can live up to 3-5 years! They are created, fed and groomed by workers and they can lay up to 2000 eggs per day.

A really interesting fact about queens is that the second they emerge from the cell they kill the other unhatched virgin queens in their cells and fight to the death with any other virgins queens hatched at the same time.

Apis mellifera, Queen Honey Bee, side view.

The worker

Workers are females from fertilised eggs. They can live up to 6 weeks during summer and 6 months in winter – this is due to the fact that they work much harder in the summertime. Their roles in the colony differ according to their age.

Workers actually die after stinging mammals because the sting gets caught in their skin and pulls out the bee’s insides when they fly away, but they can retrieve their sting with other insects.

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The drone

Drones are males – but unlike workers, they are from unfertilised eggs. They are raised in spring and summer by workers.  Drones only live for a maximum of 25 days but they are likely to die earlier as they die as soon as they mate. Mating the virgin queen is the drone’s only role so if they don’t die before winter comes they are thrown out of the hive when food becomes scarce.

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To end the talk, there was another interactive part where we looked at photos of bees from a ‘virtual hive’ and tried to identify various parts of them with our new-found knowledge.

The presentation was really fascinating and I’ve got to say I learned a lot of new information! These talks are a great way to find out more about a wide-range of topics and get involved so I would definitely recommend going along.

To find more events like this, visit our events page: http://sustainability.leeds.ac.uk/events/.

The next session hosted by SRI on the 21st of Octoberhttp://sustainability.leeds.ac.uk/event/sustainability-seminars-hosted-by-sri-the-road-to-paris-exploring-the-economic-case-for-climate-action-in-cities/.

Sustainable Garden Drop-in

This weekly food growing session is run by Leeds University Union, Bardon Grange project and are open to everyone.  Whether you’re a skilled gardener or a complete novice, new volunteers are always welcome.

These weekly gardening sessions offer the chance to get outside and gain experience of growing organic food, and to work alongside other volunteers in a communal setting. The produce that we grow is shared between the volunteers and we share recipe ideas and occasionally cook together on site. We also regularly offer workshops and events to help people gain new skills and learn more about sustainable food production.