James Chubb: Keeping the lights on

LAST week saw a very satisfying conclusion to Easter for me: a wildlife walk with several local families here at the Donkey Sanctuary which unearthed some exciting finds, writes James Chubb, events and activities manager at The Donkey Sanctuary.

Since my start here back in November, many species have turned up on the patch to excite me when thinking about the future here. I have spent many hours on hands and knees peering in the leaf litter below hazel bushes to confirm the presence of dormice here on the farms.

Indeed, an old hazel coppice in the woodland at Paccombe Farm holds a treasure trove of dormouse-nibbled nuts.

Bats have been easy to confirm here too – a massive colony of long-eared bats discovered at Woods Farm by a local bat ecologist, and a recent find of possible lesser horseshoe bat droppings in our Hermitage Woodland here at Slade House Farm: time to get the detector out.

Birds also have been relatively obvious in their abundance; yellowhammers feeding in the hedges here at Slade, and woodpeckers galore in every patch of woodland cover.

Indeed, one of the most exciting avian prospects is found less than a stone’s throw from my office in the heart of the sanctuary, with a large colony of house sparrows chirruping and cheeping in the hedges; a bird which is doing so badly on a National level is thriving here at Sidmouth.

I came upon the real gem however, fittingly, on a wildlife ramble. About an hour-and-a-half after leaving the car park, while looking under reptile sheets for slow worms, I pulled out a drab little brown insect which made my heart soar. Looking like a flat millipede which had suffered considerable amputation, this little chap was the larva of a glow worm and it instantly meant enchanting summer evenings, searching for their eerie green glow.

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Glow worms depend upon particular grassland habitat and, as they have very limited powers of dispersal each year, that habitat needs to be stable for them to survive long term.

Adult glow worms don’t feed, so they don’t live long and the female’s gentle glow is designed to attract the flying male to her so they can breed and lay eggs.

To find such a fragile and enigmatic species here in the Weston Valley confirms what a special place this is; roll-on the summer so we can all enjoy the light show!