Sunday, 3 May 2020

Blue-green algal bloom on the River Stort. May 2. 2020.

At the end of April, there was a report of a blue-green algal bloom on the River leading to the death of fish and other wildlife. The bloom had been recorded as being between Lower Sheering and Roydon Park. The river was seen to be a dark khaki colour.

A sample was taken using a very fine plankton net and the sample then centrifuged to concentrate and looked at under a microscope at x100, x400 and x1000 magnifications.
 Here are the trillions of microscopic cells at x100 making the water khaki coloured.
 There was also quite a variety of other different types of algae such as this green one which is very much related to the green mould you get on the North face of a tree.
 There were some diatoms, but not anywhere near as numerous as would be expected.
 This is almost certainly a colonial form called Synura with each cell having beating filaments.
 This is a desmid called Closteruim.
 The actual identification of the golden/yellow/brown cells has been found to be quite difficult. In some cases the cells are joined in chains.
 In the majority of cases the chains seem to have broken up into individual cells which are shown in different aspects. The oval structures inside the cells are chloroplasts which the alga will use for photosynthesis.
Further Investigation will be needed to prove that these are the cause of the algal bloom but what could be causing the bloom anyway?

The reports put it down to a 'natural phenomenon' but I would suggest it is a natural phenomenon aided by Man.

Natural causes:

One of the driest April is on record = low river flow rate.

Unusually high temperatures for the latter part of April.

Man made causes:

7 sewage treatment works discharging effluent into the River rich in phosphates.

Low flow rate from low rainfall made worse by abstraction from the chalk aquifer in the Bishops Stortford area.

 Numerous narrowboat passages continually stirring up organic silt rich in phosphates from the treatment works.

This organic silt is smothering of water weeds which should be growing in the river and thus reducing their ability to oxygenate the water.

Road and hard surface run-off in times of heavy rain bringing pollutants from road traffic.

Is this something which we must expect on a regular basis because it is causing an ecological disaster on the river?

One of the solutions would be to have phosphate stripping at the treatment works which would remove the fertilising effect of the phosphates, thus reducing the organic silt and nutrients which is what is promoting algal growth along with the higher temperatures.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Frog Blog.

Frogs spawned on Sawbridgeworth Marsh on the 9th March.

Pictures by DS. Sound recording RR.

The eggs in the spawn are surrounded by mucus which helps to protect the eggs from predators and changes in temperature.

The egg is dividing many times to form an early embryo called a blastula. This becomes a hollow ball of cells which then gets pushed inwards to form a cup shape which is called a gastrula. At this stage the fate of the cells becomes determined into which ones will become muscle, nerve and organ tissues.
Areas can now be determined which will become the head, body and tail. Small gill buds are appearing on the side of the head.
The gill buds have formed into feathery gills. The whole body is still contained within the egg membrane.

The developing tadpoles have now got some degree of muscular movement and start to break free from the egg membranes. They tend to collect together at the top of the spawn mass.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Where is Badgers Patch?

In his inaugural speech to the newly formed Bishops Stortford Natural History Society in 1935, PBM Allan, author and publisher described to the newly assembled members the wide scope of natural history available within a radius of the Corn Exchange which is the central point in Bishops Stortford, at the intersection of Wind Hill, Bridge Street, North Street and South Street. There is some uncertainty as to the actual size of the area and so I have chosen a 5 mile radius, which is the basis of Badgers Patch and is the study area for the Natural History Society today.

Although we have a lot of housing development taking place locally there is still a huge amount of varied countryside available for us to study and enjoy. To the North the area extends onto the Chalk with its characteristic fauna and flora. To the West we have typical Herts countryside with isolated woodlands in a rolling landscape. There is also here the River Ash which is a chalk river. To the South. We have the River Stort Valley with its backwater loops and mill streams set in a relatively un-drained alluvial floodplain. There are also a chain of nature reserves and SSS eyes. To the East we are onto the undulating Chalky Boulder Clay lands of Essex with Hazel and hornbeam woodland.
How fortunate we are to have all this relatively local to us. In the current crisis where travel is going to be limited and restricted we can still access these areas and in the coming weeks I hope to be able to illustrate some of these aspects but please do send me your own records and photographs to be added to the website and this blog.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Hatfield Forest Wood Fest 2018.

On 8th and 9th September Forest Nature had a stand at the Wood Fest. The aim was to celebrate biodiversity in the Lake area. We recorded 90+ plants.  Put on a display of microscopic and macroscopic pond life, soils, fir cones, feathers, Fungi, sound recordings of birds, crickets and grasshoppers. Hugh Coe listed 20+ different birds. Grass snakes, common lizard. Herts Puddingstone. 5 different mammals.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Visit to Fleam Dyke. 20th May 2018.

Five members turned up for this, our second visit to this area of Cambridgeshire in two years. Jim Fish was our leader on this occasion. The weather was warm and sunny, with a light SE breeze; perfect for this kind of walking.

Beginning at the entrance to Fulbourne Nature reserve, we took to the trail through a small woodland, leading out onto open meadows, full of Red Clover and Buttercups, as well as a sprinkling of other chalkland flowers and plants.  The flowery meadows soon gave way a somewhat wetter meadow, where sporadic orchids could be seen – eventually being identified as Southern Marsh Orchid, before leading to a wetter, slightly harsher environment, where we had to look more closely for orchids amongst the varied plant life; though once again mainly comprising Southern Marsh Orchid and one or two spikes of Spotted Orchid. It was felt by everyone that generally, orchids were flowering later than last year probably due to the long, harsh winter; even so we were here a week earlier than last year, so that could also be a contributary factor. But the general lack of butterflies such a Common Blue, was also an indication of last year’s cold spring, as was the birdlife, which was much less in evidence than previously, with no Cuckoo; no Swifts and no Swallows (although the latter two species did make a brief showing later in the day). Before we reached the dyke proper, Tim found two Common Buzzards soaring over fields on thermals high into a pristine blue sky.

And then on to Fleam Dyke, with just a lone Azure Damselfly and a singleton Cockchafer Beetle (only the second I’d ever seen) which posed nicely on Aspen for a second or two before falling to the ground where it was lost to view. Most of the group missed this.
Once on the dyke, it was quite apparent that there had been substantial clearance of undergrowth over the winter months, and really it had needed it badly, to promote the growth of more wild flowers and thereby foodplants for Green Hairstreak Butterfly in particular, and our target species for the day. 
Already Brimstone Butterflies were well in evidence, and through the rest of the morning into the afternoon several species were observed, though none in profusion, and these were: - Holly Blue Butterfly (2); Common Blue Butterfly (2); Brimstone (over 40 individuals); Large White; Small White; Green-veined White (1); Green Hairstreak (probably at least 10 individuals allowing for possible duplication); Small Heath (2) and Orange Tip.  A Burnet Companion Moth, and a Green Carpet Moth (for me arguably even more attractive than the stunning Green Hairstreaks) were the only moth species identified.
Bird species were not very well represented, which was quite surprising, but could be said to reflect the lack of spring migrants generally thus far; but nevertheless, included several Common Whitethroats; a Willow Warbler; Chiffchaff; Great Spotted Woodpecker; Goldfinches; Linnet; Blackbird; Bullfinch and Yellowhammer (heard only); Jackdaw; Carrion Crow; Rook; 2 Swallows and 2 Swift. But no Corn Bunting this year.
Flower species included Twayblade; Southern Marsh Orchid; Spotted Orchid; Musk (or Nodding) Thistle; Chalk Milwort; Salad Burnet; Common Rock Rose; Cowslip; as Ox Eye Daisy and a few isolated stands of attractive Columbine.

After a welcome lunch stop at the ancient Mutlow Hill site - a Bronze-Age round barrow - we observed more Green Hairstreaks on the way back - some literally flying round our feet - but being almost constantly on the wing, were extremely difficult to photograph well. I was the only one to get a fleeting glimpse of what was likely to have been a female Black-tailed Skimmer following us along the trail, but it soon disappeared so I couldn’t be certain I’d identified it correctly.
It was an interesting day out, the highlight arguably being the unexpectedly good numbers of Green Hairstreaks, some seen reasonably well; and with excellent weather with no rainfall or strong winds, we were all glad we came.
David Sampson