Who knew that we had glow-worms in Scotland? I certainly didn’t but after watching the fascinating talks in March organised by Charlotte Martin, Scottish Glow-worms researcher, I’m eager to see one and I hope others are too. They aren’t actually worms but beetles of the Firefly family. The only species found in Scotland is the Common Glow-worm, Lampyris noctiluca. For up to 10 days between late May and early July females emit a yellow/green bioluminescence from the base of the abdomen at night to attract males for mating.
With Glow-worm survey season almost upon us, we are looking for people to get involved and help us survey for them in Renfrewshire. There are no recent records for them in the vice-county although historically they have been reported in Kilmacolm (1901), Lochwinnoch (date unknown) and possibly at Formakin (uncertain word-of-mouth report). None of the records give a point location and, of course, much has changed in the last 120 years so it really would be ground-breaking to find them here. The lack of records is probably due to low awareness of glow-worms and that they are mostly seen in the hours of darkness. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t exist here.
What we do know from existing populations elsewhere is that the places they tend to be found are unlit road verges, grassland on marginal/hill sheep farms, forestry rides, coastal sites, disused railway lines and embankments. They like: • Unimproved or semi-improved grassland and scrub with typical vegetation including Cock’s Foot, Yorkshire Fog, Soft Rush, Crosswort, Ladies Bedstaw, Ox-eye Daisy, Black Knapweed, Gorse, Hawthorn • Damp areas • Edge habitats e.g. where gravel meets grassy sward, where forestry meets sheep grassland • Dark skies, no direct light pollution from streetlights • Good prey populations – the larvae (adults don’t feed) are ferocious predators of snails (Brown-lipped Snail is a favourite) and slugs.
We would like to co-ordinate some glow-worm surveys in Renfrewshire during late May and June. To help us we would like people to get in touch and let us know if:
you have ever seen any glow-worms in and around Renfrewshire
you have identified a potential survey site where glow-worms might be found
you would like to come out in a group and do some surveys (registering your interest doesn’t oblige you to commit to this)
you have done your own surveys tell us what you did or didn’t find
there is anything else we can help you with to carry out a survey
Surveys are carried out once darkness falls and you aren’t able to detect colours, this is usually after 11pm. If you are going to survey it is best to visit the site during daytime to assess the terrain. When you go out at night carry a torch (one with a red filter is best) and mobile phone with you. Once your eyes have adjusted to the dark walk slowly looking at the lower vegetation on either side and slightly ahead (keep the torch turned off except where essential for safety). Remember to record the date, start and end time, grid references and weather conditions. If you are lucky enough to to see one then try and get a good photo (but don’t disturb any glow-worms through overuse the camera flash or by moving them) and record your sighting on iRecord. Even if you don’t see a glow-worm it is useful to record nil results on iRecord. Charlotte Martin’s Scottish Glow-worms website has really useful information and resources for conducting a glow-worm survey including a survey form, guidelines and risk assessment template. You can also find out more about glow-worms on the UK glow worm survey website.
We’ve been wading through the programme and found lots of interesting hands-on activities and talks on offer in this year’s Glasgow Science Festival, ‘Glasgow’s Making Waves‘. It runs from 2nd to 12th June and most of the events are free and suitable for all ages.
Below is a small selection of what’s on offer relating to nature and the environment. But if you want to make a splash, dive into the programme to see the full range of events and details for booking where required.
Brownfield Biodiversity Conference on Saturday 4th June 9:30-4:30, University of Glasgow or online via Zoom Hear about wildlife on colliery spoil, nature reserves created from old factories, Glasgow’s unique water voles, and discuss the exciting five-year GALLANT project.
Brownfield Biodiversity excursions on Sunday 5th June Hamiltonhill Claypits LNR, with wooded walks and paths beside the Forth and Clyde Canal, 10:30-12:30 Malls Mire, mixed woodland and wetland, 2:30-4:30
Events at some venues change daily – check the programme to see what’s on when.
CommuniT in the Park, Elder Park, Govan Sunday 5th June, 12:30-4pm Camouflage – animal colours and patterns. River Clyde and Nature – ID water bugs and make a water filtration system Make your own plastic-free plant pot – flower planting and paper pots.
Kibble Palace, Glasgow Botanic Gardens Tues 7th to Sun 12th June 2022, 12:00-4pm Amazing amoebae – learn just how many live amongst us, what they eat, how they contribute to the environment and how they can also cause infection to humans and animals. Make your own plastic-free plant pot – flower planting and paper pots. We’re going on a tick hunt – find out more about ticks and the diseases they carry by exploring and finding the answers to a scavenger hunt. Sci-seedlets – plant growing experiments or virtual serious-game based plant science experiments. Glasweeasian plant explorers – how do plants from south east Asia travel across the waves and end up in Glasgow? Make your own blueprint collage and plant transport module. Then hunt the gardens for plants from south east Asia. Ticks on the march – find out why you need to be tick aware, colour in your own tick to take home.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum Saturday 11th June, 1:30-4:30 and Sunday 12th June, 12-3pm Evolution of Mammals – explore the genetics of mammals and to learn about the evolutionary tree. Wildlife on the River Kelvin – explore the biodiversity in Glasgow’s urban rivers in creative ways. Find Your Bird! – find out what bird species you are and then make a self-portrait of your feathered alter-ego. Art and climate change – experience a pedal-powered mini-cinema as two new documentary shorts are introduced. ‘Hunting for Feathers’ takes viewers on a journey of discovery, revealing surprising connections between art and biodiversity. ‘Landscapes of Change’ asks us to consider the way in which nineteenth-century landscape painters responded to the industrial revolution.
Riverside Museum Sounds in Nature – how and why animals make sounds. The Wonders of Biodiversity – the opportunity to see and handle different marine and terrestrial organisms. Learn fascinating facts about every-day organisms and how we can protect and conserve them. Investigating populations via penguins and their poo! Animals affect – learn how sheep show emotions in their facial expressions and how AI can help in improving animal welfare by automatically analysing animals’ behaviour and emotions from video.
Mugdock Country Park Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th June, 10-2pm What Makes Viruses Tick? – find out more about ticks and the diseases they carry by exploring and finding the answers to a scavenger hunt.
As you know Elm trees have been hammered by Dutch Elm Disease. Eadha are focused on rare and threatened tree conservation and are seeking your help in identifying local mature Wych Elm trees which may have immunity against the disease.
They have expressed interest in being a partner in a Wych Elm Project being developed by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh(RBGE) for which a scoping study has recently been produced. This is essentially a planning phase for the practical delivery work which will involve both science organisations and field-based partners such as Eadh.
RBGE are seeking funding to deliver this project which will include collection and propagation to create a genebank of immune elm. In the meantime they are wanting partner organisations to start engaging with local volunteers to identify potential candidate trees. So lets get the ball rolling! The spring is a good time to look for trees so keep your eyes peeled. They are particularly beautiful at this time with their distinctive lime and pink fruits (known as samaras). Eadha’s search area is loosely West Central Scotland and this will feed into a Scotland wide database. RBGE’s criteria is:
Mature wych elms
Around 70+ yrs old (i.e. can’t wrap your arms around it)
Located in rural but not remote area or on site with no history of Dutch elm disease management
Your records should include a photo, description (evidence of diseased trees nearby, number of trees, size, location etc) and 8 figure grid reference.
Guess what we were doing last Saturday night in the dark? No rude responses please, we were in Muirshiel Country Park with a high powered torch looking for newts!
CARG, which, for the uninitiated, stands for the Clyde Amphibian and Reptile Group, is a volunteer organisation of interested and much more knowledgeable people than us, looking to conserve and protect frogs, toads and newts as well as reptiles in the Glasgow and Clyde area. Nicola passed on some information about CARG to PNHS members in early February and so Gordon, having got into butterflies and moths during lockdown, thought we should have a new challenge.
CARG organised a Zoom training session which focused on identification of species and health and safety, both of the animals and the surveyors. The group has funding for travel expenses and equipment. We were required to contribute £1 each to make us members covered by the group’s insurance. They showed a map of the ponds to be surveyed which seemed to us to have a big blank space in Renfrewshire – just a couple in and around Paisley. We queried this and were told that they were happy for us to “go rogue” and report whatever we found. We were later also allocated three ponds in Gleniffer Braes Country Park, two of which had been dug some time previously by Frog Life. There are detailed survey forms to be completed for each pond and each visit, giving information about location, water quality, number of animals and spawn found.
We started off close to home in Elderslie by visiting places we had previously seen spawn, in the Windy Hill plantations off Auchenlodment Road. This is a very popular dog walking area so any little patches of water close to the paths are essentially frog/toad free. Slightly further off the beaten track, though, we found frogs aplenty and spawn. On a subsequent visit after a very dry spell the spawn looks in danger of drying out as the water level has dropped.
We remember that wonderful PNHS visit a few years ago to Glen Moss Reserve, Kilmacolm, led by Norman and Pearl, where we had to tread so carefully to avoid crushing froglets or toadlets on the path, so we returned to find no frog spawn but dozens of toads making their way to the water, some in amplexus, many quite good distances from the loch. We also found our first newt, a palmate male, in one of the little “dragonfly”ponds. That was a thrill. There is a real buzz about applying new learning in the field.
At our allocated ponds in Gleniffer Braes, two out of three were very close to much used paths and were obviously doggy playponds, so void of spawn. One though, just south of Glenburn proved to have a good quantity of frog spawn. Other visits included the RSPB reserve and Linwood Moss.
Muirshiel’s ponds have been the most successful as far as we are concerned, with both good mats of frog spawn and strings of toad spawn. Last night’s little adventure with the big torch (borrowed from CARG) let Gordon catch, in his home-made net, more than a dozen newts, all, we think, Palmate with some very fat females.
We would recommend taking part in the survey next year if you are at all interested. The committee are very friendly, knowledgeable and patient with complete beginners such as us. Thank you to Ehm and Eric for the night-time training session at Calderglen and the loan of the big torch!
Older members of the PNHS might recall the Thursday evening local study excursions of the ‘80s. For a short period we were joined by an enthusiastic youngster, Jim Blackwood from Lochwinnoch, who showed great botanical interest and promise. Sadly, after a short stay he left for the ‘lights of London’. That was that, until about three years ago when I saw his name on a Lochwinnoch Facebook page. It was the same Jim, and we were pleased to meet up and eventually resume our local wanderings. Jim, by this time was a very competent botanist and me – well, a good deal older. Jim remembered many of the Renfrewshire outings we had made as a group and even reminded me of many lost memories.
We set out to rediscover our local area, plant rarities as well as local sites, that neither of us had seen for those many years. These notes report on some of the botanical species we have rediscovered during lockdown. We were guided by the Flora of Renfrewshire (FoR), a very considerable account of the county’s flora written by Keith Watson and published in 2013. We were joined on occasion by Michael Jarvis, another Lochwinnoch botanist who has surveyed the Calder Glen many times as well as other local areas.
The Greater Butterfly Orchid (GBO) is frequent around the Lochwinnoch area and probably other areas too. In our wanderings, we looked at butterfly orchids (as well as the other species) whenever we could, hoping to find the elusive Lesser Butterfly Orchid (LBO).
We went a few times to Bowfield Mire, a Renfrewshire Council recognised Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC), on the hills above Howwood where we knew there to be plenty of the GBO. We have examined 100 or more orchids there and I did eventually find one LBO but only one! It is hard to see how only one plant can survive from what must have been at the very least a small colony.
Our survivor, say 20 or 30 years old, must have had parents at that time; why did they have only one offspring before they disappeared. Some literature studies are required. The FoR says the LBO is very rare and gives only five current and former locations. The BSBI describes it as vulnerable and declining. Our searches will continue as will our annual examination of the lone specimen at Bowfield.
Trailing St John’s Wort
Whilst wandering in the fields around Lochwinnoch we came across this small species in a field on the edge of the village. On the edge of a low drain crossing the field Jim spotted the sprawling bushy little plant with its small five petalled yellow St John type flowers. Then we found two or three other plants nearby, Oh Joy. In FoR it is ‘rare in the county’ with only 9 locations; so we are glad to increase this to 10. We informed the land-owner and she was pleased to learn of this little treat.
Moschatel (named the ‘toon-hall clock’ after the arrangement of its five flowers)
Some 40 years ago I spotted this delicate little plant somewhere in Parkhill Wood but have seldom seen it anywhere in Renfrewshire since. In the last couple of years I’ve been trying to re-find it in Parkhill. I had a mental picture of its habitat and approximate location, but no success. Location plotting back then wasn’t the accurate ‘doddle’ it is now with gps phones.
In the spring of 2020 Jim was walking by the Cloak Burn, a favourite childhood haunt. He happened to take a few photos on his phone of some early spring flowers. Later that day when he was looking through his snaps, he couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw a Moschatel flower ‘photobombing’ some Lesser Celandines. The next day he revisited, re-found the location and there was the elusive Moschatel! He hadn’t seen it in Lochwinnoch for over 30 years. It’s difficult to spot but he soon found it in some quantity in that general burnside location.
Michael, Jim and I later mapped it in healthy populations along the length of both the Cloak and Kaim Burns and we now have found it in a few places in Parkhill Wood (though not in my original location). Michael has also found it in the RSPB reserve. We’ve even rescued some clumps which were in danger of being eroded from stream banks, cultivated the tough little root clusters and planted them out in some suitable local locations. So it’s doing well.
Alternate-leaved Golden Saxifrage
Everyone is familiar with the springtime yellow carpets of the Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage alongside damp stream banks and in damp woodland locations. Its close relative, the Alternative-leaved saxifrage is much rarer. Jim and I have memories (35 years ago) of seeing it in the Calder Glen just above the waterfall. We couldn’t find it there, but Jim has found it further upstream. And we have tracked it upstream along the Kaim burn for quite some distance as well as in another location at Newton of Belltrees. It seems to be doing fairly well in the local area. It is a treat to see the two species side-by-side and get a good appreciation of the differences, not so easily seen from book illustrations.
This species, quite similar in flower to other species in the genus was previously found by Jim in the Calder Glen. Our searches this year re-found it but, as far as we can see, only a few plants.
This species was listed in the original Renfrewshire Local Biodiversity Action Plan as a species in need of monitoring. I’m pleased to say that over the last couple of years it has been found in several places around Lochwinnoch and in a good number of roadside verges around the Whittliemuir area.
Early Purple Orchid
Another locally scarce species, this again seems to be in decline. We looked along the Muirshiel Rd where it was once recorded but it seems that ditch clearance may have done for it there. We haven’t had chance to search other known sites yet, except for one farmland site in the Burnthill area where it grew in good numbers until recent years when a change in grazing has seen it suppressed if not eliminated. We will be attempting to ‘resuscitate’ this colony during the coming season (2022). We also hope to re-find it in some of the other locations.
Wilson’s Filmy Fern
This fern physically looks just like a small leafy moss of damp habitats and that’s where you usually find it, amongst mosses in shady damp riverside banks.
There are few records for the county mostly up the Calder Valley towards the Renfrewshire Heights. With the assistance of Michael Jarvis of Lochwinnoch, we eventually tracked down a couple of locations on the south-west side of the Calder Valley and also on the upper reaches of the Garpel burn. It is a hard-to-spot plant, and sometimes with a return visit to the same location we couldn’t find it. However, its chosen locations, these rocky little gorges are an absolute treat to visit and search.
This ‘majestic’ member of the buttercup family is scarce and has been in decline for decades. Again, it is a plant I haven’t seen for many years and when I have, it has been just a few plants hanging on somewhere. Jim and I have been keeping an eye out for it and intended to follow up some of the Lochwinnoch records in FoR, most of which were old records.
However, Jim, out near Cuffhill, saw a ‘not quite sure’ stand of tall yellow flowers across a field. A close-up look revealed a great stand of Globeflower, tens of square metres! This was the first sighting in that area since 1956 and was a great treat for Jim, and later for me. In the Autumn we collected seeds and these have been dispersed in some suitable sites close to Lochwinnoch which we hope will take. Next year we could track down some old Globeflower sites and if they have lost their Globeflowers maybe we could restore them.
This yet another rarity for Renfrewshire, the few current locations are in the glens and valleys running off the Muirshiel Heights. Being a plant we haven’t seen for a good many years, it was a pleasure to be guided by Michael to a location on the River Calder towards Muirshiel where it is doing well on grassy banks sloping down towards the river.
Another species with very few localities in Renfrewshire. It is still hanging on at the pathside at the RSPB Lochwinnoch.
This unusually shaped fern is, and probably always was, rare in Renfrewshire. My first find was in 1978 during an PNHS group expedition to survey Midtown Wood, Howwood, led by Alan Silverside. The picture here is scanned from an old photo! We found it in a small area along the edge of the wood just inside the boundary fence. It seemed that cattle grazing over the fence kept the vegetation down but not over-grazed allowing this frail little species to survive.
Several return visits over the years have proved fruitless. A proper search this summer discovered that a house had been built in the adjacent field and the original bank had been reworked. So, no more Adders Tongue here.
There are plenty more treasures to be found and we are now waiting impatiently for the flowering season to get underway so we can continue our searches.
At their Scottish Spring Gathering in March Butterfly Conservation put out a call for volunteers and suggested a number of projects people could get involved in. If you missed it you can watch the gathering on You Tube and find out about some of the butterfly and moth work being done in Scotland.
How you can get involved
These are some of the volunteer projects discussed which would be ideal for PNHS members to help with:
Take on a transect
Transect data enables comparison of sites from year to year and to track changes in numbers and distribution of species over time. The season started on 1 April and every week for the next 26 weeks volunteers will walk along their set route counting the numbers of the different species of butterflies there and recording them on the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) website.
I’ve been walking the Hurlethill transect for 3 years now and all the butterflies I have recorded there are commonly found elsewhere in Renfrewshire*, including Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Green-veined White, Orange-tip and Small Tortoiseshell, and others. I’ve recorded the occasional Small Copper and Small Heath but there is nothing unusual or rare to see…or so I thought… until last year when I spotted a couple of rarities for Renfrewshire. One was a single Dark Green Fritillary off-transect and the other was on an evening walk when I spotted over 30 Purple Hairstreak butterflies flying high in the mature oak canopy at Rocks Plantation. As well as spotting butterflies, the slow pace of walking a transect makes you more aware of the other wildlife around you and I can highly recommend it.
If you would like to take on a transect, take a look at the sites map on the UKBMS website and click on the coloured circles to zoom in to see what transects are available in your area. By clicking on a yellow transect circle, then the details link, you will be able to see information including the route, when it was surveyed and the number of records for each species seen. Where the last year surveyed was 2020 or earlier then there is no-one currently monitoring that transect and you might consider taking it on. For those surveyed in 2021 you could offer to help out or, if there is no transect in your area and you have an idea for a good site, you could set one up. Contact Anthony McCluskey on firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in taking one on. He will be happy to hear from you and give you all the support you need.
Large Heath Survey and Bog Squad work parties
Butterfly Conservation are organising lowland raised bog surveys for the Large Heath butterfly this summer in areas across Scotland, including Renfrewshire. The Large Heath is categorized as Vulnerable in the UK and is a species of conservation concern in southwest Scotland. Drainage and loss of suitable habitats has led to declining numbers and sightings are rare although it is under-recorded as access is difficult in the boggy habitats it prefers. It would be fantastic to get a number of volunteers across Renfrewshire to join in and help so that we can get a better picture of how the Large Heath is doing. Full training and guidance will be given for volunteers interested in taking part. Contact Polly Phillpot for more information on email@example.com. Polly also organises Bog Squad volunteer work parties to help improve habitat conditions of the Large Heath butterfly. Check out the Glasgow and SW branch events for details of planned local work parties.
While you are out and about take a note of the butterflies you see and the location and record them on the iRecord website. Or better still use the free iRecord smartphone app to record them as you go. It will automatically log your grid reference and you can take photos and attach them to your record to confirm your sighting. The species of most interest in Renfrewshire are the Large Heath, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Dark Green Fritillary, Green Hairstreak, Purple Hairstreak, Comma, Small Copper and Common Blue. Definite sightings of these should be recorded.
Share your stories and photographs
Please keep in touch via our contact page and share photographs and stories of any activities you have been involved in or of any interesting butterflies you have seen around Renfrewshire. We would love to hear about them and share them on the website to inspire others.
*Note: Renfrewshire refers to the vice-county for biological recording and not the council area.
Last December, a Mistle Thrush took up residence in our back garden. Or rather, it took over our garden! It was clearly distinguishable from its cousin the Song Thrush by its larger size and more horizontal spots, but mainly by its bold aggressive behaviour. It sat alert at the top of our rowan tree, like monarch of its realm.
Our rowan is a lovely mature tree, which had an abundance of berry clusters last autumn. The thrush immediately began to take possession of the tree, loudly threatening other species who came to eat the berries, especially middle-sized birds like blackbirds. It soon started to send other birds packing as soon as they entered the garden, by swift aggressive swooping down with a loud rattling call. Whenever we ourselves went out the back door, it took off with furious clucking, soon to return. It was no respecter of human-made boundaries, and chased all the birds in our neighbour’s garden as well. We were amused to note that it spent most of its time chasing other birds rather than eating the berries.
By late-January however, it had gone. We had assumed that it had been defending territory, possibly with a view to nesting, and we were therefore concerned that it may have died. Time to read up about Mistle Thrush behaviour!
The Mistle Thrush is so called because of its love of berries, particularly Mistletoe. In winter, single Mistle Thrushes will often defend berry-laden trees from other thrush species, in order to maintain a food supply through the colder months, while itself eating elsewhere nearby. So, the mystery is explained: its defence of the garden was nothing to do with establishing nesting territory, and not eating the abundant berries was because it was preserving them for later in the winter. We were relieved to realise that its departure probably just meant that the berries were finished, and that it had moved on.
Anne and Bill Gray
Editor’s comment: Thanks to Anne and Bill for sharing the first wildlife sighting on our new website. We hope that more will follow. If members would like to share stories and/or photographs of the wildlife you have seen around Renfrewshire then please do get in touch. We would love to hear from you.
The Paisley Natural History Society committee have decided to go ahead and plan a small number of field excursions this coming Summer and to organise speakers for our Winter Programme 2022/23 (all being well of course with Government guidelines on COVID regulations). As soon as leaders for the field trips and speakers have been finalised, we will post them on our website and social media platforms and let our members know via our newsletters – time to dust off those binoculars and get your rucksacks ready for action!
Be seeing you all soon and looking forward to welcoming new members.