Bedales, biodiversity and lockdown


By Cheryl Osborne, Teacher of Biology

Lockdown will be one of those defining moments. We will all remember where we were and what we were doing. For me, it will be the transition from standing in front of a class of children in my lab, to sitting staring at a computer screen on my sofa – an alien world and one that I am not enjoying! However, it hasn’t all been bad. The stillness and quiet has let nature be heard and during lockdown both Mary Shotter, our Biology technician, and I have immersed ourselves in it.

Mary has taken a biodiversity study of the Bedales site, and I have been taking photos of the wildflowers during my daily walks in the vicinity of Bedales. From these walks, I have put together some wildflower quizzes that have been available on the B-More Teams channel. I have really learnt a lot doing this and seen flowers that I hadn’t noticed before. My husband and I have been lucky, living close to school and the Ashford Hangers. The unnerving quiet of a deserted A3, which we walked over daily in those early days, allowed the birds and the rustling of the trees to be heard and heightened our awareness of nature all around.

April brought us the beautiful bluebells – how lucky we are to have them on our doorstep. We visited them almost daily to ensure we wouldn’t miss the height of their beauty and were sad to watch them fade, but knew we would see them again next year, and that their short-lived nature just makes them even more special! I have been waging war on the Spanish bluebells in my garden. They hybridise with our native species and change their genetic diversity. They are very easy to tell apart: our bluebells are delicate, while Spanish bluebells have much larger leaves, thicker stems and more upright flowers.

I enjoy macro photography, normally underwater, but I have really enjoyed the slower pace over Easter to get up close to the flowers and insects, both on my walks and in the garden. Before we were allowed a bit further afield, I had recorded over 79 wildflowers and four trees in flower, along with 15 insects. I have some way to go to catch up with Mary! My criteria was that they had to be in flower, as I was intrigued to see how this progressed over time, and they had to be within walking distance of Bedales. I have not really included grasses as they are just too difficult to identify – something for my retirement maybe!

Initially, in April, there was an explosion and it was difficult to stop for every flower, otherwise we would have overstayed the 30 minutes outside rule. I had to satisfy myself with just taking a few each day. Slowly, the speed of their emergence reduced and it was easier to keep up, but once we were back at school my walks became less frequent, so I’m quite pleased with what I have managed in a short time.

At Bedales, the areas that have been left to form meadow have become more prolific over the years. I just wish I had the chance to carry out a regular survey, to have established a record of the changes over time. One thing I have noticed is the increasing numbers of common spotted orchids, and in just an hour this week, I recorded 15 flowering plants that I hadn’t yet come across on my walks, plus the grass was alive with meadow brown butterflies. Identification using traditional methods of books has been supplemented by some amazing apps – Seek and BirdNet have been great additions to my phone, as well as Google Lens. I have been surprised at just how good they are, considering some flowers have such similar arrangements, as seen above (a single Wild Garlic flower on the left, and a Star of Bethlehem flower on the right).

By Mary Shotter, Biology technician

In an attempt to find even a little normality over the last few difficult months, on some days I took my daily walk around the Bedales estate.

As the human influences on our world diminished, nature seemed to come into its own. Firstly, there were the woodpeckers everywhere – drumming, calling, flying past in their unique undulating way. Had they always been here in such numbers? I suppose they had, but before, there was neither the time to look nor the silence to hear. That’s when I decided to write down what I’d seen.

As spring progressed, I began with noting the names of trees as their leaves unfurled. The daffodils in the Orchard came and went, as did the profusion of primroses behind Science and bluebells in the Sand Quarry. Butterflies emerged – Brimstones are always the first. Swifts screeched overhead. Eleven weeks later, I have recorded 352 species in all.

This may seem quite a lot, but consider that Ecologist Dr Jennifer Owen found 2673 species in her ‘ordinary’ Leicestershire garden – it did, however, take her 30 years to do so! There’s obviously a lot more to discover yet.