Spring, and April in particular, is the best time for amateur wildlife surveys – there are so many to choose from, like ARC’s reptile and amphibian surveys, National Plant Monitoring Scheme, bee walks, butterfly surveys and lots of others.
Most are easy to sign up for and you don’t need any special equipment, so it’s extremely tempting to register for all the ones you can find online before you realise how much time commitment they require. They have to be repeated several times, the weather has to be just right for some animals to come out, you need to take into account the time of day or night as well, and the only available plots for surveying may turn out to be far and difficult to reach by public transport.
If that doesn’t put you off and you decide to participate in several surveys, unless your friends and family are also interested in wildlife, you will see them much less in April, disappearing on cloudless nights to check on frogs in “your” pond, refusing to meet up on sunny weekend days because it’s “snake weather”, getting distracted counting bumblebees on the way to meet-ups and arriving inexcusably late. When your friends finally think you’ll be available on a drizzly, grotty Saturday, you’ll be out of reach, hiking to your wildflower plot which you didn’t have time to visit earlier because of the other surveys.
Above: grass snake in Richmond Park.
On the plus side, you will have a good reason to spend more time outdoors and you’re likely to spot more animals and plants, because you will be actively looking for them, eager to jot your sightings down in a notepad. And your sightings will be added to a national database.
Sometimes you will see amazing things you weren’t even looking for, like this wheatear, a rare sight for me, perching very close as I was scanning the ground for reptiles.
For the plant monitoring scheme you survey plots in several types of habitats within an assigned square. Road verges don’t count as a habitat for this survey, but they may have the highest variety of species. Their management differs from place to place with more or less mowing, the ones near busy roads are badly polluted and affected by road salting and yet you can often see more wildflowers on road verges than in parks.
Above: greater stitchwort.
Above: hedgerow crane’s bill.
Above: sticky mouse-ear.
Some of these flowers are tiny, but take a closer look, maybe even through a small magnifying glass, and they will put many a garden flower to shame.(Why not introduce some to your garden? Just think of these “weeds” are low-maintenance flowers.)
Road verges may hold surprises such as lords-and-ladies:
And barren strawberry:
I’m always very happy to see handsome dandelions too. I don’t understand why they are so hated. Not only are they beautiful, provide food to pollinating insects, can be eaten by humans (or fed to pet tortoises or guinea pigs, it seems), or made into wine, and they’re supposedly great as companion plants too. What’s not to love?