Feature: Wonders of natural world brought within easy reach

Nature Fest at Weston Park: Connell Mulqueen (7) looking at a giraffe skull with Museums Sheffield volunteer Beth Shreeves
Nature Fest at Weston Park: Connell Mulqueen (7) looking at a giraffe skull with Museums Sheffield volunteer Beth Shreeves

Sheffield Nature Fest allowed the public to see how inner-city charities and voluntary groups are working to conserve the nature on our doorstep

“Does anyone want a woodlouse?” asked Paul Richards.

Nature Fest at Weston Park: Paul Richards from Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust checking inside inside his catching net

Nature Fest at Weston Park: Paul Richards from Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust checking inside inside his catching net

“Me! Me! Me!” cried a small horde of young naturalists in Weston Park.

Sheffield Nature Fest on Saturday was the opportunity for the Sheffield public to examine the wildlife of one of our inner city parks while learning about the many charities and voluntary groups working to conserve the nature on our doorstep.

It was also a chance for youngsters to scour the flowerbeds with butterfly nets and dig in the leaf litter for slugs and woodlice.

“I’ve got a bee!” cried an excited six year old. “Oh no,” he continued as the alarmed insect escaped towards the Arts Tower.

Nature Fest at Weston Park: Syvlie Lloyd (11) looking at a selection of local wild flowers (dark mullein at the front) with Peter Clegg of the Sorby Natural History Society

Nature Fest at Weston Park: Syvlie Lloyd (11) looking at a selection of local wild flowers (dark mullein at the front) with Peter Clegg of the Sorby Natural History Society

“People are amazingly interested in natural history,” said Museums Sheffield curator of natural sciences Alistair McLean. “All the TV programmes help, but social media is also changing things, and helping to get more young people involved.”

Paul Richards, from Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, explained to the 30 or so children and families gathered for his ‘minibeast hunt’ about the Trust’s new Nature Counts initiative funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and launched last weekend.

“We’re making the point that nature counts, nature is important, but also that it’s important to literally count and make a note and record what people see and pass that on to us, so that conservation and research has the data that it needs. This is real citizen science,” he said.

The Trust will be offering recording walks and workshops so that people can learn how to identify local animals and plants over the next two years, and for those with sharp eyes and small fingers, how to upload their information onto the ‘irecord’ smartphone software which is then shared with official national and local biological recorders. The work carried out by young and old amateur naturalists will inform the upcoming State of Nature in Sheffield report to be published next year.

Nature Fest at Weston Park: Joe Margetts of Moors for the Future showing (ltor) Archie (7) and Maisie (6) Scott and Connell Mulqueen (7) how grass and small dams help to slow water run off on the moors

Nature Fest at Weston Park: Joe Margetts of Moors for the Future showing (ltor) Archie (7) and Maisie (6) Scott and Connell Mulqueen (7) how grass and small dams help to slow water run off on the moors

Paul noted that without records, scientists have no idea whether species are booming or declining. Thanks to the work of amateur (but expert) scientists of the past from the highly-regarded Sorby Natural History Society, there are almost 100 years of carefully collected nature notes available to inform conservation and research now and in the future. “Sheffield is actually one of the best recorded cities in the world,” said Paul.

Weston Park Museum has a new display looking at three local species that will be a key part of the citizen science work: the River Don’s otters, the hybridisation of British bluebells in our local woodland, and the falling number of hedgehogs in our gardens and countryside. All illustrate the varied positive and negative stories about our local wildlife.

“The otters on the Don in central urban Sheffield are an amazing success story,” said Paul, who recalled joking with a colleague 15 years ago about some unidentified otter-like droppings near Hillsborough. “I said: ‘Looks like we’ve got otters on the river.’ A few months later I was told we really had.”

The Trust now has video footage of otters swimming in the Don, and reckon there could now be three inner-city otters in Sheffield.

Nature Fest at Weston Park: Ritika Sarkar (7) looking at a stuffed little owl

Nature Fest at Weston Park: Ritika Sarkar (7) looking at a stuffed little owl

Alistair McLean said the increase of dragonfly species in Sheffield is also good to see, but whereas the otter has returned because our rivers are clean again after many years of pollution, new dragonflies are arriving from the east and south due to changes in the climate, while the disappearing hedgehog is probably linked to industrial farming and fewer hedgehog-friendly gardens in our cities.

Alistair praised the work of Sheffield’s dozens of voluntary groups and charities helping to keep an eye out for our birds and beasts and our many parks and green spaces.

“Our wildlife is very fragile, it doesn’t take much to destroy an ecosystem, and knowing what we have through recording is critical,” he said. “So we’d like everybody to get involved by learning more about our wildlife and recording what you see.”

He said the city has strong economic reasons to conserve our wildlife and green spaces, for example to reduce pollution and flooding, and promote tourism.

“Caring for the outdoors is part of being The Outdoor City.”

Visit Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust for more information.

Nature Fest at Weston Park: Max Fox (8) closing in on a hoverfly

Nature Fest at Weston Park: Max Fox (8) closing in on a hoverfly