Lawnmowers are the bane of life for insect population

One of Sheffield’s own outspoken ecologists has some local wildlife stories for late spring. Just like the famous TV Springwatch presenters, city council biodiversity officer Angus Hunter doesn’t mince his words.

Monday, 3rd June 2019, 1:01 pm
Updated Thursday, 20th June 2019, 12:33 pm
Sheffield council biodiversity officer Angus Hunter at Burbage

“Lawnmowers are the bane of wildlife” he says. “Particularly when the insect population is going through the floor.”City parks, and roadside verges are now being managed for wildlife, with grass and wildflowers left to grow and set seed at the edge of park sports fields and woodlands.Meadows large and small are much better for outdoor city insects and everything that eats them than a neatly mown ‘green desert,’ Angus insists.There are real wildlife good news stories for Sheffield Springwatch in 2019.

The huge heronry in Ecclesall Woods had nine nests and many Sheffield spring woodlands saw once-rare buzzards, along with roe and red deer coming into the city. Peregrine falcons are still around, although the online nest site at St George’s produced no fledglings following a heartbreaking domestic violence drama.City otters are doing fine, and salmon are now appearing near the city centre - with a new fish pass due in Attercliffe this year, the salmon could soon find its way right across the city for the first time in 200 years. The new sand martin nest box apartments near the Gripple factory on the lower Don has twenty sand martin families, and some birds are expected to move upriver to the condo at Kelham Island next year. The fence keeping Redmires water voles away from marauding pet dogs has worked well, with the protected area now one of the most densely populated water vole villages in the country. House sparrows are now rare in Sheffield city centre, but they’re still busy in suburbs where older houses provide nest holes. But grey and pied wagtails have taken up urban living, with nest and roost sites near the Hallam University students union. A few invasive water species are appearing, like the relatively harmless midwife toad from Europe and a less benevolent American incursion.“There’s a terrapin on Effingham Street we’ve been watching for three years now,” said Angus. The ‘yellow bellied slider’ from Florida was illegally released, probably by an exotic pet owner, and now preys on tadpoles, insect larvae and unlucky ducklings, he said. Out on the moors there’s more good news: Curlew are breeding around Sheffield while crashing in many other areas, and on Burbage the felling of conifers and community planting of native trees has brought back all kinds of wildlife likely to have lived on Sheffield’s moors before Sheffield existed. Angus’ team have observed four nightjar pairs, along with deer, golden ringed dragonflies and more.Clambering around the emerging scrubby woodland, Angus has a gleam in his eye. “We’ve been trying and failing to be beavers,” he noted of the wooden logs not quite creating dams to keep the moorlands wet. “So why not have real beavers instead?” Three south west Sheffield sites are being considered for a reintroduction of the Eurasian beaver, after the team discussed the plan with the architect of a successful programme in Devon. Fundraising for a feasibility study will begin soon, and if a program is agreed, there could be beavers building dams in Sheffield within three years. The European beaver is vegetarian, stressed Angus, but its instincts to build dams and see off incursions from dogs (which should not be off their leads during the nesting season west of Whirlow, stressed Angus) will help species like water voles and a host of other stream and bog loving wildlife. ‘Wilding’ or ‘rewilding’ is already happening in Sheffield, with moorland restoration starting to reveal a pre-industrial environment last seen thousands of years ago. We need to do something, says Angus, in the face of what he calls “the world’s 6th mass extinction, the last since the dinosaurs.” He talks of pine martens returning to the Peak District and reintroduced goshawks soaring over our woodlands. And perhaps eating so many grey squirrels the native red squirrel could come back.

And why not golden eagles? Springwatch 2023 could be even more interesting.

Sheffield council biodiversity officer Angus Hunter at Burbage seeking out water vole watched by a free range terrier
Angus Hunter by the wildlfower verge on Weedon Street
Sheffield council biodiversity officer Angus Hunter at Burbage: checking an artificial dam
Bee orchid in the wildlfower vberge at Weedon Street near Meadowhall