WLOL Masthead
Wildlife Online-

Wildlife information at the click of a mouse--


Content Updated: 4th October 2016


Autumnal leaves

After a couple of days of chilly weather back at the beginning of September, last month still provided record-breaking warmth and some very intense thunderstorms. Overall, the mean temperature for September was higher than June, July or August, at almost 16oC (61F). The warmest day was the 13th where 34.4oC (94F) was recorded in Kent. Things started to cool down towards the end of the month and temperatures were back around the seasonal average as of the last week. Last month a couple of the tabloids carried stories suggesting that the UK was in for a colder than average winter with prolonged snowfall. After a series of mild, wet winters, some prolonged cold weather would certainly be welcomed by many, particularly gardeners who have been overrun with slugs this year. That said, the Met Office have said their models don’t support that idea and, as far as they’re concerned, we’re in for a pretty average winter. At the time of writing, we’re looking at a wet and windy October, but as long as the temperatures stay around the seasonal average, we should see some action in the deer rut this year. More on that in a moment.

As always, the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts are running a series of outdoor events this month aimed at getting people involved with the nature that surrounds us. Similarly, the Forestry Commission has various events, including walks, talks and craft sessions, running this month. The Marine Conservation Society has its usual selection of beach clean events running up and down the country this month, and there are a host of guided walks planned to help you explore the stunning New Forest national park here in Hampshire as the walking festival gets underway on the 15th October for two weeks. Any deciduous woodland should put on a good show over the next few weeks as the colour change and leaf fall gets underway. If you’re out and about taking in the scenery this month, let’s have a quick look at what else is happening as autumn gathers pace.

Red stag bellowing at hindMammals: October tends to be the peak of the deer rut for our fallow, red and sika deer and with an unseasonably mild September delaying the rut in much of the country this autumn, I certainly hope October will cool down and the rut can get underway. If you’re wanting to experience the drama of the rut, I would recommend heading to your nearest deer park, where the deer are more used to human disturbance and largely ignore it. In recent years there has been an issue with people (particularly photographers) getting too close to the deer in some of our forests and this had led either to a change in behaviour (a more sporadic, subdued rut) or a displacement of the deer. Here in the New Forest, for example, one traditional red deer rutting ground near Brockenhurst has been all but abandoned by the deer following years of disturbance by walkers and photographers – the deer do still rut in the New Forest, but some of the areas they choose now make them more vulnerable to accidents involving fences and cars. There are several parks and gardens that hold managed populations of free-ranging deer across the UK – check out the British Deer Society’s website to find your local park. You’ll probably hear the deer long before you see them. Red stags roar (sometimes called ‘bolving’) for a couple of reasons: to scare off any potential rivals thereby reducing the potential for deer-on-deer violence, and to attract any nearby females. This roaring also appears to help bring the females into estrus and research by scientists on the isle of Rum has revealed that females can tell the size and fitness (and probably the individual) from the volume and duration of the roar; larger animals have deeper roars. Much the same applies to fallow and sika deer, except that the males tend to occupy a good spot (called a lek) where they stand and belch (fallow) or whistle (sika) to attract females – a bit like a Saturday night in town.

Another important event in the mammalian calendar this month is the appearance of seal pups, which are born on beaches during the autumn. As with deer, please be aware that these animals are sensitive to human presence and easily disturbed, so keep your distance. Wildlife Extra’s Lizzy Denning provides a rundown of the best seal-watching spots in Britain here, if you fancy trying your luck. Three of our smaller mammal species will be starting to think about hibernation this month. Hedgehogs, bats and dormice are the only British mammals that truly hibernate and if it gets cold enough some (particularly dormice) will disappear into hibernation during October. Most will, however, spend the lengthening nights feeding up in a bid to lay down as much fat as possible to see them through the winter. Unfortunately, this is also the time when we start seeing newly-independent hedgehogs in our gardens – these late-born individuals typically represent a second litter and are the so-called ‘autumn orphans’. It is unlikely they will be able to survive hibernation because they don’t have enough time to lay down sufficient fat reserves to before the onset of winter (ideally a hog should weigh 700g / 1.5 lbs before entering hibernation). If you come across one of these baby hedgehogs it needs your help, so please check out the Caring for Hedgehogs article. Leaving out food and water for the adults would also be a big help and is often a lifesaver for them.

You may start hearing more from your local foxes this month. This is partly because, as the leaves fall off trees, there is less vegetation to absorb their racket. Calls also travel further in cold dry air than in warm moist air. Coupled with the better acoustics, many fox families will start breaking up at this time of year as the parents gear up for the breeding season, and this process is often a vocal one. Bank vole populations are at their peak this month, with an estimated 23 million in the UK, and other small mammals – mice, shrews and squirrels – are busy finding and/or caching food in preparation for winter.

Tawny owlBirds: October is probably the best month for owl spotting. This year’s barn owl chicks will be independent now and will often hunt during the daytime, particularly if the weather is wet and windy overnight. Little owl chicks have also fledged and can be heard calling on mild October nights, while the first short-eared owls to arrive from the continent (Scandinavia, Russia and Iceland) may start making landfall towards the end of the month depending on the weather and prevailing winds. Really, though, October is the month of the tawny owl (left). There’s a lot of ‘kee-wick-ing’ and ‘hoo-hoo-ing’ going on in our woodlands, parks and cities at the moment, and these noises, that Shakespeare described as “Tu-whit. Tu-who” in his poem Winter, are contact calls made by tawny owls. Calling increases in frequency as autumn gathers pace – the parents kick the kids out and become more territorial as they start to think about breeding again. Much has been said about sexing owls based on their calls, with the female making the ‘kee-wick’ and the male responding with the ‘hoo-hoo’, but in reality it is not that straightforward - I have sat and watched a tawny change from kee-wick-ing to hoo-hoo-ing. I have had similar testimony from owl keepers who say their owls switch between the two call types. That said, females do seem vastly more prone to making the kee-wick call than males (I’m reliably informed that males can make it, but generally don’t) and their ‘version’ of the hoo-hoo is more warbly/nasal than that of the male, which has a deep, resonating quality. Here’s what I mean (click each to listen): female kee-wick; female hoo-hoo; male hoo-hoo. While the owls being noisier this time of year helps with tracking them down, the loss of leaves from the trees can also lead to a better view, so it’s well worth trying your luck.

Many of our winter migrants will begin arriving towards the end of this month, including whooper swans from Iceland and wigeon from Russia and Scandinavia. We may even start to see a few woodcock coming in from Scandinavia, although the bulk of these will arrive next month. Ospreys can also be seen in southern England during October as they stop off to fuel up in preparation for their journey back to their wintering grounds in South Africa. There may still be some large aggregations of swallows and martins around, preparing for their migration, and this is the month when starling murmurations start gathering force.

Reptiles, amphibians and fish: As temperatures drop so reptile and amphibian activity declines and they become more difficult to find. We still have a few tadpoles in our garden pond, but these will now overwinter in this state and (if they survive) metamorphose next summer. On sunny, mild days you may be fortunate enough to find some snakes and lizards out basking, particularly youngsters born earlier in the year, and if it remains a mild winter (as last year) some may be active for much longer. If you’re planning on giving your lawn a final mow before winter, please check for frogs and toads, which are often found sheltering in long grass at this time of year.

Salmon and sea trout take advantage of the higher water levels this month to make their return to their spawning grounds. October is, therefore, a great month to watch these energetic fish jumping weirs and waterfalls.

Invertebrates: October is invariably the season feared most by the arachnophobes among us. This is the breeding season for those species of arachnid we call “house spiders”. (In fact, house spiders are actually a group of about half a dozen species in the genera Tegeneria and Eratigena.) The female spiders spend most of their lives in our houses and sheds, often tucked out of sight behind skirting boards and radiators, while males are much more nomadic. In the autumn the urge to breed takes over and the males come inside looking for love, hence it is almost always the male spiders (with large boxing glove-like appendages at the front called pedipalps) that we spot running around at this time of year. They’re not interested in you and pose no danger to you. I often get sent photos of spiders asking me to identify them and they’re almost invariably accompanied by a question of, “Can it bite?” All spiders can bite, they’re predators and they inject a degenerative venom into their prey, but the vast majority can’t break human skin and those that can generally don’t. It’s a bit like asking can that breed of dog bite? Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean you should run screaming for the hills. As a friend of mine used to say, If you wish to live and thrive, let that spider run alive – an expression that, according to the Oxford A Dictionary of Proverbs, dates back to 1867. As the mornings get cooler and we get dew and frost, spider webs are more apparent first thing in the morning, particularly those of the orb-weaver spiders Araneus diadematus and Nuctenea umbratica.

Spangle gallsNow is a good time to search for galls, small deformities in buds and leaves caused by the activities of tiny insects called gall wasps. The wasps lay their eggs in the leaves or twigs of plants - mainly oak in the UK, but also sometimes other species such as roses - and as the grub grows it distorts the tissue, causing an often elaborate callous to form known as a gall. We don’t know exactly what causes the gall to form (whether it’s a physical, chemical or viral reaction), but we do know that the gall provides a safe haven for the developing grub during its most vulnerable life stage and that the grub itself feeds on the tissue inside the gall. When the grub is fully grown it pupates in the gall and the wasp then eats its way out, leaving a neat hole in the middle. More information on the common types of gall found in the UK is on the Royal Horticultural Society’s website. Other wasp species can be found feasting on rotting fruit this month, while recently-hatched honey bees will be starting to feed on the honey produced by the hive over the spring and summer – they will burn off these calories vibrating their flight muscle en masse to keep the colony warm through the winter. (Photo, right: Spangle galls produced by the gall wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum.)

A walk on the beach can be bracing this time of year, particularly as storms start sweeping in from the Atlantic. If you are on the coast this month, keep an eye out for flotsam washed ashore, particularly clumps of whelk eggs, cuttlefish bones, bladderwrack seaweed, jellyfish (even Portuguese man-o-war around Land’s End in Cornwall) and clumps of odd-looking goose barnacles, which look a bit like colourful mussel shells on long, brown gelatinous stalks.

Plants and fungi: Autumn is the fruiting season, and there are plenty of wild fruits around at the moment, with blackberries and raspberries aplenty in our gardens. Sloes, hazel nuts, beech nuts, sweet chestnuts and acorns can also be found in abundance this month. There are plenty of fungi around too, especially after all the rain we had at the end of September. Species to lookout for this month include: the colourful but poisonous red sickener (Russula emetica) brightening up conifer woodland, the beautiful purple-coloured mushroom of the violet webcap (Cortinarius violaceus), found in birch woodland, and the bright yellow, but surprisingly small, yellow stagshorn (Calocera viscosa) fungi, found in conifer woodlands on rotting stumps and logs. You may also be able to follow your nose to the impressive, if rather foul smelling, common stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) – the pungent aroma attracts flies which carry away the spores to start new colonies of the fungus. Keep an eye out for dripping beefsteak fungus on oak and sweet chestnut trees this month, too. It’s worth remembering with fungi that what you see is the tip of the figurative iceberg – the bulk of the fungus exists as a network of thread-like hyphae (collectively called a mycelia) below ground, often extending many metres away from the toadstool. Some productive forests can have 70km (43 miles) of fungal hyphae packed into a gram of soil. When you see a toadstool, remember the hidden mycelia may cover 15ha (37 acres) below your feet, weigh 100 tonnes and be 1,500 years old.

Another obvious feature of autumn is the dropping of leaves by our deciduous trees and the change in the colour of these leaves just before they’re lost. We may not have the large maple forests of North America that put on a truly spectacular show during autumn, but our oak and birch woods come a close second. As winter approaches and the hours and strength of sunlight decreases, the trees aren’t able to photosynthesise efficiently and the leaves become a liability both in terms of water loss and acting like a sail in the strong winds that often accompany autumn and winter. (The ‘big storm’ of 1987 was so devastating to many of our woodlands because it came unseasonably early, when most of the trees still had their leaves.) So, the trees cut their losses, they stop photosynthesis and a layer of special cork cells called an abscission zone forms at the base of the leaves. The abscission zone cuts off the food and oxygen supply to the leaf, causing it to die. Eventually this cork layer breaks and the leaf falls to the ground. Before this, though, a couple of things happen. The chlorophyll (the green pigment in the leaf that captures sunlight) breaks down and reveals the more stable yellow (xanthophyll) and red/orange (carotenoid) pigments that are always present in the leaf but usually masked by the chlorophyll. The tree also pumps waste products, known as tannins, into the leaf, adding to the brown colour given by the cell walls, before it drops. So, autumn is a kind of detox for the tree as well. In some of our non-native maples, as well as a few natives such as wild cherry and dogwood, once about half of the chlorophyll in the leaf has degraded, sunny days and cold, crisp nights trigger a reaction between phenols (pesticides produced by the trees) and sugars in the leaf resulting in the production of pigments known as anthocyanins, which give the leaves a rich dark red or purple colour.

Pick of the Month – Discoveries from the Natural World

White Fallow deer in the New ForestDeer parks: venison on the hoof, or walk-in medicine cabinets?
Deer have long been a feature of Britain’s countryside where they have been hunted for their meat, skin and bones (particularly antlers). During the Medieval period in Britain, hunting became more coordinated and deer were often considered the preserve of high society, with only royalty and some members of the aristocracy having permission to hunt them. During this time, it became popular to keep deer in enclosed parks where they could be more easily managed. (Recent thinking points to a chosen animal being released and chased cross-country on horse-back, rather than being hunted in the park itself.) Indeed, in 2003, Oliver Rackham wrote how some 2% of England’s land area comprised deer parks at the turn of the 14th century, divided into perhaps as many as 3,200 parks. Traditionally historians and archaeologists considered there to be two main reasons for keeping deer in parks: it provided a ready supply of fresh meat (venison); and deer were a desirable addition to the grounds of one’s stately home, serving to underscore the wealth of the landowner. In a recent paper to the Journal of Ethnobiology, however, University of Nottingham archaeologists Holly Miller and Naomi Sykes argue that there may have been another motive for confining deer in this way: so-called “zootherapy”.

Zootherapy is the practice of using animals, or parts of animals, to diagnose and/or treat human medical conditions. Not to be confused with ‘pet therapy’, where people interact with animals in order to improve conditions (e.g. taking dogs into nursing homes to meet patients suffering with dementia), zootherapy involves using live or dead animals in ‘medicines’, rites, rituals or wearing them or their products as adornments to ward off disease. Sacrificing animals when tribe members were sick, rubbing a child’s knee in the hoof print of a donkey to imbue sure-footedness and using beaver testicles to treat epilepsy and hysteria are now generally considered nonsensical practices, but as recently as 1993 the World Health Organization estimated that 80% of the world’s population relied on animals, or their body parts/secretions, as a method of primary health care. Zootherapy is apparently still common across Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East and most of us will be familiar with the poaching problems threatening the survival of rhinos at the moment – just over 1,100 were killed for their medically-worthless horns last year in South Africa, according to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs.

In their paper, Miller and Sykes investigate the use of fallow deer (Dama dama) in zootherapy by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Fallow deer are arguably the most widely farmed species of deer in the world, being the species kept most widely in parks and most widely transported around Europe by the Normans and Romans. Most authors assumed that fallow deer, with their spotty coats and large flat antlers, were an attractive species that took well to parkland life where they formed a ‘walking larder’ of protein as and when the land owner needed it. Nonetheless, their body parts, particularly their antler, antler velvet, and penises, were historically used widely in treatments for a range of conditions, from tooth ache to epilepsy. Even today ground antler and antler velvet is used in traditional Chinese medicine as a remedy for a host of conditions from muscle weakness to infertility. Miller and Sykes argue that this need for deer parts may actually have given the deer value as “walking pharmacies”, with bucks capable of providing a sustainable supply of shed antlers that could be ground into medicine. The archaeologists write:

Indeed, if antlers and penises from spotty deer were deemed to be a powerful medicine in antiquity, this may be the very reason why fallow deer were selectively transported and maintained above other cervid [deer] species: the male’s large palmate antlers, pronounced penile sheath, and spotty coat promoted them as the medicinal deer of choice.”

Reference: Miller, H. and Sykes, N. (2016). Zootherapy in archaeology: The case of the fallow deer (Dama dama dama). J. Ethnobiol. 36(2); 257-276.


Resourceful Reynard: food neophilia makes foxes dangerously invasive
Long-nosed bandicootThe red fox (Vulpes vulpes) has the largest distribution of any carnivore, having colonised much of the Old and New Worlds since the end of the last ice age. Much like the fallow deer discussed above, foxes have also been widely transported by people, mainly for the purpose of hunting. Some introductions have given foxes a foothold in countries to which they were not native, and this has had serious consequences for some indigenous species. Australia is a particularly harsh example of this, the spread of foxes across southern Australia coinciding with regional extinctions of several species of bettong, the greater bilby and the quokka. There has been a great deal of research into what makes foxes so highly invasive and how best to remove them from the ecosystem. A new study by a team at the University of Sydney suggests that foxes readily recognise some animals as food, even if they’ve never encountered them before. This ‘neophilia’ for possible new food sources may give the foxes an advantage over the native animals.

We’ve known for a while that a big part of the problem native species have when it comes to introduced predators is that they have no anti-predator response. In other words, a quokka, for example, doesn’t recognise a fox as being a potential threat because it has never seen one before – this makes them an easy target. Rats, by contrast, have evolved with foxes and know to try and avoid them whenever possible, making them a much harder target. Following the same logic, however, there has been some suggestion that a fox seeing a quokka for the first time should be equally unfamiliar with it and shouldn’t recognise it as a potential meal. This study suggests quite the opposite.

The team, led by UoS ecologist Jenna Bytheway, collected odours (body, urine and faeces) of long-nosed bandicoots (Perameles nasuta - above) and black rats (Rattus rattus) on towels and placed them into cage traps on the island of North Head in Sydney harbour. The island is home to several red foxes, but not to bandicoots or rats, so the foxes on the island should be naïve to these small mammals. They found that foxes showed significantly greater interest in bandicoot scent than either rat or control scent (from clean towels). Indeed, foxes investigated 80% of bandicoot scent plots over the two nights, compared with only 20% of the rat and 17% of the control scent stations. Bytheway and her colleagues suggest that investigating unfamiliar prey cues (neophilia) isn’t very costly to foxes – it’s not dangerous and if the fox finds it is food a search image can rapidly be developed to start actively looking for the prey in future. For the bandicoots, by contrast, it’s very costly to run and hide every time they encounter an unfamiliar animal. This ‘dichotomy of cost’ gives foxes a distinct advantage over naïve prey when colonising a new area. Perhaps most interesting, though, was that the foxes showed so little interest in the rat odours. The authors suggest that the shared evolutionary history of rats and foxes may be the reason - i.e. although these foxes didn’t live with rats, their ancestors elsewhere had evolved with them and this ‘evolutionary memory’ led the foxes to consider rats unprofitable prey. The researchers go further, writing in their article to the journal Scientific Reports:

It is also possible that attraction to the evolutionary novel prey may reflect a general inherent preference for novel prey by alien predators.”

In other words, foxes may actively opt for novel prey because they’re more likely to be naïve and therefore easier targets.

Reference: Bytheway, J.P. et al. (2016). Deadly intentions: naïve introduced foxes show rapid attraction to odour cues of an unfamiliar native prey. Sci. Rep. 6: 30078.


Great white shark breachingFeeling the spark: keeping sharks and divers apart
According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, there are about 70 shark attacks on humans every year. It turns out that the majority of attacks are non-fatal, but can nonetheless result in serious injury. The folks that the FMNH categorize as “surface recreationists” (i.e. surfers, boogie-boarders, water skiers, people using inflatables, etc.) tend to be most at risk of attack, but the incidence among divers is also significant, with 218 cases held in the International Shark Attack File for the period between 1960 and 2014. Over the years a great deal of research has gone into trying to find a way to prevent shark attacks, and as early as the 1960s the US navy were looking into possible ways of repelling sharks. Initially a variety of chemical repellents were developed that, when released into the water, would usually cause an approaching shark to flee. Such repellents disperse quickly, however, and were of limited efficacy. In addition, many authorities established netting programs to prevent sharks from coming close to beaches in the first place. Unfortunately, sharks caught in nets rapidly suffocate and the nets are unselective in the species they catch, with dogfish, turtles, dolphins and white sharks equally likely to become entangled. More recently, we have learned more about the crucial role sharks play in our oceans and how their removal can have major consequences. As such, efforts to produce an effective, non-lethal deterrent were redoubled.

It was in 1917 that researchers working with the brown bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus), a species of catfish, noticed that they were very sensitive to metallic rods placed in their aquarium. Some 18 years later Sven Dijkgraaf observed that small-spotted catsharks (Scyliorhinus canicula) showed similar sensitivity to a rusty metal rod. In a paper to the journal Naturwissenschaften in 1962, Dijkgraaf and fellow Dutch biologist Adrianus Kalmijn described how blindfolded sharks turned their heads when they were several centimetres from the metal rod, while they didn’t move until the control rod (made of glass) touched them. The conclusion both of the bullhead study and of Dijkgraaf was that the fish were responding to weak electrical currents produced by the corrosion of the metal in the salt water (galvanic currents) that they were detecting with specialist electro-sensory organs on their heads, called the ampullae of Lorenzini. This sparked a new dynamic of repellent research: could sharks be repelled using electric currents underwater? As early as 1975 E.D. Smith at the University of Pretoria in South Africa found that dusky sharks (Carchahinus obscurus) wouldn’t cross an electric field set up in their tank when the current reached about 7 volts per centimetre (Vcm). Research stalled and re-started as funds waxed and waned over the years, but in 1991, Smith wrote a paper to the Power Engineering Journal describing how tests with an electric cable system in St. Lucia Estuary had shown promising results for repelling sharks. Since then, research has moved away from expensive long electrical cables that constantly generate a field to repel sharks from beaches to portable protective devices that people can carry with them. The SharkPOD (Protective Oceanic Device) was the first to be scientifically tested and show promise. The device is now sold to the public under the name Shark Shield. A previous study found that this device didn’t actually stop great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias - left) from taking a piece of bait, but it did slow them down considerably. More recently, however, scientists have reconfigured the experiment and the results suggest the device can keep some individual sharks away altogether, offering hope that this could represent a viable non-lethal shark repellent for use by divers and, perhaps, surfers.

During July 2014, a team of researchers led by Ryan Kempster at the University of Western Australia attached a Shark Shield to a bait canister and rigged up some HD GoPro Hero cameras around it before suspending it off Seal Island, along the Western Cape region of South Africa. This area has a large sea lion population and a reliably high abundance of white sharks all year round. They carried out 44 tests; 22 with the Shark Shield turned on and 22 with it switched off. Forty-one white sharks interacted with (i.e. touched or bit) the canister a total of 322 times – 279 (87%) of these happened when the Shark Shield was off. In a paper to the journal PLoS One during July this year, Kempser and his colleagues conclude:

The active Shark ShieldTM proved to be an effective deterrent at close range, with less than one-third of the number of sharks appearing in the camera’s field-or-view when compared with the control trials, and fewer sharks approaching close enough to interact with the bait canister.”

There had also been some concern that the electric fields generated by these devices may actually serve to attract sharks, but none of the data from this study supports this suggestion. Overall, it seems that while wearing a device such as this may not completely eliminate the potential of being bitten by a shark (some sharks still bit the bait canister), it does substantially reduce it and any method that shows real promise for keeping people and sharks at a respectful distance without harm to either has to be a big step in the right direction.

Reference: Kempster, R.M. et al. (2016). How close is too close? The effect of a non-lethal electric shark deterrent on white shark behaviour. PLoS One. 11(7): e0157717. 


As always, I love hearing from readers; any queries or comments regarding the information on the site can be sent in using the addresses on the Contact page. (Note: So: Some website questions are answered on the FAQ, while many animal-related questions are covered in the Q/A). Photos can be e-mailed to a dedicated e-mail address - please keep them coming and don't forget to check out my Photos Needed page. I'm also interested in hearing any reports of unusual behaviour in any of the animals featured on this site, or interactions between humans and wildlife. Thanks as always for your continued patience and support. Thanks this month go to Steph Powley, the late Rob Turner and Lex Barron for donating their excellent photos to the site.


WildlifeonlineOkay, for those of you that are new to the site, let's take it from the top!

What is Wildlife Online?
Essentially, WLOL is an educational website about British wildlife. The site contains profiles of various British animal species, with new articles in preparation all the time. The site also has articles looking at wildlife-related subjects, including hunting and animal emotions. This site is purely a hobby of mine; it does not generate any money or contain any advertising and, for the time being at least, I am happy for it to stay that way.

What does Wildlife Online aim to achieve?
The ultimate goal of the website is to be useful. My intention has always been to provide un-biased, accurate information that’s accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Increasingly people are coming into contact with their local wildlife and whether such interactions are positive or negative, they generally inspire a desire to learn more about the species. Moreover, there are still a great many misconceptions surrounding our wildlife (fox behaviour springs immediately to mind) and these are brought up time and time again during discussions in the media. Each article aims to provide a reasonably comprehensive overview of the species in question by drawing on information from the media, books, TV programmes and the scientific literature. I feel that this combination of sources, along with my own observations and those of my friends/colleagues/readers provides a unique online resource of British wildlife information. My hope is that the information provided here will go some way to changing people's perceptions of the creatures with which they share their parks and gardens.

Why create a website when there are books and TV programmes about your subjects?
Books can be a fantastic resource and I can't imagine being without my library. Not all libraries are, however, equally well stocked, and not everyone has the funds to splash out on what are often very expensive wildlife books (especially those written by scientists). More importantly, much of the scientific research never makes it out of the journals into books and TV shows. Similarly, many of the early books -- which contain some of the pioneering work on the species -- are now long out of print and can be difficult or expensive to track down. Books have the 'luxury' of being able to devote their entire contents to a particular species, covering all aspects of its life history. Television, by contrast, is a much more limited and variable medium: the programme editor(s) has to create a show that is likely to hold the viewers' attention and appeal to a very wide audience. The result is that, although some reach this compromise very well, many documentaries focus heavily on the 'wow factor' (multitudinous slow motion shots of Great whites leaping out of the water in pursuit of seals, for example) and this often comes at the inevitable expense of the information about the animal. Finally, both books and TV programmes go out of date quite quickly; new research is being conducted all the time. Consequently, a website is an ideal and dynamic intermediate - it offers the opportunity to provide a decent amount of information about the subject that can be updated at the metaphorical drop-of-a-hat as any new research is published.

Why include so much information?
I honestly believe that if a job is worth doing, it's worth doing well. There are hundreds of websites with brief species profiles and if that's all WLOL offered there would be little point to it. I understand and appreciate that some people find being confronted with large volumes of text very daunting while others are of the 'too long; didn't read' mind-set and will thus be turned off by the amount of text facing them. I have tried to remedy this as far as possible via two avenues: there is a Speed Read section with a brief profile of each species featured in a main article; and each article has been 'virtually split', with the aid of hyperlinks, into sections that allow people to easily jump to the information they're looking for. Ultimately, I want to provide as much information as is feasible in order to provide the reader with the clearest appraisal of each species or topic; I hope that most readers approve of this approach.

Why haven't you included a complete bibliography?
My intention with WLOL is to provide the information in an accessible format, which means that anyone should be able to read an article and understand the information in it. Consequently, I didn't want to format it as a scientific paper because the current format allows for a much more informal approach and writing style which, I hope, will appeal to a wider audience. Most people should find enough information in the article (I typically provide the name or one or more of the authors and the journal and year) to track down the original scientific paper. When I take information from books, I always give the name of the author(s) and the full title of the book for easy reference. I am also happy to provide full details of any of the references upon request.

Are you really qualified to do this?
I'm certainly not an expert on any of the subjects presented on this site. The articles stem from my varied interests in natural history and biological sciences. In terms of qualifications, I trained as a scientist (studying natural sciences at degree and postgraduate level) and all I really do is interpret information, blend it with associated research and personal observation, and present it in what I hope is an accessible format. Unless specifically stated, I do not claim any of the information on this site to be my own research. I have built relationships with some of the many diligent researchers who have produced the data that I use, and I am happy either to recommend an expert or provide my own opinions on a subject.

As a final note, I want to make a quick reference to the quality of the material on the site. The great French philosopher and mathematician, Rene Descartes, once said: "If you would be a real seeker of truth, you first must be willing to doubt as far as possible all things." This is very sage advice, especially when it comes to believing what you read on the Internet. Most Internet sites (indeed, some books and TV shows too), including this one, have no form of peer-review (i.e. nobody with experience of the topic checks the site for accuracy); consequently pretty much anyone can have their own little corner of cyberspace and information can make it onto websites that is either misguided, or downright false! When creating material for this site I take every care to ensure that the information I present is accurate. Invariably errors will creep in; typos are almost inevitable (although each article goes through several levels of proof reading before it appears online) and research is always underway on the species featured here, so the data can go out of date almost overnight. Each page has regular (ish!) reviews, however, during which I update the information, adding details of new findings and taking out that which is now thought highly unlikely. You can see most of the books I have used in the preparation of this site on the Recommended Reading page and I have provided links to some of the most interesting sites I came across during my research – these can be found under the appropriate sub-heading on the Links page.

Anyway, I digress.... I hope you enjoy looking around the site and I hope equally that you get something worthwhile out of it. Any comments, suggestions or (constructive) criticisms are welcome via e-mail - appropriate addresses can be found on the Contact page.


DISCLAIMER: All the photographs and artwork on this site are either my own work or have been donated by readers. All images remain property of their authors and, if you wish to reproduce any of the pictures, consent must be granted by the appropriate person - requests can be directed via myself or see FAQ. For more details on the content of this site, please see the full WLOL Disclaimer.

Return to TOP