Help us to learn more about our wildlife
Delighted by the sparrows in your garden? Ever bimbled behind a bumble from flower to flower? If so, we need your help.
Sightings of wildlife in our beautiful county are held by Worcestershire Biological Records Centre (WBRC). Understanding where wildlife is found and how abundant it is helps us as conservationists to know more about how our environment is doing. By tracking distribution, abundance and when wildlife is seen, we can learn more about how species are doing and whether changes to our environment, from land use to climate change, are having an impact.
Together with WBRC, we've teamed up with the Worcestershire Recorders, a volunteer group dedicated to recording sightings of Worcestershire's wildlife, to find out more about the stories behind the species and the records.
You'll find more information below about twelve species that we'd love to know more about; most of these can be found in your own garden or local neighbourhood. Each has its own story and we've explained a bit about what records of these species will help us to learn. At the bottom of the page is a short form for you to fill in to let us know what you've seen and when you saw it. There's room to tell us more information - how many, what was it feeding on etc. We'll need a photograph to help us verify your sighting so that it can be officially logged with WBRC.
Have you seen me?
Members of the Worcestershire Recorders, the go-to people to help identify and record wildlife in the county, have chosen the following twelve species of wildlife. Read more about these fascinating creatures and then let us know if you've seen any...
Native to China, Japan and Korea, box-tree moths were first recorded in the UK in 2008, probably as a result of an accidental introduction through the horticultural trade. The species initially spread through the southeast of England but by 2018 it had reached Scotland.
The larvae make conspicuous silken webbing, in which they feed, on box Buxus sempervirens (it’s also been found on Japanese spindle Euonymus japonica). Their presence can result in the complete stripping of a box plant (or even hedge). As well as being conspicuous, the larvae are distinctive – black heads and green bodies with black and white marks.
The adults with brown-edged ivory-white wings (although there is also a less common darker form), can be seen flying from June to October. If you have box in your garden, it’s worth keeping a lookout for them. They overwinter as small larvae.
Box-tree moths were first recorded in Worcestershire in Malvern in 2017. There are still fewer than 20 records for the county and all the sightings have been of adult moths. They’re known from Redditch, Bewdley, Stourport and Worcester. Can you help us to fill in the blanks and help us to track their spread?
If you had never seen a broad-bodied chaser before, you might think a hornet had just landed by your pond. A closer look will show that it is a stocky-looking dragonfly with a flattened broad abdomen and four similarly sized wings, each with a dark patch at their base.
Females have a yellowish-brown abdomen and tend to be less obvious but may be seen quickly flying in to lay eggs by stroking the water surface with their tail end. The male, which has a pale blue abdomen, is more conspicuous because it will repeatedly return to a perch from which it surveys the pond. You might see a male hovering near the female as she lays eggs but the two never remain attached during the process like common darters do.
These dragonflies are great colonists and are often the first to arrive at a newly dug pond. They don’t seem to like heavily vegetated water bodies and tend to visit ponds less as they get more overgrown.
Suiting their exploratory nature, they can complete their life-cycle in one year on ponds, the larvae living partially buried in silt and debris. In fact, the larvae can tolerate some drying out of the water, which helps when colonising new sites.
If you’ve got broad-bodied chasers on your pond and are trying to snap a photo of one to submit with your record, why not put a perching stick near the edge of your pond in the sun and wait to see if anyone claims it.
Will you help us to learn more about favourite habitats of broad-bodied chasers in Worcestershire?
Common carder bee
Common carder bees are one of our most common bumblebees and one of the most easily recognisable garden visitors. These gingery bees can be seen in many gardens, feeding on all sorts of flowers from rosemary and white dead-nettle in the spring to scabious in the autumn; their long tongues allow them to access tubular flowers. Unlike many species of bee, the queens, workers and males look similar to each other - all are gingery but the amount of ginger can vary and they can even fade to grey as summer wears on. Typically, their thorax is gingery and their abdomens also have a gingery look although the latter can be darker or paler depending on individual bees.
Common carder bees usually nest above ground, tucking themselves into the base of long grass or scrubby vegetation - it's important to leave some scruffy areas of your garden to help these bees. Their nests have up to 200 workers whose role it is to find pollen to bring back to feed to the young bees. They get their name from their ability to 'card' (comb) moss and grass with their mouths and legs to provide cover for their nest and egg cells.
Queen common carder bees usually emerge in spring and establish their nests soon after. It takes a while for a nest to get up 'full strength' and August is often the peak month for this species although nests can last into autumn. As the nest comes to its end, the queen starts to lay the eggs that develop into males and new queens - it's the new queens that will find a place to hibernate before emerging the following year. We'd love to know where common carder bees are, what they're feeding on where you live and whether August is still the peak month for seeing them.
Just a small note of caution. There are two other, very similar, gingery carder bees - brown-banded and moss carder bees. Brown-banded carder bees are increasing in number across Worcestershire whilst moss carder bee has not been seen in the county for many years. Separating faded individuals of common and brown-banded carder bees later in the year can be tricky but a good photograph will certainly help us.
House sparrows were once so common in the midlands that bird reports barely mention them before 1980. However, since 1977 there has been a 71% decline across the UK, including here in Worcestershire.
In Worcestershire, this sociable species (they nest colonially although they have a strict hierarchy) is most often found close to human habitation – in gardens and in hedgerows adjacent to parks and farmland. Fairly sedentary birds, they rarely move more than 2km in their whole life.
House sparrows are primarily seed feeders – their chunky bills are great for crunching through the outer shells of seeds. Garden feeders help to support many populations of house sparrows in areas where habitat may be limited but, like all birds, they’ll search more natural habitats to find food – scrubby fields, hedgerows, dense ivy and bramble patches etc.
Historical records indicate that house sparrows were found in 32% of the county (probably higher – this just reflects what’s been recorded) but in 2020, records submitted covered just 9% of Worcestershire. Most of these records were from urban fringe/suburban areas and there were few from the older and smaller villages where we’d expect the habitat to be suitable.
Are there genuine gaps in the distribution of house sparrows…or have records simply not been submitted? Do we know how well our populations are doing – are they being seen in bumper or dwindling numbers? In 2020 a flock of 104 was seen in Pershore but most reports were for fewer than 20 individuals.
Wherever you are in the county, will you help us to find out where our house sparrows are?
These wonderful day-flying moths take their name from the striking resemblance to hummingbirds as they hover at flowers, using their long proboscis (straw-like tongue) to sup nectar through. Their warm grey/brown bodies, with a black and white tip, and upper wings contrast with the orangey hindwings as they hover at tubular flowers such as viper's-bugloss, red valerian, phlox, jasmine and buddleia. They can be spotted in gardens from June through to October although most records are in August and September. We would love to know if climate change is changing their habits and enabling them to survive our winters.
The reason that most hummingbird hawk-moths are seen so late in the year is that these individuals (615 have been recorded so far in Worcestershire) are immigrants from northern African and southern Europe - it takes a lot of energy from the sun to hover at a flower. Whilst males and females will mate in the UK (their caterpillars can sometimes be found on bedstraws, wild madder and red valerian - they were recorded on lady's bedstraw on Malvern in July 2011, for example), they've not been able to survive our winter. However, in more recent times there has been evidence to show that in southern England, adults have been found hibernating although it's tricky to know whether early sightings are of home-grown adults that have hibernated or early immigrants that have recently flown across the Channel.
It's likely that the peak of hummingbird hawk-moths in August and September is a combination of local and migratory individuals. If you're lucky enough to spot a hummingbird hawk-moth in your flower bed at any time of year, try looking again at the same time the next day. They do something called 'trap-lining' - they learn where and when their favourite flowers are producing nectar in order to return again. Another good place to look is on high points. Like their painted lady butterfly migratory cousins, they often congregate on and around high points (it's known as 'hill-topping'); many of Worcestershire's records are from the top of the Malverns.
Large red damselfly
Large red damselflies are one of the earliest flying dragonflies and the one that's most likely to be spotted in and around garden ponds. These delicate insects are just 33-36mm long and slimmer than many other damselflies, giving them a rather ethereal quality in flight. They're distinctively red (with a black ring at the tip of the abdomen) and settle with their wings resting along their abdomen. Whilst they're usually a spring and early summer species, the latest Worcestershire record is August.
Amazingly, the adults that we see during summer are already two years old. They spend their first two years as a nymph in slow-moving water or ponds. They are voracious hunters of small aquatic inverterbrates and have mouthparts that shoot out to grab their prey - rather like that of the alien in the famous sci-fi film. When they emerge from the depths and clamber up a vertical stem of vegetation to break out of their nymphal case, it takes them a few hours to develop their red colour - this is known as a teneral stage.
As with many insects, they have compound eyes but unlike their dragonfly cousins, these are comparitively small and set wide apart on their heads. This allows them to see around the grass stems that they often perch on! The bands that can be seen in their eyes are high-resolution areas that help to identify important things like members of the opposite sex or food items.
There is a very rare small red damselfly that is restricted to heathlands in southern England and west Wales so don't worry about confusing the large red with one of this species in Worcestershire.
Marmalade hoverflies are our most common hoverfly (there are over 280 species in the UK). They're also one of the easiest to identify - they're the only ones to have double black bands across their bodies, with the smaller band looking a bit like Poirot's moustache. Their colouring can be affected by the temperature that the larvae grow up in - cooler conditions mean the adults will be darker in order to absorb more light. This means that you tend to see darker individuals earlier in the year and more brightly coloured ones in summer.
The larvae are one of the gardener's (and farmer's) best friends as they love nothing more than munching through colonies of aphids. This is even more astonishing when you realise that they are blind and legless - they rely on their keen sense of smell to find each individual. Marmalade hoverflies, and others like them, give us the perfect reason to ditch the chemicals and create a pollinator paradise; they’ll control the ‘pests’ for us!
Although it seems incredible for such a small insect, marmalade hoverflies are migratory. Whilst females can survive a mild UK winter, many of the individuals we see later in the year have arrived from the continent. Their journey starts in the southern Mediterranean and northern Africa - by April adults have reached France. By late May onwards, their offspring begin to arrive on our shores to swell our own home-grown populations. Later in the year, vast numbers head south again and have even been tracked through the Pyrenees.
If we're able to collect enough records over a long enough time period, it will help to track the impact of climate change - are we seeing more marmalade hoverflies in spring, are there more or fewer darker individuals each year, are their numbers in summer changing, is there a change in the first and last dates they're being seen?
A plant that is embedded in our folklore and traditions quite unlike any other, mistletoe is regarded as a sign of love and new growth for the coming year. Along with Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, mistletoe is abundant in Worcestershire. Our climate seems to be just right – will this continue to be the case in the face of climate change? Will changes to our temperatures and humidity and rainfall start to change the distribution of this well-known plant?
Mistletoe is only partially parasitic on the host tree. The existence of chlorophyll in its leaves means that, through photosynthesis, it can manufacture sugars from carbon dioxide and water. It steals water and other minerals from the tree, although it doesn’t appear to do the tree any damage. The only time a tree can get stressed is if a branch has huge amounts of mistletoe – it may show signs of wilting as its water and nutrients are removed.
Mistletoe is most frequently spread via birds such as mistle thrush and blackcap who gobble down the berries in winter and then either spread the seeds when they wipe their bills or digest the berries and deposit their seeds in sticky droppings on branches. Mistletoe plants are either male or female but only the female produces the berries.
In Worcestershire, mistletoe has been recorded in nearly 30 species of tree but seems to be most common in fruit trees, hawthorn, poplar and lime. Can you help us to map where it’s found and in what trees – is it found in some trees more often in the north of the county than in the south, for example? Can you find it on oak anywhere?
Thanks to The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, moles are familiar even though most of us have never seen one. We often only know that moles are present because of their characteristic molehills (for those who are a bit more inquisitive, their bones can be found in owl pellets and fox poo).
These intriguing furry animals are specially designed for a subterranean lifestyle with their tubular bodies and side-facing spade-like front feet with five strong claws for digging. They have pink fleshy snouts that have touch-sensitive receptors, and their faces, front legs and tails have many sensory hairs. Their eyes are minute but functional.
Moles live solitary lives and only overlap territories at mating time. They dig permanent tunnels through which they can move as quickly backwards as they can run forwards. They maintain these tunnels, feeding on invertebrates that fall into them; earthworms are their main prey but they will eat insect larvae, centipedes, millipedes and molluscs.
Sometimes, usually during winter, they build a much larger nest, known as a fortress (up to 1.5m wide and 0.5m tall). This often contains a store of decapitated earthworms - 1200 were found in one larder!
Moles are found in fields, woodland and most places that aren’t waterlogged. If you have moles in your garden, well done for maintaining a healthy worm population! Please try not to worry if they start creating hills – once they’ve settled into their new tunnels, the production of hills should reduce (in the meantime, scrape off the soil to use elsewhere in the garden).
Are they still common? Moles are under-recorded and we’d love to know how they’re doing. Please let us know if you see fresh molehills appearing (or, indeed, if you’re lucky enough to capture a photo of a mole itself).
Red-tailed bumblebees are one of our most striking and distinctive species of bee. Queens and workers have a black thorax and abdomen with a red tail that cannot be missed (watch for it fading to orange as the year goes on). Males are much smaller and have a yellow stripe on their thorax as well as a fluffy yellow face.
Red-tailed bumblebees can be found almost anywhere from April to September – gardens, parks, wider countryside – where suitable flowers are available to provide pollen and nectar. Once the queen has chosen a nest site (often an old mouse hole or other underground chamber), she never sees the light of day again. She tends her first offspring but they then take on the role of food-providers and nursemaids while she concentrates on laying eggs.
Red-tailed bumblebees are common across the county but our maps show that there are hotspots. We’d like to know whether this is really the case or whether this reflects where our efforts to record them have been concentrated.
Recent studies have shown that we should be concerned about our pollinators and other wildlife. We know that red-tailed bumblebees have always been common and widespread and we hope that your sightings will help us to discover whether this is still the case. You may think that it’s more important to find out where our rare species are but the distribution and abundance of our common species can indicate the health of our pollinators more generally.
A word of caution when identifying red-tailed bumblebees! If you see a large queen but with dark, almost black, wings this is a red-tailed cuckoo bee. Less common than the true bumblebee, she will take over the nest over a red-tailed bumblebee and lay her own eggs.
The collective noun for ladybirds is a loveliness and these beautiful beetles are definitely insects that you should be encouraging into your gardens. Along with the marmalade hoverfly, seven spot ladybirds are good friends of gardeners and farmers - both larvae and adults munch aphids and other insects that growers consider to be pests. The adults are easy to identify and live up to their name - count the seven black spots on their red wings, three on each wing case (elytra) and one in the middle straddling both wing cases.
Seven spot ladybirds are one of 45 species of ladybird in the UK, although only 26 of these are species that you'd recognise as obviously ladybirds. The most common native ladybird is the seven spot and its colouring is a warning to potential predators - "steer clear, I'm toxic." In addition to this, when they're disturbed they can pull in their legs and exude a foul-smelling yellow liquid known as reflex blood.
Emerging in spring and heading to the nearest flower to build up their energy by crunching pollen, they soon find mates and lay eggs in the middle of aphid colonies. Their spiky mini-monster-looking larvae (see below) quickly grow as they feast on aphids, before pupating in domed pupal cases. It is not uncommon in midsummer to see more larvae and pupae than adults - if you're able to send us photos of these, it may be possible that we can identify the species.
During winter ladybirds are able to close down their bodies - they find hidden cracks and crevices in which to shelter from the worst of winter's excesses. You may find them in corners of fences and gate posts or they may be buried in leaf litter and hollow stems of plants; it's always worth leaving your garden tidying until the spring (if you can't wait that long, tidy it into a sheltered corner rather than burning it).
The adults of these colourful butterflies overwinter in cellars, sheds, nooks and crannies so they are one of the first butterflies to get up and go as warmer weather breaks the winter cold. Historically, they've been one of the most common butterflies that we see in our nectar-rich gardens. Peak sightings are usually in spring and early autumn when the overwintered or freshly hatched adults are on the wing but look for the caterpillars in patches of nettles during summer months.
Males and females look very similar - orange wings with black markings (a little like tiger-stripes on the leading edge of the forewings), edged with metallic blue spots. Their underwings are dark brown-grey to help camouflage them when they're at rest. Males are territorial and will defend their spot amongst a patch of nettles, sitting with wings open to both attract a mate and to stay warm in order to battle a rival. Their black and spiky caterpillars, with two yellow stripes along their backs, spin a communal web to help protect them against predators; as they move from nettle to nettle, they build webs as they go.
Despite being widespread and common, these beauties of the butterfly world have suffered a 75% decline in the last 40 to 50 years. We're not sure exactly why this is but factors could include habitat loss, climate change and parasites. We would love to have a better understanding of how they're faring in Worcestershire - are their populations following the national decline, have their numbers remained stable or are they bucking the trend?
It's easy enough to help small tortoiseshell and other butterflies by planting nectar-rich flowers in your garden - from dandelions and marjoram to buddleia and sedums, your garden will look great for you and be a haven for wildlife. If you can bring yourself to leave a patch of nettles, you may also play host to a caterpillar creche. An old superstition claims that if an orange butterfly flies near you, joy is on its way - who wouldn't want to help that along?