ivy bee pollen baskets

Take a moment today to stand in the sunshine looking at an ivy bush. It will be worth it!

ivy and berries bush If it’s a mature plant it should have those lovely structural yellow-green flower clusters covering it.

ivy flower


Then you might notice a gentle hum…….

This most probably is coming from the Ivy bee (Colletes hederae) A relative new comer to our island, first discovered in 2002 in Southern England. Originating from Europe the Ivy bee has undergone a rapid expansion in the last two decades and now can be found in most Southern counties and increasingly moving northward and inland. Ivy bee

ivy bee in nest

This ground nesting solitary bee can be found hovering around the ivy flowers gathering this late source of nectar. Hot spots in Cambridge for spotting these are Chesterton Rec and West Pit

but probably in your back garden too!

ivy bee pollen baskets                                  ivy bee on ivy

Solitary bees are high on the agenda for the City Council’s Pollinator Campaign, with bee bank construction being planned for some of the reserves soon. These will provide perfect nesting sites for these valuable pollinators. More info as this unfolds.

In the meantime try and spot these adorable, intrepid, bees flying now for a limited time only, terms and conditions apply. 😉








While, what feels like the longest summer ever continues, how about upping your nature identification skills to impress your friends and kids? Or even to enjoy with your friends and kids?

Two really easy and informative surveys to take part in are firstly, The Big Butterfly Count https://bigbutterflycount.butterfly-conservation.org/

It’s running till August 9th, just count as many butterflies you see in 15mins. Also good to send your findings to @savebutterflies to double up on your useful data.

Secondly the Pollinator Monitoring Scheme is a little more involved but great for increasing your knowledge and appreciation of a few more species groups. Find it at: https://www.brc.ac.uk/irecord/poms-fit-count

Pollinators in general are good indicators or signalers, being sensitive to habitat loss or pollution, changes in their numbers can help guide future conservation responses. Therefore your data is important as well as a fun activity.

The Conservation Volunteers have been carrying out both these surveys on our beautiful local nature reserves of Cambridge. The Reserves

Here’s some pics of the kind of sights we have enjoyed!

6 spotted moths          Common Blue butterfly on wild carrot           Honey bee on Knapweed

It’s a beautiful world out there!

Flower meadow

You may have noticed these small patches of wild beauty popping up on some of our city’s parks, it’s part of the a City Council initiative to help out our dear pollinators and bring some added colour and interest to these mostly grassy places. Parker’s Piece, Jesus Green, Colleridge Rec, Cherry Hinton Hall all have their own corners devoted to wild flowers. But there are many others dotted around the city and this year in particular they have given local residents (as well as pollinators) extra pleasure as they burst into bloom.

However this beauty does take a little work! Now the flowers have finished, the seed heads are being allowed time to drop their seeds and then the mowing must commence, shortly followed by a rake and then a remove! This then creates the best conditions for it all to happen again next year. How gratifying to know that most of this work is done by volunteers. See the pics below show casing these nature heroes! A big THANK YOU to them!

Man mowing grass      People raking grass     People scything grass

If you would like to help maintaining and creating these meadows either contact:

Victoria.smith@cambridge.gov.uk or check out http://www.onthevergecambridge.org.uk

Female broad body chaser

Dragonfly week runs from 18th-26th July, lots of info can be found at https://british-dragonflies.org.uk/event/dragonfly-week-2020/

How about locally, can you expect to find many species on our reserves? First off head to where there is water; Logan’s Meadow, Barnwell East, Bramblefields, Paradise, Coldham’s Common, Stourbridge Common,Byron’s Pool, Sheep’s Green and Coe Fen are all excellent places to start. But then what?

A recent conversation with local expert Duncan Mackay revealed many great tips and advice on how to turn a passing interest into a life long passion.

The conversation went like this,

Why did you decide to survey dragonflies?

“I did it because it was an obvious area of the Natural History Cambridge survey that nobody else was looking at. I started out with a bit of knowledge about Dragonflies (I had done a course at the dragonfly centre at Wicken about 10 years earlier and had been photographing them since then).

I was at the start of my project far from being an expert, but I knew that if I tried to photograph everything, then I could study the photos later and get my identification much more accurate. So I adopted a system and whenever I arrived at a site I took a wide angle view of the site so I could work out where I was when I came back to the photos later. Then I started photographing the insects. I used a bridge camera which had a 60x zoom. This proved really important because if you can photograph the dragonflies from a distance you are much less likely to disturb them and can pretty much be certain of recording an image that you can verify the ID from.  I also made notes of what I found on my phone using the google keep app. So then when I went home I transferred the information from google keep onto a spreadsheet. I went through the photos and checked the ID I had recorded in the field with the field guides. The best field guide at the moment seems to be Britain’s dragonflies by Smallshire and Swash, although the Lewington field guide to dragonflies of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is useful too.


How do you initially choose a site to survey?

“Basically I was trying to cover as many aquatic sites within the Cambridge area. I scanned the OS maps for water bodies in the city.

I started with Hobsons Conduit, but it quickly became clear that I needed a way to cover the whole of the Cambridge area, so I set up a number of cycle routes which I could do regularly and then started to record. I was really just trying to establish the distribution of the species but I started to count the numbers as well.

The species flying change each month, so I had to revisit the sites every 2 weeks or so.

How often do you go surveying and what times/months are best?

“I have been going out regularly 2 or 3 times a week (I am semi retired so can work my surveys in with my work) At first I was going out at lunch time and eating as I cycled. The best months are May to September but some species are out in April and also in October. So for young observers the summer school holidays are a great time to be out there.

Also 10am to 4pm are the best recording times and sunny days are important. As soon as the sun goes behind a cloud the dragonflies hide away. They love to bask in the sun to warm their bodies up. Damselflies are more tolerant of cloud cover, but are also more active in sunshine.



What species do you expect to see, what has surprised you?


“I started with no concept of how many species would be in the city. Almost nobody had looked in the city sites until recently. The collection of Dragonflies in the Zoology Museum were almost completely collected from places like Wicken Fen. Nobody it seems was interested in what we have in the city. So in the first month of recording I got to 10 species and was very pleased with that. Then I started to look at how many species other places had. I found Wicken Fen ( the mecca of Dragonfly hunting ) had 22 species. So I wondered how close I could get to that number. By the end of the first year I had got to 19 which seemed totally amazing. I was really pleased when I found not only red eyed damselflies, but also small red eyed damselflies. This is a species that 10 years ago was a very rare vagrant to the UK, but now was turning up on the science park lake. Then I looked back over all my red eyed photographs and found that I had misidentified them on several sites and they were more abundant than I could have imagined. By September of the first year I also found that there were not only Emerald damselflies but also Willow Emeralds. Again 10 years ago they were unheard of in the UK except as rare vagrants, but here they were in Cambridge….really exciting!  Then by the end of the first September the Willow emerald counts showed they were the most common damselfly in Cambridge in September. I was really excited by this. It seemed to me that this must surely be due to Climate change, evidence right here in the city.


In the second season (I could hardly wait for spring to arrive) I went hunting Hairy hawker dragonflies ( which had been missed in the first year as I started it in June). The first ones I found on Ditton meadows, then recorded them in a number of other sites. I also saw the first arrival of the large red Damselfly, the first to emerge in April. By the end of May I had reached 21 species, just 1 species less than the Wicken Fen total.




The second summer also saw the discovery of Lesser Emperor in Barnwell lake and also the Southern Migrant Hawker on Ditton meadows. I also found the White legged Damselfly on Granchester Meadows. So by the end of 2019 I had got to 24 species, which for my reckoning was unbelievably good. We actually had 2 more species than Wicken and I had the photos to confirm all the ids. The Lesser emperor looked very like a faded female emperor and it was only when I studied the photos later that I realised what it really was. I sent the photos to Val Perrins the county recorder, who had never seen a Lesser emperor before, and he thought it was really a faded Emperor. It was only when I posted the photo on the Dragonflies face book page, that the chairman of the BDS rarities committee confirmed that I was correct in my identification.

Damselflies chasing

It does show that all the little nature reserves we have in Cambridge play an important part in conservation. Each reserve may not be as good as the big headline reserves, but when you add them all up together you get a diversity that is really significant. Of course dragonflies can get about by flying, so connectivity and corridors are not so important to them, but a range of diverse habitats in an area can play a significant role in providing niches for a diversity of species.”



Dragonflies mating

What species would you like to see turning up in the future?

“Well I think the Norfolk Hawker could appear, as it has been recorded from some sites quite close to Cambridge. I have photographed the Downy emerald in Shepreth, and it is possible that could be found in some of the more wooded Cambridge lakes. There are also records of Red Veined darters in this area from the past, so maybe we could find those here too. But the city was previously so under-recorded, that who knows what might be lurking. I would really like to find the White legged damselfly in more locations in the city. It likes flowing water and has been recorded from Hobsons conduit as a larvae about 10 years ago. So it may be present in low numbers.




Have you noticed any changes in species count due to weather conditions etc?

“The new species (Willow Emerald, Small Red eyed Damselfly, Lesser Emperor and Southern Migrant Hawker) are part of a wave of new species in the UK. There are quite a few species on the continent that are beginning to cross the north sea. So I await the next new arrival.”



Banded demoiselle damselfly

Any useful pointers or advice for the beginner?

“I think Photography, particularly using bridge cameras with big zooms(40x to 60x) are great for producing photos which you can then study at home and post on one of the forums to get confirmation of your identifications. Plus I like to use a small pair of close focusing binoculars to scan the reed beds. My current favourite binoculars are Nikon travelite ex 10x25s they are really compact and light so very comfortable to use with brilliant optics. Even my grandchildren use them at 7 and 5 years old, but they dont understand Grandads obsession with Dragonflies. When they are trying to get me to go somewhere with them, they always add “you have got to come because the dragonflies are going to be really good there”. We went fishing last week and I found a new location for Scarce chasers…so maybe they are right!”

Damselflies mating

Please go to Dragonfly and Damselfly Survey

to see the results of Duncan’s surveys.

Featured images by Duncan Mackay.


Small magpie moth

The City Council has a moth trap which is free to borrow. To give you an idea of what to expect local dad Ben recounted his experience with it recently:

” I have borrowed the moth trap for the last week and run it so far for 5 nights. My household includes my mother so on some nights the age range went from 10 to 85 years old! It’s been great to see how exciting everyone found it. Mainly because you never know what you will get. The weather and location can make a big difference to the number and species you catch. I invited other people to come and see the next morning what we got. (Socially distanced of course). I was amazed at the curiosity, wonder and joy this inspired in them! They couldn’t believe how many there were, the variety, their amazing markings but also the fact that you can look at them very close-up (unlike butterflies for instance). It was fun to find the moth trap intruders too, other creatures that found their way in. Like Wasps, Caddis Flies even water Boatman!”

Older lady with a moth           Elephant hawk moths      Green Silver lines Moth


” I would recommend checking the surrounding grass and vegetation for moths that have settled near by but not actually in the trap. Also to use a small paint brush when trying to gently encourage moths into a pot out of harms way. If you can stay up it’s fun watching the moths fly into the trap, you could also combine this with a bat-watch.”

“Lastly watch out for robins when emptying the moths out in the morning, they are quick to learn about moth trap free meals!”

If you would like to borrow the moth trap please contact: Victoria.smith@cambridge.gov.uk