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Exploring North East Nature in 2022 – A Few Highlights

A summary of a fantastic year spent watching, recording, and enjoying North East nature. often in great company.

Well, I had thought that 2022 had been a quiet year on the wildlife front but apparently not, and as ever when it comes to writing these festive round-ups, I again have far too much to discuss. Do bear with me.

Before we get going, however, a huge thank you to the friends who have helped make 2022 such an awesome year for wildlife. If you have shared a tip, nugget of wisdom, or location, or have spent an afternoon rummaging around in shrubbery with me, this means you! Nature definitely is better when experienced together.

Orchids Galore

Now, I usually make a point of seeking out orchids each year, but in 2022, they have taken on a special focus. With the launch of NHSN’s Discovering Orchids project, there was plenty of recording to be done across the North East. This meant lots of visits to the far-flung corners of our region in search of some truly beautiful plants. Indeed, I think I encountered more orchids this year than ever before, including several new species.

From Bird’s-nest Orchids at Allen Banks to fantastic floral displays on Lindisfarne, there was an awful lot to see in 2022. Better still, some of these sightings and those of dozens of other botanists have now been published in Orchids of North East England, available now from NHSN. It was certainly a pleasure to contribute to such a fantastic publication.

Urban Botanising

For this city botanist, urban plans have been a real theme of 2022. Just as they are in most years really – I think I may have a problem.

What has been slightly different in 2022 has been the focus on more detailed recording. Back in October, I decided to start work on what I am loosely calling an “Urban Flora of Newcastle”. So far, this has seen 70+ hours spent in the field, 20 tetrads visited and some 2500 records collected of 530 species (and a few hybrids too). A mind-boggling total given the time of year and the relatively low number of squares visited.

I plan to continue work on the flora for the next few years, hopefully writing it up in due course. The diversity of plants in the city never fails to surprise and truth be told, I am finding the whole thing thoroughly addictive.

Ladybird Discoveries

I think that by now, just about everyone knows that I love ladybirds. Searching for them is a little like fishing in that you never quite know what you’re going to encounter.

This year has seen too many exciting discoveries and notable observations to count. So much so that ladybirds have been given a round-up all of their own. You can read it here.

Now that I have the pleasure of volunteering with the UK Ladybird Survey, I’ll certainly be sticking with the spotty blighters for years to come.

Noteworthy Plants

As a botanist, the vast majority of my free time is spent looking for plants. This year has been no different and with countless hours spent rummaging a variety of wild and urban areas, there have been a couple of good finds. Two that spring to mind are county firsts in Pale St. John’s-wort (Hypericum montanum) and Sorbus latifolia. The latter came as quite a surprise during a casual wander along the Tyne back in Summer.

Elsewhere in the North East, Forked Catch-fly (Silene dichotoma) was an exciting find at Gosforth Nature Reserve, as was Scots Lovage (Ligusticum scoticum) on Lindisfarne. Trips elsewhere have seen a whole manner of exciting discoveries too at places such as Hareshaw Linn, Alnmouth, and Berwick. Really, it has been a good year for botanising. Hopefully, there’ll be lots more to come in 2023.

Dabbling in Bugs

Do any other naturalists out there find they only have a finite amount of brain space for tackling new taxonomic groups? I certainly do! This year, I wanted to change things up a little and begin recording beyond my usual plants and familiar insects. Bugs seemed like an obvious place to start and I am pleased to say that I have encountered my fair share. Aphids have been fun to tackle this year and getting my eye in, I have seen a fabulous array of shieldbugs too. Not least the lovely blue chap pictured below. Add to these a variety of mirids and this new addition to my local biological recording has been most enjoyable if a tad hard to come to terms with!

Awards and New Opportunities

Anyone who knows me will know that it came as quite a surprise to win the National Biodiversity Network ‘Newcomer Award’ back in November. Not least because I am unsure of what exactly I have done to deserve it! That said, I am so immensely grateful to NBN for the lovely confidence boost and of course, the nifty profile page here. It really does mean a lot to be recognised for something I have loved since childhood.

This year, I also became an iRecord verifier for the UK Ladybird Survey covering Durham and Northumberland and began helping botanical VCRs in South Northumberland with verification too. Who needs free time, eh? It has certainly been nice to live vicariously through the sightings of others.

A New Local Botany Group

Oh look, a bunch of happy, smiling botanists!

Pondering the local botanical scene back in October, I came to the conclusion that a new group was needed. One with a focus on both supporting one another and on recording too. Sending out a few feelers, I was thrilled with the turnout with some twenty-eight people coming forward to be involved from all corners of the local area.

Fast forward a few months and several of us have enjoyed a few nice local walks at Walker and Tynemouth. 2023 will surely bring new opportunities and it will be great to get some serious recording done as our small and informal group grows and visits new places.

If anyone would like to join in, do get in touch. More the merrier!

Magic moments

Not everything needs to be about serious biological recording – even if it may seem that way on this blog from time to time. Sometimes it is nice to simply sit back and soak in the joys of the natural world. Thankfully, 2022 provided limitless opportunities to do just that and whether we’re talking seabirds on the Farne Islands or orchids in the depths of County Durham, wonderful experiences have abounded this year.

Oddly, of all the great things seen and heard, it is a butterfly that sticks with me the most. The exquisite Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) shown below landed beside me during a trip to Rothbury back in Spring. A species I have seen only a handful of times, it was superb to spend a good while in its company and I was certainly left with a smile when it departed.

Looking ahead to 2023

While free time seems to grow ever scarcer with each passing year, there are several things I’d like to try (or at least resume) in 2023. In a time-honored tradition on this blog, I’ll be making a few New Year’s resolutions centered on wildlife, recording, and other aspects of natural history. It will be interesting to see how many I can live up to.

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