How The Great Yorkshire Creature Count unearthed wildlife on our doorstep

PUBLISHED: 08:28 09 September 2020

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly

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Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Great Yorkshire Creature Count revealed how trees, lawns, ponds and flowers are lifelines for some of our most familiar and threatened wildlife. Clea Grady looks at the results

Gorgeous summer gardens proved a haven for wildlife during June's countGorgeous summer gardens proved a haven for wildlife during June's count

Between June 20 and 21 this year people from across Yorkshire counted the wildlife on their doorsteps within a 24-hour timeframe; out of their windows, and in their gardens, window boxes and yards. Stones were turned over, ponds were investigated, and flowerbeds and lawns were explored as participants in Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s first ever Great Yorkshire Creature Count discovered the often-overlooked flora and fauna that share our residential spaces. The results were announced August 1, Yorkshire Day to celebrate the wildlife of our window boxes and yards.

It’s estimated that there are approximately 70,000 species in the UK, and 2% of these were found on Yorkshire doorsteps during study. This figure shows us how vital our own outside spaces are for wildlife – they make up more of the UK’s green space than all the nature reserves combined - and why we must make the places people inhabit much more wild so that nature can recover.

‘Gardens can act as the refuges from which plants and animals can spread out into the countryside,’ says Professor Alastair Fitter FRS CBE, trustee of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

Gardens can be wild havens for so many species; even our familiar and more commonly seen wildlife is under threat and needs support – now, more than ever. Shockingly, it is now believed that 15% of species are at risk of extinction in the UK, with widely-recognised species like frogs and butterflies facing rapid and sustained declines. This year, Covid-19 has caused disruption and delays to wildlife’s recovery, as much of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s vital work was forced to pause during April and May. It’s now a race against the clock to make up for this lost time, and a Wildlife Recovery Fund has been launched to ensure 2020 does not become a lost year for Yorkshire’s wildlife.

The Pipistrelle batThe Pipistrelle bat

Making wildlife’s recovery possible

Nature reserves are vital pockets where wildlife can survive, but a joined-up wilder landscape will ensure that wildlife can move and spread to ever corner of the county. This is why wildlife’s recovery is so hard, because it has to be done everywhere. For wildlife to recover, 30% of land and sea needs to be managed in a way that enhances and supports nature by 2030. There are over five million people in Yorkshire - that’s a lot of people to inspire to take action! Wildlife’s recovery isn’t easy, but it is possible.

What the Creature Count discovered:

Everyone's favourite garden guest, the hedgehogEveryone's favourite garden guest, the hedgehog

Hedgehog

During the Great Yorkshire Creature Count, 57 hedgehogs were recorded. The UK’s only spiny mammal is easy to spot if you’re lucky enough to find one in your garden, but across the UK we’ve lost a third of urban hedgehogs and half of rural hedgehogs since 2000.

This decline is likely caused by changes in how we manage land. Many gardens have become less wild and more enclosed, while the countryside now has fewer places for hedgehogs to sleep and feed. Hedgehogs rely on corridors of safe, food-rich habitat such as hedgerows, joined-up gardens or woodlands. At Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is inspiring people across Yorkshire to make their gardens wilder so that there is hope for their recovery in the future.

Creature CountCreature Count

Common frog

Lots of participants found common frogs during the Great Yorkshire Creature Count, which is a positive sign. Since the 1970s, amphibian numbers have plummeted in the UK, and there are indications that even the common frog is in decline - most likely because there are fewer ponds and pools for them to breed in. A network of ponds across Yorkshire will help frogs come bouncing back into our lives. Each year Yorkshire Wildlife Trust creates new ponds and wetlands specially designed for amphibians and the Wildlife Recovery Fund will ensure that there’s no gap in our pond-building plans.

Garden bumblebee

Bees, particularly bumblebees, were some of the most spotted invertebrates during the Great Yorkshire Creature Count, but only 23 garden bumblebees were recorded which is fewer than we had expected. Many of the UK’s 250 native bee species are in decline, with eight bumblebee species currently at risk of extinction. Wildflower corridors that stretch across Yorkshire could help all of our native bees to recover and thrive once again. By working with landowners and local authorities Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is creating natural networks between flower-rich gardens and nature reserves so that bees can buzz right across Yorkshire.

Swift

It wouldn’t be summer without the sound of swifts, but only 46 were recorded during the Great Yorkshire Creature Count. Since 1995, the British swift population has dropped by a shocking 53%, as both nesting locations and food supplies have dramatically declined. Nature reserves provide insect-rich hunting grounds for hungry swifts returning from their epic migration from Africa every summer, but - with declines so dramatic - they need more help. YWT is working with local authorities and developers to put nest boxes back into our communities. It’s a race against time, to do more before our swifts return again in 2021.

Pipistrelle bat

A few avid wildlife spotters were counting deep into the night and recorded 14 pipistrelle bats during the Great Yorkshire Creature Count. Bats are most often seen at dusk, and this fast-flying, nocturnal mammal is hard to spot, so it is likely that it was under-recorded in the Count. Between 1978 and 1993, pipistrelle bats declined by a shocking 70% and although there are early signs that the population is stabilising, they need all the support they can get.

YWT planning team helps developers to understand why bats are so important, and how roost sites and feeding areas can be protected and restored. Next year major developers in Yorkshire will be encourages to sign up to a new higher building standard so that wildlife has a fighting chance at recovery everywhere.

Small tortoiseshell butterfly

18 different butterfly species were seen during the Great Yorkshire Creature Count, with 95 records of small tortoiseshell butterflies. The population of this once common and widespread butterfly has collapsed by 75% since the 1970s and, like the majority of UK butterfly species, small tortoiseshells desperately need our help. Wildflowers have been lost from our countryside, and intensive agriculture and pesticide use may well be the cause of many declines, alongside the dramatic changes to our climate.

As well as working with landowners to create wildflower corridors across the county, YWT also protects some of the best places for butterflies - such as Kiplingcotes Chalk Pit and Staveley nature reserve. After almost two months of lost activity due Covid-19 restrictions, more will be done to make sure these wild places are full of nectar and colour next spring. Reconnecting Yorkshire’s landscapes isn’t easy, but it is possible if we work together. Help us to make a wildlife-rich Yorkshire a reality for future generations. A donation to our Wildlife Recovery Fund will help to:

Protect existing wild places where wildlife still thrives

Create natural corridors across our landscapes for wildlife to recover

Inspire Yorkshire people to take action for wildlife at home

With your help, wildlife can recover! Visit for more information.

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