Sandra Fretwell-Smith is one of the remarkable people recording wildlife and sending her sightings in to our Nature Counts project. Since the project started she has sent in well over 1200 records and almost 600 species! We asked her to tell us a little bit more about her recording and love of wildlife.
“My profession is a metallurgist, a far cry from the wildlife recording I do. I guess it is my way of trying to repair the damage that the steel industry inevitably does to the environment. When I am not working or recording wildlife another big part of my life is playing in a brass band. I play tenor horn in Woodhouse Prize band, one of the oldest brass bands in the country, and which I am very proud to be a part of – we are awesome!
My wildlife recording started when I was campaigning with the Owlthorpe Fields Action Group to try and prevent housing development on a site which had been rewilding for 20+ years. We were advised by Nicky Rivers of Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust to record as much evidence as possible before the public Inquiry. She told us about the Nature Counts Database and from there we were contacted and asked if we would like to be part of the More Data for Nature project. We now have our own space on Nature Counts, where all our observations are in one place and easily accessible.
There are a core number of us that walk regularly around the fields and record all that we observe. During the spring and summer we are more active but one of our members, Philip Jackson, is a trooper. He is out in all weathers with his camera and his beloved two dogs recording wildlife and flora.
I’m really proud that we recorded so much flora and fauna on Owlthorpe Fields…they have been shown to meet the criteria for consideration as Local Wildlife Sites.Sandra Fretwell-Smith
Recording nature gives valuable insight to the declines and successes of species within targeted areas. This gives some indication as to where conservation efforts are most needed. Sadly, I am not convinced that recording wildlife has much benefit in stopping housing development as the developers manipulate the planning system to allow development to take place regardless of what flora or fauna are present. However, we will carry on recording what we see as it is essential to try and change the planning system to ensure the wildlife does get the protection that the existing wildlife legislation aims to protect.
I’m really proud that between our group members of Owlthorpe Action Group we recorded so much flora and fauna on Owlthorpe Fields, that following an assessment by the Trust they have been shown to meet the criteria for consideration as Local Wildlife Sites. We are striving to have them designated as such.
I think it has been quite a revelation to some of the groups that they can easily record what they see in their neighbourhood. My one wish, actually make that two, is that more people would actively make the effort to record what they see. This ties in to my main ‘wish’ in that I think it would be very useful to have an app version of Nature Counts as more people may record things when they are out and about, as almost everyone carries a mobile with them these days. The problem is either the majority of people either aren’t aware of the existence of Nature Counts and/or don’t really care about the flora and fauna around them. Sounds harsh, but sadly it is true.
You can’t have too many photos!
One thing that surprised me was the vast number of varieties of grasses and wildflowers. I thought I knew a fair few but I soon realised how few I could identify. In fact if I could give previous me some advice it would be that one photo is never enough, especially with plants. Take as many photos as possible of every part of the plant. You can’t have too many photos! I have also learned that I am very impatient and far too noisy to photograph birds. Most of my bird photos are fuzzy wings disappearing into the distance!
The most enjoyable part of recording is coming across a species that I haven’t recorded before, particularly birds or wildflowers. Also, wandering through bits of the fields where most people never venture. There are so many more wildflower species and invertebrates, butterflies and moths in these places. There will be many species I have not yet spotted, particularly invertebrates, which I am not very confident at identifying. I would really like to spot a purple hairstreak butterfly, these have been recorded locally but are not so common in the North of England. I would also like to get a photograph of the woodcocks – I have seen them a number of times on the fields but never managed to get a photograph!
The first we recorded a badger on the trail camera is a brilliant memory
The first time me and my daughter recorded a badger on the trail camera is a brilliant memory; we didn’t expect to record one as we had been trying for so long, then we slowly watched a stripey head followed by a hairy body stroll in front of the camera lens. The badgers always make me smile. Sadly I have only seen them on cameras so far; I have yet to come face to face with them as they are very elusive. My daughter has seen a family of them but alas I haven’t been that lucky so far; I live in hope (maybe I will have to get up at 4am or camp out).
Another one of my favourite things about recording is moth trapping and bat detecting with my dear friend, and chair of Owlthorpe Action Group Claire Baker. We have such a laugh, whilst simultaneously doing something worthwhile for the wildlife.
I think recording local wildlife has changed me. Now I have so much more respect for the wildlife in urban and suburban locations. Their survival is fraught with additional difficulties. Take foxes for example, many people regard them as vermin but as we have pushed them into increasingly fragmented areas they have no option but to forage in rubbish bins. I have altogether become much more aware of the need to help wildlife recover. Not just from a ‘cute fluffy bunny’ perspective, but from a realisation of the interconnectedness of all species including us and how we depend on each other for survival.”