Basildon Natural History Society

The Society maintains records of local wildlife.  Some of this data has been passed to the county recording system maintained by the Essex Field Club, and the plan is to ensure that relevant information is lodged in that system.  Similarly, specialist information is shared with the relevant county recorders as occasion arises.

Much work has gone into studying the flora, particularly of the Langdon Hills, and what was known as of the mid-1990s was published in Natives and AliensSubsequent records are being held, with a view to publishing a supplement at some point.

Bird-ringing at the Butlers Grove Reserve was undertaken during the 1970s by Vic Wiseman and Bert Shepherd, with the data being passed to the BTO.  It is interesting to observe the changes in bird species encountered since the 1970s.

There is considerable interest in mammals, with particular attention paid to the local badger populations.  This is coordinated by Frank Last and the Essex Badger Group.

Currently, some studies of small mammals in Marks Hill Wood are being conducted.

In 2012 a Dormouse study group is being set up, under the auspices of the Langdon Living Landscape, to establish the current fortunes of this elusive species in the area. Volunteers wishing to become involved in this group should contact Rod Cole.  Application is being made for due training in the handling of Dormice, bearing in mind the need for such activity to be appropriately licensed.  

Similarly, the work so far on bat populations has been limited, and there is room for detailed work here, using bat detectors.

Badger photo courtesy of Frank Last, Essex Badger Group


The latest national rarity to turn up in Marks Hill Wood Nature Reserve; Rhamphomyia marginata.

Readers will be familiar with the regular business whereby moth-trapping is undertaken in Marks Hill Wood on a regular four-weekly basis, subject to weather and season.  This has been going on since 2009, and it has yielded an astonishing amount of information and insight into the wildlife of what is a fascinating woodland.

Thus, as of the time of writing, we have recorded no fewer than 388 species of moth (to add to the 28 species of butterfly) encountered in the wood.  Vitally, the information gathered tells us much more about the reserve’s ecology, and that in turn influences some of the management. 

We have come to appreciate the flight periods of the various indigenous species, and have a good idea of what to expect at a given time of year.  We have also had a lot of fun, and rather a lot of the beverages and biscuits, laid on initially by Ron Delemos and subsequently by Fred Burgess.

In 2009 we rejoiced in the song of a nightingale (sadly, not repeated in subsequent years), and we have been attended regularly by the tawny owls and foxes, as well as the pipistrelles which turn up for their cut of the action.  In June and July there comes a modest addition to the night-time illumination from the glow-worms.

We have also made some valuable discoveries of other creatures.  Remember that large brown lacewing Drepanepterix phalaenoides?  It dropped in one evening in April 2013 and astounded us with its size and strangeness.  That turned out to be a very rare insect, not given to migration but instead associated with ancient woodland, where by its very nature it escapes normal observation.  That was the first time it had ever been recorded in Essex, and the number of other records for various wooded counties like Sussex is correspondingly low.

April 2015 was determined not to be outdone.  Twelve of us gathered in said wood on 21st April and proceeded to record sixteen moth species, in varying numbers.  Ten Frosted Green moths constituted a particularly delightful haul, sufficient to send us home chilled but appreciative.  However, we also encountered another UFO, this time in the form of a very attractive but totally unfamiliar fly-like item which did not correspond to the normal range of such insects.

Peter Furze took some excellent digital photos of this solitary captive, and these were sent to appropriate entomologists for comment and identification, not least Del Smith, the county recorder of Diptera.  Such is the wonder of modern communications that within twenty-four hours we were learning from the Scottish-based Del that this was none other than Rhamphomyia marginata – a species so rare that he had never seen it, in all his years of expert study.

 We now know rather more about our new insect.  It, of course, is not new – the novelty lies in our at last encountering it.  It is possible that this creature has inhabited our woodland for some while, although a recent expansion of range from Kent or elsewhere cannot be ruled out. Hitherto, virtually all records came from various woodlands in East Kent, the first English record having been made in 1973.  What is not known, of course, is how long the species had been resident in the wood where it was discovered.

The creature in question is indeed a fly – an empid fly: one of the Empididae.  These are flies equipped with biting parts, enabling them to prey upon midges and other small flies.  The female of this particular species has considerably enlarged and somewhat colourful wings, and it appears that this feature is designed to attract the males, which are much less conspicuous.  Significantly, it was a female that was captured in Marks Hill Wood on 21st April, attracted to light.

 We have learned more from the available literature, some of which emanates from Continental authors, for the insect is much more widespread there.  The females are given to swarming, particularly in the time before dusk (and perhaps later), and the object of this behaviour seems to be part of the mating ritual, each insect seeking to attract a mate.  The males, it seems, also swarm, separately, prior to engaging with the female swarm.

We are grateful to Del Smith, Peter Harvey and Roger Payne for their ready assistance in getting the strange insect identified.

We are also reminded that we know and understand so little, even about a woodland like Marks Hill where considerable effort has gone in to observing its wildlife, ever since the nature reserve was set up in 1974-5.  


Moth-trapping meetings in Marks Hill

Once every four weeks we hold a moth-trapping exercise, using light traps in Marks Hill Wood.  As a result, we have built up an increasingly fascinating picture of the moth populations of the wood, discovering a quite remarkable number of rare and scarce species while also getting some useful pointers as to how the woodland reserve should be managed, given the foodplant requirements of the insects.

The Society’s records of butterflies and moths are now substantial, and they tell us a great deal about the changes in the local wildlife and landscape over the past forty years.

New participants in the moth recording sessions are always welcome: we set up our “office” in the woodland on the evenings concerned, with table, chairs, books and beverages, while the insects in the light-traps are regularly checked and brought in for identification before release.

Particular attention is being given to building up detailed records of the wildlife of Marks Hill Reserve, but records are also kept of other parts of the Basildon area, not least those that might come under threat.

We are conscious of the overlap between natural history and human history, not least the history of the landscape, and there are several points of contact with the local historical groups.

‘The Office’ BNHS members identifying moths attracted to the light trap in Marks Hill


Two visitors to the trap: Lunar Marbled Brown Moth and Frosted Green Moth


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