LERN how to appreciate Lancashire Wildlife

If you love spending time in Lancashire's stunning countryside, you might like to join a group helping to protect its wildlife

A walk in the countryside is not only good for your health - it can also be good for the health of the countryside.

Anyone who spends time in the wild - walkers, anglers, runners and riders - all have exciting tales of spotting birds or mammals. Isolated sightings perhaps but, if reported, they add to the comprehensive picture of Lancashire’s rich environment.

The Lancashire Environment Record Network (LERN) is aiming to recruit an army of volunteer wildlife recorders to contribute to its database of more than a million records, some dating back to the 15th Century.

At a time when wildlife is vanishing globally and scientists fear a fifth of the world’s species of plants and animals are under threat, keeping records is vital. Only last year a LERN partner, the East Lancashire Bat Group, discovered a lesser horseshoe that hasn’t been recorded in the area since the 1890s.

‘Lancashire is an important county for a number of species,’ according to Nik Bruce, the LERN development officer. ‘Brown hares, many kinds of coastal bird and a variety of plants thrive in the county while they are scarce or extinct in other regions.

Parts of the county are also outposts for the red squirrel.‘Recently, we highlighted the plight of corn marigolds. West Lancashire is one of the few areas where this plant survived changes in farming practices over the last 30 or 40 years. It is essentially a weed but in spring and summer our fields are a spectacular sight filled with bright yellow flowers. We are keen for passers-by to record instances of corn marigold, so we get an idea of the numbers we have in Lancashire.’

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On a more local level botanist David Earl, LERN’s data expert, was carrying out an ecological survey on Big Wood and Copperworks Wood in Chorley, a derelict site littered with old lodges and mineshafts, when he made an important discovery.

‘We found a thin-spiked wood-sedge, a scarce plant in Lancashire and never seen before in Chorley,’ he said. Restoration plans for the site were modified to protect the plant.

Launched last August at the Lancashire BioBlitz, LERN has leapt into the consciousness of the majority of the county’s naturalists. Its task is to collect, maintain and distribute biological and geological records. It doesn’t take direct action to protect wildlife, rather it provides others with the information they need. Knowledge is power and LERN’s message is simple: ‘If we don’t know about it, we cannot protect it.’

Information from LERN has already been used by the county council and district councils as they prepare development plans. Nik said: ‘Wehave been contacted by residents from Chorley, Preston and Nelson   concerned about the impact of developments. We were able to provide the information relating to their areas and point them towards other sources of help and advice.’

LERN data also provides statistics for scientific research, educational projects or someone simply looking for an interesting day out.

Naturalists and natural history groups are signing up to share their records, but the team are delighted when individuals hand in sightings of some of the county’s more common inhabitants. Nik said: ‘By simply looking out of your window and recording birds on your bird table - starlings, robins and sparrows - you can contribute by sending your records to LERN.’

The network has filled a gap in Lancashire, which was one of the few counties in the UK without a local record centre. The launch event on August 7th was appropriate, as the Lancashire BioBlitz aimed to record as many species as possible over 24 hours in Cuerden Valley Park, in Bamber Bridge. LERN recruited TV naturalist Bill Oddie, the mayors of Preston, South Ribble and Chorley, and more than 70 volunteers.

A tented Bio-village gave local naturalists the opportunity to promote their groups and organise activities where children could indulge in recording activities, including pond dipping and hedge bashing. In total, more than 1,000 members of the public took part in the BioBlitz and a total of 1,005 different species were recorded - 600 was the LERN target.

LERN wants new converts to wildlife recording. It is an opportunity to contribute to protecting our beautiful county both now and for future generations.

You can Look and LERN

LERN takes records from individuals but records need to be checked for accuracy and that means people are directed to local groups and organisations, where they can expand their knowledge and become recognised recorders. Records need to include: who saw it, the species, the date and a location (grid reference).

LERN’s website gives details of its work and the Lancashire BioBlitz at www.lancspartners.org/lern and it can be contacted at lern@lancashire.gov.uk or by phoning 01772 533896.

The Lancashire Wildlife Trust is a membership organisation. To join visit www.lancswt.org.uk

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