Wimbledon Common BioBlitz

Sunday 18th June 2017

On a very hot summer day, Quekett members attended the fourth BioBlitz on Wimbledon Common (a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC)) in south-west London as part of the Club’s microscopy outreach programme.

Alan Wood, Barry Wendon, Dennis Fullwood and Paul Smith set up their microscopes and cameras in the Information Centre (next to the Ranger’s Office) to assist with identifying plants, insects and other organisms found during the organised walks. To get us started, Dennis went down the hill to Queensmere to collect pond life, and Paul collected material from the cattle trough.

Barry Wendon used his Olympus CK inverted microscope to look at material collected from Queensmere.

Barry WendonBarry Wendon

Paul Smith brought his Olympus CX41 microscope that does not have a viewing head but a set of adapters and an EOS M mirrorless camera. The camera was connected via its HDMI output to a television for viewing, focusing and composition and was operated via an infrared remote control. Paul found lots of Pediastrum spp. and some diatoms (including Surirella) and and a testate amoeba (Difflugia sp.)in the material from the cattle trough. He also brought a small 20× stereomicroscope.

Paul Smith with a visitorPaul Smith with a visitor

Paul Smith with two visitorsPaul Smith with two visitors

Pediastrum spp.Pediastrum spp. [by Paul Smith]

Diatoms secrete a type of mucus that helps them glide along, and sometimes other creatures stick to the mucus and are dragged along, like this green Pediastrum stuck to a brown diatom, Surirella sp.

Surirella sp. and Pediastrum spp.Surirella sp. and Pediastrum spp. [by Paul Smith]

Testate amoeba (Difflugia sp.) [by Paul Smith]
Click the arrow to start the video, click the icon to the left of “vimeo” for a larger version

Dennis Fullwood brought his Nikon Labophot compound microscope and Olympus SZ4045 stereomicroscope and used them to observe pond life from Queensmere and material brought in by visitors.

During the day, Dennis took one family pond dipping in Queensmere, and another family hunting for galls on trees. Dennis had set out yellow pan traps for insects along the hedge on the margin of the plain, and on the wood pile, and he took 3 separate families to inspect the catches. He also gave them sets of yellow pans to take away and use at home. The catches were good, with plenty of Diptera, Hymenoptera, Collembola, Isopoda and some Coleoptera, Myriapoda and Dermaptera. Some of the arthropods were identified to species level for inclusion in the overall list for the day.

Alan Wood and Thanya Nirantasook brought their trinocular Olympus SZ4045 stereomicroscope and used it to observe waterfleas (including Bosmina longirostris (O. F. Müller)) from Queensmere, and to show them on the the Centre’s television via a Canon EOS digital SLR and a long HDMI cable.

Nikon Labophot and Olympus SZ4045 microscopesNikon Labophot and Olympus SZ4045 microscopes

The BioBlitz began on Saturday 17th June, setting traps for small mammals with Alex Learmont of the Surrey Wildlife Trust, setting traps for moths with Les Hill of Butterfly Conservation (the Data Manager of the National Moth Recording Scheme), and observing bats with John Tovey. On the Sunday morning, events started early with checking the traps for small mammals and a walk to observe birds, and then checking the moth traps with Les Hill.

Les Hill, Thanya Nirantasook and Dennis Fullwood looking at mothsLes Hill (left), Thanya Nirantasook and Dennis Fullwood looking at moths

One specimen that Les was pleased to see was a leopard moth (Zeuzera pyrina (L.)), which resembles a bird dropping.

Leopard moth (Zeuzera pyrina)Leopard moth (Zeuzera pyrina)

The light trap has cardboard egg boxes inside, to provide places for the moths to settle.

Egg boxes in the light trapEgg boxes in the light trap

After checking the moths, Les, Peter Haldane (Conservation & Engagement Officer) and Ros Taylor (Conservator) led the first guided walk around the common. A good range of books and guides was provided for identifying plants, insects and pond life, with sweep nets and pond nets for collecting specimens and jars for observing specimens.

Books and collecting jarsBooks and collecting jars

Books on flowers and birdsBooks on flowers and birds

We started off at the large patch of hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium L), where there are also brambles, stinging nettles (Urtica dioica L.), bindweed (Calystegia), ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata L.), thistles and cleavers (Galium aparine L.), and a flowerless plant, horsetail (Equisetum arvense L.).

Hogweed patchHogweed patch

Umbel of hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)Umbel of hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)

Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata)Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata)

Cleavers (Galium aparine)Cleavers (Galium aparine)


Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)

There are white-lipped snails (Cepaea hortensis (O. F. Müller)) and lots of insects in this area.

White-lipped snail on stinging nettleWhite-lipped snail on stinging nettle

We spotted a blue butterfly here that Les identified as a holly blue (Celastrina argiolus (L.)), the only one with this nice blue underwing.

Holly blue (Celastrina argiolus)Holly blue (Celastrina argiolus)

We also saw a red admiral (Vanessa atalanta (L.)), but we didn’t see any of its caterpillars on the nettles.

Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) on thistle

Dog owners are asked to clear up their dog’s mess and dispose of it responsibly, so that it does not affect the common’s ecosystem, but here is an example of how not to do it:

Dog waste bag in the hogweed patchDog waste bag in the hogweed patch

Just across the path from the hogweed patch is a large area of acidic grassland, part of which is mowed regularly, and part of which is allowed to grow during spring and summer to encourage skylarks. People and dogs are supposed to keep out of the un-mown area, but we could see that they ignore the notices. Trees that invade the grassland have to be removed so that it does not turn into scrub and then woodland.

Peter Haldane with the walkersPeter Haldane (green top) with the walkers

Alison Pelikan identifying a specimenAlison Pelikan identifying a specimen

There are lots of flowers in the un-mown area, including white clover (Trifolium repens L.), bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus L.), tufted vetch (Vicia cracca L.), goat’s rue (Galega officinalis L.) and even a few bee orchids (Ophrys apifera Huds.).

White clover (Trifolium repens)White clover (Trifolium repens)

Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Tufted vetch (Vicia cracca)Tufted vetch (Vicia cracca)

Goat’s rue (Galega officinalis)Goat’s rue (Galega officinalis)

Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera)Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera)

There were lots of insects here too, including honeybees and lots of small grasshoppers that were easier to hear than to see.

Honeybee on bird’s-foot trefoilHoneybee on bird’s-foot trefoil

GrasshopperGrasshopper on heather

Grasshopper on grassGrasshopper on grass


We were delighted to see a common lizard (Zootoca vivipara (Lichtenstein)), skilfully caught in a sweep net!

Common lizard (Zootoca vivipara)Common lizard (Zootoca vivipara)

There is some heather (Calluna vulgaris (L.) Hull) invading part of the acidic grassland, and an area of heath where trees have to be removed so that the heather can thrive.

After the grassland, we went into the woodland to see a nest of the oak processionary moth (Thaumetopoea processionea (L.)). Hairs from the caterpillars can cause irritation of eyes, skin and lungs. Oak trees in the busiest areas of the common are sprayed to kill the young caterpillars, but in most areas the nests have to be removed by workers with protective clothing and breathing apparatus.

Nest of oak processionary moth caterpillarsNest of oak processionary moth caterpillars

Also in the woodland, there was lots of lichen on live trees and on dead branches, and lots of blackberry plants.

Grey foliose lichen on a twigGrey foliose lichen on a twig

Bumblebee on a blackberry flowerBumblebee on a blackberry flower

The next stop was Hookhamslade pond, where we spent some time pond dipping and found mosquito pupae and larvae, freshwater shrimps (Gammarus) and lice (Asellus), small leaches, flatworms, phantom midge larvae and a tadpole of a newt.

Collecting from Hookhamslade pondCollecting from Hookhamslade pond

Examining the catchExamining the catch

Newt tadpoleNewt tadpole

Around the pond, there had been lots of yellow flags (Iris pseudacorus L.) but there was just one flower left.

Yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus)Yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus)

There were a lot of leaf galls on one of the hazel (Corylus avellana L.) trees on the bank of the pond.

Leaf galls on hazel (Corylus avellana)Leaf galls on hazel (Corylus avellana)

There had been moorhens nesting in the pond but they were nowhere to be seen and may have been scared off by dogs. It is not possible to approach the pond without passing a notice that dogs must be kept out of the pond at this time of year, but while we were there 2 large dogs jumped in.

Between the morning and afternoon walks, Alison Pelikan of the Wimbledon Beekeepers’ Association gave an entertaining and informative talk on bees and beekeeping.

Alison Pelikan’s talkAlison Pelikan’s talk

The Surrey Wildlife Trust had a display outside the Information Centre.

Surrey Wildlife TrustSurrey Wildlife Trust

We are grateful to the Conservators for allowing us to use the Information Centre for our microscopes and cameras, and to collect specimens from the common.

Members of the Quekett Microscopical Club will be in the Information Centre again for Wimbledon Common Open Day on Sunday 10th September 2017.

Report and photographs by Alan Wood, except where indicated

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