Turning your wildlife sightings into valuable data for science!

In these strange times many of us who are lucky to have gardens and green spaces have probably spent more time in them than usual over the past few months since the Covid19 outbreak in March, and by doing so you may have noticed the varied wildlife on your doorstep a little more – from the butterflies visiting the flowers to the bats foraging above you at dusk. Jennifer Owen, author of Wildlife of a Garden, conducted a 30 year study of her own garden and recorded over 2,700 species – so you’d be surprised what you might find when you start looking.

The Big Butterfly Count is on until the 9th August 2020.

Observing the life in your garden is rewarding as it is but making a record and submitting this to the relevant recording scheme is a really simple way you can turn your evenings in the garden sipping elderflower champagne into valuable science. Scientists can use these records in research to understand the changing world around us. Questions such as ‘how species are affected by climate change’ or ‘which species are in decline or at risk’ can be investigated more successfully when we all chip in to the data collection – the bigger the data, the more accurate the research can be. Citizen science projects such as the Big Butterfly Count to the Longhorn Beetle Recording Scheme, give scientists access to a much larger (and therefore more reliable) dataset than they would be able to gather solely on their own and their research has given us important insight into the way populations are changing, which in turn enables us to direct conservation and policy changes to where it is needed.

If you are a bit more versed in species identification and want to make your own list rather than or as well as a particular recording project, you can get help with identification in various Facebook groups such as ‘Wildflowers and Plants of Norfolk and Suffolk’ (cheeky plug for my group!) or the many specific invertebrate groups. Once you have a positive identification, you can submit your records to your local county recorder or recording scheme. To find a list of different recording projects head over to the National Biodiversity Network here.

British Mammals are incredibly under recorded. The European hedgehog is in decline and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species is running a recording scheme to get a better picture which can be found here.

You can also find information on local recording events to meet up with other enthusiast (when allowed) to improve your identification skills. Additionally, records can also be submitted to using iNaturalist which I believe has a great online community to help with identification, or iRecord, which is my personal preferred method. The handy app is really easy to use, and you can upload photos along with the record, which gets verified by an expert at the other end.

Penological data on emerging spring species such as the hairy footed flower bee, or the blooming of primroses, can give scientists an insight into how species are responding to climate change.

Either way, dipping your toes into the world of recording can be incredibly exciting. Not only will you find out what’s living on your doorstep, you are making a valuable contribution to the world of ecological and conservation science – and who knows, you may even find a new species!

Hawthorn

I love hawthorn or Crataegus monogyna. (Of course there is also midland hawthorn Crataegus laevigata). A member of the rose family, hawthorn is equally prickly, but it’s a wonderful all rounder and a must for any wildlife garden, hedgerow or woodland creating project – and what’s even better is it’s easy to grow.

When I was younger when my Dad would take me for walks through our local woodlands, he would call it ‘bread and cheese’ and we would pick off and eat the young shoots. They don’t particularly taste of anything, let alone bread and cheese, but have also been called ‘poor man’s bread and butter’. Over at Plant-Lore.com the different accounts back up the old thoughts that hawthorn is often believed to be unlucky, especially if you bring it into the house but to even cut one down. It is also believed to be associated with fairies.

Recent leaf burst. Jan 2020.

One thing for sure, hawthorn is a brilliant plant for wildlife. It will benefit pollinators with it’s pollen rich flowers which traditionally bloom in May (although don’t be surprised if you see them earlier now), whilst in autumn the berries – or haws – are an essential food source for birds and small mammals. When in a hedgerow hawthorn provides a nesting site for birds, and winter shelter for invertebrates, and in a woodland hawthorn brings structural diversity to the canopy, being a lower-growing shrub.

Bees love hawthorn

You can take cuttings from hawthorn too. I have found the best method is to take green cuttings in spring, cutting just below a leaf node. I use rooting powder to give it a helping hand and then pop into well draining soil and water. I then add a stick taller than the cutting, cover with a plastic sandwich bag and leave in a tray which can be watered when needed. When I have done this the success rate isn’t perfect but around 70%. This method has also worked for other hedging species.

Despite the folklore tales, hawthorn benefits from a prune and can survive coppicing too, extending the life of the individual plants. If your hedge gets a bit leggy, or too big, cutting down to the base will encourage lots of new shoots, resulting in a bushier thicker shrub. Hawthorn can even be laid to create a wonderful stock-proof fence.

Whether you want to encourage birds to your garden, create a wildlife friendly boundary or add structure to a woodland planting scheme – hawthorn is the plant for you!

Hedgerows

Hedgerows

No matter the size of your greenspace there is likely room for a native hedgerow. British hedgerows have been in decline since the 1700s and continue to suffer losses through neglect, poor cutting, spraying, overstocking and even removal. Yet our hedgerows are important for many species of British wildlife.

Hawthorne Crataegus monogyna

130 BAP (biodiversity action plan) species are associated with hedges, as are over 1500 insects including many important pollinators. Bats use hedgerows for commuting and foraging, stag beetle larvae can live in the dead wood, dormice spend most of their time following spring emergence in the bushy branches and great crested newts take refuge at the base.

If you don’t have a hedgerow, or the one you have is a bit gappy, there’s still time to get planting as the planting season runs from Oct-March. There are many options on which species you can plant, and the Woodland Trust offers packages of hedging whips of local provenance (and so reducing the biosecurity risk of importing plants) including free packages for schools and community projects. Hazel (Corylus avellana), hawthorn Cratagus monogyna), blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), oak (Quercus robur), sweet chestnut (Castanaea sativa), field maple (Acer campestre), elder (Sambucus nigra), holly (Ilex aquifolia), crab apple (Malus sylvestris), and ash (Fraxinus excelsior) all make great hedging shrubs. I like to add in dogrose (Rosa canina), guelder rose (Viburnum opulus), and spindle (Eunonymous europaeus) for colour.

Spindle Eunonymous europaeus

It’s recommended to plant hedgerows in two rows with plants approximately 30cm apart (or 6 per metre) with the plants zig-zagging to keep the gaps smaller. By doing this you will create a nice dense hedgerow which could later be laid making it an ideal stock-proof boundary, and if managed well, will probably outlive you!

Once you have your hedgerow it is important to care for it. Hedgerows benefit from being cut, by doing so you encourage new growth and extend the life of the plants and the size of the hedge will determine the way you do this. I love hand pruning smaller hedgerows finding it therapeutic, especially on a bright winter’s day when the birds have started singing again. If your hedges are meters long or are field boundaries, you can still hand prune the hedge however this may not always be practical.

Instead you could use a flail which is the most common method for longer hedgerows, although they may damage stems greater than 2.5cm, weakening the hedgerow. Using a tractor mounted circular saw can avoid this. Whichever method you choose, it’s important to consider the shape you’re cutting to – the ideal is an A-shape of around 2m high and 1.5m wide at the base. You can top this if you wish, but not doing so allows some tree species to grow tall.

Red campion Silene diocia

Cutting should be carried out on a rotation of approximately 2-3 years (though cutting season has finished now to allow birds to nest). Many invertebrate species such as the skippers overwinter in hedgerows as eggs, cocoons or in dead stems and cutting on rotation allows these species to survive.

Other ways you can help wildlife include leaving dead wood in situ, maintaining hedge banks and ditches, and enhancing the ground flora. Emorsgate have some wonderful hedgerow seed mixes for wildflowers and grasses suited to semi-shade and the you can buy quantities appropriate for your hedge, whether just a couple of meters or entire field margins! I’ve used them many times with great success.

Hedge woundwort Stachys sylvatica

Originally written for The Harrowing Times (Norfolk smallholders training group).

15 Ways to garden in the climate crisis

There’s been a lot of coverage of the climate crisis over the past few months, and it’s fantastic that awareness is growing. But how can you do your bit in the garden? Here’s 15 ways you can garden more sustainably to help our planet!

How many of these do you do already?

 

Be Smart With Seeds

you can save resources and money by keeping the seeds from your flowers such as the cowslip pictured, as well as fruits and vegetables to use the following year. Be sure to dry them out before storing and then keep in a breathable container. If you end up with a surplus of seeds, look for your local seed swap event and see what you can exchange them for.

Cowslip seed head

If you collect seeds from primulas, it is a good idea to scarify them before sowing to speed up the germination process.

Ditch the Peat

Whilst peat is great for growing plants, it comes with a high environmental cost. Peat is extracted from peat bogs, destroying the unique biodiversity of this habitat. Peat bogs are also an excellent carbon store – turning decomposing plants into peat thanks to the wet, anoxic condition of the bogs. When peat is harvested, green house gasses are released into the atmosphere, and once spread onto gardens, further carbon dioxide is released. Ditch the peat for the many equally great alternatives such as the Dalefoot compost pictured, or even better, make your own compost!

Compost

Dalefoot compost is a fantastic peat-alternative, especially their wool compost.

 

Re-Wild your Lawn

Let’s face it, lawns are pretty boring. Biologically they aren’t very diverse and often require artificial nutrients and weed killers to keep them looking lush and green. Converting your lawn into a wildflower meadow not only saves you the time used for mowing but benefits the bees (and other invertebrates) too!

Dandelion and orange tip butterfly

Dandelions are an important nectar supply for early spring pollinators such as this male orange tip butterfly.

 

Garden for Pollinators

Our insects are suffering a catastrophic decline and we need them to survive. You can do your bit by planting nectar rich flowers covering as much of the flowering season as possible (primroses are great early supplies of nectar, whilst Ivy is a fantastic late supply!). Non-native plants can be great for nectar if they are simple open flowers, but the advantage of native plants is that they often support insects throughout their life cycle by providing food for different stages as well as a suitable habitat. You can also install log piles to offer shelter for other invertebrates such as beetles, and leave your garden untidy over winter as fallen leaves and dead stems are the perfect place for insects to hide out during the cold months.

Comma

Gardening for pollinators is more than planting nectar – the larvae of commas feast on nettles before emerging as adult butterflies.

 

Install a Pond

All good wildlife gardens should have a pond. Animals needs water and a pond can provide a watering hole for birds, mammals and invertebrates that visit your garden. They are also essential for breeding amphibians who will soon find your pond (don’t transfer spawn from one pond to another to prevent spreading diseases and invasive organisms). What’s more, many flying invertebrates start of life in the pond and emerge as an adult providing  a food source for bats!

Frogspawn

Monitoring when frogs spawn can tell us a lot about our changing climate. If you want to help scientists then report your spawn sightings using iRecord which you can find online or through an app for your phone.

 

 

Go Plastic-Free

If you’ve gardened for some time, chances are you have a stack of plastic pots somewhere. Where you can, re-use these as much as possible. But when buying new, or looking for containers for seed growing, seek out plastic-free alternatives. You can make your own pots from newspaper, re-use egg boxes and toilet roll tubes for growing on seeds and they best bit is you can plant them straight out in the tubes – which is excellent for root veg!

Pots

You can use almost anything as a pot, just be sure to drill some holes for drainage!

 

Garden Organically

Insects have declined more than 75% in the last 3 decades which is just astonishing. A big part to blame for this is the continued use of pesticides. Whilst you can’t control what happens outside your garden (but buying organic veg does help!) you can control what you use at home. Organic gardening doesn’t have to be difficult. There are many natural ways to deter pests if needed, although creating lots of different habitats means you are likely to attract the predators needed to control problematic species and the garden will look after itself. Another thing to consider is only growing plants which aren’t susceptible to problems such as Lilies.

Bee on chives

Pesticides don’t just target pests – other species such as bees can suffer too.

 

Garden for Birds

Feeding birds using a bird feeder though winter can help them survive when food is hard to find, but you can also make your garden bird friendly by adding plants which also provide food such as a native hedging plants; hawthorn, blackthorn, holly, guelder rose, trees such as Rowan and fruit trees and Ivy which provides food late in the season. Hedges, trees and climbers all give birds somewhere to nest and roost in, and by growing plants for insects you’ll be providing food for insectivorous birds too!

Blackthorn

Birds love the sloes from blackthorns – if you’re lucky they’ll leave you some to make a batch of sloe gin in time for xmas.

 

Shop Sustainably

Where do you buy your garden supplies from? Are they making positive changes to combat climate change? Do they use peat, or pesticides? Are their plants grown locally or imported (and risking bio-security issues)? By choosing where you shop you encourage businesses to do better.

BWFP

Local nurseries by their nature of being smaller will have a much lower environmental impact than bigger companies, and they are usually much friendlier too. I love visiting British Wild Flower Plants in Norfolk!

 

Buy Local and Connect with Neighbors

Buy local where you can. Often local nurseries take more care growing the plants, and you can usually find some interesting varieties too. Buying local also reduces transportation impacts. Local selling pages are a fantastic place to offload excess plants or gardening equipment as well as picking up a few bargains yourself!

Walnut Tree Nursery

Walnut Tree Nursery in Norfolk is a great place to find some unusual varieties of more common plants.

 

Grow Your Own Food

If you can, try growing you own food. You don’t need a massive garden to do this as there are lots of patio varieties of different fruits and veg which can be grown on balconies too. If you don’t have much space, you could always consider an allotment. Not only does growing your own organic food reduce your environmental impact, it’s delicious too!

Grow you Own

I’ve started using straw as a substrate in our veg patch as so far so good! This year I’m adding compost from the chickens too.

 

Compost

Food waste has a massive impact on the environment and not all councils collect it so some still heads straight to landfill. You can prevent this by composting your own food waste and there are lots of options to do this. You can have a basic plastic bin which works well over time, an open compost bin like the one pictured (though more suited to garden waste than food) or even a wormery! There are new hot compost bins which are ideal for small gardens as they require less space and make compost much quicker than a traditional bin. Using your own compost reduces the need to buy in compost from elsewhere too.

Compost bin

This bin was made from 4 pallets, the one at the front cut into sections which can be slid into the front as needed. Perfect for garden waste or areas where you don’t have rats.

 

Get Your Own Chickens

Animal agriculture comes with a high environmental impact. If you eat eggs, having a couple of hens is a great way to produce eggs for your family and they are much nicer than mass produced eggs too. One of the issues with current farming methods is that the rainforests are being cut down for soy plantations for animal feeds – so if you do have your own hens, make sure that the feed is soy-free!

Chickens

There’s nothing quite like a fresh egg from a spoilt and happy chicken!

 

Garden for your Local Climate

Hose bans will become more frequent as water supplies dry up. It is predicted that some areas of the UK will suffer regular water shortages within the next 25 years so the idea of watering your garden will be a thing of the past. To avoid excessive water use, plant species which are adapted to our climate, or even more drought tolerant ones, and avoid planting in the dry seasons so there’s no need to regularly water.

Sedums

Sedums require little watering and can be great for ground cover or for green roofs – as well as being a good nectar supply for pollinators.

 

Green Your Roofs

Green roofs can come in many forms from a small sedum roof on your wheelie-bin cupboard to a whole garden on top of a city building. They can help reduce energy costs by absorbing heat and acts as insulation for buildings as well as cleaning the air around us. When roofs are greened in cities, they help mitigate the urban heat island effect which may be more important than ever in the next few years. They also provide a habitat to our wildlife, including birds and pollinators and like this one seen at the Hampton Court Flower Show in 2015, they look stunning too!

Green Roof

There are no limits to green roofs, except the load bearing of the structure! To find out more head to livingroofs.org

 

Thanks for reading! If you loved this content, then head over to Facebook and Instagram and follow for more.

x Larissa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Species Recovery Trust

The Species Recovery Trust is a charitable organisation headed up by Dominic Price, the Trust’s director, working to the primary aim to ‘remove 50 species from the edge of extinction in the UK by the year 2050’. The team at the Species Recovery Trust does this alongside volunteers by combining scientific knowledge and effective conservation practices. The species targeted are a mix of both plants and animals and include some of the rarest in the UK. These include invertebrates such as Cicindela campestris – Green Tiger Beetle, Erotides cosnardi – Cosnard’s Net-winged Beetle and Hagenella clathrata – Window-winged Caddis Fly as well as these plants: Carex depauperata – Starved Wood-sedge, Gentianella campestris – Field Gentian and Lycopodiella inundata– Marsh Clubmoss. Head over to their website to find out more about the important work they are carrying out.

As well as being super-awesome species protectors, the Trust also offers a range of ecological training courses aimed at people wanting to develop their skills in  identification and ecological practices. I have been lucky to have attended a few courses with Dominic including the winter tree identification and grasses identification courses held within the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Garden, and can highly recommend these to anyone who is able to sign up to one (some of the courses are already fully booked).

One of the other fantastic resources offered by The Species Recovery Trust are their two field guides. Both are excellent guides to have with you when out on a survey. You can preview a sample of the grass ID book here. The grass ID book comes out with me on every field trip and is a wonderful compliment to the somewhat more picture-less (and heavier!) Stace. The descriptions are very clear and concise without using too much complicated terminology so it’s also perfect for beginners as well as seasoned botanists too. You can purchase both books in their shop.

IMG_9182 1

My own copy of the Grass Identification book. It’s ace!

I’d like to thank Dominic for a kind donation of Wildflower Seeds which will be available as freebies at the Royal Norfolk Show next week. To come and get yours, head over to the new horticultural area to  find the pollinator garden and come and say hello!

Finally, here’s a link to a quick video showing you how to identify some British grasses, give it a go! It’s not as daunting as you might think!

 

x Larissa

The Species Recovery Trust is a charitable organisation. If you’d like to support them with their work, I’m sure any donations would be greatly appreciated. You can find out more on how to support them over on their website here.