Informal Mini Bioblitz at the Wildflower Bank

Bioblitz poster ver 2Join us at 3.20pm on 18 June at the beginning of National Insect Week for an informal mini Bioblitz of the Wildflower Bank, Ring Fort Rd, CB4 2GR. The event will run for two hours and you’re welcome to join us for as little or long as you like. All equipment will be provided. Sadly, many people don’t realise what a precious resource the Wildflower Bank is – the UK has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows since WWII and that’s having a negative impact on the insects that rely on it, and in turn the birds and bats that feed on them.

It’s an opportunity to get involved in Citizen Science (see video below), learn about the importance of our local plants and invertebrates, and support Plantlife’s Road Verge Campaign. It’ll be an accessible, free, fun, informative, and family friendly activity – easy to join as you collect children from school.

The Wildflower Bank will be brimming with plants and buzzing with insects later in June, and this Citizen Science event is being run as a bioblitz – where experts and members of the public will try to identify as many of these species as we can in this particular area and in the set time. Members of the public are encouraged to come along to learn, and Cambridge based naturalists are very welcome to come along and share their expertise. All plant and invertebrate records from the bioblitz will be provided to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Environmental Records Centre.

Information from the bioblitz will also feed into a sign being installed at the Wildflower Bank near to the school showing pictures of the different types of flowers found there, and the insects and wildlife each type of flower supports. We’re planning a competition with the school for the children to create some content for the sign, and this will be launched at an insect and wildflower themed assembly.

We’re working with Orchard Park Community Council, and Histon and Impington Sustainability Group to have our roadside verges managed for wildlife as per Plantlife’s Road Verge Campaign and in Orchard Park also per our Habitats Management Plan written for us by the Wildlife Trust BCN. We plan to undertake any necessary remedial practical management on the Wildflower Bank, to ensure it remains rich in species diversity. Grasses are beginning to encroach in some areas, and they might need to be removed, and the soil prepared for reseeding with pesticide free wildflower seeds.

We will run the management as community events, perhaps as part of an Orchard Park family fun environment day.

Thanks to Tim and Carol Inskipp of OPWP for their expertise with identifying all creatures great and small, Holly Freeman of OPWP for all planning and liaison with the school, Louise Bacon of CPERC for expertise in identifying invertebrates, Lush for the Charity Pot Party to advertise and fundraise for equipment for these activities, Education Services 2010 for their funding of the sign and tools, Orchard Park Community Council for altering the mowing schedule and collaboration with the sign, and last but not least Orchard Park Community Primary School for working with us on these and other projects.

 

 

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School’s out for Summer (well almost)

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Orchard Park Community Primary School Children, Beetles Class, half way through the litter pick after the Wildflower Bank heading towards the Wildlife Area

Yesterday we ran the last of the sessions on local wildlife for Miss Williamson’s Year 4 Beetles class – around 30 pupils approximately 9 years old. We’ve had a great time exploring Orchard Park’s wildlife and finding out how we can help. Orchard Park Wildlife Project planned and delivered three sessions.

The first, focussed on the variety of Habitats around Orchard Park (wildflowers, scrub in the Wildlife Area, grassland, ponds, hedges, mature trees etc.) and the wildlife that lives in each. We had an interactive presentation followed by an exploration of habitats in the school grounds, and an activity to create habitat and wildlife diagrams.

Session two looked at Threats to Wildlife in the UK using local examples where possible. OPWP explained threatened species and population declines, and looked at some of the main threats – habitat loss and degradation, overharvesting/fishing, invasive species, climate change, and disease. As habitat loss is the reason most species are threatened, we played a game similar to musical chairs – the children enjoyed flapping around as bats to the Batman theme tune – to show the effects of habitat loss to local bats is much more detrimental than they might first imagine. As their habitat becomes fragmented, the bats can’t travel between fragments, and the fragments are soon unable to sustain any bats. We followed this by making 3D models of a range of habitats and animals that would be found in them.

Orchard Park has litter problem and the Wildlife Project came into being initially to address the terrible and dangerous litter levels in the Wildlife Area – a densely vegetated area set aside for wildlife, and intended to be undisturbed to provide a safe area for birds to nest etc. Through many litter picks, and work with the Orchard Park Community Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council, it’s getting better, but the litter remains – although right now, thankfully, at a lesser level.  Yesterday’s session focussed on Dangers of Litter to Wildlife and how it is dangerous in both the short and long term, and in particular to some of our local favourites: Hedgehogs, Lizards and birds. We explored ideas to help, donned high vis jackets, grabbed equipment, and a did a litter pick along the Wildflower Bank seeded with wildflowers to support insects, and up to the Wildlife Area. It was a lovely sunny day and the children got a lot of bags of little things. We stressed the importance of picking up the small pieces of plastic and cigarette butts, as they can release poisons and pollutants into the ground as they break down over many many years. The Ring Fort Bank wrapping around the school and approach to the Wildlife Area are all looking much better.

Thank you Beetles 🙂

We also thank Miss Williamson for inviting us into her class. We enjoyed all the sessions, and I know she’d like us to go back next year – this would be our third consecutive year running similar sessions.

School isn’t completely out for summer though, as we’re also planning an assembly on Wildflowers and an after school Wildflower and Insect Bioblitz, both feeding into the sign for the Wildflower Bank Habitat, and perhaps a Welly Walk with some preschool children to spot different birds and trees that live here…..All before they break for the long summer holidays.

Finally, many thanks indeed to Holly Freeman of OPWP for arranging the sessions with the school and organising activities.

Fledglings, Flowers, Insects and Formulating Plans

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Photo credit: Peter Trimming. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

I was lucky to see a juvenile blackbird in the garden this morning. I stepped away to get my camera but sadly it moved away before I could get a photo, so I’ve used this great picture by Peter Trimming.

It’s the time of year when we’ll be starting to see fledglings around. So far I’ve seen just a single blue tit fledgling, calling continuously and flapping it’s wings rapidly to attract the attention of its parent to beg for food. If you find a baby bird and you’re concerned about it, check the RSPB info below , and see their website for advice on what to do.

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Feeding birds is to be encouraged all year round, but at this time of the year it will help them feed their young too. See the RSPCA’s Guide to Feeding Birds for more information.

It’s also the time of year when we’re starting to get more flowers too. The Wildflower Bank on Ring Fort Rd has had Cowslips this year so far, but we’ll have to wait a little while before it’s in all it’s flowery glory.

Education Services 2010 have kindly provided funding, and some structural materials were donated generously by Kettles Yard, to make a sign for the Wildflower Bank showing its variety of flowers, and the invertebrates that each type of flower supports. Orchard Park Primary School children will be helping to create content for the sign.

We’re also looking into the feasibility of running a mini bioblitz, an activity when naturalists and members of the public work together to find as many species as possible within a set location and time, at the Wildflower Bank during National Insect Week 18-24 June. National Insect Week’s video shows why insects are so important.

Local Land Plastic, Please Help

 

 

All photos kindly provided by: Andrew Chan

Since David Attenborough’s recent Blue Planet II, we all know that plastic littering the oceans is a big problem. However, we have a massive litter and plastic problem so local, it’s practically (and in many cases around Orchard Park quite literally) on our doorsteps. The Wildlife Area is in a terrible state and sadly even after five years of concerted efforts to clean it up – by Orchard Park Community Council, and volunteers from Orchard Park Wildlife Project, the local Scouts, and Orchard Park Community Primary School to name a few – the litter issue is as bad as ever see: Opwildlife litter.

Andrew Chan (OPCC) flew a drone over the Wildlife Area last week and recorded the flyover. The resulting photos and footage show the wide range and great level of the litter problem and it’s sickening. Literally.

Plastic is composed of toxic compounds which can cause harm to wildlife for many years by polluting land and water. Animals can get stuck in larger pieces of plastic (and cans), or they can ingest both large and micro pieces of plastic, resulting in suffocation and poisoning respectively. We found plastic bags containing dog poo hanging in the trees, obviously this is a human health hazard.

Andrew has made a great video highlighting the litter problem. To view video click here: Highlighting the litter problem at the Wildlife Area

 

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OPWP has used all the footage filmed by the drone to highlight some of the features installed for wildlife at the area, and it also shows just how wide ranging the litter problem is. To view video click here: Longer flyover showing features of the Wildlife Area, and the range and extent of the severe litter problem there

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A study by the University of California and Santa Barbara in the US found that “We are increasingly smothering ecosystems in plastic”. The lead researcher stated they are “very worried that there may be all kinds of unintended, adverse consequences that we will only find out about once it is too late” and “there is much more attention paid to how plastics are interacting with marine organisms but there is much, much less known about how plastics interact with terrestrial organisms – I would suspect there is something equivalent going on and it might actually be worse.” (source The Guardian: Taylor 2017).

Other research by Keep Britain Tidy has shown that the presence of litter simply encourages more litter to be tossed aside: if we can keep the Wildlife Area cleaner, it might deter additive littering.

We’re having a litter pick at the Wildlife Area, Ring Fort Rd, CB4 2GR, on Saturday 14 April from 10:00-14:00. Please come along and join us, it’s obvious the wildlife needs your help. Meet at the sports centre, join us for as little or long as you can. Refreshments provided. We look forward to seeing you. Thank you.

 

 

 

Greenfinches – New Visitors Given the Weather

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Greenfinches. Photo: OPWP

This is the first time I’ve seen Greenfinches in the garden. No doubt they were attracted here for the food I put out. I’ve also seen a Song Thrush, again not a usual visitor. The garden is in general, much busier than usual. It’s good to know I’m doing a little to help them get through this cold snap.

Birds will be having a difficult time trying to find food at the moment. The following is taken directly from the RSPB and explains simple but important steps you can take to help. Read more by clicking: here

“To keep their energy up during the colder months, the best way to help your garden birds is by providing them with a variety of food, but fatty food will be especially helpful. For example, fat balls or homemade bird cakes, which only take a few minutes to make and can be a great children’s activity, are perfect for your feathered friends. These can be made cheaply with kitchen scraps and lard. If you prefer, seeds, fruits or dried mealworms are also among birds’ favourite snacks.

Another vital support for vulnerable birds is fresh water for drinking and bathing. Finding sources of water can be hard for birds when there’s been a frost, but with a simple trick you can help to keep a patch of water ice-free. The RSPB recommends floating a small ball, such as a ping-pong ball, on the surface of the water as a light breeze will stop an area of water from freezing.

Finally, providing shelter from the harsh weather is extremely important. By carefully planting dense hedges such as privet or hawthorn, or allowing ivy or holly to grow: you’ll be giving birds a great place to roost in and shelter from the elements. Nestboxes can also make good roosting sites.”

Source: https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/cold-snap/

You could consider purchasing Ecopond’s Ice Free for Bird Baths to prevent water supplies from freezing down to -4C or put out some warm water. It is a specialist product that won’t harm birds. It’s very important NOT to use any salt or antifreeze products.

The Holly and the Ivy

Ivy flowers

The holly and the ivy….. their ripening fruits are a sign Christmas is coming soon. Plant some ivy! It’s a great addition to a wildlife garden. It provides some of the latest flowers of the year, full of nectar for insects – butterflies, such as the Red Admiral, and some species of bees will rely on it. As well as late nectar, ivy produces late fruit for birds such as thrushes.

Ivy can also provide winter shelter for hibernating moths, and nest cover for small birds like Wrens and Robins.

Although it is a hardy plant, I managed to kill an ivy plant. Knowing its wildlife value though, I’m going try again this year……

From the BTO: Garden BirdWatch preliminary results, and attracting birds in Autumn

The following are taken directly from the email newsletter from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), written by Claire Boothby, Garden BirdWatch Development Officer. They feature information on the Goldfinch, a bird commonly seen in Orchard Park, Waxwings seen in large numbers early this year in the nearby Science Park, and how to attract birds to your garden.

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Source: BTO

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Source: BTO

Summer Safari 2017

Many thanks indeed again to Peter Pilbeam, Pat and Alan of Cambridgeshire Mammal Group for setting the traps around Orchard Park, and to Tim and Carol Inskipp for identifying everything we came across.

Many thanks too to everyone who came along. We hope you enjoyed it.

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Some of the people at the Summer Safari as we explored the edge of the grassland

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Traps set and ready to distribute

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Cambridgeshire Mammal Group members setting the traps

Bank Vole Myodes glareolus

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Birds:

Common Swift Apus apus

Feral Pigeon Columba livia

Magpie Pica pica

Starling Sturnus vulgaris

puffed up starling

Starling

Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla

Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis

good goldfinch

Goldfinch

Bumblebees:

Early Bumblebee Bombus pratorum

Common Carder Bee Bombus pascuorum

Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lapidarius

White/Buff-tailed Bumblebee (not possible to separate these species at this time of year, except for Queens)

Moths:

Garden Grass-veneer Chrysoteuchia culmella

Shaded Broad-bar Scotopteryx chenopodiata

Eggar sp. Lasiocampa sp.

Butterflies:

Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris

Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae

Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus

Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina

Ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus

Beetles:

Common Red Soldier Beetle Rhagonycha fulva

7-spot Ladybird Coccinella 7-punctata

Other insects:

Marmalade Hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus

Roesel’s bushcricket Metrioptera roeselii

Meadow Grasshopper Chorthippus parallelus

Southern Hawker dragonfly Aeshna cyanea

Other invertebrates

Brown-lipped Snail Cepaea nemoralis

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Web Nursery Spider Pisauris mirabilis

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Black Ant sp.

Walnut Leaf Gall Aceria erinea

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Lime Nail Gall Eriophyes liliae

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Summer Safari 2017

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For more information see: Orchard Park’s Third Summer Safari Sunday 9 July 5.30-7.30pm

Making Recycled Bird Seed Feeders with the Youth Group

Last Thursday OPWP held an event with Young People’s Workers at the Orchard Community Centre for the local youth group to make seed feeders from bottles. Some of the bottles had been collected during the scout’s recent litter pick. We demonstrated how to make the feeders and repurpose the bottles and how to fill them with a mix of seeds and suet (it stays in a bit better if suet is heated and added to the seed mix – just make the opening a little larger than suggested in the instructions below). We also had some bird books on hand to show the types of birds the feeders are likely to attract locally.

Many thanks for giving us the opportunity to work with you, and we look forward to the events we’ve planned for the summer: making the bug hotel, and getting everything going with the raised beds 🙂

Click on the links below for information on making seed feeders:

RSPB Instructions for making seed feeders

And for the seedy suet mix see the Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife Watch activity sheet:

seed suet mix