Animal Assistance in the Autumn

Photo Credit: Anna Roebuck (Environmental and Recycling Artist) Paul Wyer from the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire with hedgehog sculpture that now resides in Marmalade Lane

The autumn garden can, with planning, provide a larder of berries, fruit and insects that form the natural diet of our local wildlife. However, as many of our gardens are small, and without varied plants, structure, and wild areas, we need to give the wildlife a helping hand as food begins to dwindle after the summer plenty. Have a look at our blog post from last autumn for tips: tinyurl.com/opwpautumn

As hedgehogs became a such feature at each of the summer events: there’s a hedgehog character in our play Saving the World, Starting at Your Doorstep, Horace/Prickles/Spike the sculpture is now living happily at Marmalade Lane, and a hedgehog is at the centre of the artwork created for the skate park by Kadero – we’ll start with tips on how we can help them – they’re now a symbolic reminder in Orchard Park to look after our wildlife. They’re good in this reminder role because their prickles can tend to get them in pickles, particularly where litter is concerned. When hungry they’ll get into any cans, packets, and bags lying around as they look for scraps of food – and due to their backwards facing spikes, they’ll often get stuck. Because they’ve been declining rapidly in the UK since the 1950s, they’re also a species of conservation concern. They really do need a helping hand in urban areas where thankfully they seem to be doing a little bit better.

Hedgehogs

One of the main things you can do to help is to make sure your garden has access for hedgehogs. Many of our front gardens have hedgehog friendly fencing, but what about your back garden if you’re lucky enough to have one? If you’ve got fence panels all the way around sealing your garden off consider cutting a CD sized hole in one of the panels, and ideally in a panel that connects to your neighbour’s garden. If everyone did this, it would create a hedgehog highway allowing access to a significant total area for hedgehogs. They need to be able to roam to find food and a mate – males can cover about three kilometres in a single night. 

Plant some shrubs or a hedge, as they prefer to move around under cover. 

A compost heap or log pile will give them a safe and cosy spot to spend the winter.

Provide some supplementary food – chicken cat biscuits are a favourite and they need help at this time of the year to put enough weight on to ensure they can survive their winter sleep. 

Please don’t use slug pellets, weed killers, and other poisons in your garden. We had reports of two or three dead hedgehogs on the school field a couple of years ago, it’s thought they died because of slug pellet use – hedgehogs eat the poisoned slugs which in turn of course poison the hedgehogs. 

Spiders

Both species photographed in Orchard Park home

Autumn is the time when you’re likely to see a large, brown, hairy spider scuttle across the carpet or find one in your bath or sink. Some information suggests they’ve just moved in temporarily to find shelter from harsh conditions outside, whilst other reports say they’re inside our homes all year round, but we only notice them in autumn when they come out of their hidey holes looking for a mate. For the arachnophobes, see if you can learn to live with them for the natural pest control service they offer, left alone they’ll rid your home of aphids, flies, and ants. You could even try giving them a name and watch them as though they’re a pet. 

The Zebra Jumping Spider shown above in real life is only about half a centimetre and actually quite cute if you take a proper look at it. You can see four of its four pairs of eyes. The two eyes at the front can move but the eyes at the side are fixed, and as a result of their eight eyes, they have excellent vision.  

The Large House Spider on the other hand has a body length of 10-16cm. The one in the photo was about ten centimetres including its legs. 

Birds

Robin singing

If you’ve not fed the birds before now, try offering some mixed seeds as they’re versatile and will attract a variety of species. Fat balls and fat cakes are particularly good as we go into the colder weather to give energy to our feathered friends. You can make your own seed feeder using a plastic bottle or fill a half coconut shell with fat.

Remember to keep your bird feeders as clean as possible – this is very important for the health of our visiting feathered friends!

Make a small pond to offer a bathing and drinking space for birds. Even a washing up bowl will help. 

Aquatic wildlife

Habitats can be made next to ponds to offer vital spaces for hibernating species like the Common Toad. Twigs, log piles, flowerpots and leaves can usually do the trick in providing a suitable home. 

Autumn is a good time to remove any dead leaves from your pond to reduce the possibility of poisonous gases that could affect any underwater creatures should the pond freeze over during winter. Native oxygenating plants such as Water crowfoot can help your pond provide oxygen to any aquatic wildlife.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Toad

Preparing your garden for Winter

Although it can be tempting to give your garden a bit of a spruce in Autumn by removing all the decaying plants, our wildlife really loves these as places to hide and shelter from the cold. Herbaceous plants and hollow stemmed plants are great little living spaces for overwintering insects. Even seedheads can make excellent habitat for insects as well as a great source of food for visiting birds and other wildlife.

Any fallen leaves that you may clear from paths can be used as mulch on flowerbeds – perfect for foragers such as blackbirds. 

Photo credit: Emma Kajiyama, OPWP volunteer

Try to avoid pruning hedges as they are havens for wildlife over winter, providing food, shelter and protection. Adding different species to your hedge will attract a wider variety of wildlife. For example, ivy can be a great source of food for insects, including late-flying bees such as the Carder bee, whilst berry-producing plants can help entice many birds to your garden.

If you don’t have a garden, you can still put up a nest box to provide shelter from the harsher weather. Nest boxes can be vital for the survival rate of certain bird species such as the Wren and members of the Tit family, increasing the possibility for more breeding birds once spring arrives.

Check out opwildlife.wordpress.com for more tips specific to the wildlife that lives on your doorstep

All photos OPWP unless otherwise credited

Thank you to new volunteer Emma Kajiyama for providing the text and photos for sections on preparing for winter, and aquatic animals and other info for this blog post 🙏

Springwatch Gardenwatch – Their biggest citizen science project yet…

Photo credit: BBC Two Website

The following information is taken directly from the BBC Two Springwatch Gardenwatch website….. our gardens are tiny in Orchard Park, but if we all did something to help wildlife – even those with a balcony can help – then the total wildlife friendly area would be significant.

As our towns and cities sprawl out into the countryside, our gardens are becoming more and more vital as wildlife reserves of the future. We want to map the resources available for wildlife in gardens up and down the country, and find out which wild visitors they attract.

We also want to find out what our gardens are lacking and how we can improve them for nature. And this is where you at home play the most important role…

This year we’re teaming up with the British Trust for Ornithology and the Open University for our biggest citizen science project ever – Gardenwatch!

Follow the links below to complete each of our four missions and help to build a better future for the UK’s wildlife!

The Gardenwatch Missions

We need your help to map the resources available to wildlife in gardens and other outdoor spaces up and down the country. Take part to help us discover the collective importance of garden habitats for the animals that live alongside us.

Earthworms and other ground-dwelling invertebrates are an essential part of the diet of many birds and mammals. We need your help to count soil invertebrates, so we can work out how abundant this vital food source is in different garden habitats.

Gardens are vital for birds in spring because they provide the resources they need to breed (including food, shelter, water and nesting sites). We need your help to record what birds are doing, so we can find out how they benefit from garden habitats at this critical time of year.

Mammals are often elusive night-time visitors to our gardens. We need your help to find out how much these often under-recorded animals use gardens and to understand which resources are most important for their survival.

Our Gardenwatch Partner Organisations

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is a UK charity that focuses on understanding birds and, in particular, how and why bird populations are changing. Find out more about their brilliant work here.

The Open University, celebrating its 50th birthday throughout 2019, is the leading the way in flexible, innovative teaching and world-leading research. Find our more here.

Natural History Society Cambridge – do some Citizen Science from your bed this week!

Robin Orchard Park Garden

An opportunity to do some Citizen Science from your bed. Be quick though, you need to do your recordings this week…..Click the link above to out about Citizen Science.

Adapted from Nat Hist Cam Project Facebook Post 4 May at 19:11

A message from #NatHistCam‘s Duncan Mackay:

It was dawn chorus day on Sunday morning… here is how you can almost effortlessly contribute data to NatHistCam and enjoy the dawn chorus in your garden as well.

I have been experimenting with using a mobile phone to record the dawn chorus. This is recording the dawn chorus out of your bedroom window, so it involves no early morning expeditions into the wilds of Cambridge, merely placing a smart phone on an empty mug on your bedroom window sill and opening the window to let the wonderful sounds of the dawn chorus into your bedroom. Matched with your post code this will provide lots of bird data which will add to our knowledge of the song birds of the city.

This is the method I have tried and it seems to work very well.

1) If you haven’t got a sound/voice recorder on your phone download one from the ap store. There are lots of good free ones and they seem to work quite well. The one i have been using is voice recorder by quality aps. It gets a score of 4.8* on the google app store….so it’s pretty good. I am sure something similar is available for apple)

2) I set the app to record in mp3 in the settings (which is more compressed than most other formats and works very well)

3) I then place the phone on a mug (just something handy to raise it up a little) by an open window.

4) At between 4am and 5am (set your alarm) You start it recording and record typically 5 mins of the bird song. The phone should automatically adjust the recording volume to capture the relatively quiet sounds.

5) Email me the recording for analysis to a special email address for this frostedorange53@aol.com (A special email for this project…frosted orange is a rather gorgeous moth and has no other significance) please add to your email: your name and email address and post code of where recorded and the date and time of the recording

6) I will then put the mp3 you send me into audacity (which is a really good sound editing program) and adjust the volume of the recording

7) We (Me and I hope Bob Jarman will help) will listen to the recordings to identify the singing birds and work out what birds are singing where in Cambridge

8) You can do more than one recording as the species singing can change during the dawn chorus

9) If you cant do it on Sunday then any day the following week will do but please say which day you recorded it on.

I hope you will enjoy this easy way to enjoy the dawn chorus. You can go back to bed once its done!

Help for Hedgehogs coming out of Hibernation

Hedgehog OP Wildlife Area, waking up last year, low weight.
Photo Credit: Andrew Chan
Photo credit: Andrew Chan
Rehabilitated Hedgehog sleeping during soft release into OP Wildlife Area

“Hedgehogs are in serious decline in the UK but putting further obstacles in their way when they wake from the dangers of hibernation is easily avoided with a little knowledge and caring. Please take the time to make your garden more hedgehog and wildlife friendly there is lots of info from  organisations on the internet or check out Pledges for Hedgies page” (source: Willows Hedgehog Rescue).

Late March and April is when Hedgehogs begin to wake from their winter hibernation. The Hedgehog Street website describes hibernation as follows “during hibernation hedgehogs are not really asleep, instead they drop their body temperature to match their surroundings and enter a state of torpor. This allows them to save a lot of energy but slows down all other bodily functions making normal activity impossible.” Further “While in hibernation the hedgehog’s fuel supply comes from the fat stores it has built up over the summer. Eating enough before hibernation is vital and this is when supplementary feeding can prove important to hedgehogs.”

When the hedgehog wakes, it can have used up one third of its body weight – appearing weak, wobbly, and disorientated as a result. It’s vital that hedgehogs can access freshwater as a priority as they wake. Next they need food (see: waking hedgehogs Willows Hedgehog Rescue)

Also in March and April, Hedgehogs are at great risk in the garden, when according to Willows Rescue Centre in Bromsgrove “Hedgehogs are admitted to rescue centres with soft tissue injuries from strimmers and garden forks, factured bones from spades and forks. The injuries are often horrific with operations needed and long periods of rehabilitation. A number of the admissions will be put to sleep straight away due to the extent of the injuries. Sad, when you think that the animal has managed to survive the rigours of winter lowering its metabolism to near death in order to survive only to be seriously injured by human activity.

It is easy to avoid most of these situations.

  • Check before you clear, cut back or carry out work on any shrubs or bushes.
  • Check first before putting a spade or fork into the compost heap.
  • Check under sheds or any structures in the garden before removing them if you are replacing them- hedgehogs like to nest in that gap under garden sheds and patio decking.
  • Check before you mow or strim the grass.

Check with a torch, a gloved hand, your boot or gently with a stick. Gently poking and tapping a hedgehog may slightly annoy it but it will mean that you don’t injure or possibly kill it.”

To make a feeding Station

A feeding station will help stop cats or foxes stealing the Hedgehog’s food the instructions that follow were taken directly from The Hedgehog.

Build  or buy a small feeding station or house to put the food into that will only allow hedgehogs to get in.

This will also help keep the food, especially biscuits dry in the rain and prevents it freezing in the winter.

Put the water OUTSIDE the feeding station. ( In freezing weather put water inside the feeding station)

The quick, cheap and easy way:

  • Get a plastic storage box about 12″ wide by 18″ long (or bigger)
  • Either use it with the lid on, or turn the box upside down. Cut a 4″ to 5″ hole ( about a large fist size) in one of the short ends.
  • Tape around the cut-out hole
  • Hedgehogs can be messy eaters, so put plenty of newspaper on the floor of the box
  • Put the food at the opposite end so a fox or cat cannot put their long arm in and pull out the food
  • Put a brick or heavy weight on top of the box, to stop it being knocked over or the lid pulled off.
  • If cats or foxes still try to get in, then place the box about 6″ away from a wall as shown in the last 3 pictures (with the entrance facing towards the wall)

You should end up with something that looks like this:

Photo credit: The Hedgehog

Lush Charity Pot Party – Seeds for Bees, Pesticides and Pollinators, Extinction is forEver

Come and say hello to Orchard Park Wildlife Project – we’ll be in Lush on Saturday 23rd March. They’re very kindly holding a Charity Pot fundraising Party 😀 OPWP are very grateful for their support.

We’ll have some organic lavender seeds for you to plant in biodegradable pots to take away to grow which you can plant out in your garden, your window box, or hanging basket in summer….

Many people don’t realise that the majority of commercially grown plants sold at garden centres and supermarkets, including those marketed especially for pollinators, are affected by neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics) (The Bee Cause and Dave Goulson 2017).

“They attack the brain of the insect, causing paralysis and death, and at lower doses interfere with navigation, disease resistance and learning. Just four-billionths of a gram is a lethal dose to a honey bee, meaning one teaspoon of neonics is enough to give a lethal dose to one and a quarter billion bees….Neonics work systemically in plants and can be sprayed onto leaves, watered into the soil, or used as a seed coating.”

Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at Sussex University

Some neonics have been banned by the EU but they can still be used on ornamental plants grown by commercial growers. Research by the University of Sussex on a range of “pollinator friendly” plants from garden centres and supermarkets shows that there’s “cocktail of pesticides, usually a mixture of fungicides and insecticides” present, 70% contained neonics that are particularly bad for bees (Goulson 2019).

Growing plants from seed, especially organic seed, is considered safer for insects and for wildlife friendly gardens in general, so we’re encouraging people to do just that.

The first global scientific review of the status of the world’s insects has shown they are heading towards extinction, with “dramatic rates of decline that may lead to the extinction of 40% of the world’s insect species over the next few decades” (Sánchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys 2019).

“Bees are just one of many pollinators, that is really important
to emphasize, but they are the most important because of the way that they pollinate. They specifically go out to collect pollen to provide for their young. Without them I feel entire ecosystems would collapse; without pollinators but especially without bees.”

Wildlife Gardener, Brigit Strawbridge (cited in Johnson 2019)

Amongst other main drivers of this global decline in insect populations are: habitat destruction, climate change, and biological factors – however pollution mainly that by synthetic pesticides and fertilisers – is considered to be the second most significant negative factor causing these declines. Insect decline will in turn lead to increased losses of birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects…..(Sánchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys 2019)…. which will add to even more extinction further up the food chain.

Although commercial pesticide use needs to be curbed to make a large scale difference, we can all do our bit – think globally and act locally.

For ideas on what to plant see:

 Plant Pots for Pollinators Video from Butterfly Conservation

The best garden flowers for bees by Professor Dave Goulson

References:

Goulson, D., 2019. Pesticides in “Bee-Friendly” flowers. University of Sussex, pp.1–6. Available at: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/lifesci/goulsonlab/blog/bee-friendly-flowers [Accessed March 10, 2019].

Johnson, A. 2019. Bridget Strawbridge. Alice Johnson talks to the Inspiring Gardening for Wildlife Advocate. New Nature, March/April, Issue 24.

The Bee Cause & Goulson, D., 2017. Are “bee-friendly” plants poisoning our bees? Friends of the Earth, pp.1–6. Available at: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/bees/are-beefriendly-plants-poisoning-our-bees [Accessed March 2019].

Sánchez-Bayo, F. & Wyckhuys, K.A.G., 2019. Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers. Biological Conservation, 232, pp.8–27.

Spring 2019

Spring 2019 arrived in November 2018 

The Woodland Trust

From The Woodland Trust website: “The Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar project has received over 64 records of early spring activity that started in November 2018 – including insects that have been spotted active up to 5 months earlier than normal.

Mild weather seems to have temporarily disturbed insects from hibernation. A small tortoiseshell butterfly appeared flying outdoors on Christmas Day in Merthyr Tydfil, and a red tailed bumblebee on Boxing Day in Somerset. The average date for small tortoiseshells is 14 April, and bumblebees 26 March – making both over three months early.…. a red admiral was seen on 17 December in Cambridgeshire; the average emergence date is 7 May, making it nearly five months ahead of schedule”

I saw a butterfly from the bus last week when travelling down Histon Rd but it was too distant to attempt identification.

To see how to get involved in the Woodland Trust’s Citizen Science project as a Nature’s Calendar recordersee our previous blog post – insert url, visit naturescalendar.woodlandtrust.org.uk. Or, to watch time lapse footage of trees throughout the seasons visit their YouTube channel.

So what can we do to help our local wildlife now spring seems to have sprung?

These ideas are from the Wildlife Trust Bedfordshire Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Newsletter…      

  • Provide some early nectar for the insects:if you have a raised bed, larger style planter, a window box, or hanging basket, you could add snowdrops, crocuses, or winter aconites
  • To help hedgehogs and insects, and frogs and toads if you’re lucky enough to have them in your OP garden: don’t tidy up just yet! These creatures might be hibernating in dried up plant stems, under wood piles or broken plant pots, and some would like to remain undisturbed for a little longer
  • Get ahead for summer insects: and make your garden more colourful. Plant annuals such as Calendula and Nasturtiums, they’re bright and pretty and provide nectar.

Upcoming OPWP activities

Lush are very kindly holding a Charity Pot Party for us on 23 March – do come and say hello – we’ll be planting seeds and letting people know about the importance of choosing British native plants grown from pesticide free seeds to help bees and other insects. Research is showing seeds marketed as good for pollinators might be harming the very creatures you’re trying to help if the seeds you plant have been pre treated with pesticides. It’s best to buy organic seed from specialist suppliers such as: https://beehappyplants.co.uk

We’re organising a Spring Cleaning session in and around the Wildlife Area with OPCC – this will be during the last weekend of March on 30/31 TBC

We’ve got a session with the Beaver group on 5 April, this will be outdoors so we’ve waited for the clocks to go forwards.

We’ll be nest box painting at the end of the school Easter Holidays – check here and on Facebook for dates 27/28 April TBC.

We’re hoping to begin lizard monitoring again for the population off Neal Drive very soon with Cambridge and Peterborough Amphibian and Reptile Group. It’s very likely the lizard’s home will be built on soon, so we’re planning to work with the developer’s ecologists to see how many lizards there are, and to trap and move them to a new site that will be good for them in the longer term. There are a few details to sort out, and we’ve suggested Sunday 7 April TBC for a training day, watch this space. See our 2019 Lizard Monitoring Page for more information.

We’re also planning a workshop with artist Anna Roebuck. She creates beautiful things from recycled materials for early summer – we’re actively fundraising for this. This event will also provide information on the dangers of litter to our local wildlife, and wildlife more widely, as well as ways to reduce your rubbish output, and on better recycling.

Photo credit: Anna Roebuck

Happy New Year

Get ready for the Big Garden Birdwatch 26-28 January

Waxwing on the Busway near OP, perhaps they’ll come into OP to feed this year

New year, new resolutions? Why not make 2019 the year you make an effort to connect with the nature on your doorstep?

A great way to begin is by taking an interest in our local birds. All of these species have been recorded in OP:

  • Blackbird
  • Blackcap 
  • Blue Tit
  • Collared Dove
  • Chaffinch
  • Carrion Crow
  • Dunnock
  • European Jay
  • Feral Pigeon
  • Goldfinch
  • Greenfinch
  • Great Spotted Woodpecker
  • Green Woodpecker
  • Great Tit
  • Hobby
  • Jackdaw
  • Linnet
  • Long Tailed Tit
  • Magpie
  • Pied Wagtail
  • Robin
  • Rook
  • Starling
  • Sparrowhawk
  • Common Swift
  • Wood Pigeon
  • Wren

The following tips on getting children into birdwatching have been sourced and adapted from an article by Paul Brook in January’s edition of Bird Watching magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @PaulBrook76

If you’re trying birding as a family, it’s important to make it fun. If you can give children something to do, then it’s more likely to be attractive to them. You can get children to help with feeding the birds (click here and scroll down to section 3 for feeding tips) or take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – more on that below.

Focussing on cool birds – such as the spectacular and exciting Sparrowhawk, or our plentiful variety of brightly coloured birds like Blue Tits and Goldfinches – helps provide visual appeal to children and adults alike.

Sparrowhawk with Collared Dove prey, OP garden

By feeding birds in your garden, you can attract birds so you can look at them closely and without the need for binoculars and telescopes as children can find these difficult to use until they’re practiced.

Try to find the names of your bird visitors – this RSPB page helps you to identify the most common birds reported in the Birdwatch. So far we’ve recorded all of these in OP except the Coal Tit and House Sparrow.

Get children to help with making or installing a nest box for your garden.

Share your enthusiasm and excitement – if you’re knowledgeable about our birds, pass on your knowledge. Or, if you don’t know what a particular bird is, then find out as a family. They’re all quite fascinating if you take a little time to learn about them, even the little brown jobs like the Dunnock.

It’s time to get ready for Big Garden Birdwatch 2019!

Get ready for 26-28 January. You can Sign-up on the RSPB website to request a FREE postal pack, or take part online.  

The RSPB developed this event in 1979 as a simple winter activity especially for their junior membership to get involved in – so perfect for the kids. They asked asked members to count the birds in their gardens, all at the same time, so they could work out what the UK’s top 10 most common garden birds are.

It’s a weekend activity that you can do in the garden, or even from the comfort of your home. If you don’t have a garden you could head off to Topper St play area to look for birds in the mature trees, or to the edge of the Wildlife Area near the sports ground.

With over half a million people now regularly taking part, coupled with almost 40 years worth of data, Big Garden Birdwatch allows the RSPB to monitor trends and helps them understand how birds are doing.
Read more by clicking here.

Top tips on how to care for OP’s creatures that visit your garden during winter

Robin recovering after regular feeding

Winter can be a very difficult time for wildlife, with plummeting temperatures and scarce food. Find out how you can help OP’s wildlife through this tough period1.

Some species, such as birds and squirrels, don’t hibernate, but struggle to stay alive – using up fat reserves just to stay warm. Other animals and insects hunker down in log and leaf piles, nestle into tree bark, or bury themselves in compost heaps or mud3.

By putting out additional food, gardeners can make a significant contribution to supporting wildlife over winter. It is also a great way to watch wildlife even in the smallest of gardens or balconies, often at very close quarters2.

It is surprisingly easy to do something to help garden wildlife in the lean and cold months of winter. Even if you carry out – or refrain from doing4–  just a few of the following tasks, it can make a difference2.

I’m so happy to see this Robin (Erithacus rubecula) that had been suffering with mites (I sought a likely diagnosis and advice from the RSPB), has recovered due to regular feeding in my garden – proof that a little help works. The eye problem is still visible now, and the robin often scratches and shakes with itchiness, but the RSPB said it’s very likely the mites will die off completely in the cold, so that after moulting in Spring, the new feathers will be unaffected.

Robin with mites seven weeks ago
Robin on the way to recovery

1. Let your garden go wild1,2

  • Leave undisturbed wild areas in your garden – piles of leaves or brushwood can make the perfect nest in which animals can hide, rest and hibernate.
  • By leaving the task of tidying your garden borders and shrubs until early spring, shelter can be provided for insects throughout winter. 
  • Make an insect or bug hotel and put up in a sheltered position. Overwintering ladybirds and lacewings will find this useful. 
    • Recreate the nooks and crannies insects hibernate in by tying up bamboo and sunflower stems, and leave them in a dry spot in the garden. 
  • You can also provide late-flying insects with a source of food by soaking a clean sponge in a solution made from an equal mix of sugar and water.
  • In late winter, clean out bird boxes so they are ready for new nests in spring. 
  • Leave healthy herbaceous and hollow-stemmed plants unpruned until early spring. These can provide homes for overwintering insects.
  • If you have a compost heap, this will become a welcome habitat for toads, and even grass snakes and slow-worms.

2. Break the ice and provide water1,2 

  • If your garden pond freezes over, ensure you make a hole in the ice. Toxic gases can build up in the water of a frozen pond, which may kill any fish or frogs that are hibernating at the bottom.
  • When you make a hole in the ice, it is very important to do so by carefully placing a pan of hot water on the surface.
  • Never break the ice with force or tip boiling water onto the pond, as this can harm or even kill any fish that live in it.
  • Provide a shallow dish or container of water at ground level. This will benefit other garden wildlife that needs to drink, as well as birds. 

3. Feed the birds1,2,3

  • Birds may find it difficult to find natural foods such as berries, insects, seeds, worms and fruit during this cold season. Therefore, any extra food you can put out will help. 
  • Leave food out for birds regularly and every day when possible, and fill up longer lasting feeders if you’re away.
  • Place fat blocks in wire cages. Balls in plastic nets are not recommended as birds such as woodpeckers can get their tongues caught. 
  • Create your own fat blocks by melting suet into moulds such as coconut shells or logs with holes drilled in. 
  • Alternate different recipes to entice a range of birds; peanut cakes for starlings, insect cakes for tits and berry cakes for finches. 
  • Put out finely chopped bacon rind and grated cheese for small birds such as wrens. 
  • Although fat is important, do also provide a grain mix or nuts to maintain a balanced diet. 
  • Sparrows, and finches will enjoy prising the seeds out of sunflower heads. 
  • No-mess mixes are more expensive but the inclusion of de-husked sunflower hearts means there is less waste. Inferior mixes are often padded out with lentils. 
  • Use wire mesh feeders for peanuts and seed feeders for other seed. Specially designed feeders are needed for the tiny niger seed, loved by goldfinches. 
  • Feed placed on a wire mesh held just off the ground will entice ground-feeding birds such as robins and dunnocks. 
  • Thrushes and blackbirds favour fruit. Scatter over-ripe apples, raisins and song-bird mixes on the ground for them. 
  • Consider planting berrying and fruiting trees and shrubs such as MalusCotoneaster and Pyracantha to fill gaps.

4. Hedgehogs3,4

Nearly half of all hedgehogs die during their first winter. Many starve, while those born in late-summer are often too small to hibernate, and so are unable to survive the cold weather. In mild winters, hedgehogs are prone to waking up, having been tricked into believing it is spring. They waste valuable fat reserves looking for food.

  • Provide shelter bymaking a leaf pile or making a hedgehog house
  • If you don’t think your garden has the requisite hidey-holes, you’ll find custom-built hedgehog houses at arkwildlife.co.uk
  • Make a simple hedgehog home – download activity sheet from the Wildlife Trust
  • Leave a dish of water and dog or cat food, sunflower seeds, and nutsto help boost their fat reserves, until it’s no longer taken (usually mid- to late-autumn when they enter hibernation). Do not give fish-based food, milk, or bread because they cause diarrhoea and dehydration.
  • Check bonfires before lighting them, preferably making it on the day you intend to light it. 
  • If you find a baby hedgehog, keep it warm in a tall-sided box with hot water bottle on the bottom, covered with a thick towel. Feed with cat or dog food and water and visit britishhedgehogs.org.uk for advice. 
  • Discover 10 ways to help hedgehogs.

Sources– the above information was taken directly from:

1. https://www.discoverwildlife.com/how-to/wildlife-gardening/5-ways-you-can-help-wildlife-this-winter/

2. https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=382

3. https://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/help-wildlife-survive-winter/

4. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/oct/28/how-to-help-garden-wildlife-survive-winter

Motivations for conserving OP’s urban biodiversity

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Orchard Park – aerial image taken on 2 September 2017. 
Photo credit: John D Fielding. Used with kind permission.

As shown by this great aerial photo, we have green space around and within OP and you’ll be surprised to see what lives here – if you take a moment to look. This blog page explores some motivations for conserving our urban biodiversity and is based on scientific research. Perhaps you’ll see something that encourages you to take positive action if you haven’t been stirred to do so yet.

But what prevents you from taking positive action for our wildlife?

Is there something missing here that would motivate you to get involved? If so, please do get in touch and tell us, we’re open to new ideas and suggestions: opwildlife@gmail.com 

Motivations

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Reproduced from Dearborn & Kark 2010

The diagram above, and selected motivations for conserving urban biodiversity explored briefly below are taken from Dearborn & Kark (2010).

As surprising as it may seem to some, OP offers an important setting for conservation biology, as do most urban areas, though “people’s attitudes towards nature might influence whether they connect with it” (Dickinson & Hobbs 2017). 

A lot needs to come together to be successful in conserving biodiversity in our Urban Green Space:

“…diverse stakeholders – including ecologists, managers, developers, students, and citizens – should be encouraged to join in collaborative networks to share data, engage in interdisciplinary research, and discuss urban biodiversity management, design, and planning.” 

OPWP engages with these diverse stakeholders and to a greater or lesser extent in most activities mentioned in this quote. We welcome anyone with knowledge or skills to share and help, or anyone that would like to learn.

  • To preserve our local biodiversity

“Between 1970 and 2013, 56% of UK species declined. Of the nearly 8,000 species assessed using modern criteria, 15% are threatened with extinction. This suggests that we are among the most nature-depleted countries in the world. 


Of the 218 countries assessed for ‘biodiversity intactness’, the UK is ranked 189, a consequence of centuries of industrialisation, urbanisation and overexploitation of our natural resources.” 

Given the depressing figures above, surely we should all do what we can to help? OP sits on a former green site and most wildlife habitat was destroyed for the development.

  • To create stepping stones to nonurban habitat

“Increasing the area of habitat patches and creating a network of corridors is the most important strategy to maintain high levels of urban biodiversity” 

Ensuring OP’s habitats such as the Wildlife Area, Orchard, Wildflower Bank, and Living Roof on the Community Centre are properly managed is important, and we welcome volunteers to help with that. A few years ago we raised funds to have a Habitats Management Plan written for us by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Northamptonshire, and this plan guides our practical habitat management activities. We also encourage the Community Council to adopt its recommendations.Orchard Park Management Plan

As well as the habitats mentioned above that have been created with wildlife in mind, the total area of all of our small gardens added together – if each is made a bit more wildlife friendly – could play a role in increasing OP’s wildlife habitat, and in creating these stepping stones to our neighbouring green areas. As Aronson et al. (2017) note most people are unaware of how their decisions of what they do with their gardens affect biodiversity in their own and their neighbours’ gardens. OPWP works to improve this understanding and promote how suitably managed gardens can support wildlife, with the aim of enhancing biodiversity across OP. 

  • To connect people to nature and conduct environmental education 

“Studies support the idea that the experience of biodiversity, actual childhood interaction with variation and diversity with living and nonliving items from nature allows children important learning opportunities, inclusive of biodiversity understanding. The results support practical implications for sensory rich environmental education and underscores the practical importance of childhood access to nature”.

OPWP runs a range of free wildlife themed activities through the year that aim to be fun and informative for adults and children.

  • To provide ecosystem services 

“Because ecosystem services are, by definition, for humans, it makes sense to ensure they are provided in areas where human population density is high. In an urban context, even small green spaces can provide high-impact ecosystem services, if they are well planned.” 

Such ecosystem services include:

  • pollinating (Mendes et al. 2008)
  • improving some aspects of air quality in urban areas (Dearborn & Kark 2010)
  • sequestering substantial amounts of carbon through increased urban vegetation (Pickett et al. 2008)
  • To fulfill ethical responsibilities 

“In many philosophical, religious, and secular traditions, there is a responsibility to be good stewards of the planet.”

“Biodiversity conservation in urban areas could facilitate the fulfillment of these moral obligations because opportunities for conservation are located in or near residential neighborhoods. This geographic proximity allows people to more easily experience the reinforcement of having lived by their ethical or religious mandates. For individuals without an existing sense of environmental responsibility, exposure to urban biodiversity (particularly via educational programs) may help instill a conservation ethic.” 

By showing people that are not aware of what lives here that we’ve got hundreds of species on our doorstep, OPWP tries to instill a conservation ethic. People can’t care and take action for things they know little or nothing about.

To see what lives here see:

Summer Safari findsWhat lives hereWildflower Bank

  • To improve human well-being 

Research has shown through our being in greener spaces and interacting with our urban nature that:  

  • our mental health benefits (Clark et al. 2014)
  • we gain improved regulation of our immune systems by contact with microbiota (Rook 2013)
  • we have a space for contemplation and relaxation (Niemelä 1999)
  • stress and pain are reduced (Hansmann et al. 2007)
  • active habitat management can be effective for depression (Townsend 2006)
  • we report higher measures of subjective well-being (Carrus et al. 2015)
  • we gain a sense of discovery, and social connection (Dickinson & Hobbs 2017)

These are just a few of the documented benefits, there are a plethora of studies proving that helping to give nature a home can benefit you too.

References

Aronson, M.F. et al., 2017. Biodiversity in the city: key challenges for urban green space management. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 15(4), pp.189–196.

Beery, T. & Jørgensen, K.A., 2016. Children in nature: sensory engagement and the experience of biodiversity. Environmental Education Research, 24(1), pp.13–25.

Beninde, J., Veith, M. & Hochkirch, A., 2015. Biodiversity in cities needs space: a meta-analysis of factors determining intra-urban biodiversity variation N. Haddad, ed. Ecology Letters, 18(6), pp.581–592.

Berry, T., 2006. Evening thoughts: reflections on the Earth as a spiritual community. In San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, pp. 1–10.

Carrus, G. et al., 2015. Go greener, feel better? The positive effects of biodiversity on the well-being of individuals visiting urban and peri-urban green areas. Landscape and Urban Planning, 134, pp.221–228.

Clark, N.E. et al., 2014. Biodiversity, cultural pathways, and human health: a framework. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 29(4), pp.198–204.

Dearborn, D.C. & Kark, S., 2010. Motivations for Conserving Urban Biodiversity. Conservation Biology, 24(2), pp.432–440.

Dickinson, D.C. & Hobbs, R.J., 2017. Cultural ecosystem services: Characteristics, challenges and lessons for urban green space research. Ecosystem Services, 25, pp.1–247. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2017.04.014.

Hansmann, R., Hug, S.-M. & Seeland, K., 2007. Restoration and stress relief through physical activities in forests and parks. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 6(4), pp.213–225.

Mendes, W. et al., 2008. Using Land Inventories to Plan for Urban Agriculture: Experiences From Portland and Vancouver. Journal of the American Planning Association, 74(4), pp.435–449.

Niemelä, J., 1999. Ecology and urban planning. Biodiversity and Conservation, 8, pp.119–131.

Pickett, S.T.A. et al., 2008. Beyond Urban Legends: An Emerging Framework of Urban Ecology, as Illustrated by the Baltimore Ecosystem Study. BioScience, 58(2), pp.139–150.

Rook, G.A., 2013. Regulation of the immune system by biodiversity from the natural environment: An ecosystem service essential to health. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(46), pp.18360–18367.

State of Nature/RSPB, 2016. State of Nature 2016, RSPB. Available at: https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/our-work/stateofnature2016/.

Townsend, M., 2006. Feel blue? Touch green! Participation in forest/woodland management as a treatment for depression. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 5(3), pp.111–120.

Angry Birds

 

I made a comment a few days ago “wow there’s a lot of angry birds in my garden”. I watch them a lot to see if I can identify patterns in their behaviour, to find out which species/individuals always get the food, and which species/individuals get the water to drink or bathe in. Over the last week or so I’ve had a Robin (Erithacus rubecula) with an almost bald head visiting, I’m not certain but it might also have something wrong with its right eye, so I always look out for that particular bird to see that it manages some food before it’s bullied away by another bird. Having looked it up, it seems the poor Robin might have mites, and there’s not much to be done except making sure it gets food. As I write I think it’s just appeared at the suet pellets – but I don’t want to move too much to check and then scare it away, and I can hear and see aggressive Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) fighting each other for the nyger seed. The Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) seem to be the most aggressive though.

 

Luckily, Twitter served up a paper last night entitled “Dominance hierarchies and foraging strategies in supplementally fed garden birds”. It explains that aggression and competition for resources use a lot of energy, and fighting causes injury and sometimes death. So often, when the competition is ‘won’ repeatedly by particular individuals, a hierarchy will be formed with certain birds being dominant or subordinate, and they come to assess their chances of winning a fight prior to engaging.

 

The paper also states that three quarters of UK households regularly feed the birds. By feeding them, we are likely to have enhanced the survival and reproductive success of birds, but we are also likely to have increased the competition for food, both within and between species. Research reported in the paper found that socially dominant, heavier species of birds with higher body mass, monopolise access to higher value foods. Whereas lighter species were constrained to food with lower value. This has implications for conservation when supplemental feeding is being used as a tool.

 

Advice from the RSPB states: to reduce competition, offer a variety of food, and if possible space it out in your garden. Think of the smaller bird species and offer food in hanging feeders with cages which the larger species can’t get in. If you have a wooden post, you can fill cracks with suet, to attract small agile birds such as Blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) and Great tits (Parus major). Dunnocks (Prunella modularis) hop around under hedges and like to feed on the ground, so food can be put on a tray on the ground for them, or small amounts suet pellets can be scattered directly onto the ground.