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

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Ending the War on Wildlife. A People’s Manifesto For Wildlife, Draft One, Chris Packham et al.

Let’s end the war on wildlife.

‘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.’

– ​State of Nature Report, 2016

Our wildlife needs us – and it needs you more than ever. 

It’s easy to imagine that ‘they’ will fix the environment. But ‘they’ won’t, whoever ‘they’ are. ​We​ need to do it – ​me​ and ​you​. Together we are stronger. Together we can make a difference.

 

Today, Chris Packham launched The People’s Manifesto for Wildlife. This blog post is sourced entirely from the manifesto which makes a series of recommendations to the fields of Education; Wildlife and Animal Welfare; Wildlife Crime, Law, and Protection; Farming; UK Statutory Conservation Agencies; and Rewildling. It also makes recommendations, on amongst many other things: trees, hedgerows and verges, and urban spaces.

Urban space for wildlife is the domain of Orchard Park Wildlife Project. And urban spaces CAN be some of the most biologically diverse habitats in the country.

Access to nature is a human need – central to the quality of our most fundamental physiological requirements (water, air, food), as well as our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

The manifesto states that:

“Urban areas can be some of the most biologically diverse habitats in the country. Gardens and parks – comprising lawn, shrubs and flowering plants – provide food and shelter for a huge array of wildlife. And yet these spaces are disappearing from our towns and cities.

In a report published in 2016, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) said the percentage of front gardens lost to paving, concrete or gravel had risen to 24%, from just 8% in 20051​ .​ The results, based on a poll of 1,492 people, suggested that more than 4.5 million of Great Britain’s front gardens were entirely paved, while 7.2 million were mostly paved. Another report, published by London Wildlife Trust in 2011, compared aerial surveys of London taken in 1998 and 2006. It found that domestic gardens (both front and back) made up nearly 24 per cent of the London’s total area, but that in those eight years nearly two thirds of its front gardens had been covered with hard surfaces, while the amount of green space in back gardens had shrunk, largely due to the popularity of garden offices2​ .​ “An area of vegetated garden equivalent to 21 times the size of Hyde park was lost between 1998 and 2006,” said the author of the report, Chloë Smith. That’s an average of two Hyde Parks per year (and a further 14 Hyde Parks since 2011).”

 

It goes on to say “We need legislation to re-wild our urban spaces.”

We are lucky in Orchard Park that many of the recommendations in the manifesto are already realised:

many of our fences are hedgehog friendly, we have bird nesting boxes on some of our homes, municipal planting includes many native species, and we have open green spaces.

However, there are recommendations that show there is much more we can do:

  • We can ensure that no more than 10% of our gardens are turned over to paving, decking and fake-turfing
  • We can make gardens more hedgehog friendly
  • We can add more nest boxes in addition to those already built into our homes – if you live in a house or flat, install swift or bat boxes by the eaves.
  • Where space permits, plant a small tree or shrub in your garden
  • Do home composting
  • We need to ensure our small pockets of green for the community are maintained in as a wildlife friendly a way as possible, and look after our trees
  • If we can find a suitable location, create a communal wildlife pond
  • Create ‘pop up habitats’ in the few as yet undeveloped plots – sprinkle pesticide free wildflower seeds
  • Keep cats in at night – this can reduce overall predation by up to 50%, and fit them will a collar and bell – this can also reduce bird predation by 50%
  • If you have a garden, stop using pesticides – weedkillers, ant sprays, slug pellets.
  • Liberate your lawn, let some grass grow long, leave piles of sticks in corners for invertebrates, sow native wild flowers for pollinators, feed garden birds, erect bee and bird boxes
  • Dig a pond – even a washing-up bowl-sized pond will boost biodiversity
  • Connect with nature through what you eat. Grow some food – rocket and tomatoes in window boxes; cucumbers, runner beans, raspberries, blackberries. Home-grown tastes amazing
  • Volunteer with OPWP to look after and enhance what we have, lets make Orchard Park better for people and wildlife
  • Join OPWP on it’s surveys, and safaris, you’ll be surprised to see what lives here if you look

 

The full, referenced, manifesto can be downloaded here: http://www.chrispackham.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/A-Peoples-Manifesto-for-Wildlife-expanded.pdf

The illustrated manifesto can be downloaded here: http://www.chrispackham.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Peoples-Manifesto-Download.pdf

 

 

 

Helping Wildlife in Autumn, Leave the Leaves :)

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autumn-leaves

Below is a compilation of information about how to help our local wildlife in Autumn.

From Gardeners’ World Website:

Leaves

Remove leaves from paths or lawns but transfer them to a corner or beneath a hedge, where hedgehogs and other animals can crawl for shelter.

Ponds

Male frogs often spend winter in the muddy depths of ponds, breathing through their skin. But if the pond freezes over, gases caused by decaying plant material can get trapped and poison them. Remove debris from ponds now, and float a tennis or golf ball on the surface to prevent ice from sealing it.

Twigs

Put bundles of twigs at the back of borders, or in a plant pot on its side, where invertebrates and small mammals can shelter.

Borders

Leave herbaceous borders intact in winter so decaying plants can act as a ‘winter duvet’ for small mammals and insects. Clumps of ornamental grasses may offer the perfect hibernaculum for a hedgehog, while hollow plant stems and seedheads provide nooks and crannies for invertebrates. Seedheads are also a source of oil-rich food for birds which may visit to feed.

Plant pots

Leave stacks of plant pots in a sheltered spot to offer shelter for bees and other insects needing a cool, dry place.

Compost heaps

A variety of species, including hedgehogs and queen bumblebees, find compost heaps the perfect place to hibernate. if your heap is in a plastic bin with a lid, this will keep it dry, but be sure to provide access for hibernators at the base by standing the bin on bricks. If you have an open bin, cover it with a thick piece of old carpet to keep it dry and insulated. Avoid disturbing the bin between autumn and April, when all species will have finished their long snooze.

From House Beautiful Website:

Ivy

One of the best plants for your garden wildlife is ivy, especially in autumn and winter. Many flowering plants will start to die during the colder season, whereas ivy flowers are only starting to flourish. These prove to be an important source of food for bees, butterflies and other pollinators when other nectar-bearing plants are dying off.The evergreen nature of ivy is perfect for sheltering birds and insects while other trees lose all their leaves. If that wasn’t enough, ivy also produces winter berries that are a wonderful food source for birds, who use their energy to control their own body temperature.

Nurturing garden ivy is probably the most important piece of advice for helping nature survive this autumn and winter.

Bird Food

It’s important to keep their food and water sources topped up in your garden. As soon as the temperatures drop and the natural berries disappear, birds will appreciate your offering – they rely on high-energy, high-fat winter food to fuel them through the colder months.

 

#GreatBigWalk Walker’s reception at Nightingale Park last night

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Wildlife Pond at Nightingale Garden

Wildlife Pond at Nightingale Garden Photo credit: http://www.nightingalegarden.org.uk

Last night around 30 people, mainly from Nightingale Volunteer Gardeners, assembled to meet and greet the team doing the Eden Project’s #GreatBigWalk. The walkers are winding their way through the UK heading home and working up an appetite in time for the #GreatBigLunch. Eden Communities aims to “connect people and communities, encouraging everyday people to make positive change where they live.” There certainly was a lot of good community spirit, as well as delicious home made food, in the amazing garden, not far from Addenbrookes @CB1 8SQ, last night. I’m sure Orchard Park Wildlife Project ‘up north’ can learn a thing or two about as we embark with our Community Council on our raised beds and community gardening journey. Nightingale Garden has a wildlife pond, lots of lovely wildflowers as well as food plants.

Nightingale Volunteer Gardeners are a “community gardening group for RHS-affiliated Queen Edith’s in Bloom”. Anyone ‘down south’ wishing to join them, or willing to travel down south, they meet Sunday and Monday afternoons 2-4, with ‘Gardeners tea at 3’, you can go along for however long you like. For information see: www.nightingalegarden.org.uk or contact Rebecca (volunteer) 07792 531 400.

 

 

@LushCambridge Charity Pot Party 22/10/16 Going Batty for #WildAboutGardensWeek

stars-of-the-night-sky-booklet

This year’s Wild About Gardens Week is 24-30 October 2016. It’s focussing on simple steps we can take to support bats and other wildlife. There are lots of things you can do right now to support wildlife in your garden or community green space. Come along to @LushCambridge on Saturday 22nd October to find out how you can help our local bats.

The lovely folks @LushCambridge are very generously holding another Charity Pot Party for Orchard Park Wildlife Project – so please consider buying a pot of the gorgeous smelling lotion that makes your skin silky smooth (like a bat’s wing?!?!). The proceeds will allow Orchard Park Wildlife Project to purchase the tools and equipment we need to run our free community events that aim to make Orchard Park better for wildlife and people.

We’ll have plenty of ideas so you can prepare for Wild About Gardens Week and find out about how you can help our local bats, and we’d like you to pledge to do something to help them during Wild About Gardens Week. There’ll be fun bat masks and bat puppets which you can decorate and in plenty of time for Halloween. We’ll show you how a bat detector works (Orchard Park Wildlife Project bought our detector with funds kindly raised by a Lush Charity Pot Party) and you can listen to bat calls. Lush staff will be looking a bit batty too!

From the Wild About Gardens Week Website:

“Wild About Gardens Week 2016 is a joint initiative by the RHS, The Wildlife Trusts and Bat Conservation Trust to encourage people to support wildlife in their gardens, with a focus on our UK bats. This is more important than ever. In 2013, wildlife researchers found that 60 percent of UK animal and plant species have declined in the past 50 years. Among the variety of reasons for this is loss of habitat.

Many of our common garden species – bats, hedgehogs, house sparrows, and common frogs, for example – are becoming much less common. There are an estimated 15 million gardens in the UK. Together they cover a greater area than all the National nature reserves! By making our own gardens and local green spaces more wildlife-friendly, we can help support a wide range of species.”

For information on threats to bats in the UK see the Bat Conservation Trust page: why bats are declining.

We hope to see you there – do come along and say hello 🙂

State of Nature 2016

goldfinch-bamboo

Goldfinch Orchard Park garden. Thankfully a bird with an increasing population according to BTO reports.

The report and findings

The first State of Nature report released in 2013 revealed the severe loss of nature that has occurred in the UK since the 1960s. Last week, the 2016 follow on report was released (see: State of Nature 2016 full report pdf).

Amongst other headlines, this one stood out as a point that is perhaps surprising to some – often declines in wildlife are thought of as happening overseas, not on our doorstep:

A new measure that assesses how intact a country’s biodiversity is, suggests that the UK has lost significantly more nature over the long term than the global average. The index suggests that we are among the most nature-depleted countries in the world.” (State of Nature 2016 p.6).

7% of urban species are threatened with extinction from Great Britain.” (State of Nature 2016 p.40).

The causes for such decline include policy-driven agricultural change as by far the most significant driver, and climate change as one of the greatest long-term threats to nature globally. Other factors driving decline such as loss of green space including parks, allotments and gardens, and loss of habitats such as wildlife rich brownfield sites to development, are things that we can witness right here in Orchard Park. Many gardens here are paved over with little to help wildlife, we have no allotments, the sports field seems sterile, the Wildlife Area seems tiny, whilst the remaining established, large grassland site which is rich in invertebrates, birds, and lizards, is due for commercial development.

Why is this important?

We have a moral obligation to save nature and this is a view shared by the millions of supporters of conservation organisations across the UK. Not only that, we must save nature for our own sake, as it provides us with essential and irreplaceable benefits that support our welfare and livelihoods.” (State of Nature 2016 p.6).

Two recent research projects have now built on … methodology to understand children’s connection to nature in more detail…children who are more connected to nature rate their health and well-being as significantly higher.” (State of Nature 2016 p.67).

What can we do?

 Whilst as individuals and families we might feel powerless to do anything about, for example, farming practices, we can be effective at a local level.

…organisations, businesses, communities and individuals have worked together to bring nature back…We are fortunate that the UK has thousands of dedicated and expert volunteers recording wildlife. It is largely thanks to their efforts, and the role of the organisations supporting them, that we are able to chart how our nature is faring.” (State of Nature 2016 p.6).

Taken collectively, there is increasing evidence that citizen science is playing a central role in recruiting and training the next generation of nature enthusiasts; communicating the beauty and relevance of the UK’s wildlife to wide sectors of UK society; and catalysing positive attitudes and behaviours towards nature. In the face of growing concerns about a decline in taxonomic expertise and a disconnect from nature amongst the UK’s population, this involvement in citizen science gives real cause for optimism.” (State of Nature 2016 p.69).

Orchard Park Wildlife Project sends its species records to Cambridge and Peterborough Environmental Records Centre to add to their regional assessments of our wildlife. You can help by joining in our Summer Safaris and being a Citizen Scientist – reporting bee, butterfly and bird sightings using links to campaigns promoted via the Orchard Park Wildlife Project blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed and letting us know about anything unusual that you see.

You can do your bit in your garden/balcony/window box by creating a pond, feeding the birds, building a log pile and adding wildlife friendly plants.

You can help keep the Wildlife Area tidy, manage our Wildflower Bank, help at the Orchard, or keep basking sites clear for reptiles at the Balancing Pond.

Every little helps. See: Wildlife Trust page for more ideas.

We hope some of our upcoming activities will tempt you to come along and inspire you to do your bit for your nature if we’ve not managed to reach you already. We’re working on an approach to an event for information at the Orchard with local resident artists, which we hope will attract new people – more about that soon. I’m attending a Network for Nature event on Saturday, it’s at the David Attenborough Building in Downing St which houses Cambridge Conservation Initiative (focussing on international conservation) and Cambridge Conservation Forum (focussing on local conservation, Orchard Park Wildlife Project is a member). The closing speech is scheduled to be given by the building’s namesake himself, and I hope and expect that he will be very inspiring indeed.

To bat or not to bat, that’s been the question…

Broken bat box at the wildlife area

Broken bat box at the wildlife area

Last week Chris Vine from the Cambridge Bat Group came to Orchard Park to check if there were any bats, or signs of bats, in the boxes located along the back of the Wildlife Area. After checking boxes on the first 6 poles, sadly no signs of bats were recorded. Boxes on three poles to the far west side of the Wildlife Area, which were inaccessible due to vegetation, remain unchecked.

Clearly this pole has suffered damage so no bats would live there – two boxes are missing and the remaining one is damaged. We should be looking after our bat boxes as bats are a natural pest control and desirable species to have around. To encourage bats we can help by planting a Bat-Friendly Garden – from the Bat Conservation Trust website:

Brown long-eared bat in a hole (Hugh Clark)All our UK bats eat insects – a single bat can eat up to 3,000 insects in a night, so they need plenty of them! You can make your garden bat-friendly by doing things like:

  • Planting night-scented flowers, which attract insects
  • Creating a pond
  • Putting up a bat box for bats to roost in
  • Letting your garden go a bit wild – neatly pruned gardens aren’t as good for insects
  • Making sure you don’t use any chemicals or pesticides on your garden
  • Ask an adult to help you find out more about how to garden for bats – they can visit our ‘Encouraging Bats’ page for more information

Orchard Park Wildlife Project was planning an evening event for 29th June to have a talk on bats, and to do some monitoring of the boxes by filming them at dusk, as Pipistrelle bats – the most likely species to be there – are so small they can go in and out of the box without us seeing them. They are however detectable when watching a slowed down film.

Instead of a whole evening of batty things, we’ve decided to combine a bat event with moths and a mini bioblitz on 21st July. We can identify and examine some daytime species, then move onto night time critters including looking for bats with a more sophisticated detector than the one borrowed so far.

I remain hopeful that there are bats around Orchard Park as I’ve had a couple of independent reports, and Chris from the Cambridge Bat Group thought the Orchard Park Wildlife Area bat boxes are very likely to be in use at some point in time, so it is well worth monitoring them.

I will go over to the Wildlife Area at dusk (9pm) on 29th June with the borrowed detector and my camera for half an hour or so to check for any activity in the unchecked boxes – it won’t be a full on batty event, but if anyone would like to join me they’d be welcome.

The Importance of your Gardens as Nature Reserves

Take a look at this 6 minute video by Chris Packham. See what a difference we could make in Orchard Park.

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Click the link below for the video:

http://bbc.in/1E4YYGM

Big Garden Birdwatch 25-26 January 2014

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is coming up on 25-26 January 2014

I took part last year. All it needs is for you to watch the birds in your garden or local green space for one hour during the Birdwatch weekend. See the link below to register and for more details. The RSPB have created apps to make counting birds (and any other animals you see) easy.

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/?gclid=CKHz8NfS-LsCFZLKtAodyxMANw

The Pond and Raised bed

pond

The pond bought for me as a birthday present and made from reclaimed materials was installed about 8 months ago by Cambridge Wood Works http://www.cambridgewoodworks.org.uk/ It has been allowed to fill with rain water as tap water contains something called chloromine, it is used to disinfect water, and may well be toxic to amphibians. Now that there is a reasonable amount of water in it, friends have kindly installed oxygenating plants. I’ve put a frog ladder on the outside and need to install features so that if I am lucky enough to get amphibians, they’ll be able to get out of the water if they can’t use plants to do so. I’ve planted around the base of the pond in the hope that as the plants establish, the liner will become less visible. The raised bed has been stripped of plants for the winter, but I’m looking forward to planting it up again in the spring. It’s a good sense of achievement to be able to make a meal from ingredients I’ve grown organically.