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.

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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

What OP’s Cat Owners Can do to Help our Wildlife

Cats and bats credit Amazon dot com

Credit: Amazon.com

Taken directly from page 118 of The People’s Manifesto for Wildlife by Chris Packham et al. concerning cats and wildlife:

“According to research our cats kill 55 million songbirds every year in the UK and predate a total of 220 million other animals, including mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects.Given the great pressures this wildlife is under elsewhere these losses are almost certainly now significant.

It’s not the cat’s fault! And there are easy steps to take to reduce this toll.

We must ask cat owners to take responsibility, and here’s how…

  • Keep cats in at night – this can reduce overall predation by up to 50%. Unless you plan to breed your pets, have them neutered.
  • Ideally all free-roaming cats should be fitted with a collar and bell. This can reduce bird predation by 50%.2,3 That’s 27 million more birds in our gardens every year.”

Orchard Park Wildlife Project has recorded 27 species of birds in OP, and we also have Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara). Any of these could be negatively affected by cats.

When studying in NZ ten years ago, and co producing a blog on the wildlife of Dunedin’s Town Belt, Jill and I met with Yolanda Van Heezik, author of one of papers cited above, several times. Jill wrote a couple of blog posts about Yolanda’s research on the cat predation in NZ: More from “Project C.A.T.” (C.A.T. stands for Cats Around Town) and Where does Fluffy go? but the findings are just as relevant here.

Cats and Bats

As well as many birds, and lizards, we also have Common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) bats, and quite possibly Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus), foraging in Orchard Park. Cats are one of the most common causes of bat casualties.

From the Bat Conservation Trust

“Bats do have other natural predators (such as birds of prey) but cats, particularly, will learn the location of the bat roost and catch bats as they emerge.

If a bat has been caught by a cat it will almost certainly be injured.  Even if you cannot see any obvious injuries there is a great risk of internal infection from the cat’s saliva.

Any bats caught by cats will need the experienced help of a bat carer.

Please follow this link for instructions on how to contain the bat and call the
Bat Helpline 0345 1300 228.

By following a few simple steps responsible cat owners can stop bats being harmed:

  • Bring your cat indoors half an hour before sunset and keep it in all night when bats are most active (April –October).
  • If you cannot keep your cat in all night, bring it in half an hour before sunset and keep it in for an hour after sunset.
  • It is very important to keep cats indoors at night from mid-June until the end of August because bats will be looking after their babies.”

Detailed information can be found by clicking here: Cats_and_Bats.

References:

  1. Woods, M., McDonald, R.A., Harris, S. (2003). Predation of wildlife by domestic cats (Felis catus) in Great Britain. Mamm. Rev. 33: 174–188.
  2. Gordon, J., Matthaei, C., Van Heezik, Y. (2010). Belled collars reduce catch of domestic cats in New Zealand by half. Wildl. Res. 37: 372–378.
  3. Ruxton, G.D., Thomas, S., Wright, J.W. (2006). Bells reduce predation of wildlife by domestic cats (Felis catus). J. Zool. 256: 81-83

 

 

 

Ring Fort Road Wildflower Bank in Macro

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Bristly Oxtongue Helminthotheca echioides

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Wild Carrot Daucus carota seed head

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Dandelion Taraxacum officinale seed head

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Ribwort Plantain Plantago lanceolata

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Yarrow Achillea millefolium

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Creeping thistle Cirsium arvense seed head

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Tufted Vetch Vicia cracca

Field Scabious Knautia arvensis

Field Scabious Knautia arvensis seed head

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Knapweed Centaurea sp.

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Knapweed Centaurea sp. seed head

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Lady’s Bedstraw Galium verum

The Wildflower Bank outside the school is well due for a full cut according to our Orchard Park Habitats Management Plan written for us by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, Orchard Park Wildlife Project is working with Orchard Park Community Council to try to ensure cutting times are optimal for maintaining maximum plant diversity, which of course improves invertebrate diversity, and then in turn in this location in Orchard Park mammal and bird diversity. This is a very valuable habitat with 97% of the UK’s ancient flower meadows having been destroyed since the 1930s.

Prior to cutting, I wanted to grab a few photos of a few flowers and seed heads. If you take a moment to look, they’re beautiful, colourful, intricate, and fascinating structures. In a very small patch there’s a lot of diversity to be seen over there. Go and have a look 🙂

Plants and Animals of the Wildflower Bank this page has information and photos of everything we’ve identified over there so far.

And PLEASE DON’T USE OUR WILDFLOWER BANK AS A RUBBISH DUMP AND DOG TOILET! Let’s work together to make Orchard Park better for people and wildlife 🙂

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Wild Carrot Daucus carota flowers and seed heads

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

OP Clean Up Day

Clean up day poster 30:9

Make a Seed Feeder 

To promote reuse Orchard Park Wildlife Project will provide instructions on how to make seed feeders for the birds out of plastic bottles. So save a bottle from your litter pick, grab the instructions, and you’ll be able to take away a free bag of seeds to fill your feeder 🙂

Help to Clean our Wildlife Habitats

Although the Wildlife Area and Wildflower Bank are probably cleaner than they’ve been for a long time, we hope a few people will go to these areas during the litter pick. We especially need help in the Wildlife Area to remove the last of the polystyrene packing materials – the small stuff that often gets over looked. It sticks around in the environment for more than a million years, as polystyrene is not biodegradable. Though it is slow to break down chemically, it does fragment into small pieces, choking animals that ingest it, clogging their digestive systems.

Details from OPCC Facebook Page:

Orchard Park Community Clean up day at Unwin Square (in front of the One Stop).

♻️Community Litter Pick:
Equipment will be provided by South Cambs
Wear suitable clothing
Refreshments will be provided
Children under 18 must be accompanied by a responsible adult

♻️ Household Recycling:
On the day the skips and truck will collect:
🔌Electrical – to include small items such as lamps, hairdryers, Electric Toothbrushes, White Goods (including Fridges, Freezers Washing Machines etc) Basically anything with a plug on it.
🔩 Metal – bedsteads, bicycles , BBQs, shelving etc
🚪 Wood – shelving, furniture, doors etc
👚 Textiles – good items of clothing for the Take it or leave it
📚 Books – for the Take it or leave it

Please note:
🙅DO NOT bring Black bin waste
🙅DO NOT bring Blue bin waste
🙅DO NOT bring Green bin waste

♻️ ‘Take it or Leave it’ Freecycling stall:
Miscellaneous items in good condition for the take it or leave it table including clothing games, books and household items.

In collaboration with South Cambs District Council, Combined Waste Service, Orchard Park Wildlife Project, and Orchard Park Community Council

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.

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.

 

 

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.