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.

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Fledglings, Flowers, Insects and Formulating Plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local Land Plastic, Please Help

 

 

All photos kindly provided by: Andrew Chan

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Hopes for 2018

 

We normally try to end the year on a positive note. However this time, I’m posting on the state of the Wildlife Area again. Whilst improved efforts by the OP Community Council and OP Wildlife Project (OPWP) to keep the area clean have made a positive difference overall these last few years, it’s still very disheartening to see littering and vandalism continuing to be major problems. These photos were taken on the 9th November when Andrew from the Community Council and I had a look around.

OPWP has given talks to OP School children and OP Scout Group about dangers of litter to wildlife (Litter at the Wildlife Area) and both have helped enormously with litter picks. We’d like to thank them for their efforts. It’s a shame to see them go to waste though when the area returns back to this state after a matter of weeks.

OPWP will be arranging more litter picks for next year and we’d be grateful to anyone that can get involved. Most folks that join in find litter picks strangely addictive and children generally really enjoy them.

The purpose of OPWP is simple: WE AIM TO MAKE ORCHARD PARK BETTER FOR PEOPLE AND WILDLIFE THROUGH COMMUNITY ACTION. There are benefits for volunteers too, and although this post is from someone based in the USA, the points raised are valid here in OP too: Benefits of volunteering Being in contact with nature has also been proven as beneficial to our health: Nature benefits. Free, fun and good for you, what’s not to like? Do join us.

After a series of successful collaborations with OP School in 2017, we will be running more sessions there again in 2018. We’ll be planning our events for the community soon too, and will post details here and on Facebook. Sadly last year turn outs to some community events were much lower than in previous years and our community planting for food and pots for pollinators projects had a slower start than we’d hoped (Raised bed at the Community Centre). The bug hotel was also destroyed Bug Hotel Destroyed.

We hope 2018 will be better in terms of community involvement but we really need your help to realise that.

We’d like to thank everyone that helped out last year either by collaborating, giving time, expertise, or financial support to the project.

Anyone that has something positive to bring in 2018 is very welcome to join us.

 

Helping Wildlife in Autumn, Leave the Leaves :)

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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.

 

Bug Hotel Destroyed

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Remnants of the Bug Hotel. Photo Credit: Andrew Chan OPCC

OPWP is sad to announce that the Bug Hotel, constructed near to the Orchard Community Centre was destroyed a couple of weeks ago. The Bug Hotel had been made in the summer with wood, sticks, pine cones and other things with nooks and crannies to provide a shelter for invertebrates. Even though the wood sections had been screwed together, someone, or several folks, decided to dismantle it. Very disappointing after the effort to build it.

Meet the locals, give a bird family a home and contribute to conservation, whilst improving your own wellbeing

 

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Come along to Unwin Square, in front of the shops, on 1st April from 10.00-14.00. Orchard Park Community Council are organising an Easter Fun Day, click here for more information via the OPCC Facebook page. It’s a great chance to meet local folks, or to come along with your neighbours if you already know them.

Orchard Park Community Council have very kindly offered to cover the costs of some nest box kits (donations are welcome to help recoup some of their costs) which you can decorate and place in your garden, next to your window or balcony, to provide homes for our feathered friends. These boxes are most likely to attract birds from the Tit family (Paridae). They’re gorgeous and energetic little things, a joy to watch in the garden.

As mentioned previously, watching birds has been proven to improve our health and wellbeing. One study by the University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and University of Queensland, involving hundreds of people, found benefits for mental health of being able to see birds, shrubs and trees around the home, whether people lived in urban or more leafy suburban neighbourhoods.

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Blue tit, Orchard Park garden winter 2012

We can help you to find a suitable place to put your nest box up and let you know which birds you’re likely to see in your garden. Although many birds will have already started nesting, it’s not unusual for them to change nests for a second clutch, and if you’re not in time for them this year, there’s always next.

More information on nest boxes from the Gardenature website:

When is the latest time to put up a nest box in the season?

Garden birds generally start breeding around mid February, ideally you should have put a nest box in place by the end of Feb beginning of March. This said, we have known bird boxes to be put up in April that have had successful results.

When and how do I clean out the nest box ?

The nests of most birds harbour fleas and other parasites, these can remain to infest young birds that hatch the following year. We recommend that old nests be removed from August onwards or once you are certain the birds have stopped using the box.

Use boiling water to kill any remaining parasites, and let the box dry out thoroughly before replacing the front or top panels. Insecticides and flea powders must not be used.

How do I position my nest box ?

There are a number of guidelines you can follow to help maximise your chances of birds using a nest box.
It is highly recommended that you face the nest box between North and East. What is important is that you do not face the hole towards the prevailing wind as this will almost certainly mean that rain will get into the box in wet and windy weather. Try to avoid placing a nest box where there will be prolonged exposure to sunlight as overheating inside the box can sometimes result in heat stress to the chicks.
Placing a nest box in close proximity to a feeding device or feeding station may well put off birds from nesting in the box. Most nesting birds are highly territorial and do not like intruders on their territory. Either remove feeders just before and during the breeding season or place the nest box well away from the feeding station.
Make sure that the birds have a clear flight path to the nest box without any clutter directly in front of the entrance. Tilt the box forward slightly so that any driving rain will hit the roof and bounce clear.
To attract Blue Tits, Great Tits etc, ideally your nest box should be fixed two to five metres up a tree or wall to prevent predators such as cats reaching them.
Open-fronted boxes for robins and wrens need to be low down, below 2m, well hidden in vegetation. Those for spotted flycatchers need to be 2-4m high, sheltered by vegetation but with a clear outlook. Woodpecker boxes need to be 3-5m high on a tree trunk with a clear flight path and away from disturbance.
There are several methods for attaching your nest box to a tree. If using a nail try to make sure it is an aluminium one as this will cause the least damage to the tree and pose less of a hazard at a later date if the tree is cut down or trimmed using a chainsaw. Alternatively boxes can be attached with garden wire around the trunk or branch. Holes can be drilled on either side of the bird box roof to help do this. Use a piece of garden hose or similar around the wire to prevent damage to the tree.”
Also see the BTO Website.
Why do we need to provide birds with nest boxes?
From the BTO (see their website for additional information): “Natural nest sites for birds such as holes in trees or old buildings are disappearing fast as gardens are ‘tidied’ and old houses are repaired.”
Benefits of nest boxes 
Adapted from the BTO: “Whether you’re a family with space for a box in your garden, a teacher, a member of a local wildlife group, or you belong to a bird club and could organise a work party, providing a nest box gives you the chance to contribute to the conservation effort in the UK whilst giving you the pleasure of observing any breeding birds that you attract to your garden.”
If you’re really keen you can monitor the box and provide feedback to OPWP and the BTO: https://www.bto.org/about-birds/nnbw/monitor

OPWP has ID’d OP’s Apples

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Photo credit: Kate Parsley

Many thanks to Kate from OPWP for going to Cambridge University Botanic Garden’s Apple Day today to identify the variety of apples in Orchard Park. We now know around OP we have the Ribston Pippin and the Spartan, both eating apples. We hope you’ll join us at our event on 29th October 1-4pm with Kettle’s Yard, and Inder’s Kitchen to celebrate our Orchard and its wildlife. Juicing, chutney making, and OP’s Orchard Wildlife, free, fun, informative and accessible. For details see: Next event at the Orchard – Saturday 29 October 2016 1-4pm

According to the Trees of Antiquity website:

Ribston Pippin originated in Yorkshire, England, around 1700 as a dessert apple, and was grown from three apple pips (seeds) sent from Normandy to Sir Henry Goodricke of Ribston Hall at Knaresborough, in Yorkshire, in 1709. Only one seed germinated and matured. The original tree was blown down in 1810, but was propped up and lived until 1928. This is a highly esteemed Victorian dessert apple. Ribston Pippin is also referred to as the Glory of York. Juicy, firm deep cream-colored flesh has an intense, rich, aromatic apple flavor, along with an intense sharpness. Skin striped red over greenish-yellow, with russet patches. Parent of the famous Cox’s Orange Pippin. Consider Grimes Golden, Liberty and/or White Pearmain for pollination. Triploid.”

The provenance of the Spartan is less well understood. The Garden Action website says:

“This variety was purpose bred in Canada for commercial use. Remarkably even though the apples were bred under controlled conditions, the parentage is not known. Originally the apple was thought to be cross between McIntosh and Newton. Now however, genetic testing has proved that Newton was not one of the parents. McIntosh, yes, Newton definitely not!….

The apple flesh is white and crispy with lots of juice if eaten straight off the tree.”

 

Snaps of Two of Twenty Lizards, Spotted in Just One Hour on Sunday :)

We had much better weather yesterday morning than forecast, the sun was shining, and the clouds were few. We spotted twenty lizards yesterday in around an hour surveying the fence, mostly adult males, and a few subadults.

I wonder how many there are out there….

How well do you know our spiny visitors?

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Photo credit: Wild About Gardens Week

We’re now into day two of Wild About Gardens Week (26 October – 1 November) and what a soggy day it is. Still, it might encourage slugs, snails and worms out into our gardens for the hedgehogs, this year’s star of Wild About Gardens Week, so they can have a pre hibernation feast. To see how citizen science is informing us of hedgehog hibernation patterns see: hibernation report

Don’t forget to look in any bonfires you might be lighting for Halloween and Guy Fawkes night to check for wildlife. If you find an animal please make sure you move it a safe distance away.

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Photo credit: British Hedgehog Society on Twitter

Small creatures like piles of wood and leaves for shelter, so why not help them in your garden by providing a pile just for them? Other things we can do as recommended in the Wild About Gardens Week Hedgehog Handbook include:

1. Create ‘hedgehog highways’ in your fences to connect your gardens.

2. Provide an escape route out of ponds – ‘hogs are great swimmers but they struggle to climb out.

3. Create a variety of habitats e.g. ponds, hedges, log piles and compost heaps to attract food for the hedgehog.

4. Build a hedgehog home – give them somewhere to hunker down for the winter.

5. Let your grass grow wild (or even a section of it) to encourage the hedgehog’s prey. Check carefully before mowing or strimming areas.

6. Create nesting opportunities – leave wild areas for ‘hogs to hibernate.

7. Set up a feeding station offering hedgehog food or meaty pet food and water.

8. Tidy up – litter harms wildlife, and hedgehogs can also become entangled in garden netting.

9. Keep domestic drains covered, hedgehogs can fall into them and get stuck.

10. Check bonfires before lighting; ideally rebuild them on the day it is to be lit.

11. Keep your gardens green – paving and decking over gardens reduces hedgehog habitat.

These activities are most beneficial if we work together as a community. For the full text of the Wild About Gardens Hedgehog Handbook go to: Hedgehog Handbook

Orchard Park Wildlife Project will be in Lush, Lion Yard on Saturday 31 October from 12-4pm to give wildlife gardening tips. Come along and make a pledge to help our local wildlife, there’ll be wildlife colouring for children, and find out how to enter a photo competition to win hedgehog prizes – Royal Horticultural Society Hedgehog Photo Comp. Lush are also very kindly fundraising again for Orchard Park Wildlife Project – if you buy their Charity Pot on Saturday, proceeds will go towards equipment for Orchard Park Wildlife Project’s activities. We are very grateful to Lush once again for their generosity.