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.

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UN report says nature is in worst shape in human history

Trees and shrubs being removed in Orchard Park due to A14 road widening, April 2019

Taken directly from the Associated Press website: “Nature is in more trouble now than at any other time in human history, with extinction looming over 1 million species of plants and animals, scientists said Monday in the United Nations’ first comprehensive report on biodiversity.

It’s all because of humans, but it’s not too late to fix the problem, the report said.

Species loss is accelerating to a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past, the report said. More than half a million species on land “have insufficient habitat for long-term survival” and are likely to go extinct, many within decades, unless their habitats are restored. The oceans are not any better off.

Conservation scientists from around the world convened in Paris to issue the report, which exceeded 1,000 pages. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) included more than 450 researchers who used 15,000 scientific and government reports. The report’s summary was approved by representatives of all 109 nations.”

From the IPBES press release: “To increase the policy-relevance of the Report, the assessment’s authors have ranked, for the first time at this scale and based on a thorough analysis of the available evidence, the five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts so far. These culprits are, in descending order: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.

Despite progress to conserve nature and implement policies, the Report also finds that global goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors.

UK Wildlife Session with the Beavers

Running around in last night’s sunshine to look for hidden wildlife photos
Photo credit: Kathryn Pennell

All photos credit: Kathryn Pennell

Yesterday OPWP ran a session with the Beavers in and around the Community Centre. Many thanks to Holly of OPWP for organising all the resources and running the activities, and to the Beavers and leaders for the session.

Holly began the session by showing photos of a range of British wildlife, including quite a few animals that live in OP and asking for their identities. There were some easy ones, and a few more tricky ones. Then the group moved outside to play Wildlife Bingo, marking off animals as they found the photos Holly had hidden around the Community Centre grounds. Cameras were handed out and the Beavers set off to find and photograph lots of different nature related things, including something beautiful, and something smelly. Back inside we played the ‘Who Am I’ game, but instead of famous people, the Beavers had to guess which animal they were based on clues from the others.

We had fine weather for the session, and they all seemed to enjoy running around outdoors 😀

Thank you to the Beaver group – we look forward to our next session with you.

Session with the School on OP’s Wonderful Wildlife

All photos credit: R. Bridges, Orchard Park Community Primary School

We had a great session with the Butterflies class on 29th March. We began the session in the classroom exploring the different habitats around OP, and looking at our local wildlife that lives in them. This was followed by a game based on musical chairs to explain how habitat loss and fragmentation can affect bats, then ideas on how to help our local wildlife – easy steps everyone can take, but that make a positive difference.

One thing we can all do is to make sure we don’t leave litter lying around – it causes both immediate and long term dangers to our wildlife and the environment, so we were very pleased the children of the Butterflies class were able to do a litter pick along the Wildflower Bank, and land surrounding the Wildlife Area.


THANK YOU BUTTERFLIES 🦋 we enjoyed the session and hope you did too 😀

We’d love to hear from you if you’ve done anything to help our local wildlife since the session 😀 You can Tweet us @opwildlife

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

The Sign has been installed at the Wildflower Bank 🌸🦗🐜🌼

The sign for the Wildflower Bank was installed this morning at 11.00. We’re delighted with how it looks. We hope children and guardians will enjoy it as they come and go from school, and Orchard Park Wildlife Project (OPWP) will use it for interactive sessions with the school and public sessions.

The NFC tag is now working so that you can go straight to our website showing comprehensive information on all of the plants and animals that live on the Wildflower Bank – some phones will just read the tag if you hold your phone directly over the tag, other phones require an app to read it. Alternatively there’s a QR code to scan with your camera/app, or you can type in the web address on the sign. 

The sign shows the importance of the habitat and wildlife that lives there. We hope the bank will be managed optimally by OPCC – cutting at appropriate times and clearing cuttings to prevent nutrient build up – to ensure its diversity is maintained, or even increased in future years….. 

Wildlife of the Wildflower Bank

Thank you so very much to:

Education Services 2010 for their generous funding of the sign, and Footprint Signs for bringing it in to our budget. The children of Orchard Park Community Primary School provided the drawings forming the border and the winning drawings from our summer competition are featured in the centre, the staff facilitated the drawing competition. Lush funded the pottles, pooters and other ecology equipment for the community bioblitz. Carol and Tim Inskipp of OPWP, and Louise Bacon of Cambridge and Peterborough Environmental Records Centre identified the wildlife, Carol Inskipp took invertebrate photos, and Holly Freeman of OPWP and her sister Sophie Freeman drew the flowers for the Identification Chart. Andrew Chan (OPCC), Samantha Fox and Lewis Man did the design and layout. 

A Session with the Beavers

On Friday evening Orchard Park Wildlife Project ran a session with the Beavers.

Everyone enjoyed the session, many thanks indeed to the Beavers and to Holly Freeman, of Orchard Park Wildlife Project for planning and organising all activities. 

We began with creating Top Trumps cards for local wildlife, then a short presentation on the animal life that can be found in Orchard Park, followed with a local wildlife themed ‘is this true or false’ quiz that involved lots of running around, and some tips on how to help our wildlife. Then we moved on to the creative part of the session – lumps of moulding clay were handed out so everyone could make an animal, and plates were decorated and folded to make a suitable habitat for each animal. Photos of the freshly made animals and habitats are below. If you notice any wonderful wildlife creations are missing, do send a photo to opwildlife@gmail.com and we’ll add them to this blog post.

The clay air dries to a lighter colour and it should be set and solid by now, though the creations can be a little fragile. Sadly Holly’s fabulous ‘here’s one I made earlier’ frog lost its front leg 😦

Since the session some of you have been adding other animals to your habitats. It was lovely to receive these photos from Amit Kakkar showing a whole range of new creatures filling their little home. 

Photo credit: Amit Kakkar
Photo credit: Amit Kakkar

We’ve got two more sessions planned for next year, these will be outside in the spring when the evenings are lighter. We look forward to them 🙂 

Photos taken during the session