Nature Notes December 2021

What’s Going On?

Why are we still using chemicals in the garden?   

   Since this can be a quiet time of the year in the garden there should be time to not only plan seeds and plants for the future but also to reflect on our gardening methods and our garden ethos. There has been so much information about climate change and the dramatic decline of biodiversity everywhere surely it is time to act and make a difference. Gardens are a good starting place. Everyone loves the more charismatic creatures that visit such as hedgehogs, badgers and birds but how do they survive without insects and invertebrates? Yes we can feed them but why? There should be food aplenty if the garden ecosystem is healthy and thriving.

   Please consider abandoning pesticides which are basically nerve poisons and other chemicals.  One of the most popular pesticides on garden centre shelves is called The Ultimate Bug Killer. That means there is no discrimination. All bugs (that is insects) are killed whatever their role in the ecosystem and how charismatic they are. Certain pests such as aphids are killed but they can reproduce very rapidly whereas their prey such as ladybirds take much longer to recover so aphids triumph, proliferate and so we need to spray again and again and again. A newly born aphid becomes a reproducing adult within about a week and then can produce up to 5 offspring per day for up to 30 days! In warmer weather sexual reproduction may never occur and they continue reproducing asexually. Because each adult aphid can produce up to 80 offspring in a matter of a week, aphid populations can increase with great speed.

   However it takes 4 to 8 weeks for a ladybird to complete her life cycle. They live for about a year and can eat up to 5000 aphids in their life time.

   By using chemicals huge disruption happens to life cycles and an imbalance is permanently set up in what should be a finely tuned ecosystem where every creature has a vital part to play.

   This is just one example and there are other ways to control insect pests which will be discussed in the January nature notes.

Seed Head Quiz.

   Here are the seed heads of 8 common garden or wild flower plants. Hopefully some gardeners will have saved such heads to provide winter seeds for birds and shelter for overwintering insects. If you haven’t saved the plants maybe you will think again next year?


An Exotic Bird ?   The Green Woodpecker.

   A near neighbour came to ask about an exotic looking bird spotted on her lawn. It was in fact a green woodpecker as the picture below shows but it did indeed look exotic with its beautiful colouring and stunning presence 

   If green woodpeckers visit your garden, you are most likely to see them on the lawn. This is because the green woodpecker’s diet consists mainly of ants – adults, larvae and eggs. They will eat other invertebrates, pine seeds and fruit, but usually only in the winter when ants become increasingly hard to find.

   Compared to other woodpeckers, green woodpeckers have relatively weak bills. When excavating their nest holes in trees, they usually only chisel into soft wood, and they rarely drum to communicate. However though shy and wary they are very vocal and have a loud kind of laughing call known as a ‘yaffle’, and that is how you know that a green woodpecker is around  before it is seen.

A possible woodpecker hole in the making but I am not really sure what made it. Any suggestions? It is completely circular and in a dead silver birch.

A possible woodpecker hole in the making but I am not really sure what made it. Any suggestions? It is completely circular and in a dead silver birch.

    Although green woodpeckers may pair for life they spend most of the tear living alone and find their partner, who has been living close by, in March    Green woodpeckers only have one brood of five to seven eggs and usually lay their eggs in May. They usually nest in live trees and will often use the same tree each year, if not the same hole.

.  On fledging, each parent usually takes half of the young – quite a common occurrence in birds – and shows them where to feed. Only once a saw a parent green woodpecker bring her 3 babies to the lawn in order to show them how to find ants. She or he sunk her beak into the turf but refused to feed the indignant young ones. Eventually one tentatively pierced through the turf but quickly retracted its bill shaking off the soil furiously. What a shock. I assume all was well in the end but something startled them and they were off to safety

Book recommendation.

Silent Earth. Averting the Insect Apocalypse by Dave Goulson.

   If any piece of writing could persuade us to look after our environment this is the one. Dave Goulson has written several books such as The Garden Jungle or Gardening to Save the Planet (recommended September 2019) all imploring gardeners to encourage wildlife especially insects. Usually his style is authoritative but easy to read and understand. He has a light touch.

    However this book is written with much more passion and urgency pleading with us to act now for time is running out. His work is backed up with scientific data. He cites Rachel Carson who way back in 1963 in her book Silent Spring warned us of the terrible damage we were doing to our planet and it has become worse not better. The decline of insects threatens human well-being, for we need insects to pollinate crops, recycle dung, leaves and corpses, keep the soil healthy and control pests. Many larger animals such as birds, fish, amphibians and mammals rely on insects for food. Without them the world will slowly grind to a halt. As Rachel Carson said ’Man is a part of nature and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.

   Nowadays many of us think of biodiversity as an optional extra, a diversion from the all demanding work place. Maybe the pandemic has helped to slow us down and make us think exactly as we want and need our planet to be. Maybe. I am optimistic!

Some Christmas Reading?

    Here is a list of all the books recommended during 2021. Maybe there may be some reminders here and maybe some ideas for Christmas gifts for nature lovers.

January 2021    Rewild your Garden  by Frances Tophill.

February 2021   The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane.

March 2021   The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

April 2021   Wild Flowers of Britain & Ireland by Marjorie Blamey, Richard & Alaster Fitter

May 2021   My Garden World by Monty Don.

June 2021   Gardening with Woodland Plants by Karen Junker

July 2021  Under Your Feet by RHS &Know Soil Know Life by David Lindos.

August 2021. The Consolation of Nature by Michael McCarthy, Jeremy Wynatt & Peter

September 2021.  Bugs Britannica by Peter Marren and Richard Maybe

October 2021. The Wood for the Trees. The Long Vew of Nature from a Small Wood by Richard Forty.

November 2021. Rewild. The Art of Returning to Nature by Nick Baker

December 2021 Silent Earth by Dave Goulson

The Threat to Greater Horseshoe Bats by the Proposed Route of the Southern Link Road (&the Northern Link) of the Banwell  Bypass

   I have been reading about the Greater Horseshoe bat in the New Naturalist Series. John Altringham wrote his book called Bats in 2003 so some of the data may have been improved upon since then.

   Greater Horseshoe Bats are rare, vulnerable and increasingly threatened by climate change, loss of habitats including hostile farming practices particularly the use of pesticides (nerve gases) and antibiotics plus road (bypass!) and house building including the conversion of old barns. All increasingly familiar to many species. The greater Horseshoe is an insectivore and relies on larger insects such as rove beetles, dung beetles, moths, crane flies and cockchafers as its food source.

   Furthermore this species forages throughout the summer but often in the winter too. It is near the northern limit of its range in Britain and is largely confined to the south west of England and parts of south Wales. How fortunate are we then to have a rare and protected bat roosting and foraging bat colony nearby.

    The huge downside is the proposal to build the South Link of the bypass very close by in fact only 50 metres from the Banwell Ochre Caves roost and the Banwell Bone Caves roosting area about 600 metres away  The bats commute across the proposed site to reach their foraging areas. However crossing the link will be precarious. Presumably the road will be lit and this will disturb echolocation and hunting patterns between prey and predator. Greater Horseshoe bats are low flyers so that they can pick up insects and they may take insects from the ground. Fast traffic will be an utter danger.

   There is more. The site of the Southern link Road falls within the N. Somerset and Mendip Bats SAC (Special Area of Consideration) I spoke to a local ecologist about the importance of this SAC in helping to protect bats and this was the reply. ‘North Somerset and Mendip Bats Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) is an internationally important wildlife site protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended in 2019). The populations of bats supported by this site are afforded very high levels of legal protection, which places a significant duty on decision-makers to prevent damage to their roosts, feeding areas, and the routes used by the bats to travel between these locations.’

   I am sure intentions are good bur it seems that such legal protection could ultimately fail and this is very sad. I am sure that mitigating circumstances will be set up by knowledgeable and committed experts and I do not have full information about this but I still feel strongly that the legalities should be honoured thoroughly.  It seems that things can be changed if it suits

   On a more general theme. Bats are vitally important indicators of the health of our ecosystems that include humans of course. Greater Horseshoe populations have fallen by over 90% during the last 100 years with perhaps no more than 4000 left.

   There are many reasons for the decline but farm practices are a main one. The use of pesticides means that many insects are killed or contaminated thus denying bats and many other creatures their main food source. When bats decline it suggests that insects are also declining and ecosystems heavily rely on these to pollinate, decompose leaves and corpses and provide food for others such as birds, amphibians and mammals and so the decline of bats tells us that all is not well with the food chains and ecosystems. Bats need our help not only for their own protection but also for our own life on earth.

End Piece

   This photograph of a giant puff ball was taken two weeks after the one shown in the November Nature Notes. This time I did have some scale provided by the muzzle of an inquisitive horse! The original puff ball on the left has deteriorated into a mass of brown decay as it continues to release millions of spores. A newer puff ball retains some of its white colour but it is being blown and possibly pushed about once again releasing many, many spores some of which may come into fruition under the right conditions usually in the autumn.

Global Warming? A buttercup flowering in mid November

A little vignette tucked into a cherry tree.

Answers to the Seed Head Quiz

A. Evening Primrose. B. Sedum. C. Golden Rod. D. Echinops. E. Iris siberica.F Echinaceae. G. Agapanthus. H.Teasel

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