Nature Notes January 2022

Gardening with Wildlife in Mind

A way to End Gardening with Chemicals

   The way is to practise organic gardening. The essence of organic growing is to work with natural ecosystems and their cycles.

   The basic principle is that the soil is as important as the plants it supports. The soil is, or should be, full of life which in turn supports healthy plant growth. So organic gardening concentrates on producing a healthy soil. If the soil contains many nutrients the plant roots can help themselves as and when required. The opposite way is to pour nutrients onto the soil at certain intervals. If plants do not need those or any nutrients at that time they percolate down through the soil and eventually into water courses with a necessity then for water companies to remove those nutrients especially nitrates, This is a costly and  unsustainable way of growing both for the plants and the grower.  How to produce healthy soil will be discussed in the February nature notes as will other features of organic growing.

    It is absolutely vital to encourage biodiversity.  Different life forms – plants, insects, birds, amphibians and mammals all have a role in creating a resilient growing system. To achieve this it is important to stop using harmful chemicals. Toxic chemicals used to kill weeds, diseases and pests can damage the health of the growing area, and all the life-forms within and beyond it as discussed in the last newsletter. Without the aid of chemicals it is therefore important to recruit natural pest controllers such as lady birds, hoverflies, lacewings, beetles and amphibians such as frogs and toads.

A Hoverfly. There are about 250 species of hoverfly and they can be confused with wasps but they do not sting nor do many species of wasp!

    Hoverflies can fly in bursts of up to 40km per hour. The adult hoverfly feeds on nectar and pollen, but its larvae are voracious predators of aphids and other garden pests. As a result, hoverflies should be welcome in any organic growing area, acting both as pollinators and pest controllers.

   To prevent its prey sending off too many alarm signals, the larvae rears up its head, lifts the aphid off the leaf and pierces it. The larva produces sticky saliva so the aphid can’t wriggle away and once stuck the larva proceeds to suck the life out of it. The larvae are small, brown, or green maggots. When populations of hoverflies are high, they can control 70-100% of an aphid population. … When hoverfly larvae are ready to pupate, they attach themselves to a leaf or twig. As the pupa evolves, it changes in colour from green to the colour and form of an adult.

     Close observation helps to prevent problems before they become major so it is essential to get to know your ‘patch’ at all times maybe make a sketch of the growing area showing aspect, soil types, areas of shade and areas of direct sunlight and areas of dappled shade.

Bird Species at Risk

   A timely reminder made front page headlines in the Guardian newspaper on December 1st. 2021. It stated that there are now70 British bird species so much endangered that they are on the red list. The most recent ones to be included are the greenfinch, house martin, swift and the Bewick’s swan. The red list now accounts for more than a quarter of Britain’s 245 bird species.   Birds are placed on the red list of the Birds of Conservation Concern by a coalition of government wildlife bodies and bird charities either because their populations have severely declined in Britain or because they are considered under threat of global extinction.

   The reasons for decline are now well known climate change, loss of habitat, including nesting sites and decline of food sources especially insects. Once this is known is it incumbent on us to do our bit to put things right? It is also within our own interests too that is to survive as a species within nature. Birds that migrate are particularly affected most recently the swift and house martin but also the nightingale and the cuckoo These birds suffer the above  losses both in Britain, in their wintering areas of sub Saharan Africa and all along their migration routes.

   One way people can help the house martin is to erect artificial nest cups under the eaves of homes but there are many other ways to help which I think are increasingly being introduced and implemented. Certainly this is a good time to plant a tree and or a hedge no matter how short it may be but do include hawthorn.

House martin nest cup
The Jay

   By contrast the population of jays has remained stable over the last 40 years though there may be fluctuations perhaps caused when there is little or no beech mast (nuts) locally. Not every oak tree fails to produce nuts. It varies from year to year and place to place. Jays remain on the green list of conservation. Good. Some good new!

   Acorns are the staple food for jays during the autumn months and individual birds may travel some distance to find a supply. Jays collect the acorns, with three or four carried in an adapted gullet and one more held in the bill. The acorns are usually taken away from the immediate vicinity of the oak to be cached elsewhere, typically in a hole that the jay has made in the ground with its beak. This is also an advantage for the oak since if a new oak germinates from the acorn it will grow away from the shade of its parent.

.   An individual Jay may hoard as many as 3,000 acorns and these will provide the bird with food over the coming months. Jays amazingly can remember the location of their hoarded acorns, although it is known that (during the summer) they can use the presence of a newly germinated sapling to reveal the presence of an acorn at its base.

    Jays are resourceful and will take a wide range of foods. They are perhaps best described as opportunists, taking food that happens to be abundant. In addition to acorns, they will take beetles and caterpillars and they will also raid the nests of smaller birds to take eggs and young. It is just as well that jays are opportunists for in 2021 none of the 8 oaks I know well produced any acorns at all and this has brought the shy jay giant hopping its way to gather food from beneath the bird table. Realising this I have also included some treats in the form of suet pellets which all birds seem to love. The jay has one in its beak.

Book recommendation

Encyclopaedia of Organic Gardening. The Complete Guide to Natural & Chemical Free Gardening from Garden Organic.

   This attractively presented book does exactly what it says in the title. The instructions are straight forward to follow and are backed up with clear illustrations, diagrams and photographs.

End Piece

An alternative way of eating an apple!  I am not sure who nibbles around the core so assiduously but I think that squirrels are involved and or blackbirds.

Britain’s only native deciduous conifer is the Larch

Autumn Glory in Sandford

An idyllic woodland scene with a majestic beech taking centre stage. These are Sandford Woods looking south from Byeways Lane on footpath 77
Greenhill Lane on footpath 45 looking south east towards the A 368


   I took this picture on Friday, 10th. December to show that snowdrops are already showing their buds as they pierce through the soil.

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