Blogger - Erica Howe
I’m house sitting at the moment while our friends are off on a holiday of a lifetime! It sounds wonderful doesn’t it? I’ve left the city, living in the Norfolk countryside, in a bigger house with a garden – sounds like a holiday itself? Well, sort of!
It’s funny when you step into the shoes of someone else, live their life for a brief moment. That’s what it feels like when you live in someone elses house. It felt a bit wrong for a while, like was trespassing or living a double life. But, in my second week, i’m starting to get used to it. Actually, enjoying it!
Now, the thing with house sitting is that it comes with a set of rules that you should really follow. Put the bins out on the set days. Check. Water the plants. Check. Walk the dogs. Check. Feed digestive biscuits and raisins to the birds. What???? I’m not joking, this is exactly what we’ve been doing for the last fortnight. And do you know what, i’ve never seen hungrier birds! They love it. At least three times a day i have to replenish the stocks. And it’s all kind of birds too. Fieldfares have been hanging around, woodpeckers, blue tits, great tits, green finches, black birds, wood pigeons, sparrows, the occasional bird of prey too! It has been a breath of fresh air (quite literally) living out of the city, but wow the birds are demanding!
But, what a delight it is to look out of your kitchen window and actually see wildlife, real, live wildlife enjoying your garden, flying above your rooftop and more importantly, relying on you for dinner. I only have a short time left at the house and going back to my town house terrace in the city will take some getting used to.
It is funny when you find out the quirky habits other people have in their own homes, and i was the first person to giggle at the thought of feeding the birds with digestive biscuits and raisins, but I have been converted! Whatever you feed your garden birds (I was on a radio phone-in once and a lady called in to say that her birds like parmesan cheese!!) take the time to enjoy it and relish the fact that they’re frequenting your garden.
Blogger: Gena Correale-Wardle, Community Fundraising Officer
Yesterday I received the loveliest text from my oldest childhood friend who has recently moved to London.
“It’s another beautiful blue eyed day in fair London town :) I’m starting to spot those bumbles! I love those round fluffy beasts – my second one today in fact, is resting on my Juliet balcony catching some rays. Bless the bumbles!”
What a sign of spring if ever there was one, when the first bumblebees appear! It warmed my heart to get such a lovely text first thing on a Sunday morning and to think that even though my friend was in a new urban environment, she was still able to be touched by nature.
Growing up, Holly and I were a bit like the town mouse and the country mouse; I was brought up in a tiny Norfolk village where the local shop was in an old railway carriage and there were only 3 buses a week. She was brought up in Birmingham where we used to sneak out for a day of shopping in the city amongst more people than there were in the whole of Norfolk, then hop on the train that went every 10 minutes almost to her door.
But it goes to show that it doesn’t matter what environment you grew up in, an appreciation of nature and wildlife goes deeper than that. Holly and I spent our childhood together camping in the great outdoors, jumping into rivers to have a splash about, walking through the wheat fields behind my parents’ house and going down to the swings at her local park.
Whenever I think of us as kids it’s always us outdoors and it’s great that our love for all things wild continues to this day.
As for those bumblebees, Holly is right, we should ‘bless the bumbles’ if we are lucky to see any as early as February and keep our fingers crossed that we see many more for the year to come. Bees are something that unite us all – wherever you live you can see them bumbling about and their lazy buzz is synonymous with warmer weather, flowers in bloom and sunshine.
The first time I see bumblebees this year I will think of my friend and smile, and I hope the first time you see those lovely ‘round, fluffy beasts’ it will make you think of childhood friends and the pleasure of being in the great outdoors, even if, like Holly, you are in the middle of the urban jungle.
Blogger: Emily Field, RSPB Volunteer & Farmer Alliance Team
The Sunday before last, it was a beautiful sunny morning and with my husband home to watch the children, I finally got round to setting up my telescope on a patch of "wild bird seed mix" (a crop on farmland planted to feed the birds) by my home, a few miles west of Norwich. In the 15 short minutes I spent there before breakfast: enjoying the spectacle of 80+ linnets and 60+ yellowhammer, chattering away above me in the trees and swirling in and out of the mix, with the odd sparrowhawk fly by, and lapwing calling atmospherically in the distance, I had three interesting conversations with passers by.
The first, a dog walker asked me what I was watching, and whether I knew why the farmer hadn’t knocked the crop back, I of course relished the chance to big up the farmers efforts to help farmland birds & insects.
In this small field which had previously been a damp bit of farmland set-aside which walkers used to cut off a corner on the road, two thirds had been providing a spectacle all summer long of purple flowered phacelia, teeming with bees (photo below) and other insects. This was to provide chick food for farmland birds including the yellowhammer, skylark and even lapwing which nested in the neighbouring sugar beet field.
Now the seed bearing plants were coming into their own on the other third. This contains plants like barley & linseed, (and kale- a biennial which will provide seed next winter) and farmland birds flock to it in their hundreds in late winter when food elsewhere is scarce, to feed on the seeds which fall to the ground.
The farmer receives £30 of public money per hectare farmed for using a small percentage of the land to support wildlife in this way. Suddenly seeing that public money is providing real public interest, brightening up our mornings with the sound of chattering linnets and bright flashes of yellowhammers, this dog walker wasn’t so miffed about losing the short cut once enjoyed across the field- if it meant more to see while walking round it!
The next dog walker told me that his friend who lived opposite the mix was also a keen birdwatcher and had been monitoring the numbers of linnets & yellowhammer, swelling to a couple of hundred by mid-February, as more & more birds honed in on this lifeline in the coldest hours of winter.
Then a chap with a smart pair of binoculars around his neck, on the way to a nature reserve stopped his car and exclaimed- are you from the village? I didn’t know there were any other birders in the village!
Isn’t it nice that this little bit of seed, sown by a local farmer can bring so many people in a community together?
Blogger: Kate Blincoe
Parenthood can feel complicated at times. We become circus skills experts with all that plate spinning, juggling and tightrope walking as we try to do the best thing for our families whilst managing limited time and money. Having just returned to work following maternity leave, this is very much on my mind!
I’ve never been one for relying on a parenting manual to help me with these challenges. I had to fight a strong urge to burn a Gina Ford book in the early weeks of raising my son (who was not keen to be on any sort of routine).
No, I think instead we can look to the natural world for a few parenting tips.
Finding the perfect home
Outside, spring is on the way, the breeding season has commenced and busy birds everywhere are seeking the perfect home for their brood. We may struggle to get on the property ladder, but we can learn a bit from birds who are just glad to find a suitable, safe spot. Their requirements are simple; a hole in a tree, a secluded hedge or four wooden walls. February is a good time to put up a nestbox and give birds a helping hand this year.
People are always keen to upgrade to a bigger place, often painfully overstretching themselves with the mortgage in the process. However, I sometimes remind myself that 63 wrens were found in a single nestbox... and it’s not that crowded chez moi!
Babies fledge in the blink of an eye
Looking at the breeding cycle of garden birds shows you that most young fledge in a matter of weeks. At only two weeks of age most young birds are spreading their wings and flying away. It’s not quite that rapid for us, but it does make you realise how quickly the baby phase is over and that we should try and savour it before we have an empty nest.
Forget possessions and get outside
As modern parents, we get distracted by all the material things we are meant to provide our children with (‘what do you mean they don’t have their own iPhone, that’s practically child abuse!’). In the end, all they need is you, food, water and shelter.
Good old fashioned fresh air is something your average bird obviously gets plenty of, yet we often seem to forget this is necessary for our young too. Time outside leads to better sleep, increased fitness, improved concentration and even reduced short-sightedness.
When I’ve had another night of broken sleep and there is crayon up the walls, I’m just thankful that I’m not a blue tit parent, battling the elements to find caterpillar after caterpillar for my demanding brood. However, I will learn from them, and make sure my kids spend time outside, whatever the weather.
featured in the EDP on Saturday 25 February
Blogger: Aggie Rothon, Communications Officer
I went to boarding school. It was a funny old place. There were the metal-framed boarding-house windows that didn’t quite shut, lumpy horse-hair mattresses and thick canary yellow socks. We marched in to lunch to a band and had study on every day of the week.
Sounds a bit austere, doesn’t it? Except for the socks perhaps. But despite memories of rain sodden woollen uniforms, a large degree of ‘rigour’ and of missing home comforts, we did have some fun times. Watching cricket in the sun, secretly roller blading in the ‘day’ rooms and putting on plays in the professional theatre. All in all, I was privileged to a great education that, incredibly, was free as well. I was lucky.
This week I have been trying to understand when and why it became personally necessary to work in conservation. When did I become inspired by the outdoors and nature? Was it a certain teacher, my A level in Biology or reading a particular book? Through this thought I have realised that for all the great scientific minds that taught at my school, and the place’s general academic merit, the teachers that influenced me most were the ones that quite simply offered us pupils time to muse.
I remember a lesson in coppicing. What a fine art coppicing is and to how much do we owe the woodsman! The heart shaped leaves and bright yellow crowns of our spring messenger, the lesser celandine. Carpets of creamy primroses or pungent ramsons and the purple ear-lobes of common dog violet. The hammering of woodpeckers, the urgency of a nuthatch calling, great flocks of tits flitting in crowds amongst the branches.
But I haven’t come to know this because of my school lesson in coppicing. In fact I still, to my dismay, can remember little of the practicalities of this craft. I was too busy answering the questions on my worksheet and getting the maths right. And then I would have been too busy racing off to my next task, my next netball match or my next lesson to become inspired by what I had just seen.
But I also remember Mr Reid. He took us to the woods on the hill beyond the playing fields and let us sit there. Bluebells carpeted every inch of the glades that we explored or simply mused upon. The lesson involved no right or wrong, no outcomes or expected results but gave us time to ask ourselves, ‘are you interested?’
Perhaps some of my peers weren’t inspired by that woodland excursion and more structured study suited them far better. But I hope that for those of us that need to ponder, the current curriculum will give time to just that. Here is to Mr Reid. May many more teachers follow his path.
Photo by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Article on 18 Feb 2012 in EDP