Blogger: Adam Murray, Communication Officer
You may find yourself humming the classic Christmas line about a partridge in a pear tree this festive season, but pear trees can be a great gift for all sorts of other wildlife too.
We are encouraging people to think about planting pear trees now, to benefit birds and other garden wildlife in the future.
At the time when most of us are thinking about all the chocolates and mince pies we have been eating, why not think about a healthy, fruity start to the New Year for our wild garden visitors.
In early spring, pear flowers are brilliant food sources for hungry honeybees, solitary bees and bumblebees. Providing sources of nectar and pollen early in the season can really help these insects. During summer and autumn birds like thrushes and blackbirds will benefit from the fruit as windfall. The foliage is nibbled by many caterpillars, which later turn into beautiful moths. The adult moths are great food for bats.
Adrian Thomas, wildlife gardening expert from the RSPB says, “What I REALLY like about pear trees is that they are good for us and wildlife – they look great in blossom; the pears taste great, and wildlife can share the bounty.”
Kate Merry, Project Development Officer for Butterfly Conservation, said: “Pears and other fruit trees are fantastic feeding stations for our butterflies and moths. The caterpillars of a number of moths such as the Dark Arches and Vapourer moths feed on the foliage. In the autumn, Red Admiral butterflies can be seen drinking the juices from the fallen fermenting fruit.”
A well-planned garden can provide a mix of areas for wildlife by using plants of different shapes and sizes. This will provide wildlife with a variety of places in which to feed, shelter and nest. Planting a mixture of different trees and shrubs is a natural and sustainable way to provide year round food for wildlife.
The best time to plant trees and shrubs is right now. ‘Bare rooted trees’, those not in pots, are the cheapest ones to go for and are best planted before the end of December.
If you don’t have a huge garden and think a tree might take over, follow the example of many urban gardeners and train it alongside a wall. More and more urban allotments and community gardens are adopting this tactic as the best use of limited space.
The wildlife will still benefit, no matter what shape the tree ends up!
For more information on the RSPB’s Homes for Wildlife, please visit www.rspb.org.uk/hfw
Blogger: Steve Rowland, Public Affairs Manager
Spring seemed a long way off last week as I took my lunchtime walk through the woods, the leaves on the trees were yet to unfurl, the ground was bare and covered in a mulch of last autumns dead leaves, and a light, cold wintry rain drizzled down.
And yet I realised that my mind had picked up on the subtle changes in the quality of light and drawing out of the days. I became aware of a slight tightness in my ears, an unconscious straining and heightened alertness to the bird song around me. And I thought that after more Springs as a birder than I care to remember, my brain was quietly and unobtrusively saying to my ears to be alert for couple of unremarkable notes of bird song one up followed repetitively by another down, up and down in short bursts, from a bird that takes its name from these two notes of song, the chiff chaff. (photo below).
Naming a bird after the sound it makes is known as onomatopoeia and two other species that occur in the UK the cuckoo and the kittiwake also take their names from their calls.
I will acknowledge here that chiff chaffs are not blessed with the most captivating of names or musical of songs. But for me they compensate for that with the charisma that comes from being the first of our returning migrants to fill our bare Spring woods with their song, perhaps a month before the other returning warblers have got back from a winter spent south of the Sahara.
Chiff chaffs like many of our other warblers, might at a glance appear a little drab and indistinct. In particular at first you might easily confuse a chiff chaff with its close relative the willow warbler. (photo below).
A rough guide to telling them apart is that a willow warblers legs are a light flesh colour whilst a chiff chaffs are black and a chiff chaffs has a more olive coloured plumage (being a birder you carry a veritable colour palette in your head to describe shades of green and brown feathers).
But the surest way to tell these cousins apart is to listen to them singing. Compared to the chiff chaffs repetitive two notes, willow warblers have a to my mind a much nicer song, a lovely tinkling sound that seems to gently descend a set of musical scales before being hauled by the bird back to the top only to descend down them once more.
Willow warblers arrive from their wintering grounds in Africa a little later in the spring than chiff chaffs which tend to spend the winter in the Mediterranean. So my brain wasn't tipping my ears off to listen out for a willow warbler practicing its scales, but for that starting gun of the season, a simple two note Chiff then Chaff song that would light up the woods and put a smile on my face, a sign of the end of winter and the beginning of natures headlong rush into spring.
I didn’t hear a chiff chaff last week but I’ll be out again for a lunchtime walk in the woods this week, listening carefully for those two notes. If you have some time to spare over the next week or so why don’t you go out and see if you can hear a chiff chaff and then tell us here.
Photos credit John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
Blogger: Erica Howe, Communications Manager
We reported on some rather shocking news this week. The hen harrier is the bird most likely to become extinct in England because of human pressure. I’ve only ever seen a hen harrier once; on a visit to RSPB Titchwell Marsh last Christmas. As I stood on the path i was freezing with the bitter wind blowing through my rather unsuitable, not-very-winterproof-coat! My eyes were watery with the cold and i was trying desperately to ignore the darkness that was starting to fall upon me. I spent ages scouring over the reedbeds for barn owls, stubbornly trying to catch a glimpse of my favourite bird. From the distance a pale, slow figure appeared from behind the silhouted trees. As it glided over the reedbeds trying to get some much-needed food before settling for the night, I realised that this was no barn owl. For no more than five minutes, I was privaledged enough to stand and watch a hen harrier. For those five minutes, the cold evaporated and the wind held its breath. It was a priceless experience.
Now, when i think back to that day at Titchwell, it puts my experience into a whole new light. The chances are, I won’t see another hen harrier in England. Certainly not in such unexpected circumstances. When i think about the significance of that cold afternoon it makes me so very sad. Wildlife numbers will fluctuate; we live in a fast-changing world and ups and downs will be a way of life. But, to drive a species to extinction is unforgivable.
Bird crime is mindless criminality, plain and simple. However, It will be a very real contribution to the demise of such a stunning creature. The hen harrier is just one species struggling for survival in a time when we are supposed to be putting our faith in the ‘greenest government ever’. Quite frankly, they are failing miserably. If the hen harrier disappears from England, we will witness the government breaking its recent commitment to avoid any human-induced extinctions before 2020.
Well George Osbourne should certainly be pleased with himself. In a season of goodwill and peace on earth, he has left a huge black cloud over the future of our environment. His recent attack on the habitat regulations was disappointing to say the least. It certainly won’t do birds like the hen harrier any favours.
I never thought that our environment and the wildlife that lives in it could change so dramatically in my lifetime. There will be birds that my grandchildren may never get to see. There will be habitats that are forever lost to development that my grandchildren may never get to walk amongst. Yes, it makes me very sad, but it also fills me with confidence to think that there is still something we can do about it. Visit www.rspb.org.uk to find out how.
Article in EDP on Saturday 17 December.
Photo by Andy Hay (rspb images)
Blogger: Erica Howe, Communications Officer
It’s a sad day when you have to point out the glaringly obvious! Today, The RSPB is expressing serious concern over potential damage to one of Suffolk’s most ancient areas of woodland. You would think that in a time of such overwhelming environmental concern, this kind of thing would not be allowed to happen.
You can read about this in today's EADT:
The proposal for National Grid’s preferred route for the new Bramford to Twinstead power connection in the county would mean that the power pylons cut right through the heart of this special woodland. Should be a no-brainer right? Sadly, the National Grid is looking at this as their ‘preferred route’ for the power line.
A new overhead line through Hintlesham or Ramsey Wood would require the destruction of parts of this ancient woodland – irreplaceable habitat which we cannot afford to lose. To put this into a bit of perspective, there is documented evidence that the woods have been in existence since at least the twelfth century – a mere 900 years. Ely Cathedral was built around the same time – can you imagine the outrage that would kick off if there was a proposal to knock that building down?
The woods are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, meaning they are among the cream of the UK’s wildlife sites. They are one of the largest areas of ancient woodland in Suffolk, and are nationally important for the diversity and range of plants, animals and insects they support.
Fragmentation is more technical term for this and it is considered one of the greatest threats to habitats, especially ancient woodland. In this current environmental climate, emphasis should be placed on reconnecting woodland blocks so that wildlife and flora and fauna can thrive in their natural habitats.
There is some really cool wildlife in the Woods. Here's some of our favourites:
Birds, those that sing...
Nightingale, bullfinch and song thrush are some of the most prevalent species or in the case of Marsh Tit and Nuthatch, large populations that are very important to Suffolk.
Moths, the winged kind...
Pauper Pug, which mainly eats Lime. Mocha is a Nationally scarce mopth and this one eats Field Maple.
Plants, simply beautiful ...
Some of the most important tree species in the woods are: Wild Service and Small-leaved Lime
In terms of plants, you can find: Herb-Paris, Green Hellebore, Violet Helleborine, Wood Sorrel, Wood Anemones. There are also bluebells, one of our favourites!
The creepy crawlies ...
A Red Data Book (very important!) beetle called Mesosa nebulosa is found in the woods and its larvae live in dead wood in the canopy.
A flat-backed millipede that goes by the name of Polydesmus testaceus is also one of our favourites fiound in the woodland. It was discovered about five years ago in Hintlesham Wood and was the most northerly site in Europe to have such a milipede (the only site in the country where all five species of Polydesmus millipedes were found. Would you believe it!)
Archaelogical features, the old stuff...
There are mediaeval (hand-dug) woodbanks that would have acted as boundary markers on this site. After digging tyhese out, the locals typically would have had a hedge planted on it or a fence constructed to keep cattle/sheep out (it stopped your coppice being nibbled).
These woods have been in existence since at least the middle ages, if not the last Ice Age, and we simply cannot re-create their splendour elsewhere. National Grid need to acknowledge the importance of such a site, for wildlife, for the environment and for the health of the local communities.
Rest assured, we will fight hard to ensure that another route is used for this power line and that where possible, the line is buried not blighting the countryside.
We also recognise that options for the transmission line are still being assessed, and we are engaging with National Grid, Natural England and other organisations to ensure an alternative route is selected.
Watch this space.
Blogger: Niki Williamson, Fenland Farmland Bird Adviser
Have you ever wondered why flowers make people smile? Many things that make us happy are things that promote our survival - a good square meal, a thirst-quenching drink on a sunny day.
But what about flowers? Sure they’re nice to look at, but you can’t really live off them, or use them to fight off predators. But I love walking to my front door through the colourful blooms alongside the garden path. And on those rare occasions when my fella brings me a bunch of flowers, my grin lasts all evening! So if we’ve evolved to feel happy about flowers, maybe they’re more than just a pretty face.
Farmer Andrew Brodie obviously feels the same. He’s managing nearly four hectares of nectar rich habitat on his Cambridgeshire farm, through a Higher Level Stewardship scheme.
The habitat consists of patches of flowering plants, chosen especially with nectar-feeding insects in mind. Clovers, Lucerne, Sainfoin, Black Medick and Birdsfoot Trefoil flower alongside each other, splashing the farm with colour.
But by planting the mix he is not only growing flowers, he’s feeding bees, butterflies and beetles. In turn they’re eating aphids which would otherwise be spreading disease in his crops. They’re also pollinating crops like oilseed rape and beans – pollinating insects are thought to be worth £430 million annually to the UK farming industry. They’re also producing lots of yummy caterpillars which Andrew’s resident corn buntings, grey partridges and lapwings can feed to their chicks.
Andrew is not new to Stewardship, having been in the Entry Level Scheme since it began. He planted some of these patches back in 2005 and they are still going strong, thanks to his careful management. By cutting half the area in June he extends the flowering season, and by cutting the whole lot again in autumn he is continually removing nutrients from the system that would otherwise encourage grass to dominate the flowers.
With help from RSPB advisers, Andrew is stepping up for Nature. “It’s crucial that modern farming goes hand in hand with environmental concerns,” he says as we stroll through the flowers, surrounded by lazy buzzing. “We’ve got to look after our bugs, bees and birds so we can carry on ourselves.”
Andrew Brodie loves Nature. And he’s saying it with flowers.