How, you might ask, can I help save tropical rainforests from our little corner of south east England? Well, it might be easier than you think, as there are a few simple little things which we can all do as part of our everyday routines, which will make a huge difference for tropical rainforests thousands of miles away on the other side of the world.The greatest threats to tropical rainforests are logging, sometimes illegal, for wood, paper and pulp, and conversion of the land for intensive agriculture of palm oil, soya, beef and other products.Many of the products created from the destruction of tropical rainforests find their way on to our supermarket shelves.Timber, pulp and paper from illegally logged tropical rainforests can turn up in anything from birthday cards and books to garden furniture and packaging for toys.Palm oil is used in lots of things, from toiletries to biscuits, and even things like coffee and cocoa can be grown in areas where tropical rainforests once stood.So, if we all made a few tweaks to our weekly shop - it would be a step in the right direction for those rainforests thousands of miles away.When trawling the shelves during your weekly shop, keep your eyes peeled for symbols that show you that products are rainforest-friendly. Look for the Rainforest Alliance Certified TM seal as you shop and make sure that the wood and paper products you buy have the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) logo (recycled FSC is the best you can get, but any FSC logo is good).Look for palm oil free products when purchasing toiletries, biscuits and confectionary – although this can be harder than you might think, as it is often listed as vegetable oil, but there are some palm oil free products out there, such as the RSPB’s yummy Love Nature biscuits and chocolate, and our Skinny Dipper range of toiletries. If we can use and buy less of the things made from ingredients that damage tropical rainforests, it will help lessen the demand to produce them, which should in turn reduce the amount of deforestation that occurs.Did you know that every 4 seconds, an area of tropical rainforest the size of a football pitch is destroyed for commercial gain?Tropical rainforests are home to almost 75% of land-based species, that’s a whopping 6 million different types of animals, including three quarters of the world’s most endangered birds and 90% of the world’s invertebrates. They once covered 14% of the earth’s surface, but it’s now only 6%.Sometimes a bit of research is needed to try and find out more about the products you buy and what’s in them to help you make rainforest-friendly choices when you shop, and if you can’t be sure that the product you’re buying is rainforest-friendly then buying less of it will help too – or think about whether you really need a product.Sometimes a few small actions really can make a big difference.
Views of Harapan Rainforest from the air. Sumatra, by BirdLife International / Marco Lambertini (rspb-images.com)
At the beginning of the month it was the RSPB’s Make Your Nature Count survey and along with thousands of other people, I was glued to the wildlife action in my garden. Blue tits were fledging, butterflies were cautiously exploring the hedgerow (planted with wildlife-friendly species) and a male blackbird was digging up worms that had been brought to the surface by the recent rain.
But just as dusk fell, I saw what for me was the real star of the show. A tiny pipistrelle bat was flying in circles around the garden, just above head height. Pipistrelles are only about 5cm from head to tail and weigh less than a pound coin, but a single one of these gorgeous creatures can eat through about 3,000 insects in a night.
Bats are the only true flying mammals, and watching one manoeuvre around at high speed in failing light, you can’t help be impressed.
Despite the myths, bats aren’t blind, and they can probably see as well as we can, but they do have an added advantage...
While they are flying, they are constantly making very high-pitched noises (too high for us to hear) and listening for the echoes. This lets them build up a picture of where objects are, even in total darkness, including those unfortunate insects that they feed on. It’s like their own sonar system and it helps them catch up with all those flies and moths that they need to keep going.
Bats need all the help they can get, as not only have insect populations rapidly declined in the last few decades, but bats have also been losing a lot of the places they roost in, as woodland has been cut down, barns and churches converted and soffit boards replaced with plastic.
If you’d like to enjoy the sight of bats whizzing around your garden, why not try putting up a bat box?
Make sure that you grow night-scented flowers like stocks, evening primrose and tobacco plants or scented herbs like lemon balm, chives or mint. These are very popular with the insects that your bats will be feeding on, and are attractive additions to any garden too.
Will I be watching the bats in the garden next year? You can Count on it!
Pipistrelle bat artwork, by Chris Shields (rspb-images.com)
Autumn is a time of change in nature, and all around we can see the signs that summer is departing and winter is slowly coming on.
The swallows and swifts which have been dancing through the summer skies are making their way back to Africa, the leaves are starting to turn to brown and gold, and squirrels are storing food for the harsh weather to come.
But it’s not all one way traffic – there is plenty of wildlife that actively seeks out the British Isles as a safe place to spend the winter. Many of the starlings , blackbirds and even robins that we see in our gardens and towns in the colder months are actually visitors from the continent.
Butterflies and moths are still bravely flying through the bad weather. This week I have seen a red admiral fluttering about in a rain storm and was visited by the truly remarkable Silver Y moth , which migrates to the UK across seas and mountains from as far away as Southern Europe and Africa!
Even the resident birds are a little different in the autumn – we are often asked to identify mystery birds, which then turn out to be commoner species in the middle of moulting. Many callers to the RSPB wonder where the garden birds have gone in late summer – they may well be hiding while their feathers return to normal.
Although the RSPB recommends that garden birds can be fed all year round, it’s over the winter that small birds will see most value from it, as food gets scarcer and they need more energy to keep warm.
So now is a great time to clean out your nest boxes for next year, work out the best position for your feeders, make sure you re-stock on bird food and just sit back in the warm and watch your favourite garden visitors return!
Nigel Blake (rspb-images.com)
Some of you may have already heard about the short-haired bumblebee project but if you haven’t – here is a quick introduction, and an update from Nikki Gammans, the Project Officer for Hymettus Ltd - the premier source of advice on the conservation of bees, wasps and ants within Great Britain and Ireland.The short-haired bumblebee, Bombus subterraneus, was once widespread across the south of England, occurring as far north as Humberside, but post-1950’s its population distribution became isolated and patchy. This bee was last recorded in the UK in 1988 near to Dungeness, Kent and officially declared extinct in 2000.The short-haired bumblebee project involves Hymettus working in partnership with Natural England, RSPB and Bumblebee Conservation Trust with the aim of reintroducing Bombus subterraneus back to the UK. In order for a successful reintroduction to take place suitable forage habitat must be in place around the planned initial release site of Dungeness and Romney Marsh. To date the project has had enormous success with bumblebee habitat creation and improvement prior to the reintroduction of B. subterraneus. The project has created, advised and assisted in the management of flower rich habitat within the release site of Dungeness and Romney Marsh. In spring 2012, up to 100 queen bees were collected from two areas of Skåne in southern Sweden where good numbers of Short-haired bumblebees were found in 2011.The bees were then checked for mites and disease by a registered vet and honeybee inspector in Sweden prior to a heath certificate being signed which allows their transportation to the UK. After a period in quarantine at Royal Holloway, University of London, they were released at Dungeness nature reserve.
Short-tailed bumblebee, by Nikki Gammans
Now, with spring's arrival, the project is getting ready to go to Skane, Sweden to collect this year’s emerging short-haired bumblebee queens. By the time you read this, myself and (initially) three volunteers will be travelling (at the end of April) over to revisit our field sites and monitor flowering of white dead nettle and other favourite food plants and wait for the queens emergence. Once emerged another 6 volunteers will join us for queen collection. We hope to collect 100 queens during a five day period. The queens are then stored in our campervan fridge and brought back to the UK where they are kept in quarantine and the healthy queens are then released back to the UK at the RSPB Dungeness Nature Reserve.Extensive work has taken place across the release zone of Dungeness and Romney Marsh in Kent and East Sussex to recreate flower rich habitat. Working with farmers, land owners and conservation groups has helped recreate over 850 hectares of flower rich habitat. This has helped increase the abundance of many of our rare bumblebee species and helps every other species which depends on this habitat.
The peregrines are back, four eggs have been laid, the webcam is live and the marquee is in place as this Friday sees the Chichester Cathedral Peregrines Date with Nature open for visitors.
For the 13th year Chichester Cathedrals south east turret is once again the nesting site for a pair of Peregrine Falcons a location that gives a rare opportunity to view family life. The Cathedral is believed to be the most successful monitored nest in the UK, in the last 12 years 42 chicks have been raised and successfully fledged.
Currently the female is spending the majority of her time incubating the eggs, the last of which was laid on Easter Monday evening. The Male is spending his time bringing food to the female and taking over incubation for a couple hours a day, which gives the female a much deserved break and chance to stretch her wings.
We expect the eggs to begin hatching around the 29th of April, this will see activity increase around the Cathedral as the chicks demand more food and the parents become even more protective seeing off any other birds that get to close.
To help visitors get the best view of the peregrines we will have scopes and binoculars which are free to use, and volunteers on hand to give more information about the peregrines and tell the latest news of what’s been happening.
The Date with Nature will take place daily in the garden of Cloisters Café from 10am – 5pm (4pm on Sundays), until the second week of June when we will move to the front lawn until July 14th to watch the chicks take their first flights, and develop their flight skills.
You can follow live action from the nest at http://www.rspb.org.uk/datewithnature/146937-chichester-cathedral-peregrines)