December, 2011

Flatford Wildlife Garden

Flatford Wildlife Garden
This is a garden which has been designed with wildlife in mind, from nectar-rich flower gardens, to native fruit-bearing plants, to butterfly larval host plants, to bird, bat and bug-boxes! 

Flatford Wildlife Garden

  • A happy new year from all at the Wildlife Garden.

     From Jacob Hunter (Garden Intern)

    I thought that the rest provided by the festive period might have proved a good moment for our indefatigable volunteers to write something in reflection on a great year's work. Alas... most of them were too busy enjoying themselves. And so, although I have only been with the team for six months, it falls to me to write something on the volunteers' progress in 2011.

    Many of our Flatford vols work on the always excellent Thursday work parties. We get so much done as a team and normally have a diversity of tasks that allows people to work according to their interests and skills.

    Some of our work you've seen on here with projects like the compost bins, and nursery bed making it onto the blog, but much of the Thursday crowd's work goes into keeping the garden looking tip-top from both a visitor's perspective and the perspective of the wildlife.

    There are other volunteers who've worked hard to make this year a success, including people who help to keep the garden open by volunteering their time to 'man the stand', and  members of the team who normally work on other local reserves who've mucked in from the start.

    As an RSPB vol. myself, I can say that volunteering is a great way to do interesting work and learn new skills, particularly if you're happy outdoors and enjoy working as part of a team. I hope that I'm able to continue volunteering my time for the organisation even after my current internship ends. Do check out the Volunteering Blog if you want to read more about people's experience of volunteering across the organisation

    Moving forward - January means Big Garden Birdwatch - your annual opportunity to contribute to the world's biggest bird survey. We'll be running appropriately themed events at the Flatford Wildlife Garden over the weekends of the 21st/22nd and the 28th/29th, so do come down if you want to have some wild fun. Families are particularly welcome.

    Two volunteers work on a logpile

     From Shirley Boyle (Project Officer)

    2011 was a busy and exciting year in the Wildlife Garden, we got a lot done between the landscapers arriving in early February to start work, and opening the garden to the public in August. It wouldn’t have been possible without my lovely team of volunteers, who turned up faithfully every week, ready to muck in enthusiastically! Work party days have become something that I look forward to, with the good-natured banter and different personalities meaning that there’s never a dull moment! I love the dynamics of a team of people, and the way that given the space and opportunity, each person will find their own place within the team according to their strengths and capabilities.

    We’ll be looking for more volunteers in the spring, so get in touch if you’d like to come along!

    From one of our hard working volunteers - Things to do…….

    I’m always pleased to receive a request from Shirley in the form of a ‘things to make’ list.

    After the heavier work in the Garden during the summer months, putting up fencing and constructing the boardwalk, it’s a treat in this colder weather to be in the workshop with yet more sweet-chestnut planks, a cutting-list in hand, and a plan that will fashion them into planters, bird and bat boxes, notice-boards etc. For me it’s been a great pleasure to be able to use some almost-forgotten skills which I learned years ago at school, and to develop a few new ones.

    Now at home, with my feet up in front of the wood-burner and a glass of single-malt to hand, watching wet snowflakes slide down the windowpane, I ponder what might turn up on Shirley’s ‘to do list’ in the New Year……

    (Image credit for tree planting: Andy Hay ( )

  • A Celebration of Seedy Trees

    Without the leaves on the trees, the river is visible from the garden.

    This week has been national tree week: the annual celebration of trees and a marker of the beginning of the tree planting season. I will admit that although I know the trees at Flatford are integral to the garden's wildlife value, I don't think about them as much as I should - probably because they largely get on with the business of being trees, without much help from myself and my colleagues! This week has been a great opportunity to reflect on their importance.

    Our Silver Birch this September.

    The tree that stands out for me is the large silver birch that stands opposite the entrance. Planted a good fifty or so years ago, this tree is now mature as Silver Birch are a fast growing pioneer species (one that colonises bare or disturbed habitats). The birch is an ideal tree for us to have in this position, as it has quite an open canopy and so allows some light to filter to the plants below it. This layered habitat of canopy and understory can support a diverse array of organisms, and the birch itself supports a large number of specifically adapted and generalist invertebrates. 

    A goldfinch on an alder tree at Flatford

    From my casual observations, it is the alders that have been drawing the most attention from the birds at Flatford this week. Alder are in the same botanical family as the silver birch, but are happiest in moist soil and hence they grow in the area between the garden and the river. Alder trees are familiar to many, as they have catkins and the seeds are formed inside a structure reminiscent of a small pine cone. It's these that have been the focus of the birds' attention with goldfinches, siskins and blue tits all twirling acrobatically as they seek out their seedy meal.  

    There are lots more interesting trees at Flatford, each with their own story to tell. They really have the power to define the place in which they exist, and be very beautiful at the same time. 

    If you're looking for something to do over the next couple of weekends, but don't have the space to plant a new tree, think about nest boxes. It's reckoned that the best time to put up new boxes is in the autumn, as this gives local birds a good opportunity to check them out before the breeding season kicks off. There's loads of information on making and siting nest boxes on the RSPB website

    Even in December, there is plenty of colour - if you where know to look!