Saving pollinators

This week a new label for plant sales has been launched by the National Botanic Garden of Wales to help protect pollinators from plants containing insecticides. The story has been picked up on nationally though I think the significance of the story may be lost on some.

Currently, many plants are sold as being beneficial for pollinators. If you go shopping at a garden centre or nursery you may see labels with the RHS Plants for pollinators badge on. This is a very useful resource listing plants the RHS have deemed to be useful for pollinators. The lists are very useful. They list plants by season that are beneficial. This allows you to plan your garden to have plants in flower through the year to help the pollinators in your garden. Which is all great!

However, many of the plants sold with the RHS ‘plants for pollinators’ label may have been grown using pesticides. This will mean that the plants you are buying to help may actually be harming the wildlife. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and all that. In tests where plants bought with the perfect for pollinator label, 76% contained at least one insecticide and 38% contained two or more insecticides. The RHS has been discussing changing the label since 2017 but has shown little leadership in making the change. I imagine it would ruffle too many feathers withing the Horticulture Trade Association and the RHS sponsors. But it is a change that needs to come so consumers can buy without engaging in a Russian Roulette of whether they potentially harm the insects they are trying to help.

The plants containing pesticides causes harm to the pollinators and has been linked to colony collapse disorder. But it can also affect food up the food chain. Birds and mammals such as hedgehogs can be affected by eating these poisoned pollinators. It has been hypothesised that eating the infected insects may lead to the birds becoming denourished. It has also been shown that birds eating the neonicotinoids directly may lead to bird deaths. You would have thought we would learn from our past mistakes where the pesticide Organochlorine led to a decline in birds of prey as the eggshells ended up thinner but we obviously haven’t. On top of the decline of birds, many of these pesticides have been strongly linked to cancer in humans. While glyphosate was banned here in the UK companies like Bayer have just developed alternatives that are likely to be as harmful.

So having painted a rather gloomy picture there I hope you can see why the Botanic Gardens new ‘saving pollinators’ logo on plant sales is so significant. The label will indicate that these plants have been grown without any pesticides whatsoever. This will give consumers peace of mind that the plants they are buying are beneficial for pollinators and they don’t have any hidden surprises. Currently, the new label is being taken on by a series of Welsh nurseries but it would be great to see this go national.

In the meantime what can you do to ensure the health of your plants for pollinators? You can buy direct from several nurseries. More and more nurseries are advertising the fact that they are pesticide-free and peat-free. Alternatively, you can grow from seed. While some seeds sold are coated in pesticides this is used more in agriculture than horticulture. But again, companies advertising their eco-credentials. A number of the nurseries on Dog Wood Days Peat-free list state that they don’t use pesticides. The RHS plants for pollinators lists are still a valuable resource for planning for wildlife gardening but the label isn’t a guarantee of safety. Hopefully, in time, we can see the Welsh saving pollinators badge adopted nationwide.

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Further reading

https://botanicgarden.wales/press/science-fact-fuels-campaign-to-stamp-out-pollinator-friendly-fiction/

http://www.sussex.ac.uk/lifesci/goulsonlab/blog/bee-friendly-flowers

30 Days Wild: Day 22-The Great Yorkshire Creature Count day 2

Today was the second part of the Yorkshire creature count. It continued until dinner time and we managed a few more sightings. As it had been very wet overnight the insect life was low but still a few birds.

And the seagull enjoying a morning drink.

It was also Father’s Day. Alice had made me a card with a rainbow flower and butterflies on she had drawn. She said she thought I’d like them. Then for a present, I was bought some Bluetooth headphones. We sat and watched Disney’s, Christopher Robin. This came out a few years ago. It tells the story of Christopher Robin growing up and forgetting his old friends. Winnie arrives back in his life and reminds him of the importance of family. It’s a nice gentle watch with different bits for different ages.

Then I got out for a run with my new headphones. I’ve started on couch to 5K. This gradually builds up how much you run. I ran before Alice was born but haven’t done any since so it seems like a good time to get started again. I headed out of town along one of the bridleways. This took me along the edge of the bean fields with lots of small tortoiseshells flying up in my wake. A nice run through the greenery.

Back at home, I was treated with a good cooked breakfast. Then I was able to get on with a few garden jobs. The planters by the front door have been attacked by slugs, so I’ve removed the Hosta blue mouse ears to go in plant hospital for a bit. The patio has got a bit cluttered with seedlings over lockdown so I’m gradually getting things potted on and in the ground. The mix of sun and rain has really brought on the garden. We had the first of the Dutch irises out. A pleasure to see.

Then in the evening, the skies opened with hailstones and thunder and lightning. It was only brief but gave everything a good drenching. So it seemed a good time to get some Nemaslug down to control the growing slug population. Nematodes act as a biological control only affecting the slugs rather than pellets killing animals up the food chain.

A fairly relaxed 30 days wild day, but don’t like heading out at the weekend as it ends up much busier around us. But nice to have a quiet day.

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30 Days Wild: Day 21-The Great British Creature count day 1

Over yesterday and today, it is the Great Yorkshire Creature Count. This has been arranged by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. Over 24 hours they are looking for people to watch the wildlife in their areas, snap it and record it. They are using the iNaturalist app. This is a simple to use app that allows you to log wildlife sightings and then they can be added to projects like the Great Yorkshire Creature Count to help different organisations carry out surveys. You can upload photos and it has options to help ID your sightings if you are unsure of what you’ve seen.

Alice helped have a look through the garden and I added them to the App later.

Here a few of our sightings.

A red admiral butterfly. These are gradually coming out in bigger numbers.

The ladybirds are enjoying the aphid filled dahlia.

The poppies bringing in the bumblebees.

We didn’t have much time for spotting yesterday but we have until dinnertime today. It’s a bit wetter so we might have some different sightings. See if we can find some of the many frogs hiding away in the garden currently. When I started in the garden I was keen to bring in a lot of wildlife and it’s good to see how much variety we are attracting in. We are doing something right.

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The Deep #TwoPointSixChallenge

The Deep is looking for support to help with their running costs during this period of closure. For those of you who don’t know The Deep is an aquarium in Hull that is normally open to the public. It is home to sharks, turtles, stingrays, penguins and more. But, it is also involved in conservation work and breeding work. This important work isn’t necessarily as well known. It was the first UK aquarium to successfully breed zebra sharks. The Golden Mantella frog is under threat in the wild from viruses and habitat destruction. Work at places like The Deep safeguards their future so research can continue and they have the possibility to be reintroduced into the wild in the future.

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In order to raise funds to continue to support this work, five members of the animal care team are planning to run 26 miles around their site later today. They will be running in a relay team maintaining social distancing. You can find details of how, if you wish, you can support below.

https://www.thedeep.co.uk/conservation/support-us

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Armchair Naturalist-Wildlife surveys

Several people have asked about surveys that they can take part in during lockdown. Obviously please do these within your gardens and don’t go endangering yourself. So as part of my next armchair naturalist series, after an idea from Haith’s, here are several surveys you can currently take part in within your own gardens.

Taking part in wildlife surveys can be great fun. It engages the brain, they often teach you to identify new species and provide valuable data for conservation organisations. I’ve discussed the benefits of wildlife surveys and many that happen during the year previously here. Today I am just listing surveys you can currently take part in during lockdown from your garden.

#Greatstaghunt The people’s trust for endangered animals want to hear about any sightings of stag beetles. Not one I get up North but some of you may be fortunate enough to see.

Living with mammals is looking to know what mammals you can sight in your gardens.

Big hedgehog map is mapping hedgehog sightings and people pledging to make hedgehog holes.

National Biodiversity network list many surveys you can take part in through the year.

UK ladybird survey  The UK ladybird survey keeps track of the spread of invasive harlequin ladybirds compared to our natives.

UK pollinator monitoring scheme asks for you to do a timed survey on a patch of flowers. You can add your records here.

The big pond dip is one for people with ponds, obviously best done from May to August. Once you’ve done your dip it gives you a score and you then get advice on what you could do to make your pond more wildlife-friendly.

BTO The British trust for ornithology runs many year-round surveys but the easiest of these to take part in currently is the garden watch.

iRecord allows you to record all manner of wildlife sightings, insect, bird, mammals and wildflowers. This is then used by many organisations to help support where numbers are dropping and to see where wildlife is thriving.

Feel free to add any more you know of in the comments below.

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Big Garden Birdwatch 2020

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been talking about my preparations for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and yesterday we carried it out. The day was a bit overcast but not too windy and no sign of rain. Alice was helping out as it has been set as her school homework for this month. She helped prepare by making pine cone fat feeders.

We tied the string to the pine cones.

Then we mixed seed and lard.

Then we moulded it around the pine cones and placed in the fridge to set.

Then these have been placed hanging off the back gate. I don’t think the birds will be that bothered for them but I like to make something with Alice so she’s been involved. We made the Cheerio feeders last year so fancied something different this year.

We set ourselves up inside with notebooks and field guides and binoculars ready to record our sightings. Alice was very excited to write down her sightings using her My little pony multi-coloured pen. She wanted to choose colours to match the birds.

I had discussed in an earlier blog my hope that I might have the greenfinches or blackcaps in to add something different to my list but it wasn’t to be. That said, we did have a good number of birds coming in and in large numbers. The results are as follows:

  • Common gull 2
  • Wren 1
  • Starlings 6
  • House sparrows 17
  • Wood pigeon 3
  • Blackbird 4
  • Blue tit 2
  • Collared Dove 3
  • Crow 1
  • Robin 1
  • Dunnock

Of the regulars, the finches were noticeably absent and the great and long-tailed tits. But we still saw double figures of species and a good number of each. Next doors cat was patrolling the garden for much of the time so I don’t think that’s too bad a number. When I first put the feeders out I didn’t have anywhere near the number of birds visiting.

There is still time to do a count today and tomorrow if you haven’t already taken part. Even if you have you can still submit multiple counts. Having done one count with Alice I may try for one on my own so I can focus better in case I missed anything on this one. Alice had good fun though and she is naming more of the birds correctly which at the age of three I think is good going. Hope you all enjoy the rest of your weekends and if you are taking part in the count you get to see plenty.

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Saving Water in the house

Using water wisely is significant to help protect our natural world. I’ve written about the advantage of using a water butt before. Since adding the water butts to the front and back garden we’ve had a few people in the neighbourhood tell us they’ve added one. By saving water this helps protect habitats within the countryside. If we have water shortages streams will be potentially be redirected for reservoirs harming existing wildlife. Yorkshire Water was offering a free pack of water-saving devices for the house. As it was free I thought I’d order and see what we got. I have few DIY skills so if it was anything too complicated I wasn’t going to be tackling it and ending up needing to call out a plumber.

In the pack, we got a cistern pack. This is a bag with a biodegradable polymer. Pop it in the toilet cistern and the bag fills up and the polymers enlarge taking up space in the cistern. This is much like the old advice to stick a brick in as it reduces the amount of water used with each flush.

The pack includes tap inserts. The website reckons this can save a household up to £36 a year. These reduce the velocity of the stream and limit splashing. It was easy to fit. It came with a little tool for unscrewing the end of the tap. The pieces slot in and screw back together. 2 minutes work. I don’t know how much of a difference it makes to the water use but out the end of the tap was so gunked with limescale it feels like it flows better. I think it tastes better but this may just be in my head.

The shower regulator is again designed to regulate the flow. The website states 25% of the average UK utility bill is on heating water. This may potentially affect the pressure of the water so I will give it a try and see if it stays.

Then the last item in the pack is a four-minute timer that suctions onto the wall. Trying to cut down the time in the shower cuts both water bills and even if you’re not on a water metre it will save money on heating the water.

If you’re interested in the set check here.

Saving wastewater has made it into the news this week with the Guardian pushing people to give street trees a boost with their washing water.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/01/use-your-waste-water-to-save-street-trees-experts-urge

Well worth a read. Too many trees are planted to expire within the first year. Enjoy!

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Bay and Bempton

We’ve returned from visiting the in-laws at Robin Hood’s Bay. We’ve had a lovely time despite the grey weather. It’s been back and forth between glorious sunshine, mizzle and thunderstorms. But we did manage to get out and about a bit.

We made it to the local Horticultural societies competition. Some very good veg entries. Alice liked the children’s gardens.

She was also quite taken by this sardine tin display.

The all-important amusing vegetable category.

We’ve had plenty of time playing in the garden but I will probably save that for this weeks six on Saturday.

This was the weather for much of the weekend. Grey with a mist of light rain blowing in.

Though we didn’t let that put us off. We just got kitted up.

Alice did really well going up and down the cliff. It’s a steep walk and we see lots of tourists panting back up every visit but Alice has managed walking up and down several times this trip. Previously she’s travelled in the baby howdah but she’s too big now and the pram is useless at the Bay.

Alice had a good time rock pooling though we didn’t find much beyond snails. She did enjoy throwing seaweed back in the pools. Though she couldn’t handle getting her shorts wet. We’ll need a swimming costume next time. Previous visits she hasn’t even wanted to go in the water at all though. Whereas now she’s happily exploring.

Lots of dead crab shells around.

Her best catch.

At the bottom of the hill, there are these big belly bins. They have solar panels on the top and we’ve been wondering what for.  I looked it up and they are rather fascinating. The solar panel powers a compressor so the bin can hold more for busy locations. It can also signal when the bins need collecting to reduce the number of pickups lowering its carbon footprint and saving trips to difficult to reach locations. The bottom of Robin Hood’s Bay is as bad a location as you could ask for. It has a steep narrow road with little turning room. So these seem a very clever solution to keeping the place neat.

On the road down the walls are covered in ferns. the ravine is one of my favourite parts of the bay with a mass of ferns and mosses growing from every crack. I could happily replicate this in my garden with my fern obsession.

Alice has enjoyed very too many ice creams in the last few days. She has been going through lots of tantrums recently and we’ve been making it clear whiney whingey girls don’t get ice cream.

Alice is becoming very adventurous at the park climbing and jumping off greater heights.

We had some moments of sunshine.

The Victoria pub has finished its extension since we got married last year. It’s looking good and has probably the best view out of the bay of any of the pubs and restaurants.

On the way home, we stopped off at Bempton Cliffs. Traditionally it rains whenever we visit but we actually had glorious sunshine for a change. Alice wasn’t up to walking very far as she was in a tired, hungry mood. We did make it down to the first observation spot to see the cliffs. The seabirds flying from the cliff swooping down to the water is always a spectacular sight.

We managed to see one of the star attractions up close. Normally we’ve seen the puffins at a distance through telescopes but there was one close enough for a recognisable photo rather than a blur in the distance. I’m not winning wildlife photographer of the year with this one. But nice for Alice to actually be able to make one out.

Though it’s not all about the birds. The insect life was pretty amazing too in the sun.

The wildlife at Bempton face so many threats with habitat destruction and changing climate that I continue to support the RSPB even though we probably only manage a trip a year. Each time we visit I hope for Alice’s sake these wonderful birds are still there as she grows up.

Amy was taken with this lovely little chappy so he was brought home which is now stopping the door rattling in the wind helping Amy’s dislike of noises.

We’ve had a lovely time and have more holiday left to enjoy.

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30 Days Wild: Idea 22-Get closer to the grass

Previous years I’ve walked barefoot on the grass but as Alice doesn’t like going barefoot very much we’ve just looked today at getting closer to the ground. While she might not like going barefoot she is quite happy rolling it and sniffing it.

Grass has many potential benefits. It can improve air quality by capturing carbon and it acts as a pollution filter. Areas of grass stay cooler than many hard surfaces. Then there are the mental benefits of green spaces. Green spaces can lower blood pressure and help mental well-being. Well worth celebrating and getting a bit closer with to connect with.

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30 days of wild: Idea 18-Listen to birdsong

With the break in the rain, the birds are back out in force. The dusk chorus has been singing away and it was a joy to listen to.  Taking a few minutes to sit and listen to birdsong is a simple pleasure but a very enjoyable one. Earlier in the year, the RSPB put birdsong in the chart with let nature sing. If for some reason you are unable to get outside or to a spot you can hear birdsong through this track and it gives a donation to the RSPB.

Robinhead

While it is nice to hear the songs I’ve been working on tuning into the bird’s songs to be able to identify through their sound. The RSPB has a new book and CD set out to help identify birdsong. Earlier in the year, I was gifted this lovely set that gives details of each bird then has tracks it plays through a built-in speaker.

For a free option, the long-running BBC Tweet of the day gives you a way to gradually build your knowledge. There is a massive back catalogue of episodes to listen to all for free. With many people following this blog for my gardening content you may enjoy Monty Don on the return of the swallows.

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