Category Archives: wildlife

Volunteer army gets wild

Across the UK there are conservation organisations, large and small, that depend on an army of volunteers to help look after special habitats and create the right environment for species to flourish.

More than ever the natural world needs us to do our bit. In just a couple of generations wildlife has started to really struggle. Barely a week goes by without a new report about the challenges facing nature in the UK and across the globe.

Getting involved in supporting a wildlife organisation by giving up some of your time is a great way to make a real difference. Armies of volunteers are helping to create the space for nature and also helping us to understand what is happening and why.

Working at the National Trust for more than a decade I got a real insight into the important role that volunteers made. From a postman who had catalogued the number of birds at Malham Tarn in Yorkshire for over forty years to people getting involved in surveying a precious coastal site in Dorset.

Groups of volunteers from companies coming in to help with improving habitats and helping to survey the land is a brilliant way to make a real difference.

If regular volunteering can prove a bit tricky in terms of time commitments there are loads of great citizen science surveys  – including the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch, the Woodland Trusts’s nature’s calendar and Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count. These really matter in terms of helping wildlife experts understand changes that are happening across the UK.

Volunteering is a wonderful way of giving back to your community and doing your bit to keep our green spaces special.

 

 

Going wild on your way to work

If you travel by train or bus to work its a great time to check out the nature on your journey.

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Bus stops can be surprisingly good places for nature

My commute from Bath to Swindon by train transports me through glorious countryside. Just staring out of the window is a nice way to get to know the green places around where you live or work. I’m lucky that its field after field and I might be able to spot a roaming deer or flock of rooks in the trees. Its a view that I never really tire of.

Even the most urban commute by train will throw up all kinds of wild treats. Its a question of looking. Railways can create great corridors for wildlife and the embankments can be full of life with butterflies settling on buddleia and songbirds perching in the trees. Wildflowers also spring up adding a splash of colour and the brambles and nettles are great as a wonderful food source for all sorts of creatures.

Waiting at a bus stop as you’re just waking up might not seem the best place to do some wildlife watching. You’d be surprised if you did some detective work while you wait as plants and birds particularly can spring up where you least expect them. Insects can also be found making their way from A to B, whether spiders of beetles.

So, 30 Days Wild is a great time to think about using your journey to work as a new found window on the world of wildlife.

Corridors of wild power

When we think of places where we connect with nature our minds often turn to open fields, deep forests, mountain ranges or the rugged coastline.  Its a natural instinct in-built through thousands of years of tending the land that we associate nature with rural places. After all our diet of wildlife telly beamed into our living rooms or devoured on smartphones has a particular countryside bias.

And yet for most of us its the everyday experience of urban living where we can potentially connect with the natural world. However, in our busy, fast-paced and hard-pressed lives, we often miss the obvious signs of wildlife right in front of our eyes or beneath our feet.

The nature of our towns and cities means that wild oases can be found in the most unusual places. You just need the time and patience to look in the right places.

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Not far from where I work in Swindon there is a lane sandwiched between the mainline railway and an office car park. Its no more than a few hundred metres long and about 5-10 metres wide; and connects one of the station car parks and path into the centre of town. In reality its one of those non-descript places that people pass through in a hurry, either on their way to work or heading home.

This slightly unloved grey/green corridor, however, is full of wild life. Stroll along the footpath on a sunny day and the noise of the trains and hum of urban life drains away as the birds sing in full throttle, the bees buzz past in a real hurry and butterflies rest on nettles to soak up the sun.

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Over the last few weeks the foilage of the trees and hedgerows has come alive with hawthorn bursting into brilliant white and the mini meadows filling up with buttercups, dandelions and forget-me-nots. Blackbirds and robins have been getting busy building nests for the breeding season and the lane has come alive with cabbage white and orange tip butterflies.

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Throughout the rest of Spring and into Summer this will become a place where I go to get my fix of nature, to daydream and let the troubles of the world disappear.

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For me its these edgelands, these arteries of urban life, that can re-awaken people’s interest in nature. We can all find them near to where we work or live. Just take the time in a lunch break or on the way to home to linger and tune into the intensity of nature or just watch as insects fly this way and that.  It doesn’t matter whether you can identify the species you see; the act of just connecting with the wild place where you live will enrich your life.

A January nature diary

After years of trying to write a nature diary with limited success I decided that the best way forward was to pen a sentence of news from the natural world every day.

I was hoping that just penning a few words would mean that it becomes part of my daily routine, so here goes with my offering for January.

1 January: a cold windy rain kicked off the first day of the year, confusing the flowers already in bloom, as a result of the mild winter.

2 January: we see a fox run across the road in front of us in the pre-dawn darkness. Then en route back from Cambridgeshire we catch a glimpse of a fox stalking some prey in a field.

3 January: a pair of magpie’s danced in the sky as the sun shone with relief from the constant rainfall.

4 January: I heard the sweet melody of a winter dawn chorus.

5 January: it was re-assuring the see the stars twinkling as the heavy cloud briefly lifted.

6 January: a fog bound morning with deep winter darkness; nothing much stirring.

7 January: lovely crystal clear night with the stars burning bright; temperatures are becoming more normal.

8 January: a cold frosty start to the morning, with the rooks active along the side of the motorway, circling high above the trees.

9 January: watched a robin perched in the tree at Bath City Farm.

10 January: a flock of pigeons fill the sky with their busy feathers as they land on a bridge.

11 January: in the morning grey a seagull flies past, filling the air with its noisy soundscape.

12 January: a substantial flock of birds takes up residence in a field alongside the M4

13 January: the day ended with a majestically rich sunset.

14 January: two buzzards circled high above the fields searching for their prey.

15 January: a frosty landscape rich in shimmering white greets the arrival of first light.

16 January: seeing the snow covered mountains of the Brecon Beacons across the perfectly still Bristol Channel.

17 January: a cheeky grey squirrel scampers across the path to take shelter from the rain.

18 January: a group of rooks perch in a tree with its bare winter branches.

19 January: with the crystal clear star-filled sky, a heavy frost takes root on the lawn and roof, shimmering brightly.

20 January: the morning begins with a deep blood red sunrise, illuminating a frosty landscape.

21 January:  wet damp soaked fields became deeply frozen within a matter of miles as the train headed north.

22 January: the dark shape of an unoccupied birds nest in a bird tree as the evenings begin slowly to get lighter.

23 January: seagulls flew high above Victoria Park, circling in ever greater numbers, before flying into the distance.

24 January: buds were bursting from trees in the magical wood at Bannerdown Common.

25 January: five swans flew past in formation.

26 January: was transfixed by a mini-murmuration of starlings swishing and swaying above a landfill site.

27 January:  pigeons had been busy collecting twigs for their nest outside the office.

28 January: geese flew gracefully across the motorway.

29 January: a sparrowhawk flies over its territory on the hunt for food.

30 January: empty rooks nests fill the crowns of trees.

31 January: a windy rain sees in the end of the day as the mists blow in.

A nature diary with a twist

Welcome to 2016. Time for people to write their New Year’s Resolutions and tell the world about it. So, it would be rude not to join in.

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Writing a sentence of nature news gives you a chance to reflect on the changing of the seasons

Its always refreshing, I think, to look ahead to a new year and ponder some of the things that you’d like to do, or the challenges that you would like to set yourself. The papers are full of the big trends for 2016 and what you should be doing. Often, as we all know, these resolutions barely make it out of January.

This time last year I talked about the wild time memory box – something I’ll repeat this year. Its always good to capture those moments: watching a sparrowhawk hunt its prey or being amazed at the stars on the Isle of Wight, with the benefit of no street lights. And then at the end of the year you can spend time looking back on all of those amazing experiences.

For me personally I’m going to pen a nature diary with a difference. A few years back I set myself the goal of writing a diary about the natural world. Like all good intentions it started off well but gradually faded away once I got into February. I loved challenging myself to find the words to describe my experiences and feelings based on nature and the weather.

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A favourite walk could generate loads of memories

This time I’m going to write a sentence, or maybe a paragraph, about something I see or hear in the natural world each day. It could be the appearance of daffodils in the garden, the arrival of swifts or the gently fluttering of butterflies flying across the garden. Just penning the words will mean that I reflect on the nature that I’ve come across that day; adding new content to my nature memory bank.

Hopefully this bite sized nature journal will work for the whole of the year and lead to bigger and better things. Taking the time to connect with the natural world each and every day, where-ever you might be, is so important; at a time when most of us spend pretty much every waking moment staring at some sort of screen it does recharge the batteries or refresh the soul to look and listen.

 

 

 

Boom and bust in the natural world

The last few months have been ridiculously mild. Nature seems pretty confused by it all. Check on twitter or instagram and you’ll see loads of people sharing pictures of daffodils or primroses.

Bats are still in flight when they should be hibernating. Bees and ladybirds can still be spotted. Wild strawberries are starting to fruit. I’ve even seen some catkins.

We all need cold winters. It’s part of the pattern of the natural world. It allows the processes of nature to happen at the right time. If things get out of sync and then we do have a cold snap it won’t be good for the species that have gambled with the milder weather.

As our climate changes expecting the unexpected will become the norm. We’ve seen that clearly with the flooding in Cumbria – three times in just a decade. Sometime it feels as though the seasons are starting to merge into one mega season with some variations around hot days in June or the odd frost in January.

The nature of our weather at the moment is just one more challenge facing wildlife. These include habitat loss, the intensification of farming and a loss of that deep connection with the natural world that people have had for thousands of years. Just last week Butterfly Conservation published a report showing how the vast majority of butterfly species in the UK have declined in the last 40 years.

What nature needs more than ever is for us to have a plan, a sense of how we’re going to create the space for nature to flourish and move around; getting species a better chance of surviving. This is where the landscape approach comes into its own – both in terms of the scale (ie thinking big and about creating big open spaces for species to be able to move around) and the principle (looking at how we can join up green spaces in our towns and cities).

As we’re living in the age of extreme weather we need to think carefully about how we support and look after wildlife. To a certain extent they can adapt but we need to give them a helping hand. Plus we should never forget the urgency of the need to reduce our impact on nature through the decisions that we make in our lives.

How weather affects nature is symbolic of our wider relationship with nature. There are some booms in terms of good years for wildlife but there are alot more busts in terms of species struggling to adapt. If we don’t want the scales to tip to far to the negative then we need society and the conservation movement to do their bit before its too late.

 

Its time to save our butterflies

The world of butterflies in the UK has changed pretty drastically in my life time and not for the better.

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Adonis blue sparkle on a late summers day

Over the last 40 years 75% of resident and migratory species of butterflies have declined, according to a new report by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. The abundance of these symbols of summer must have been a wonderful sight when I was born in the 1970s.

It really saddens me to think of this loss and what it says about the state of the natural environment. Finding places full of butterflies is becoming a rarity and when you do experience it, as I did on the Isle of Wight in September, it is a mind-blowing experience.

The cause of this dramatic fall in butterfly numbers is clear: an intensification of farming, habitat loss and a changing climate.

Butterflies are brilliant indicators of what is happening to the countryside and coast. And its not looking great.

I don’t want to be part of the generation who lets species of butterfly become extinct in this country. To see less of these little beauties on the wing from spring to autumn was be a massive loss for our quality of life in the UK.

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Things can change for the better as shown at Collard Hill in Somerset where the Large Blue was successfully re-introduced.

My kids love butterflies. Like so many children they are a great way into nature: watching them flutter by or landing on a flower. I remember the squeal of delight from my daughter when one landed on her hand when we were on holiday last year. And we’ll often see them fluttering across our garden on a sund-drenched day.

There is a need for all of us to shake off the complacency about nature. We can and must do something to reverse the fortunes of butterflies. If they continue to decline other species will suffer a similar fate.

Doing more to make our gardens more wildlife friendly and thinking about taking a landscape approach to nature conservation can help.

I don’t want my kids to grow up in a world where they miss the beauty and wonder of living with butterflies. It would make the world a poorer place and if we all do our bit now then things can change for the better but we must act before its too late.