This blog is a celebration of the nature in the South East and highlights ways you can get involved and explore nature in the region. If you've got news of the South East’s nature that you'd like to share, please contact the RSPB South East office on 01273 775333 or email SERComms@rspb.org.uk
London’s Hampstead Heath on a drizzly Saturday was buzzing with life: Coot, sparrowhawk, kestrel, cormorant, heron, shoveller, grebe, moorhen, mallard, starling, magpie, blackbird, tufted duck, parakeet, mute swan, black headed-gull, greater spotted woodpecker and lots of dogs!
My day started well, in that I managed to stumble out of bed before the BBC London radio car arrived to interview me in my scrappy garden about Feed the Birds Day and Homes for Wildlife. Sadly, the reporter didn’t have a radio mic so we did the interview in the street.
I’d made instant coffee but I think someone in my house had got confused and had added some ground real coffee to the jar of instant – our gritty coffees went untouched. After the interview, the day went downhill rapidly. My boiler developed a fault leaving my partner, three children and me, with no heating and no hot water. Our emergency accident insurance policy disappointed us with news that we won’t get a visit from an engineer until Tuesday – THREE DAYS AWAY!
Next, it was time to rush off to Hampstead Heath for our event. I cycled off to the rail station, bought my ticket, rushed on to the platform where the display told me the next train was on time. The declared “time” came and passed. The display updated to say the next train (due in fifteen minutes) was on time. Again, no train showed up and there was no announcement, no apology. A Third message flashed up to say the next train was on time but that too failed to show and I waved goodbye to almost an hour of my life – admittedly, an hour I’d gain the next night when the clocks went back; I still resented it.
I did arrive at Hampstead Heath in time to help with the setting up of our display and stand next to Pond number one. We were also running pond dipping sessions and a bird-finger-puppet activity in the nearby Secret Garden. These activities will be repeated at other Aren’t Birds Brilliant! events at Hampstead next month, December and January.
Thankfully, the morning’s trials and tribulations ebbed away as visitors stopped to chat and as we looked around to enjoy the Heath and its wildlife. The mute swans put on a great performance flapping and tootling across the pond with loud smacks of their great wings. The heron caught a fish, which the gulls then tried to nick and at least two dogs wee-ed on our display. Not even that final act was able to diminish the glow I’d developed thanks to the enthusiasm and interest shown by visitors for our Homes for Wildlife campaign. If every Londoner were to sign-up imagine how colourful and full of life our towns and cities would be. Go on, let's green the grey and bring wildlife back in to our lives.
Finally I have to urge caution for the coming weekend's firework festivities ... please remember wildlife. There's no evidence that birds are any more startled by fireworks than they are of thunderstorms.. but fireworks are mini-explosives and can harm, so do take care.
We're fat and bureaucrats are to blame! That appeared to be the message from the Government report, Sleepwalking our way to obesity, stating we're heading for an early grave because of our sedentary lifestyles.
Reading the report you'd think we are all incapable of controlling what we eat or how we exercise. Are we really under the thrall of out TV's, play stations, computers and motorised transport to the extent that we can dump all blame for our growing waistlines on technology and/or planners who create pedestrian unfriendly towns and cities? I think not.
For those with a grip on reality and a desire to be active within their communities, the RSPB has a simple answer to the nations obesity crisis. Gardening for wildlife and, for the more hardy, volunteering for some practical conservation work on our reserves.
Both of these activities involve hard manual labour. Plenty of bending, stretching, lifting and movement. The best bit is that you don't need to fork out for a gym fee. On top of this, you get to see a real difference in your garden and can spend some smug-time admiring your work while oiling your bulging pecs! You sexy thing.
No specialist knowledge is required because those clever researchers and experts at the RSPB's HQ have come up with a system that creates a win-win situation. Coinciding with Feed the Birds Day on Saturday 27 October (Come and meet me and the London Team at Hampstead Heath near the Secret Garden 27 and 28 for more info) we'll be launching Homes for Wildlife.
Anyone registering to take part in this new interactive project receives free gardening information. What's more, tell us about your garden and you'll be emailed some personalised stuff about attracting more wildlife to your very own outdoor space!
The beauty of this scheme is that you get free gardening advice, you get fit during the gardening work, London's environment will improve for wildlife, declining bird numbers should, in theory, start to recover and the RSPB can start to look at investing effort on other environmental issues; and there's no shortage of those!
Speaking of which, a big FAT thank you to everyone who signed our Marine Bill petition.
300,000 signatures were handed into Downing Street calling for a Marine Bill to be included in the next Queen's speech. We desperately need this protection for coastal communities, coastal wildlife and the wider marine environment. At present, it doesn't have anything like the protection seen by nature reserves and national parks. It's time we valued our coast as much as we value our land.
Now, go forth and dig and may the only shed in your garden be the pounds from your waistline.
I could have sworn someone said that gardening for wildlife was a lazy form of gardening. Something about not needing to prune, cut grass and weed as often? Pity they missed out the backbreaking bit involved in creating the garden in the first place.
I'm about eight-weeks into this project and six weeks overdue at the chiropractors. However. I am now the proud overseer of three raised vegetable beds (awaiting some manure from the nearby Lea Bridge Road riding stables and the maturing contents of my wormery) and a raised seating area that will be turfed and bounded by native hedging.
The mounds of rubble we inherited when we bought the house have been broken down, sifted, sorted, and used as a base for the raised seating area and accompanying stepped ramp. However, while the rubble and old slabs were piled up I'd unwittingly created an ideal toad home, so when I came to move it all the other day, I made a rather large and ugly toad homeless! Desperate to keep this garden helper, I gathered a bucket of slugs, created a cool, damp, leaf-lined home for it, and stocked the larder with my slug haul. I hope the toad stays.
This blog appears to be a long way off the subject of birds - BUT NO. You see the hedge, wildflower-turfed meadow and the host of fruit trees, shrubs and plants that I will eventually get round to growing next year will all provide food and shelter for birds in this urban corner of Hackney. Imagine if everyone with an outdoor space in London were doing the same. That would have a mega-impact on the birds we share our Capital with.
During the week, I had a chance to visit the RSPB's Leighton Moss reserve in Lancashire. The train service was pretty good and there's a station just next to the visitor centre. There were black pheasants, mallard, goldeneye, moorhen, pintail, heron, coot, bearded tits, redwing, loads of gulls and common woodland and garden birds. Sadly, I was looking the wrong way when someone shouted "bittern". Best of all, was the sight of two red deer; a stag and doe grazing around some reed beds. They were magnificent.
We also visited the uplands, specifically, the Forest of Bowland - famous for its rare hen harriers. The landscape was all heather-topped hills, over-grazed slopes and intensively farmed valleys. This severe banding of land, broken occasionally by ranks of conifers planted many moons ago by the Forestry Commission, is the vision of an Uplands area that I have grown-up with. I thought it was normal for the Welsh and Lake District uplands to look like this. There is an other-worldly beauty to it but the clear lines between habitats are so unreal I don't know why I've never questioned it before.
This wild space is now being lovingly nurtured. A major broad-leaved tree planting initiative is underway between the valley and lower-slopes and the clear demarcations between habitats will be allowed to blend and merge. The intrinsic value will be an area of even greater outstanding beauty, with more wildlife. The instrumental value will be clearer, cleaner water for us. These uplands are where a lot of the UK's tap water comes from and it costs quite a bit to clean it up.
Is there a great deal of difference between my garden and the uplands? Beyond the sheer scale and content, I don't believe there is. Where both have been managed to meet the needs of 'man' they should be managed for the needs of 'man' and 'wildlife'. Both require heavy labour to transform and constant attention to maintain.
Speaking of maintenance, here's a heads-up for FEED THE BIRDS DAY - 27 October!