February, 2009

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South East

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  • Green shoots and new residents

    Love Nature Week will run from Saturday 30 May to Sunday 7 June 2009 and we're looking for volunteers to help us raise money for our conservation work You can hear it in the chirping and cheeping. Not only are green shoots thrusting through the soil and tender buds unfurling, but the birds are getting fresh too. As if to underline the arrival of spring, a big fat queen bumblebee has explored our flowering heather and the few crocus flowers not yet eaten by the squirrels. The poor bee's probably looking for a suitable hive site.

    Spring is here. There'll be a frenzy of nest building and a demand for food. Sadly my garden is not yet upto speed for providing food naturally for wildlife on this scale, so I'm having to top-up the feeders and put out more kitchen scraps.

    So far I've discovered that squirrels like crocus flowers, beans, tomatoes, any fruit, sunflowers, courgettes and salad leaves. I'll either have to grow these under protective covers or simply not bother with them. That leaves plenty of scope for what can be grown. Grass is now top of my list. A lawn will eventually replace the concrete slabs we inherited when we moved here, but I also want tall, swishing grass. It will be great for insects and the birds will love the seeds.

    My kind neighbour, Denise, has given me some box cuttings that she's 'rooted' from her hedge. I've planted them in a line in front of a raised veg bed. To protect them from the marauding squirrels, I've pushed lines of twigs down each side. They're close together and curve over the  fragile box plants. With any luck the box will survive and create a new shady habitat for bugs and other beasties. I've already planted a mixed native hedge of blackthorn, guelder rose, hawthorn, holly and beech.

    The other good sign, has been the arrival of a house sparrow in my garden. It's becoming a regular visitor. It must be part of a colony nearby cause they tend not to stray and are seldom alone. It would be a great achievement if I could create a new space, where that nearby colony could extend itself. Who knows, it could bring a couple of colonies a few metres closer together; close enough maybe to meet? That would improve their chances of long-term survival!

    Further afield, I've had news of a new pair of peregrines that appear to setting up home in central London. It will bear more investigation but I think London's resident peregrine population just went up.

  • I thought I saw a puddy cat

    In the space of just three months I seem to have acquired three new and regular visitors to my garden. A ginger and white cat, a black and white cat and a tabby.

    A fat cat victim? Puss given the boot? Don't judge on heresy.They all loiter in the shrubs and hide behind bumps and pot plants. They stalk leaves blowing in the wind and have had several attempts to catch garden birds. I'm delighted and amused to report that, so far, each witnessed attempt has failed.

    The mammal society estimates that cats kill some 55 million birds a year. Many millions of birds die from starvation, disease, or other predators. Yet cats remain fixed in some people's minds as the main culprits behind the decline of species such as house sparrows and starlings.

    Soon, we'll be able to add more evidence to this state of affairs, thanks to a new study by researchers at Reading University. They're fixing electronic tags to some 200 plus cats to establish just what they get up to. Every little bit of evidence helps shine a light in to the murk surrounding the mystery of our vanishing garden birds.

    Being a cautious sort, I'm doing what I can right now to grow thick native shrubs and create a moasic of habitats that will support and attract a wide range of wildlife to my garden. More nectar and seeds means more insects and birds. Full details of what you can achieve can be found on our advice pages. Personalised gardening advice is also available by subscribing to our Homes for Wildlife programme.With numbers of some of our most common garden birds falling, it's important that we sensibly do what we can to save them.

    I've no idea where the three cats that are engaged in a turf war in my garden have come from. They appear to be well cared for, but none of them wears a collar fitted with a bell that could save a bird from an early demise. Pet food manufacturers estimate there are some eight million cats in the UK, not including wild and abandoned ones. As the financial downturn bites, people are looking to make savings. There's been a reported increase in abandoned pets, including cats. Are my three new garden arrivals victims of some bankers greed?

    Investing time, effort and cash in outdoor spaces gives a great return. I don't want fat cats in my garden, nor do I want starving moggies. I want to look out my window to enjoy the sights, sounds and colour of nature. The profit gained from this investment will add to the general wildlife wealth of the city.

  • Funny valentine

    Gratuitous piccy of the snow at RSPB AbernethyI have a confession. I'm in love, but frustrated.

    I love my partner, my children, my work and the way nature constantly surprises, amazes and reminds me how unimportant people can be. The recent weather is a case in point. A couple of hours of heavy snow and life changed for thousands of people. But that's not why I'm frustrated.

    My children make lots of noise and break things, but they're not frustrating me. My partner is fed-up with the cold weather and there's nothing I can do about it. Even that is not the root cause of my frustration.

    What's getting me is the short-sightedness of politicians, business leaders and heads of industry. Not all of them obviously. Many work hard to ensure that their actions have a positive impact. But a few fail to see beyond the next spreadsheet or the next election.

    In the last Queen's speech, a long-running campaign to get our marine environment legally protected was finally announced. Now, ministers appear to have chucked out requirements to create and protect proper marine reserves. There are all sorts of other examples, from a failure to fully support clean, renewable energy or on transport where aviation gets favoured over more sustainable alternatives. It seems in each case an economic argument is put forward. It always ignores the extra cost (to wildlife, the economy and people) involved in either managing or coping with the environmental damage that will certainly follow inaction.

    Climate change will bring more extremes of weather. Un-checked it will be catastrophic. For a better life we should be looking at ways to slow-down, not go faster. Having the time and ability to watch the world go by should be a government objective.

    Here's a simple thing you can do to get with the programme. Make or buy a bird box for your partner. You can then gow old together enjoying the birds that nest in it. Happily, National Nest Box Week coincides with Valentines Day. Not as tasty as chocolate but more long-term than a bunch of cut flowers!