August, 2009

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  • A lazy bird and a long-term plan

    Urban house sparrow by Rob Mills.A sparrow. I saw a sparrow in my garden. I'm amazed and delighted. If you're wondering why the sight of a small, brown and rather common garden bird should get me in such a feverish state... consider the fact that I have NEVER seen a sparrow in my garden since we moved in almost four years ago. They are vanishing.

    My garden is not exactly green, nor is it large. It's better than it was, but I have yet to lift the great expanse of concrete slabs we inherited with the house. I hope to grass most of it in the near future and will aim for a wild flower meadow rather than a cropped, stripey lawn.

    Sparrows are lazy critters and rarely move far from their home colonies. You'd be lucky to see one stray more than half a kilometre. So to see one on the feeder in my garden is actually amazing. It was a young female with an obvious passion for adventure. I'm not aware of a house sparrow colony nearby so she must have wandered some distance! Where did she come from? Will she come back? Will she write or send chocolates?

    Questions, questions. Is this sparrow's arrival a result of the changes I've made to the garden? Is it just a juvenile looking for a new colony, a female looking for a mate? Is it just a one-off thing, never to be repeated. I guess I'll have to wait and watch to answer these questions.

    I haven't got any figures to support this, but I have a theory that London's sparrows are starting to recover from a long running decline. That's quite a controversial statement and is made with some very thin anecdotal evidence. I know the RSPB is doing a lot to save sparrows. I know local authorities and land-owners we're working with in the Capital are doing a lot for house sparrows. I know many individuals are helping grow food and shelter by planting hedges, shrubs and trees and leaving some long grass at their lawn-edges. Now, other charities are waking up to the fact that we all need to act to save our sparrows. With so much going on, we must be having an impact.

    Data suggests otherwise. We're still losing species across the board. Sparrows are great barometers of the state of our world. Because they're lazy and won't stray far, not even to find food, they reflect the true state of our environment. If the things they need in order to survive have vanished, it means something's going wrong with our environment. Consider sparrows an early warning system.

    My bee feeder with sugar solutionBees are also sufferring but they're less obvious than sparrows. Restoring plants for house sparrows helps bees too. But, you can feed bees without having a garden, if you don't mind them and wasps hanging around your homemade bee feeder. Just get a shallow non-porous dish and pour in a solution of two tablespoons of granulated sugar, dissolved in a tablespoon of water. Put this outside near some nectar rich flowers and hey presto, your very own bee feeder.

    Wherever you live, you're influenced by the seasons. All our food, air and water comes from nature, we need to look after it now. The Government's latest announcement by Hilary Benn on Food Security goes someway towards recognising that our wellbeing and nature are interlinked. I want my daughters' to be able to enjoy the sight of sparrows in gardens and parks. I want them to be able to close their eyes and hear the buzz of industrious honey bees and admire  our amazing landscapes. They can only do this if we all invest time and money supporting and protecting nature. You can help convince the Government to build a future that values nature by signing our Letter to the Future. Speak-up for nature and show politicians that we want our tax money to help rebuild our economy in a way that doesn't harm nature. Together, we can make it happen.

  • The screaming has stopped

    August already and to hammer home the point of time flying, the swifts that have been screaming, ducking and diving over my home... have gone. Hopefully they'll be back from their African wintering grounds next year.

    I've cleaned out the swift box I had fixed to my wall. It was used by a family of tits, who left behind a soft mossy mass with a base of twigs and plenty of animal hair. There was one un-hatched egg left in the bottom of the nest box and the remains of a dead chick. Despite this apparent loss, they successfully raised at least three chicks. Having cleaned the box, I'll try to move it higher up the wall, to make it more attractive to next year's returning swifts.

    Russell Spencer's winning green woodpecker photo, taken at Hampstead Heath.The adult category winner of our Mind the Bird photo competition was Russell Spencer. His image of a green woodpecker was one of my personal favourites. I saw one close-up in Camden's Waterlow Park the other day. It was having a whale of a time chomping on ants on the grassy hill. These birds are doing well in London. Russell's was spotted and photographed on Hampstead Heath.

    There's a great opportunity over the next three weeks to see kingfisher's. A pair with a rocky relationship has finally got round to hatching some eggs in a man-made bank at our Rye Meads nature reserve in the Lee Valley. They're clearly visible and will remain so while they're feeding their young. The adults paired up at the beginning of the year but separated, leaving reserve staff feeling a little sad. But, they've paired up again and the result is an unknown number of chicks. This late brood is a bit unusual but great timing for family visits over the school holidays. Who can resist a quick visit to see such a beautiful bird?

    I had a close encounter with a more common but equally striking bird the other day. I was pimping our garden when a mistle thrush came to say hello. It seemed quite tame and didn't dash off when I, my partner and one of my daughters came close. We could almost touch it. With its straw coloured chest and striking lines of chestnut spots it was lovely to see. It appeared to be sneezing and completely ignored the piles of freshly uncovered snails we'd exposed whilst weeding. I guess it was after a more fruity, berry-based meal because it soon flew-off.Starlings on a snowy feeder, taken by Adrian Thomas. They're so cute and sleek!

    We launched our new House Sparrow Date with Nature event at the Tower of London on Friday. As if to emphasise our point that these once common birds are now scarce, none of the sparrows that live there put in an appearance. We'll try to entice them out of the bushes when we return this coming Friday. We were treated to some fantastic glimpses of a small colony of starlings that live there. You often see them swirling around the south tower of Tower Bridge but they were having great fun around the tables of the coffee stall near the Tower of London entrance. It's a great place for people-watching and for soaking-up old and new London's culture with a city skyline to be proud of. Maybe you'll get lucky and see a sparrow too?