February, 2012

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Bugs, Birds and Beasts in the East

All of our up to date fun and frolics in the East from office antics to great conservation stories and those magical connections with nature.
  • Raising a Brood

    Blogger: Kate Blincoe

    Parenthood can feel complicated at times. We become circus skills experts with all that plate spinning, juggling and tightrope walking as we try to do the best thing for our families whilst managing limited time and money. Having just returned to work following maternity leave, this is very much on my mind!

    I’ve never been one for relying on a parenting manual to help me with these challenges. I had to fight a strong urge to burn a Gina Ford book in the early weeks of raising my son (who was not keen to be on any sort of routine).

    No, I think instead we can look to the natural world for a few parenting tips.

    Finding the perfect home

    Outside, spring is on the way, the breeding season has commenced and busy birds everywhere are seeking the perfect home for their brood. We may struggle to get on the property ladder, but we can learn a bit from birds who are just glad to find a suitable, safe spot. Their requirements are simple; a hole in a tree, a secluded hedge or four wooden walls. February is a good time to put up a nestbox and give birds a helping hand this year.

    People are always keen to upgrade to a bigger place, often painfully overstretching themselves with the mortgage in the process. However, I sometimes remind myself that 63 wrens were found in a single nestbox... and it’s not that crowded chez moi!

    Babies fledge in the blink of an eye

    Looking at the breeding cycle of garden birds shows you that most young fledge in a matter of weeks. At only two weeks of age most young birds are spreading their wings and flying away. It’s not quite that rapid for us, but it does make you realise how quickly the baby phase is over and that we should try and savour it before we have an empty nest.

    Forget possessions and get outside

    As modern parents, we get distracted by all the material things we are meant to provide our children with (‘what do you mean they don’t have their own iPhone, that’s practically child abuse!’). In the end, all they need is you, food, water and shelter.

    Good old fashioned fresh air is something your average bird obviously gets plenty of, yet we often seem to forget this is necessary for our young too.  Time outside leads to better sleep, increased fitness, improved concentration and even reduced short-sightedness.

    When I’ve had another night of broken sleep and there is crayon up the walls, I’m just thankful that I’m not a blue tit parent, battling the elements to find caterpillar after caterpillar for my demanding brood. However, I will learn from them, and make sure my kids spend time outside, whatever the weather.

    featured in the EDP on Saturday 25 February

  • Aggie's canary yellow socks and blue bells

    Blogger: Aggie Rothon, Communications Officer

    I went to boarding school. It was a funny old place. There were the metal-framed boarding-house windows that didn’t quite shut, lumpy horse-hair mattresses and thick canary yellow socks. We marched in to lunch to a band and had study on every day of the week.

    Sounds a bit austere, doesn’t it? Except for the socks perhaps. But despite memories of rain sodden woollen uniforms, a large degree of ‘rigour’ and of missing home comforts, we did have some fun times. Watching cricket in the sun, secretly roller blading in the ‘day’ rooms and putting on plays in the professional theatre. All in all, I was privileged to a great education that, incredibly, was free as well. I was lucky.

    This week I have been trying to understand when and why it became personally necessary to work in conservation. When did I become inspired by the outdoors and nature? Was it a certain teacher, my A level in Biology or reading a particular book? Through this thought I have realised that for all the great scientific minds that taught at my school, and the place’s general academic merit, the teachers that influenced me most were the ones that quite simply offered us pupils time to muse.

    I remember a lesson in coppicing. What a fine art coppicing is and to how much do we owe the woodsman! The heart shaped leaves and bright yellow crowns of our spring messenger, the lesser celandine. Carpets of creamy primroses or pungent ramsons and the purple ear-lobes of common dog violet. The hammering of woodpeckers, the urgency of a nuthatch calling, great flocks of tits flitting in crowds amongst the branches.

    But I haven’t come to know this because of my school lesson in coppicing. In fact I still, to my dismay, can remember little of the practicalities of this craft.  I was too busy answering the questions on my worksheet and getting the maths right. And then I would have been too busy racing off to my next task, my next netball match or my next lesson to become inspired by what I had just seen.

    But I also remember Mr Reid. He took us to the woods on the hill beyond the playing fields and let us sit there. Bluebells carpeted every inch of the glades that we explored or simply mused upon. The lesson involved no right or wrong, no outcomes or expected results but gave us time to ask ourselves, ‘are you interested?’

    Perhaps some of my peers weren’t inspired by that woodland excursion and more structured study suited them far better. But I hope that for those of us that need to ponder, the current curriculum will give time to just that. Here is to Mr Reid. May many more teachers follow his path.

    Photo by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    Article on 18 Feb 2012 in EDP

  • Just as the snow had melted ....


    I know it'sbeen a mild few days (and you know us, we LOVE talking about the weather!), but it's not staying warm for long. For us, we have the luxury of wearing an extra jumper and cosying up under a blanket, but our garden birds have less protection for the next cold snap hitting home this weekend.  With chilly Arctic blizzards forecast to head through the UK this weekend, we thought we'd highlight some  of the more vulnerable garden birds. The list looks something like this ...

    1. 1.       wrens
    2. 2.       goldcrests
    3. 3.       long-tailed tits
    4. 4.       coal tits
    5. 5.       blue tits
    6. 6.       robins
    7. 7.       dunnocks
    8. 8.       siskins
    9. 9.       house sparrows
    10. 10.   goldfinches

     While all wildlife struggles as temperatures drop, small birds find it really tough.  Insect-eating birds like wrens and goldcrests endure a constant battle to find enough food to keep them alive.  Similarly to my boyfriend (who can eat more food than anyone else i know and not put on an ounch of fat!!), birds have a high metabolic rate so use lots of energy to keep their body temperature constant.  During the day they gain weight when they feed, but they lose weight overnight.  In cold weather they can lose a huge proportion of their body weight at night, just by keeping warm.  Mini hotwater bottles don't exist sadly!

     I'm certainly not a fan of these extended cold spells myself, but they can be especially dangerous for birds, particlularly if snow cover cuts off access to food. Although tiny birds arguably suffer the most, ALL garden birds need our help at this time. 

     A bit like indulging in a coffee-shop stop on a chilly winter's walk, high energy handouts in gardens can make a difference between life and death for our garden birds. Putting out a range of food like suet pellets, sunflower hearts, cooked potatoes and mild grated cheese will offer them a winter treat that willkeep their energy levels high.  Live mealworms and cut up fruit are also great.

     A bit like me - I get really put off by long queues (i don't like waiting for my cake and a cuppa!) - some small birds get put off in a busy area so try placing food in different spots around the garden so that everyone gets a look in.   

     In the really cold weather, gardens are great places for shelter too.  Small birds will roost in groups to preserve their body heat.   Tiny birds like wrens will get together to shelter in cracks and crevices in buildings as well as in nest boxes, they really get the benefit of communal roosting; one cold winter’s night saw 61 roost in one nesting box!

     To provide more shelter, you can put up ‘roosting pockets’ that offer great protection from cold temperatures.

     Of course the other thing that the cold weather brings is the more 'unique' garden visitor. Cold snaps can tempt other birds into your garden, so keep an eye out this weekend.   Look out for Grey and Pied wagtails, redwings, fieldfares and even kingfishers!