You will find out about all the exciting stuff going on with the RSPB in the east of the UK. We cover our sites in the following counties: Norfolk, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, and some of our great Lincolnshire ones. So if you are if you have never heard of the Strumpshaws and Snettishams or Stour Estuary or Sutton Fens here is you chance.
Author: Carrie Carey. This blog post originally appeared as a feature in the Eastern Daily Press Weekend magazine on 25 February 2017.
I recently took the grandchildren to a local farm park and despite the enticement of tractor rides and sheep racing, they wanted to stay by the pig pen where a family of hogs were enjoying a very messy mud bath. My youngest granddaughter looked at me knowing and said “They’re really happy, aren’t they?” I had to admit, it did seem that way.
So what makes a pig in muck as happy as… well, a pig in muck? Many farmers know that mud aids the animals’ thermoregulation, helps with parasite removal and affords sun protection; but a friend of mine would say it’s just because pigs enjoy it. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that pigs like to wallow in the mucky stuff (or ‘mud, glorious mud’ as the old Flanders and Swan song put it).
By definition, mud is simply a mixture of earth, or soil, and water and is the building block for all things organic. On the surface, you might assume that mud is a barren and lifeless substrate, but nothing could be further from the truth; mud habitats form highly productive ecosystems that support a diverse community of wildlife.
Photo credit: Andy Hay
Around Britain’s coast, intertidal mudflats that occur in estuaries and harbours play host to a plethora of marine life. Brittlestars, anemones and spider crabs make their homes on the muddy seafloor, whilst a vast number of invertebrates and polychaete worms burrow deep into the mud itself and provide a rich and varied diet for overwintering wildfowl and waders. At RSPB Snettisham reserve, the mudflats act as an open diner, supporting an impressive population of knot, dunlin, godwits and other migrant birds throughout the year.
Photo credit: Chris Gomersall
However, it is not just birds that profit from the muddy seabed: our planet does too. The burrowing activities of sea critters allows the exchange of oxygen, nutrients and minerals to take place between seawater and sediment and this plays an important part in earth’s respiratory process. In this wet habitat, a high moisture content is necessary to support the needs of the plants, animals and organisms that live here. Remove the moisture and the mud reverts to soil which plays an equally vital role in maintaining life on land. Soil acts as a carbon store, filters rainwater, supports vegetation and is the producer of almost all of our antibiotics.
Photo credit: Ben Hall
Soil, in all its variants has another positive impact on our health and well being. It contains a bacterium found to trigger the release of serotonin: a group of hormones that regulate mood, social behavior and sleep. So there is good reason to get out in the garden, dig in the dirt and make mud pies! Ancient Egyptians believed that a mud bath helped relieve joint and muscle pains as well as promote relaxation and calmness, a practice which is still popular today.
There is also growing evidence that a tactile relationship with soil fills a basic biological need and helps us build a connection with the natural world. The Latin word for soil is humus and the words human and humility come from this same root. No wonder then that we are intrinsically linked to soil, earth, dirt, mud. Whilst we may not be inclined to spend a day wallowing in a mud pit, it is certainly evident that some times, reconnecting with nature’s building block can be beneficial on so many levels. So I’m off into the garden to have a root around the compost heap and breathe in the smell of good old fashioned dirt.
Information on how to become a RSPB member can be found here.
The snow may have vanished as quickly as it appeared but the cold, dark days of winter have lingered on. This being said, do not become too accustomed to these seemingly bare days, because if you look a bit closer you might just find the tiny green buds flourishing on our trees and the overzealous shoots ready to blossom at any second. Then take a second to listen to the increasing trills of bird song and inhale a deep breath, spring is right around the corner.
National Nest Box Week is a BTO event that has run for over 15 years from 14 – 21 February and aims to encourage everyone to put up nestboxes to promote and enhance the biodiversity of our breeding birds.
As the seasons turn, the behaviour of our birds is changing and you might just witness the various courtship rituals of those garden birds you spotted during your Big Garden Birdwatch. Most British garden birds mate for the season and straight away begin the search for the perfect location to call home. House hunting is a difficult task for us all, but it can be especially tough for birds. This is largely due to more gardens becoming meticulously trimmed to perfection, old buildings being demolished and holes in fences or houses being filled in. Nests must not only be designed to hold eggs but they must offer insulation to both eggs and parents, protection from predators and shelter from the elements, so location is vital to the success of the brood. The nesting habits of each bird species have evolved over many thousands of years but with the number of potential sites decreasing, they could all use a bit of help and our gardens can offer prime nesting real estate.
Photo by Andy Hay
One such method to help our birds is to set up nestboxes in our gardens, with different types of boxes offering homes for particular groups of birds. There have been over 60 species of birds in the UK recording using nestboxes, from the smallest of blue tits all the way up to kestrels and barn owls, depending on the site location and the choice of box. Making a nestbox can be a fun weekend activity for you and your family, or you can trust in the experts and buy a box perfectly suited for your garden birds.
Once you’ve put your nestbox out and your garden birds have claimed it, the whole family can sit back and relax, witnessing the magic of a new bird family being raised right on your doorstep.
Photo by Eleanor Bentall
Make sure you check the event listings of your local RSPB reserve for opportunities to get involved with National Nestbox Week across the Eastern Region.
The RSPB website provides advice on creating different types of nestboxes suited to particular bird groups, or offers ready-made RSPB nestboxes if you don’t fancy crafting your own. Location is vital, so make sure you choose the right place by following these guidelines:
Photo by Mark Thomas
For more information on creating a home for nature, visit www.rspb.org.uk/homes.
Author: Emily Kench
Deep in the heart of the East Anglian countryside, a loving purr whistles through a hedgerow. Amongst tight-knit leaves, one set of orange eyes burning with love, stares into the eyes of another. After a long and testing journey this male turtle dove has found his love: his one and only, his mate for life.
He has traveled 11,000 km from his wintering grounds in West Africa to find her, and the journey is becoming ever more difficult. The climate has changed and drought is more prevalent; change is happening at a rate too fast for the turtle dove to adapt to.
Photo: Andy Hay
For centuries, we have looked to this dainty dove for lessons in love. A species shrouded in the concept of fidelity and devotion, willing to make a life-long commitment to its partner. But sometimes, appreciation is not enough. Human consumption patterns and use of fossil fuels are changing climate patterns on a grander scale and we forget that we are not the only species to jet set around the globe. Many of our ‘local’ birds annually migrate to distant wintering and breeding grounds and although we may be unable to see it in our daily lives, it is this human-caused climate change that is contributing to the decline of the international resident, but locally beloved turtle dove.
This Valentine’s Day, it is time to turn the tables and show the love for turtle doves. In time, we could learn a lot from these little doves and their commitment to carbon-free flight, but to begin with we can simply start from the heart.
Wear and share a green heart for turtle doves this Valentine’s Day
The Climate Coalition, of which the RSPB is a member, are inspiring us to show the love for places, people and life we want to protect from climate change by making and wearing green hearts and sharing on social media.
Others are taking their heartfelt love for the turtle dove to new levels. Dove Step 3 team, Robert Yaxley and Jonny Rankin will be walking daily back-to-back marathon distances covering 700 miles of the turtle doves’ migration route through Spain. The team are fundraising for Operation Turtle Dove, a project on an important and urgent mission to improve the fortunes of this enigmatic and culturally significant bird. Turtle doves have suffered a 91% UK population decline since 1995 and a 78% decline across Europe since 1980. So the fundraising efforts of the Dove Step 3 team help stop the possibility of turtle dove extinction from becoming a reality.
If however, you are unable to walk 700 miles across Spain on Valentine’s Day but want to demonstrate your commitment for acting on climate change, we invite you to join us outside the Forum in Norwich wearing your finest greenery (or should that be your greenest finery?) to create a giant human heart. Together, we can show our commitment to protecting nature homes against climate change. Together we can give politicians and people in power a mandate to act on. Together we can show the love.
To donate to Dove Step 3 visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/DoveStep3
To find out more about show the love visit www.fortheloveof.org
Show the Love at the Forum
This Valentine’s Day, the RSPB is asking people in Norwich to show the love for turtle doves and other wildlife and nature impacted by climate change. Help send a message that climate change matters to you. Join us at The Forum at 10 am to help create a giant human Show the Love green heart and find out more about the Climate Coalition’s campaign to get government to take action on climate change.
Visit the event page here.