By now, members should have received your Summer issue of Nature’s Home magazine – aptly heralded by last weekend’s glorious blaze of sunshine (which I hope you all enjoyed – I did, but got burnt shoulders while re-landscaping my garden).
I shared a sneak peek of the issue a few weeks back, and as you can see from the cover, we’re highlighting the plight of the UK’s puffins with a story on how the people-powered Project Puffin is revealing what puffins eat and how far they’re having to travel to find food. Despite being a much-loved and protected bird, Atlantic puffins are in decline and facing serious problems. Gathering this data is crucial in enabling us to understand the issues that puffins are facing, and how to help them.
Project Puffin is helping tackle the plight of a much-loved seabird. Photo: Louise Greenhorn (rspb-images.com)
A world away from the crashing Atlantic, our ‘Neighbourhoods for Nature’ feature is packed with practical advice about how to cater for the species we share our streets with. The RSPB partnership with Barratt Developments is a stellar example of how we can cater for new housing demand without displacing nature, showing how homebuilders can incorporate structures like bat boxes and swift bricks into the structure of new buildings, as well as wildlife underpasses under main roads, nature highways, wildflower-meadow verges and bat-friendly lighting.
There’s so much that we can all take away from this, even making improvements to older homes and neighbourhoods. My garden now has several gaps under the boundary fencing, in case I’m ever lucky enough to attract a hedgehog. Check out the ideas on page 32 and have a think about how you could apply them to your own streets and gardens.
The insects that thrive on RSPB reserves are just as diverse, colourful and fascinating as the birds, as this rose chafer proves. I once had one of these land on my office desk in a city tower-block! Photo: Robert Conn (rspb-images.com)
My desk copy of the magazine keeps falling open on the giant beewolf photo on page 56, which is a bit unfortunate as I’m someone for whom the European wasp is the stuff of nightmares, and this fellow is even bigger – with bee-hunting mandibles. But he’s part of a fantastic showcase of some of the smallest species living on RSPB reserves; it’s a bright, colourful, often gruesome but always fascinating world down there beneath our feet, and author Ross Piper’s entomological insight brings to life the secret little doings and dramas that we often overlook. Definitely check it out – you may awaken a new passion for looking down as well as up!
Ross Piper continues exploring the insect underworld on what’s one of my favourite pages - page 17 - where you’ll be stopped in your tracks by the sight of hundreds of wood-ants squirting tiny jets of formic acid into the air, in defence of their teeming, labyrinthine underground city. Did you know that they even farm flocks of aphids, offering them protection in exchange for the aphids’ sweet ‘milk’? If humans worked together as efficiently as ants, we’d probably have peacefully colonised other planets by now. Amazing stuff.
We've packed our Wild About section full of tips and fascinating insights into the natural world.
On page 43, we’ve brought together a selection of stories describing how nature can protect us from climate change. Water management is not only a key part of providing habitat for wetland, riparian and coastal species; it can also keep local towns and communities safe from flooding, and safeguard against drought as our climate changes. I love stories about rewilding – such as the restoration of Swindale Beck in Cumbria, where an RSPB partnership has restored an artificially straightened waterway to its natural curves, thus slowing the water flow and reducing flash flooding. These outcomes suggest that nature knows best, and that in a changing climate we should consider harnessing natural processes to protect ourselves.
I hope that, whether you’re birder, hiker, biker, builder, photographer, gardener or animal lover, you’ll find something in this issue that inspires you among the riot of birds, wildlife and nature. We'll be expanding more on this issue's themes in the coming weeks, so watch this space - and comment below or email us to let us know what you think.
If you’d like to donate to or join the RSPB and receive Nature’s Home, click here.
Here we go, some lovely warm weather. Just what we’ve all been waiting for. As we well know it’s not just us that’ve been teased over the past few weeks. Our minibeast friends have been on the hunt for some sun too. And being a beekeeper I’m always on the lookout for the hum of pollinators whenever the sun hits.
On those sunny days few and far between, I have revelled in a bit of gardening alongside those minibeast pals. Insect pollinated crops make up 20% of the UK's cultivated land so butterflies, bees, beetles and many other insects are so important (source: British Bee Coalition) and making your garden pollinator friendly is an easy way to help give nature a home. Here are some of the fellows that have been grazing on the pollen in and around our garden.
Buff-tailed bumble bee, Bombus terrestris
A buff-tailed queen having a spot of lunch (Photo: Emma Lacy)
This species of bumblebee is abundant in the UK and in fact it’s becoming winter-active in some cities. This means that nest establishment can happen as late as October and November with worker bees flying all winter. So far this spring I’ve seen a lot of queens bumbling about and I’m awaiting the true worker season to begin.
Seven-spot ladybird, Coccinella septempunctata
Ladybirds are quite the climbers (Jodie Randall rspb-images.com)
Fairly easy to identify, the seven-spot ladybird has, you guessed it, seven spots. I remember being told when I was a child that the amount of spots on a ladybird meant was the equivalent to its age. That’s not true, I don’t know who told me that but they were lying. Ladybirds live for a year and during that time eat over 5,000 aphids, though they supplement their diet with nectar which in turn pollinates the flowers and vegetables in your garden. Sadly, the harlequin ladybird has invaded and now out-competes many of our native ladybirds for food and has therefore seen their decline.
Having a little climb on the garden furniture (Photo: Emma Lacy)
I just spent quite some time trying to identify this specific ground beetle but to no avail (if you can identify the species let me know in the comments below). It had a little wonder on our garden furniture though. Beetles are another important pollinator and some sources suggest that they were one of the earlier pollinators.
Brimstone butterfly, Gonepteryx rhamni
How did the butterfly get it's name? Many believe it's because of the male brimstone butterfly's wings (Photo: Will George)
This early emerging butterfly is a sure sign to me that spring is on the way. You can find the caterpillar feeding on buckthorn towards the end of May and the butterfly will hibernate in ivy, holly and bramble so you’re sure to see one near you if you live near these plant species.
Honey bee, Apis mellifera
Look at the pollen trousers on this girl. She'd been busy collecting from this cherry tree (Photo: Emma Lacy)I mentioned my beekeeping earlier in the post. Despite now being a semi-domestic breed and considered livestock by many, the honey bee still has an important role to play when it comes to pollination. Remember that 20% of cultivated land I mentioned at the top, well honey bees can contribute between five and ten percent of their pollination.
Three tips to attract pollinators to your garden
Buy or build some bug houses. Bee and butterfly houses are easy to get hold of but so it is also easy to build your own.
Plant a wild flower patch. Wild flower seed mixes are easy to get hold of and a great way to attract pollinators looking for food. If you have space, you could even plant a tree as a full adult will host thousands of flowers worth of forage.
Provide a water source. Pop some stones or corks into your bird bath as a little landing pad.
Let us know in the comments below of any pollinators you see in your garden or if you have any tips for attracting them.
I'm a bit jealous of this little bank vole. It's found a great place to call home. Lush greenery in the safety of a nature lover and RSPB member's garden - what could be better than that? This shot had to get photo of the week this week, despite all the other superb images readers of Nature's Home have been sending in after the latest issue began mailing last week. There's so many to choose from, but as well as being cute, this photo made me reminisce about my time with Vole - ah how I miss Vole.
Photo courtesy of Nature's Home reader Julie Kemp - thanks Julie!
Have a superb weekend everyone!