NATURE NOTES - Written by Dr Martyn Stenning

Nature Notes for June 2020

Staying safe has meant that most of us have had to stay at home in social isolation.  This has presented me with an opportunity to get to know the animals that are using our Uckfield garden more closely.  Just sitting in the garden revealed 16 species of birds within about 30 minutes recently.  These were blue tit, great tit, wren, house sparrow, blackbird, song thrush, magpie, jackdaw, carrion crow, buzzard, swift, chaffinch, robin, woodpigeon, collared dove and blackcap.  In addition, from my garden, records have included, flying over and within, herring gulls, herons, mallards, ravens, Canada geese, goldcrests, long-tailed tits, goldfinches, starlings, coal tits, great tits, greenfinches, bullfinches, nuthatch, great spotted woodpecker, a hawfinch and tawny owl.

We were sitting in the garden yesterday and a female woodpigeon was sitting on her nest uttering an intermittent growling call to her mate who was collecting twigs for her nest in our field maple tree.  He perched next to her and passed one to her in turn before flying off to collect another.  The female incorporated each one into her nest beneath her.  Meanwhile, on the roof of a neighbour’s house, a carrion crow was sitting on a chimney stack where a pair of jackdaws had their nest in one of the pots.  They took great exception to this and were dive-bombing and strafing the crow which clearly intended to make a meal out of their offspring.


Later that day, we saw one of our robins fly into the hedge to feed one of its fledglings.  The pair of blackbirds too were feeding their own fledglings and showing them how to deslime a slug before feeding it to one.  The blue tits too were going in and out of their birchwood nest-box where the female has been incubating her 9 eggs.  We are delighted to have a blackcap singing daily from the oak, birch and cupressus trees at the bottom of the garden this year.  These migrants from Africa are usually shy of humans and nest, near the ground, in wildwood and rural hedgerows.  There seems to be a trend this year of wild animals moving closer to humans as our activities have been curtailed by the lockdown.  This morning I looked out of my bedroom window to see a large healthy red fox roaming round the garden investigating every corner.

Dr. Martyn Stenning

Nature Notes July 2020


We should never forget that we are part of nature.  Everything we do is an interaction with the natural world around us.  We take and we give back.  Every molecule of oxygen that we breathe has come from an organism that excretes it as a by-product.  These are not only plants, but also algae such as seaweeds, which, incidentally, are not plants.  They do not have a vascular system or roots.  Also, there are photosynthetic bacteria and other planktonic organisms such as euglena and paramecium.  The latter actually has a symbiotic relationship with a green alga that lives in its cytoplasm where it produces oxygen.


While we are on the subject of symbiosis, it is likely that each one of us has more bacterial cells in and on our bodies than human cells.  We cannot live without them.  However well we clean ourselves, they are still with us, actually looking after us in different ways.  Good bacteria in our digestive systems are particularly important. Everything that dies becomes part of the planet’s soil, atmosphere and new life thanks to the amazing water and carbon cycle and the ecosystem services provided by mini beasts such as insects, molluscs, crustaceans and myriapods (millipedes and centipedes), annelid worms and of course, bacteria.


Ecosystem services come in so many other forms, such as pollination by insects of most of our edible fruit and vegetables.  Fish to eat from the sea and other animals we use such as sheep, fowl and cattle.  All our building materials all ultimately come from the ground, even those used in manufacturing cars.  Our clothes are formed from plants and animals, or else from the ‘synthetic’ fibres manufactured from fossilised oil, which itself is a decay product from life that existed millions of years ago.  Glass is sand, wood is trees, bricks are clay, screws and nails etcetera are metals refined by crushing and cooking rocks that contain them, allowing us to extract and make new useful things with them.


Having laboured the point, we must pay back nature’s bounty by preserving natural places for it in our world, both locally and globally.  If we fail in that and exploit it too much, e.g. burning excess fossil fuel and destroying too much natural habitat, nature’s response is to follow the laws of physics and change many aspects of life as we know it.

Dr Martyn Stenning