NATURE NOTES - Written by Dr Martyn Stenning
Nature Notes March 2021
Gardens can be diverse havens for wildlife. I sometimes cringe a little when I watch garden makeover programmes that completely and expensively, blitz what is already there. Similarly, when I walk past some local gardens and see them as sterile concrete or tarmac surfaces.
Added together, the gardens of England must make up thousands of hectares. However, each one is probably only about 100 square metres on average. That is, about 10 x 10 metres. There are over 27 million households in England. The majority of houses will have some kind of garden. 1 in 8 households have no garden, the remaining 7 in 8 do. Each one of those can provide some kind of home for nature. In order to do something to counter climate change, it is only necessary to grow green plants. The greater the area covered the better. If there are 7 metres between a building and the garden perimeter, consider planting a hedge punctuated with a tree rather than having a fence (which will eventually decay anyway). A tree in the garden will guarantee birds. Grow cabbages, potatoes, spinach or other vegetable or fruit if you wish to produce food. Plant a native evergreen shrub such as box Buxus sempervirens, which will make oxygen and fix carbon all year round. The darker the leaves, the more photosynthesis your plant will do. Whatever you plant, prefer plants native to the country you live in.
Making ponds is also excellent as they are homes for frogs, newts water beetles and much more. Natural ponds are usually temporary as they silt up in time. New ponds will soon be colonised by water creatures, but please do not put fish in them as they eat the water creatures seeking a home, especially tadpoles. Limit restoring ponds to August.
I find it is best to manage the garden slowly. Work gradually with what exists already and let the garden evolve with time and inspiration. Culture a wild area where plants and animals colonise naturally. Pave with bricks (as bricks allow drainage) a suitably sized, sunny area to sit with a small table and chairs to take refreshments and watch nature. Create your own garden of Eden, feed the birds, compost green waste. Watch how the biodiversity of your patch increases. It is so rewarding!
Dr Martyn Stenning
Nature Notes February 2021
New year – new life! Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is the present and the present is a gift! One thing I recorded about blue tits, when researching for my book on the subject, was that blue tits rarely sing between the longest (c. 21st June) and the shortest (c. 21st December) days (solstices) of the year. However, nearly every year, the first blue tit song I hear is on or about the 22nd December when the daylength is about 1 minute longer than the 21st. Blue tits are surprisingly intelligent for an animal so small and live short lives (mostly less than one year), so the gift of a new day is especially valuable to them. They seem to be keenly aware of any positive changes such as day length. My local ones have even been scoping the nest-box that I have for them in the garden in late December.
Trees are essential for blue tits, no trees – no blue tits. Indeed, trees are essential for any organism that uses oxygen in respiration. Since the invention of the timber chainsaw in the early 20th century, humans have been felling trees at a phenomenal rate, an activity that contributes to climate change and reduces the sustainability potential of life on Earth. Allowing trees to grow is one of the best things that any human can do for the planet. Sadly, 3 diseased ash and 1 (non-native) unsafe cypress trees had to be removed from Framfield churchyard recently. However, these have been replaced now with 4 different new, native, healthy saplings, namely crab-apple, whitebeam, juniper and rowan. All of these are highly suitable for the churchyard as they never get too large, grow slowly and support the lives of many other species, especially insects and birds. When planting a tree near buildings, it is advisable to locate it at least 7 metres from the building so that the tree does not affect the building’s structure or function.
Even small trees or hedges are important. There is usually a correlation between the number of trees and the number of birds in a garden or other location. A hedge will last longer than a fence, but will need maintaining in a different and sympathetic way with regular clipping (instead of expensive painting). Trees will even remove particulate pollution from the atmosphere and act as natural air conditioners
Dr Martyn Stenning