Saturday, 25 December 2021

NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS

                      

 


It’s Christmas day, so Sue and I wish you many enjoyable days ahead and hope that next year is kind to you all. 


We really enjoy Christmas because it’s a chance to be in touch with so many of our friends and even if there’s no chance of seeing them, there’s always cards. We’re told that some folk find sending cards a chore but I love ‘em because while writing a few words by way of a catch up, I’m actually with them in mind if not in body and that’s far better than not at all. Letters and emails then allow a longer immersion in their lives and if you enjoy writing, it’s so enjoyable to share life with our loved ones. 

It’s been a difficult year or two for so many but I’m going to avoid the ‘C’ word because ‘no news is good news’. It’s as if journalists consider it a dereliction of duty if they don’t hit us with all the worst stories they can find everywhere in the world and ensure that we are fed up or worse, depressed, even afraid. 


So this ditty will concentrate on all the good wildlife stuff that’s happening all around us, and if you’re into gardening and birds like us, there’s plenty to celebrate. But I'll try to be brief.


Kevin the Kingfisher for starters, for he has survived for a few years due to our warmer winters and along with a female, they give us the privilege of regular visits to our Dorset garden. 



We’ve created lots of wetland habitat and that attracts breeding mallard, little egrets and dozens of damsels and dragonflies.

 


Creating habitat is so much a part of the success for wildlife and along with providing nest sites and manipulating species around the country, has created success that should cheer us all. Here’s a brief summary of a few to celebrate, starting with one close to home. 


Wiped out by persecution in Scotland by the early 19th Century, ospreys returned to breed successfully for the first time in 1959 at the RSPB’s famous Loch Garten site and there are now some 160 pairs breeding in the UK. 

c Birds of Poole Harbour

What’s more, a translocation project into Poole Harbour means that there’s every chance that ospreys will breed for the first time in Dorset for nearly 200 years. The nest site is just six miles from our door. Wonderful.


© Mike Read
White-tailed eagles were driven to extinction in Britain more than two hundred years ago, so by reintroducing them from Norway in 1975, they bred on Mull for the first time in 1985. There are now a remarkable 150 breeding pairs in Scotland, allowing the translocation of white-tailed eagles to the Isle of Wight.
© CHOG - Needles b/g

© Mike Read
So walking out on our local patch, the chances of these birds with their massive, long and broad eight foot wingspan turning the sky dark as they fly overhead is a daily possibility. More good news! 


 

You’ll be wanting to return to the left over turkey, so next up are few more triumphs, as quickly as I can. In the mid sixty’s a handful of red kites were surviving in central Wales but by the mid 90’s, with reintroductions and increased protection, they had recovered to more than 100 pairs and by 2003 there were 350 to 400 pairs in Britain, a remarkable 1,023% increase! Wow. 

© Val Smith

Moving on to our wetland marshes, bitterns had disappeared in the 1870’s and though they recovered slightly, by 1997 they were on the brink of extinction with just 11 booming males. 

© RSPB

By 2019 and by providing more reed bed nesting habitat there were more than 100 booming males on RSPB reserves and almost 200 across the UK,
so yet another success story. 


© RSPB

The reed beds also benefited the graceful marsh harrier. Down to just three or four individuals at Minsmere in the 1960’s, then just three pairs in 1971, [more than half the UK population], there are now 8 to 12 pairs at Minsmere and a total of more than 600 nesting in the UK.
Amazing, and only a couple of weeks ago there were over ten marsh harriers roosting just down the road in Poole Harbour so yet another success story. 

I told you there was lots of good news out there and I haven’t even mentioned the golden eagle and red squirrel increases, the beaver introductions or the possibility of lynx returning to the UK any time soon. Then there's all the charity work done by anglers trying to save our rivers but I'll let you back to your celebrations and bang on about all this success another time.

osprey nest landowner on left, Roy Dennis on right

Re-wilding is a buzzword right now and thanks to so many enlightened people with the drive and inspiration to make things happen, like Roy Dennis for instance, [seen here collecting osprey chicks for ringing], so there are many species with a bright future and lots of good news to look forward to.

So let’s hear more about them and their work instead of the ‘C’ word and other dreadful news that we have shovelled at us in suffocating, mind numbing quantities every hour of the day. 

We do hope you can be happy, have a great year and don’t watch the news! … sent with our hugs ... 

X Hugh and Sue ... eggcellent presentšŸ˜‹


Sunday, 28 November 2021

CELEBRATING AUTUMN'S BEAUTY

                 


The first frosts of winter are biting as I write and the most glorious season of the year is falling slowly to the ground. Thank heaven that the natural cycles of life continue, in spite of man’s best efforts to destroy our planet. 

‘COP26’ has just passed and left me and many other caring folk disappointed, even angry, fearing that the reality of all the world’s leaders’ decisions is ‘COP-OUT’! Some good decisions were made but will it result in action? As our amazing Queen eloquently said “The time for words has moved to a time for action”. I pray that at least some of the promises are honoured.

Anyway, I’m not going to bang on about the politicians’ failures now, that can come later because celebrating the beauty that surrounds us in our gardens is a much needed antidote. 


Sue and I are very lucky to have our little wildlife garden and I’m sure we are not alone in noticing how colourful this autumn’s trees and shrubs have been. 

All the pics that follow were taken on our patch during the last few weeks and illustrate just how delightfully mild the weather has been this November, so we’re still blessed with butterflies, bees and hoverflies visiting our asters, dahlias, salvias and hebe’s.

 




Being a gardening beginner, I find it fascinating to learn about the origins of our colourful plants, the hebe for instance being a native of New Zealand, South America and even the Falkland Isles. 

 

Still flowering outside at the end of November, even after the frosts the red admirals and peacocks are finding they provide lots of nectar as last minute sustenance before they hibernate in our old sheds and log piles. 

 

 





Also vital to the late season pollinators are the ever popular dahlias. Natives of the high hillsides of Central America and Mexico [it’s their national flower], there are forty two species and long ago, the Aztecs grew the tubers as food, a crop that only died out after the Spanish Conquest. There were attempts to farm them in Europe but those plans failed, a relief as we can’t admire them if we eat them! 


This one is Bishop of Canterbury. We had originally planted that all time favourite, the Bishop of Llandaff but the slugs eat them, so we planted this one in a pot and it’s been blooming wonderful for months, only ceasing to attract carder bees a couple of weeks ago. 



The blousier bloomed dahlias are spectacular but the single flowerers like the ‘bishops’ are the ones that provide a banquet for hungry buzzers. They love ‘em! 

 

Regardless of where plants come from, we like planting the garden so it provides food for wildlife, such as our colourful cotoneasters. 


When the migrant blackbirds arrive from Europe, they home in on any tasty snacks, though the red berried beauties come from further afield, the mountains of southwestern China and the Himalayas. 

 

 

 


Our robins joined the party recently and have almost stripped the plants bare already, so fingers X’d the winter isn’t cold enough to leave them short of food. 



Our ripening grapes proved attractive to the many red admirals but once the squadrons of blackbirds arrived, they were scoffed in no time, though not before we had harvested some bunches for our wine. Sue has prepared the brew with added brandy and it’ll be ready for quaffing in six months time, by which time the blackbirds will be singing and when we’ve tasted it, so will we. 

 

Our dahlias have closed for the winter, unlike the sparkling salvias that remain open for business, the cobalt and sapphire jewels so uplifting as the days shorten into winter gloom. This one is called 'Blue Butterflies'.




Flowering long into the autumn, these beauties are vitally important to our carder bees, providing a last supper before they hunker down together, two hundred or more protected from the chill in their dense grass nests. Note to self - don’t ‘tidy' the garden too much, if at all!  Red admirals love nettles, so leave them be.





As all passionate gardeners will know, there are hundreds of different salvias, nearly a thousand throughout the old world and Americas, in central and eastern Asia and the Med, even high up in the Andes mountains. [This wind swept red bush isn't a salvia of course but anathrophillum desideratum with a Patagonian Andes background].
 

First named 'salvia' in Roman times, the meaning is‘to feel healthy, to heal’ and being the largest genus of plants in the sage family, along with rosemary, maybe the Romans knew about the culinary delights and health benefits of the common sage and other herbs in the kitchen. And us humans aren’t alone in eating them, for as already mentioned, many salvias are meccas for pollinators, one of our favourite salvias being ‘Amistad’, still flowering outside at the end of November, even in this Arctic blast. 


Apart from salvias and dahlias, I guess the most admired of the autumn ‘show-offs’ are the maples or Japanese Acers, the majority of the 132 species hailing from Asia, with others flourishing in Europe, N.Africa and N.America. 


So admired are maples that tourism thrives due to Canada’s fall colours, their national flag incorporating a stylised maple leaf. They are also admired for the sap from some species producing that sweet maple syrup. 


Another colourful highlight in our garden are the American Sweet Gums whose fragrant sap provides its name ‘Liquidamber’. Aren’t they gorgeous. 


As in Canada, Japan has leaf watching traditions and customs with festivals attracting thousands of admirers from around the world. 




There are now so many varieties and cultivars of Acer Palmatum that Sue and I are tempted to add one or two new ones to our woodland garden every year but in the meantime, we simply sit and admire the spectacle that they treat us to every autumn. Good for the soul!

 


And with the magic of winter and the arrival of geese from far northern lands to look forward to, we have lots to celebrate, even if the problems faced by nature seem depressingly insurmountable. 



However, we have the power to help ease the problems of climate change and our gardens are a good place to start. And if all of us plant them to help wildlife, we WILL make a difference. So chin up, spring is on the way!