(This article first appeared in the August 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’)
Which is Britain’s largest nature reserve? Is it in Wales, or Scotland or perhaps East Anglia?
Look out of your window…yes folks, there it is!
Our gardens (there are millions of them) are the most important areas for wildlife for any number of reasons and we can all enjoy them as well as become individual wildlife wardens.
Maybe it’s my recent ‘retirement’ or my increasingly debilitating arthritis, but I just don’t get to bird reserves as much as I used to. I usually go overseas when the weather is worst at home and find that birds are both abundant and varied. When I return to a drab blighty I find it difficult to motivate myself to actively bird, spoilt I guess. Then as just Spring creeps across my corner of the country and the outward bound urges start to come back I get a ‘rheumatic flare’. The spirit becomes most willing when the flesh seems most weak.
Fortunately, lately I have discovered the micro-world. My garden does not over tax my hips… it is possible to complete a circuit in about twenty paces! It’s no Minsmere of course, but it is always full of birds because I put out feed by the sack full. The stars are Ring-necked Parakeets that come to the apples we string up, with a supporting cast of Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Starlings and House Sparrows. Red-letter days are when a Long-tailed Tit or Siskin pops in, but these are really infrequent. My garden list, in fourteen years has reached just 44 species, they are mostly fly-overs, including a lost Guillemot an Osprey and four Storks kettling high over sunny Margate spotted by my wife when sun-bathing. However, I’ve seen seven Firecrests in the garden, but just ONE Goldcrest in all that time – southern seasides can have an odd avifauna.
But even in my postage stamp patch I can do my bit.
I’ve never used chemicals and am content to see plants stripped of leaves by hungry caterpillars and flowers eaten by beetles. I never set out to be organic and wildlife friendly, I just wanted urban tranquillity and something pretty to look at. When we moved in we had a concrete yard, a few wall pots, one skinny border of roses and some hedge bushes. Our garage is down the hill and dug into the garden and it had a gravel roof. In one area was a sterile fish pond and a concrete ‘rockery’.
Over the years we tiled the garage roof and fenced it turning it into a pot covered patio. We dug up half of the slabs and crazy paving and now all the walls have climbers, and 80% of the paving is covered in every sort of pot you can imagine.
After a decade it has gone from grey concrete to rainbow hues every month of the year. Recently I’ve started looking at non-avian fauna and have been shocked at how many different bees and wasps, flies and hoverflies visit my flowers. In early June this year I watched two species of damselfly emerging from the now plant rich pool. I’m get a dozen species of butterfly and the moth list is growing thanks to visits from my moth-trapping son.
My insignificant few square meters are the difference between life and death for countless insects. One winter a tristis race Chiffchaff fed for two months off insects it picked off my pots. Just imagine what a difference you all could make if every garden in these islands banished chemicals, dug up the car’s hard standing and disassembled the decking! At the very least all of you could plant some of the top ten insect-friendly plants!
Of course it would be even better if farmers went back to old methods of food production instead of scouring the land… but don’t get me started on that again!
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