In recent days there have been fresh reports in the media relevant to the UK reinforcing earlier messages about lost biodiversity including declines in wild flower species, bird and insect species; existing and newly arrived tree pests and diseases. It is now believed that the oceans have absorbed more heat than previously thought and this suggests that the increased water temperatures now affect a greater area or depth or both. Storms and fires reinforce predictions related to climate change. Today it is reported that greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere are at their highest concentrations for millions of years. Most of this is driven by large scale human activity, driven by population growth and the constant desire for economic growth. So what can be done by small scale players who own, live on or in small areas that impact on wildlife. Even living near to a small natural area, visiting it, appreciating it, promoting or supporting its beneficial use presents an opportunity to make things better. You will have read or heard about some of these opportunities before, maybe many times. You may have acted upon them. My objective on this occasion is hopefully to demonstrate that we don’t have to think that the gloomy headlines mean all is lost and that we as individuals are powerless. The fact that without too much effort I can give you fifty examples of what we and our small wild spaces can contribute may be an encouragement to you.
It’s a matter for our own personal understanding, beliefs and values how we feel about economics and politics and this isn’t the place necessarily for me to express my views on those matters, although I could be persuaded to, but I will mention a few personal choices that we can make.
I will however try to offer some thoughts and encouragement about the issues raised in my opening paragraph from my ecologist perspective and directly relevant to small space actions. The title of this piece sounds ambitious, it is, but also achievable.
- The decline in wild flowers is because intensive agriculture likes to have manageable mono-cultures, say thank you to farmers and landowners who sow wildflower field margins
- We all over-tidy our wild areas. Allow a space for dandelions and brambles
- Let there be grass of different lengths, cut at different intervals
- Welcome a patchwork not a mono-culture
- Buy a book that will help you identify various wild flower species in your garden and small wild spaces
- Record the plants that you find and tell others
- Take photographs and if you have the skill, make drawings and paintings
- Organise or take part in a wild flower art show or competition
- Avoid the use of herbicides and discourage others from using them
- Sow native wild plant seed
- Harvest native wild plant seeds and spread them
- Don’t mow wild flower areas until seeding has occurred
- Consider grazing as part of site maintenance
- Encourage the placing of nest boxes and feeders on your small wild spaces
- Use a variety of box types suitable for small birds and if appropriate to your small wild space consider boxes suitable for owls and kestrels
- Consider specialist artificial nests for house martins, swallows and swifts that can be placed on buildings
- There are many styles of bird feeder and a great variety of nuts and seeds; be patient, the birds will come
- Buy a bird book to aid identification, record and photograph
- Introduce the kids to binoculars
- Join a bird conservation organisation
- Visit a specialist bird website to aid identification
- Bird websites offer recordings of bird calls and songs, learning some will improve your knowledge and identification skills
- Provide log piles for hedgehogs to hibernate
- And openings at the base of fences to allow the hogs to snuffle and feed over greater distances
- In addition to all those bird boxes remember that bats use boxes too
Reptiles and amphibians
- Providing even modest water features or garden ponds can encourage frogs, toads, lizards and newts
- On your local small open space piling up just some of the mowings in a spot a little off the beaten track will provide a possible nest site for grass snakes
In addition to the fascinating diversity of forms and the interest that insects offer to even the casual observer this group of creatures are, among other things, an important food source for birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
- Kids love to build bug houses or hotels using cheap or discarded materials
- There are excellent Field Studies Council Guides to bees, ladybirds, butterflies, moths, caterpillars and dragonflies. They aren’t expensive and will be your go to reference material when you spot some colourful insect visitor to your garden or small public space. Buy some for yourself, the kids, the grandchildren or their school.
- Retain some rotting wood in your garden or small space for the woodborers. This can be a standing decaying tree or a log pile.
- When the box of chocolates or the bottle of wine as a gift next time you’re invited out seems a bit too easy – give your hosts a Field Studies Council Guide
- Just like the websites for bird conservation organisations remember the Buglife site
- Take a beekeeping course
- Your garden or your local small open space may be suitable for beehives, ask a local beekeeper for help and advice
- Trees growing on open spaces, provide shelter, reduce water run-off, act as wind breaks, provide nectar for pollinators, food for birds and insects, nesting sites, are aesthetically pleasing and a wooded site increases property values
- Consider creating a community orchard including heritage varities
- Planting new trees to replace or add to existing trees adds value for the future and contributes to atmospheric carbon dioxide reduction
- Anyone can request their local authority to place a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) on valued trees growing on yours or someone else’s land
- It’s a good idea to have an arboriculturist check the condition of trees on your land to carry out a risk assessment in case there is rot or damage that may lead to boughs or the whole tree falling. Necessary work can then be undertaken in good time.
- When planting new trees in numbers, avoid planting too many of the same species or family as an occurrence of a pest or disease may wipe out the lot
- There are benefits to planting native trees to reduce the risk of importing pests and diseases. Always check that trees you are planning to buy were grown in UK. Sometimes UK derived seed is passed off as being from UK but has been exported and grown abroad and then re-imported with the risk of introducing pests and diseases - beware
The most underestimated – undervalued group of organisms; vital to the recycling of natures waste, fallen leaves, decaying wood.
- Let them make their fruiting bodies and spread their spores, don’t feel you have to clean up every dead leaf or piece of rotting wood
- You don’t need to risk collecting them to eat – that takes expertise – but learning to identify them can be fun and showing the kids how to make gill prints will fascinate them and give them a greater understanding of toadstools.
Here are some thoughts for larger projects that may suit some locations.
- Location permitting create a pond. This will benefit birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians and insects.
- Install a small photovoltaic power generation scheme to benefit the community and make green energy
- Commission wildlife interpretation boards for your small space
- Produce a website, a blog or a newsletter
- Start a volunteer group
There are things that we can choose to do on a personal basis that will benefit our local environment and have wider national and international climate benefits.
- Grow some of our own food, without chemicals. Eat healthier and reduce food miles
- Buy locally produced food (perhaps organic) and greatly reduce food miles
So those are my fifty suggestions, thanks for reading.