30 Days Wild 21-30

The final 10 days of June have been rather busy for me, but I have managed to complete the #30DaysWild challenge (despite the rain) with some simple acts of wildness.

21. Since receiving a flower-pressing kit for my birthday back in December, I had been waiting to gather some pretty things to press.  I collected some flowers that had been blown to the ground and pressed them! It will be 6-8 weeks before I can see what they look like though.

22. I was given a succulent cutting, so made a bottle terrarium for it.

23. Despite being overcast, it was a lovely day to be outdoors, thus I spent most of the afternoon walking around a lovely area of my hometown.  I took recordings of birds and photographs of plants.

24. Between a busy day at work and spending the evening out for my mother’s birthday, I managed to fit in a lovely act of wildness – I was given a tour of my mother’s garden.  Flowers, herbs and vegetables galore!

25. To brighten up the view out of my kitchen window, I bought and potted a pretty little Goldcrest conifer tree.

26. I had a very productive day of reading and learning all about tracking, locating and surveying Dormice.

27. A clear evening gave me the chance to try out ‘moth-watching’.  I set up my bright light and cover from gloaming until dark, but somehow failed to catch anything at all to study.

28. As mentioned on day 20, I met up with the Hungry for Change coordinator to see the plot and was lucky enough to attend a training session, with Laura from Saffron Acres, about compost and pests.

29. I spent a while outside in the rain at work, so decided to make it interesting by studying leaves and fruit with my colleagues.

30. After hearing chirping and observing for a while, I discovered a Pigeon nest at work, so simply watched and listened as the mother went in and out.  Unfortunately, it was too high up to see directly in to.

30 Days Wild 11-20

June has not been the warm, sunny month I had hoped for, but it has not stopped me from going wild for the #30DaysWild challenge.  Not all of my activities have been outdoors, but I have certainly been learning a lot and developing an interest in new topics.

11. I did some extensive reading on the subject of Habitat Management in the UK, including general principles, management planning, surveying, monitoring and research.

12. I watched some fantastic LIVE wildlife footage online.  I tend to go into a different world when I do this and feel so close to the creatures I am watching.

13. A creative act of wildness! I added this British Wildflower drawing to my sketchbook:

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14. I withdrew some ‘wild’ books from the library: ‘Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare’, ‘Managing Habitats for Conservation’ and ‘British Plant Communities – Woodlands and Scrubs’.

15. I once again embraced the rain and this time stood outside in it (under an umbrella) for over a hour and actually felt very content.

16. Once the patio had dried, I did a Sun Salutation yoga sequence in my garden.

17. After getting rid of an aphid-infested plant, there had been a gap for something new in my garden, so as a slight experiment, I planted a cutting from an unknown plant that someone gave me.  Lets hope it grows and turns into something beautiful.

18. I visited one of my favourite places in my city for a peaceful walk – the University of Leicester Botanic Garden. With their extensive collection of plants and wildlife, I managed to take a few decent photos too.

19. I relived my childhood by spotting and catching little frogs with my dad and sister in her new garden.

20. As I am starting a new job at a university next month, I am eager to get involved with as much as I can, so I contacted Hungry for Change – a growing project that aims to change the way staff and students think about what they’re eating and why.  It has a 40m x 40m plot including 9 large raised beds, a huge herb bed, a soft fruit area teaming with different fruit bushes, a 22m edible hedge, a 12ft greenhouse and a south facing wall complete with cordon apple trees and their very own Fig tree.  I will be meeting with the Project Coordinator in the next couple of weeks and will hopefully have some interesting experiences and developments to blog about in the future!

 

Chalice Well and Gardens

“The Chalice Well is among the best known and most loved holy wells in Britain” and is located in one of my favourite places, Glastonbury. Glastonbury is a lovely little market-town in Somerset, with an array of eccentric shops, delicious food, famous Tor and beautiful Abbey. I have been there at least once a year since I was eight and it is always so lovely to see and feel the change of seasons whenever I visit the Chalice Well and Gardens.

Chalice Well is somewhere I have returned to over the years for its beauty and overwhelming sense of peace. “The Well and surrounding gardens are a Living Sanctuary, a place to soothe the soul and revive the spirits.” Surrounded by nature and healing waters, you cannot help but absorb the pure atmosphere and celebrate life. There are many areas of the garden to visit, including the Meadow, an ideal spot not only for insects but also for a picnic with a wonderful view of Glastonbury Tor.  The Healing Pool, Yew Tree entrance, Vesica pool and the Well head itself all add magic to the gardens. The cover of the Well features an“ancient sacred symbol of two interlocking circles”, geometry that symbolises a union, of“spirit and matter” – the duality of existence.


The gardens quietly sit and grow between Chalice Hill and Glastonbury Tor, the charming hill which never fails to attract me to it’s summit for amazing views across the Somerset levels.

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Chalice Well

Woodland Conservation Management

With only a couple of weeks left of my Ecology, Conservation and Habitat Management course, it is the latter, Habitat Management that I have been reading up on recently and more specifically, it is Woodland Conservation Management that I have been particularly interested in.

Woodland is extremely rich in species, but unfortunately every single one cannot be individually managed.  Certain groups of plants and animals however have become the main focal points for woodland conservation management, as they ultimately benefit many other species.  Some of the main species may use a range of habitats for example, or may even be very rare and specialised, which are equally as important.

So what are these groups and management plans?

Tree communities

There are around 54 types of tree community today in ancient woodland, and most are genetically the direct descendants of the original trees that grew.  Trees of the same type can be found in all areas of Britain, but no one individual tree will harbour all of the insect/lichen/bird/fauna species that are known to be associated with that type, or even the woodland it is in.  This is due to climatic and geographical variations in different areas of Britain.

To maintain the variety of trees and therefore species that benefit from them, it is important that semi-natural tree communities are managed through natural regeneration (the growth of trees that develop from seeds that fall and germinate on site) and/or by planting new trees of local provenance.

Ground flora

Like the tree communities, ground flora varies greatly from one woodland to another due to location variations and actually tends to be more abundant and concentrated in ancient woodland than in newer woodland.  However, the isolation of ancient woods, could in fact lead to the extinction of some plant and invertebrate species (particularly those with poor mobility), so it is important that such species are encouraged to colonise or re-colonise to avoid extinction from habitiat deterioration.  Open spaces and development of young growth are both vital for certain species.

Epiphytic flora and fungi

Plants that grow harmlessly upon another plant and derive moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and sometimes from debris are called epiphytes, and many mature trees in relatively unpolluted parts of Britain carry an interesting and huge array of epiphytic flora and fungi (including more than 70 species of lichens alone).  Particularly in the west of the country, these epiphytes are very rich and resemble those that lived in the original forests.

Epiphytes need to be conserved with methods such as partial-cutting to ensure that the mature tree communities they grow on remain in particular woodland sites and continue to naturally regenerate.

Small mammals

There are several small mammals in British woodlands that are rare and thankfully protected, and one of these is the Dormouse.  The Dormouse is an elusive nocturnal mammal which can be found mainly in woodlands in the southern counties of the UK. Over the last 100 years its distribution has declined and it is now extinct in 7 counties where it previously existed. This is mainly due to changes in woodland management and habitat fragmentation.  They feed on a combination of plant materials including flowers, fruits and nuts as well as insects, so it is important to manage sites specifically for them or any other rare species.  Good management will help increase numbers and make the site more ‘valuable’.

Management for small mammals must include the provision of nest-boxes, tracking and surveying, coppicing and the encouragement of mixed species in the woodland to ensure good food supplies.

Birds

Although birds are different to most other woodland groups in terms of being very mobile, woodlands still have to be managed to ensure a range of birds benefit.  Some species prefer mature, native trees or depend on dense close-canopy scrub, whereas others are associated with replanted areas.

Woodland management for birds is therefore concentrated on maintaining a mixture of age classes, by reducing the amount of old habitat deterioration and creating new suitable habitats.

Butterflies and moths

Many woodland butterflies and moths inhabit areas of young growth where nectar sources and food-plants for their larvae can be found.  There has been declines in several species for many years however, and this is due to many things including woods becoming isolated which in turn weakens the ability for colonisation, as well as a reduction in coppicing which would produce new growth.

Understanding the complex life cycles of butterflies and moths provides an insight into what they need from woodland habitats and could provide the answer to effective conservation.  Each stage may require a different habitat, from sheltered, warm places to areas that are plentiful in food sources, so management must concentrate on providing nectar-rich areas and suitable habitat for egg-laying and larval development.

Saproxylic invertebrates

These animals depend on dead, decaying or living wood and fungi to survive, so it is important that areas of mature trees, or even individuals are maintained and protected, to avoid dead wood being removed which would ultimately reduce or destroy the specialised habitats of many saproxylic invertebrates, including beetles and flies.  Populations of such species rely on old wood being in a specific condition, so it is vital at these sites that the continuity of prime wood and trees is considered.

 

30 Days Wild 1-10

With the familiar intro tune of Springwatch filling my living room every evening, the beginning of June has certainly been nature-packed and I have managed to do something wild each day as part of the Wildlife Trusts #30DaysWild challenge.  I admit that some activites have been a little less wild than others, but all of my ‘Random Acts of Wildness’ have connected me to nature and made me happy.

So what have I done so far?

1. Using books and the internet, I managed to identify trees near my house from leaves I collected.

2. I took a longer walk home from work and tuned into the birdsong on my route and also admired all of the unnoticed wild flowers and plants growing on the pavement.  I even found some poppies!

3. Day three was pretty busy, but I still managed to buy a beautiful succulent houseplant to add to my collection.

4. A long-awaited weekend off! I visited Welford Road Cemetery with my binoculars and spent a while bird watching and walking around the meadow area.

5. I took a trip to Middleton Lakes RSPB reserve.

Middleton Lakes in located just south of Tamworth, in the Tame Valley.  Having been acquired in 2007, it is a relatively new RSPB site, but it has been beautifully restored and is a lovely reserve which homes a wonderful array of birds and wildlife, from tufted ducks and smews to butterflies, wetland plants and even otters (which I unfortunately did not see). The RSPB states that it will become the most important site for breeding waders in the Midlands.

The reserve benefits the visitors as well as wildlife, so there are plenty of areas for bird watching and photography, such as reedbeds, meadows, lakes, woodlands and one of my favourite features – the new Lookout hide, which overlooks the scrapes.

Open from dusk until dawn, there are a lot of things to see and countless birds to listen to at Middleton Lakes.  Entrance costs £3 or RSPB members get in for free.

6. Having enjoyed identifying trees earlier in the week, I challenged myself to identify as many birds as I could from their calls.  I only knew 3/7 and have always been eager to learn more, so searched and found some brilliant apps for identifying birds and plants- BirdUp and PlantNet.  BirdUp works very well and is quick to identify the bird you have heard – it occasionally suggests two or three options, but it all depends on background noise.  PlantNet seems to have potential, but doesn’t directly tell you the plant – it provides you with many suggestions which you have to search through.

7. I discovered some interesting insects on my rose bush and after some investigation, I realised that they were ladybird larvae.  I was amazed and shocked that I had never seen them before!

8. This was another busy day which ended with a job interview, so after walking in the sweltering heat to visit my Grandma for her birthday, I decided that my random act of wildness would be to simply walk barefoot and sit outside in her garden. Simply lovely.

9. I had been growing tomatoes in my utility room over May and felt it was time to put them outside, so I replanted the best ones in their grow-bag in my garden (just in time for all the rain!)

10. RAIN! So much rain! I did the only thing you can do when caught in a downpour and doing the #30DaysWild challenge – I ran and laughed in it with my friends!

Rocket Science Experiment

To increase our knowledge of growing plants in space, 8,500 UK schools were given the opportunity over April and May to be involved with a UK-wide live science experiment – growing Rocket seeds (half from Earth and half that have been into space).  

“Two kilograms of rocket (Eruca sativa) seeds were launched on Soyuz 44S on 2nd September 2015 and arrived on the ISS two days later. British ESA astronaut Tim Peake took charge of the seeds and after being held for about six months in microgravity, the seeds were returned to Earth”.

Myself and a handful of others were given the chance to be involved, so over the last month have been in competition growing the seeds at work.  The results will help determine any differences between those seeds that were kept in microgravity and those that stayed on Earth.  We were not told which set was which, but as you can see there is not much difference in size, colour or leaf-count between ‘red’ and ‘blue’ and the only obvious difference we noticed was the fact that the blue set took a couple of days longer to germinate and grow seed-leaves.  For this reason, our guess is that the blue set were those kept in microgravity.

rocket

Once all the data has been collected the results will be analysed by professional statisticians. Leading scientists from the RHS and European Space Agency will interpret the results and draw possible conclusions. An online report will also be made available on the RHS Campaign for School Gardening website from September 2016.