The Plastic Problem

As many of you will know, one of the biggest environmental problems right now is plastic pollution, specifically in our oceans!  Plastics do not go away and what is scary is the fact that over 300 million tonnes of plastic is being produced globally every year and half of this is for single use!  Furthermore, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic finds its way into the ocean and onto our beaches every single year… and if action isn’t taken, this figure will continue to rise, as society has produced more plastic in the last ten years than during the whole of the last century!  The average plastic bottle takes about 450 years to completely break down, meaning the plastic waste of today will be floating around the ocean or laying on the sea bed for generations.

The effect of plastics on ocean wildlife is absolutely awful.  For example, turtles choke on or get entangled in big pieces of plastic, smaller pieces fill the stomachs of seabirds leaving no room for food to feed their young, whilst microplastics (which are defined as particles less than 5mm across) are contaminated further by toxic chemicals and pesticides and are then consumed by a range of marine animals such as corals and zooplankton, which ultimately end up entering the food chain!

Thankfully this crisis has been at the forefront of discussion recently, with help from environmental charities and programmes such as Blue Planet II, as big corporations and Governments have been called upon to take action!  The UK Government’s 25 year environmental plan commits the UK to “eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by 2042”, but I think as individuals we need to and CAN help now by making some simple life changes.

Firstly, why not find out what your plastic footprint is by using this calculator.  Once you know how you are using plastics, think about how you can reduce your usage.  I have come up with a list of 10 easy ideas:

  1. Carry a reusable bag around with you for those unexpected shopping trips
  2. Always use a reusable water bottle
  3. Take your own travel mug to coffee shops for the barista to fill up
  4. Reduce the use of sandwich bags by putting food straight into a lunchbox or Bento box
  5. Ask for ‘no straw’ when ordering drinks
  6. Use real cutlery and plates instead of disposable ones at parties
  7. Swap your plastic toothbrush for an eco-friendly bamboo one
  8. Stop using cosmetics that contain exfoliating micro-beads
  9. Avoid excessive food packaging by buying fresh and shopping wisely
  10. Recycle! Take a little extra time to check packaging and break it down properly for the different types of recycling

Do you have any other tips or suggestions for how we can all individually reduce our plastic usage?

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Big Garden Birdwatch 2018

It’s January… the month of predicted snow showers and welcoming hygge… but also time to get your binoculars out and fill up your bird feeders, as the Big Garden Birdwatch is once again upon us!

That’s right, the RSPB is holding their annual birdwatch from 27th – 29th of this month and they want you to get involved.  You can request a FREE pack on their website now and that’s it, you will be set to take part in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey!  On your chosen day, simply get comfy in your garden, a room with a good view outside, your local park or green space and count the birds that you see in a single hour, making sure you jot down the maximum number of each species you see at any one time.  Once the hour is up, you will then have to log your results on the Big Garden Birdwatch website or post your paper form (within three weeks) for the RSPB to collate and analyse!

By taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, you will play a vital role in the health of the UK’s wildlife and even help “change the fortunes of an entire species“.  There’s nothing to lose!  Last year around 500,000 people took part in the birdwatch and I think we can beat that amazing figure this year – so join me in being a citizen scientist and request your pack today!

Gardens can prove a real life-saver for birds at this time of year, especially when it is frosty or snowy“, so if you are eager to count lots of birds during the survey and need some inspiration on how to attract them into your garden during the cold months (as well as all year round), check out the RSPB’s gardening tips!

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© Chaffinch.  One of the many birds I spotted near my local brook last Autumn.  2017.

Big Butterfly Count Results

At the beginning of summer, I posted about the Big Butterfly Count which was held throughout July and August to gain an understanding of the health of our environment.  I took part and recorded a handful of species so was interested to see what other people had spotted when the results were recently released.

Despite the weather being poor this summer, resulting in relatively scarce numbers of butterflies, the number of participants for the survey was extremely high!  It has been reported that over 60,400 people took part – an increase of 66% compared to the 2016 count, which I think is absolutely fantastic!!  Because of this, 62,547 counts were submitted (a 64% increase on the previous year), meaning the environmental health assessment and protection plans have been helped greatly.

There were 20 target butterfly and moth species in the 2017 Big Butterfly Count and the results can be found on the website (and are as follows):

 Species

Abundance % change from 2016
1 Gatekeeper 93171 24%
2 Red Admiral 73161 75%
3 Meadow Brown 69528 -23%
4 Small White 61812 -37%
5 Large White 61064 -38%
6 Peacock 29454 1%
7 Comma 22436 90%
8 Small Tortoiseshell 20267 4%
9 Common Blue 19567 109%
10 Speckled Wood 18639 15%
11 Ringlet 18381 -57%
12 Green-veined White 16456 -38%
13 Six-spot Burnet 9517 -28%
14 Painted Lady 8737 31%
15 Large Skipper 6579 -49%
16 Holly Blue 5929 -5%
17 Small Copper 5814 62%
18 Brimstone 5281 -7%
19 Marbled White 4894 -67%
20 Silver Y 1923 -2%

The species with the highest abundance this year was the Gatekeeper.  The Comma and Common Blue also both did very well with a 90% and 109% increase compared to 2016 respectively.  However, the species I was most interested in finding out about was the Red Admiral.  I did not count any during my survey, but saw many during September and even October (so far) in different parts of the UK, more than I recall seeing before in fact, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that “numbers of this powerful, migratory butterfly soared during 2017″, and it recorded its best ever Big Butterfly Count performance!

IMG_20170924_134722_535© Red Admiral, September 2017

Whilst several species increased compared to last year’s numbers, there were of course some that did not do so well.  Counts of the three common ‘whites’ all decreased along with several others including the Ringlet and Large Skipper.  The least counted species from the target list was the Silver Y moth which saw a decrease of -2%.

With the high overall count and mixed results, it is important to remember that butterflies in the UK are still under threat from both human and natural factors.  Intensive farming, pesticides and urbanisation have all contributed to the loss of butterfly habitat, whilst summers over the last 10 years have been relatively and increasingly damper, which is not the best condition for butterflies and moths as it impacts their food sources and breeding.  This knowledge and growing awareness however, should hopefully encourage more and more people to take part in this important annual survey and ultimately build up a bigger picture of the health of our environment.

If you would like to see what species were spotted in your area, you can view the results map here.

Bees at the UoL Botanic Garden

One of my favourite local places to go for a stroll is the University of Leicester Botanic Garden.  I have frequently visited the Garden for many years and have lots of fond memories there right back to primary school!  I now work for the University and am happy to be linked to this beautiful natural space.  I am even more happy to know that the Botanic Garden is “home to almost half of the total number of bumblebee species native to Britain”.

Back in June you may have read my Bee post about their decline in the UK which is largely due to changes in agricultural practices, the removal of flowers from the landscape, the loss of habitat and exposure to harmful pesticides.  And although this general decline is occurring in bumblebee species, bee populations in the Botanic Garden are actually thriving!  Bumblebee survey and identification workshops have been held within the Garden over the last few months and the results have revealed that eleven of the twenty-four species of UK bumblebee reside there, seven of which are social bumblebees and four are cuckoo-bumbles.

I actually spotted and photographed many bees and pollinators there this summer too, which you can view on my Instagram account.

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© Pollinators at Botanic Garden

The Botanic Garden is a lovely place to visit and relax and is one of the most diverse gardens in the region with a herb garden, woodland and herbaceous borders, rock gardens, a water garden, special collections of Skimmia, Aubrieta, and hardy Fuchsia, and a series of glasshouses displaying temperate and tropical plants, alpines and succulents.  Guided tours are offered as well as education and adult learning programmes, workshops and special events such as the LRWT Wild about Gardens Week, which last year was all about bat conservation!  You can even become a Friend of the Garden to promote and support the development of the Garden’s plant collections and amenities.

The Botanic Garden is free to enter, although it does accept donations.  It is open throughout the year, seven days a week (except 25th December, 26th December and 1st January), 10.00am to 4.00pm (5.00pm in British Summer time).

Big Butterfly Count

Tomorrow is the start of this year’s ‘Big Butterfly Count‘ – a nationwide survey (and the world’s largest butterfly survey) held by the British charity, Butterfly Conservation and Waitrose, to gain an understanding of the health of our environment.  Counting butterflies helps determine natural health as they “react very quickly to change in their environment which makes them excellent biodiversity indicators“.  If we begin to see a reduction in butterfly numbers and/or species, it could warn us of other wildlife declines.

To take part, you simply have to count the butterflies that you see in any location within a 15 minute time period.  Like the Big Garden Birdwatch, if you are counting in a single area, you should count the maximum number of each species that you can see at a single time.  However, if you decide to count the butterflies you see on a 15 minute walk for example, then you can add up the number of each species that you come across.

Your results, even if you see no butterflies, will not only support the environmental health assessment, but also help the charity identify species’ trends and consequently develop protection plans.

To help you with your 15 minute butterfly count, you can download a useful identification chart from the Butterfly Conservation!  Once your sightings have been tallied up, you then simply have to submit your results online or via the free Big Butterfly Count app.

The Big Butterfly Count runs from Friday 14 July to Sunday 6 August, so if you find yourself with a spare 15 minutes, do something wild, get counting and have fun!

pb© Peacock Butterfly

Eyas Update

It is week four of the NTU peregrine falcon chicks’ development and I am honestly amazed at how quickly they are growing!  I noticed yesterday that the cameras were off for a while, so knew that it was ‘ringing time’.  It was exciting to later read that the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and NTU Sustainability team had indeed finally ringed the chicks and found out that there are three females and one male!  To ring the chicks, the team waited for the parents to leave the nest and then quickly fitted a small, lightweight, harmless, metal ring around the leg of each eyas.  Ringing birds is essential for bird conservation as it helps provide information about their movements, locations and lifespans.

Some brilliant photographs taken during the ringing process.  (Thank you for these Emily).

The images below are just a few stills from the NTU live stream that I have saved.  Archie and Mrs P have been providing a constant supply of feral pigeons and other medium sized birds for the eyases and as you can see in the fifth image, their crops have been nice and full.  Although one chick is smaller than the others (and has been nicknamed ‘Diddy’ on Facebook) all four are getting their fair share of food… I even caught one of them possibly ‘gaping’ for food whilst both parents were away, which you can see in the sixth image!

On May 13th, I noticed that all four chicks were starting to grow their flight and contour feathers, and yesterday (16th) the new darker feathers were poking through their down quite clearly (image eight).  The chicks may have changed a lot already, but we still have plenty of development to see.  At this stage they have gained a sharp eyesight and are very interested in anything that moves – whether it be a fly or blowing feather.  Their legs are getting stronger and they are a lot more active in the scrape.

In the next week or so, they will lose most of their down apart from a few tufts on their heads (hopefully – for our amusement) and will be showing off their juvenile feathers.  We may see them flapping their wings and before long, in week six, the eyases may fledge the nest for the first time!  They should remain around the nest-site for a few weeks, during which time they will become adept at flying, pursue other birds and capture their own food, but will still rely on their parents for most of their food.  Around August they will leave the nest for good… and I must say that I will certainly miss watching them!

Hedgehog Awareness Week 2017

This week (30th April to 6th May) is Hedgehog Awareness Week, an annual event organised by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.  Often called the ‘gardener’s friend’, hedgehogs are lovely, harmless creatures, but sadly since the year 2000, “rural hedgehog populations have declined by at least a half and urban populations by up to a third in the same period” across the UK.   #hedgehogweek consequently aims to highlight the problems which are causing this decline and suggest ways in which the public can help.

The declining hedgehog population in both urban and rural habitats where the pressures and changes in the environment are very different is not simple to explain, as there could be many contributing factors.  Hedgehog Street, “a campaign aimed at ensuring the hedgehog, the UK’s only spiny mammal, remains a common and familiar part of British life”, is a fantastic website with information, FAQ’s and tips for helping hedgehogs.

Some simple, instant ways that you can help hedgehogs in your garden are:

  • Ensuring there is hedgehog access in your garden – a 13cm x 13cm gap in boundary fences and walls.
  • Moving piles of rubbish to a new site before burning it.
  • Ensuring netting is kept at a safe height.
  • Checking compost heaps before digging the fork in.
  • Stopping / reducing the amount of pesticides and poisons used.
  • Covering drains or deep holes.
  • Ensuring there is an easy route out of ponds and pools.
  • Piling up some logs in the corner of your garden.
  • Putting out a dish of fresh water in hot weather.
  • Planting nectar-rich plants to encourage insects for hedgehogs to eat.

You can also spread the word about #hedgehogweek by:

  • Holding a fundraising event, such as a cake sale, coffee morning or jumble sale.
  • Displaying information in your work place, school, library, local shop, etc.
  • Writing blog posts about hedgehogs.
  • Following BHPS on Facebook and Twitter and retweeting / liking / sharing information and posts to your page.
  • Taking a selfie with the BHPS #hedgehogweek sign and sending it out via social media using the #hedgehogweek hashtag.

Each year, the week focuses on a different campaign, and this year is the ‘Strimmer Campaign’.  The British Hedgehog Preservation Society has created waterproof stickers to be sent to councils, tool hire companies, grounds maintenance teams etc. to remind them to check areas for hedgehogs before using any machinery.  You can help with this particular campaign by contacting your local council or tool hire shop to ask if they are willing to use the free stickers from BHPS on their machines – if they are, they can then contact BHPS directly on info@britishhedgehogs.org.uk.

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What are your plans for Hedgehog Awareness Week?

Bat Conservation

We are at that point in the year when bats have mainly come out of hibernation – they are hungry, active and feeding on most nights… and I have been looking forward to their return!  Last year, I attended a BioBlitz event during which I went on a ‘Twilight Bat Walk’ with the LRWT and detected several pipistrelles.  As a result, I now have my very own ‘Magenta Bat4’ bat detector and will be out and about with it over the next couple of months to see what I can detect.  At the end of January, BatLife Europe revealed that the 2016 ‘Bat species of the Year’ was the ‘Noctule’ – one of the largest British species and usually the first to appear in the evening, so hopefully I will see one!

I also adopted a bat through the Bat Conservation Trust, a fantastic charity which has been devoted to the conservation of bats and the landscapes on which they rely since 1991.  “As the authoritative voice for bat conservation” they work locally, nationally, across Europe and internationally to:

  1. Discover: To ensure scientific evidence is in place to support bat conservation 
  2. Act: To secure and enhance bat populations and their resilience in a changing world
  3. Inspire: To win the levels of support required to secure and enhance bat populations
  4. Strengthen: BCT to achieve financial stability and sustainable staff workloads. Staff and volunteers are motivated and well led.

There are many ways that you can help the BCT, and consequently help the fascinating but vulnerable bats – you can adopt a bat like I have, become a member, volunteer, even encourage them into your garden with night-scented flowers, wild sections and ponds!  Now that summer is approaching, imagine how lovely it would be if you could spend the evening sitting in your garden, “watching as daylight turns to dusk and bats begin to fill the night sky”.

Alternatively, if you are unable to turn your garden into a bat haven, trees and woodland are important to all 18 UK bat species throughout the whole year.  Signing the Tree Charter will help create more habitat for bats and other wildlife, but also visiting areas with linear features, such as hedgerows and tree-lines will give you more of a chance of seeing and/or detecting bats.

The importance of trees for bats

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© Tree at Beacon Hill, Leicestershire.

Trees provide:

  1. Loose bark for roosting
  2. Woodpecker holes for roosting
  3. Rot holes for roosting
  4. Feeding perches and protection during bad weather
  5. A linear navigation aid
  6. Cracks, splits and crevices for roosting
  7. Hollow trunks for winter hibernation (if frost-free)
  8. Dense ivy for occasional roosting

Have you made your garden bat-friendly, or know of an area where bats thrive?  If so, I would love to hear from you!

The Tree Charter

Trees and woods are extremely important – they provide clean air, absorb pollution, create a habitat for wildlife, improve mental well-being, are natural flood defences, are scientifically valuable… the list goes on.  Sadly though, with numerous threats including infrastructure development, lack of protection for ancient woodland in planning policy (only 2% cover in the UK) and increasing pests and diseases, there are just not enough trees in the UK and we are currently not planting enough to replace those that are lost each year.

However, on 6 November this year, which will be the 800th anniversary of the influential 1217 Charter of the Forest, the Charter for Trees, Woods and People will be launched!  “The Tree Charter will set out how people and trees should be able to benefit each other. The guidelines and principles it contains will be applicable to policy, business practice and individual action”.  

The Tree Charter Principles cover:

  1. Thriving habitats for diverse species
  2. Planting for the future
  3. Celebrating the cultural impact of trees
  4. A thriving forestry sector that delivers for the UK
  5. Better protection for important trees and woods
  6. Enhancing new developments with trees
  7. Understanding and using the natural health benefits of trees
  8. Access to trees for everyone
  9. Addressing threats to woods and trees through good management
  10. Strengthening landscapes with woods and trees

Over 70 organisations from various sectors are working together with the Woodland Trust to create a future in which trees and people can stand together… and you can be part of it too.  Simply sign the Tree Charter and a tree will be planted!  The more signatures, the more trees!

The Results Are In!

If you remember from My Big Garden Birdwatch Results blog post at the end of January, I took part in the RSPB’s annual birdwatch, and I am sure many of you did too!  The RSPB has been collecting and counting the results from over half a million people over the last couple of months and the results are now available here!

The top 10 birds of 2017:

  1. House sparrow
  2. Starling
  3. Blackbird
  4. Blue tit
  5. Woodpigeon
  6. Goldfinch
  7. Robin
  8. Great tit
  9. Chaffinch
  10. Long tailed tit

Over 8 million birds were counted, with some interesting results.  Goldfinch, blackbird and robin numbers have all increased over the last 10 years.  Waxwing sightings were very high this year (I wish I had seen one) due to “a lack of berries in their native Scandinavia” prompting them to travel to the UK, even as far west as Wales and Ireland!

Along with the increases though, there unfortunately had to be some decreases!  Surprisingly sightings of blue tits, great tits and coal tits were all down by at least 10% on last year’s figures.  Also since the first RSPB Garden Birdwatch in 1979, greenfinch, starling and chaffinch numbers have all dropped too (despite the latter two being in this year’s top 10).

The RSPB is a brilliant charity and by running the Big Garden Birdwatch, they not only encourage people to take an interest in wildlife and give nature a home, but also allow us to know and understand which birds are doing well and which are not.  We can then help, take action, monitor and hopefully make a difference!