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!

Peregrine Falcons

Last autumn I was told about a pair of peregrine falcons that had been nesting on Nottingham Trent University’s Newton building for more than a decade, with support from the university and Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.  I was eager to learn more so was delighted to find a webpage dedicated to them, containing a live-stream, photographs and FAQs.  Obviously at the time, the nest was empty, but I added the website to my ‘favourites’ ready for the falcons’ return in the new breeding season.

I started checking the live-stream at the end of February this year and first saw the female peregrine falcon return to the nest in early March.  Since then, I have been watching both the male and female preparing the site and making a “scrape” in the box ready for egg-laying and excitingly, on Friday morning (17th March) I clicked on the live-stream to see the female ‘crouching’ and the male having a good old look!!  After a few minutes, a lovely brown egg was laid, the male flew off and the female began brooding instantly.  What a great thing to watch live!

Over the next week or so, she may lay 2-3 more eggs and if all goes well, we will see them hatch in around six weeks, soon after Easter.  Then the fun will begin… feeding, growing and fledging!

The nest site has previously been very successful, with the faithful pair of peregrine falcons returning year after year and 32 chicks fledging in the last seven years.  However, last year, almost straight after the young had fledged, a new male peregrine was spotted around the site and the “resident male was seen less and less often, until he disappeared completely”.  It is believed that as he was old, he gave up his nest and may have died.  The cycle of life continues though, and the new male, who was ringed as a juvenile in London in 2012, clearly liked the site and returned this year with his partner – allowing us to follow them this season on the live-stream.

City centres such as Nottingham and urban areas have been colonised by peregrine falcons in recent times due to the fact that “tall buildings mimick their natural crag or cliff environment” and therefore provide them with safe nesting sites.  Also, peregrine falcons feed almost exclusively on medium-sized birds such as pigeons, so cities are an ideal place for them.

As expected, Nottingham is not the only city centre to be home to peregrine falcons in the midlands… my home-town of Leicester is too!  YES!  “In February 2014, a partnership between the Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society (LROS) and Leicester City Council (LCC) was formed called Leicester Peregrines to monitor the habits and activities of a known pair of Peregrine Falcons in Leicester city centre”.  They had been spotted on several tall buildings including Leicester Cathedral, but did not have a specific nesting site.  As a result, “in January 2016, the Leicester Peregrine Project was given permission by Leicester Cathedral to remove one of the louvres within the bell tower/spire” in order to build a nest-box.  Although they did not use the box last year (they did rear two chicks elsewhere), it appears that this year the pair may have taken up residence.  Hopefully in the next few weeks, a live-stream camera will be installed, or failing that, webcam photographs will be added to the website revealing whether or not any eggs have been laid.

The Leicester Peregrines Team from the LROS hold regular ‘Peregrine Watch Point’ sessions with telescopes and binoculars in the grounds of Leicester Cathedral, starting around 9:30am in St. Martin’s Square until around 2:00pm.  The proposed dates for this year are 19 April, 17 May, 15 June, 12 July, 9 August, 20 September, 11 October, 15 November and 9 December.  As these usually take place whilst I am at work, I decided to nip to the site with my camera at the weekend and spotted the pair straight away.  They were very high up on the spire, but I zoomed in as much as possible and managed to get a few decent photographs.

Peregrine falcons on Leicester Cathedral, 18/03/2017.

I hope to write several posts about both the Nottingham and Leicester peregrines this season and I would love to hear if like me, you are following any pairs too.

My Big Garden Birdwatch Results

So the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is complete!  I hope you all had a wonderful time identifying and counting the birds and wildlife in your gardens or local parks.

This year I completed the survey at my in-laws house who live further out of the city.  Last year, at my childhood home, the birds played a trick on me and decided not to land, meaning I only counted a handful of birds.  I therefore wanted to see whether the location difference would affect my results.  As you may know from my post about the Robin, my own back yard is pretty small and bird-less.  I have a bird feeder and occasionally put out dried meal-worms, but do not want to encourage many birds as both of my neighbours have cats.  Luckily though, my Birdwatch location had several well-used feeders out ready, so it was as simple as pulling up a chair to the window, getting comfy with a cup of tea and waiting for the birds to arrive.  The hour ‘flew’ by and I managed to record twelve birds in total (from the garden and surrounding trees): 1 great tit, 1 robin, 1 blue tit, 4 woodpigeons, 2 house sparrows, 1 female blackbird, 1 collared dove and 1 carrion crow.  Throughout the rest of the day, many more birds landed in the garden including a wren, and the female blackbird returned on several occasions (she is a regular apparently).  A plump squirrel also made an appearance and stayed long enough for me to take a few photographs!

The lovely robin and squirrel who visited the garden during this year’s Birdwatch.

4, 383, 224 birds have been counted and submitted to the RSPB so far and I am really interested to see the final results from mid-February.  The results will help the RSPB find out what wildlife is thriving and what is in trouble, ultimately leading to “action to put things right”.  The survey started back in 1979 as a small children’s activity, but now has over half a million people taking part each year!  With the 38th year of data now being collated by the RSPB, the insight into UK wildlife is more accurate than ever… and it has already provided some fascinating information, for example between 2006 and 2016, the UK song thrush population decreased by a staggering 98% whereas the UK goldfinch population increased by an impressive 89%.  As of 2014, respondents have also been asked about other wildlife as well a birds in their gardens, so a greater picture is beginning to be painted UK-wide!

Did you take part this year?  If so, what birds and other wildlife did you record?

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

It is that time of year again… the clouds are grey, the air is chilly, but there are things to make us smile and feel warm inside.  The days are slowly starting to get longer, Winterwatch is back on our screens next week and of course, the RSPB is holding the Big Garden Birdwatch from the 28th – 30th January.

The Big Garden Birdwatch helps to build a picture of garden wildlife across the UK and we can all be part of the world’s largest wildlife survey!  I took part for the first time last year and had so much fun, despite only counting a handful of birds (it was a cold, windy day).  Amazingly, more than 519,000 people all over the UK took part in the survey and counted an incredible 8,262,662 birds over the weekend!  The top three spotted were the house sparrow, starling and blue tit.  I wonder what the top three will be this year!?

It is easy to do and is great for any age.  Just find a comfortable spot, inside by a window (which I am going to do this year), outside in your garden or even a park.  Then over a single hour on any of the three days, simply count the maximum number of each species that you see at any one time. For example, if you see three blue tits together, and later you see four, and after that two, the number to submit is four (not nine). This makes it less likely that you will double-count the same birds.

I have already registered and received my pack.  If you would like to join me and thousands of others to count the wildlife that is counting on us, you can request a pack here.  If you order it to be sent by post, the RSPB also kindly sends a few little goodies including a coaster, packet of coffee and a lovely recipe for some biscuits (which are delicious – yes I have already baked some).

I will be blogging about my experience and survey results after the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend and would love to hear your results too!

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© This photograph was taken in the summer, but I am sure the sparrow will make it into the top ten list again this winter.

The Robin

As many of you know, the robin was voted the UK’s national bird last year and has certainly had a place in my heart from a young age.  As children, my sister and I often walked by a large house owned by an elderly man, who without fail would be joined by his loyal robin friend whenever gardening… so of course, we called him the ‘robin-man’.   My mum also collects tasteful robin ornaments, so the little plump, bright-breasted bird is a definite favourite.

Living in a terrace house with a humble garden, birds tend not to visit – there has even been an untouched bird feeder hanging up for over a year.  So as you can imagine, I was overjoyed when a robin wanted my little backyard to be part of it’s territory back in October.   My mind was filled with images of the robin singing to me, watching me preparing the plants for winter… even sitting on my palm eating meal-worms.  This all seemed possible apart from the fact that the ‘territory’ has always been fought over by our neighbours’ cats!

Five days away in Sweden meant that we would not know if the robin would be scared away, but as soon as we returned, I bought some dried meal-worms and put them out on the table.  Although a few were secretly eaten and the bird-feeder was finally enjoyed, the robin must have thought that a yard with a cat either side was not the best area to stay in.

There are now moments when I see a falling leaf out of my back window that I think and hope that the robin has returned and had to smile when my partner compared me to the girl in my favourite #HomeForChristmas advert of the year by Waitrose…

…and that got me thinking.  Do robins migrate?

Well I did a bit of research and as expected most British robins are residents to the UK all year round.  They defend their territories and many females also establish their own winter territories, which perhaps my little robin was trying to do.  Their nests are made from grass, moss and dead leaves, lined with hair and wool, and are usually built in holes in trees or walls.

However, there are some that DO actually migrate south to winter on the Continent whilst others return to the UK in the autumn from Scandinavia and northern continental Europe.

Do you have a little robin friend who returns to you?  I would love to hear about it!

The Major Oak

It has been a busy few months, but recently ‘the Green & the Wild’ has been calling… so here I am, ready to write about the beautifully fading green and welcomed wildlife of Autumn and Winter in the UK.

I awoke this past Sunday to a lovely, crisp, blue-skied morning – the ideal day for a ramble outdoors.  Hoping for a day like this, my partner Ed and I had bought some picnic food and planned to drive to Sherwood Forest after having seen the magical ‘Major Oak’ tree on television a few weeks before.  I was amazed that I had not heard of ‘Britain’s Favourite Tree’ before, and living only a 90 minute drive away, Ed was equally as amazed that I had never visited it as a child, as he had done several times.

After a simple, pleasant drive, we arrived at Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre car park, where we paid our £3 parking fee (very reasonable we thought) and headed for the map to get our bearings.  There were three different marked routes through the forest to pick from, each of varying length, so we opted for the two hour walk… but first the Major Oak!  A five minute stroll took us straight to the 800+ year old Oak, which like a wise old man full of stories and memories, stood, resting on several stilts.  I spent a good while studying it’s branches, golden leaves and aged bark, picturing the hundreds of years of change that had taken place to it and the surrounding forest – my own imagined time lapse.

“Due to its national importance, conservation measures to the tree have been carried out continually since 1908” which is very important as despite it’s age and hollow core, the Major Oak still supports a variety of insects and creatures.  Jackdaws nest there, Winter Moth Caterpillars take nutrients from the leaves and in turn provide food for Blue Tits and their chicks.  In Autumn, Squirrels forage for the tree’s precious acorns, but not only them – rangers also collect and plant the acorns “so even though the Major might be nearing the end of its life, its descendants live on” – how lovely is that!?

The two hour walk that followed was just as wonderful and awe-inspiring.  It was a pleasure spending time amongst so many veteran trees and walking across nature’s different carpets, from dark-leaf mud to freshly fallen yellow paths, all glittered with the delicate warmth and light of autumnal sunbeams.

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Find out more about Sherwood Forest and the Major Oak here.

Soil

Soil is a wonderful and valuable thing, but by most is taken for granted.  Perhaps we are not taught enough about soil to pay much attention to it, but my interest has developed and continues to grow.  So for those who, like me, have ever wondered what soil is made of, here you are…

Solids, liquids and gases

Soil consists of solids, liquids and gases. The solid part of soil is a complex mixture of organic matter and minerals, which come from weathered parent material (rock).

Air and Water

The solid components of soil only account for approximately half of the soil, the remainder is made up of pore space between the soil particles.  Water and air fill these pore spaces, move around and consequently support life in the soil.

Organisms

The pores additionally provide a habitat which hosts organisms ranging in size from microbes to worms and other invertebrates.

Organic matter and minerals

Organic matter is also found in soil, in various stages of decomposition. This is formed from decomposing organisms that once lived in/on the soil.  Highly degraded organic matter is called ‘humus’.

So that is what soil is made of, but how is it formed?  There is a brilliant mnemonic used to remember the factors that contribute to the formation of soils: CLORPT.  This formula was made famous by soil scientist, Hans Jenny and tells us the five soil forming factors.

CL – Climate

Climate that generates the weathering of the basic parent material should be thought of in terms of ‘extremes’.  Rainfall  can be high or low, resulting in tropical or desert soils. Temperature can cause freezing or thawing, heating and drying, all of which add to the weathering of soil. Wind can erode rock, which when weathered into smaller particles, eventually becomes soil.

O – Organisms

As we know, plants grow in soil – their roots help to break the soil up and also move nutrients and chemicals around.  Animals burrow and dig the soil which ultimately creates and alters the structure.  Smaller organisms such as earthworms ingest, excrete and move the soil around with the help of microscopic bacteria and fungi.

R – Relief

The relief or topography relates to the shape of the landscape. Soil on steep slopes will be thin due to gravity and water run-off, whereas soil on flat land will be much deeper, making a difference to the formation.

P – Parent materials

The general parent material that soil is formed from is rock, yet some parent materials can be less obvious.  Some examples are glacial deposits and silt and sediment from rivers.

T – Time

Time if very important and highlights how precious soil is – generally 2-3cm of soil takes about 500 years to form!

Soil profiles are very useful for understanding what is beneath our feet.  They show and describe the various layers (horizons) of soil under the surface of the earth.  I have produced my own soil profile and included a description of the horizons below.

soil profile copy

O Horizon – Surface litter: Partially decomposed organic matter

A Horizon – Topsoil: Humus, living creatures, inorganic minerals

E Horizon – Eluviated Horizon: Zone of leaching (materials move downwards)

B Horizon – Subsoil: An accumulation of compounds leached down from A and E Horizons

C Horizon – Parent Material: Partially broken down inorganic minerals

R Horizon – Bedrock: Un-weathered parent material

Rocket Results

Back at the beginning of June, I blogged about a UK-wide live ‘Rocket Science Experiment‘ which I was lucky enough to do with over 8,500 schools and educational groups.  Everyone received two sets of seeds, one red and one blue – one set had been kept on the ISS in microgravity, whereas the other set had stayed on earth.  Without knowing which set was which, the seeds were grown alongside each other to investigate the impact of microgravity, radiation and space travel on seed germination and growth, to ultimately help form a “clearer picture of the potential for astronauts to grow their own food to sustain them on long-term missions”.

Due to the fact that our blue set took a couple of days longer to germinate and grow seed-leaves, my team guessed that the blue set were those kept in microgravity.

It has now been revealed which Rocket Science seeds went to space…

RHS Campaign for School Gardening

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.