#30DaysWild Days 1-10

It is the 10th June today, meaning we are a third way through #30DaysWild.  Like last June, it has been a relatively rainy month so far, but I have managed to do my ten random acts of wildness:

1. I signed up for two online environmental courses through FutureLearn.  ‘Extinctions: Past and Present’ which starts on the 19th June.  This course is run by the University of Cape Town and will explore how life on earth has been shaped by five mass extinction events in the distant past and the crisis that biodiversity is currently facing.  The second course is ‘Elements of Renewable Energy’ which starts later in the year with the Open University.  I will be studying renewable energy using the four Greek elements: Earth –the Earth’s renewable energy sources, Air – wind power, Fire – the direct power of the Sun and finally, Water – hydropower.  I am very much looking forward to these, particularly the latter as on the 7th June 2017 the National Grid reported that power from wind, solar, hydro and wood pellet burning supplied 50.7% of UK energy – more than half of UK electricity for the first time!

2. One of my favourite lunch-time spots to visit when I am at work is Welford Road Cemetery.  It is designated as a Local Wildlife Site and is actually listed Grade 2 in the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens, so it is used by many as a ‘park’.  I spent by lunch break walking around the cemetery, taking in the views and spotting plenty of wild animals.

3. Although I love to be outdoors, I have got to admit that I am a bit of a shade-hunter… but I decided to make the most of the sun and actually stayed out in it all afternoon painting my Grandma’s shed.  I, of course, wore plenty of sun-cream and a rather fetching hat!

4. Last year, I grew my own tomatoes for the first time and absolutely loved it!  The plants were still going strong well in to October and I ended up making tomato chutney for Christmas!  I decided not to grow any from seed this year as I only have a small yard and one suitable windowsill which has been taken up by chilli seedlings for a couple of months, but I was given some large tomato seedlings ready to plant out, so that’s what I did – replanted them in a grow-bag in my garden.

5. I have recently become a voluntary ‘Positive Impact Coordinator’ for the Environment Team at the University where I work.  As part of my role, I organised a ‘Fruit & Veg cake sale’ in my office and also volunteered on the main cake stall at the annual Sustainability Festival.  The event fell on World Environment Day and aimed to raise awareness of sustainable lifestyles whilst raising money for The Real Junk Food Project Leicester.  The main event raised £60 and I managed to raise another £40 for them from my cake sale!

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These are just some of the cakes that my workmates and I baked.  The idea was that they each contained either a fruit or vegetable and at least one fair trade or ethically sourced ingredient.  I made savoury cheese and courgette muffins and chocolate, carrot and cinnamon cupcakes with chocolate cinnamon buttercream!

6. I had quite a busy day, but managed to share some of my favourite wildlife footage from live cameras with my family and friends.

7. For a few weeks now, I have noticed a row of ants keeping busy at the bottom of some outdoor steps at work.  The numbers have gradually been increasing and on the 7th I noticed that there were a lot more than I had previously seen, so watched and studied their actions for quite a while!

8. It was raining on and off, but having not spent much time outdoors recently, I decided it was time to do a random act of wildness in the fresh air!  Luckily I managed to get out on my lunch break during a dry spell and walk around a local park.

9. A nice simple random act of wildness for the 9th.  I gave my workmate two tomato plants that were going spare.  I will definitely be asking for updates on their progress over the summer!

10. I sowed a virtual seed for Grow Wild!  Grow Wild is the national outreach initiative of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and is supported by the Big Lottery Fund.  It is the UK’s biggest ever wild flower campaign and by sowing a virtual seed we can all help raise awareness of the importance of wild flowers and their impact on our well-being.  So join me and the 20,385 other people so far by sowing a virtual seed too!

Throughout the last ten days I have also been continuing to check the NTU peregrine falcon live stream footage, which has become less active as the chicks become more and more independent and of course, I have been watching Springwatch!  It has been brilliant seeing so many animals raising their young, watching wild birds fledge (including some jays) and learning how different birds and raptors nest!  I absolutely love the kestrel nest in the side of Sherborne village church – it looks cosy, sheltered and gets lit up beautifully by the sun at times.  

(Video from the Springwatch Facebook page)

One of my favourite stories on Springwatch so far has got to be the Salisbury Cathedral peregrines fostering an orphaned chick.  It began with three peregrine chicks having to be rescued from a nest in Shropshire after the parent birds were found illegally killed!  As a result, the orphaned chicks were fostered into carefully-selected nests in the wild – two went to a nest in the Midlands, and the third chick was fostered in the Salisbury Cathedral nest, which is currently being filmed and shown on Springwatch.  The footage of the orphaned chick meeting the single chick at Salisbury Cathedral, snuggling down together, being instantly fed by the adult female and being accepted by both adults as their own was a joy to watch!  You can read more about the story here.

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Drama On The Peregrine Ledge

It has been an action-packed few weeks for the NTU peregrine falcon chicks.  After spending a week in Dartmoor (me, not the chicks) with little internet access, I returned on May 26th to discover that all four were out of the nest and exploring the surrounding ledge.  Most of their down had been replaced by stunning feathers and they were looking truly beautiful and elegant.

They have since been feeding themselves, flapping their wings, spending more time on their own and out of sight of the cameras, but on June 1st camera one captured something extremely dramatic (and a little bit funny if you keep watching it) which you can view in slow motion here.

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As you can see, one of the chicks attempted to fly and ended up crashing into its mother causing them to tumble off the edge of the building!  Luckily both were fine and the chick landed on a lower ledge.  As the chick had not properly fledged and was unable to fly, it could not return to the nest, however it has been reported that the adults have continued to feed it!  Despite this, I (and I am sure many others) have been a little worried about the chick over the last few days in the rain and wind… and unfortunately I have some sad news.  After following the peregrine falcons throughout the whole nesting cycle, it breaks my heart to announce that earlier today the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust reported that one of the chicks (I am not entirely sure whether it was the one on the lower ledge) had “been killed yesterday on the road below the ledge”.  It is assumed that “it got blown off or lost control of a flight in the ferocious wind we have been experiencing”.  Obviously this is a terrible shame as the four chicks were each doing brilliantly, but it is important to know and remember that less than a third of peregrines actually reach breeding age, so the family have still done very well.  Those peregrines that do reach breeding age are expected to live for 6-13 years, but the oldest known peregrine was over 16 years old!  So let’s keep our fingers crossed for the remaining three!

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All stills taken from the NTU live stream.

It’s Time To Go Wild!

This June, the Wildlife Trusts is once again challenging the nation to do something wild every day for #30DaysWild.  I took part for the first time last year and had a fantastic month full of random acts of wildness, which you can read about here.

Your random acts of wildness do not have to be extreme – they can be small, fun, indoors or outdoors and are simply about experiencing, learning about and helping wildlife.  I have come up with some suggestions which you can use as inspiration.

For sunny days:

  1. Visit a nature reserve and enjoy a walk, bird watching or even bat detecting
  2. Do some wild photography
  3. Go wild in your garden to benefit wildlife
  4. Take time to stargaze on a clear night
  5. Make a bee waterer (using a dish, stones/marbles and clean water) to keep our pollinators hydrated

For rainy days:

  1. Dance in the rain
  2. Make a terrarium
  3. Become a member of a wildlife charity
  4. Write a poem about nature
  5. Learn cloud names and classifications

For days at work:

  1. Hold a fruit and veg cake sale
  2. Watch live wildlife footage on your breaks
  3. Go outside and take a walk at lunch
  4. Take a healthy packed lunch full of fruit and veg (maybe homegrown)
  5. Explore your workplace for plants and wildlife

For the kids:

  1. Camp in the garden
  2. Explore a forest
  3. Go on a bug hunt
  4. Press flowers and leaves
  5. Build an insect hotel

For people who are unable to get out and about easily:

  1. Do a mini garden birdwatch
  2. Watch a nature documentary
  3. Experiment with windowsill gardening
  4. Read a nature book or blog
  5. Do some ethical cooking

If you are feeling inspired and have other ideas of how to be wild for 30 days, you can sign up for the #30DaysWild challenge here.  You will receive a free pack of goodies including stickers, some wildflower seeds and a wallchart to help you plan your month, plus lots more ideas from the brilliant Wildlife Trusts.

Like last year I will be blogging about my #30DaysWild month and would really like to hear what other people do for their random acts of wildness!

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?

The Fourth Peregrine Chick

As hoped, today was the day that the fourth NTU peregrine falcon chick hatched out of its egg.  I checked the live stream at 13:15 after my sister messaged me about them… and there it was, it had hatched just before 1pm!  The male was feeding the larger chicks a feral pigeon as chick number four (being less than half an hour old) was getting used to the world and its siblings.

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The newly hatched chick and its siblings waiting for food.

After a few minutes, Mrs P returned to the scrape and I just managed to save a still image of the whole family together!  WARNING: Some may find the below image disturbing.

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All four chicks (eyases) are being kept warm and fed and are looking healthy and ‘wide-beaked’ this evening.  Peregrine falcon chicks eat a tremendous amount of food and if all goes well, this time next week they will have doubled their weight and in three weeks, will be ten times their birth size!  I am very much looking forward to following their progress over the next six weeks or so as they rapidly get bigger, grow juvenile feathers and eventually fledge the nest.  Once they start to fly they will depend on their parents for a few further weeks to learn how to hunt, so Archie and Mrs P still have a lot of work to do… and we still have a lot of great things to watch!

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All stills taken from camera two of the NTU live stream.

Peregrine Chicks

It has been a busy few days for NTU’s resident pair of peregrine falcons, Archie and Mrs P, as their eggs have been hatching!  The hardworking parents have been incredible to watch over the incubation period, taking it in turns to keep the eggs warm, so much so that I don’t think I actually saw all four eggs together on the live stream! Their first chick hatched around midday on Sunday 23rd April, followed by the second that evening.

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The third chick hatched from its egg at 21:16 on Monday 24th April and all three chicks have since been helping their parents keep the fourth egg warm.

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At 15:57 on Tuesday 25th April, I noticed what I thought to be a crack/hole in the fourth egg and some movement coming from inside (see image below) before it began sleeting!  Several people on social media also agreed, however the chick is yet to hatch…  I expect (and hope) tomorrow will be the day.

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Archie and Mrs P have both been extremely diligent – I have seen them regularly swapping jobs of hunting and protecting their brood and love the wiggle Mrs P does as she settles down on top of the chicks and final egg.  There has also been a lot of live camera action in terms of feeding, which although can be quite disturbing for some viewers, is a truthful glimpse into the world of these beautiful, wild peregrine falcons.

All stills taken from camera two of the NTU live stream.

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!