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).

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#30DaysWild Days 21-30

I had a really enjoyable #30DaysWild and hope you all did too!  I continued to complete my random acts of wildness during the final ten days of June… and here is what I did:

21. It was another hot day, so I took a stroll during my lunch break to have a look at the large pond on the park near my workplace.  I had not explored the pond for many years, so it was interesting to see how much it had changed.  There are now large amounts of aquatic plants and due to the heat on the day, hundreds of beautiful damselflies!  I was also happy to see a family of moorhens swimming around.

22. Having always welcomed in the solstices and equinoxes, I chose to do an outdoor Sun Salutation for midsummer.

23. The heatwave came to an end, so it was a rather overcast day.  Despite this, I watched the evening sky and focused on the subtle movement of the clouds and gradual change in colour.  This act of wildness brought back memories and inspiration from my university days studying Fine Art.  Feel free to have a look at my archive blog of experimentation and creation which I created during my degree.

24. It was my mother’s birthday, so my family and I went to her house for afternoon tea.  We each took a homemade cake and enjoyed the afternoon out in the garden.  My random act of wildness was taking lots of photographs of the plants and flowers in her garden.

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25. My boyfriend and I went to an open day at Holwell Reserves, a LRWT nature reserve.  It was a lovely location and despite a spot of rain, also a lovely day.  On the drive home, we stopped off at Cossington Meadows – another LRWT reserve that we had never visited before.

26. During my lunchtime walk around Welford Road Cemetery, I spotted a grounded bumblebee.  It was a very large bee and was clearly tired and struggling to walk, let alone fly.  After a few attempts I managed to get it to climb on to the lid of my lunchbox (by lining it with dry grass for it to grip to) and gently placed it on some flowers.  It instantly began to get nectar and was soon a lot more energetic!  Here are some tips on how you can help bees at this time of year.

27. I had a surprising act of wildness on the 27th – I was walking through my local park (again) and suddenly heard loud chirping.  I looked up to see a brilliant nest box in a tree, so continued to listen to the many chicks inside.  I am not yet attuned to identifying chick chirps though, so couldn’t tell what they were… maybe one day I will be able to!?

28. I read a very interesting summary report about the Paris Agreement and 450 Scenario by the International Energy Agency.  There are several other publications on their website which you can download here.

29. I subscribed to the BTO, Butterfly Conservation, WWT and Plantlife.  I am looking forward to receiving monthly updates and information from them.

30. As I spent the day travelling to Brugge, I utilised my time well by doing a bit of bird spotting whilst waiting at several train stations.  At one point, I saw what I believed to be a pair of goldfinches gripping onto and pecking at a stone wall – strange behaviour that I had not seen before (especially from goldfinches).  I have since found out that seed eating birds do in fact sometimes eat mortar from walls for the grit it contains to help with digestion.  Awesome!

Now that this year’s #30DaysWild challenge is complete, it is important that we continue to #StayWild.  I certainly did in Brugge (hence the delay in blogging about my final ten days)… and one of my favourite wild things I did there was spot and photograph several red-tailed bumblebees – a species I had not seen up-close before!

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Did you enjoy #30DaysWild this year?  How do you plan to #StayWild?

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

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.

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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.

 

Mutualism and Parasitism

Over the last three weeks, I have been introduced to the world of Abiotic and Biotic interactions.  I have an interest in the different behaviours and relationships of organisms so found these particular topics highly fascinating.

Mutualism

Association between individuals of two species for mutual benefit.

Now, I have seen many examples of mutualism documented on television, but up until now have never really researched this relationship.  There are countless mammals, birds, insects, plants, fungi, bacteria etc which interact with one another symbiotically.  One of the most obvious mutualistic relationships is the interaction between pollinators and flowering plants.  The plants gain by having their pollen transferred from one flower to another and the pollinators gain a reward of nectar.

An example of mutualism that I found through my research is between the Oxpecker bird and Rhino or Zebra.  The Oxpecker will land and sit on the Rhino or Zebra, where it will eat ticks and parasites off their skin.  The bird gains food and the mammal gains a personal ‘pest-controller’.  Another interesting point is that the Oxpecker will also fly upwards and call a warning sound if in danger, which of course also benefits the Rhino or Zebra.

Mutualism is a +/+ relationship and Ecologists describe Biotic relationships in terms of who benefits and who loses…

+ signifies that one party benefits

– signifies that one party loses

0 signifies that one party is unaffected

Parasitism 

A relationship between two organisms where a parasite gains from a relationship with its host.

Whereas mutualism is a +/+ relationship, parasitism tends to be +/- or +/0 relationship.  Initially the host may not be affected, however as a parasite continues it’s aim of gaining nutrients, a favourable environment or even the use of biochemical processes, the host inevitably suffers and dies once the parasite has reproduced.

One particular +/0/- interactions that I find to be the perfect mix of both amazing and disturbing is the Green-banded Broodsac, Snail and Bird cycle!  The ultimate goal of a Green-banded Broodsac parasite is to live inside the warm interior of a bird and feed off it. The larvae of this parasite live in bird droppings, which is eaten by snails. Once inside, the parasite grows and moves through the snail, protrudes out through the eyes, develops green bands like a caterpillar and pulsates in a similar way to a caterpillar. The parasite even manages to control the brain, making the snail move to somewhere noticeable.

Birds are consequently fooled into seeing two caterpillars and thinking they are getting a double snack, eat the snails’ eyestalks and therefore the parasite. The larva moves into the birds interior, lives and breeds… the bird then passes out the eggs in it’s droppings and the cycle continues.

Green-banded Broodsacs benefit – they achieve the goal of a warm interior and food for reproduction.  Birds gain a small meal but nothing much else (they apparently do not mind the parasite’s presence).  Snails infected with this parasite often live longer than snails that do not have it, but other than gaining a meal, the snails lose as they are ultimately turned into ‘zombies’.

Parasitic plants

As defined earlier, parasitism is a relationship between two organisms, and this of course includes plants.  There are over 4,000 species of parasitic flowering plants in the world – the most famous probably being Mistletoe, but after some interesting reading, I discovered the ‘Corpse flower’.  It is the largest individual flower in the world and is found in the forests of Malaysia and Indonesia.  It is nearly 1 meter in diameter and weighs up to 11 kg. As the name suggests, the corpse flower smells like rotting flesh in order to attract carrion-feeding flies as pollinators, whilst it’s sticky fruit is spread by rodents.  It cannot photosynthesize on its own, so being a parasite, steals it’s nutrients from the roots of neighbouring vines!

Do you know of any other interesting parasites or mutualistic relationships?