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.

P1030734 (2)© the Green & the Wild

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!

rtb© the Green & the Wild

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

#30DaysWild Days 11-20

June seems to be flying by… and I have another ten random acts of wildness to write about!  The majority this time unintentionally ended up being bird-themed.

11. It had been a while since I had been on a decent walk, so my boyfriend and I visited Dovedale in the Peak District.  As soon as we started our walk, a grey wagtail hopped on the path in front of us with a beak full of midges, flew up onto a branch at eye level and stayed there long enough for us to get a good look and some grainy phone photographs (neither of us had taken our proper cameras)!!  I was very excited as it was the first grey wagtail I had seen (that I am aware of) and I had been admiring them on Springwatch the week before.  The yellow of it’s underside was so bright and beautiful!

Grey wagtails unfortunately have a red status with the RSPB – red is the highest conservation priority, with species needing urgent action.

12. I decided to have a lunchtime stroll and watch magpies!  I am very fond of magpies, their large nests, their distinctive call… and always salute if I see one on it’s own.  There are often large numbers of magpies near my work and on this particular day, I noticed that there was something unusual about one.  After a while, I realised that it looked smaller and didn’t have a long tail – it was a lovely little juvenile exploring the ground!

13. I planted some chilli seeds back in April and as they had grown into two-inch tall seedlings, I re-potted them and gave some away to my family.

14. It was a lovely hot day (the beginning of the ‘heatwave’) and I had planned to visit my friend for the evening.  I chose to walk to her house via a conservation area, one of 24 in my city.  “Conservation areas are parts of the city that have been designated for their special historical or architectural quality.  They are areas where the preservation or enhancement of the unique townscape is particularly important and they add much to the city in terms of attractive living environments, historical and cultural significance and high quality design”.  Buildings and developments are controlled to preserve their character and appearance, the demolition of buildings is controlled and I am glad that trees are also protected in the conservation areas.

15. As some of you may have seen, there was a fascinating section on Springwatch about soundscapes and acoustic niche hypothesis which you can read about here.  I thought the idea of ‘Soundscape Ecology’ was brilliant and consequently listened to the soundscape of my back garden.

16. I have loved bird-watching since 2015 when I stayed in a lovely cottage in Anglesey.  It had its own woodland, a garden full of bird feeders and as a result, lots of amazing birds, including a great spotted woodpecker and a jay!  I have since spotted and watched many birds, so decided to treat myself to a little British birds Spotting & Jotting Guide by Matt Sewell, who just so happens to be one of my favourite illustrators too!

17. It was a Wildlife Weekend at Bradgate Park in Charnwood Forest and I went bat detecting!  The park usually closes just before dusk, but it was opened up at 9:30pm especially for the 30 odd people who attended the event.  It was run by the Leicestershire and Rutland Bat Group – a voluntary organisation formed in 1984, dedicated to the conservation of bats in the two counties.  My sister and I took our own bat detectors and the group handed out several to other people.  It was a slow start, but once we reached the River Lin, which runs through the Lower Park, we picked up regular ‘calls’ and detected several common pipistrelles, soprano pipistrelles, one or two Daubenton’s bats and noctules, which I was very pleased with, particularly the latter as you may remember from my post about Bat Conservation that I wanted to see one this year.

18. I spent a nice, chilled-out day in my dad’s garden, admiring the plants, flowers and of course, birds!

19. Having seen a glimpse of several ‘fork-tailed’ birds near my dad’s house, I wanted to learn how to distinguish between swifts, swallows and martins from just a silhouette.  I found a brilliant ID guide on the RSPB website but also discovered just how much swifts are in trouble.  “Their breeding numbers plummeted by 47 per cent between 1995-2014, making them an amber-listed species on the list of Birds of Conservation Concern”.  As a result, the RSPB would like to find out where swifts are seen and where they are nesting, so if you are aware of any, let them know by submitting your sightings to the Swift Survey.

20. A slow walk home from work in the heat called for a simple but pleasant act of wildness… a bit of bird identification using the BirdUp app on my phone.

What did you do for days 11-20 of #30DaysWild?

#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.

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.