A solitary existence

Did you know there are 267 species of Bee in the UK? I didn’t. My knowledge of bees is basic, although for some reason we learned a lot about the ‘waggle dance’ at university. It turns out that my knowledge of solitary bees is even more so. Up until this past month I had no idea that 90% of the Bees in the UK prefer to live a solitary existence. Unlike honey beesThey don’t live in a colony or ‘serve’ a Queen. Instead single female bees of Solitary species will build their own nest. Nesting materials vary depending on species.

Some prefer to site this underground, digging out a narrow tunnel to form a nesting chamber. There are even 3 species of solitary bee that nest in empty snail shells. Others are ‘aerial nesters’, choosing to build nests within cavities or hollow stems, as well as artificial ‘Bee hotels’.

Our ‘bee house’ is situated on the west facing wall of the farmhouse. It is attached (rudimentarily and precariously) to a downpipe, and is surrounded by flowers. Roses, nasturtiums, snapdragons and centaurea provide a plentiful supply of nectar which solitary bees use as a food source.  I put it up at the beginning of Summer, hoping that it would attract some attention. Every so often I have brushed off cobwebs from the tubes, hoping that by keeping the entrances clear it would give potential occupants a chance to investigate. It must have worked, because last month someone paid a visit.

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I had been tidying some of the potted plants on the patio when I noticed a bee buzzing around near the ‘hotel’. It flitted around outside before landing and crawling into it. I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe it was being used.  Not wanting to disturb our new arrival, I left the bee to continue its work without me ‘hovering’ over it. A couple of hours later, progress had been made.

One of the narrowest bamboo tubes had been sealed over, with a mixture of mud and greenery. I think this was the work of a Mason bee.

Whilst marvelling at the neat cap that now covered one tube , I became aware of another visitor to the hotel. At first all I saw was the tail end of a bee disappearing into a tube, lugging a portion of leaf. The scrap of vegetation seemed to be almost half as long as the bee carrying it.

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A leaf cutter bee! This female, working independently and parallel to the other, was also furnishing her nest. There are now 3 mud capped tubes and at least 2 leaf filled chambers.

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Female solitary bees furnish their nests with everything their offspring need to make it to adulthood. Balls of pollen and nectar are placed in the cavity, with an egg laid on top. Several eggs may be laid in one tube, with ‘partition walls’ dividing it up into individual rooms. Once the nest is full, the bee seals the end. The choice of sealant varies – mud, chewed leaves or even fine hair.

If I asked you to picture a bee in your minds eye, chances are you would see a honey bee or a bumble bee, rather than a species of solitary bee. But Solitary bee species are just as important, if not more so, for the survival of humans . 1 in 3 mouthfuls of food we eat relies on a pollinator species. Solitary bees are more efficient pollinators than honey or bumblebees. In fact, a single mason bee can do the work of 120 honey bees, making them incredibly important for food production.

If you want to find out how you can help encourage solitary bees in your garden, have a look at this website. You can also find further information here and record any sightings on iRecord.

 

 

Spring- blossoms and polygamy.

Spring has crept in under the cover of winter, kicking back the blanket of dark mornings and early dusks. Still, sunshine is a fickle beast; weak, and wan, glancing in and out of our days on the farm.  Yet, the garden is waking . Golden daffodils nod their heads in time to the trill of a blackbird perched on a hawthorn branch. A string  of pearl white snow drops trace along the side of the farmhouse , their delicate flower heads outlining long forgotten borders. Buds and new shoots burst up and out, ready for warmer days.

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Bird life on the patch is changing with the coming of Spring. The starlings have left, after a long winter vacation. Their absence is conspicuous. Peace reigns once more, and I do not miss the noisy, whirring, chattering din above our heads.

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The house sparrows have reappeared after their winter absence, and have set about tidying up last years nest sites. For the second year in a row a pair of sparrows have stolen the house martins nest. Calf hair from the sheds seems to be a popular choice of nesting material, and the females busily flit about gathering beakfulls of it.

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The bird feeders are a constant hive of activity, with blue tits, coal tits, chaffinches and robin being regulars at the ‘buffet’. Four or five blue tits on a feeder in one sitting is common, suggesting our garden provides for up to 20 of this species. A willow warbler has started to appear, shy and flighty, but his visits are infrequent. A pair of collared doves often come to perch side by side on the swing set, preening and cooing at each other. A dunnock, or Hedge sparrow, now comes to sift through the debris at the foot of the feeders. Last year a single pair frequented the garden, this year I have counted four on one occasion. They are busy, unassuming little birds, similar in size to the house sparrow but with a sleaker silhouette. The population expansion on our patch matches the general trend around the uk;  numbers are increasing, but the species remains on the Amber list. Their ‘plain jane’ appearance hides a rather quirky reproductive trait.  Dunnocks practice monogamy and polygamy. Depending on the territory available to them , their ‘mating’ relationships can be polygynous (one male, multiple females),  polyandrous (one female, multiple males) or even polygnandrous (multiples of both sexes). Quite a lot of nest hopping for such an unobtrusive bird.

Batty about bats

I have been coveting a bat detector for ages now. The niggly little desire to own one began way back in June with the 30 Days Wild Challenge. Unfortunately I was on maternity leave at the and I couldn’t get my meagre budget to stretch enough to get one . Seeing as I’m now back at work I decided to splash out. Not as extravagant as the new Joules wellies I’ve also had my eye on, but equally practical! I did my research and the Magenta 4 bat detector seemed to fit my needs- affordable and easy to use. The parcel arrived just in time for some Halloween bat detecting. I love getting Amazon parcels, even though I know what they are and  that ive paid for them its still a little bit like Christmas!

For once Amazon hadn’t gone overboard on the packaging and I managed to get into it pretty quickly. My heart sank a little when I realised that batteries were not included – noooooo!I’d made the school boy error of not ordering any. Fortunately the house is quite full of those annoying talking childrens toys that require tons of batteries, so I raided them instead!  4 AAA batteries later and I was ready to roll!

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I am a complete novice when it comes to bat detection. The magenta 4 is brilliant-it comes with really straightforward instructions on how to assemble (well, insert batteries) and how to get started. It also has an inbuilt torch which proves extremely useful, not only for working out what frequency you are currently set to, but also in preventing me from face planting in the mud! The detector also makes listening in to bat echolocation possible, picking up sounds that can’t normally be detected by our ears and translating them into ‘clicks’, ‘slaps’, ‘tocks’ and ‘chirps’. As each bat species uses a different frequency locating it’s prey and navigating the environment using a detector can help figure out what bat species are about.

We know that we have bats on the farm.  On summer evenings I have watched at least a dozen bats flitting about over the main yard. More  hunt low over the fields to the rear of the farm. The farm does provide ideal habitat  for bat species. Ancient farm buildings, a lot of which are unused and undisturbed, provide plenty of roosting opportunities. In fact when the car is parked alongside one of the barns it gets covered in a layer of bat poo! We also have a large number of dead trees with cracks and crevices that can offer homes. The pasture, woods and water courses around the farm offer a reliable source of insects for the bats to feast on. The hedgerows and fencelines act as navigation aids and allow safe passage between hunting grounds and roost site. Sometimes they even decide to pay us a visit indoors!

Unfortunately, by the time I managed to slip out and start waving the detector about (probably not the intended technique) I couldn’t see any bats flying. It isn’t the best time of year for using a detector. The evenings have cooled suddenly and November is the time bats start to hibernate. They have spent September and October building up fat reserves to see them through the long winter. As the temperature drops, bats will enter Torpor,  to decrease the amount of energy they need to stay alive. They can go in and out of this state, depending on ambient temperature. As the months march on and daylength shortens the bats start to hibernate. Hibernation is different from Torpor– the bat’s body temp and metabolic rate drops even lower and they stay in this state for prolonged periods of time.

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Despite not picking up any flight sounds, I did pick up something with the detector. There was an awful lot of ‘clicks’ ‘chirps’ and ‘slaps’ coming from beneath the roof of the kiln, one of the barns used to house calves. I picked up similar noises from under the arches of the grain store, the old bull barn and stables, as well as the workshop beside the farmhouse.These noises were part of the social calls that bats produce when roosting.  The noises could also have come from mice which can produce ultrasonic squeaks that can be mistaken for bat chatter. However, the sites at which the detector picked up noise are definite bat roosts, so its more than possible that I was eavesdropping on bat conversations!

Either way it made a nice change  to be out in the dark instead of wasting the evening in front of the telly. The stars were out too; another awesome perk of living in the countryside means minimal light pollution and a clear view of the milky way. I can’t wait for summer and a chance to really get to grips with bat detection!

 

 

 

Starlings and a side order of goose

Suddenly the weekend is upon us again. The working week has taken its toll, with Friday being particularly tough. It has left an emotional hangover lingering well into Saturday, with the metaphorical dementors hovering over my shoulder once again. But no chance of a duvet day as I play the role of working mum on her second ‘job’- running about trying to catch up on all of the household chores I haven’t completed during the week. By 4pm (having been up with the mini farmers since 7am) I really, really needed a break. Fortunately it was tea time, so whilst F took the mini farmers in for tea, I headed off in search of Starlings.

 

 

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Sturnus vulgaris from the RSPB

Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are listed on the RSPB Red status list. This may come as a surprise, as they are still one of the most abundant birds at UK bird tables. However, European flocks have declined substantially (by 80%) over recent years.

At first glance,these birds are extraordinarily beautiful. Dappled plumage, gleaming iridescent green and purple-black as it catches the light.They are noisy and gregarious, full of personality. Their mechanical song, full of clicks, whirs and chirrups is delightful to listen to. Delightful, that is in, when there are only one or two.

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Autumn time sees the arrival of hundreds if not thousands of starlings to our farmland. This year they seem to have arrived a bit later than usual, normally arriving by the 19th. Over the past few weeks they have appeared in small flocks of 10 or 20 birds, but by the end of this week our trees were adorned with thousands of them.

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The birds spend their days roosting in trees around the farm, heading down to the fields or into the cattle sheds to feed. Just before dusk they start to gather, getting ready to head off for their night time roosts, in reed beds, woods or even farm buildings. As daylight fades they come together in flocks until their number reaches into the hundreds of thousands.  This is the time to see their aerial performances, the spectacle of the murmuration.

If you have witnessed a murmuration you will know how mesmerising they are. Thousands of small bodies seemingly flying as one, a massive feathery swarm that shape shifts, dives and belly rolls over your head. Why it occurs is a bit of a mystery. Varies theories have been postulated, including sensible suggestions of dilution effect (whereby the large flock of starlings will make it harder for a predator to single out an individual victim as prey) and heat conservation. Whatever the reason it is still a sight to behold.

As I make my way across the Croft field a flock of starlings rises up from beyond the field boundary hedge. It spirals upwards, tornado like, before splitting in two. One flock settles back down behind the hedge, the other atop a sycamore tree.

A distant honking signals the arrival of geese. According to F these have been coming to feed on the stubble aftermath for several weeks now, but I haven’t had the chance to see them. Sure enough they perform a fly past, in v formation, before banking right and landing in the stubble. I later count 70 individuals, honking and waddling their way across the shorn field.

 

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My camera battery died so I had to resort to iPhone back up! you can just make out the mass of birds against the hedge line….if you squint!!

I make it to the gate between the croft and the barley stubble field. From the middle of the field came a tidal whoosh and crash as hundreds of starlings took off as  one. They swirled overhead, individual dots set in almost Brownian motion across the steel grey sky. Like a cloud of midges on a summer evening, the hover over head, swooping and soaring around the field margin before settling back down again. Apparently each bird’s movement influences the flight pattern of its closest seven neighbours only, which explains  the fluidity of their flight en masse.

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Despite my awe at murmurations I must confess to having a love hate relationship with S.vulgaris. The zoologist in me sees a fascinating bird, capable of creating one of natures most amazing phenomenon. After several years of living on a farm and working with other farms where starling flocks roost, I can also see the downside. Every year our cows, and cattle on other farms, suffer from Starling pressure. Cow feed is an easy free meal for our feathered friends, and it is nigh on impossible to keep them out of the barns. We have tried everything, from bird scaring devices to mesh bird screens, and even helium balloons (a pink flamingo worked for a short while!)The sheer number of birds that arrive on the farm means that a lot of food is eaten, food that is meant for the dairy cows. The cows can even become ill, with stary coats, and look a sorry sight if they end up covered in starling poo. Its not just the cows that suffer either. After a couple of days of living with thousands of starlings outside your front door, the novelty soon wears off. Everything gets covered in starling droppings, and their incessant chatter en masse is deafening! I can understand why people (including myself) get fed up with them. I guess this is just one small scale example of living with conservation- the birds are protected under law. We live in an area which provides suitable habitat for them to roost. Loss of permanent pasture and pesticide use has been attributed to the decline in Starling numbers, but as you are now more likely to see a rural rather than urban starling, questions need to be asked about what has happened to push the birds out of the towns where they used to roost historically (e.g Manchester and Newcastle.)

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As a result of our fields full of winter stubble and plentiful supply of easy feed we end up living cheek by beak with thousands of starlings for approximately 6 months of the year. We have to put up with a lot of noise and mess, to the point that 2 year old C refers to all bird poo as ‘naughty starling poo’! On the flip side, we do get to witness spectacular murmurations without having to venture too far at all.

 

Singing hawthorn

I have been back at work for a month now. 30 days that have passed in a blur of consultations and operations, laboratory results and medications. I have survived my first weekend on call, spending a whole 48hrs slightly on edge waiting for my pager to bleep. I have seen hamsters, doves, cats, kittens, puppies, dogs and even a bat. Some cases have been straightforward, some not so, and there have been a few ‘final goodbyes’ too.

It has been nice to be back, doing a job that I love but my gosh the weekends are needed! I have missed my mini farmers, I have missed the outdoors and I have missed my own four legged companions! Fortunately Saturday mornings come round quickly, and whilst the mini and not so mini farmers are breakfasting, I slip out to spend some ‘quality time’ with the goatlings.

They call to me as I put on my boots. My whispered hello is usually met with a volley of bleats, getting louder as I get closer. As soon as I open the stable door they are pushing forward, eager to be out. Lead reins attached we set off along the road, with the autumn sunlight casting our 10 legged shadow across the tarmac.

The quarry field is a particular favourite of mine. A wide flat expanse of lush green grass greets us as we step through the double gates off the main road. To our left the cow track acts as a field boundary, snaking down into the valley to meet the stream. We bear left, heading towards the old quarry. The grass underfoot glistens with dew.

We pass the midden, adorned with a crop of inky blue fungi. A narrow animal track runs

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past the dung heap, footprints in the mud suggest hedgehog, as well as gulls and other birds. Badger and fox frequent this field too, snaffling up worms and rooting through dung bats to catch beetles.

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Behind the midden lies a dense patch of nettles and brambles. We skirt around it and head down into the hollow that marks the start of the old quarry. This is the spot where we sighted our camera trap, and we know that at least 3 foxes count this area as part of their territory. The camera also caught sight of one large badger, one large hedgehog and a murder of magpies who came to steal my fox bait.

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At the back of the nettles and brambles stands a hawthorn, squat and twisted from the onslaught of the wind. It is glowing with berries, and alive with birdsong. Warbling fills the air, crystal clear notes trilling and tripping out from the branches. I try to push closer through the tangle of weeds to get a better look. A small dark bird perches on a twig at the top of the tree. I can make out a handful of others flitting amongst the branches, but I can’t get close enough to make out the species. Black redstart perhaps? Or a warbler?

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We dip down into the bowl of the quarry, the goats picking their way gingerly down the muddy bank. They hate to get their feet wet! Beneath the trees is another world, dank and dripping with raindrops from the branches overhead. It is cooler down here, and the stench of fox is overpowering. I feel as if we are intruding.The goatlings leave swiftly, and I follow.

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We head back towards the gate, and I am aware again of the hidden history lying inches beneath my feet. Less than a hands breadth of soil covers the remains of a roman settlement.

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Credit Dyffed archaeological society

When the site was dug a few years ago the local archaeological society were quite excited.Amongst the expected shards of pot, coins, charcoal and beads they found evidence of a potential fort, or possible outpost of the roman army. A typical fortification, complete with substantial timber structures and even a roadway, which is amazingly preserved.

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Credit Dyffed Archaelogical trust

Until this site was excavated, archaelogists believed that the most western welsh roman remains were in Carmarthen.  I still can’t quite grasp the fact that over a thousand years ago a roman centurion may have stood in this spot and gazed out across this valley.

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If it hadn’t been for this fields role as grazing, these treasures of our ancient past may not have been so well preserved. Farming, especially small family farms, has an important place in the preservation of not only wild flora and fauna, but our culture and heritage too.

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We make our way back to the gate, the goatlings stealing mouthfuls of grass as we go. Back on the road we dodge the rush of Saturday morning traffic, mums and dads ferrying kids too and from soccer, leaving us to jump into the hedge as they zoom past. I feel like we have rejoined the ‘real world’ again, and quite a large part of me would like to step back into the quarry field, close the gate gently behind me and just keep walking, photographing and writing as I go. But that, well…it wouldn’t pay the bills now would it.

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The state of Nature – A view from the ‘other’ side

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The  2016 State of Nature report, published last week, proved to be a very sobering read.The results clearly show that modern farming practice needs to change and it is in the interest of farmers to do so. If species continue to be lost, if soil continues to erode and rivers continue to flood then farmers will inevitably  do themselves out of a job. If there was a book titled ‘Farming for dummies’ i’m pretty sure they would be a section on how barren, unproductive, infertile soil is bad. Not only has the NFU formally acknowledged the need for change, many ordinary Farmers have taken to social media to show their willingness to implement new or different practices.

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In fact, many farmers are already mindful of protecting and conserving wildlife. Under EU regulations, subsidies have been paid to farmers  partaking in agri-environment schemes for quite some time.  Essentially tax payers have already been paying farmers to manage their land for the good of the environment. An example of one such sustainable land management schemes is Glastir,  which has over 7000 members. Any Welsh farmer that meets the entry requirements  can join up . The scope of the scheme ranges from incentives for Rhododendron removal through to grants for woodland creation, to turning land with an archaeological importance over to permanent grassland. Other similar schemes are already at work within the rest of the UK.

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Through this enviro-centric approach to farming many beneficial changes to the Welsh countryside have been made since the scheme started 4 years ago. These include the creation of over 310km of streamside corridor, the repair and creation of more than 260km of hedgerow as well as reductions in fertiliser and pesticide usage.

On paper these schemes seem to be an ideal solution, with measures that  aim to make managing farmland with nature in mind easy and beneficial to all concerned. So why are farmland species in such dire straits? The final uptake report for Glastir may hold some clues. According to one of its surveys the main reasons for farmers not participating were

a) They had no spare land left as all suitable areas had been used with previous schemes.

b) The application process was too complicated.

c) They were unaware of the scheme and the grants available.

d) They did not meet the eligibility criteria.

Food for thought for any future creation of environmentally friendly agricultural schemes. If its off putting from the get go, it will not work. If its easy and straightforward then it is a more attractive prospect.

Some farmers may also be wary of enrolling productive land in long term conservation management in case the scheme becomes obsolete. Once the land is taken out of farming, whether it is arable or grassland, and used for another purpose it cannot easily be returned to its previous use. For instance conifer plantations planted by UK farmers in the 50’s and 60’s are only now maturing, but are no longer encouraged by conservationists.

Another point to note may be the current financial situation faced by a large section of the farming community. Dairy farming has suffered over recent years, with many family farms being forced to make the ultimate decision of selling their animals, land and even their homes.  There are still bills to be paid -Veterinary bills, purchase of animal feed and medicines, paying staff, maintaining and updating equipment – it soon adds up. For people who are working extremely hard to produce something that is at present worth less than the cost of production concentrating on how to reintroduce newts to their farm pond may fall at the very bottom of their ‘to do’ list. Not necessarily because they don’t want to (although I’m not naïve enough to think all farmers are wildlife lovers) but because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day or money in the bank.

You could argue that ‘rewilding’ and agri-environment schemes will offer opportunities to increase the potential income of a farmer, and indeed paying a farmer to do something he or she probably knows will benefit themselves and the wider world seems like an ideal solution.But as we have seen with the Glastir scheme, this isn’t always a sufficient reason to sign up. Clearly voluntary subsidised schemes are not enough, and subsidised mandatory requirements  may be a better approach. I guess we will have to wait and see.

Another thing that is bothering me is the amount of blame being laid at the door of ordinary farmers. Again, farming practices may have caused some species to decline in number and in certain cases whole habitats (meadows) have been lost. Traditional farming practices, harking back to the days of horse and plough and Poldark-esque scything, were abandoned after the end of the second world war. Lets examine why. To put it simply, post war Europe was a very hungry place. In order to feed the masses of hungry mouths new and ‘improved’ farming techniques were implemented to make farming more efficient and productive. The slow trudge of man behind horse and plough was superseded by the speed and greater horse power of tractors. In the modernisation and mechanisation of agriculture man-made habitats such as Meadows were left behind, deemed inefficient practice by the powers that be. The policy makers of the day, along with subsequent generations of politicians , incentivised the mass production of cheap, affordable food, a legacy that remains today. Farmed produce, whether it is organic, extensive or intensively farmed is undervalued . Farming as a profession is overlooked and underpaid. As a result, nature has suffered.

 

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The values on this have changed recently, but farmers are still making a loss.

 

Most of the debate that has been fuelled by the publishing of this report has centred around  farmland habitats. However this was only a few pages of the report. It is undeniable that agriculture has been a major player in habitat and species loss but if we  only focusing on reshaping this habitat there will still be others that are suffering. 58% of species in Coastal habitats have declined, and 15% of coastal species are at risk of extinction. This is thought to be due to development  in these areas and degradation due to recreational activities (e.g loss of dunes to golf courses). 11% of woodland species are at risk of extinction as are 13% of freshwater and wetland species. It is clear that energy and discussion about our plan of attack needs to be directed across a range of habitats.thnfs9k6bl

Fortunately the report is not all doom and gloom, and there is more than a faint whiff of hope. Some species have flourished in recent years. Woodpigeons populations on farmland have increased due to changes in Autumnal crops. Creation of English and Welsh reedbeds have enabled bitterns to bounce back from 11 males in 1970 to 156 in 2015. Introduction of specific legislations have allowed some bat species to recover. Marine species have increased by 62% since the 70s. All of which are testament to the power of the armies of people dedicated to saving, protecting and restoring our natural world. It is with absolute certainty that farmers should take their place amongst the teams of people trying to turn the tide against species loss. After all, as Robin Milton, winner of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory groups’ Bronze otter award, said “hundreds of years’ worth of experience in management of the natural environment must be of some value”.

 

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Hopeful message from the BTO

 

 

 

Wren song.

It is early evening on the farm, and I decide to go out for a walk round the yard to enjoy the last rays of golden sunshine. “Tak chak chak chak” – as I step out of the kitchen door a wren alarm call grabs my attention.It ricochets around the farmyard.  This call usually goes up when one of the farm cats is on the prowl. I scan the yard, and sure enough one of the toms is sitting outside the garage. The din is coming from the hedge behind him. I ‘pssh pssh’ to him but he ignores me,  staring hypnotically at something in front of his paws. My heart sinks. I rush towards him and realise he has a bird-a fledgling wren- lying limply between his feet. I scoop the fledgling up and shoo the cat away, but I am too late.

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This is a side of nature that I still struggle to comprehend. I can never quite marry the natural ‘predator instinct’ of the farm cats who play so gently with the children, claws sheathed and teeth hidden. We keep them indoors at night and they come out after dawn in an effort to minimise their impact on wild birds, but inevitably there are still casualties.

The parent birds flit into the garage, chattering as they go. I can here an insistent ‘Seep seep’ coming from under our old car.Some tractor parts are stacked against the wall outside, and another ‘seep seep’ comes from behind them. At least two more fledglings for this pair of wrens.

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I think Wrens may be my favourite garden bird.They may be common and ‘dull’ but they have such a beautiful  effervescent song. Despite weighing as little as 10 grams they manage to produce so much noise you would be forgiven for thinking they were much bigger. In fact they seem to have something of a ‘Napolean complex’, fighting bigger birds for nests. In some instances they will attack adult birds and destroy chicks if they take a shine to a particular site.

After the garage, I carried on down the yard. With any luck the Sparrowhawk might be about, or failing that Mr Phes, the rather loud Pheasant who resides next to the slurry pit. But as I reached the cow housing I heard another insistent’Tak chack chak’ warning coming from the bottom sheds. More wrens. The cat was locked indoors now, so perhaps a fox or another predator was bothering them. I decided to take a closer look. Bit of a dumb move on my behalf as I was wearing flip flops, and the cow sheds are full of manure! Curiosity got the better of me and I picked my way down to the bottom sheds, trying not to slip.

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Sure enough, another wren pair making an awful racket…but why. No sign of any predators and the din had started well before I arrived. I peered into the gloomy shed. Where were the fledglings this time? It took a while before my eyes adjusted, and after patiently standing stock still for what seemed like eternity I spotted a fluffy fledgling, puffed up and perched on the railing of the feed passage. Inside the neighbouring shed I found four more of the brood, fluttering about. They moved so quickly, and settled so infrequently, I found it virtually impossible to get any photos. My patience is not what it was, and I soon decided to leave them be. Besides, my choice of footwear had left me in need of a shower so I headed back up to the house.