As I write this in mid March the rain is lashing at the window and the lambs are sheltering behind the hedges. However, Spring is definitely creeping in – hawthorn leaf buds are slowly unfurling in our hedge, a few crocus and primrose have exploded with colour on our wildflower bank, snowdrops are hiding in the hedges, and there are female house sparrows prospecting the nest boxes. However, whilst Spring is a lovely time of new life, it has been a sad week in this part of Gwyddgrug – the fields we walk through daily, which have been left largely to do their own thing over the past five years and as a result have thrived with wildlife, have had the majority of the trees in the old hedgerows chopped almost to the ground this week – an upsettingly late point in the year to remove vast swathes of vegetation with fantastic nesting and habitat potential. The hazel catkins that were brimming from the swaying branches have gone, and so with it any habit for the woodcocks who nestle under the cover these trees provided, the stems on which the group of little long-tailed tits used to chatter on and the tree in which the song thrush use to sing. Yes, these creatures will hopefully find another place to call their home, but tree felling is becoming increasingly common in our local countryside and it should not just be assumed that there will be another place for nature to move to. My days have been made poorer for this particular management practice in the place I loved so much.
What is biodiversity and why is it important to us?
Instead of my environmental tips, I thought I would answer a question each edition on some of the issues that we face in terms of nature and climate, in Wales and globally – something I come face to face with daily in my role as a Lecturer in Geography and Environmental Science. Biodiversity is the variety of plant and animal life we have in the world, or within a particular part of the world, such as our parish. In 2019 the World Wildlife Fund released the State of Nature report, in which they reported that biodiversity has decreased dramatically in the last 50 years, and wildlife populations have decreased by 60% globally. 60%! Such a dramatic decrease means we are in a biodiversity crisis.
But why does this matter to us?
Biodiversity affects our gardens and agriculture, as well as wild places. Without biodiversity in plants we will find crops we grow now will not withstand the change in rainfall, air temperature and storm frequency that is happening due to climate change. For example, apples need to get cold (below about 7°C) for about 40 days every winter to produce fruit the next year – we’re no longer getting that number of cold days consistently in the UK. Without hedges and trees livestock will have no shelter from storms or shade in periods of hot weather. Without insects there will be no natural pollination of plants – growing food for us, or for livestock, will be impossible so all plants will need to be artificially pollinated, causes cost of food to rise dramatically. It will also not be financially possible for plant nurseries to grow the flowers we like having in our gardens. So, even if we disregard the benefits of being surrounded by nature for mental wellbeing, there are so many reasons to save the plants and animals that live alongside us.
Nature Notes: February
I am writing this issue’s Nature Notes looking at a fantastic sunrise over the frosty valley below – the clouds are bright and the sky completely clear – days like this are my favourite. It is well and truly the depth of winter, but it is nice to have a cold spell at last, and the days are just getting that little bit longer.
Nature is at its quietest at this time of year – plants are generally hidden underground or stagnant, but there are a few signs that Spring is around the corner. The hazel catkins are dangling from the trees and now and then I see a shoot of a spring bulb appearing above the leaf litter – not in our garden though – Gwyddgrug is much too cold!
My visits to top up the bird feeder are at their most frequent this time of year – there is often a robin and a couple of blue tits waiting for me to fill it in the morning. If they could talk I am sure they would be telling me to hurry up! The long tailed tits are back in the fields near our house – they go round in a group and are often joined by a blue tit or great tit, all chatting away as they feast on the hazel catkins and chirping a warning sign as my dog wanders past them.
Environmental tip of the month
Moths are great food for birds (and bats when they’re not hibernating), vital pollinators (bees aren’t the only ones!) and can be found throughout the year. Moth populations have declined by a third in the last 50 years due to a variety of factors such as climate change. Another key control on this decline is human’s keenness for artificial light at night, when most moths are active. Outside lights are useful in the depths of winter but try to only have yours on for the period you need it, or have it on a timer so it goes off quickly after someone has walked past. We live on the edge of a dark sky reserve – an area celebrated for the ability to see a huge number of stars and where the dark sky is preserved through reduction of artificial light wherever possible.
Let’s get involved and turn that artificial outside light off.