“The natural world is the greatest source of excitement. The greatest source of visual beauty. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.”
Sam Newton – Land of Iron Natural Heritage Officer
You don’t necessarily need to go far to observe nature.
Over the last couple of months, whilst in my garden or taking limited exercise, I have come across early purple orchids on nearby road verges, heard curlew and lapwings in the neighbouring fields, and hunted under stones and on plants for various beetles and bugs. This, along with my gardening for wildlife, has really helped me deal with the lockdown that has been affecting us all, while at the same time developing a better understanding of the wildlife around my home which I will continue to make the most of.
There are lots and lots of Citizen Science projects out there that rely on the general public to collect records/observations/measurements and then report this data to environmental organisations. By analysing the collated data it’s possible for these organisations to get some sort of picture/trend for species and habitats and then hopefully recognise and understand changes. In most cases these projects rely on the general public collecting the data to make them possible. The more data there is the more useful the analysis can be. The more data there is for where you are the more useful the analysis can be for your area.
We’re getting towards the end of the Bee-Fly Watch. This scheme records the several species of Bee-flies across the UK from March until June – the only one we are likely to see in North Yorkshire is the Dark-edged Bee-fly. Did you even know they existed?
In the summer there will be the Big Butterfly Count, which will be taking place from the 17 July – 9 August this year.
A garden focused survey is the Garden Butterfly Survey, in which you can record the butterflies you see over the whole year. This scheme helps Butterfly Conservation to learn more about butterfly populations and how they use gardens.
Similarly the British Trust for Ornithology have their own Garden BirdWatch, where you can contribute your weekly garden bird sightings to help keep an eye on populations and again, how they’re using gardens.
The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species have a Big Hedgehog Map. If you happen to see a hedgehog or if you’ve kindly made a gap in your garden fence for them to pass through (a hedgerow hole), please report in.
For those of you who are keener on something maybe not so sweet, you could have your own slug hunt and send in your data to the RHS cellar slug survey. If you only have a set amount of time to concentrate you could do a quick Flower-Insect Timed Count (FIT Count) as part of the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme (PoMS), or if you want to get engrossed try measuring involucres and achenes for the BSBI ragwort study project.
Your local observations are also very important for long term monitoring of the influence of climate change on the natural world. Have a look at the Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar, and record your phenology based sightings such as hearing your first cuckoo of the year.
Help your garden to help nature…
It’s definitely not cheating to try and attract more of this wildlife you’re recording into your own garden, if you’re lucky enough to have one. It’s helpful.
There is a lot of information out there about how to make changes to your garden to be more accommodating for biodiversity.
They may not be the most glamorous of pollinators but there are lots of species of Hoverflies in the UK. Because of their tendency to hover in the same place for minutes at a time they are great to look at. To draw Hoverflies into your garden make your own Buzz Club Hoverfly Lagoon.
The RSPB have an initiative called Give Nature a Home suggesting activities for your garden ranging from digging damp ditches and providing deadwood habitat, to building bee hotels and bird nest boxes, and planting for pollinators.
If you’re looking to help pollinators locally you might want to make your own mini meadow. This how-to guide is aimed particularly at the dryish North York Moors. I did this on part of my own lawn, which is now full of wildflowers, from Birds-foot-trefoil and Knapweed, to Yellow rattle, Oxeye daisy and Rough hawkbit – and I only have to cut the grass once a year! Other areas I leave as tussocky grass to benefit over-wintering insects. If you’re desperate to keep using your lawn mower, you could set the cutting blades to the highest setting to encourage Clovers, Self heal and Dandelions to flower in your lawn.
For more inspiration I’d suggest reading Dave Goulson’s The Garden Jungle: or Gardening to Save the Planet.
Sam observed the current Covid-19 guidelines during his activities. Keep up to date with the latest National Park response to Covid-19 – see here.