Friday, 1 June 2018

Japan slaughter 122 Minke whales


Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

Embassy of Japan in the United Kingdom

101-104 Piccadilly London W1J 7JT

Dear Ambassador Tsuruoka 

Killing of Minke Whales

I am writing to you following the recent reports that 122 pregnant Minke whales have been killed by Japanese Whalers in the South Antarctic. 333 whales were killed in total according to The Japan Times.

Whales are amazing, social, sentient creatures. In my view, whaling belongs in a byegone age. It is unbearably cruel and cannot be justified in the name of ‘science’. I am astonished and appalled that Japan is allowing such barbarism to go on in its’ name. 
In 2014, the International Court of Justice ordered Tokyo to end the Antarctic hunt, saying it found permits issued by Japan were “not for purposes of scientific research.” Meat from this group of killed whales will go onto be eaten in Japan.

I respectfully call on you to make the case with your government that this slaughter is not only inhumane and unnecessary, it results in the name of your great nation bring tarnished across the civilised world.

I do hope you can help stop this appalling carnage.

Yours sincerely

Rob Carlyle

Sunday, 8 April 2018

the furious glare of the little owl ...

To New Farm where Little Owls seem to have adopted at least one of the nest boxes we made and sited. Unfortunately, the boxes also provide bespoke accommodation for grey squirrels. So, innovation time - and ferret bedding placed in the bottom of the nest boxes. The ferret smell might deter squirrels and the owls need a layer of material onto which they lay their eggs. The eu d'ferret is no deterrent to the birds.
Little owls have a wonderful way of glaring furiously.

Moth light set down by the pond, the gentle call of male toads my night time accompaniment. I counted 26 males and a pair in amplexus on a quick torch lit survey. This may seem a paltry figure, but it is the highest since the pond was dug in 2016. Carnage on two nights on Lamins Lane in the week as we drove home. Jill with hazard warning lights on driving slowly and me walking ahead moving toads that had not been crushed into the hedge bottom. I've sited 'Toads Crossing' signs into the hedge this week thanks to Froglife.

Later in the week watching a peregrine pass over Lamins Lane. Sleek and efficient. My friend the farmer complained that others had seen peregrine but he hadn't. I suggested that he spent too much time looking down at his rhubarb crop rather than up into the sky. He suggested that was what paid the bills.

Eighty moths of twelve species caught and released last night - about 50% down on the same time last year, but this is probably because spring is so late. Bats have been late emerging - our first soprano pipistrelle bat was clicking last night. Also late have been hedgehogs but at last my cafes are attracting customers as the video shows.

Mallards are ruining my small ponds. Whatever high-velocity laxative these creatures use is mightily effective. Each latrine/pond is now mushy pea green. My mother complains that the ducks are tapping on the lounge windows with their beaks. She is discouraging them with handfuls of muesli.

Himalayan Birch border
Thanks to the forty-five folks who joined us the see 'The Messenger' documentary about migratory birds at The Bonington Theatre on Easter Sunday. Not my ideal choice of date, but twice the audience they normally get. Everyone who came and spoke to me told me how powerful the film was. Thanks to the Friends of Bestwood Country Park for ensuring that all under 16's came in free.

Snowdrops have now finished but golden domes of wild primroses glow in the Woodland Garden. I'm  lifting and dividing snowdrops to get an even-more spectacular show next year. Propagation of primroses has been slower as we only brought a handful of plants with us from our old garden. I'm hopeful that each mature plant will yield a dozen or more divisions next month and I've also bought fifty plug plants to speed up colonisation. My memories of doing the BTO Common Bird Census up at Treswell Wood near Retford are of my ears throbbing with dawn chorus bird song - and the glory of the wild primroses. Such special flowers.

A hundred bluebells 'in the green' planted in the Cedar Walk. Bluebells planted by Crimea Plantation continue to thicken and spread and a third, small colony grown from seed is building up on the Cut Through Path. Self-sown bluebell seedlings are being transplanted into the Crimea Boundary hedgerow too.

Another mini-mountain of chippings has been delivered by a tree surgeon friend. More hours of shovelling and spreading, this time to mulch the Himalayan Birch border where the sweet violets (viola odonata) are at their exotic best. What about a man who washes the trunks of Himalayan Birch with a cloth to ensure that their snow-white trunks gleam? Counselling may be an option.

At least three bramblings (big, old gold and black northern chaffinches) still with us. Our kitchen window is turning into a stunning bird hide. Siskins remain too, although their numbers are falling as they return north.

Our first WWOOOF volunteer joins us later this month. If you fancy a bit of gentle exercise in a beautiful wildlife garden to the accompaniment of bird song let me know. No experience needed.

Friday, 30 March 2018

In praise of the bramble ....

Not sure of the pearly gates access protocol but think it'll be a short interview with St Peter, clipboard in hand, asking questions.
And in answer to 'What do you wish you'd spent more time doing?' my answer will NOT include digging out brambles. Today it's top of that list sir.
The peppered moth lays its' eggs on bramble
They're beastly. They're vigorous and can turn a neglected garden corner into a dense bramble trap in little time at all. Their thorns have an ability to viscously whip and tear the skin of any unsuspecting face. They ruin workboots and practise a malign magic on laces. And, due to their trick of being able to anchor two points with a hidden trip-wire sometimes metres apart with a continuous bramble they're treacherous. There he goes again! Got him! Ooomph.

Having said all of that, I'm very pro-bramble.

In the 'Nature Reserve' part of the garden we've given large parts of it over to brambles (or wild blackberries). Although I hate their recalcitrance, they really are wonderful plants for wildlife and I'm delighted we have them. There are hundreds of different kinds of brambles (Rubus fruticosus agg.) and it takes an expert eye to tell them apart. Their white or pink flowers are loved by insects and their glossy black berries are equally loved by birds and mammals. We've planted native trees and shrubs into the bramble thickets and they rise from their natural nursery protected above the thorns: rowan, hawthorn, silver birch, holly, field maple.

White/buff tailed bumblebee enjoying July brambles 
In Tudor times the brambles' wild raspberry cousin was more highly valued than the wild blackberry. This has now reversed and we eagerly await the ripening of their fruits for our first crumble.

In our garden, woodcocks are sometimes flushed from beneath their cover. Winter blackbirds are thick in numbers amongst their prickly tangle and flocks of tits and goldcrests frequently move through them as their leaves and stems harbour many invertebrates. We await our summer visitor warblers - blackcaps and chiffchaffs use the brambles for their tiny, well-concealed nests. Brambles  provide excellent cover for all manner of wildlife. The caterpillars of over thirty five species of butterfly of moth feed on them. Common and soprano pippistrelle bats include the brambles in their 'beat' hunting for fluttering moths.

Brambles are said to have many medicinal uses. Their use to cure haemorrhoids came as a surprise; presumably on the 'no gain without pain' shelf. 

We've carved paths through our bramble patches and manage the burgeoning summer growth with loppers. The path edges and new growth may provide refuges for our harvest mice, along with the wood mice and voles that we've spotted. We've planted native bluebells and cowslip seedlings are colonising the grassy paths. Red campion was introduced a few years back and is establishing itself.

The brambles give a wonderful sense of enclosure and place to hear bird song. They play a tremendously-important part in our eco-systems and are a keystone species for wildlife - so, treasure 'em.  

Friday, 16 March 2018

a delicious scent of pineapple chunks around the garden

Female blackbird recaptured last weekend
There is a delicious scent of pineapple chunks around the garden: local tree surgeons have answered our call for chippings which are now forming steaming mini-mountain ranges. Conifer shreddings lend the pineapple aroma to the air.

The garden is sodden.  I edged the lawn by the foraging border and this now resembles a ditch. The lawn squelches. George's Pond is splendidly full. Plants planted on what I thought was the pond edge are now submerged. No sign of amphibians yet even though they queue to get crushed crossing the nearby Lamins Lane (Old Coach Road)*.
For the first time since our arrival, a fox is seen in daylight on the lawn. I've captured them on the trail cam at night on many occasions. Rural foxes often lack the daytime confidence of their urban cousins. It has already learned how to turn the hedgehog cafe box over and eat the meal intended for its eponymous customers. Foxes have cubs in March. We think this is a vixen but she doesn't appear to be lactating. Possibly a subordinate member of a group out foraging? No more food on the lawn for birds. We're on red alert for the hens.

An adventurous stoat has also put in an appearance. Eggs are being eaten in the hen house. Circumstantial m'lud?

Our moth surveying has been mired in the rain, but in one notable nocturnal session we caught twenty one moths of six species. A big 'bag' for us so far this early in the year.

Garden flowers seem to have slowed their advance, daffodils and crocus being the exception. One hundred native bluebells 'in the green' and fifty cyclamen hederifolium have been bought and planted in the meadow edge and Birch Border respectively.
We've also been lucky enough to collect hundreds of winter aconites and snowdrops which have been planted along the drive and in the Woodland Garden. The wet weather must surely have settled these in: the new plants stand 'like soldiers'. Fifty purple loosestrife plugs have been planted around George's Pond (generously gifted to us by my favourite uncle and aunt).

The garden remains busy with birds: thirty garden species recorded using the BTO BirdTrack app last week. Blackbirds seem specially numerous but a surprising number are still without rings. In one of my silly moments I named our first-caught wood pigeon 'Ringo'. As others were caught they became 'Bingo' and 'Bongo'. I asked a friend to name our most-recently caught wood pigeon following the established theme. She chose 'Paul'. The forgotten power of lateral thinking.
Siskin, lesser redpoll brambling are still with us amid the flocks of greenfinches and goldfinches - the chatter and buzz of the birds in the trees is marvellous. Cleaning bird feeders is a necessary chore.

The Vegetable Garden is still yielding treasure like this final crop of Autumn King carrots station sown by WWOOF guests in the summer. Flavour unlike anything in the supermarkets. Next season's seedlings are being nurtured in pots beneath plastic covers. Our first 2018 WWOOF volunteers are already lined up.

*I am in search for crossing signs..

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

The Messenger'

This is my first venture as a film promoter!

I saw the film ‘The Messenger’ at a small screen at The Broadway and watched people being turned away as it was full.

As someone passionate about birds and our our natural environment I was determined to give the folk of Nottingham another chance.

So,I’m looking forward to the screening of 'The Messenger' on Sunday 1 April at 2:30pm at The Bonington Theatre Arnold 

Thanks to the Friends of Bestwood Country Park Under 16’s go free!!! 

'Su Rynard’s wide-ranging and contemplative documentary THE MESSENGER
explores our deep-seated connection to birds and warns that the uncertain
fate of songbirds might mirror our own. Moving from the northern reaches of
the Boreal Forest to the base of Mount Ararat in Turkey to the streets of New
York, THE MESSENGER brings us face-to-face with a remarkable variety of
human-made perils that have devastated thrushes, warblers, orioles, tanagers,
grosbeaks and many other airborne music-makers.
On one level, THE MESSENGER is an engaging, visually stunning, emotional
journey, one that mixes its elegiac message with hopeful notes and unique
glances into the influence of songbirds on our own expressions of the soul. On
another level, THE MESSENGER is the artful story about the mass depletion of
songbirds on multiple continents, and about those who are working to turn
the tide.
In ancient times humans looked to the flight and songs of birds to protect the
future. Today once again, birds have something to tell us’.

Concessions £4.50

For anyone looking to get tickets here’s the link!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

without end ...?

Snowdrop - Galanthus nivalis
Winter aconite- Eranthus hyemalis
The winter stretches on without end.

Innumerable days when we have been unable to work outside due to poor weather.

There have been times over the last week when we've worked in the rain and snow and must have resembled an open prison work party. More of a gulag than a garden. I don't think that prisoners would work in such conditions.
Viburnum tinus

Rain has filled the barren pond which frequently lies frozen. Our local farmer-friend has given me another IBC (large 1000 litre water storage cube) and I need to site this so that I can harvest the plentiful winter rains for summer vegetable and fruit garden irrigation.
Viburnam bodnantense

Frost waits for us as we open the curtains. Stored apples have frozen.
Carrots, celeriac and leeks lifted from the Vegetable Garden are determined to make us pay for ripping them from their winter beds and maliciously numb the fingers.

Wind has prevented us from bird ringing and our moth recording has also been affected. The arrival of a bewitching grandson has been a glorious distraction.

Although winter keeps a tight grip, there is lots happening.
Gorse- Ulex europeas

Crocus chrysanthus
Hazel Coryllus avellana 'Nottingham cob'
Cyclamen coum
The bird feeding we have been doing has resulted in hundreds of finches including goldfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches, lesser redpolls, siskins and bullfinches. The garden trees ring with their songs. My sister had a record 24 chaffinches feeding beneath her feeders in the week. We have a small community of tree and house sparrows using the drive seed feeder that is planted snugly against the tightly cut privet hedge. The musical chirrup of the tree sparrow - such a treat. They are prospecting for nesting sites.

Red dead nettle Lamium app
We hope to ring birds this weekend and I have placed a newly-constructed bird table trap beneath Judith's feeders in the hope of enticing chaffinches to enter. Only pheasants have shown interest so far but Judith sends frequent updates as small birds become more bold. The trap is humane and the occupants should feed without stress until being ringed.
Sarcacocca confusa

Lonicera fragrantissima
Stock doves are taking an early interest in the large nesting box in the Woodland Garden. I avert my eyes and keep my head bowed as I visit the hens - stock doves are highly sensitive to disturbance at the nest.

No bumblebee or butterfly records yet although honeybees have been active around their hives. A stoat paid an electrifying visit. Manic. Energised.

Witch hazel - Hammamelis x intermedia
Kestrel and sparrowhawk too: the number of small birds an obvious attraction.

Primrose - primula vulgaris
But last years tawny owl nest box has been occupied by grey squirrels. I'm hoping they only have a short term let.
Galanthus elwessii

And flowers are appearing.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

bird box resolutions ..

Providing artificial sites for hole nesting birds is one of the easiest ways to help our feathered friends.

Juvenile tawny owl in nest box
I've been nest box making since childhood and here I am, still at it.

Bird nesting boxes are great gifts and can be bought reasonably cheaply.
  • Site them away from where birds are fed - to avoid conflict when birds attempt to set up a breeding territory that is frequently visited by competitors. 
  • Make sure that the box can be opened in order to clean it out in the winter.
  • If cats are present, site the box above the height at which the cats can reach.
Then  sit back and watch the fun!!

I try and use recycled materials wherever I can. Mix together warped wood and my rudimentary carpentry skills ... and the result is frequently something quite eccentric. Fortunately, birds don't seem to mind.
Juvenile tree sparrow 

In 2017 I had 42 nest boxes sited in the garden. They ranged from small boxes with 25mm (1") entrance holes through to whoppers big enough for tawny owls.
I'd over-provided nest boxes in some parts of the garden so that blue and great tits couldn't possibly occupy all and to give choosey birds like tree sparrows choice. This inevitably meant that some boxes wouldn't be used.

18 boxes had been occupied in 2016 but with scant records of how many had been successful. In 2017, 16 were occupied and 64 young were ringed.  Tawny owl, tree sparrow, stock dove and wren used the boxes as well as the usual blue and great tits.
For people who like tables: 

#1 GRETI 5 ringed

#3 BLUTI 9 ringed

#4 GRETI - 7 dead eggs
Woodcrete box BLUTI - 2 dead eggs 1 dead young
#10 BLUTI 8 ringed

#11 GRET! - 1 dead egg
#13 BLUTI 6 ringed

#16 STOCK 2 eggs nest unsuccessful
#17 BLUTI 5 ringed

#20 BLUTI 6 ringed

#30 BLUTI 8 ringed

#32 GRETI 3 ringed

#34 Colony box 1st brood TRESP 4 ringed

#34 Colony box 2nd brood TRESP 2 ringed 3 young
#35 WREN 5 ringed

#37 TAWOW 1 ringed

#42 GRETI -

Ground nest ROBIN

3 eggs predated
Ground nest MALLA

10 eggs predated

6 species attracted to boxes 64 ringed

The abbreviations are BTO ones.

I was really pleased to have a box adopted and used by tawnies even though it faced onto the meadow into which we'd introduced harvest mice. Snack-sized fun. I'm told that once tawnies have bred successfully, there is a good chance that they will return. I certainly hope so as we all loved watching the fluffy chick after it had left the nest box.

I had placed what was intended to be a colony nesting box for house sparrows on the gable above the kitchen door. House sparrows showed no interest whatsoever - but the box (in four des res apartments) was used to raise two broods of tree sparrows - seven young in total. When we set the mist nets up on the adjacent farm, imagine the overwhelming sense of parental pride when the first birds we caught were ones we'd previously ringed as babies in the nest box above the kitchen door.. Come to daddy!!
Examples of starling and little owl nest boxes ready for siting

Stock doves laid in one of the larger boxes but the eggs were taken by a predator. Perhaps a magpie or a squirrel? Adult birds have been seen around the box again this week, so fingers are crossed that young can be raised successfully this year. Stock dove nests become filled with their faeces and so are especially fragrant in the summer.  I've been detailed to check stock dove nests as a penance for having a fondness for these sweet little big-eyed pigeons.

Now is the time for me to check boxes, to clean them out or repair. If boxes aren't used in successive years I move them, so several will be re-sited.

2017 was my most successful year in terms of the numbers of species using boxes and the evidence of young that were successfully reared.

In 2018, I am attempting to attract little owls and starlings to use garden nesting boxes. Both species are in decline.
Little owls really are little - no bigger than a starling. They are said to stomp around wet ground at dawn and dusk hunting earthworms. A BTO study on their diet concluded that Little Owls favoured mice, voles and large invertebrates.  This owl's numbers are declining but they get no protection as they are an introduced species.  Their eye stripe gives them a furious appearance at times. The little owl box design is more complicated than is usual as the birds like to travel in a tunnel with a 70mm entrance to the inner compartment which must have little light penetration. The box must also have a door that allows the checking of contents and access to the young for ringing. Thanks to Rob Hoare for sharing the design with me. We know that little owls bred successfully on the neighbouring farm last year and its only an avian hop, skip and jump to our place.

Little owl boxes are also potentially bespoke grey squirrel residences. I have been told that stinking ferret bedding can be placed in the bottom of the box as little owls like a bed and don't have a sense of smell. Squirrels do - and live in fear of ferrets, so their bedding is a great deterrent. I have some of the most-noxious vintage ordered.

CBC/BBS England graphWe see once-common starlings infrequently - a measure of their decline. We haven't had any starlings on our lawn. In our first garden (late seventies) I counted 30 on the small patch of lawn there.  The graph (from the BTO website) tells the sorry story. I recall a day in the summer last summer when I placed live mealworms in a feeder. Quite how so many starlings found these and so quickly I can't imagine. The subsequent frenzy has only been exceeded during the excesses of Black Friday. So, we know they're around.

Starling boxes are medium size and have 45 mm entrance holes. Starlings will happily nest near to each other so I'm hoping to find a quiet part of the garden where a little group of them can breed.

In addition to the boxes, I'm hoping to site shelves within some covered outdoor parts of the building with the hope of attracting house martins or swallows. These 'outdoor parts' coincide with the porch and covered areas of my parents' annex. I feel sure they'll understand ..

Perhaps putting up a box could be a New Year's resolution? Bird nest box week falls in the week of Valentines Day - that's plenty of notice. What better gift for the love in your life..?

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

goat willow and the RHS....

A supine goat willow rests on the other side of our hedge, half buried in leaf mould. He must have been a fair old age when he tipped over. He's down, but not out. Piercing his thick coat of moss are hundreds of new shoots and branches reaching skywards all along his prostrate trunk.

our stumpery of rotting wood
This persisting life is not only good news for him, it's good news for the many invertebrates that feed on goat willow (Salix caprea). Its' leaves are the food plant for more than thirty species of moth caterpillar. And its' famous pussy willow male flowers are the place-to-be-seen for butterflies on an early spring morning. Comma and small tortoiseshell drank deeply of that new season nectar this year. And bumble bees too.
And where he’s decaying, the saproxylic organisms that turn death into life in woods are contributing to 90% of the boiodiversity of the woodland.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) describes the goat willow's precious ecosystem of aphids, caterpillars, leaf beetles and sawflies under the heading 'pests'. But they also describe it as 'perfect for pollinators'.

Therein lies the problem for our RHS, a conflict within the organisation as yet unresolved.

We're RHS members and our frequent visits to their many glorious gardens are so important to us that they border on the spiritual at times, hungrily recorded with camera and notebook. We have to book two days of overnight accommodation to feel we've got all we should do from a visit to Wisley. Harlow Carr (and Betty's!) must be visited at least once a year. And although more far-flung for us, Rosemoor is always inspirational. 

With its huge membership and our national passion for gardening, the RHS is in a key position of influence but is appearing staid and conservative when radical approaches have never been more necessary.

When we were last at Wisley, we had a wonderful day. Thousands of others did too.  But as we walked around that bustling place there was an emptiness. It felt two dimensional. Where was the provision for wildlife? We did see a small group of migrant thrushes (redwing and fieldfare) feasting on berries. And the now-ubiquitous red-knecked parakeets were evident. But not much else.. Is the RHS search for horticultural perfection (and tidiness) working against wildlife? Wildlife likes it untidy.

malus hupehensis seen at RHS Wisley
It can be lonely here in the gardening ethical left-field. On our developing patch we're creating what will become a beautiful garden for biodiversity. So, we celebrate our native flora and measure our success by the use of our numerous bird boxes and bat boxes. Stacks of rotting wood are everywhere. Where it's safe, we leave the trunks of trees as standing dead wood. This year tree sparrows nested in a hole previously excavated by a great spotted woodpecker in a rotting birch. Trees clothed in climbers. The arisings from the meadows and prunings are piled for small mammals, slow worms and nesting wrens. Our prairie beds are left in their decaying glory until the spring and today, around seventy finches were scoffing from the various seeding heads. Our stumpery of reclaimed conifer roots is a slowly decaying heaven for creepy crawlies and fungi. We are passionate about managing our garden organically and have also created many ponds. Moths are monitored with the moth light throughout the year and we welcome bird ringers too. Our first priority is to make our garden as bug-friendly as we can. 

Messages are coming thick and fast that our invertebrates are in serious trouble. The reasons are complex and involve climate change, land use and use of chemicals. If invertebrates are in trouble, the birds, mammals and amphibians that depend on them will be in trouble. And, of course, they are - as we could be too.

The urgency of the ‘mass extinctions’ facing species on our warming planet does not appear to have put a fire under the feet of our RHS yet. 

It's time for our RHS to take a lead. I was impressed by the plans for the swanky new Nature Centre at Wisley. But cultural change is needed urgently. Practices encouraging invertebrate biodiversity must run through the organisation like letters through a stick of rock. The RHS must urgently become an exemplar of a style of gardening that celebrates and encourages wildlife diversity and the central place of invertebrates. These messages should be front and central in the work the society does in educating gardeners.

the beginning of our 'willow holt'
There’s life in the old goat willow. In a neglected corner of the garden, dozens of his progeny have arisen: seedlings that have become saplings. We don't have space for dozens of mature goat willows but can manage them. We've created a willow holt where the pollarded stems at different heights will explode in the spring with new shoots like a willow firework display, celebrating all those little munchers who come to enjoy our new creepy crawly kindergarten. 

Chris Baines told us in ‘How to make a wildlife garden’ three decades ago that we should see the success of our gardens by whether leaves in our garden plants had holes.. 

How long before the RHS judge their success using this simple measure?