Is Austerity Saving Our Grass Verges?

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Wrexham Wild Flower Verge – Ian Humphreys of Ian Humphreys Photography

There’s probably not much to be grateful to austerity for but it seems to have stopped North Yorkshire cutting their grass verges and as a consequence they are now blooming with wild flowers and that’s great news for our insects. It may of course be a deliberate North Yorkshire policy to help and enhance our wildlife, whatever, let’s be grateful. There are a few maverick grass verge cutters, boys on toys riding amok on our country lanes on seated lawn mowers and in places the verges have a thinnish safety strip cut along the road side. Mainly however we have umbellifers and cranesbill adding colour and insect food and habitat to our roadsides. According to The Independent The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has assessed less than one per cent of the 1.4m named species of invertebrates, yet of those studied about 40 per cent are considered threatened. Invertebrates constitute 80 per cent of the world’s species yet one in five could be at risk of extinction, scientists found. A word of warning here, strangely this report has a photo of a monarch butterfly attached, surely everyone knows monarch butterflies are American? Makes me wonder about the credibility of the article, but let’s assume the figures are correct. This depressing news is confirmed, however, out by Butterfly Conservation’s The State of the UK’s Butterflies 2015 report which states, “The new analyses provide further evidence of the serious, long-term and ongoing decline of UK butterflies, with 70% of species declining in occurrence and 57% declining in abundance since 1976.” Perhaps naively, I tend to trust wildlife organisations’ claims more than I do those of politicians. Flowers and insects are of course near the bottom of the food chain and maybe soon we shall be seeing more kestrels and barn owls hunting our verges for the voles which this long vegetation will provide homes for. Mostly the flowers I see blooming are members of the umbellifers family, mainly white with a flat top consisting of numerous smaller flowers, umbellifers, such as cow parsley, which is great for insects and it’s rare to find them without something enjoying them. What’s more, the insects aren’t just restricted to bees, they attract all kinds of beetles and flies, look for some splendid longhorn beetles for example. The other flowers we are seeing at the moment on the verges are cranesbill, the blue variety meadow cranesbill, which many folk grow in their gardens especially to attract insects and which often teem with bees of various types, bumble, honey and hoverflies, there are lots of other flowers but these are the most prominent when viewed from your car.

Ian Humphreys, of Ian Humphreys Photography, has tweeted a photo of wild flowers planted, for bees, on a road verge near Wrexham and it looks ‘absolutely fabulous’, Chris Packham’s words not mine. Lovely attractive bright colours and excellent pollinator plants and as best I can see from the photo, consisting predominately of indigenous plants. The bees must be loving it. I also believe that in France many villages grow small plots of pollinating plants for the insects and these again are not only good for the insects, they help the farmers and add a delightful bright aspect to any village. Well my question is why don’t we try to do the same in Nidderdale and Harrogate? I envisage small flower plots planted with plants which flower throughout the ‘insect season’ in every village and around Harrogate. Surely something relatively easy to do, which would enhance the corner of any village whilst at the same time doing something positive for our countryside. Contact me by email if you are interested in starting something locally and let’s start planning for next year.

Little Owl - Robin Hermes

Little Owl – Robin Hermes

Your Sightings

Robin Hermes, took, this little owl photo near Beckwithshaw.

Blackcap - Christine Dodsworth

Juvenile Blackcap – Christine Dodsworth

My apologies to Christine Dodsworth for the late inclusion of this email, “I took these photos this morning out of our front window of a baby blackcap. The parents were flitting about and I saw the male blackcap land nearby. We live in Earley in Berkshire now but it is interesting to hear about the wildlife where we grew up in Harrogate, and still sometimes visit. The goldfinches have been feeding on the centaureas in our garden so I have not cut the plants back so that the birds can get the seeds. We live in an urban area but do get lots of birds visiting the garden. We have many red kites around here and I am sure they whistle when they see somebody below as if to say ‘feed me’ as people (including us) put out their leftover chicken carcasses to see the red kites swoop down to take them. A few weeks ago we were in Sicily and there were lots of swifts there. I read your blog about swifts. We used to have house martin nests under the apex in the eaves and the house martins came back every year but eventually stopped altogether and we hardly see any house martins now. I’m not sure leaving leftover chicken carcasses is good for juvenile kites, kites eat raw meat and cooked meat may well affect the development of youngsters.

Tony Rogerson writes, “I totally agree with John Wade’s recommendation of a visit to Long Nanny. I was fortunate enough to be one of the National Trust’s wardens at this site in 2007. Camping in the middle of 3,000 Arctic terns for 3 1/2 months was an awesome experience! There were many ups and downs during the season, ranging from nightly encounters with a grasshopper warbler in a lone hawthorn in the sand dunes, to being helpless as spring tides decimated the tern colony in the middle of the night (when some eggs were ‘rescued’ and kept in a warm oven until the tides receded AND went on to hatch!). I can provide some photos if this would be of interest.”

A delighted Bernard Atkinson tells me, “My wife and I were looking out of our cottage window near Bickerton, Wetherby today during the torrential rain, and were absolutely amazed and delighted to see a kingfisher sitting on our washing line – it looked around for a few minutes before flying onto the top of a garden archway and then flew away but we were able to glimpse its beautiful blue plumage. The nearest water to us is some disused brick ponds about 100 yards away and this is the first time we have spotted a kingfisher near our home – we usually have to travel miles to spot one (and even then it’s only for a fleeting moment).”

Gwen Turner, “I am delighted to report that I saw my first goldcrest in about 25 years in the ivy in the front garden in Duchy Road. Some days later a tiny nest was found on the terrace at the back of the house which I think is a goldcrest’s. I can only hope that if there was a brood that they had fledged before their home suffered a catastrophe.”

Mullein Moth Caterpillat - Max Hamilton

Mullein Moth Caterpillar – Max Hamilton

Max Hamilton stood and watched “a field mouse jump from my hawthorn hedge to my peanut bird feeder today, never seen that before.” Rodents are often attracted to feeders, especially wood mouse, the ones with the big ears. Max has also sent me a photo of a mullein moth caterpillar.

Joan Hill asks, “Where are all the ladybirds this year? I don’t think I have seen a single one in the garden and usually there are quite a few around. Hopefully the butterflies will arrive once the sunshine decides to come out and stay out (if it ever does). The buddleia is covered in flower buds but not open yet.” You should never answer a question with another but where are all the insects, per se? I suspect it’s a combination of wet summers and perhaps mild winters caused by climate change coupled with our relentless use of chemicals on the farm and in the garden and home. Another issue is the early flowering of plants and your buddleia seems to be around a month early. It doesn’t coincide with the insects’ lifestyle and therefore food plants aren’t available for the insects to survive on.

Thruscross reservoir - Stephen Tomlinson

Thruscross Reservoir – Stephen Tomlinson (Nidd Gorge Photography)

Stephen Tomlinson sent a lovely photo of Thruscross reservoir in tranquil mood.

An interesting photo from Ian Wilson, “I thought you might like to see how resourceful those damned squirrels can be when faced with a supposedly ‘squirrel-proof’ seed feeder!” Brilliant.

Steve Whiteley, “Just a few sightings on my rambles this week. I had occasion to be in Glasshouses this week so took the time to stop off at the bridge at the bottom of the village. This has been a good spot to see dippers and grey wagtails in the past. I have also seen treecreeper, nuthatch and blackcaps in this area in the past. Alas, none of these were present this time. However, I was treated to the blue flash of a kingfisher flying under the bridge and along the line of the river. I was also treated to a good view of a spotted flycatcher which conveniently used the tree next to the bridge as its staging post for its regular hunting trips. More locally, I have had a hummingbird hawkmoth visit the plant in my front garden in Starbeck which was good to see.” Strangely I was also at Glasshouses recently and also saw very little, less than you in fact. Hummingbird Hawkmoth is, I think, the first I have heard of this year. Spotted flycatchers seem to be here in slightly better numbers than recent years, is that your observation?

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve: Some of the flora and fauna reported from Nosterfield: Common redstart, Yellow wort and dog rose,

RSPB Fairburn Ings: Just a few birds seen recently at Fairburn Ings, Little Ringed Plover, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Green Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper. Maybe the autumn wader passage has started? Also Little Gull, Hobby, Peregrine, Cetti’s warbler, Grasshopper Warbler.

Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings. Dr Jim Irving and possibly David Gilroy report the sighting of a turtle dove on the telephone wires alongside the road, just outside Minskip on the Minskip-Ferrensby road. Very good news, especially as I had declared our area’s turtle doves extinct.

Events

See website for full details of these events and to confirm no changes.

Bilton Conservation Group have organised a Balsam Bash at Grange Quarry on Saturday, 23 July. Meeting at 9.30 in Pets at Home car park. “We have been removing balsam for a couple of years now and have made a difference! If we can remove all the balsam from a couple of open areas Sam Walker the HBC county ranger plans to spread the hay from the wild flower meadow later this year.”

Jacob Smith Park, Knaresborough: Saturday 23rd July from 10am. Balsam Bash, Meet at the entrance. Bring some gloves, a drink and wear long sleeves. Everyone Welcome.

Harrogate RSPB Group: Wednesday 24 August 7:00pm Outdoor Meeting – YWT Staveley

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One thought on “Is Austerity Saving Our Grass Verges?

  1. Hi Nigel – just to say that I was one of two who set up the Long Nanny Little Tern site. In those days of course the site only held Little Terns, all the other terns moved in afterwards, when the site was given protection. I am sure there is a lesson to be learned from that !
    On another hot topic (continual) that of raptor persecution. I have always felt that we, the local naturalists/conservationists could do more on the ground active work. For example why have we not proposed a Hen Harrier Day event in our local dales ? I know Paul Irving was part responsible for a raptor awareness event recently at Grimwith. But I would like to see a number of local organisations ( HDNS, HANDBAG, local RSPB group, NiddBirders, Wharfdale Nats, Yoredale Nats and the like) come to gether under a loose alliance to organise a Hen Harrier Day (the National day is coming up in early August). Such a show of strength parading in the dales would send out a message right in the ‘Heart’ of the worst harrier killing fields in the Country. Also this group could put out campanging letters to local MPs, moorland management organisations, National Park and Nidderdale AONB.
    I just feel we need to come together to get stronger, have a voice, get organised and make the killers of these raptors know we are here and mean business.
    Regards
    Colin

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