In these days of self-isolation contact with the natural world may be limited for some people. Some are not lucky enough to live in the countryside or even have gardens but there are still things you can do. Feeding birds is one, as long as we remember that it is nesting time and we must not feed anything which may not be suitable for nestlings. Even if you don’t have a place to hang feeders outside, there are some that have suction pads attached, to fix to the outside of your windows.
On your daily exercise, have a look at people’s gardens and see what you can see. There will be insects buzzing about and lovely plants flowering and if you go to your local park, birds and squirrels living their lives as normal. Foxes are common in towns, now, so if you hear rustling sounds at night it may be that you have left a bin bag outside the bin. Have a look at this beautiful, adaptable animal before you chase him away! He is very attractive with his russet coat and amber, catlike eyes.
Those of us that are lucky enough to have gardens will be aware of the wealth of wildlife that exists there, particularly insects. They are in every corner of your garden and something which could occupy your housebound children. Ask them to make a list of all the insects they find, making sure to tell them to put them back where they found them, undamaged; good reference books or the internet will help with identification.
If you are planting wildflower seeds it is important to make sure they are native varieties. ‘Plantlife,’ the conservation charity, is working with local councils in rural areas and advising that many seed mixes contain non-native varieties which may be damaging to our pollinating insects; butterflies, moths, bees and some beetles all rely on pollen and nectar from flowers and do better if they feed on native plants. So it is always best to check the packet before you scatter the seeds; again, books or the internet will help you to know where the flowers come from.
Dale wrote to ask me about another pollinating inset, the Beefly; he has noticed that there seem to be more about this year than previously. The abundance of any species will rely on several factors, how cold the previous winter was, the availability of food, the prevalence of predators and, most importantly, how successful the last breeding season was. Although the adult Beefly feeds on flowers, it is a parasitoid insect. That is its larvae, and not the adult, feed on the eggs and larvae of other insects. In the case of the Beefly it will lay its eggs in the nests of ground nesting bees, grasshoppers and other insects which like to nest in the ground. So you can see that the success of the Beefly will also rely on the success of their hosts proving, yet again, that everything is linked.
The Willow tree’s bark was the source of Aspirin, but it has recently been discovered that it may provide yet another pharmaceutical use. It has been found to kill certain types of cancer cells, in particular a childhood cancer that is hard to treat. An agricultural research centre is working with biologists at the University of Kent on this project. The ancient Egyptians, Assyrians and Greeks new about the medicinal properties of willow bark and used it to treat fever.
Black-tailed godwits are successful in the Norfolk fens again after becoming extinct in the UK a hundred years ago. These wading birds are very vulnerable because they nest on the ground. It was not only avian and mammalian predators took advantage of this but also people who lived on the fens used to steal their eggs.
May is Bluebell time and if you are able to take your daily exercise in the grounds of Blickling Hall, there is a beautiful bluebell wood there which is well worth a visit; it is stunning!
Stay safe, everyone, and let’s hope this imprisonment won’t go on too long.
© Sheila Sims. Email firstname.lastname@example.org