Getting in the Way

The other night I sat a watched a Badger busily feeding in my garden for 45 minutes. I felt a bit spoilt to be honest casting my mind back to the many failed attempts of trying to see Badgers out in the wilds of the countryside and here they are on the edge of a small town busily feeding in a garden. Badgers are one of the most studied wild animals in the UK and a lot is known about their behaviour and what they require to keep a healthy population. They are also at the centre of debate over Bovine TB and some parts of the UK have been subject to a cull in recent times all causing a lot of controversy.

Coffe in hand!

The Badger is one of those species that has started to use humans to their own advantage and they are also have a strong sense of tradition in their lifecycle. Some setts are known to be hundreds of years old and as has happened many times since the end of the second World war, many areas of new housing have been placed near to Badger setts. Sometimes this meeting of new neighbours doesn’t go well when the badgers are regularly upsetting the human neighbours when they dig up neat and tidy lawns looking for earthworms or trash the bird feeding stations. Personally, I can’t say I blame the badgers as they have had their habitat destroyed. In the past I have spent a day working on a housing estate on the edge of a new town where developers had built a new estate leaving a small piece of woodland containing a badger sett. The badgers then started to annoy their neighbours by doing some of the above. The team I was working with spent some time trying to create feeding areas for the badgers and advising some of the humans, all of which inspired me to write this piece.

It’s very difficult for to keep human beings happy! The last 2 centuries have seen the human population increase massively and the impact on the natural world has been equally massive. In amongst the losses there have been and number of species that have been able to adapt and for a few to prosper because of humanity. The Badger has been able to adapt to some invasion of their habitat and, although there have been some losses, there are further examples of this adaptive behaviour to be seen in our local wildlife. I’m guessing that most of you will have Foxes and Brown Rats near where you live. These species are more numerous in areas where there are humans and well known for their history of benefitting from living alongside humans. As for Foxes, I’ve met them at 11am carrying whole bin liners that they’ve just stolen from a neighbour and I’ve seen quite a few earths in gardens over the years. Many people feed them every day and it’s another way that the natural world links closer together to us all.
There’re not many people that like Brown Rats and there is good reason for I have seen damage caused by rats and it’s quite phenomenal the destruction they can cause. But I do also have a soft spot for them as I know they will not be beaten by humans and they are one species that use us instead of the other way around.
I’ve noticed over the years of my observations, work, and keeping in touch with natural history and conservation issues, that the more successful a species is, the more likely it is to be disliked by humans. The species I’ve discussed are just a few of the obvious examples that upset us humans in one way or another and I’ve seen this reoccur with species that have increased their ranges such as Magpies which were labelled by some as one of the main reasons for song bird decline. It’s true that Magpies eat eggs and nestlings for I have seen this with my own eyes but a far bigger issue is loss of suitable habitats for both breeding and wintering birds with other examples like Raven which has spread back to its former haunts in the last few decades but already the old habits have returned where recently some sheep farmers have been granted licence by government to shoot Ravens because of the threat they cause to lambs.

Magnificent raven


This is one of those very debatable topics where there seems to be a lot of hearsay evidence often involved and no sensible person who knows that though it is feasibly possible for a Raven to kill a weak, sick or even a new born lamb; it is far more likely to be eating afterbirth or a still born lamb.

As is so often the way of humanity that we humans get angry when nature costs us money and read recently about how some owners of pheasant shoots have been asking to control Buzzard numbers as they feel that the Buzzards are killing the pheasants. This kind of mentality feels like we are going back in time with regards to nature conservation. The reason many of our predatory species became rare or scarce in the first place was down to the game keeping; let’s not return to the bad old days.
The state of our natural environments is in crisis and trying to manage its wildlife is an ongoing problem due to humanity’s obsession with money and we seem to think we have a God given right to put nature where we want it. It’s my opinion that it’s about time we reserved this ideology and mentality and did more to protect our ever-threatened wildlife. If you have ever suffered any bin robbing or lawn digging you should either feel lucky or protect your ‘ castles ‘ better ‘. In these times it’s more important to me to save our rapidly declining wildlife and not destroy it because it annoys us in some way. See what good you can try and do to help.


Slow Changes

With October upon us the natural changes are starting to happen and I’ve been starting to remove fallen leaves from the ‘ reserve ,’ a sure sign that winter isn’t too far away. The management work for the winter has been started in earnest and I’ve been busy trying to improve the rest of the un-worked area in preparation for sowing wildflower seeds next spring. This work has been laborious with the deep digging and the continuous battle against the dominant weed species keeping me busy. Some areas that I had previously dug were re- dug again as some of the more voracious weed species had obviously not been totally removed and there seemed to be daily growth of Creeping Buttercup and Docks. I also began attempting to remove some of the clumps of Pendulous Sedge. This is going to be a major task as there was quite a number of large clumps present and this species is very deep rooted that makes it very difficult to remove.

With the general management plan in place I had been thinking of how I could further improve the habitat and make it more attractive to the local wildlife. One habitat that has been much reduced in recent times is the classic pond. Many old farm ponds have been lost due to the land being ‘ improved ‘ and many species that used these old ponds have declined quite dramatically particularly in the last 50 years. The reserve needed a pond to hopefully attract some of these aquatic species and I began to prepare an area one. The reserve/garden is on quite a steep slope so an area had to be levelled to accommodate a pond. This has taken a lot of digging so far and there will be a fair amount of landscaping to finish the area.

Future Pond

Along with the idea of a pond I also thought of a very quick way in how to make the area more attractive to wildlife. Some may call it a pile of sticks and branches but to the conservationist it’s a habitat pile! These simple constructions can host a wide range of wildlife species from various insect such as bees (who’s Queens will excavate hibernation sites in rotting timber) and they can also attract amphibians and small mammals once they are a bit more established. I collected some timber from the local woods and started the pile and hopefully the wildlife will soon be finding a home there.

Habitat Pile!

It’s good to plan ahead but what has been happening with the wildlife already present in the area? Yet again the weather has been warmer than average for this time of year and due to my unseasonal planting schedule there have been a number of species that have come into flower and added some colour and food for the insects that have prospered in this late warmth.

Perennial sow thistle
Corn Marigold

At least 2 species of hoverfly and the Common Carder Bees have been seen daily feeding on the 9 species of still flowering plants present in the original area that I planted. The largest visitor to the area seems to be happy with the work I have carried out as I witnessed two Badgers digging up the worms the other night. I feel pretty spoilt really and hope these signs of how the local wildlife is already using the area are a sign of things to come for next year. We can only wait and see what happens in the future but so far so good.


Visitors and locals

Yep I’ve been away again! My excuse was I have now crossed a line, 60, where I should be able to choose how I spend my time……. I wish!

I have a strange interest in Lanzarote, strange in the sense that there is not really much terrestrial wildlife (quality yes, quantity no), and the only reason I mention this is the experience of living in an increasingly small world.

One of the birds that passes through the UK and is seen occasionally, on its travels, in Surrey is the Whimbrel. A large wading bird looking like a made up Curlew, it is normally seen on mud and sandy ground by the sea or marsh so it continues to strike me as odd to see Whimbrel on rocky/lava coast in Lanzarote. So clearly designed with a long beak for probing mud it looks like Lanzarote visitors have adapted to a different kind of food. A bird which visits like a tourist just like it does in Surrey!

Fellow visitor

A resident local bird in both Surrey and Lanzarote and introduced to both are the increasing numbers of parakeets. Pretty they may be but I really don’t like the noise, let alone the damage they do to my fruit trees! Always a subject to cause disagreement, introductions (even re-introductions) can often result in unintended consequences and a long term problem to sort out (or not!).

Arriving home in the midst of autumn felt like a celebration of greens, yellows, reds and orange after the earthy tones of a considerably more barren Lanzarote.

Painting by leaves

The glorious weather has also encouraged some more unusual visitors.

Clouded yellow butterfly

Visiting my mother in law, who is staying along the Hogs Back, my wife discovered this exotic visitor on the same area of rough meadow where we had seen so many blues and Marbled whites earlier in the year. Sadly there was too much wind to allow the butterfly to open its wings but a joy nonetheless. Never cease to use your senses even when you least expect an encounter of the wildlife kind.

After the rain on Saturday the sun on Sunday tempted us to walk across Whitmoor Common after a drink at our favoured pub, the Jolly Farmer on the Burdenshot Rd. More glorious colours.

And a sense of winter in waiting.

Lovely to encounter a fellow local.

Sentry Stonechat

Clever little birds these. After breeding on our heaths some of the Stonechats stay put, some move south to the coast and some migrate much further to warmer climes. Using this strategy allows Stonechats to survive whatever the winter weather, hence a mild winter allows the resident birds to breed early and a poor winter doesn’t wipe them all out. Unlike their often near neighbours, Dartford warblers, who usually stay put and suffer the consequences…but that’s another story

Too Tidy, Too Human

If there’s one thing that is going to upset me it’s when we humans apply our “values” on to the natural world. There are many examples of this in modern everyday life and with my conservation instinct at the core of how I look at things there is one that stands out. I am constantly bewildered at how many vital habitats are ‘ tidied up ‘, all because some say they are untidy. There are 1000s of people across the length and breadth of our country who on any given day, could be tidying up our green spaces. This can range from forestry to gardening where people will be trimming hedges, cutting lawns, cutting roadside verges, felling trees, spraying chemicals and countless other activities in order to keep things NICE and TIDY.

Due to social conditioning, many people seem to think this is the correct way to do things and despite various warnings, we are now living in serious times where there are real possibilities of many species becoming extinct due to habitat loss, climate change and persecution in some cases.
It was untidier when I was younger and I recall seeing a flock of 300 chaffinches feeding in winter stubble on a local Farm. You’d be hard pushed to see a flock of chaffinches that big these days let alone a winter stubble field! This is a big example of the “tidying up” of our countryside with farmers being part of the problem but government management of our agricultural land being a much bigger issue. In today’s modern farms, winter wheat is by far the commonest grain grown and is harvested in August most years. The reason winter wheat gets its name is because it is sown in autumn and will slowly develop over winter. The time of harvest till the land is ploughed up and re-sown is the only time where birds and mammals can get access to the fallen off seed. With the old-fashioned stubble field there was access to the seeds throughout winter. This fast production system has taken away a huge amount of vital food for the wildlife and this crop seems to have led to fields being enlarged often at the cost of headlands and hedges and habitats of many plants and animals.

The changes in our agricultural land use since the second World War have had a catastrophic effect on our wildlife. The statistics are proving it and most farmers would say that land productivity has increased, which it has undoubtedly has, but the price has been paid for by our wildlife. Since 1945 97% of meadow lands have gone and all of the associated species have also gone. That’s how serious things have got in these times. The pressure farmers are under from government policy is relentless and serious polices need introducing as soon as possible to redress the balance.

When I used the words tidy and tidiness in this piece I realise that the farmers are more pressurised by government policy in how they manage their farms but other issues of over tidiness seem to be more avoidable, but would need a change of thinking. I’m mainly directing this last comment at the host of gardeners amongst us. I’m constantly amazed at how many gardens have either turned into car parks or bowling greens. It saddens me to see how many gardens have been so heavily manicured and over fertilised that they are little use to wildlife. There is also the massive issue of pesticides that are used on the farms, high ways and now in gardens. We know what these pesticides are capable of and how they kill one of the most important links in the natural food chain. It seems crazy to me to see some dangerous pesticides for sale in supermarkets now days. I urge all gardeners to not use any chemicals and leave areas in their gardens to over grow and encourage invertebrates to make their home. A little untidiness can go along way!

We can but hope that more government money will be put into nature conservation but I’m not holding my breath. With this in mind we should do what we can on a practical level; in our garden for example and if you feel motivated enough, an email to your MP may help raise their awareness that people do care about the state of our countryside. My last advice is, don’t cut the whole of your lawn if you have one, make a compost heap and plant some wildflowers.