New Year Newsletter

Happy New Year!
Thank you so much for your support in 2015, which has enabled us to donate £20,000 to small UK Conservation Charities.

2016 has started as wet and soggy as December, which broke all sorts of records for warmth and rainfall in the UK. Whatever the cause, weather patterns are changing and folk are having to adapt.
We are trying to plant hedges at a number of sites at the moment which are completely under water and likely to stay that way until April. We’ll probably have to use chilled stock to plant in spring, and hope we don’t have three months as dry as the winter has been wet. We’ve scarcely had a frost here this winter, so various seeds which need the cold to provoke germination are going to no show. Spring flowers are beginning to make unexpected appearances and the grass is still growing in our meadow, which needs more active management.
Perhaps some of these changes might help people notice their environment and particularly plants a little more. I often feel they view them as incidental background to “nature” on TV – i.e. cute mammals and birds. I hope too that our understanding of plants’ role in the landscape will come into sharper focus as we become more aware of land use in our search for more effective flood prevention.
When our native flora does register on our collective consciousness at the moment it’s generally because of its relationship with pollinators like bees (in the news again because of a rather gloomy study about neonicotinoids from our friends at Sussex University). I’m regularly asked for seed mixes for bees, even different types of bees, which we can happily supply but which seem to me to miss a trick. A typical wildflower meadow mix, for example, is brilliant for all sorts of invertebrates, but not optimal for honeybees. A brilliant honeybee mix is much less helpful for other species. Diversity, as ever, is the key, and something we can help you create.

Nick Mann

RSPB: If You Build It, They Will Come

“If you build it, they will come” is the strapline for the new RSPB adverts. Initially I thought it was just ripped off from “Field Of Dreams“, (another) odd but entertaining Kevin Costner movie from the eighties, “If you build it, he will come”. My second thought was how brilliant it was. I’m constantly trying to get across the attraction of playing God and creating your own little patch of biodiversity by bringing animals into your garden.

If you build it, they will come
We built it, they came
Then I had a chance to think about it again. I was at Hampton Court helping promote the bumblebee app in the bee tent next to the RSPB, so I could ponder on what was bothering me. Their display had all sorts of stuff you could buy (from the RSPB’s online store) or build – bird boxes and feeders, a shed, hedgehog house, bee boxes, hibernaculums (hibernacula?). What it didn’t have – and nor does the TV ad – is much by way of plants. In fact the garden in the ad and at Hampton Court look ghastly – drab and uninteresting – presumably in case attractive plants detract from the cute signs and the cute animals.

Isn’t this a bit odd? Fantastic wildlife gardens aren’t generally filled with paraphenalia. They are designed and managed sensitively and planted well. If we do feel compelled to “build it” can’t we build it to look good too, using landscaping features like dry stone walls, rather than a range of reasonably priced wildlife shelters or mini Eeyore homes?

Dry stone wall, Hookgate
I built it, they will come
I’m building a dry stone wall at home as a retaining wall, which won’t win gold medals but will look great, as well as providing a home for all sorts of wildlife.

More fundamentally, as a final thought, shouldn’t we “plant it” rather than “build it”? I thought plants were where gardens and ecosystems started. And can’t we “plant it” to look nice too?