Wordless Wednesday – Wildlife Trusts #30 Days Wild

Early Bumblebee Bombus pratorum nectaring on Phacelia tanacetifolia

Early Bumblebee Bombus pratorum nectaring on Phacelia tanacetifolia

Meadow Buttercups - Hatfield Forest, Essex

Meadow Buttercups – Hatfield Forest, Essex

Male Ghost Moth

Male Ghost Moth – Hepialus humuli

Ragged Robin Lychnis flos-cuculi - Wicken Fen

Ragged Robin Lychnis flos-cuculi – Wicken Fen

Almost wordless! The Wildlife Trusts #30 Days Wild challenge each June encourages folk to make room for nature in our lives and do something wild each day, we did not climb mountains but this first week we ate a picnic lunch in a field of Buttercups at Hatfield Forest, spent a balmy evening at Wicken Fen, amongst wildflowers and Dragonflies, lolled about watching early Bumblebees in our own garden and took dog walks in fields with Ghost Moths for company. Its about taking time to reconnect in the natural world. Twas lovely! And anyone can join in at anytime.

Wildlife Wednesday – A Perfect Storm

Inspired by Tammy’s Casa Mariposa blog, I have been trying for some time to compile a list of UK Garden Centres and Nurseries which sell plants without neonics – systemic insecticide use. I am failing. The RHS were unable to help – despite selling a licensed logo “Perfect for Pollinators” This isn’t regulated – plants can be treated with neonicintoid insecticides and still carry the label.

Astrantia Roma

Astrantia Roma and Bumblebees

Neonics, used to kill off insects by commercial growers deemed to be aesthetically harmful to a plant, stay within the plant – that same systemic insecticide is able to kill the very pollinators it’s labelled to attract. Which is beyond stupid. Laced with hidden toxic chemicals enticing us to buy the perfect plant we are creating a pollinator death trap. Dave Goulson reports “Neonics in soil can persist for years. They can also last for several years once inside perennial plants. Once you have them in your garden there is no known way to get rid of them, other than waiting many years for them to slowly break down.”

“They are tremendously toxic to insects; just one teaspoon of neonic is enough to give a lethal dose to 1 ¼ billion honeybees.”

Scabious

There has been much debate on the use of neonics on farmland crops – the soil association reports “around 95% of chemicals do not get into the crop but instead get into soils and are absorbed by wildflowers, hedges, trees and streams”. Its acknowledged now these insecticides play a large part in killing our Honeybees. But these same insecticides kill our earthworms, wild bees, bumblebees and other pollinators including Butterflies, Moths and Hoverflies, and even the birds who feed on these insects.

Chalk Hill Blue Butterfly

Chalk Hill Blue Butterfly

Two months ago I chipped into a twitter debate, which lobbied the RHS to do something about the lack of testing on plants carrying a label they endorse and sell. Led by John Walker and Kevin Thomas, The Natural Bee Keeping Trust and Dave Goulson, Scientist, Sussex University lecturer, Bee champion, founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and author.  This resulted in a change of wording by the RHS. “…..been grown in accordance with all relevant UK and EU legislation and regulation, including the use of pesticides and the current ban on neonicotinoids” However, in reality, the ban is applicable to farm crops not commercial garden plant growers.

Yesterday Dave Goulson launched a crowd funding appeal which aims to test garden plants for neonics, to find the ones which are truly safe or not, then lobby for garden centres to sell plants which are genuinely good for bees and other pollinators. Those that are safe would be sold as neonic-free. He is a measured man, not a ranter or crank, a scientist, who acts on scientific evidence. Hence the need to carry out tests. Greenpeace have already tested garden plants on the EU mainland and found neonics.

Borago officinalis and Honey Bee

Borago officinalis and Wild Bee

Without pollinators, we would not eat Strawberries, Apples or Chocolate, amongst many others. Without pollinators we would see very few flowers in our Gardens or on Countryside walks.  Buglife report it’s estimated that 84% of EU crops (valued at £12.6 billion) and 80% of wildflowers rely on insect pollination.

Solitary bee on 'White Pearl' Perennial Sweet Pea

Solitary bee on ‘White Pearl’ Perennial Sweet Pea

As gardeners we are uniquely placed to really help our beleaguered pollinators and impact how this knocks on into the wildlife food chain and ecosystems. We can make a genuine difference. If we carry on planting plants laced with toxic chemicals then its quite frightening how empty, devoid and unhappy our gardens could be.

I haven’t included any of our May 2016 wildlife from home today, these photos are last Summers. Tina from My Gardener Says who hosts this lovely meme, has shared lots from her Texas garden though.

Happy Wildlife Watching!

Chelsea – The Modern Slavery Garden

Amongst the madness, beauty and razzmatazz of Chelsea this year, there was a garden with a powerful message. The Modern Slavery Garden, designed by Juliet Sargeant, the first female black designer in Chelsea’s 103 year history.

Modern Slavery Garden

Modern Slavery Garden

Behind the closed doors, a dark centre – charcoal floor, dark railings and door backs representing a hidden reality of men, women and children trapped in modern day slavery. The tall Oak planted within, symbolising the Oak Wilberforce stood under in 1788 with William Pitt discussing the campaign to abolish slavery.

The door numbers represent deeply moving statistics from the 2014 Global Slavery Index. Men, women and child human trafficking and forced labour. Sex slavery, debt bondage, domestic servitude, child marriage, organ harvesting, forced agriculture labour, factories and sweatshops, producing goods for global supply chains, even nail bar forced labour.

Modern Slavery Garden doors

Modern Slavery Garden doors

The small oak saplings at the base of the large Oak tree were grown by modern slavery survivors on an allotment run by the Medaille Trust, a Salvation Army partner, on a UK south coast allotment they use as part of their recuperation and recovery from their experiences of exploitation.

Modern Slavery Garden

Modern Slavery Garden

The open Oak doors and colourful planting represent freedom beyond the bleakness.

The UK Modern Slavery Act was passed last year, and from April 1st 2016 for the first time, companies with a turnover of more than £36m must declare what they are doing about slavery, within their companies and their supply chains – (Last year there was a successful prosecution of a bed company in Yorkshire using trafficked slave labour supplying several prestigious UK stores).

Modern Slavery Garden Planting

Modern Slavery Garden Planting

However, as yet there are no repercussions if companies choose not to publish these reports, its early days. Hopefully this legislation will be further tightened. As consumers we can challenge companies making huge profits from others bleak slave misery. A new campaign promoted by the Modern Slavery Garden to coincide with the first wave of disclosures in April 2016, gives power to the public to challenge the labour ethics of products and suppliers. Folk are encouraged to photograph the product with the hashtag #askthequestion via social media and publicly ask for answers.

Today, a few days after Chelsea closed the Global Slavery Index has released new 2016 figures, and reports a 10 million increase – 45.8 million men, women and children are modern slaves. 13,000 within the UK. Victims here are both vulnerable people in the UK and trafficked from overseas, forced to work illegally.

What kind of world is this?

Having been on the verge of giving up Chelsea visits, tired of hotel gardens and greenhouses the price of houses, its refreshing to see the RHS accept new challenging designs. Chelsea is eclectic and eccentric, filled with passion and excellence but so valid to find thought provoking emotive gardens too. Juliet won both a well deserved gold medal and the Peoples Choice in the Fresh category.

Wildlife Wednesday – The Ducklings Brief Visit

The Mother Duck who laid her eggs, under the elderly sage bush in our neighbours garden, went on to hatch 13 ducklings, one sadly died on the first day, 4 more died during April, most likely because of our exceptionally cold nights, 8 survived.

Mother Duck and Ducklings visit our garden

Mother Duck and Ducklings visit our garden

On Bank Holiday Monday we got up to find all 8 ducklings in our garden, with the Mother, a Drake and another slimmer adult female. During the previous week The Mother and slimmer female had been flying in to visit us here.

Drake, second adult female and the mother and her ducklings

Drake, second adult female and the mother and her ducklings

With warmer nights our neighbour, 2 doors away, had corralled the mother and her 5 week old ducklings into the rear of his garage, then opened the front garage door to let them into the lane, hoping they would make the short journey to one of the 3 rivers our lane crosses. Although they have a small pond, they could no longer live there, the garden is fully enclosed with no independent route out, the Ducklings needed to be much closer to the river, where they could learn to forage for themselves. But 5 weeks is still too young to go it alone. They needed their Mother to lead and protect them.

35 days old, flight feather not yet formed

35 days old, flight feather not yet formed

Somehow, the Ducklings made it to ours, rather than the river. We do have holes in the fences for hedgehogs and the hole still remains, where I cut the fence to let last years ducklings out to reach the river. As you can see, at five weeks old their wings are virtually non existent. Flight feathers are not yet formed. The Mother can fly in, the Ducklings must walk.

Mother Duck with her mucky ducklings

Mother Duck with her mucky ducklings

Whilst she watched, we gave the Ducklings some dried mealworms and mixed bird seed.

Duckling eating seed

Duckling eating seed

The Drake ran in to shoe the ducklings away from the food, so that he could eat and the Mother shooed the other female off when she tried to get too close to her children.

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The Drake finally wandered down the garden and the Ducklings and Mother were able to eat, without interference.

Ducklings eating bird seed

Ducklings eating bird seed

Then a second Drake arrived. One pinned the head of the second smaller female to the ground, whilst the other forcibly mated with her. The Mother flew off, so did the two Drakes and the smaller female followed.

……………………………………………………………………………………………..

An hour passed and no sign of the Mother, the Ducklings remained sitting in the sun, waiting for her, so we put out bowls of water in the shade for the Ducklings to drink from.

Ducklings drinking water

Ducklings drinking water

Or swim in!

Ducklings in the makeshift water bowl

Ducklings in the makeshift water bowl

We haven’t got a pond, we did once when we moved here, an enormous thing where the previous folk kept huge Goldfish, we filled it in, ponds and young children are not ideal, no end of ‘please do not go near the pond’ worked. Our new wildlife pond is still being dug out, ironically the Bank Holiday Monday project.

Ducklings in the potting tray bath

Ducklings in the potting tray bath

Finally the ducklings settled in the shade, dipping in and out of the makeshift potting tray baths. At five weeks old, their down is not waterproof, the RSPB report the mother waterproofs the ducklings.

Duckling down is not waterproof

Duckling down is not waterproof

We thought the Mother would come back soon, to care for her Ducklings, 4 more hours passed and still no sign of her. Several water bath changes, more mealworms and to my delight the Ducklings were finding slugs to eat. But still no sign of what they really needed, a Mother to lead them to the river.

Duckling eating a slug

Duckling eating a slug

A fox visits our garden, he leaves footprints in the vegetable beds, so we knew they could not stay here, with or without a Mother to protect them, we have a dog, bringing them indoors was not an option, the potting shed is occupied by nesting Robins and the Summerhouse jam packed with stuff, plus they needed to be somewhere she could find them before a predator did, pondering our options, we went for an long overdue dog walk, hoping the Mother would come back, look after her Ducklings and take them to the River, only a few meters away, they were so close, yet so far.

Alert Ducklings

Alert Ducklings

When we came home, there was no sign of adults or Ducklings, with fingers crossed we hoped the Mother had come back for them and led them through the hole in the fence to the river and the next stage in their hazardous lives. Or that the Ducklings had hunkered down in the shrubbery somewhere and she would find them, when we could not.

Ducklings looking for a safe place

Ducklings looking for a safe place

At 6p.m, (Monday), The Mother flew in with a Drake and the other female and no Ducklings to be seen. Yesterday (Tuesday), morning still no sign of the Ducklings.

At lunch time yesterday, when I was yet again wearily re sowing beetroot, chard, peas and mangetout, I found one Duckling, fully intact but dead, about 3 inches deep under the ground in one of our vegetable beds.

One of several things may have happened. – We have voles tunnelling through the veg beds like crazed things, the Ducklings may have been looking for worms and one ended up in a tunnel. Or the Fox buried the Duckling – does this happen? Before finding the dead Duckling I briefly thought one positive of a Fox visit maybe he deters the Voles, in the same way, the scent of our Dog deters Moles from tunnelling through the lawn. Then after discovering the sad little body, thought, what a crap way for a 5 week old Duckling to die and what could or should I have done to prevent this.

The RSPB report Ducklings are 50 – 60 days old before their wings enable them fledge and be independent, our visiting ducklings were only 35 days old. I hope wherever the remaining 7 are, they are safe, and that she has found them. I have not seen the mother today but the drake and his new female are sitting in the shade in our garden.

In more hopeful news, Robins nesting in our Potting shed are still there and we see the parents fly in with food. Nest building continues elsewhere and we have been happy to see lots of bird species collecting Archie’s pegged up hair, the forecast this week is warmer too, so kinder for young chicks and nesting parents.

Please take a look at other Wildlife Wednesday posts hosted by the lovely Tina at My Gardener Says.

And hopefully happier Wildlife Watching for you!

Post script. Thursday May 5th.

I have found a second duckling under the soil in one of the veg beds. Sadly Foxes do cache prey. We now believe the ducklings were still in our garden and Tuesday night were predated and cached by the visiting fox. Below are two helpful articles on Fox Behaviour and Wildlife Food caching.

http://www.bbcwildlife.org.uk/node/3031

http://www.discoverwildlife.com/british-wildlife/how-identify-animal-food-stores

Wordless Wednesday – Carpets of Bluebells with my Faithful Friend

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Archie our Labrador, enjoying Spring Bluebells

National Trust Ashridge Estate Native Bluebells

National Trust Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire -Native Bluebells

National Trust Ashridge Estate Native Bluebells

National Trust Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire – Native Bluebells

Archie, taking in the scent of Bluebells

Archie, taking in the scent of Bluebells

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ashridge-estate/trails/three-in-one-bluebell-walk-at-ashridge

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ashridge-estate/features/protecting-the-bluebells-at-ashridge

http://www.wildlifebcn.org/news/2016/04/04/bluebell-barcoding-day

http://publicengagement.wellcomegenomecampus.org/page/bluebell-survey-2016

http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/hyacinthoides-non-scripta-bluebell