Friday, 29 July 2016

Research Into Neonicotinoids In Garden Centre Plants- How You Can Help

Most of us know by now of the questions raised over the safety of Neonicotinoids, a type of insecticide used on crops which is a neuro-toxin for bees and other insects, paralysing
them at worst and leaving them confused and unable to relocate their hives at best. 

We rely on bees to pollinate the plants that create a lot of the food we consume. Bees all around the world are in trouble due to loss of habitat and exposure to toxic chemicals. There have been substantial efforts made in recent years to raise public awareness of their plight and to show people how they can help combat these declines by planting pollinator-friendly, nectar-rich plants in their gardens and by not using toxic chemicals on their lawns, flowerbeds etc.

The RHS has a 'bee friendly' stamp it puts on plants that are good for bees so people know which ones to buy to help the bees. Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex and an expert in bees and flutters who set up the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and who has written two great books on the subject, is setting up a research project to look at the presence and levels of Neonicotinoids in garden centre plants marketed as 'bee friendly'. Many of the plants in UK garden centres come from the Continent, especially the Netherlands where intensive production methods include the use of Neonics. 

He's funding the project using a website called Walacea which links people interested in supporting science research projects with the academics carrying out that research. It's basically a crowd-funding platform for great science projects and I urge you all to check it out. Here is the link to Dave Goulson's crowd-funding platform. You can donate as little as a fiver or as much as you want, it all goes directly towards funding the project. Personally I think it's money well spent. There is only one day to go before the funding closes, so please do check it out.

Because of the intricate connections that ecosystems consist of, if we lose bees the whole countryside will very quickly start to look different. Everything you see in the photos below will ultimately be at risk, so it's important stuff.


Wednesday, 27 July 2016

A Salutary Lesson About Thorns

L and I went out chopping brambles on Monday afternoon. L is edging towards his sixteenth year and currently epitomises teenagerness in all its gory glory. It is a standing joke between us that he is allergic to fresh air and will start to smoke if exposed to sunlight (as in, gently give off steam, not stick a fag in his mouth). Give him a fetid, darkened room, a computer with skype and steam enabled, a tv, an enormous pile of books, a ready supply of food that appears as if by magic, minimal contact with his parents and the requirement to eschew full, sentient and decipherable speech and communicate only with random grunts and he is happy as a lark for hours upon end. Throw in the lack of a necessity to wash, dress or stir far from his pit and you have the perfect recipe for a happy contented teen. This is despite (or perhaps because) being brought up as an outdoor person. His word word for the Great Outdoors  is the Outernet, which I rather feels sums up modern teenagers.

Anyhoo, I have stipulated (now that the holidays are here) that Daily Mandatory Outdoors Time is non-negotiable and he has agreed as long as he could take with him on these excursions, either a) an axe or b) a sickle. The futility of arguing with a teen will be well-known to all who have come within ear-range of one, so, recognising that the more important goal had been achieved with very little effort expended on my part, I agreed.

On Monday afternoon we set off up the lane for a bit of Healthy Mother And Son Bramble Cutting Time. We'd not been out more than five minutes when, tackling a particularly thick and vicious stalk which was covered with Evil Thorns Of Giant Proportions, I punctured my thumb. The thorn plunged in to the joint and boy did it hurt.

I had to go home to administer first aid while L was chuckling to himself all the way at the irony. 

This was at four thirty. By six thirty it had swelled up, gone red and stiff and hurt like crazy. M got home, took one look and told me to phone 111. I thought this was a bit of an over-reaction but did as I was told. I was less convinced of the over-reaction ten minutes later when the lovely lady told me I needed to get to A&E within the hour.

We arrived to be told there was a two hour wait but as we'd come prepared (having had several A&E experiences in recent years with husband and son) we settled in, if not happily then at least with occupation. I filled out the form detailing the injury and within five minutes of handing it in we were suddenly bumped to the front of the queue and found ourselves in with the nurse.

By this time I'd googled thorn puncture wound injuries and rather wished I hadn't. The internet is full of 'death followed within hours of thorn pin-prick' stories. Which I guess explains the medical profession's sense of urgency.

The nurse had a good look and prod (*wince*) and told me it wasn't infected and looked clean so in all likelihood would remain that way (I didn't tell him I'd been smothering it in my homemade beeswax salve which is my cure-all for everything as it likes nothing more than to eat bugs), but that I needed to keep an eye on it, take anti-histamines and come back straight away if I started feeling unwell.

We got home, had a late supper, went to bed, and at 7am the next morning after a good night's sleep I got up and came the closest I've ever been to passing out. Luckily M was there and grabbed hold of me which prevented me crumpling in a heap on the floor. There then followed what was (later in retrospect) an amusing ten minutes of me lying almost unconscious on the floor while he held my legs up to get some blood back in my head. I went green and yellow, couldn't breath properly, felt cold and clammy and sick and sweaty and generally pretty hideous. He had to take the day off to look after me - Lord only knows what his workmates must think, that he's married to a princess who faints when she pricks her thumb and can't cope without him. I spent most of the day asleep, from a reaction to the wound or the fainting or the anti-histamines or a combo of all three.

Coming over faint is something that has happened to me since I became a mummy. I used to be perfectly fine with queasy-making things, even helping out with an eye-op while doing work experience at the VETs when I was fourteen. But now even thinking of things like that make me feel a bit weak. Any other mum's out there found the same thing or is it just me?!

Anyhoo, the message here is simple: if you're cutting thorns wear gloves, because even a non-infectious and perfectly natural body reaction to a puncture wound can be unpleasant and frightening and very painful. This morning the swelling and stiffness is starting to go down, but I still can't really move it and the knuckle is sore and I'm still on marginally-paranoid-infection-watch.

L's reaction to the whole wretched episode was exactly as I'd feared. I told you the Outernet is dangerous. He now has the perfect reason to avoid all future outdoor excursions. In fact, I very much fear he will never set foot outdoors again :o)

I'll leave you with a slightly more positive gardening note. My sweet peas were covered in greenfly a couple of weeks ago and as we avoid chemicals in the garden I wanted a natural treatment to get rid of them. I'd read somewhere that rosemary oil is a good one. So I made up a spray bottle with water and ten drops of oil and sprayed the peas liberally four times a day for two or three days. All the greenfly went. I haven't sprayed them for about ten days and yesterday noticed some had crept back so I'm starting the process again. Give it a whirl if your plants are affected. It certainly worked here.

Hope all are well?

CT :o)

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Not Very Pleased With Ted (don't read if you're snake phobic)

Much as I love terriers, the downside is their desire to grab hold, shake things and not leave go until the life is well and truly gone. This is the second grass snake we've lost this week. The females are more visible in June and July because it's egg laying time and they're looking for compost heaps to deposit their eggs in. Both of this year's casualties were discovered crossing the patio heading up the garden towards the compost heaps. Unfortunately, they didn't escape Teddy's notice and he dispatched them both.

Grass snakes are lovely things. Quiet, self-contained and terribly frightened by people to the extent they usually bolt for cover when they hear us coming, they have no venom and no means of protecting themselves beyond playing dead, making the occasional lunge (which is a feint as I've never heard of anyone being actually bitten by them) and sometimes ejecting a nasty smell from their tale end.

Their numbers are dropping as habitat is lost and amphibian numbers decline, so they could really do without Terrier Teddy's attentions.

I'm putting up the photos because it's rare to see one and certainly not close up like this. If you're in any doubt of the difference between the harmless grass snake and the venomous adder (the UK's only native poisonous snake) have a look at the yellow collar in the photos which is just behind the head of the grass snake. The adder doesn't have a yellow collar. The grass snake also has small black vertical lines on its side, which the adder doesn't have. Instead, the adder has more obvious black zig-zag or diamond markings down the centre of its back. 

It goes without saying that if you're bitten by a snake regardless of what you think it is (unless you really know your reptiles), get down to A&E because an adder will make you feel pretty poorly and can be very dangerous to children. I know of a lass who picked up an adder which promptly bit her hand (don't ask! She knew what it was so Lord know why she handled it) and her arm swelled up, went black and she ran a high fever for a while. While Adders won't usually bite unless provoked, it's wise to give them a wide berth. Adders have sufficient venom to kill a small dog, so I really hope Teddy never meets one, as currently he has no respect for snakes at all :o(

I'm hoping that enough females have got through Operation Ted to make it to the compost and lay their eggs. We won't know for sure till next Spring when we empty it and hopefully discover the shells. Unless I'm lucky enough to find another tiny wee bootlace version baby grass snake in the autumn. 
Grass snakes, and adders, are protected under UK law and it is an offence to kill them. If you find one in the garden let it be- it really won't bother you and will be much more worried about getting and keeping out of your way. If you find an adder it's probably worth phoning your local wildlife trust which will almost certainly have a reptile group and getting further advice, particularly if you have children who play in the garden.

Hope all are well?


Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Summer Moth Madness And British Bird Population Numbers

In rows from top left:
August/ September Thorn, Scarce Footman, Yellow Tail.
Beautiful Hook-Tip, Burnished Brass, Bird-Cherry Ermine.
Riband Wave, Green Silver-Lines, Buff Ermine.
Swallow Tail, Drinker, Bordered Beauty.
Maiden's Blush, Buff Tip, Rosy Footman.

Perfect Moth Weather (hot, humid, still) so there were hundreds in the box this morning. A few were species I've only recorded once or twice here (the Green Silver-Lines has only ever been recorded from our garden once, four summers back). The Nepeta is currently playing host to most of them until nightfall and the Blackbirds are keeping beady eyes on the box :o)

Talking of birds, I received my copy of the BTO's Breeding Bird Survey results for 2015 this week.  I contribute to it by looking after two squares up on The Chalk which I survey twice a year during Spring. Mostly this is done through bird song ID as many of them are seen and not heard and Spring is the peak season for male birds singing.

On the whole it makes sobering reading, with long-term (1995-2014) population declines recorded for many UK species including Willow Tit, Marsh Tit, Skylark, House Martin, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Curlew, Cuckoo, Tawny Owl, Kingfisher, Wood Warbler, Dipper, Mistle Thrush, Spotted Flycatcher, Nightingale, Pied Flycatcher, House Sparrow, Yellow Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Greenfinch, Linnet, Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting and that's not an exhaustive list.

Turtle Doves declined 93%, making them the fastest disappearing UK species. The reasons are varied: agricultural changes affecting their UK breeding grounds, hunting pressures during migration and changes in their West African winter quarters.
Long-term declines were also recorded for Song Thrushes (15%), Swifts (47%), Kestrels (36%) and Starlings (49%).

There were some Good News Stories among the gloom. In England, Peregrine numbers are recovering after organochloride pesticides were banned (they thin the egg shells making them unviable as well as poisoning the bird and its prey). We saw a pair roosting on the Tate Modern building when we popped up to London (and Libertys :o) ) last week.

Over the short-term (2014-2015) Barn Owl numbers are up by 88% (although they follow vole populations which typically follow a boom and bust model, so it doesn't necessarily mean the Barn Owl population is rising year on year). Siskins rose 81% over the same time period too.

I'm interested that many of the species we have in relatively robust numbers here are declining nationally. House Sparrows, Tawny Owls, Starlings. Song Thrushes, Mistle Thrushes, Skylark, Yellowhammer, Greenfinch to name a few. I am convinced part at least of the reason for this is the food we put out. There were no House Sparrows here when we moved in ten years ago. Three years in we had a breeding pair and now a colony of between 30-50.  Starlings have only begun to visit in the last two years, and this summer two broods have fed regularly in the garden. We also have Greenfinches (although usually only one or two), and Marsh Tits too.

What this tells me is that you CAN make a difference by putting food out YEAR ROUND - not just over winter. In a bad Spring, like the one we've just had, the birds rely on this supplementary food source in order to be able to lay their eggs in the first place and then to brood the young successfully.

They need places to shelter, water to drink and bathe in, roosting and nesting places and a good quality food source (fat balls and seed are perfect).

We're just about to tip into Summer Holiday Mode here with L due home any minute. Poppy has been ill this week, a stomach upset that put her off her food so we all know it must have been serious. Luckily, Lovely Vet Clare was straight on it and sorted her out and now she's making the most of fresh fish for supper (Poppy. not Clare). Ted is quietly outraged at the injustice. I loved Clare's summation of the situation: If a Jack Russell hasn't got you by the throat, you know something is wrong :o)

Hope you're all well, and if in the UK enjoying this beautifully warm weather?

CT :o)

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Chalk Wood Butterflies

Clockwise from top left: Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Red Admiral, Comma

Clockwise from top left: Silver Washed Fritillary, Red Admiral, Silver Washed Frit, Comma
Clockwise from top left: Large Skipper (male), Silver Washed Fritillary (male), Ringlet, Marbled White
Clockwise from top left: Silver Washed Fritillary in our garden (female), Ringlet, Red Admiral, Meadow Brown (male),
The weather has been pants for flutters. They like it to be sunny but not too hot, dry and still. Instead it has been cold, overcast and windy. As a result there really haven't been too many of them around. The big butterfly count  is on from 15th July-17th Aug. I urge you all to get involved if you aren't already. 15 mins to count all the flutters you see then give the data to Butterfly Conservation. It makes a huge difference to their work.

It's Fritillary and Purple Emperor time (and Chalkhill Blue, CJ) and until yesterday I hadn't seen either of them. A Silver Washed turned up at home, looking battered from a run-in with a bird, and then in the woods today there were several of these big, powerful, ginger flutters soaring among the trees and coming down to nectar. 

Silver Washed Frits are flutters of broad-leaved woodland and although not rare they aren't especially common either. The larvae need violets to survive. Eggs are laid on mature trees close to where violets grow. When Spring arrives the caterpillars (which have over-wintered), climb down the tree to reach the violets where they feed. Once ready to pupate (in June), they climb back up the tree, turn into a pupa and then emerge as adult butterflies a short time later in July.

Violets flower March-June. The road verges where many violets bloom are often cut back in June. You see the problem? The plants the insects rely on are all too often destroyed by early cutting. No violets: no Silver Washed Fritillaries.

We have violets on our lane and last year a Silver Washed visited the garden, so it isn't an enormous leap to associate the presence of the butterfly with the presence of the food source. A few weeks ago, having plotted the whereabouts of the violets in a survey of our lane, I rang the council armed with my evidence, determined to get a stay of execution for the verges and ready to remind them of their duty as regards conservation. Eventually, after a couple of quite funny conversations with people who clearly had never heard of a Silver Washed Frit and didn't know anything at all about butterfly life cycles (but who were brilliantly helpful once I infected them with my butterfly obsession), I got through to the man in charge of grass cutting for the county. I explained the situation and before I could say anything about putting back the verge cut he asked me whether I'd like him to delay the cut and when would be the best time for the butterflies for them to do it? He was brilliant, and told me they'd reschedule our lane cut for the start of July, with the caveat that any dangerous vegetation would need to go sooner. Two weeks ago the verge was duly trimmed and yesterday the butterfly arrived. She was a female and hopefully that bodes well for eggs and more flutters next year. Good on the council for listening and doing their bit for conservation. What a difference they can make to the survival of our insect life.

I'm off to a different wood tomorrow with Uncle B (butterfly whisperer) to look for Emperors. Finger's Crossed.

Hope all are well?

CT :o)

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

An Update From Ted: Good News And A Video Of Me And Pop Playing Football Last NIght

New Beds!!!

My Dear Friends, the Best of news: Mum returned from the school run this morning clutching two bags of food (hopeful sniffing revealed the contents were disappointing- watercress, rice cakes, apples, ice cream, croissants, olives and August's Country Living magazine) and some fat balls for the birds. Her second journey back from the car was more exciting. She came in with two NEW BEDS for Poppy and me!!!!!!

All your cajoling on my last post worked! So Thank You Very Much Indeed. Pop and I will sleep snug and comfy tonight. 

We have already had a play fight on them....

Trying them out for Durability and Bounce...

Nice to see Poppy looking suitably worried for once at my Inner Wolf...

The beds stood up to it well. So, we'll no longer be forced to share the one marginally comfy bed that we hadn't squashed into a *mat* (thanks Emma Dog)...

Instead, I shall be enjoying more of this....

It goes some way to making up for the fact that I had a haircut with Mrs Danning yesterday. It also means we now have comfy beds to offer Fergus, Honey, Emma Dog, Tavi and thehamish should they ever find themselves in Hampshire.

I'll leave you with a short video of Poppy and my football game in the garden last night. You'll be able to hear for yourselves the gremlin-like noises she makes over her ball, but I think I did quite a good job of wrestling it from her and my barking definitely made it plain I was in charge (for once) :o)

I must dash- I've got hours of comfortable snoozing ahead, interspersed with the odd bit of pigeon watching and rat chasing.

Hope you're all well,

Love from Ted xx

Monday, 11 July 2016

Ted's Post: When The Doggy Cousins Came To Stay

Last week, our cousins came to stay. We were Four Dogs In The House for two days and a night :o)

Dougal is my age (a noble seven), and Dylan is Poppy's (a puppyish two and a half). The best bit about them coming to stay is that they always bring their own beds, which are softer, cleaner and fluffier (and more tartan) than ours. We always make a bee-line for them, even though we weren't especially tired when they got here and I could hear rats and pigeons outside..... 

Dylan and Dougal were far too busy sniffing interesting smells in our garden to notice that we'd fallen asleep in their beds...

Which was lucky. After a nice, restorative nap, we joined them for a sniff about (even though we already know all the garden smells really well. It doesn't do not to stamp some authority on your own garden when Other Dogs are about, even if they happen to be your cousins and you know them really well)....

Poppy decided that she wanted to play ball. She doesn't want anyone else to have her ball though and generally keeps a very beady eye on it at all times, even with me...

Dylan (who follows Pop everywhere) and Dougal wanted to join in the game. Pop makes her feelings about this known. She is Very Clear who the ball belongs to and explains the rules at the outset, least there be any confusion. And if there is Mum is there as umpire to mediate.

I don't think it was much of a game for Dylan and Dougal because they weren't really allowed to get near the ball, despite their best efforts, as you can see.....

She is very possessive of it.

I find the whole ball-game thing a little beneath my dignity, frankly. I'd much rather snooze on the grass, while keeping a weather eye on things, just in case....

After a while even Dylan got bored. He unearthed a tennis ball from beneath the apple tree seat instead....

Poppy was relieved and took the opportunity to hide her ball in the flowers when no-one was looking....

Then when Dyls and Doog went to look for it, she distracted everyone's attention by larking about and finally leaping on Dylan. I have tried to explain that this isn't ladylike behaviour, but what can I say? She's a Jack Russell (say no more)....

I'm still more interested in lying on the grass in the sun, to be honest. I feel it befits my status as Senior Dog of the Family....

After that we were all Very Tired, and we all went indoors for a nap. No prizes for guessing where Pop and I slept.....

Dylan and Dougal didn't feel the same way about our beds and slept on the floor under the table. 
Sadly, when Grannie came to collect them the next day, despite my best efforts (ie staging a protest lie-in on one) she took the beds away (after Mum had tipped me off. Which I thought was very below-the-belt to be honest).

Hope you are all well my friends? Perhaps you could encourage Mum to buy me and Pop a new bed each via the comments :o)

Love, Teddy XX

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Its positively hot here today. 20 degrees :o) Sunshine with occasional clouds. The butterflies have returned to the garden, mostly Large Skippers, Commas and the odd Ringlet. There isn't as much buzzing about as I'd expected though. Perhaps they've all got out of the habit of heat and have remained hidden away in shock? 

I've escorted two honey bees out of the house. They didn't appear all that grateful, more annoyed that someone had inconsiderately built a house directly in their flight path. And there is something large and elusive that keeps flirting with the front garden and then disappearing whenever I go out to investigate. Not a dragon, I'm wondering if it's a Lunar Clearwing Moth (they look like gigantic hornets but are entirely stingless and harmless).

There is a huge Queen Hornet in the garden. You can hear her coming a mile away and everyone gets out of her path, including the little tailess Robin you can see in the pictures above. She was nosing about near the bats' front door in the roof yesterday. I was rather concerned that she'd go in but thankfully she didn't. It's a batchelor pad (no joke- we have two male Pips living in there). One of the residents was unfortunately taken by the Sparrowhawk but a new chap has since arrived and the two of them seem to be getting on famously, judging from how they flit about the garden together at dusk, happily echo-locating insects to devour. Male Pips live away from the ladies and children (who occupy vast maternity roosts). It is fairly common to find two who've set up home together and live like that, untroubled by women and children, for the thirty or so years of their lives. I don't think they'd much enjoy sharing with a hornet so it's a relief all round that she's gone elsewhere.

The dogs have been making me smile this afternoon. Ted has spent much of his time passed out in various places, stretched out on the grass, while Pop has been sitting on the bench at the top of the garden. That was after she exhausted herself playing her second favourite game of watch-the-rat......

Can you see the little rat to the left on the gravel path? She is the only Terrier I know who gleans more pleasure from watching rats than actually chasing them. Ted, of course, doesn't understand this at all and would have been apoplectic, had he not been passed out beside the flowers at the time....

Hope all are well?

CT :o)