Friday the 22nd of September and it’s the Autumn equinox – how did that happen! I guess people take it easier during the summer months, unlike wildlife that knows Summer is just a short respite for having new families and, if you can, stashing away some reserves for the Winter. With the wet weather last week, I wasn’t able to get on with my latest wildlife gardening projects, so used some of the time to catch up on my reading. And I was pleased to pick up some “good news” Nature stories.
First of all and fairly close to home, my wife was out walking at Crathes and popped into the walled garden to see if there were any new gardening ideas worth pinching. She did see a slightly unusual butterfly and thought it might just be an end of year one getting bit raggedy. Very sensibly, she took a picture of it and lo and behold it is in fact a Comma, which is always naturally “raggedy” looking.
Comma butterfly taking advantage of nectar from a Crathes sunflower
It’s always worth taking a pic of anything you see that looks a bit unusual. Checking on the North East Scotland Biological Record Centre website, I discovered they only have 14 records of this species in NE Scotland. If you see something unusual and get a picture of it, send it to your Local Wildlife Record Centre and they will almost certainly be able to identify it for you. The more wildlife records we have, the better for all sorts of people and projects. Most wildlife recorders are not professional scientists or anything like that; just people who are interested in what they see. Give it a go – but be warned, it is addictive as well as useful.
It was also good to read about the ongoing success of the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels Project around Aberdeen. More people are aware today of the dangers of bringing in non-native plants and animals, but I still find it a bit hard to believe that the North American Grey Squirrel was only introduced to Aberdeen as recently as the 1960s.
SSRSs is a Partnership led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust which has been working for several years to control grey squirrel numbers and advise on managing more woodlands to benefit reds, which amongst other things suffer from a fatal disease carried by greys. Monitoring work by one of the partners, Forest Enterprise Scotland, has shown no greys and more and more reds over the last couple of years at Countesswells and Foggieton. A friend in Cults is delighted to have reds back in her garden for the first time in 30 years and the James Hutton Institute in Craigiebuckler have just had their first ever red recorded in their grounds. Well done to all involved.
Happy north east red squirrel at the Turriff Show.
A couple of years ago, the North East Scotland Local Biodiversity Partnership ran a small camera trapping project for local primary schools. The results were great and Scottish Natural Heritage were persuaded to fund the rolling out of the project across Scotland. I was lucky enough to be invited to preview the latest videos, from both rural and urban schools; and they were absolutely fantastic. A pupil at one school said she thought pine martens were fictitious animals like unicorns until she saw one on their camera trap. And of course the pupils learn about maths, team working, co-operation and loads of other things as well as wildlife. Many people now want to know about camera trapping and some of the participating schools travelled to the Royal Highland Show to tell Roseanna Cunningham, the Environment Secretary, about the project. A few days ago we heard that the project has been short listed for the 2017 Nature of Scotland Awards.
Rose Toney, the Local Biodiversity Partnership’s Co-ordinator has been the moving force behind camera trapping in Scotland and along with her husband Nick Littlewood has developed the small mammal cam (which now enables small animals to be recorded) and they are currently working on a floating version!! Have a look at their Facebook page and you’ll soon see what all the excitement is about. These cameras can take stills or video; daytime and night-time. The camera trap kit is fairly inexpensive (mine cost less than £100) – and it’s only 100 days until Chr*s***s !!
Hedgehog foraging around the compost bins in my garden.
This week the Press & Journal carried an interesting article about a “wildlife bridge” being built across Aberdeen’s new City Bypass. I’m sure you have seen lots of dead wildlife on the roads – hedgehogs, roe deer, red squirrels, badgers and lots more. Individual wild animals die all the time, but that’s usually when they are killed by a predator that will eat it or feed it to it’s own family. Wildlife killed on the roads are often females out foraging and if they are still feeding young, those youngsters will starve to death too. Of course, wildlife killed on our roads rarely “go to waste” as a fox or other scavenging animal will usually eat them fairly quickly – even although the scavenger runs the risk of being killed too. These bridges are already common in Europe and the United States.
Green bridge on the Weymouth relief road in Dorset
Green walls are an increasingly common feature around the world, especially in cities where the growing plants help to reduce levels of pollutants in the air. They also add a bit of green to brighten up the urban environment and can provide a little bit of habitat for wildlife, especially insects. In some places they even have them in school grounds and use them to grow fruit to improve the pupils’ diet, but they can be quite expensive to install and often need complicated watering systems or daily watering by hand.
The SEPA Office by the harbour in Aberdeen have kindly agreed to let me experiment with installing a low-cost, low-maintenance green wall in their car park and Aberdeen City Council are already interested in seeing how it works out, as some parts of the city suffer from quite serious air pollution. SEPA’s office car park has a retaining wall of stone filled gabion baskets; a fairly common construction technique. For the experiment, I’m planting up some of the gaps (with a little peat free compost, of course) in the stones with the sorts of native wild plants you would find growing on coastal cliffs and just above the high water mark. These plants have to cope naturally with salt spray, poor soils and very dry conditions – just the sort of conditions you would find on the average stone filled, gabion basket wall. I collect a small amount of wild plant seed in the autumn, sow it in my garden and then move the young seedlings to their new home in Aberdeen. So far sea campion, thrift, roseroot and wild thyme have proved the most robust, but I plan to add some white stonecrop soon and hopefully some sea rocket and even wild strawberry next year.
Part of the functional stone wall I hope to turn green.
Catriona will be back with her blog next week, but I hope you enjoyed this different view of managing for wildlife. As Nature continues to face growing pressure, we need to be imaginative and come up with new ideas to give it a helping hand. Nature reserves and green spaces in our towns, cities, gardens, farms and parks are all important. Making things better requires a little effort and a bold imagination – so go to it.
Chair: Habitats & Species Group and Awareness & Involvement Group