Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Project: Making a Home For Nature

Since the autumn I've been working on a personal project to improve the small garden space we have for wildlife. I've tried to plan out different habitat areas and ideas to improve diversity from the Wildlife Trust and RSPB material available. This has included a DIY Green Roof project which is proving interesting as green roofs have lots of potential for conservation. In so doing I've learnt through my own research about construction of roofs with the objective of maximising value for invertebrates, native wildflowers that are suitable for green roofs and the value of green roofs for slowing rain water run off, improving air quality through removing lead according to research and so on. 
First, here is the bat box I built out of recycled materials from the Bristol Wood Recycling project( Under the recommendation the opening has been made 2cm wide and I made sure I did not use treated wood. I like the pine bark front that only cost me a couple of quid. Bargain!

Under netting here are the wildflower seeds I planted in the autumn that seem to be growing well. They were from a pack of native wildflowers sold by the RSPB. I also acquired some free seeds from the Avon Wildlife Trust which was a mix more associated with old fashioned cornfield wildflowers.
I also planted some willow back in January into a fence structure. Willow is great because it grows so vigorously that to plant it is really simple. Even in the first year it has supported lots of caterpillars of a number of moth species. Willow is a valuable food plant for various invertebrates.   

A view from on top our flat roof over our postage stamp of a garden. Note I have created a pond area and planted it with some aquatic plants. Marsh Marigold, Water Mint and Lesser Spearwort. ( I've found this company good for native species that are often not available in garden centres. These pictures below show the green roof I have been building....

It may not seem like much but I have planted it with wildflower plugs of various species including wild marjoram, cowslip, wild basil, birds-foot trefoil, field scabious, common toadflax and oxeye daisy. The basis is crushed red brick mixed with a small amount of organic material. I have also added some locally sourced and produced biochar as an experiment because of its property's of holding water and water purification. On the subject the vast majority of charcoal for BBQs is sourced form eucalyptus plantations associated with rainforest deforestation. Buying British charcoal supports sustainable management of UK woodlands and the wildlife this management supports. Unfortunately because the market is so saturated with cheap coal among other things including cheaper labour costs abroad it has not been possible for British sustainably produced BBQ charcoal to be viable. On the face of it there is still a market for charcoal including the rise in people installing wood burners that the benefits to certain wildlife through continued traditional woodland management funded through marketing British locally produced charcoal would appear to be a good idea to benefit wildlife and create a significantly smaller carbon footprint. Interestingly species like hazel burn hotter and cleaner so British charcoal can even be seen as having better properties and being better in quality than the standard coal available. Whilst the case remains for the need to use cleaner energy sources, charcoal production remains in country's around the world in use for cooking.
The ethics of a green roof is to create it as sustainably as possible. I have sourced the wood from recycled sources and the material liner from off cuts.
Dusty Gedge and Nigel Dunnett are the best sources for their work on green roofs. Much of this in Sheffield. London has various large green roofs created in the last decade. Here is a useful book of theirs.

Buglife has produced a useful guide to producing green roofs for invertebrate diversity. It details various species of bees, moths, spiders and so on which shows how valuable green roofs can be.

So I cant wait to see what the garden will look like this year. I have planted lots of plug plants as well in various areas. I have researched many wildflowers so there are lots of different species from fox gloves, red campion, honeysuckle, sneezewort, bladder campion, comfrey and many others within the small space available.

On a similar note the WWT has a project creating SUDs, which are similar in principle to green roofs, as a requirement of new developments. Here is the article link...

I really like these new initiatives where conservation can work to connect people with nature and improve peoples health and environment whilst providing a functioning benefit to the places we live. I like the ideas of Biophillic city's too and I would encourage you to look up the basis of the idea if you have not heard about it. In essence what if we change what we expect a city to look like so that it becomes a functioning green oasis rather than uncompromising concrete. Nature becomes an integrated part of city living and citizens live happier and healthier lives. In city's we can forget the beauty of the world beyond our walls. We can become absent from the natural world. This comes at the cost of our own knowledge of nature, conservation issues and our own wellbeing as a species. The really positive thing is that we can bring nature to the people and in a way that has measured environmental benefits. There is a need to reaffirm connections with the world around us and our senses certainly. With around 80% of the population living in city's its a massive benefit. Cumulatively if we as a society were happier emotionally, rather than oppressed by modern life, what could we achieve? Maybe we need the opportunity to breathe. If we were emotionally healthy individuals could we then be in a better position to heal our world given there is no longer a need for such self preservation? I wonder sometimes if nature can offer us the strength and resilience we need to overcome adversity through making us more thoughtful, rounded, emotionally stronger human beings. Often the cost of our separation from the natural world has cost us more than we may ever understand. 100%, its easy to see green city's as a positive vision for our future.

So greener city's can cool the heat island effect, mitigate against flooding, clean our air and be better from an economic point of view too, providing long term benefits. The idea of WWT's use of SUDs which can be created as effective naturalised city wetland habitats for managed flood relief seems to tick all the boxes. Its a shame that the WWT news article shows how politically there is very little tolerance or understanding to environmental legislation that is perceived as little more than red tape so it appears. Economically the choice not to install SUDs doesn't add up given that using natural services is more effective and cheaper in the long run as mentioned in the article. Its a wasted opportunity for people too given that we all need healthy places to live work and play. We should throw away the book on new build developments that are lifeless soulless places in favour of a better alternative. Its a new perception that sees things differently. It requires that we see differently to no longer build infrastructure that compounds existing problems like flooding. It should also be recognised that we are not machines, we are human beings, and modern city's should not be indifferent to this. In this sense we need places to live, not simply shells to live in.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Letting Vent

If there was one thing we could do without and change tomorrow if we wanted to in order to benefit conservation it would be the use of carrier bags. We could so easily do without them in reality yet the subject seems to touch a nerve with thousands of people. Every year incidentally sea birds die from ingesting plastic such as starving to death as a consequence of being then unable to feed. I have heard of vast areas of plastic reported gathering and swirling around at pinch points in the ocean out at sea. If we were to take a moment to think about how a carrier bag is produced its raw materials must first be sourced, that's oil. This takes energy and all the associated water consumption, waste emissions and so on. The raw product is refined using more energy. Eventually at some stage the bags are produced, printed and packaged (more energy consumption and associated emissions) before being transported (you guessed it, fuel consumption and gas emissions) before eventually reaching their final destination. At which point they are packed, taken home and in most instances thrown away, although we are much better at recycling now than we used to be. The problem is still massive given the millions of bags consumed annually in Britain without even thinking about American consumption. That is not the end of the story of course. As plastic doesn't break down naturally it can sit around for years after. Alternatively light degrades them and they break down into smaller and smaller pieces that again make their way into the food chain of the ocean. Fish can be found with microscopic partials of plastic inside them.

We are not dependent on carrier bags in any way shape or form other than habit, convenience and for the shops that supply them to splash their name around as a form of advertisement. In the 21st century the pressures on the natural world remain heavy and sustained. Many conservationists even hold the growing consensus that it is no longer a case of conservation but restoration. After all, we have reached the stage where things are so dire there is nothing much left (in a healthy state) to conserve anymore. Large scale re-wilding projects among other larger ideas are needed to restore nature. Given all this, as a small change we could do without tomorrow if we wanted with no real effect to peoples daily lives it would be to end our use of carrier bags, the closer to zero the better. This being very much a positive step that is more than possible.

Thanks for reading this far if you've got to this point. I'd like to now look deeper at this topic of carrier bags that divides us. At its heart I find it very telling of the ideas we hold and ultimately its about the way we think about the world/nature. For conservation this is significant because if we tap into the reasons why people consume with little or no concern we may just be able to understand the wider context of why, if nature is vital to our well-being and the health of humanity, do we continue to destroy, degrade and turn our back on what sustains us. This is what I am interested in. That golden question. That deep question. Lets face it, there are millions of people in this country that have no interest in conservation/nature as its of no interest to their daily lives (millions however do, even at a basic level so if your one thank you). Some openly admit they don't give a shit. I am convinced that millions more simply don't think about it or know much about the state of nature and the extent to which the countryside has become impoverished. To me nature with all its wildness is so important yet millions of people live out their lives distanced or separated from it completely. I find it a scary prospect that millions of people have lost connection with a natural balance. City's distance us, their walls contain us and all the same millions live quite happily in them. Does this however go some way to answering why species are declining and habitats disappearing? Quite possibly. Are we distracted? Are we lost? This is deep stuff, really deep but for me stating declines are due to human 'progress' and our own negligence alone falls some way short of an answer. It falls short of answering the why. Why is this happening/has this happened? What are we searching for? Why are we never happy with what we've got? What if we consume to fill a void of some unknown thing, a soul deep thing, that we have lost but can not find? Are we living or just existing? Is that soul deep thing nature? That deep connection. That sense of knowing. Of being one with the world. Of finding purpose. Vivid and real. Is that what we want? Reasons for species decline are varied and complicated of course. Yet imagine if millions of people were to shift their heart and soul in a direction towards nature that may be our true calling. Maybe in doing so we can find a better world.

Some say what we are doing is inevitable like a snow ball gathering in size and speed down a hill under its own momentum, just basic population dynamics and too big to stop now. It's a global issue. But I don't want to believe them. Even with idiots to this day intent on plundering the world, exploiting natural resources, development and whatever else we choose to do because we feel like it, I don't want to believe them. We have a choice. By restoring the natural world we can restore ourselves because we are the same thing. We have a choice.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Happy New Year!

This year is shaping up to look very good. The soggy state of the country aside, keeping most of us indoors, I'm looking forward to this spring and summer with the idea of traveling more widely. In the time since my last post I've become involved with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) and this has developed into volunteering regularly for the majority of last summer two days a week and continuing to date. I also spent an amazing two weeks during July 2013 volunteering with the RSPB at their South Stack reserve on Anglesey, Wales. The volunteer accommodation was a two minute walk from the cliffs and wildlife highlights included seeing and hearing Chough every day, Peregrines, a few thousand of sea birds and a good list of butterfly species like Silver-studded Blue, Greyling and Dark Green Fritillary. During November I spent another two week placement at RSPB's Blacktoft Sands reserve on the Humber Estuary near Goole, North East Yorkshire. The reserve is an intertidal reed bed, with the main highlight in winter being the raptor roost of Hen and Marsh Harrier every night. Starlings did not roost in the reserve reed bed, with roost sites in the area being unpredictable according to the reserve warden. I hope to see a murmuration this winter. I had an enjoyable two weeks among the reeds carrying out habitat management.
I ask myself where last year went, yet looking back my involvement in conservation work party's feature heavily. I have involved myself with the Avon Wildlife Trust and the Bristol Natural History Consortium during their Bioblitz last summer. I find myself compelled to make a difference on the ground as well as continuing wildlife photography as a medium of communication about the natural world. Education forms part of the answer but without those acting to preserve wildlife through habitat restoration species will continue to decline. If we are to reverse current steady declines in overall biodiversity resulting from pressures like habitat loss it will be the sharp end of conservation, conservationists on the ground, that make a strong force for change, among other things such as changing attitudes in society. Thinking behind the value of current habitat management ideas are under question and changing in favor of re-wilding and larger scale approaches to the way we see conservation in light of the overwhelming need to find solutions to reverse declines in wildlife.
I appreciate for a photographic blog there is a distinct lack of images in recent posts. I will endeavor, all being well, to post more frequently this year! Some of my images can be found by following TCV Bristol on Twitter where I have started using my photography to hopefully recruit new volunteers and promote the charity's work.
This year should be excellent with possible trips to Ireland, Scotland and Dartmoor on the cards as well as South Stack in the hope of seeing adders! I can't wait!