Decry you die, Give you live

Some musings on Consolation and Desolation in the world of Conservation

First up, have to say it has rained very merrily since my last (very recent) post. And also have to say that so fixed was I on the MayDay MayDay theme that I missed the fact the 1st of the month has also fallen on the New Moon – the perfect planting time for new seeds! Now it’s even a bit warmer things are looking like really growing. Phew.

However, a bit of decrying, being it calling out injustices and corruption, especially at local government level, has never been wrong. Until now. At national level, it is now apparently even a crime – to protest – especially if loudly. And journalists could be imprisoned for 14 years for ’embarrassing’ the government (with the truth, inconvenient or otherwise?). Worst aspect of this, from where I’m sitting? Not only that we are looking at a more and more and more fashistic (sp???) style of Tory governance, designed to ensure their longevity of power (which really does need shifting). But also, charities are going to find it harder and harder to protest and protect wildlife, our green spaces, ancient woodlands and all places especially after Lockdown that we find sacred.

Terrifyingly, no protected SSI (site of special scientific interest) Nature Reserve, Natural parkland is actually sanctified – or safe from the developers long and greedy arms. They only have to ‘prove’ however spuriously that Biodiversity Net Gain ( for example where they replace Ancient woodland by definition 400 years old with new hedgelings and saplings which will take 20 years to establish any kind of valuable ecosystem, let alone shelter) is achievable. They only have to engage unscrupulously bought off ecologists to ‘persuade’ local Tory councils already stacked in development’s favour…This is not the stuff of nightmares. It is already happening.

Be careful how you vote.

This fearful decrying however, what does it bring, except a sense of hopelessness and utter desolation? – To use part of the phrase first coined by St Ignatius with his principles of Consolation and Desolation, that he is thought to have first dreamt up while stuck for a long time in bed after being gravely wounded in the Crusades (I think)…

It is well to be wise, wise as a serpent Jesus is said to have said, when dealing with wrongdoers. Not all wishy washy lets join in with property investments and fossil fuels as our Church of England appears to be doing…I may be wrong of course and would love to stand corrected.

No – Terror and fear and hopelessness are being deliberately struck into our hearts, by these bullying couldn’t give a s..ts Govt Ministers (apart from the turds in the rivers, in order to pay off the denationalised, mostly foreign I have to say Water companies who are gaily clogging up and killing off our waterways and river life.)

So – saying NO to desolation is quite important.

Not least because saying YES to more hopeful outcomes, where together working at ground level yields results, such as saving and rewilding meadowlands, endangered species such as hedgehogs (great Zoom from PTES yesterday with Hedgehog Hugh !) is emboldening and heartening. Good for the soul.

But noticing the desolation we might feel – (that I often feel, at any rate, at the hopelessness of it all) is important. That sense of sheer desperation at the uncaring hypocritical local MPS who are high up in Defra and do NOTHING to stop the poisoning and paralysation of bees from pesticides (neonicotinoids). By big sugar companies like SILVER SPOON who could well afford the research needed into developing LESS harmful applications and completely non-chemical natural ‘pest’ control (such as companion planting methods) if they so chose. If only this government would stop bowing and scraping (and getting their cut no doubt) to and from big business, prioritising profit over ecological gain in a climate and biodiversity crisis. Oh no. But to give in, and stop decrying altogether would be a failure, a shrinking of sorts.

But balancing it with hopefulness, the consoling knowledge that hopeful progress can be made however small at the start, and that it can grow – like the young woman who grew up in a family all just loving hedgehogs, who has now made her career out of championing Hedgehog Friendly Campuses – well! From small acorns – in conjunction with other lovely and super efficient organisations such as British Hedgehog Preservation Society, Hedgehog Street and Society for the Protection of Endangered Species – and hey presto, great oak trees grow! Thousands of students and school children are made more wildlife-aware, many hectares of land are left to rewild – and it’s a huge success story! Something to celebrate, just in time for National Hedgehog Awareness Week – THIS WEEK!

Genuinely heartwarming – to learn how people can come together and act to form societies and groups that really do make a difference….And truly inspiring too…Might have to think on a bit.

In my own life the sense of this achievement happening out there, being achieved by others is just a little, well annoying!!! If I’m going to be completely honest. No point not. Not yet having found a way to unite with others to get the best possible results, far better than I could ever hope to achieve in my own little wildlife garden. Even if this little plot acts as a little bit of a biodiversity oasis, I can’t tell quite for what wildlife exactly. But I know sharing and recording my finds with others of moths and caterpillars is important to me…exciting even.Just as I’m very aware that I’d love to be part of a wider team, all working towards the same goals of rewilding habitats and helping wild animals thrive again, like they used to. And this could be the spur – to get on with helping create and nurture wildlife friendly neighbourhoods (not just my back yard).

It’s that thing where Giving is Getting – Giving time, energy resources, encouragement mean that’s what you get in return. Plus that amazing sense of joint achievement – for me so far always just out of reach!! Giving is in a sense Living, living to the full. Not quite there yet, speaking for myself. It is part of that amazingness of being human, cooperating for the greater good that in conservation terms I can only dream of. Sharing the vision of Nature Connectedness where all people can feel close to – or part of, rather – the natural world and therefore feel like actually protecting it (rather than selling it off like these blasted tories)

I’m still at the stage of sharing ideas, on these themes, with great friends, and family, Godchildren and anyone who’ll listen and join in, plus with those who are just way ahead of me (the experts, fundraisers, Moth Counters, heroes, visionaries, the people who are actually engaging with governance in a meaningful way – The Wild Countryside Link for example who have brought about the Nature Bill)….

For now I’ll keep working away at it. Supporting and giving a little bit to those who can make a big difference, waiting my turn perhaps or just musing on what makes my heart sing like the birds, and what doesn’t so much. That’s really helpful knowledge, after all…

#MayDay #MayDay

Drought fast approaching

This lack of rain is new to May, I decided, last year. Cold grey skies with lots of moisture in them, just passing by. It could be the moisture from the Rainforests isn’t what it was, that there just isn’t the water vapour (the billions of tons of it) there was, now that so many trees there have been felled. In the old days of yore and in the hand painted Books of Days, May was the merrie month, when all the ploughing and sowing had been done, the desperately hard task of just surviving the winter done. A time of courtship and merry making, mead drinking – a time to be looked forward to. Even I daresay when people still lived on and off their land, before they were made beholden to landowners and as labourers to industry for their livelihoods. May Day labour day I don’t know so much about. Apart from the fact greedy capitalism has a lot to answer for.

Merry Month of May in the olden days

The wildlife ponds need topping up, or they’d be nearly empty now, just green slime. (For that i use water that’s been in a bucket for 3-4 days to aerate and dechlorinate). There have been some hot sunny days too, in the mix. While scraping out said slime I put my hand on something that went squidge and moved – and luckily I hadn’t hurt it, it looked complete and hopped off. Another medium small froglet! Didn’t get a pic, sorry, was a bit stunned!

But what I do know is that this lack of rain will have devastating effects if it continues, on our insect and therefore bird and small mammal populations. I remember a call out from Chris Packham last year, to provide for the Bluetits in particular live food source. A call I answered, by ordering by post a few boxes of live wriggling Meal Worms, that I wouldn’t try again! Said on the outside “Do not allow to escape” – very difficult persuading the birds to come and get them and even when they did it was the clever daring starlings, not the timid Tits, who came and gorged on them!

To this end though I am trying to keep certain corners of the garden watered, where the willows are and the newly thriving nettle patch is for example. With any ‘grey’ (or cold that’s meant to be hot water) that I can save, and by eeking out the water butt water and sometimes using the hose, just for a few minutes. I figure it’s worth it, to keep the mini ecosystems going here. The bugs and slugs even and the beetles and grubs all need a bit of water, and are all needed as food for the birds….

I can report a little bit of success with this hard work but not terribly sustainable watering process, I’m pleased to say! My first caterpillar. This year. Not at all sure what it is – only that it must be in its first ‘instar’ or incarnation after creeping out of its egg, on the Nettles! I knew something had to be wrapped up in those sealed up leaves. More research needed….This image too is three times lifesize…

Unidentified 1cm long caterpillar

Other successes look similarly odd in the garden – I thought I’d got the pruning of the Buddleias all wrong, but no closer inspection reveals that the tender tips have been nobbled! And leaves have been curled and sealed closed in a similar way to the Nettle leaves. But this time I knew who the ‘culprit’ was. Or so I thought! But no it definitely wasn’t. These leaf curl ups are very exciting to a would be Butterfly Gardener such as myself. But I do have a lot to learn!

First year of Lockdown I posted a pic on twitter (this is somebody else’s pic, I’m sorry I’ve lost mine) of this tiny day flying moth, which somebody kindly told me was a Mullein. Now I took that on trust, as you do – but have been beginning to wonder. Not least because the Mullein caterpillars are absolutely huge, some reached 2 inches long here on the Mullein Verbascums last year (brought specially for them!). But the day moths are barely a centimetre across… This picture from flicker is 3 times lifesize! They are pretty when they flutter by…

A bit of a mystery – or not, just me being dim I suppose. well the plot thickened, because having been out retrimming a few bits off, I had them waiting to go in the compost bin when one of the twigs moved! Shook a tiny leg even, I realised, a creamy coloured leg. And had antennae the same colour. I was stunned! What was it. Time to look in the moth book. I tell you, i need a better moth book, one where like Pete Eeles UK & Irish Butterfly Life Cycles shows you every pose and stage, wings open closed etc. (please!).

But luckily this time, via Butterfly Conservation membership, the Moth Counter of Gloucester, sorry the County Moth Recorder for Gloucester came to my aid and said it was a Mullein! And looking n the book again, could see what he means. So if this is a Mullein, what’s the little brown and orange dotted day moth??? A Mint Moth, it must be – likes mint and hangs out in gardens, also loves Oregano. So that’s. Mystery finally solved.

And what a relief! Not only to finally see and rescue back to the garden a fully grown Mullein but also to see signs of them having young, who like the silvery Buddleias I’ve got almost as well as the Verbascums which are only biennial. And to understand the little pretty day flyer better too.

A bit more rain would be a greater relief too. I’m not sure my meadows have grown at all – even though only tiny patches they’re up against it with these hot and cold snaps and the constant dry. Birds are really up against it too- what with avian flu about and needing fresh clean water daily, and regularly cleaned feeders. Have to say got some rspb mealworm suet logs for them they love, many are tempted to come by.

May always used to be a damp green and very feverishly growing month, ever since i arrived in Oxon here, 20 years ago. It is also election month – goodness only knows what will happen there, and without wishing to get too political, I can only say we of little brains (our brains being proportionally smaller than bird brains which are fantastically fast and well adapted) just don’t seem to have the willpower to overcome the problems we can see ahead. I include myself here, I drive a car (partly out of wish for safety for immuno compromised partner and love of my life, who supports me in my greening ventures however small). We’re all in the same boat – and we none of us can have it all. We can’t have massively ill gotten gains and integrity; we can’t (have leaders who) break all of the rules and expect to make others pay; we can’t afford to let biodiversity get built over for quick bucks….I could go on.

Neither can we have peat filled pesti/herbicided (poisoned) super-tidied gardens and parks and expect Nature to cope, let alone thrive. We depend on life, for life! It seems so obvious, and yet we concrete over, poison, mow down and constantly ravage the world’s – the planet’s resources. Even the chemicals for the phones and tablet I’m writing on are part of a life threatening extraction – desperately perilous and poisonous for the people tasked with extracting them. We know May wont be so merry ever again if we carry on this way.

I leave you with a teeny other bit of good news. Newt News! I’ve finally seen a midstage Eft – the pic I had to over expose the water and water pump surface for the camera to pick it out. Here it is! ah no, no pics. A pretty complete drought of pics I’m afraid….technical hitch…

St Francis of Assisi I am not

But I would love to be more like him. Giotto’s images of this early saint welcoming birds and conflicting animals (sheep and wolves?) are inspiring, not to say tantalising! To have birds feeding from your hands would be amazing – but then I guess back in medieval times birds might have thought so too, as they’d most likely fear ending up in a pie (such was the scale of human poverty for the most part – and abundance of birds!) Unlike today.

Blackbird preening on the fence

I’ve been really fortunate as a non-artist to be sponsored for #TheArtistChallenge which involves posting an art work every day for 10 days. It’s to promote art, love of art and camaraderie… And the importance of all of these, and of art – one of the first human skills – is no longer to be underestimated. So like I say, I’m no artist – (please see the above quick sketch) but I have appreciated the challenge, and the looking – and the connecting… Right now, as I write, the blackbird is singing (from a hidden position) keeping me company and occasionally playing “Anything you can sing I can sing better” with his neighbouring rival. I do feel I know him better for having tried to capture him on paper. And it’s brought home how lucky we are to just to have garden birds now – in this pandemic – which has not only hit us humans but also is hitting birds with avian flu being the covid equivalent for birds, and this is happening in nearby counties. Cue: wash birdfeeders

Blackbird from behind

Back to St Francis of Assisi – I’m afraid I’m still much more likely to scare wild things off, by either chasing after the butterflies trying to capture on camera, for example – or simply by wanting to be outside with the birds. At which point they all invariably fly off. “They’ll come back if you settle down” my father in law said. He’s right, as when just sitting quietly they will happily carrying on peeping and singing, if out of sight. Full on gardening seems to scare them away. Or even walking round, inspecting every seedling and plant, as I am wont to do.

I’m afraid to say there are some wild things that I actively crash about to discourage – the pigeons who would make such a mess if allowed, and the rats my neighbour found while fixing the fence…Those I have ‘discouraged’ with noise, disruption, blocking off their route to his bird food, and pouring some water down their rat run at night when out, hopefully. All this disruption doesn’t do much for the tranquility of the place for the other wild things!

Upside down hoverfly – it flew off ok

What’s a person to do?? I can report some successes – today the first Orange Tip of the year visited. It even deigned to sit for 1 second upon the Cuckoo flower specially planted to attract it. (Before I managed to chase it off). This sunny Easter weekend, we’ve seen a yellow Brimstone, a Holly Blue and a Tortoiseshell here. I even uncovered and disturbed a resting Red Admiral in the shed. (D’oh! Although I’m sure it would rather be outside…in this sunshine?) A Peacock has been sunbathing too – so as far as a Butterfly Garden goes, not too bad, although very short visits, really. What do they all eat this time of year? My French Lavender is just about to flower, so here’s hoping…

4 French Lavenders (with mini meadows sown with BeeBombs behind)

Project Speckled Woods isn’t going too well. Though many can be found in the woods in the park nearby, there are none here as yet, in my trees. Perhaps once the Eleagnus is big enough to flower, and the mini meadow grows…RSPB say Cicely would be good but not time or budget left now this year. On the blossom front we have 2 plum flowers and the Amelanchier is looking likely anytime soon to flower, but then it is still small.

As far as the Wildlife Ponds are going, well in one I think I’ve only seen the shake of one newt’s tail. A slow, disappearing kind of shake, into the gloom. Sadly. But the other, the one I dug especially, is full of wriggly tadpoles! They very much enjoyed a make do fountain – large water bottle with small hole at bottom, filled with 3 day aired tap water (to get rid of the chlorine) – yesterday. They dashed in and out of the jet stream it made and swam straight up to it to get sprinkled. Sweet! Must give them some cucumber.

Tadpoles in jet fountain

It is encouraging in these super difficult times to think am making some kind of difference to the local wildlife, mostly for the better, and that this effort is producing a small if valid contribution to protecting and enabling biodiversity to flourish on this small patch. Definitely many more birds, grubs, beetles, worms, hoverflies, wasps and even a few more bees and butterflies. All worth it, and always so much more to learn, and do better next year! One dreadful error has been succumbing to the temptation of a quick hit of a colour pop, extra anemones not needed, at the till – without checking they were propagated peatfree. And I do feel bad. But I’m no saint, only human I suppose – and it is a journey. Like faith and vows it needs regular renewing to reinvigorate the direction of travel. We all need to go peat free – horticultural trades included – and every bit of pressure and positive action helps. Temptation enforces the rule! St Francis Assisi’s rule I’m not completely clear about, but am pretty sure it would be something like love every living thing, however lowly…and value all life about us! They say once we understand it better, we can love it more, care for it better (doing ourselves untold good too, in the process). Long live the wild things!!

Orange Tip (in same spot where a Tortoiseshell landed earlier – perhaps Erysium way to go!)

No Newts -but Frogspawn a-plenty

I’d been so looking forward to seeing the newts again this February – their orange spotted bellies flashing through and lighting up the dark waters of my square pond again…for their mating season. But it wasn’t to be. Either they haven’t visited or I’ve completely missed them. Either way, quite sad about it. And a little bit mystified as to how I ever spotted them last year, in the dark!

There is some good news, however. The other pond, the wildlife pond I dug February 2020 (during last bit of furlough) has finally succeeded as the birthplace of a whole pile of frogspawn.

Wildlife Pond (frogspawn bottom right) Spring 2022

Some of that has failed already for some reason (perhaps too much green stuff) half way through development. A whole patch has come out of its bubbles, for want of the proper word. I can’t think it was the latest touch of frost, because they’d already survived sheets of ice over the pond previously, having arrived very early in February.

I don’t know what’s happened. But about half the batch is still growing, within their protective globes – looking almost tadpole form like, if quite small still. That point where they turn from dots into curls is amazing. Life!

As ever, still more to learn. And hugely grateful to the twitter nature community with specific accounts such as @Froglife informing and sharing the progress of these astonishing amphibians…and inviting the rest of us as ‘Citizens Scientists’ to contribute our ‘data’ – the facts on what’s happening on ‘our’ patch.

I wish I could say I very much see it as the frogs’ garden. But no – I haven’t been able to resist a bit of a tidy up and then there are so many other species, apart from me and the frogs, which it belongs to! The long scruffy COUCH grass which sheltered froglets all winter, has also hopefully been feeding caterpillars all winter too. A revelation to me! Haven’t managed to spot any munching away on the Couch grass by torchlight – as recommended by @savethebutterflies but that’s partly because the garden’s a bit overlooked and I don’t want to look completely bonkers. I already go out when there’s a full moon! What the heck – why worry. It’s magical then, with the stars overhead too.

Next New Moon, April 1st (no joke!) is when I’m going to plant my meadows in earnests. I say meadows – in total I have dug up just 2 metres square of turf, in two separate patches to plant BeeBombs which really do incorporate the perennials knapweed and yellow rattle as well as the annuals, just the mix I’d been looking for. I know from experience now that the perennials can take a year or two or three to establish. I have some Oxeye daisy plants that are 3 years old now.

Wonderfully, from Jemima’s Garden (a Scottish Granny’s garden company which despatch wildflower seeds in non plastic packets) sent a free gift packet of Phacelia – which I know from the Irish #WildGardener, on that wonderful tv programme, are beautiful blue flowers, otherwise known as I can’t remember, but very very pretty. And just annuals – which should hopefully billow up and bloom while the others get established…I’m looking forward to that!

Bare Patch soon to be Meadow – next to pots of Eleagnus and Viburnum which will both flower

Hopefully – now do have to protect seedlings from pigeons, cats (with twigs) and from the perennial slugs and snails – Now no longer designated pests by the RHS (YAY! As much right to be here as we do, I reckon – if not MORE SO!). Still a puzzle though, as to how to prevent them munching every green shoot in sight.

Some great advice I read was just grow slug resistant/repellent plants – hardy geraniums, lavenders etc with their tough perfumed leaves are never going to be bothered by slugs and snails….

Geranium in the rain

But I do like/love the idea of growing meadow plants – esp with the news from PlantLife of the desperate decline of these – something like 70% disappeared in the last 70 years. Meaning not only the loss of those meadow plants but also the habitat they provide for insects – and butterflies!

Have to admit to being a bit jealous/envious when I read that Worcestershire Butterfly @savebutterlies spotters have already seen Peacocks, Commas and all sorts. My garden still looks too cold! It is a bit shady. But the nettles are establishing well, so I’m hoping to attract the Commas and Red Admirals back, or even more secretly that they are hiding here somewhere to re-emerge with a bit of warmer sunshine.

Am also trying to attract Speckled Wood butterflies this year. With that in mind, have now got the Eleagnus Augustifolia from Ashridge Trees (peat free) in place and can’t wait for that, and the newish Plum and Amelanchier to flower! Not much to see as yet – but looking forward to that blossom. Meantime, have got some Early scented Honeysuckle and a perfumed Daphne in flower, as well as some lovely wallflowers grown from seed!

In the meantime, have spotted two large Queen Bumble Bees overhead, hopefully looking for nesting round here – what a privilege that would be, hosting a Bumble Bee colony! Wonderful videos from The Bee Guy @the_beeguy on twitter, about how they search about on the ground for a suitable site this time of year.

Bedraggled Pussy Willow

Just need some sunshine – my day off and it’s already started to rain. However, if it wasn’t, I’d be out there, planting a few more Spring flowers, not writing! And the birds are enjoying free range without me digging about.

QUESTION: Does everyone else’s birds fly off when they garden? Mine do! IT’s their secret garden and I go out and they all disappear! Apart from the Robin, new this year. Am so pleased the garden is welcoming more species than ever. A Wren that looked in the nest box. Goldfinches, Great Tits as well as Blue Tits, a pair of Blackbirds and the bush full of Sparrows, some darling Starlings even. I love their chat! They don’t fly off at least, but perch on the roof, squawking!

New Year, New Moon

Cyclamen in snow last year – too warm this year so far

New Beginnings!!

Not quite sure what this means exactly – for me, or for the world, but there’s a palpable sense of excitement I’m feeling, for some of the possibilities…

Also if I’m honest, for the chance to possibly see those flashing and orange dotted undersides of Smooth Newts again, come February – I can’t wait…

copyright FSC

Been putting off writing until now – though there have been other more unexpected wildlife encounters since last I wrote. For example 3 weeks before Christmas, during a visit from a friend who’d first visited in high butterfly season, we spotted a Red Admiral, closed up and clinging on to the side of the bird table, in the rain!

Red Admiral in December

I’m afraid to say I moved it – woke it and let it climb onto a piece of browning apple and together with the apple put it into the shelter of a sage bush (still leafy) where it soon disappeared from view. I’m not sure, in fact I’m pretty sure you’re / I’m not supposed to intervene like this – however, having spent all autumn nurturing Comma caterpillars on my few mangy nettles I couldn’t stand by and see this dear Red Admiral get frozen…or dripped on…

Dear might sound too strong but honestly I didn’t know – HAD NO IDEA – these really lovely butterflies fly throughout winter and only take the lightest shelter….Did you?

Finding there’s just so much to learn and the experts are very kind-hearted at sharing info – also with tips to make outdoor spaces more butterfly- and caterpillar- friendly.

Was so pleased that it was a sunny summer’s day back when my friend first visited and the 4 Peacocks, 5 Red Admirals, many Whites and the odd Comma were fluttering about, as I’d promised her they might be! Am adding to the Butterfly bush / buddleia amounts plus that blue bush gosh what’s it called again ??

Still finding however hard I try with growing annuals and different sorts of wildflower that buddleias and blue bush flowers are best. Though the Knapweed did quite well for a bit, and the bees loved the Nepeta most again this last year. I suppose and hope the general mix of colour and scent is attractive to butterflies in what is quite a difficult (almost cul-de-sac) garden for them to find, with high fences and surrounded by houses and tall trees on 3 sides.

Had a spurt on attempting to get attracting Speckled Woods – they’re so characterful and totally territorial, a bit like me???! I’d love to see some here and it’s possible, with the grasses at the edge of the 5 shrub bit of woodland (inc new addition Viburnum Opulus “Guelder Rose”) with birch and magnolia trees…You never know! I will report here of course, should Speckled Woods ever make an appearance…

Meantime Comma caterpillars and chrysalises were the great excitement, I’m assuming they hatched out because the cocoons disappeared?

Longing for another Butterfly summer but there’s the excitement of the Newts, hopefully more Frogspawn and tadpoles and of course all the bulbs and scents of Spring first to look forward to….

Meantime, still seem to be plenty of surprises – one of which was a Caterpillar I can’t ID, probably a Moth of the winter variety, munching on my Hellebores! (I don’t mind, glad to be providing some extra food for these much beleaguered creatures 🙂

Unidentified Hellebore munching caterpillar

Sheltering Butterflies, Caterpillars and Chrysallises

Shed with open door

open door policy

Following up on a great suggestion from @save_butterflies I’ve been leaving my shed door open. Sure enough the other day a butterfly was sheltering up against the wooden wall at ground level. It’s no longer there. I didn’t get a photo. But that policy is working.

It’s part of a wider plan also from Butterfly Conservation to encourage caterpillars and shelter the ensuing butterflies especially this time of year. Goodness knows we could do with some sunshine.

Step 1

Encourage butterflies to lay eggs by providing popular food source for their caterpillars like nettles (popular with Peacocks, Red Admirals and as it turns out Commas). I’ve found, to my great excitement , 4 Comma – erstwhile caterpillars, now – chrysallises on this skimpy, shady patch of carefully nurtured nettles! (Nettles apparently like lots of nitrogen, so I’ve put my few grass clippings on them which seems to work well.)

close uo of nettles with Comma caterpillar

Step 2

Encourage the caterpillar eggs to be laid on nettles which, wait for it, are located next to a shed door – A shed door which you can leave ajar so that once those butterflies emerge from their chrysalis ( don’t know technical term sorry) they have somewhere to shelter – out of the rain and even over winter! The reason being some species especially if breeding late like these ones will prefer to overwinter as adult butterflies ready to emerge and start the whole process again next Spring!

I never knew that. Was vaguely aware of chrysallises along with cobwebs in old sheds but had no idea about adults sheltering – Some migrants like Red Admirals will even do that instead of flying back to Africa?!

provide a welcoming feast!

Step 3

Don’t forget to give the emerging butterflies something to eat before they go into winter hibernation (for want of better word). I’ve put some flowers nearby but am worried these brash garden centre daisies might contain hidden poisons in the form of insecticides and fungicides – might have to rip them out??

Have planted organic peat free variety of Michaelmas Daisies nearby instead but these due to lack of sunshine haven’t flowered yet and aren’t likely to in time for first butterfly due about 4 Sept !!!

Michaelmas daisy buds

There is some organic Loosestrife (peat free from Beth Chatto’s) nearby and buddleias about – I will move more pots of colourful flowers nearby….being very worried that this cold weather won’t be very welcoming.

Chinese Loosestrife from Beth Chatto’s
Some Marigol ds grown from seed

…Was very worried that is, until remembering early this morning I’d read somewhere recently that to encourage butterflies into your garden this time of year, you can put out rotting fruit! They can feed off the sweetness, good as nectar for them which is their normal rocket fuel! Phew. So I found an damaged apple on my walk and put it I’ve hung a bowl along with peach remains on the nearby willow! Job done, hopefully.

Tasty decaying fruit

Course there are other ways to encourage Butterflies – one v unpopular way is have cabbages The whites are v late to take advantage this year but here they are

cabbage vortex

Quite apart from boosting Large Whites numbers, these might end up as feed for wasps, believe it or not, which are also starting to be at risk and are fabulously important somehow in their own way, in the Eco system. I found that all hard to believe but have seen it with my own eyes. (As in one day a bunch of wasps arrived on my runner beans, and when they left all the caterpillars had disappeared!)

leave grasses long over winter

Although meadows /long grasses require one cut a year it doesn’t have to be in Autumn, it could be in Spring. You can cut some now and some in Spring. Reason being – and I was staggered to learn this – is that some caterpillars (moths as well as butterflies) use the long grass roots to overwinter in and as a food source. Do not cut off their supply!

some daisies in long grass
Cuckkoo flower planted in long grass

Now is a good time I’ve decided to plant in more food sources – more the better as there are different plants for different species all helpfully listed by @KateBradbury in her wildlife gardening book. @ChrisPackham advises Cuckoo Flower to attract Orange Tips – so I’ve planted small clumps here which should flower next year. Honesty is another good one.

Honesty Seed heads
Honesty seed heads which have lost their covers and gone silvery at

I was frankly quite disappointed with my Honesty seedheads thinking they’d gone mouldy instead of silvery – until on closer inspection realised the outer seed cases both sides have to peel off in order to release the seeds. All seed heads good of course!

Verbascum for the Mullein moths

not just the butterflies

Of course moths need all our help too – this Mullein / Verbascum was v popular with the tiny Mullein moths this year . Their caterpillars were huge!! 2 inches long and quarter inch wide!

(BTW you can just see the hedgehog shelter in the background there by the waterbutt “)

The moths themselves are v pretty tiny little day flying moths brown with orange dots….No idea how they emerged from such huge caterpillars!

2x lifesize image of Mullein moth 1cm across looking autumnal

The Butterfly Garden is working

A Peacock and Red Admiral
Peacock with both wings and sets of eyes showing

It’s not quite the green open space that I’d dreamed of but my little town garden has seen many more butterfly visitors this year…

May was too cold, June was quiet but July!

In July when the Buddleias finally came into flower, they were covered daily with 4 or 5 Peacocks and Red Admirals.

Were they the same 5 Peacocks and Red Admirals every day? I don’t know. But I did find out recently from a blog by the wonderful Chris Packham that when it rains, or gets cold and overcast, butterflies ‘snuggle down’ into the long grasses (if you have any) and this solved a mystery for me – I’d been wondering where do they appear from so quickly when the sun comes out again…?

Butterflies hiding in the long grasses?

But the best success has been this August – 3 Comma Caterpillars, which have now turned into 3 Comma chrysalises on the 3 nettles in the shady corner! To the lady from the RHS I can say it is definitely worth having a small patch of nettles not even in the full sun! I’ve been checking these nettles all summer and finally,after spotting some telltale black curled up leaves, holes and poops, saw this caterpillar which I needed help to ID:

Comma caterpillar
Comma caterpillar chrysallising

Comma chrysalis

Because as ButterflyConservation will tell you, it’s not just about encouraging butterflies with food sources they need, it’s also about growing the food that their caterpillars will enjoy/survive on. Very often different plant species altogether as butterflies need nectar but caterpillars need green stuff – and are very particular about which sort (down to only eating one or two certain species of plants.) Lucky for me Commas like nettles, as well as hops, I’ve just found out from the wonderful local branch.

Now I’d planted the nettles right next to the shed, along with some Michaelmas daisies for the last Peacocks of the season to feed off before laying their eggs on the nettles and then taking shelter in the shed right next to them – as per Butterfly Conservations suggestion. But it’s been Commas who arrived and nested there – and I didn’t even see them.

A Red Admiral instead

For next year, I’ve planted more Cuckoo flower – this time in amongst the long grasses and Teasels to try and attract more Orange Tips to nest here, as their young need brassica type plants, of which cuckoo grass is one…

Only saw one Orange Tip here this year. There aren’t many species around here but they are fabulous. Down the road in the new local park (so new it hasn’t been opened for the last three years) there is a thriving colony of Meadow Browns. I’ve seen skippers and Gatekeepers – and one or two have made it here too. Now at last the whites are laying on the few cabbages I grow especially for them . It’s taken the all summer – numbers must be down.

There’s a growing body of research which states that noticing the wildlife around us helps us humans connect with Nature. And the more people connect with Nature the better they feel, in themselves.. And the better we feel, the more interested we might become in preserving and encouraging wildlife and helping it to survive. Ironically, in our gardens this means surviving all the pesticides, insecticides and poisons we gardeners have traditionally thrown at it, in order to ‘garden’ – NOOOOO! It’s got to stop.

When I first moved here, 3 years ago, the whole space was covered in weed inhibiting black plastic. Having removed all of that, the small space is thrumming with insects (so that black stuff wasn’t just suppressing the weeds, but all manner of life.) Insects can recover from the 70% decline over the last 60 years, and quite quickly, if given the space to do so. Butterflies are just one of those declining species, but arguably for me at least the most beautiful. It’s such a pleasure and a privilege to have a few visit this small enclosed space.

“We do what we can”

Since mentioning in my last blog this government’s allowing lowering of food standards (since break with EU) meaning such awful stuff as chlorinated (and diseased) chicken about to be made available for sale from non European countries (such as USA) I’d like to redress the balance a bit…

Despite our Govt’s deliberate failure to protect our food standards and our countryside (with #HS2 and many awful “developments” destroying precious green spaces unnecessarily for housing) and despite big “pharma” business holding sway here as well as overseas – well despite all of that there is a huge groundswell I’m aware of (and I hope you’re aware of too) here and across the pond with many dedicated farmers practising sustainable and wildlife friendly farming agroforestry (without getting subsidies), cooperatives producing organically produced food and gardeners gardening organically too.

Great Dixter – meadows full of crickets

Am not sure if these forces pitted together – ‘us against them’ would ever mean big business or corrupt governance can ever be totally beaten – but the good fact is that this green, climate change combatting carbon footprint reducing and wildlife friendly movement is happening anyway…

Even tho in other places wildfires rage, rainforests are being torn down and million year old species are being made extinct – by humans. (Got to wonder if humans won’t make ourselves extinct at the rate we’re going?)

Still right now gardeners have a choice and can choose #peatfree compost reducing their carbon footprint (battling big businesses here and in Ireland which will surely lobby for the complete ban to be delayed) Only consumer forces will help win this battle. So it’s a useful one to join.

Not only can we choose this with help from @dogwooddays_nic ‘s wonderful #peatfree nursery list https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1X5D6mm_BDQrNqiUv2-BcWSKZPzALwBHq&usp=sharing

But also by choosing organically produced (and plastic free!) plants!

Not from many commercial, royal or even privately run garden centres though, as I’ve discovered to my cost. Even reputable companies “doing what they can” are condoning undeclared use of fungicides and pesticides which mean the #beefriendly plants are no such thing at all. They could be killing off insect biodiversity.

Now this is a bit of a blow – especially this very week having been tempted back to those very local garden centres instead of ordering peatfree etc online….Ouch.

One promised that it doesn’t use chemicals and does it’s only propagation totally insecticide and fungicide free (just not completely peatfree).

I can explain – having been lucky enough to get to see Sissinghurst (famous and truly fabulous White Garden, even in the gloom)

And Great Dixter nearby – truly organic with its fantastic nursery: and

Had to come home by train so was not able to bring beautifully propagated plants from there. I got desperate to see and buy! More colour and buddleias for my garden after seeing those colourful beautiful places. But there are no peatfree nurseries near me here … I could have ordered online, and Great Dixter has a catalogue… but didn’t and in a moment of weakness thereby failed! I do hope my #wildgarden and the insect populations there won’t suffer. You can’t be too careful!

But you can do better than me!

Here is the research into “bee friendly” flowers by Sussex Uni Prof Dave Goulson http://www.sussex.ac.uk/lifesci/goulsonlab/blog/bee-friendly-flowers

Wildlife Gardening

Wildlife Gardening sounds like a bit of an oxymoron doesn’t it? As in if it’s not wild then it’s gardened – gardening can’t be wild.

However as any gardener will know, gardening is as much about what you take out as what you put in, in terms of plants. Lots of work carefully removing flopped over long grasses (minding the froglets to be found there).

Tearing up grasses by hand is hard work but fun. There’s not often a grass out of place in my little patch! (And no need for moving, while simulating I hope at least, grasses being eaten by goats etc!)

And then I choose to leave and let grow some fairly large ‘weeds’ like Rosebay Willow herb because they remind me of my childhood and I love their pink flowers. As do the insects!

Thankfully I have to report a huge resurgence of insect populations of all sorts here since moving in and gardening in this way. (Bees, flies, hoverflies, wasps, moths pretending to be hoverflies pretending to be wasps or bees!) But I must remove the seedheads in order not to alarm the neighbours who live at close quarters here. It’s a complicated business!

But nothing compared to the complexity of the ecosystems at work in nature. Though I hate slugs and seeing them on my fave plants, am becoming much more aware now of how they do their part removing waste (even other animals’ poops) and so I mustn’t knock them.

After all we humans are appalling at removing and processing our own waste – both natural and chemical, let alone our ridiculously huge and tragic plastic waste – now imported from this small country (UK) to other countries (who can’t cope with it either). Thanks to this Govt also – our raw sewage is being allowed to pollute most if not ALL of our rivers, as I was appalled to learn via @GeorgeMonbiot’s @rivercide_live documentary. Even worse chicken ‘factories’ are literally flooding the water tables with what is essentially poisonous chicken crap, and this is killing off all life in our rivers too.

Note to self – eat less supermarket chicken! God only knows what happens when this Govt allows in already poisoned chlorinated diseased chicken for us to eat…

These are sorry times indeed. As they get worse with Covid, I wouldn’t say I garden more frantically – but I am trying to focus in on what I can do here and now to combat the destruction of habitat all around us (what with overbuilding, unnecessary railways like HS2 etc etc).

Clearing out and pruning branches of overgrowing shrubs and wisteria is endlessly therapeutic! As is deadheading roses. Talking of roses, I have a new one, take a look at this:

Rosa double delught

No, it’s not a single dog type rose (like I should get for insects to access more easily) but it smells heavenly and again takes me back – to the 70’s (happier more innocent days, just getting over nuclear destruction fears rather than facing full on climate calamity as we do now!). Growing it 70’s style amongst the Teasels and dried grasses – do love this time of year with golden light and long dried golden swaths.

But I digress! Mean to say, though chopping and cutting back is calming, finding new discoveries of wild things making their home here, well that’s just wildly exciting! Or sometimes a huge relief – to see another baby Newt (or Eft, sorry) for example after a long period of seeing none (where do they all go??). And to have a hedgehog to stay under the baking tray roofed shelter I built for it, well that’s just wonderful Nothing beats that sense of privilege for this space to be chosen as habitat by wild things….

Connectivity

posh pond filled with baby Newts?
Baby Newt?

So haven’t seen any Newts for a while – certainly none I could get a shot of – or so I thought…

Haven’t managed to ID the Newts that I have seen here either – they could either be Smooth or Palmate? Certainly not Greater Crested although they do still remind me of small dragons…Definitely brown and I think orange and dotty underneath, though I don’t often see their undersides. G has never seen one here at all! Despite the water being so clear in our square pond lately. I have seen a largish brown definite newt shape at the bottom relatively recently – it’s not a deep pond. It’s incredible how once they spot you, or sense they’ve been spotted, they know how to merge with their background, before your very eyes! Either moving slowly under cover or just sinking further down, til they’ve disappeared…

Well as I was saying, not many sightings lately, here or anywhere else. Haven’t been getting out much!

Then yesterday, right at the steep edge of the square pond there was a small what I thought was fish like creature, with wings if that makes sense. You can just about make out the “wings” (I’m sure there’s a proper word for them) in the photo above – which was taken as the creature started its disappearing act. (It got completely under the pebble seconds later)

So now I got to thinking. What if this is a baby Newt!? As per previous blog, I think I saw mating activity back in Feb/March. So it could be, right here! In that case if so, then I had actually already seen several of these creatures at the pond at Rousham Park. Blithely telling other visitors “No, no Newts here!” But they could have been. A small amount of internet research shows that 2″ long fish like creatures with “wings” and “forearms” or “external gills” and “front legs” is exactly what baby Newts look like.

In which case, how exciting.

You may be wondering where connectivity comes into it… Well in two ways for me, really.

  1. Staring into the limpid waters it’s always astonishing to realise you’re seeing a fantastical creature that is, in some way or other, looking back at you – or aware of your presence at any rate. In this case aware enough to slide away…
  2. Connecting with other people is also a thing I’m craving still – after Lockdown. And not just people in general but people who are as interested as I am in the odd Newt appearance! There’s TV presenters who’d like to see Newts in their pond, those people I met at the very posh Rousham pond and somebody else I’ve encountered on social media – an out and out Naturalist recovering from an op in hospital – for whom this Newt is a bit of a helpful diversion!

Talk about the “feel good factor”. I’m catching up with latest University of Derby research behind the #30DaysWild Wildlife Trust campaign, which shows that connecting with Nature is good for one’s soul – or sense of well-being and purpose to put it slightly more scientifically. All I can say is – it sure is!

Rousham Park pond (probably full of baby Newts)