We could all do more (Royals included!)

By harming the Rainforests “they are ultimately harming themselves” Amazonian Chief speaking of the Brazilian Govt sponsored gold-miners & farmers who are making “quick bucks” that will be the end of us all.

This is one woman Chief who could not be doing more, along with her son. By practising what Simon Reeves on BBCTwo has called “careful Leadership”, this tribe have picked from the best aspects of modern life – education and communication – in order to continue and disseminate their valuable knowledge and traditions of #forestgardening – the cultivation of plants that can provide effective natural medicine within the Rainforests. (No need for Big Pharma then – not that Pharma legalised drug money would see it like that).

All that glisters – golden Knapweed seedhead – real gold mining using mercury is costing lives and bringing destruction

There is also no need for Intensive Farming – as modern scientists are ONLY JUST discovering. By growing in forests, a balanced natural mix of trees and other species is achieved which really is the best way forward for the plants, and the planet and getting the best (most eco-friendly) results for us.

These peoples know the value of a Brazil Nut cluster found on the forest floor – saying how [instead of eating and selling them] they can break the cluster open and grow at least 12 new Brazil Nut trees with the wonder inside. I was so touched by discovering this in Lockdown. It was a revelation so profound I’ve probably mentioned here before – which made me think through how I’ve chomped unthinkingly through probably intensively farmed brazil nuts (and bemoaned a price rise if it’s been a difficult harvest). These nuts themselves have medicinal properties – and ward off depression (hence why I’ve been eating them). But to these peoples they are precious.

It was European greed and diseases the time of the Inquisitions/Conquistadors that put paid to the 25,000 strong populations of tribes living in the Amazon Forest gardens. It was Victorian mining and Empire Buildling that fuelled the land grabs and decimation of natural landscapes to plunder resources in a mechanised, industrialised way that we see today – all in the name of progress and empire. Could not the self-absorbed Victoria have seen that? Was there even a nag of doubt? Could she not have done more to protect the Highlands she was so fond of, or was she so truly enamoured of the bare hillsides and peat burning to make way for deer and grouse shooting? Not even a glimpse of the damage – or an inkling to make up to the Highlanders after the horrors of the enclosures? I don’t know.

Even our just buried Queen, in present times, did not do much to reverse the damage the privileged landowners have done, including herself, by promoting racing, deer hunting and grouse shooting. But were Huntin’ & Shooting’ just too engrained – even thought the cost to the environment, the ecosystems and the whole planet are now clearly and widely known?

Credit Guardian Newspaper – bonkers grouse shootng

I didn’t know until today (thanks to channel 4) that the reason the Highland peatlands are burnt is to encourage the Heather that the Grouse like to eat (before they are shot).

I tell you what though – we’re all shot – and done for – unless somebody and preferably a royal figurehead (hint hint King Charles) stands up to this complete and utter nonsense. For it is completely nonsensical in this day and age – facing the climate emergency that we are, that this increasingly criminal behaviour is allowed to continue.

Thankfully, am reminded today again by Channel 4 that estates like Allardale and Sir John Lister Kaye’s own Aigas Field Centre are trying to combat the decimation of the Caledonian Forests and reintroduce wild cats, respectively. And the Highland Peat Blanket Bog is no longer being drained – one of the biggest peat carbon sink arguably in the world.

Meanwhile, on my little patch, I can only do my little bit. I’ve discovered via Carol Klein that my fave Geranium Roxanne = Rozanne (sorry showing my age) – is sterile – therefore no good to bees. I should/could have grown Geranium pratense – or meadow cranesbill as it’s known – the wild one that grows and glows so beautifully all by itself in the grass verges in summer. Such a brilliant blue are its flowers it always feels a huge privilege to see it. It is a colour I could link to our late Queen who has at least left us not too droopy and swathed in black like Victoria did, after her own life half spent in mourning.

Rozanne with a blue salvia and I can’t remember Cerinthe, that’s right!

There is some brightness there – and a possible, wan ray of hope in “eco Charles” although the establishment and our current politicians and the “quick buckers” will probably put paid to too much progress there.

Meanwhile, in my own garden, another newtlet sighting! An eft – bottom right here, seen this morning and smaller than the last one I saw, so much be a new one. Such a joy!

Certainly cheered me up when feeling low and a bit poorly – and appalled by the ways of the world!

Me and ‘my’ Butterflies

I haven’t seen that many this year…Just once during the #BigButterflyCount (July 17-Aug 8th – today) have I managed to spot 2 Peacocks and 2 (I’m pretty sure) Red Admirals…in any one count. Compared to last year when I regularly had 4 or 5 of each every day in July…

Single Peacock into land

They are no more ‘my’ butterflies of course than anyone else’s. In they fact belong to no one on this earth. It is however our responsibility to see that how we live, currently, is causing a drastic decline in these beautiful species, most of which are on the endangered list now….Which means they never be seen again – in our lifetimes, let alone during those of the people and other animals to come. We are helping heat up the earth to a such a degree (excuse the pun) or point where very soon, not much will survive us (and we wont last that long).

Dry dry dry summer of 22

What a pity that would be! I’ve counted far fewer Peacocks and Red Admirals and Tortoiseshells this year – last year had what seemed like lots on the Buddleias I grow especially for them and for the whole the time they were flowering. This year only like I said only two at any one time – and then only twice. the Buds are nearly over and dried out now already. It could be a bad year of course, like last year was a good year – but it is part of a general demise in Nature, seen all over the world.

What butterflies and other struggling species need is quite simple really – for us to love them! Who couldn’t love these beauties…

Common Blue – I think – saw 1 this year

With that love, and sense of connection in common with the unconditional love we have for our closest friends and families…is the willingness to make the odd sacrifice. Unconventional gardening – with Nettles and other fave larval foodplants…

Comma caterpillar on the Nettles – next day it was an empty case and new instar had disappeared

Leaving some long grasses over winter, so that all sorts of Butterfly larvae can shelter and subsist in them – some coming out to eat a bit if there’s a warm spell. Not using pesticides, herbicides and even fertilizers – keep it as organic and peat free as possible (to help stop global warming and keep valuable peat CO2 sinks elsewhere in the world). Grow trees – for Speckled Woods – I had a visiting Speckle Wood this year! Dream come true.

Prize for spotting it here in the long grass by the wildlife pond…My first Speckled

But it’s more than that – it’s feeling the connectedness with them. They are not just beautiful and getting rarer, they are part of the eco systems that we and our govt and local councils and cars seem set to rubbish into oblivion. (If you follow me on twitter you’ll have heard me say: this govts Net Zero Strategy has been challenged by Friends of the Earth and found at High Court to be woefully and illegally inadequate. What are they doing about it? Nothing. Not Liz Truss not my MP in DEFRA – Nothing.

nature connectedness is a thing: https://www.derby.ac.uk/research/centres-groups/nature-connectedness-research-group/ and it’s kind of as if not more important than connecting in with ourselves, to feel what we really feel. Looking at this govt, well I wouldn’t want to put those emotions into words….

Kind of means it’s up to us! Chris Packham in the opening of my new butterfly book by Peter Eeles says it’s about the excitement, too – to spot a rare or beautiful butterfly is a very fine thing!

Orange tip seen earlier this year

It only takes a moment – or fifiteen, I’ve found, taking part in the Big Butterfly Count. https://www.wcl.org.uk/the-big-butterfly-count-2022.asp There’s still this evening!

Sitting quietly, or looking around, spotting fluttering creatures that I hadn’t previously seen were so close to me – wow, those are special moments. Tapping in – tuning in to the roundabout greenery, first I notice all the comings and goings of bees and hover flies (and moths that look like hoverflies – I’ll never tell the difference @BerrieTree!) then spotting a specially large flapping fast irregular – its a Gatekeeper the one and only one that seems to have settled in my garden, keeping me company.

Sadly the Speckled Wood hasn’t stopped here – I only saw it once, one afternoon – but oh the delight! Quite transporting, to use a Jane Austeny type word! I’d been hoping they’d come, so feisty and funny and characterful they are… quite wonderful. They like dappled shade in clearings, so y garden must be nearly there, surrounded by tress and tall plants on three sides now…many be next year.

Like gardening, wildlife watching gives you hope. Hope in next year – even against the odds. Joy abounds when you see what you were looking for – be it a frog or a beautiful Painted Lady from Africa this year, or a Speckled Wood. Spellbound I was!

Looking for things to be thankful for

in the Natural world around us

Last time I wrote I was so…distraught, really, at the state of politics in this country and the world over, what with all the #climatecrisis denying behaviour going on. (As it is still – as if the climate was the only seemingly insolvable problem – a bit daft given that all the human pollution we continue to create is a contributory factor to that and proving a huge problem in itself to solve). It was local elections at the time – and the other desperation that came into play, a desperation that it’s so easy to give into at the moment, which is the seeming lack of care of so many people, voting the Tories back in here there and everywhere – although it’s clear they don’t often giveadam (pardon the expression) about the environments we live in or create around us (sterile concrete flood zones devoid of trees or space or earth, even, so often). So yes there’s plenty to get depressed about, and it turns out I am – clinically I mean – depressed.

Now I’m getting some help with that, which I’m hugely grateful for, it’s opening the door for me to find more things to be thankful about. Little things – but along the same lines that I’ve been looking down – as so many have during and since Lockdown – for things to make us smile – in Nature.

Daisies nearly always make me smile

The fact that so many species that were once commonplace but now are in desperate decline means we can be even more thankful for spotting them – most butterflies and moths, types of hoverflies and even Garden Birds (now so under threat from avian flu). We can be even more glad to be of help to these species in their survival efforts by providing pesticide, herbicide and fungicide herbicide free environments. Poison free Oases if you like.

long grass meadow with oxeye daisies corncockles verbena and tiny wild sweet williams (top left)

I’ve found it really can be as simple as allowing long grass to grow and adding in daisies and the like. I’ve loved mine and loved adding in also knapweed, scabious, corncockles, lycnhis red loosestrife verbena the colours of which have brought a certain joy – especially when zoomed in on by insects and beetles and hoverflies and bees – and best of all (for me) butterflies. What great pleasure that brings. (in fact excuse me while I just go and look who’s about, now the sun’s come out a minute…)

The overall effect is for me at any rate, quite electrifying! And buzzing with bees, hoverflies and all manner of electric blue and green flies which I sense are glad of a home.

Nothing doing Butterfly wise just now though. Of course not everything I’ve tried (beebombs or poppies) has succeeded very well, if at all. And there are of course always some disappointments in natural life to brook at any one time. (From our sentimental point of view) I suspect that the caterpillars both Mullein and Large (cabbage) white I was carefully nurturing have themselves turned into nourishment for the hungry garden birds (and their families). So it goes.

This handsome fellow, Mullein moth went for a burton

Debating with myself as to whether to show a pic of a Cabbage white caterpillar – surely this is uber familiar to most people (even if as an enemy??) But perhaps not, these days. Not all children will be aware of how or where cabbages grow. Hopefully more will be, what with the surge in interest in gardening and own grown. Here one or two are, anyway – if you can spot them?

No longer there

They’re no longer visible – perhaps they’ve cocooned and come out already as a Large White Butterfly? But I haven’t even seen many of these, this year – once so common. Hardly any small whites at all. What have we done? Where have they all gone?

One of very few Large Whites this year so far…

Gardening does bring a sense of hopefulness though, in the recuperative powers of Nature and the power of wild things to survive. This lovely willow that I grew from a stem in a christmas bouquet, for example, I was afraid I had lost! But it’s coming back into leaf having been pretty decimated and stripped by some kind of larvae.

I find I can allow that to happen and be glad it was useful – and survived! Looking at the glorius pinks of the Magentas and Salvia and Mme de Pompadour de Brougignon (?) roses, from a normal view is like this:

Oh the pinks!

Closer inspection though in one corner shows this decimation going on, which I’m not worried about as the Rose survived this attacker fine last year:

Saw fly larvae in the roses. I suppose Nature is a process, as much as a thing. Much as living things are made of molecules of movement, at heart – at nuclear level. The best we can do at any one time is tune in. Not wade in with poisons or plastic or man made stuff at all. Tuning into ourselves and our drives – that’s one thing. Important enough. Tuning into Nature however, and becoming more aware or the wider whole, the large earth beneath our feet and the mass of life we’re lucky enough to be part of for a while, well…that’s another. Right, the sun’s come out so no more writing time, it’s Butterfly counting time!

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.