Tomorrow's Garden for Local Wildlife 2004 Conference
The concept of wildlife gardening has been around for the best part of a couple of decades now. Chris Baines' seminal work, How to make a Wildlife Garden, was first published as long ago as 1987.
Chester racecourse: the venue for the conference.
But it seems that over the last five years or so, the whole idea of gardening with wildlife in mind has gathered a lot of momentumit seems that over the last five years or so, the whole idea of gardening with wildlife in mind has gathered a lot of momentum. The extra impetus may have come from the implementation of the National and Local Biodiversity Action Plans (BAPs). BAPs recognise the importance of increasing biodiversity in and around population centres and one of the most effective ways of doing this is to encourage gardeners to welcome wildlife. The conference described here, organised by the Cheshire Region Biodiversity Partnership, was a practical step towards fulfilling the objectives of the Cheshire Local BAP.
This day-long conference was held in the excellent facilities of Chester Racecourse. The general format of the day was one of series of presentations punctuated by workshopsThe general format of the day was one of series of presentations punctuated by workshops. During coffee breaks, the lunch break, and after the presentations, there was time to look around the many stands of the 'trade fair' where organisations like Butterfly Conservation, The Wildlife Trusts, English Nature and many others were describing their work in relation to wildlife gardening and offering free literature etc.
The morning presentations
The conference was kicked off by Steve McWilliam in his capacity as chair of the Cheshire Region Biodiversity Partnership. Steve underlined the fact that
Gardens typically contain an good array of microhabitats.
Even small pond can contribute enormously to garden biodiversity.gardens are potentially important in conservation terms not just because of the total area they cover, but also because of the variety of microhabitats typically found theregardens are potentially important in conservation terms not just because of the total area they cover, but also because of the variety of microhabitats typically found there. Steve noted that the best nature reserve in Cheshire has less than 2000 recorded species whilst in a single Leicester garden, over 7,000 species have been recorded. These figures overstate the case somewhat because the garden in question was studied so intensively over a period of 12 years, but they do at lest show that gardens can make a significant contribution to local biodiversity.
Next up was Anne Brenchley of English Nature who described the Show Garden created by English Nature and Chester Zoo for the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show. The garden is described in detail in our feature article - The RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park 2004. Anne was keen to make the point that wildlife gardening is important because of the sheer numbers of people who count themselves as gardenerswildlife gardening is important because of the sheer numbers of people who count themselves as gardeners; reasoning that if we can turn these people onto caring for nature through talking about gardens, then the benefits to the wider environment could be incalculable.
The final speaker of the morning was the 'guest speaker', Bob Flowerdew, the well known panellist on BBC radio 4's 'Gardeners' Question Time' and champion of organic gardening. Obviously a well-practised public speaker, Bob gave an informative and entertaining presentation entitled 'Get The Wildlife To Do The Gardening For You'. Bob described how his garden evolved to be more wildlife friendly. He gardens for wildlife for two reasons: firstly he loves the animals for their own sake; secondly, as an organic gardener, he does it out of self interest. Organic gardeners want to foster and encourage life in the soil and avoid using chemicals. These aims and those of wildlife gardening are not just mutually compatible, but mutually enhancing tooOrganic gardeners want to foster and encourage life in the soil and avoid using chemicals. These aims and those of wildlife gardening are not just mutually compatible, but mutually enhancing too. One overtly wildlife gardening technique he uses is to leave areas of long grass in the garden to encourage invertebrates like crickets.
Bob Flowerdew enjoys the 'show' put on by nature: the peacock butterfly (Inachis io) will always oblige.
Bob considers that just like the plants in his garden, the animals can 'put on a show' for the gardener, but they also do a job of work. Where other people see problems, Bob Flowerdew looks for the positives. For example, instead of considering the aphids on his sweet cherries to be a problem, he sees that the effect they have on the trees is no worse than summer pruning - they do the pruning for him. In addition, the droppings that they and the animals which feed on them (like ladybirds) produce, enriches the soil under the tree.
A mine of ideas and unconventional viewpoints, Bob came up with some little gems during his presentation. For example, he believes that birds often only take soft fruit because they are thirsty and by providing water, you can reduce the damage they do to your crops. He also recommended keeping a single goldfish in a water butt to keep mosquito larvae down!
The afternoon presentations
The afternoon session started with a presentation from Anna Williams, Wildlife gardening Project Officer with the Snowdonia Wildlife Gardening Partnership. The main subject of her presentation was a wildlife gardening competition run by the partnership. The competition was received with a lot of interest and was especially useful in terms of the publicity generated for the partnershipThe competition was received with a lot of interest and was especially useful in terms of the publicity generated for the partnership. Anna was particularly delighted with the range of entries to the competition: each garden entered was unique and demonstrated how everyone responds to the challenge of wildlife gardening in their own way.
Jan Miller of Butterfly Conservation gave a presentation entitled 'Gardening for Butterflies'. Jan talked about the concept of 'meta habitats' and explained that butterflies need both larval food-plants as well as nectar for the adults in a successful meta-habitatbutterflies need both larval food-plants as well as nectar for the adults in a successful meta-habitat. She was particularly keen on the idea that networks of gardens can create green corridors for butterflies, going some way to counteract the over-management of hedgerow and road verges which occurs in many areas.
The comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) is just one of a number of species attracted to the 'butterfly bush' (Buddleja davidii).
Jan suggested a great many plants for butterflies, stressing the idea of choosing different plants to provide succession of flowering across the whole spring and summer. Particularly good early flowerers are:
- Honesty (Lunaria annua)
- Aubretia (Aubrieta deltoidea)
- Forget-me-not (Myosotis spp.)
- Perennial wall flower (Erysimum cheiri)
- Willows (Salix spp.)
Good summer flowerers include:
- Birds-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
- Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
- Evening primrose (Oenothera spp.)
- Knapweeds (Centaurea spp.) - a good alternative to invasive thistles
- Buddleia (Buddleja spp.)
Later flowerers include:
- Michaelmas daisies (Aster spp.)
- Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) - flowers after buddleia
Some flowers can be cut back to induce a second flush of flowers later in the season, e.g. red valerian (Centranthus ruber) and catmint (Nepeta cataria). Jan also recommended planting in large blocks of colour since many butterflies have poor eyesight. Another interesting tip was to water important nectar plants well in the dry weather in order to keep nectar runny.
The workshops gave this conference a welcome extra dimension. A full day of presentations is not the best format for learning; no matter how good the speakers. The workshops served to break the day up a bit and also gave delegates the chance to tailor the conference to their own interests and needsThe workshops served to break the day up a bit and also gave delegates the chance to tailor the conference to their own interests and needs. When registering for the conference upon arrival, delegates signed up for two workshops from the following list:
- 'Bugs galore', looking at ways to attract invertebrates into the garden plus an opportunity to build your own bug box to take home. Facilitated by Sue Tatman, Cheshire Wildlife Trust.
- 'Mini-orchards for your garden', considering varieties of fruit tree for even the smallest plot. Facilitated by Katie Lowe, Cheshire Landscape Trust.
- 'A taste of honey', covering bee identification, planting for bees and bee nest box making. Facilitated by Carl Clee and Tony Parker of Liverpool Museum.
- 'Garden ponds with wildlife in mind', how to design the most wildlife-friendly ponds. Facilitated by David Gledhill, The University of Salford.
- 'Wildlife watching on your doorstep', encouraging people to record the wildlife in their gardens. Facilitated by Steve McWilliam, Manager of rECOrd (the local biological records centre for Cheshire) and Chair of the Cheshire region Biodiversity Partnership.
- 'The magic of compost', tips on getting the most out of your compost bin. Facilitated by Margaret Oldman.
- 'Furry neighbours', making badgers feel at home in your garden. Facilitated by Lesley Brockbank/Mike Taylor, Wirral and Cheshire Badger Groups.
- 'Garden trees for wildlife' covering tree and shrub identification and varieties which will attract birds and other wildlife. Facilitated by Jack Swan.
- 'Bat zone', basic bat ecology and identification and making your home and garden bat-friendly. Facilitated by Ged Ryan of the Cheshire Bat Group.
- 'Wild about allotments', how to keep your allotment or vegetable patchinteresting for wildife. Facilitated by Kathy Swindells, Landscape Officer at Macclesfied BC.
I chose to attend 'Wildlife watching on your doorstep' in the morning and 'Bugs galore' in the afternoon, but it was a difficult choice given the range of interesting topics covered.
Steve McWilliam lead the workshop 'Wildlife watching on your doorstep'. Steve is the manager of rECOrd - the local biological record centre for Cheshire. The biological record centre will act as a central repository for all biological records in Cheshire, including those made in gardensThe biological record centre will act as a central repository for all biological records in Cheshire, including those made in gardens. It will also act as a model for a network of county biological record centres to be established all over the country.
Steve talked about what makes a biological record. A good biological record must consist of the following information:
- Location (preferably easting and northing)
- Name of the recorder
Optionally, the record can be enriched with this information:
- No of animals/plants
Steve emphasised that records from gardens would be welcomed. There are number of resources to help amateurs with species identification. Sometimes regional museums run an identification service which is free to members of the public.
Gardeners can use an array of nesting or hibernation structures to attract insects like this early bumblebee (Bombus pratorum).
The discussion in this workgroup was interesting and wide-ranging. For example, some interesting viewpoints were expressed about the possibility that encouraging too many garden nesting birds may be deleterious for garden invertebrates.
Sue Tateman's workshop, 'Bugs galore', was a good example of practical, hands-on workshopSue Tateman's workshop, 'Bugs galore', was a good example of practical, hands-on workshop. During the course of this workshop, delegates were able to create a 'bug box' by cramming hollow bamboo canes into a length of plastic tubing (drain pipe). This could be hung on a sunny wall to encourage invertebrates like solitary bees and wasps to create nesting chambers. The merits of various styles and designs of accommodation for garden invertebrates were enthusiastically discussed.
For anyone interested in garden biodiversity and wildlife gardening, this conference was full of interest. The mixture of exhibition, presentations and workshops was very successful, allowing each attendee to take from the day something of particular interest to them. Despite familiarity with the wildlife gardening literature and being around the subject for a number of years, I heard a number of novel ideas and thought provoking viewpoints expressed. There's nothing quite like discussing ideas with like-minded individuals for consolidating ideas and provoking new ones.
|First published November 2004.|
Copyright Richard Burkmar 2004. Permission is hereby granted for anyone to use this article for non-commercial purposes which are of benefit to the natural environment as long the original author is credited. School pupils, students, teachers and educators are invited to use the article freely. Use for commercial purposes is prohibited unless permission is obtained from the copyright holder.|
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