nature

Road verges are a last hope for UK’s rarest plants, says Plantlife

Next time you’re making a car journey, take a moment to appreciate the humble roadside verge, as you might find something surprising.

Far from being lifeless stretches of faded grass, roadside verges are incredibly valuable for biodiversity. Studies by Plantlife have found that road verges in the UK represent a last refuge for some of our rarest species of plant. However, mowing and management of verges presents a threat to these endangered plants. Plantlife have called for verges to be managed for wildlife to aid conservation efforts.

Plantlife found an incredible 724 species growing on road verges, with some species being found nowhere else.  The top 10 threatened verge species are as follows:

  • Fen ragwort
  • Spiked rampion
  • Crested cow-wheat
  • Tower mustard
  • Velvet Lady’s-mantle
  • Yarrow broomrape
  • Sulphur clover
  • Wood calamint
  • Welsh groundsel
  • Wood bitter-vetch

Some of these species are now restricted to a single ditch in the wild.

In 2015, SongBird Survival supporter Eddie Bullimore lobbied Norfolk County Council to reduce verge cuts on rural roads to conserve the county’s wildlife, including songbirds.

Verge management such as flail cutting means that haws (hawthorn fruit) and rose hips are lost, and thistles are often cut before they can seed. It also endangers ground-nesting birds such as skylark. Thistle seeds are a favourite food source for goldfinch, whils
t fieldfares eat haws, and field mice, an important food source for barn owls, like to feast on rose hips.

Reducing the frequency of cuts means that plant species, and the other wildlife which relies on them such as insects, birds and small mammals, are able to thrive.

To find out more about good management of verges, download Plantlife’s Good Verge Guide here.

Children who play outside more likely to protect nature as adults — ScienceDaily

           

 

Protecting the environment can be as easy as telling your kids to go outdoors and play, according to a new study. Research by Catherine Broom, assist. prof. in the Faculty of Education at UBC Okanagan, shows that 87 per cent of study respondents who played outside as children expressed a continued love of nature as young adults.

Source: Children who play outside more likely to protect nature as adults — ScienceDaily

How to look after songbirds this spring

We all enjoy seeing songbird visitors, old and new, taking advantage of the bird feeders and spending time in our gardens. Feeding the birds is a hugely popular national pastime in the UK. Nearly half of us feed the birds in our gardens, providing an amazing 50,000 tonnes of supplementary food every year! This is a fantastic way to help songbird populations, especially over the colder winter weather, when foraging for food is more difficult. It’s also been shown that supplementary feeding over the winter can boost songbird breeding success in the spring.

With the warmer weather now appearing, spring is definitely in the air. Over the breeding season, birds are rushing around making nests and finding natural foods (mainly insects) to feed their young. These adults will use the food you give them to fuel themselves during this hectic time. When their young have fledged, the adults will teach their offspring where to source food, and this will include your garden feeders.

But what should we feed them?

Seed Mixes

There are lots of different types of seeds on the market and the ones you choose will determine which birds you will attract. Buying a small bird mixture or high protein mixture will attract the most variety into the garden to begin with. Seed feeders can be hung from bird tables and can be a safer way for small birds to eat; small birds can hang better than larger birds, and there are fewer threats from cats at this type of feeder. Hanging seed feeders attract birds like tits and finches, whereas ground mesh feeders will suit birds like robins, blackbirds and thrushes. Songbirds love sunflower heads when they have gone to seed. Hang the heads up by the storks, and birds will enjoy pecking at the ripe seeds. Birds also appreciate thistle heads and lavender seeds, so don’t dead-head your lavender too soon!

Coal Tit

Nyger Seeds

These seeds are oil-rich and high in protein and little birds struggle to resist them! If you serve this it will attract species like goldfinches, siskins, greenfinches and redpolls.

Dried Mealworms / Insects

A great natural source of energy, fat and protein which the birds love. They need to be placed on a flat feeder and during the breeding season it’s best to use mini or mashed mealworms, as whole dried ones can choke fledglings. Loved by many species such as blackbirds, tits, thrushes, wrens, dunnocks and especially robins.  Why not also soak them in water as another way to keep the birds hydrated!

Peanuts

All garden birds like peanuts as they are high in energy and fat, but try not to feed them in the summer as they can get stuck in fledgling and juveniles’ throats. Place in a specialist peanut feeder or on a flat feeder, but make sure you remove all packaging, including any plastic mesh bags as these can harm birds and other wildlife.

Suet treats and fat balls

Suet treats are especially good in winter as they are rich in fat and protein. There are many different styles which can be hung on their own or in feeders, and are great all year round. These are easy to make yourself and the birds adore them.

breakfast
This little blue tit was photographed enjoying fat balls in Somerset, England on a winter’s morning.

Fruit

Chop up apples, pears etc. and either hang in wire feeders, on flat feeders or special spike–feeders to hold the fruit while the birds feed off it. Dried fruit is a favourite too, especially with blackbirds and robins. Seeds from melon also go down well!

Kitchen Waste

Bacon rind (chopped up small), over-ripe fruit and even leftovers from meals can supplement garden birds. But NO BREAD – birds need food with high–nutritional benefit, and bread is bulky, fills up their bellies with ‘empty’ food and doesn’t give them nearly as much nutrition as they need in their busy lives.

Click here to download the SongBird Survival Feed the Birds Guide, to find out which birds like what food, and how they like to eat them.

Top Hygiene Tip:

To stop diseases such as salmonella and trichomoniasis spreading,  clean your bird table/feeders and bird bath on a regular basis. Remove old or stale food and clean your feeders and table with hot soapy water and a brush. Allow to dry before re-filling.


Where to site feeders and bird baths

Site your feeders and bird bath away from walls and fences where cats could pounce from. If cats do come into your garden then consider using a bird table rather than ground feeders. Feeders with guards on will also help protect songbirds when they are feeding. If possible, site feeders or bird baths near to hedges, trees and other large dense shrubs. This will allow small birds to quickly get away to safety if a predator is hunting them. Growing prickly shrubs and trees will provide nesting sites, as well as safety for birds; they make predators move more slowly around the extra obstacles in your garden when hunting, giving small birds time to get away. SongBird Survival’s latest research gives some more handy hints for feeding birds during the breeding season to protect them from predation.

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Nest Boxes

Bird species need different sorts of nest sites as they build different types of nests. For example, blackbirds and thrushes build ‘open-cup’ nests in hedges and shrubs. Finches build small dense cocoon nests higher up in trees. Tits prefer a hole in a tree; or, due to many of us tidying away so many rotten trees, will readily take to a nest box as an alternative. Robins and wrens are very adaptable and will often make their nests very close to your home or shed, often inside! Sparrows, house martins and swifts will all take to nest boxes, and in our modern houses there is often no other option for them.

To prevent predation of nest boxes, we highly recommend using a protective nest box plates to deter squirrels, larger birds and other predators. These stainless steel plates protect the entrance hole to the nest box and prevent larger birds and predators from enlarging the entrance hole to gain access.

Big Birds

Pigeons are numerous and don’t need as much special care as smaller birds. If you want to make sure your high-nutrition food is being fed only to songbirds, use hanging feeders and small bird tables that only allow enough room for the littler birds to get in. Songbirds are messy eaters and there will be plenty for the pigeons and other wildlife to clean up from the ground below!

Grsquirrel croppedey Squirrels

To help stop grey squirrels from stealing your peanuts, chop up fresh salad peppers and mix these with your bird food.  Squirrels don’t like any part of the capsicum pepper and even growing the plant can deter them.

They also dislike peppermint, so dab some peppermint oil on the things that squirrels nibble on, and remember to reapply after rain.

Grey squirrels not only steal your bird food, but destroy habitat and will eat eggs, nestlings, fledglings and even adult birds when they can. They will often rob birds’ nests, break into them or knock them down to eat what is inside.

 

 

We hope these tips will help you get the most out of feeding the birds in your garden this spring. Remember to let us know who comes to visit this year – we’d love to hear from you and see your photos on our Facebook page!

Cirl buntings bounce back!

Great news from the RSPB’s cirl bunting project in South West England, as the population has grown to over 1000 pairs.

Cirl buntings are one of the UK’s most threatened farmland birds, with just 118 pairs recorded in 1989. During the course of the 20th century, changes in farming practices led to a reduction in food supplies and nesting sites, and the species suffered a severe population decline.

Cirl buntings nest in scrub or hedgerows and feed their young on grasshoppers and other invertebrates over the summer. In the winter, they feed on seeds and grain in weedy stubble fields. As they are a sedentary species, moving very little between their nesting and foraging sites, they need these sites to be close together.

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Cirl bunting after a successful foraging trip. Photo: Keith Cowieson

Over the last 25 years, the project has been working closely with land managers in Devon and Cornwall to provide sufficient food and habitat for the birds all year round.

By enrolling into agri-environment schemes, farmers are compensated for making wildlife-friendly choices on their land. This includes over-wintering stubble to provide seed food during colder months, and planting grass margins at the edge of fields to support habitats for insects and spiders that would act as a summer food source.

This work has also benefited other farmland birds such as linnets, skylarks and yellowhammer. A fantastic achievement and great to hear of some songbird success!!

 

 

Bird watching for mental health

A new study has found that living in an area with lots of birds, shrubs and trees can have a positive effect on your mental health.

The collaborative project between the University of Exeter, the BTO and the University of Queensland surveyed nearly 300 people to investigate which components of nature are linked to positive mental-health outcomes.

Researchers assessed the impacts of vegetation cover and bird abundance on levels of depression, anxiety of stress. They found that people living in neighbourhoods with higher levels of vegetation cover and afternoon bird abundance, had reduced severity of depression, anxiety, and stress. Furthermore, the study found that those people that spent less time outdoors were also susceptible to feeling more anxious and depressed.

The positive effects of nature on well-being have long been documented. A review for the Wildlife Trusts carried out by the University of Essex in 2015 found significant improvements to well-being as a result of contact with nature.

For those of us that live in urban areas, the majority have access to a park or garden, and this research shows that getting outside and enjoying what nature has to offer is a cheap, easy, and surprisingly effective way of improving your health.

With spring just around the corner, now is a fantastic time to experience the UK’s bird life and the wonder of the dawn chorus. Why not visit SongBird Survival’s dawn chorus page for a taste of what’s in store? Once you’ve heard the magic of birds welcoming a new day with their song, we’re sure you’ll want to get out there, enjoy it and feel better!

The full research paper can be read here.