Where have all the insects gone?

Notice anything odd about this summer? Yes, it was hot and dry. But that is not what has worried me most about this summer. Not long ago a walk in the countryside in August would be a battle to keep the bugs at bay. Much arm waving on calm days and often walkers gave up until the autumn months when it was cooler and less bug infested. Car journeys resulted in a session of cleaning the little mites off the windscreen and the front of the car. That has not been the situation this year. The bugs are disappearing and we should be worried.

The data supports this anecdotal impression. Numbers are down 75%. Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The cause of the huge decline is unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof. Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

 

 

 

 

 

Big Garden Birdwatch 2018

Many of you will have contributed to this annual survey. Here are the results for England. Results for other areas can be found here

 

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Work starts on Hill Close site

 

 

The initial land clearance has begun on the Hill Close site with the removal a fine hedge. As the photo above shows the developers have cleared out what was a big hedge to make way for the access road round the western side of the site. You may want to look at the site layout plan in the previous post about this site. From my limited research the hedge could well have been over 100 years or more. Hedges of this age are a critical resource in ecologlocial conservation as well as being vital to maintaining corridors along which wildlife can move.

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons in Winter Bird Feeding

Looking after the bird life around Bunbury:

I have started to take my bird feeding a bit more seriously. Not just because of the recent cold weather but rather as a result of some lesson from a more informed friend. While positive about the location of the bird feeders near the hedge and under the oak tree, the friend was surprised at the food I was using and the type of feeders.  I had noticed a lot of waste as the birds sorted through what they liked and what was sent to the floor! Wrong food said the friend. Or rather the feed contained too much stuff that many of the birds coming to the feeders didn’t eat.

Whole wheat grain, peas, beans dried rice and lentils and an excess of millet are often used as ‘fillers’ to save on the cost of the more expensive food. Such seeds attract larger ground feeding birds such as pigeon, pheasants and doves. These seeds have value, but many small birds need a variety and they can end up on the ground. So it is important to provide the right food for the range of birds you wish to support and attract to the garden. I needed to up my game and get the right food. Of course I soon found that good quality ready mixed  is more expensive. The upside is that it contains far less ‘waste’ and therefore lasts longer.

Apparently , I also needed more than a single feeder or type of feeder. My early purchase of the inexpensive plastic feeders were already showing considerable damage. Squirrels, Large Spotted woodpeckers, and Jackdaws had smashed through the green plastic opening increasing access and sending a cascade of feed onto the ground. Since then I have found the heavy duty polycarbonate and metal constructed feeders by Gardsman  work well. My friend also pointed out that I needed different feeders for different seeds to attract different birds. So I have added specific  feeders for Sunflower seed and peanuts. During the winter I have added  suet balls with mixed seed and upped the fat content of the mixed feed.

At my friend’s next inspection I hope to get my ‘beginners’ badge’ and move on to getting more finches. Where are the finches?

Must stop now and go and fill up the feeders. No food, no birds!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where are all our Hedgehogs?

Seen a Hedgehog recently? No, neither have I. They were very common when I was a lad. Some put the numbers in the 1950’s as high as 30 million or more. We would often leave milk and bread out food on a winter evening. Of course it should have been something like dog food, but back then nobody worried about the disappearance of the little fellow as they were always ‘there’. This morning, on the radio, they had a piece on the decline in Hedgehog numbers that caught my ear. Tom Holland and companions were out looking for signs in a nearby wood. They couldn’t find any signs of the wee fellows despite setting up little food traps to record their passing. No wonder with numbers down just over 1 Million. The graph below records the rapid decline since 2000.

What the radio item did not do was try to explain was why? Badgers eat Hedgehogs and have been blamed. Their rapid rise in numbers during this period does coincide with the Hedgehogs decline. They also compete for the same food. However, the decline in Hedgehogs is the same in areas where Badger numbers are low or non-existent. Other environmental factors are at play.

The evidence suggests:
In rural areas:
⚫ Widespread use of pesticides reduces the invertebrates hedgehogs eat
⚫ Larger field sizes makes it difficult for hedgehogs to move around the landscape
⚫ Hedgerow management by flailing now leads to the hedges with gappy bases, poor for nesting
⚫ Intensive management of pastures with herbicides and fertilizers reduce the amount of invertebrates
⚫ Increasing badgers – the main natural predator – may have an effect where habitat is already degraded
⚫ Permanent pastures are also lost to the plough

Urban hedgehogs:

⚫ Impermeable garden fencing and walls limits the area of connected land available
⚫ Gardens lost to car parking or decking directly reduces foraging area
⚫ Busy roads cause mortalities and they can also disrupt dispersal routes for hedgehogs
⚫ New developments usually lack any connectivity between gardens
⚫ Hibernation habitat, typically scrubby or
brambly areas, are frequently lost through overmanagement or development
⚫ Over-tidy gardening can remove dead wood, replace foraging areas with drives and decking and clear away overgrown corners
⚫ Use of pesticides and slug pellets can poison animals and kills the invertebrates ‘hogs eat

What can we do?

Well, we can make our gardens a bit more untidy with Log piles, compost heaps, leaf piles, overgrown corners, and wildflower patches. I appear to have a number of these features already! They encourage the bugs, creepy-crawlies etc that the hedge pigs need. For the more ambitious how about a hedgehog purpose-built home. But the really important thing is to think of our gardens as part of a larger habitat for the hedgehog and enable them to move around the area with more ease. make sure they can find routes to the next garden or field and are not trapped.

 

Many a slip from Outline to Completion

Is outline planning consent a gateway round the more detailed full consent that enables developers to ‘sneak in’ features that would be objectionable if declared at the start? Often, as you can see along the A51 through Alphraham and next to the Medical Centre in Bunbury, outline planning consent is a prelude to the sale of the land to a developer. But this is not always the way. In the Outspan development in Sadlers Wells, we have a case in point.

In September 2014 consent was given for the removal of the existing property to be replaced by four dwellings, two detached and 2 semi-detached houses. No garages are shown on the initial plans. Apart from access, all other matters are reserved, i.e. everything they say in the initial plans is just for illustration and can be changed. The officer recommended consent based on the proposals.

In 2016 revised plans are submitted that changed the 2 semi-detached houses into detached properties. All four dwellings now have separate garages with pitched roofs. The two properties at the front of the plot ( previously semi-detached houses) now have additional parking spaces in front as well as at the back. The plans are amended after some objections are lodged by residents and the PC that the houses over dominate the neighbours. Approved.

To view the illustrative plot design at this stage click here

In the original consent, the pond at the rear of the two detached houses had to be retained. But about 20 trees were removed.

Then in December 2016, the developers seek to replace the pond with a ‘wetland scrape’ and remove the bluebells to the edge of the properties and to another ‘suitable’ site. The ecology strategy from the developers speaks of ‘mitigating the loss of the pond on the site which they describe as in a state of ‘ecological decline’;, by improving a different nearby pond instead. The published view of the Nature Conservation Officer is clear:
On the issue of the Bluebells: ‘I advise that the translocation of bluebells within the redline of the application is acceptable, but their relocation to an unspecified location off-site is not.’
On the loss of the pond: ‘I advise that I am not convinced that sufficient ecological enhancement works are being proposed to compensate for the loss of the existing pond and that the current proposals do not appear to be enforceable.’
What is the response of the Planning Officer?
The Councils Ecologist and Landscape officers have been consulted on the information and consider it to be a suitable compromise. It is therefore considered that varying the condition to relate to the new Landscape and Ecology information is acceptable.’ Approved. Just how do you explain that? Unpublished discussions and compromises?

In early 2017 along comes the next alteration. In fact, it’s another application to build an additional property on the same site. Yes, its 5 dwellings on the old site of a bungalow and large garden. It’s another 4 bedroom property with study and separate garage. Approved.

The final step, at present, is the alteration of the design of the dwellings. The original designs made some effort to link to the vernacular style of Cheshire ‘Whilst final design is a reserved matter it is envisaged that the dwellings will be consistent in terms of form and materials with the settlement and involve Cheshire brick with slate roofs (to be confirmed at Reserved Matters stage).’(original design statement). Now that has changed. The Planning Officer lists the alteration to be made under what is described as ‘non-material minor amendment'(s):

  1. 1. Replace all window designs and lintel details
    2. Gable Brick design detail changes front and rear elevations
    3. Change to the position of the string course details
    4. Additional obscure glazed window on side elevation due to internal floor plan changes
    5. Removal of window from first floor, and an additional window adjacent to the back door.

The Planning Officer comments:
‘Although the proposed design alterations will visually change the appearance of the dwellings from a [Cheshire] village style design to a more standard modern housing design the proposed changes are considered to be non-material in nature.’ Approved. View final house design here.

Now view the final(?) result of the changes here.

There was some resistance to the development but not a great deal. The PC was in the main happy to agree with the original application and raised no objections to the majority of the revisions. The resulting development is quite different from that originally described in the application. All 5 properties are large 4 bedroom properties of the type not ‘needed’ in the village (see local housing needs survey 2013). Initially, consideration was given to making ‘the two-storey proposal properties … more in character with those surrounding the site..‘ (Design Statement). The housing density is described as more in keeping with the village. So what happens when you increase the number of houses by 20% and remove vernacular design details to homogenise the building design? Large separate garages are added to the parking spaces (4 two car garages plus one single garage). Additional parking is also added to two of the two houses at the front. Much of the site is now covered in hard surfaces. The gardens at the front of each the  two houses appear much smaller. The pond has gone, the bluebells have been moved and reduced and many of the original trees (19) are to be removed. Clearly ‘reserved matter’ allows a lot of room for further development and changes even to the original conditions on which the consent was given. It’s all negotiable once you have outline consent! But have we ended up with what we thought we were going to get?

Autumn Worries

The Horse Chesnuts are already producing an abundant crop of nuts. You will have seen the leaves beginning to turn, and in some cases with well-developed Autumn colours. Or have they?
We have heard much of the diseases attacking our trees. The Ash Dieback has been in the news lately, but a number of tree species are under attack. Oak, Pine, Sweet Chesnut amongst the most well known. The Horse Chesnut needs to be included in that list as the leaf miner (Cameraria ohridella) lives in these trees. It was first reported in the UK in 2002, in the London Borough of Wimbledon, and has since spread north, south and west to most of England and parts of Wales, and there has been one confirmed sighting in Scotland

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Its larvae (caterpillars) mine within the leaves, and at high population densities, they can destroy most of the leaf tissues. Although it can cause severe damage to horse chestnut leaves on an annual basis, hence the early ‘browning’ of the leaves in addition to the normal autumn shading.

While the tree seems to be able to deal with the invasion, coming up clean in spring, it is possible that differences in climate, or interactions with other pests and diseases, might lead to greater impact in the UK. Consequently, the effects of the moth and its interaction with other pests and diseases, especially bleeding canker of horse chestnut, is being studied through the long-term monitoring of more than 300 chestnut trees at several sites in southern England. These trees are assessed twice each year for infestation, disease crown condition, growth and signs of dieback.