Gardening for wildlife (and you!)

Everything in the garden’s lovely… especially if you let nature have its place (pic Richard Kinzler)

Gardens cover more land in this country than do nature reserves, so their potential value for wildlife is obvious. Vicky Ellis shows how we can provide a home for our flora and fauna while keeping everything in the garden lovely.        

Considering wildlife while gardening does not necessarily mean only wild lawns and stinging nettles. It is possible to grow flowers, vegetables and wildlife and have a lovely garden, too.
The area that gardens occupy in the UK adds up to an area larger than all our nature reserves combined. This drums home how important our gardens are to nature and what they could potentially contribute to our biodiversity, especially when considering that our gardens were probably once part of our countryside. Even window boxes and balconies can play an important role in our environment and, in turn, our health and well-being.
Two of the most damaging things we can do in our gardens is lay down plastic turf or concrete. Plastic turf, or artificial grass, is effectively just that, plastic, and as it breaks down, so the micro-particles of plastic are absorbed into the ground below.
Plastic turf is the single worst option, not just from an environmental stance but also hygiene and waste, with no biodiversity benefits at all – it is a threat to the habitat of birds, bees, butterflies and other critters and creates landfill that will never break down.
The Guardian reported on a study in 2011 that revealed almost 3,000 hectares (7,413 acres or 12 square miles) of green gardens had been lost in eight years, equivalent to two Hyde Parks per year, to artificial grass, decking and concreting. Concrete is impermeable, causing run-off when it rains, and provides little or no shelter to invertebrates.
Even the best-kept lawns have bees that burrow and worms, crane fly larvae and other grubs living beneath the surface. All these help the lawn maintain its structure and ability to absorb nutrients. A lawn is a living, breathing thing, providing habitat, shelter and food for all sorts of wildlife. Cover it up and you create a dead zone.
So how to maximise your space for biodiversity? The more diverse habitats you can fit in, the better. Habitats cater for different species of flora and fauna depending on where your garden is (coastal, woodland and so on) and the soil type, such as clay, sandy or loamy. To avoid getting bogged down in detail, we will stick to the basics that would fit most garden types.
The first step is to retrain your mind to accept that nature is not naturally neat and tidy with straight edges; it is unpredictable, surprising and changeable. Once you have accepted these three things, you can relax and enjoy your garden so much more as you won’t fret about a weed or two in the flowerbed (a weed is simply a plant growing in the wrong place – if you accept wildflowers, there are no such thing as weeds), or the fact that your lawn is more than an inch high!

Wood piles
One of the easiest features to add to any garden is a wood pile. Rotting wood provides food, shelter and nesting sites for invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles. Try to find a sheltered, quiet area in a corner for your log pile and use different types of wood of varying sizes. You can place them stacked on top or randomly clustered together as long as it creates a pile of some sort and, if possible, half-bury the bottom logs. The wood at the bottom should remain damp, even during dry spells; this really aids pupae, molluscs and nematodes. As the logs rot, they provide homes for an array of fungi.

Rock piles
As with logs, rocks provide shelter and basking areas for reptiles. The bottom rocks should remain damp and a pile will provide a sculptural focus for your garden. Try not to place them anywhere hot and exposed. Over time they can become covered in moss, which provides a micro-habitat for invertebrates, holding in moisture. To make your rock pile look even more attractive and colourful, plant with alpines and other plants to create a rock garden, or just wait and see what grows naturally. Maybe keep a diary of what appears.

Where possible, place your wildlife pond so it is half in shade and half in the sun (pic Richard Kinzler)

Ponds
Water will not just enhance the look of a garden, it will substantially increase biodiversity. You do not need to build a huge pond, a small upturned bin lid or indeed any large receptacle capable of holding water will suffice. It is important to incorporate an escape route for small mammals that might fall into your pond, so put in a ramp; it is best to grade the pond from very shallow at the margins, gradually deepening to the centre. Putting shingle around the shallower edges helps provide shelter and hiding places for aquatic insects and nymphs and gives an opportunity for birds to bathe. Some substrate at the bottom of the pond provides shelter and hiding places for aquatic insects that prefer deeper water. Plant a few reeds round the edges if there’s room as these allow nymphs to come out of the water to morph, while if possible place your pond so it is half in shade and half in the sun.
Resist adding fish as they will feed on invertebrates and aquatic insects or the eggs of amphibians. Unless it is huge, fish do more harm than good in a wildlife pond. Once you have created your pond, aquatic insects such as diving beetles, water boatmen and water skaters will make use of it almost immediately. They seem to parachute in out of nowhere.  
Around the margins you can put water-loving native plants such as water mint, arrowhead, water forget-me-nots, marsh marigold and yellow flag iris and place rocks and other water features to enhance the natural look. To help oxygenate the water, plant hornwort, spiked water milfoil and water soldiers.  

Lawns
Lawns do not have to comprise simply grass – you can have a moss lawn, chamomile or clover. Allowing your lawn to grow up in patches encourages grasshoppers, crickets, moths, butterflies and damselflies. Why not allow the grass to grow and then mow paths through the long grass? Take part in ‘No Mow May’ and see what spring flowers you have lurking within your lawn that you never knew were there – there may even be a hidden orchid or two. Having a lawn encompassing an array of native plants such as dandelion, scarlet pimpernel, bird’s-foot trefoil and daisies can look so pretty if allowed to flourish and the pollinators will love it! You will witness more bees, hoverflies and flower beetles and your lawn will come alive with all the activity. It is still important to have mown areas to allow birds to find grubs and seeds.

Height
Varying height in a garden can be attractive to an array of flora and fauna. We have covered the lower-down areas of your garden with log and stone piles and a pond, now we’re going to consider the flowerbeds, pots, shrubs and trees.

Flowerbeds
In your flowerbed, place small plants at the front, working up to larger plants at the back, using pollinator-friendly plants with a mixture of perennials and annuals such as lavender, cornflowers, alliums, foxgloves, cosmos, sunflowers, hollyhocks, lupins and fennel. You can dot the odd vegetable to harvest among your flowering plants. Avoid ornamental double-headed flowers as bees find it difficult to reach the centre of the flower. If you are feeling adventurous, buy a wildflower seed mix and see what grows. Here you can throw caution to the wind and really cram in the flowers. Think about flowering seasons and try to place plants that flower at different times to extend the flowering season for as long as possible from spring through to autumn.

Deptford pink (pic Richard Kinzler)

Pots
If you have no room for a flowerbed or prefer pots, you can still grow all the plants already mentioned. Dwarf fruit trees flowering in March and May help provide bees with their first food and then give you a tasty harvest come autumn. The same goes for window boxes and hanging baskets – all these plants can be grown in the tiniest garden or balcony and all help our pollinators.

Shrubs and trees
Flowering shrubs such as buddleia, lilac, choisya and manuka encourage butterflies and bees. If dense enough, you might even get a wren nesting in the shrub. Trees provide nesting areas for birds and, if fruit or nut trees, the blossom provides food for pollinators in spring and the fruit food for birds and small mammals in autumn. Try to think about how useful the tree or shrub is when choosing, rather than its ornamental qualities. Often you will find that any shrub or tree that flowers has highly attractive qualities. If you have a large garden, think linear when placing your trees and shrubs to help create feeding corridors for bats.

Wild areas
Being bold and allowing your garden to grow wild in parts if you have room can be so beneficial for insects, especially caterpillars. A few stinging nettles, brambles and thistles, for instance, are sought after by some species. The peacock butterfly will lay its eggs on stinging nettles, while bumble bees and cabbage whites will enjoy the thistles. To prevent these plants from taking over, you will need to manage them through the year, but the benefits a wild area provides in a wildlife garden are well worth the effort. Be aware that some wildflowers are notifiable, such as spear thistle and ragwort. However, there are ornamental thistles on the market that can be as equally beneficial, while one or two carefully managed specimens of ragwort, an important food plant for the cinnabar moth, placed safely away from any cattle or horses, will do no harm if as soon as it’s finished flowering and before it turns to seed, are topped immediately and disposed of carefully by either burning or landfill. Note that ragwort is still toxic to animals even when cut.

Compost heaps
Compost does not just supply regular natural earth and food for plants, it also provides a habitat for wildlife. Slugs and snails are nature’s recyclers and a source of food for birds such as thrushes, frogs, toads, hedgehogs and ground beetles. Worms love a compost heap and help turn your waste into soil. Snakes seek out the warmth of a heap and may even lay their eggs there, so be careful when turning your heap over – avoid using a sharp garden fork.

Wildlife at night
Nocturnal pollinators such as moths benefit from night-scented blooming plants such as honeysuckle, jasmin, tuberose, japonica and evening primrose. These insects in turn are valuable prey for bats. 

Privet hawk-moth… a spectacular member of its tribe (pic Richard Kinzler)

Other enhancements
There are lots you can add to your garden such as insect hotels, bee homes, nesting boxes, bat boxes, a toad house, a bird bath, a watering hole for hedgehogs and feeding stations for birds and mammals. It’s best not to feed birds during the nesting season; the parents should be foraging for a balanced diet, otherwise they will just choose what’s on offer from you, which may not be the best option for growing chicks. Try to place any bird-feeder up in trees or tall bushes; this helps protect visiting birds from aerial predators and gives them a chance to escape. A tree or bush is also a more natural place for them to feed.
You could make your own bug hotel using stacked crates with moss, logs, clay pots, sticks and hollow tubes stuffed in the gaps between. It won’t take long before the residents move in.

  • CPRE Kent has an array of wildlife-friendly enhancements for your garden for sale, so why not email the office for more information at info@cprekent.org.uk?

Butterfly house: £10

Bee hotel: £10

Bird nesting boxes: £10

Bug hotels: £15

Toad house – £10

Friday, March 26, 2021

Lockdown lesson for government: more than two-thirds in South East want to see their local green space enhanced

We all enjoy a bit of countryside… don’t we?
  • 72 per cent of adults in the South East of England think their local green space, or nearby countryside, could be enhanced
  • Majority of these would like to see more wildlife (52 per cent) and a greater variety of plant life (50 per cent) in their local green space
  • CPRE, the countryside charity, and the HomeOwners Alliance are calling for the government to go further to protect and enhance local green spaces so that everyone has easy access from their doorsteps

As lockdown in England eases and many venture out into their local green spaces, research has found 72 per cent of people living in the South East think their local green spaces, including the countryside next door to where they live, could be enhanced.
Commissioned by CPRE, the countryside charity, and the HomeOwners Alliance, and carried out online by YouGov as the lockdown started, the research shows that the majority of people in the South East believe increasing the amount of wildlife (52 per cent) and the variety of plant life (50 per cent) are top ways in which their local green spaces can be improved.
During lockdown, we have seen a surge in appreciation for local green spaces and a heightened awareness of their role in boosting our physical and mental health and wellbeing. For the one in eight households who do not have access to their own garden, accessible shared or public green spaces are all the more important.
CPRE, the countryside charity, and the HomeOwners Alliance believe that everyone should have easy access to quality green spaces from their doorsteps and the government should go further to protect and enhance these spaces.
These results show that the public agree, and those who were in favour of enhancements in the South East would like to see:

1. More wildlife, including birds, butterflies and bees (52 per cent)

2. More and a greater variety of trees, shrubs, hedgerows, plants and flowers (50 per cent)

3. Better maintenance (eg paths maintained, trees pruned and lawns cut) (35 per cent)

4. More facilities (eg café, toilets and seating) (35 per cent)

5. More wilding (ie not overly manicured) (35 per cent)

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “Access to quality local green spaces has hurtled up the agenda as a political issue and for good reason.
“As lockdown eases, many people are turning to their local patch of green as a place to meet family and friends, subject of course to social distancing, as well as their daily dose of exercise and nature. We’ve been championing local countryside and green spaces for nearly a century, believing they are vital for our health and well-being – a natural health service as they’re now being called.
“But not everyone has access to green spaces and too many have been lost as the countryside next door to our largest towns and cities faces mounting pressure for development.
“If the government is serious about learning the lessons of the pandemic, it must use upcoming planning reforms to protect these precious spaces and recognise their value as a natural health service, as we do.
“But we can’t stop there – by properly investing in our green spaces we can make these spaces easily accessible to more people and invite wildlife like birds, butterflies and bees back.”
Paula Higgins, chief executive of the Homeowners Alliance, said: “Now that people are allowed to move, new-build homes and those with nearby green space are becoming more popular.
“There is a real opportunity for developers and government to create quality green spaces – and this is much more than a patch of lawn. Planning reform should ensure that green spaces are not considered to be an afterthought or a nice extra given the positive role they can play in people’s lives.”

Friday, June 12, 2020

‘The worst possible place to put a solar farm’

The special landscape of Graveney Marshes would be destroyed if the Cleve Hill solar park was approved (picture by Vicky Ellis)

As if north Kent was not under enough pressure of development, monstrous plans for the country’s largest solar power station have been announced for a site on the North Kent Marshes.

The scheme, proposed by Hive Energy and Wirsol, has been named Cleve Hill Solar Park and would, if built, cover an eyewatering 890 acres of Graveney, Nagden and Cleve Marshes.

The developers say their scheme would provide power for some 110,000 homes. This would be “equivalent to the number in Swale and Canterbury combined”, according to one report in the local media; if that’s the case, it might be salient to ask where all that energy from the nearby Kentish Flats wind farm is going!

A possible capacity of 350 MW would be five times that of the UK’s current largest solar park, at Lyneham in Wiltshire, which produces 69 MW.

The colossal size of the Cleve Hill application makes it a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), meaning the decision on whether it goes ahead will be made by Greg Clark, Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The North Kent Marshes are internationally important for birds and the area being targeted by Hive Energy and Wirsol borders an extensive Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar-designated site.

Much of the targeted site itself lies within the Natural England-designated Greater Thames Estuary Natural Area and Character Area, while almost all of it  is noted as an Area of Greatest Habitat Opportunity (enhancement) and as a Biodiversity Opportunity Area.

That’s an awful lot of titles and designations, demonstrating how important this area is wildlife… and of course for the many people who use it for walking and so many other recreational activities.

Hardly the place for the UK’s largest solar power station, you might think!

This very special landscape is enhanced by an incredible array of birdlife, particularly wildfowl and waders, while numbers of marsh harriers – a bird of prey on the brink of extinction in this country not so very long ago – are high.

Further, the Cleve Hill site adjoins two Kent Wildlife Trust reserves – Oare Marshes and South Swale – while the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds manages large chunks of the nearby Seasalter Levels.

CPRE will scrutinise this proposal in much greater detail over the coming weeks, but director Hilary Newport said: “If I was to think of the worst possible place to put a solar farm, it would be here.

“We absolutely support the principle of renewable energy, but [the panels] should be on roofs, not trashing landscapes in an astonishingly beautiful part of the North Kent Marshes.”

Monday, November 13, 2017

Night blight and dark skies – new maps launched

The most detailed ever satellite maps of England’s light pollution and dark skies, released today (13th June) by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), have shown that Thanet Earth is the second worst light polluter in the country, only second to Tata Steel in Rotherham. [1].

Night sky over Thanet, photo by Kimberley Eve

Night sky over Thanet, photo by Kimberley Eve

Overall, Kent is the 29th darkest county of 41. The maps, produced using satellite images captured at 1.30 am throughout September 2015, show that within Kent, Ashford has the darkest skies, 68th of 326 districts. Ashford Borough Council adopted a specific Dark Skies Policy in 2014 to raise awareness about ways we can minimise light pollution and to raise the profile of dark skies as an environmental asset we are increasingly at threat of losing. [2]

Dartford has Kent’s lightest skies, 260th of the 326 districts, of course this area has major transport networks, including the Dartford Crossing.

Thanet is 241st in the rankings, with 34% of its skies in the lightest categories. Thanet Earth pledged to improve its greenhouse blinds in 2013, yet the light emitted is still severe. [3] [4] Its maximum brightness value is 584.98nanowatts/cm2*sr, brighter than anywhere else in the South East, including London.

Thanet Earth by Craig Solly 1

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Thanet Earth, photos by Craig Solly

Thanet Earth, photos by Craig Solly

The research comes at a time of increasing awareness of the harmful effects light pollution can have on the health of people and wildlife. That these skies were monitored at 1.30am illustrates just how long into the night England’s lighting spills.

The new maps were produced by Land Use Consultants from data gathered by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in America. The NOAA satellite captured visible and infrared imagery to determine the levels of light spilling up into British skies. CPRE is sending lesson plans to primary schools in order to promote the enjoyment of dark skies.

We are calling on the county’s local authorities to use these maps to identify areas with severe light pollution and target action to reduce it, as well as identifying existing dark skies that need protecting.

 

Stars by Tone Netone

Stars by Tone Netone

Starry night by Ethan Sztular

Starry night by Ethan Sztular

CPRE Kent recommends that:

  • Local authorities follow Ashford’s lead and develop policies to reduce light pollution in their emerging local plans.
    The councils use CPRE’s maps to inform decisions on local planning applications and identify individual facilities that should be asked to dim or switch off unnecessary lights.
  • Local businesses review their current lighting and future development plans to save money by dimming or switching off light to reduce pollution as well as meet their promises over reducing existing pollution (e.g. Thanet Earth).

Hilary Newport, director of CPRE Kent said: “Our view of the stars is obscured by artificial light. Many children may not have seen the Milky Way, our own galaxy, due to the veil of light that spreads across their night skies. It is known that dark skies are beneficial to our wellbeing. Light pollution can disturb our sleep, prevent our enjoyment of the countryside and affect wildlife, by interrupting natural rhythms including migration, reproduction and feeding patterns.
“Councils can reduce light levels through better planning, and with investment in the right street lighting that is used only where and when it is needed.
“Our Night Blight maps also show where people can expect to find a truly dark, starry sky and we hope they will go out and enjoy the wonder of the stars.”

Summary of Kent districts (this information and more is available via the maps):

District Ranking out of 329 % in three darkest sky categories, less than 1 NanoWatts / cm2 / sr
Ashford 68 85
Tunbridge Wells 72 76
Shepway 99 74
Sevenoaks 101 47
Dover 106 66
Canterbury 112 78
Maidstone 116 55
Swale 137 47
Tonbridge and Malling 156 32
Medway 196 12
Gravesham 202 0.3
Thanet 241 8
Dartford 260 0

 

Notes:

[1] CPRE’s interactive maps can be accessed at http://nightblight.cpre.org.uk

Light pollution is a generic term referring to excess artificial light that shines where it is neither wanted nor needed. In broad terms, there are three types of light pollution:

  • skyglow – the pink or orange glow we see for miles around towns and cities, spreading deep into the countryside, caused by a scattering of artificial light by airborne dust and water droplets
  • glare – the uncomfortable brightness of a light source
  • light intrusion – light spilling beyond the boundary of the property on which a light is located, sometimes shining through windows and curtains

[2] http://www.ashford.gov.uk/dark-skies-spd-2014

[3] http://www.thanetearth.com/faqs-growing-using-light.html

[4] http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/skies-Birchington-going-green/story-20253506-detail/story.html

June 13th 2016

Stour Park will harm landscape and heritage

We have raised concerns about the huge scale of a planned warehouse development near Ashford and its impact on the important landscape and heritage setting.

The developers of Stour Park, Friends Life Ltd, have applied for permission to build enormous warehouses, 16 metres tall and covering an area the size of 31 football pitches (160,000 sq m). The site, next to Sevington and Mersham villages, is identified for commercial development in the local plan.

Sevington, photo The Village Alliance

Sevington, photo The Village Alliance

We are concerned that the masterplan does not provide sufficient guidance to ensure that the harm to sensitive heritage, landscapes and communities is minimised and appropriately mitigated. The site is close to the medieval grade 1 listed St Mary’s Church and the North Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is essential that a sensitive approach to important views (heritage and landscapes), ecological mitigation, landscaping and building heights, colour, materials and orientation are agreed from the outset.

St Mary's Church, Sevington, photo The Village Alliance

St Mary’s Church, Sevington, photo The Village Alliance

Chairman of CPRE Kent’s Ashford Committee, Dr Hilary Moorby said: “We need to protect the setting of this important church and the AONB. The sheer scale of these giant buildings will change this beautiful rural area dramatically and everything possible must be done to minimise the harm.” Continue reading

Proposed Lower Thames Crossing will cause huge damage

Highways England has announced its recommendation for a crossing east of Gravesend for the Lower Thames Crossing. A consultation is set to start today (26th January), with Highways England believing the Gravesend crossing, or “Option C” provides “double the economic benefit” compared to an additional crossing at Dartford.

The proposed option would see a bored tunnel built to the east of Chalk which is east of Gravesend, with a new road being built from junction 1 of the M2. It would join the M25 between junctions 29 and 30.

We recently (Jan 12) set out our policy on options for a new Lower Thames Crossing, in which we called for a wider, more resilient solution, including investment in ports north of the Thames to disperse the cross channel movement of freight.

QE2 Bridge by Diamond Geezer, flickr

QE2 Bridge by Diamond Geezer, flickr

We have also highlighted the effects of option C on Gravesham. We fear this will destroy ancient woodland, destroy important wildlife habitats which are home to protected species and destroy productive farmland, needed to feed our growing population. It will ruin the beautiful landscapes and panoramic views which make Gravesham so special. And it would have a devastating impact on Shorne Country Park, one of the area’s most important educational, environmental and recreational assets, used by so many people, including horse riders, walkers, cyclists, runners and families or those who just seek the tranquillity and peace so vital to our busy lives.

The crossing itself would not cause all the damage. Continue reading