Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Bring back the nature table

The safari's recent trip along the motorways, A-roads and byways of Lancashire had us seeing red...or not as the case will prove to be.
Why? The ‘tidy’ brigade had been out with their machinery and mile upon mile of (mostly Hawthorn) hedgerow had been trimmed hard and flowering roadside verge mown to huge blobs of rotting grass. In certain parts of our journey this was justified for very legitimate road safety purposes but for the most part was totally unnecessary and will have the inevitable result of a massive reduction in the number berries available in the autumn for our birds and animals. Not only that there is now reduced cover for them to protect them from the worst of any severe winter weather we might get. Judging by the freshness of the cuts and the debris on the left on the roadside much of this work had been done very recently and perhaps since the RSPB put out its annual plea not to trim hedges too early.

Already on this blog you’ve read about the B-lines project and the campaign to protect our roadside verges
And there is another campaign, more aimed at gardeners than local/highways authorities but relevant none-the-less as it is the time year when all the flowers are removed from Britain’s many miles of privet hedges. Bumble Bee Conservation’s Bee Kind plant-finder tells you what you could plant to help protect our diminishing bumble bee populations but that won’t help much if the flowers get cut off some of those species like the Privet and Hawthorn.

A few years ago we did a survey, with our primary school children, of the local House Sparrows and discovered that they were quite closely associated with areas of extensive Privet hedging and especially those hedges that had been allowed to become a little ‘unruly’.

The biggest problem we had to overcome was that almost all of the children had no idea what a House Sparrow was despite many of them (still) seeing sparrows every day.

These children are the decision making politicians, developers, architects, builders, roofers, planning officers, highways engineers, machinery drivers, gamekeepers, police officers, teachers, shop keepers, bankers, entrepreneurs, social workers, nurses etc et of the future but what future will our wildlife have if they haven’t a clue about it. They will no doubt recognise Meerkats which they’ll probably never see them in the wild but won’t have heard of Black Knapweed is even though it’s flowering all overt the country right now. (Older readers might recognise Constable Knapweed from the children’s programme The Herbs but he didn’t really look much like the plant.)
But the sad thing is that what they don’t know or never had they won’t miss. So perhaps no chirruping House Sparrows, exaltations of Skylarks, enigmatic Cuckoos, plopping Water Voles or sky dancing Hen Harriers for them in not too many years. Not knowing how to look is missing out on the thrill of shouting to their mates “What’s THAT???” and all gathering round some mysterious unknown insect and wondering what it is and what it does and why.

It shouldn’t be up to a few ardent ‘wierdo, greeny, bearded, sandal wearing, tree hugging, conservationists’ to ‘tell’ the rest what’s the best way forward, they should already know and use the conservation professionals to fine tune the plans.
A new development has been opposed on a brownfield site of little natural worth in the town centre but do the new homes have Swift bricks, bat bricks, House Sparrow nest holes as the default design or will the conservationists amongst us have to fight to get them added as an after-thought even if they will only cost a couple of quid extra per house. Will the gardens and public spaces be planted with species from the Bee-Kind list?

All the more reason to stimulate their natural curiosity and bring back the nature table in school, or even a virtual version of it – isn’t that what the brilliant iSpot effectively is...somewhere to share your finds and have someone help you identify them if you’re not sure or just - like us most of the time – don’t know. Would be great if it was a real part of the curriculum but even 10 minutes worth once a week before ‘proper’ lessons would be worthwhile
Then maybe they’ll see what the natural world has to offer and its value, but not its price, and learn of the interconnections and relationships within it and how we are part of it and apart from it - then we could have a real sustainable future
Yes there are still plenty of children who do that and many of those join environmental projects such as the Wildlife Trusts’ excellent Watch groups but wildlife is for everybody, from the inner-most areas of inner cities to the widest of countryside horizons there is something to be seen, identified, understood and most of all enjoyed for its own sake...and ours too!
No doubt lots of kids would be ‘lost’ during their teenage years but at least the seeds of natural history would be sown and as they grew out of the teenage lusts stage and evolved in to adulthood they would have an understanding of the world around them which seems to be so sadly lacking at the moment.

When all of us realise how much we impact on the natural (= our) world then maybe we’ll learn how to appreciate it and use it more sustainably and there won’t be the need for campaigns like this which arrived in the in-box this arvo while we were trying to find shells, crabs and jellyfish etc amongst the swathes of sewage related debris on the beach today – not particularly pleasant and most of it not from our town...thank you for your ‘deposits’ River Ribble...so don’t put anything down the bog you shouldn’t if you live up that way.

The most unusual thing found on the beach today was this cow, suitably cropped so as you don’t need to witness any of the McNasties that were lurking nearby.

Young Un JS saw a small pod of Bottle Nosed Dolphins just up the coast this morning we looked as hard as we could but they’d disappeared over the horizon by the time we were able to get out. But the reactions of the punters around us said it all; ‘they’ tell us dolphins are popular animals and the public ‘love’ them but no-one we told there were some to be seen could be bothered to even look over the wall at the sea – maybe they only like them close up and personal in a tiny tank performing tricks for a large entrance fee – how sad would that be if it were true...and it very possibly is.

We got out at lunchtime for a quick squint at some ducks that have been hanging around on a flood near the nature reserve and found one of the three + Garganeys (181).
When we stopped a Clegg must have flown through the open window of the Land Rover, now a Wasp in the car is scary but the thought of a Horse Fly landing on you whilst driving is down-right petrifying. We managed to swat it against the window behind us while we were stopped at some traffic lights...but when we opened the door later there was no sign of the carcass...nothing worse than a stunned, injured Horse Fly waking up and coming looking for some serious revenge - the stuff of nightmares!
Where to next? Back out on the beach in a bit with yet another group of young explorers and adventurures. Another re-visit to an interesting site in safari-land is on the cards for tomorrow afternoon - wonder what we'll find. 
In the meantime let us know what's on the nature table in your outback.


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