Monday, 16 May 2022

Our gardens are vital to wildlife

DID you know that there are more earthworms per square metre in British gardens than there are in agricultural land?

Over the years, intensive farming practices, including the overuse of pesticides, herbicides and other synthetic applications, have decimated our insect population above and below ground.

Since the last war 97 per cent of our wildflower meadows have disappeared, resulting in the loss of sustenance and habitat for much of our wildlife.

Wildflower meadows weren’t just attractive to look at, they provided food for bees, butterflies, insects, birds and mammals all the way up the food chain. These meadows meant our biodiversity thrived.

Research suggests that a third of the British bee population is thought to have vanished in the last 10 years and since 1900 we have lost 13 out of 35 native bee species.

Last month there was a debate at the House of Commons about bees and nicotinoids. It was called because the Government has chosen to temporarily lift the ban on Cruiser SB, a neonicotinoid pesticide that is banned under British law except for certain emergency authorisations. Lifting this ban is a retrograde step in our move towards being a nature-positive country.

One teaspoon of neonicotinoid is enough to kill 1.25 billion honeybees. If that is hard to imagine, Dave Goulson, a professor of biology at Sussex University, says it is like four lorry loads of bees.

And that’s just honeybees. There is much research available on the effect of pesticides on all pollinators, butterflies, moths and bats, and these chemicals leach into our water system and impact aquatic wildlife too.

Frighteningly, there is mounting evidence that traces of pesticides are commonly found in humans from young children upwards.

Many farmers now realise the importance of adopting nature-positive practices, such as allowing wildflowers to grow along the field margins, and the important role that good mixed hedging plays in supporting pollinators and wildlife.

But there’s a long way to go to reclaim the nature we have lost in the seven-plus decades since the war.

The good news is that there are 22 million gardens in Britain, which works out to about 440,000 hectares of land. Gardens can be a major resource for supporting biodiversity, especially in urban areas.

The Government is actively promoting wildlife gardening, which is definitely a move in the right direction. So what can we do to help?

Leave part of your lawn unmown to allow wildflowers and grasses to seed, providing valuable food for pollinators, not just bees but many insects.

Congratulate Henley Town Council’s parks department for its efforts in this respect during No Mow May last year. It was lovely seeing the wildflowers appearing on some of the banks. Unfortunately, there were some complaints about unmown verges so it’s important to let them know that we appreciate and understand that the staff are trying to support our ecology.

Think of weeds as native wildflowers. A blooming dandelion is excellent food for bumblebees.

Try to leave one or two wilder patches in your garden and maybe put some of your woody prunings under some shrubbery for cover for all kinds of creatures from insects to reptiles and small mammals.

Our hedgehog population is really suffering, so provide log piles and a gap in the hedge or fence so they can wander between properties. Perhaps your street already has a hedgehog highway.

There are between 2.5 and 3.5 million garden ponds in this country. These are wonderful resources for wildlife. Within weeks of putting one in your garden, aquatic creatures will suddenly appear.

Ponds don’t have to be big but do need a shallow end for birds and small mammals to have access. Having a pond will encourage a visit from some of our 57 species of dragonflies and damselflies.

British gardens contain 28.7 million trees. If you want a native tree in your garden, Greener Henley can supply one for free.

Unfortunately, there are still readily available products which are really harmful to our natural world and should be avoided at all costs.

We know how our beautiful natural peatlands are so beneficial in capturing carbon and sequestering it underground, yet peat and peat-based products are still being sold to gardeners.

Roundup glyphosate weedkiller is banned in many places across the world but not here.

Slug pellets also kill birds, toads, hedgehogs and other creatures, so be a responsible gardener and don’t use them.

Diana Barnett

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