Tuesday, 27 June 2017

standing up for invertebrates - a national plan for nature

This week we turned the corner, having passed the longest day: the summer equinox and summer at its height. Above my head our limes buzz: their honey scent is liquor-strong in the air. Golden aphids drip onto me from the humming branches above.
The land should send out a biomass trail of invertebrates into the sky - similar to the plumes of vapour that build into the clouds from nearby Ratcliffe on Soar power station in the Trent Valley below. Invertebrates are the foundation course of bricks that all other wildlife builds upon and there simply aren't enough. That is a reason why many of our insect-eating birds and mammals are failing to thrive.
Norman has been birdwatching this patch for over sixty years and has seen the changes first hand. He invites us to listen to 'the sound of starvation' that is the lack of insect noise.

CBC/BBS UK graph
Source: British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)
There's piles of evidence of the decline that Norman speaks about. Norman's notes for June 1989 show 15 spotted flycatchers in Bestwood Country Park. The 2016 report for the park has no records of spotted flycatcher. This is part of a national trend as shown in the BTO graph. The reasons for the decline of our migratory spotted flycatchers are not necessarily only related to food here in the UK, but it's a statement of the blindingly obvious that spotted flycatchers need to be able to spot flies.

Last year's worst-ever-on-record for butterflies has left us with a legacy - there have been very few butterflies this summer.  Let's hope that the few fluttering in the garden now - meadow brown, red admiral, ringlet, skipper - are able to breed successfully. On a brighter note it has been a plentiful one for bumble bees so far. One of our Australian guests has loved them so much that she plans a bumblebee tattoo before she returns. The latest addition to our national bumblebee family (tree bumblebee) was evident in three of the best boxes we checked but each had subsequently failed.

The honeybees in the apiary now live in towering blocks of supers: it seems to have been a good year. One small swarm absconded and settled in the pond, just above the water line on a reedmace. Unlike, the honeybees, our beekeepers weren't in a rush.

Juvenile tree sparrow ringed in our gable nest box. 
The wonder that is the hummingbird hawk moth zipped forward and back among the lavender flowers yesterday and around the pond, Emperor dragonflies, with abdomen slightly arched, have returned. As if to punish myself having been up since just after dawn to ring juvenile tree sparrows I set up the moth light. Thirty species of moth including a rosebay willow herb pink elephant hawk moth was my reward.

The bird ringing I referred to saw us catching thirty tree sparrows on New Farm. The first three we took from the nets were birds we'd ringed in the nest box on our gable! My children! Three more we'd ringed in a farm nest box - the remainder (overwhelmingly juveniles) had presumably bred in hedgerow nests. Tree sparrows are on the red list of birds of highest conservation concern. This evidence of breeding success gave me immense encouragement that we can take action to save species - in this case the supplementary feeding programme, along with the farm provision of water, hedgerows and areas set aside as seed banks for birds as well as nest boxes are all having an impact. Although adult tree sparrows are seed eaters, they feed their young on invertebrates.  
comma and red admiral

I'm also encouraged that the EU plans to ban all neonicotinoid pesticides. These pesticides are known to be a high risk to bees and other insects. The jobs of our farmers will not be made easier by this decision but it's time our invertebrates had a voice speaking up for them. 

I'm fortunate in having our local farmer as a friend. Or more of a 'critical friend' to use the modern term. He was certainly critical of my suggestions about not cutting hedges and roadside verges. 

There's much that needs to be done to rebuild invertebrate populations locally, and as part of a coherent national strategy. I would like to see a National Plan for Nature Act that draws together the disparate arms of government, farming, public sector and the general public led by the nature conservation organisations.

Only when we have rebuilt our invertebrate populations will we see once common birds flourishing again.

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