How to help wildlife in winter

Dramatic headlines at the Daily Express suggest we are in for an awfully cold winter. It’s long overdue after several years of mild winters and hot summers. Freezing air is set to sweep in from the North Pole, bringing the UK four solid months of total whiteout.

It probably won’t be that bad in the end.  However, it will still be cold enough for wildlife. So how can we look out for our furry friends of the forest this winter?

Put out food.

  • Birds will appreciate their usual seed mix, with the valuable addition of an extra feeder for fat balls.
  • Squirrels don’t hibernate but instead rely on caches full of nuts that they’ve been busy collecting and hiding. Leave out nuts for them, as well as chopped fruit.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have badgers nearby that visit your garden, you might consider leaving them some leftover meat and cheese, as well as peanuts and fruits. They can’t always access earthworms when the ground is frozen and this is their favourite meal.
  • Despite a bad rep, foxes play a vital role in the ecosystem by predating rodents and rabbits, keeping those populations under control. They will happily snaffle up your leftover meat, bread and other scraps.

Melt a hole in your pond.

  • Animals need water and cannot get at it if it’s frozen. But don’t smash ice as this can frighten the wildlife within it; instead, place a saucepan of hot water on top to gently melt a hole.

Let your garden get messy.

  • It’s a horrible chore to sweep up all those beautiful orange leaves in autumn, so don’t bother yourself too much. Leave an area of your garden to go wild so that animals can hide and nest in it. Leaf mould is broken down by earthworms and feeds the soil underneath, as well as protecting it from winter weather. Chose an area of your garden you don’t mind losing – leaf mulch can bleach a lawn – or pile up leaves in a heap as compost.

Let your ivy flower.

  • Ivy flowers provide nectar to butterflies and bees, and as the berries ripen the ivy then provides food for birds. Overwintering insects and mammals even hide in the tangled ivy.

Don’t cut back hedges with berries.

  • Hedges, particularly hawthorn, can provide a much-needed source of food for robins, as well as some birds who migrate from Scandinavia to the UK for winter.

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Birding Diary #2

Yesterday we made the most of the last of the autumnal sunshine and went for a walk around Hickling Broad in Norfolk. The Wildlife Trust promises hen harrier, kingfisher, cetti’s warbler, and otters, but in reality we walked around and saw absolutely nothing for ages. Each hide we went in opened onto a small area of water that was totally unpopulated by bird life.

And then as we walked back towards the under-maintenance visitor centre we heard a “ping…ping” amongst the reedbeds, so we hung around. Suddenly, a party of bearded tits emerged. Bearded tits! I’d never seen any before. I was too slow off the mark to get my camera out of my boyfriend’s rucksack (our sightings had been so poor that I hadn’t even retrieved my camera yet). But we enjoyed watching them without technology as they were only a few feet away and it felt like such a privilege.

It’s always worth venturing out into nature – even in winter, even on a day when you’re disappointed by the lack of wildlife, something magical can suddenly happen.

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Trump’s threat to tear up the Paris agreement could help to make it law

Climate change denying president-elect (said with the contempt it deserves) Donald Trump has reiterated his campaign threat to tear up the Paris agreement signed less than a year that committed all nations to limit the global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees.

Trump believes (or claims to – who really knows what’s going on beneath the wig?) that climate change is a Communist conspiracy invented by the Chinese to bring down American capitalism. It’s not.

Last year, the UNFCCC managed to sign up all 195 nations of the ailing planet to a voluntary agreement to limit the global temperature increase and mitigate climate change; it’s key pledge is to:

Hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change

This is the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement and is absolutely essential in reducing the impact of climate change before it is too late. Within a year, 111 of the 195 countries have ratified that deal, making it official. It is a monumental achievement that both the US and China, which together account for over 40% of global emissions, actually agreed to do this, and Trump has promised to retract that commitment.

It’s not clear whether Trump will be “allowed” to back out of it; however, the actual agreement is voluntary, and consists of promises to change behaviour, and crucially there is no fiscal punishment for backtracking or failing to keep those promises.

It’s tempting to deny climate change – I was never very clear about the evidence myself because apparently the climate has changed a lot throughout the history of the planet. But it’s obvious to me that humans are destroying the earth – we’ve been cutting down those rainforests for decades with no thought or care about the wildlife housed within them, and polluting the oceans with our discarded plastic. So it makes perfect sense that there would be some environment consequence of this.

There’s not much we can do on an individual level, apart from recycle the little we can, limit our waste and consumption where possible, and walk the distances we can manage rather than driving. But what’s the point of me carefully cleaning out yoghurt pots when China and America keep on coughing up coal?

This song ‘4 degrees‘ by Anohni is an ironic anthem for our doomed planet and a challenging reminder that we’re all part of the problem.

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If climate change deniers don’t give a damn about the environment, maybe they will consider the health impacts on people demonstrated in this graph.

 

 

Angry white men can make their own excuses for voting Trump in

“He says what he thinks, right or wrong”, said one Trump voter. I came across this ludicrous quote when despairingly googling “why did people vote for Trump”. Whoever said that – it’s just not good enough, nor is it even accurate. Such apparent honesty is not to be admired for its authenticity – we must be ready to condemn people who say distasteful and offensive things, regardless of whether or not they mean it. Is a racist or sexist opinion legitimized because the speaker actually means it?

Clearly Trump’s unexpected victory is an historic moment; a totally unqualified man has made it to the highest office on earth, despite his obvious flaws, because women are hated that much. We can look back at his various public gaffs and consider what they mean now that he is president: it is now OK to publicly mock disabled people, generalise an entire culture as rapists, grope women and brag about it, scapegoat muslims. Most public officials are usually sacked for these sorts of things but in Trump’s case they have not hindered his ascent to power. Not only are some Americans worried about their futures in a Trumpian vision of the world, but parents are wondering how they can tell their children that it’s wrong to lie, that it’s wrong to sexually harass women, when their leader has done these things and got away with it.

Perhaps we should be empathetic to those who voted for Trump because they are working class men who have suffered from globalisation. Don’t ask me to apologise for the decisions of angry white men; they can make their own excuses. I’m interested in why 53% of white female voters chose Trump. It is a depressing blow to see that so many women are not feminists. And they can’t be when they have voted for a man who is alleged to have sexually abused women, and who has definitely bragged about groping women and getting away with it because he’s a rich and famous white man. In my idea of feminism, it is not possible to vote for such a man and be a feminist because he is a cliched epitome of patriarchy. It’s not just that the female voters have sold out the rest of the sisterhood, but their decision shows that Trump’s attitude to women is normal in their every day lives. While many claim to be disgusted by his comments, they still voted for him because they don’t see his sexism as important. Women are so full of self-loathing that they prioritise a white male’s desires over their own right to bodily safety. They have acknowledged that they see their only value as sexual objects and they, too, will suffer for this under a Trump regime in which their abortion rights will be denied. They have internalized sexism and reject Clinton’s ambition and success, or can’t relate to it.

Hillary Clinton, for all her flaws, is a representative for white feminism yet still she failed to win the white female vote. But it’s not her fault that white women don’t want feminism, or at least, they prioritise white supremacy over gender equality.

Leonard Cohen – a poet and a shepherd

Any death of our musical heroes prompts a rediscovery of their work and a cathartic relistening. This went on for months after Bowie, and I still feel some shock and sadness; not so with LC. I was expecting his death – he was 82 – and Leonard was expecting it too. He recently said in an interview that he was “ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable.”

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Often it is the time in our lives when we discover influential artists that best explains our connection to them. Like most people under the age of 50, I found Cohen in my parents’ record collection, a dark, Jewish sillouhetted face staring out of the colourful reggae and the trippy glamrock sleeves. I must have been around 14 and at this age I was spending a lot of energy denying God and distancing myself from religious institutions, yet clinging to religious symbols and language. Is there a word for losing your religion? It was never really mine to begin with but I was attending a Catholic school so I was living under a cloud of deference and penitence. I was shaking off God (replacing him with music? poetry?) but holding on to the parables.

The poetry of his songs appealed most of all but also the miserable subject matter. The early teens is a good time for a socially anxious introvert to discover Leonard Cohen. He seemed so wise and honest and I always felt that when I was listening to his songs I could see things more clearly, that I was being shown some important eternal truth.

It took me many years to get round to the synth era and even the smooth 80s albums. The first two records were more than sufficient for nearly a decade. The same Leonard can be found in these later tracks, in the even deeper, gravelly voice, and the inspired contrast to female soul singers and child choirs. I obviously can’t claim that he’s a good singer but that’s not the appeal; his beatific, plangent tone never fails to calm me.

His success is puzzling; he’s a mediocre guitar-playing, who only started learning to pick up girls, with a voice arguably worse than Dylan’s. His songs clearly lack melody and are willfully minimalist, so it must be the lyrics that drag us in. You get a sense of a life lived – the lovers, the pain, the cigarettes – but also a life understood.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite lyrics. This is from The Old Revolution, one of the early anti-war 60s tracks.

I finally broke into the prison,
I found my place in the chain.
Even damnation is poisoned with rainbows,
All the brave young men
They’re waiting now to see a signal
Which some killer will be lighting for pay.
Into this furnace I ask you now to venture,
You whom I cannot betray.

So long to my shepherd.

Hickling Broad, Norfolk, is being sold to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Hickling Broad is one of our most famous and internationally important broads in Norfolk. It houses a significant proportion of the UK’s common crane population, along with resident marsh harriers, bitterns, pochards, water rails, Cetti’s warbler, and the infamous beared tit.

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A large area of the estate has been managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, which is this year celebrating its 90th birthday. At the end of the second world war, the Mills family, who have owner the estate for over 200 years, decided to hand over the management to the NWT. Now more than 1,400 acres of the important ecosystem have been agreed for sale to the charity, which is now campaigning to raise £1m to buy the land.

It’s not just birds that enjoy living on the broad – Hickling is also home to the rare swallowtail butterfly and the Norfolk hawker dragonfly. You can also spot otters and barn owls, if you’re lucky, as well as the hilariously teddy-bear-like non-native Chinese water deer.

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And it’s not just animals – the broad is the largest reedbed in the UK and contains three rare species of stonewort, milk-parsley and the holly-leaved naiad.

The current owner of this vast estate, Hallam Mills, said:

“The Hickling estate has been in my family for 200 years and during that time this lovely Broad has survived in fine style, despite the pressures of the modern world.  The family is delighted that, out of many expressions of interest, the Broad is going to Norfolk Wildlife Trust, who in many ways were the Broad’s natural owner.  The wildlife and conservation interest of the reserve will be very safe in their hands.”

You can donate to this appeal for the NWT to buy the Broad by texting LAND26 to 70070, including the figure you wish to donate. You can also visit the Just Giving page. At the time of writing, over £3,400 has been raised in just a few days but they need to get to £1m by March.

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