National Trust returns to its wild roots


The National Trust is a much-loved heritage organisation in the UK that protects interesting or historic buildings, manages and conserves the site and land, and provides access to the public. But did you know it allows promises to protect plant and animal life? The commitment is even within its founding principles:

The National Trust shall be established for the purpose of promoting the permanent preservation for the benefit of the nation of lands and tenements (including buildings) of beauty or historic interest and as regards lands for the preservation (so far as is practicable) of their natural aspect, features and animal and plant life. Section 4.1 National Trust Act, 1907

The organisation has arguably lost touch with the final clause of its mission statement and has yesterday vowed to play a more active role in enabling nature to thrive on its land. It aims to do this encouraging its tenant farmers on its 250,000 hectares of land to create wildlife corridors, maintain hedgerows, improve water and soil quality, install ponds, plant new wetland, and establish lowland wildflower meadows.

Considering the Trust owns 1% of all land in the UK, their decisive actions could provide necessary habitats for our most threatened native species, including natterjack toads, cuckoos, water voles, lapwings, and curlews, all of which are gradually vanishing from the British countryside when before the radical changes to agricultural practices they were commonplace creatures.

NT aims to create 25,000 hectares of new habitats by 2025 – a nice, quotable figure, but is their ambition attainable and will it be enough to reverse the devastating decline in so many of our native species as demonstrated by last year’s State of Nature report delivered by the Wildlife Trusts? Over 56% of our species have declined in the last 50 years, a significant blow and an enormous hurdle for any one organisation to tackle alone.

Indeed, is the National Trust’s goal compatible with its concessions to field sports? Read their position on field sports and shooting here. It states that it takes strong action against lawbreakers and insists that those participating in field sports do so in compliance with their codes of conduct; however, the League Against Cruel Sports has little confidence in the National Trust to protect its land and wildlife under its own terms of license conditions. It appears to lack the resources to take proper action or investigate claims of illegal hunting unless there has been a police investigation and conviction.




Signs of spring

It’s time to ditch the heavy winter coats, set the central heating down a notch, and start preparing the garden because everyone’s favourite season is fast approaching. My walks home from work between 5-6pm are no longer cloaked in darkness and I’m starting to notice bulbs and blossom coming out.

Here are my most encouraging signs of spring that I’ve spotted so far.

  1. Snowdrops and crocuses – these short colourful plants are popping up all over the place, and I’ve even seen roadside verges full of daffodils in full bloom in the first few days of March.
  2. Bees – I bravely took my cup of tea out into the front garden yesterday to hang out with my cat, who was enjoyed the sunshine, though it was still a bit too chilly. Then a bee flew past my face!
  3. A blue tit ventured into my neighbour’s bird house. We’ve only spent one summer in this house but last year there was a family of blue tits in the little bird house on my neighbour’s wall throughout the season. I don’t think they’re nesting yet – just casing the joint.
  4. Cherry blossom. Nothing more beautiful nor welcome. Shame it doesn’t last long.
  5. Cuckoos. One of the most familiar signs of spring is the disappearance of our wintering birds and their replacement with our summer migrants. Cuckoos are some of the first to return, followed by swallows and swifts in May.
  6. Blackthorn – a lesser known herald of spring and all the more potent because of it. Look out for black branches and small white flowers in abundance. Happily, blackthorn bushes come not single spies, but in battalions, and you can see vast hedgerows of them along the sides of roads.

Why do birds bathe?


American robins take a dip

One of those funny little mysteries of science is that we don’t really know exactly why birds bathe. Of course, like most species they need water for sustenance but do they really need to bathe in water to keep clean when other furry creatures keep their fur and feathers clean through grooming?

And why do they seem to enjoy it so much?

The most likely reason is feather maintenance. A bird’s feathers help it to stay waterproof and insulated and enable it to fly. There is some evidence to suggest that birds who have not had access to a bath in a while are clumsy fliers and are therefore easier prey. Regular bathing also helps birds to keep on top of parasites and clean off dirt and bacteria that affect the quality of their feathers. Birds regrow their feathers every year, and there is a marked difference in fresh feathers and old, tired ones.

Birds are also highly intelligent and social creatures and it’s not unusual to see groups of sparrows still bathing long after they have clearly got themselves clean. It’s instinctual behaviour to clean but perhaps the obvious enjoyment (and the lack of territorial aggressive behaviour at the bathtub) is an indicator of their intelligence.

Birds prefer shallow baths because submerging themselves fully in water would prevent them from flying properly – wet feathers are heavy feathers. They also splash around a lot because most garden birds are lightweight and have hollow bones so they stay on the surface.

Thinking of purchasing a bird bath for your feathered visitors? Make sure you take into consideration the following:

  1. Depth of water. It should be no more than 2 to 3 inches deep in the middle.
  2. Add stones and branches so they birds can stand on them if they just want to take a drink
  3. Position your bird bath near trees – it will provide shade to keep the water cool
  4. Keep it warm in winter. If you don’t want to pay for an outdoor heater to prevent your bird bath from freezing over in winter (who would?) you can just refresh the water every day.

The RSPB offer a really good guide to making your own homemade bird bath for your garden at little cost and a bit of fun:

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