Going Wild at Regent’s Park Wildlife Garden

On a recent trip to London I decided to visit the world-famous Regent’s Park. There are several breathtaking gardens in Regent’s Park to enjoy. These include Queen Mary’s Garden, a glorious rose garden, St John’s Lodge Gardens, the Community Wildlife Garden and the beautiful tranquil Avenue Gardens. Lakes, wildflower gardens, secluded woodlands and meadows can also be seen. It is also home to London Zoo.  This world renowned conservation centre has over 650 species of fauna from all over the world and is the world’s first scientific zoo. Being a nature enthusiast the garden that appealed to me most was the Wildlife garden.

Just a short walk from Baker Street tube, on the South West side of Regent’s Park you will find the Regent’s Park Wildlife Garden.  The garden was constructed during 2006 and 2007 by the ‘Wild in the Parks’ team. It is a wildlife friendly community garden, designed, constructed and planted with help from local schools, community groups and volunteers. The garden aims to demonstrate how you can encourage and support wildlife in your own urban garden, even if it is only small, or if you don’t even have one.

IMG_5946 (800x600)The front garden planted with a selection of low growing plants was designed to show that if you have a car you can park it in front of your house without the need for a concrete drive. Front gardens are disappearing from urban areas at an alarming rate which means there are fewer places for wildlife to shelter and feed.

IMG_6126Tucked away in a nice sheltered corner of the garden surrounded by trees, hedging and wild flowers there is an insect hotel built out of recycled materials that was made by local school children.  The insect hotel helps to  increase the number of beneficial insects in the garden which in turn improves its biodiversity.  Much of the garden is also left to grow wild to provide cover for birds and to encourage butterflies and bees.

IMG_5949 (600x800)The main aim of the Regent’s Park Wildlife Garden is to provide a safe and friendly environment for people to visit and wildlife to flourish. Their non-intrusive gardening policy avoids the use of chemicals wherever possible, to use native plants that need little water to avoid draining precious resources and enrichment that includes a pond and bog to further the biodiversity of the garden. Ponds play an important role in the biodiversity of any wildlife garden. They provide breeding space for dragonflies, frogs and toads and are source of water for birds and mammals. If you have space, think about creating your own.

IMG_6043 (800x600)Local school children have been particularly busy with the creation of artwork which has been incorporated into the garden’s information boards. The boards provide information on how to increase the species of wildlife in the garden. Planting shrubs with berries to feed the birds in the Winter and leaving dead wood and fallen leaves for hibernation are just some of the advice shown on the colourful information boards.

Going wild at Regent's park Wildlife gardenAnother piece of artwork provides a central focus by the lake, an 8 meter long newt sculpture constructed from earth, turf and wild flower plugs and giving the impression that he has just crawled out of the water.

Going wild at Regent's Park wildlife gardenThe wildlife garden also has an interesting interactive sound bench powered by a solar photovoltaic panel. Visitors can sit and listen to tales from the local community on how their  parks are such special places. Over the years the amount of wildlife attracted to the garden continues to rise with finches, woodpeckers, long tail, blue and great tits all visiting with great regularity. Bird boxes, bat boxes and bird feeders are dotted throughout the garden to help encourage and increase wildlife visitors.

IMG_5951 (800x600)On the day of our visit the sun was shining through the autumnal leaves making this peaceful haven in the middle of London a delight to be in. Many of the plants were turning to seed and coming to the end of their flowering season. With the colder weather just around the corner the community volunteers were busy preparing for the Winter months ahead by ensuring to provide suitable hibernation habitat for the many species of mammals, invertebrates and beneficial insects to help enrich the local ecosystem, cleaning out and erecting new bird boxes, tidying parts of the pond and composting the garden waste.

IMG_5948 (600x800)The garden is open all year round to the public during daylight hours. This tranquil oasis in the heart of London is the perfect place to escape for a few minutes or hours and watch nature do it’s dazzling thing!  Cycling enthusiasts will be happy to hear that there’s a bike docking station just beside the entrance to the wildlife garden. A great way to get around to explore and discover the delights that the 410 acre Regent’s Park has to offer.

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Building an Insect Hotel for Winter Hibernation

An insect hotel improves a garden’s biodiversity and provides refuge for pollinators and pest controllers. 

Insects might not look like particularly significant visitors to your garden, but they’re vital to keeping the ecosystem working. If you want to help them get through the hard times or give them somewhere to breed, provide them with their own place to stay. With the cooler weather fast approaching now is the time to consider providing suitable hibernation habitat for beneficial insects that pollinate trees and vegetable crops, and control pests.  After all,  you will need them when the frantic planting season begins next Spring and what better way to start the season than having your own little colony of insects to help you on the way.

Building an insect hotel for Winter hibernation

Hover flies one of our important pollinators

Our gardens are home to a wide range of insects and the average garden could hold over 2,000 different species of insect. By creating the right habitats we can increase the number of beneficial insects in our gardens. Pollinator habitats can attract domestic honeybees, bumblebees, solitary bees and other wild beneficial insect species. These beneficial species include many different wasps, beetles, lacewings, hoverflies, ladybirds and earwigs and  prey upon the kinds of insects such as lice and mites that damage plants and hence aids pest control. By providing the correct habitat we can contribute to their conservation.

Building an Insect Hotel for Winter Hibernation.

Image copyright: Cheshire Wildlife Trust

There is no standard design for an insect hotel. Just design with your available materials — preferably recycled and natural materials such as old pallets, clay pots, clay pipes, bricks, carpets etc. Insect hotels come in many shapes and sizes but to be effective they need to have many small holes and cavities that insects can crawl or fly into.

Many invertebrates like cool damp conditions, so you should build your insect hotel in semi shade, by a hedge or under a tree. Putting the insect hotel close to other wildlife features such as an overgrown hedge, a shrubbery or a pond will make it easier for small insects to find it. Remember,  not all creatures like the shade especially solitary bees so make sure to place their part of the habitat facing the sun.

Build an Insect Hotel for Winter Hibernation

Herb garden and Insect hotel. Credit: capellagardenstradgard.blogspot.se

From my experience working with my local Tidy Towns group, the Green Schools Committee and talking to other groups the most common way to build an insect hotel is to use old pallets and fill the gaps with a variety of recycled materials to attract a large and varied number of creatures. No need to go more than five pallets high for the insect hotel with the bottom pallet upside down, this should create larger openings at the ends which can be used for a hedgehogs and frogs.  If you only have room for something on a much smaller scale there are several ways you can use recycled materials and turn them into suitable habitats or  there are a range of FSC  certified insect hotels available at most garden centres.

Building an insect hotel for Winter hibernation

Credit: High Contrast/Wikimedia Commons

A simple insect hotel can be made from a collection of hollow stems, twigs and cones packed into a plastic bottle with the end cut off. Several hotels could be placed in different positions around the garden such as on the ground amongst vegetation, next to a wall, fixed to a post placed in a hedge or hanging from a tree.

Another easy design is to take a bundle of bamboo canes or other twigs and tie them together with a piece of string. Hang up the bundle under the branch of a tree or to a railing and the insects will start to move in.

Building an Insect Hotel for Winter Hibernation.

Insect Hotel made from recycled plastic bottle. Credit: www.redtedart.com

Building an insect hotel for Winter Hibernation

An insect hotel made from a simple bundle of canes/twigs tied together

Use old pots, twigs, rolled up cardboard etc to create a simple but interesting looking insect hotel.

Building an insect hotel for Winter hibernation

Credit: http://craftygreenpoet.blogspot.ie

What types of habitiats are needed to conserve our pollinators and other insects.

Dead wood  is an increasingly rare habitat because in recent times we have become excessive with neatness in our gardens, parks and amenity areas. It is essential for the larvae of wood-boring beetles such as the stag beetle because they feast on the decaying wood. Place at the base of your hotel so the logs stay nice and damp and mix with other decaying plant matter to attract centipedes (which devour slugs) and other woodland litter insects such as millipedes and woodlice (which will provide a welcome source of food for birds). This is also a great spot for garden spiders.It also supports many fungi, which help break down the woody material.

Holes for Solitary Bees: There are many different species of solitary bee and all are excellent pollinators. The female bee lays an egg on top of a mass of pollen at the end of a hollow tube, she then seals the entrance with a plug of mud. A long tube can hold several eggs. Hollow stems, bamboo canes or holes drilled in blocks of wood make great habitats for the solitary bees. When it comes to drilling holes in wood, take into consideration the fact that different bee species are drawn to different sizes of holes for shelter and egg-laying and remember to use wood that is preservative free.  As mentioned above you can make a home for solitary bees by collecting hollow stemmed canes and placing them in plastic bottles or lengths of drain pipe. You can also build a wooden shelter similar to a bird box. Solitary bees like warmth, so place your habitat in a sunny spot.

Building an insect hotel for Winter Hibernation

Solitary Bee ~ Photo Credit: wildaboutbritain.co.uk

Straw and hay: These provide many opportunities for invertebrates to burrow in and find safe hibernation sites.

Dry Leaves: Provides homes for a variety of invertebrates as it mimics the natural conditions found in forests.

Loose bark and decaying wood: Beetles, centipedes, spiders and woodlice all lurk beneath decaying wood and bark. Woodlice and millipedes help to break down woody plant material. They are an essential part of the garden recycling system.

Lacewing homes: Straw, dried grass or rolled up cardboard is just the material for a cosy lacewing habitat. While lacewings may be beautifully intricate to look at, they are truly the gardener’s best friend, devouring aphids and other pests such as scale insects, many types of caterpillar and mites. Place the straw or cardboard inside an old open-ended plastic bottle to prevent it turning soggy.

Building an insect hotel for Winter Hibernation

Ladybirds enjoying the French Gorse

Ladybirds: Ladybirds and their larvae are fantastic at keeping aphids at bay. The adults hibernate over Winter and need dry sticks or leaves to keep warm and dry.

Bumblebees: Every Spring queen bumblebees search for a site to build a nest and found a new colony. An upturned flowerpot in a warm sheltered place would be an ideal habitiat to attract the queen bumblebee to your garden.

Bees, butterflies and some other insects sometimes find their way into your house to hibernate well away from the winter chill! This can mean they wake up when you put the heating on, so if you find one hiding in your house, try moving it to a cool, dark place to encourage it to go back to sleep until spring.

If you’re feeling creative and want to  build a five star insect hotel take a look at these for some inspiration.

Remember simple things like leaving a pile of logs or stones in a corner of your garden or just leaving fallen leaves on the ground will provide natural habitats for insects, invertebrates and pollinators which in turn will help to enrich the local ecosystem and ensure your garden is as productive as it can be.

Have you built an insect hotel in your garden? Have you seen an increase of insects, pollinators etc since building it?

If you’d like to know more about why you should consider building a bug hotel Greensideup gives three great reasons why we need to build more bug hotels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Life Lives on the Edge’ – conservation of biodiversity

Last year Wexford County Council introduced a pilot project ‘Life Lives on the Edge’ in four locations throughout the county to increase wildflowers along the National roads. The plan is to encourage an increased biodiversity of flora and fauna along our roadways. This is the first project of its kind in Ireland. The overall aim of the project is to enhance or rediscover the range of visible biodiversity that potentially exists along Wexford roads. The designated areas vary in length and their boundaries will be defined by signposts at either end of the vegetated strips. These signposts will be recognisable by the projects slogan “Life Lives on the Edge”, which aims to highlight the importance of road verges and hedgerows as crucial wildlife corridors for Wexford’s flora and fauna.

'Life Lives on the Edge' - conservation of biodiversity

Photo Credit: Wexford County Council Environment Section

In recent times, excessive concern with neatness on roadsides has led to development of verge management specifications that are not compatible with conservation of biodiversity, weed control or cost-effective vegetation management. This project is concentrated on maintaining the roadside vegetation at the four pilot sites thereby achieving biodiversity goals without neglecting safety or infrastructural maintenance objectives. These areas have been initially cut once in February/March and again in September. This should encourage the establishment of native wildflower abundance on the edge of our roads.

Beautiful wildflowers destroyed with Herbicide use

Beautiful wildflowers destroyed with Herbicide use

It’s not just the severe cutting back of roadside verges and hedgegrows that’s not compatable with the conservation of biodiversity. The use of herbicides to kill weeds and vegetation on road verges is also a huge problem that needs to be addressed. It removes seed producing plants important for many species, and destroys cover and travel corridors for wildlife. Bees, our most important food pollinators are in decline, so too are butterflies, birds and many insects and this is due directly to the over use of herbicides and pesticides.

Life lives on the Edge - Conservation of biodiversity

Another section of roadside biodiversity destroyed by herbicides

Ireland has a diverse and astounding collection of wildflowers some of which are sadly now in decline. Our obsession with tidy landscaped gardens, roadside verges and not allowing wildflowers to grow and our overuse of herbicides and pesticides are a contributing factor for our wildflower decline. This in turn has a knock on affect on our native bees which are now in decline partly due to the loss of habitat and this poses risks for agricultural crops that depend on bees for pollination.

Life lives on the Edge - Conservation of biodiversity

Selection of wildflowers on a roadside in Co. Wexford

Pollinator habitats can attract domestic honeybees, but also wild bees and other wild beneficial insect species. These beneficial species include many different wasps, beetles, predatory mites, and more. These beneficial insects prey upon the kinds of insects that damage crops, so keeping them around can help reduce pesticide applications.

Life lives on the Edge - Conservation of biodiversity

More beautiful wildflowers on a roadside in Co. Wexford

So what can we do to help conserve our biodiversity and increase our pollinator habitat?

  • Extending the ‘Life Lives on the Edge’ project being piloted in Co. Wexford to all counties to help increase our pollinator habitats. One of the areas designated for this pilot scheme is quite near my home and since the pilot began there is a marked increase in wildflowers on that section of roadway.
  • Plant native wildflowers in our gardens or leave a strip of un-mown grass to encourage wildflowers. Most Tidy Towns groups are doing this to help increase our pollinator habitat.
Life lives on the Edge - Conservation of biodiversity

Beautiful native Irish wildflowers

The selection of wildflowers in the photos were taken on a 1km stretch of road during the week. I’m sure if I had looked closer I would have spotted some more but these are the ones that caught my eye as I strolled along the road.

What are you doing to help conserve biodiversity and increase our pollinator habitats?

Chooseday’s Choice! ~ Herbicides – yes or no?

Herbicides, such as those formulated with glyphosate, are non-selective. Non-selective herbicides kill ALL plant types, including grasses, perennials and woody plants not just weeds. Improper application or wind drift can kill non-targeted plants. Because it gets absorbed into the plant mainly through its leaves, and also through its soft stalk tissue, the entire plant will be affected. Glyphosate travels through the plant, affecting its metabolism and killing the entire plant slowly. Once sprayed, plants display stunted growth, loss of green coloration, leaf wrinkling or malformation and finally, tissue death.

You Choose!

IMG_5411 (1024x1024)Herbicides can contaminate the soil and pollute waterways, negatively affecting wildlife and the environment. Herbicides can affect plants that are important to wildlife survival. Killing weeds and vegetation on road verges removes seed producing plants important for many species, and destroys cover and travel corridors for wildlife. Bees, our most important food pollinators are in decline, so too are butterflies, birds and many insects and this is due directly to the over use of herbicides. It’s not just the wildlife that is affected by spraying herbicides it is also known to cause cancer, birth defects, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and more.

IMG_5410 (1024x1024)

We need to start thinking about the damage we are causing by spraying herbicides along the verges and in our gardens. More and more of us need to start shouting to get our voices heard with the focus on the banning of harmful Glyphosate herbicides.  The Dutch parliament are banning the sale of Glyphosate herbicides to private persons from the end of 2015.  If the Dutch can do it well then why can’t we follow suit?

There’s nothing nicer than walking along a country road with the lush green foliage gently swaying in the breeze and  the scent of wild flowers wafting through the air. The photos above were taken on a 1km stretch of road in two different locations. Which would you prefer – the lovely green verges full of wildflowers or the dead and dreary verges?

Trimming  the verges to neaten them will encourage native wild flowers to grow and if spraying is necessary there are organic sprays available. Think before you spray – the bees will thank you for it!

 

Local school bottles it!

Over the past few months the children of Scoil Naomh Maodhóg in Ferns, Co. Wexford have been busy collecting two litre plastic bottles to construct their latest eco-friendly project. The bottles have now found a new lease of  life as the school’s eco-friendly greenhouse.

Plastic bottle greenhouse

Preparing greenhouse for vegetable planting

The lids and labels were removed and the bottoms were trimmed to allow them to slot into each other to create a long tube. The tubes were then stacked side by side and secured into the timber  frame with wires spaced at intervals up the frame and roof.  The wires hold the bottle in place and it is the cross tie wire that binds it into a solid wall, closing most of the gaps.

This is the perfect project for schools as it is a great re-use educational structure that really works.

The school has a ‘green’ ethos that is to be admired and is working towards becoming a more environmentally friendly and sustainable school.  School projects to date include the creating of  raised flower and vegetable beds, wildlife garden and pond, a  newly planted woodland area, the erection of bird boxes, butterfly boxes and an insect hotel that are all tended by the children. They make their own compost and water the plants with the rainwater they collect.

Cold frame protecting the young plant

Coldframe made from old windows

The children are introduced to growing their own vegetables. They plant the seeds and wait patiently for them to germinate.  They are then planted out when weather permits and  each class take turns to water and keep them weed free. There is great excitement when its time to harvest the produce as they get to divide it and bring it home.

Last year the potatoes were harvested and the children cut them into chips. They were then brought to the local diner to be cooked. A very tasty meal was had by all!

Planting potatoes in one of the many raised vegetable beds

Pond and wild flower garden

A  long side the pond the children have planted a variety of nectar producing plants and shrubs to encourage butterflies and other nectar loving insects into the garden. Rough grass margins have also been successfully established and this provides an excellent habitat for many insects and is ideal for the newly-emerged frogs that are a great attraction for the children every year.

Native tree nursery

Last year the school  began the task of extending the existing Woodland area. It was decided to plant only native species to the area  so the children brought in tree sapplings from their own gardens and created a nursery. When they were strong  enough they were planted out in the well prepared area. Their aim is to create natural habitats so as to introduce various insects, butterflies and birds into the school grounds. The children have great fun walking through the Woodland, turning up stones and wood to see what insects are lurking beneath.

Newly planted woodland area

 

Mature woodland area rich in biodiversity

 

Birdboxes are placed in safe areas to attract birds to the school grounds

 

Butterfly boxes

Last year a Tidy Towns Junior Committee was formed. They are a great asset to the community as they are involved in keeping the school litter free, promote energy efficiency and recycling and reusing in the school. They were also involved with the development of the Community Park.  They were presented with an Endeavour Award  in recognition of their great work and achievements. They are busy planning some very exciting projects at the moment which are so top secret thet they won’t even divulge the details to the Ferns Tidy Towns Committee. May just watch this space!

Sensory garden and hopscotch area

Picnic Area in the Community park

Members of Junior Tidy Towns enjoying the end of year party organised by Ferns Tidy Towns Committee.

Junior Tidy Towns receiving their well deserved Endeavour Award

It is one of the most energy efficient schools in the area. Over the years the school has taken on projects such as upgrading their insulation, installing new windows and replacing incandescent light bulbs with energy saving light bulbs. The children have a great awareness of energy saving. Simple measures like turning off lights and closing doors when leaving a room help to conserve energy.