Last weekend was the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch weekend. About half a million of us spend one hour recording the highest number of each species we see in our gardens. This annual survey is now in its 41st year and provides a citizen science snapshot of the range of species and the levels of populations of the birds visiting our gardens across the UK.
Our Big Garden Bird Watch results were a little on the minimalist side this year. House Sparrow 4; Starling 2; Jackdaw 2.
I was pleased to see House Sparrow topping the BGBW charts as I was submitting my results online afterwards. It was good to see our starlings during our hour’s observation too.
As someone who has been a keen birdwatcher since I was a child, I have to keep reminding myself that both of these species, the house sparrow and the starling, are red-listed these days. That means they are Birds of Conservation Concern here in the UK, where the species population has reduced by 50% in the last 25 years.
‘Our’ house sparrows nest in the roof and we were delighted to see them raise two broods of youngsters during last spring and summer. The starlings nest in a nearby roof but always drop by on winter days to feed in our backyard.
So whilst I didn’t record many birds, of the ones I did see, two species are much rarer than we’d like. Our homes and gardens really do play a significant role in providing nesting sites and food sources for birds and many other creatures.
Today, I am sharing two versions of my daily world view – looking east at sunrise, out over our local woods to the valley beyond. Living high on quite an exposed valley side, facing towards the North Pennine moorlands, we have a very ongoing relationship with the weather: colouring our skies in the early morning, blasting us with wild winds or drenching us with driving rain.
Connecting types of weather to our UK seasons is something we have absorbed from childhood. But how often do we now find ourselves talking about ‘unseasonal’ or ‘extreme’ weather? It seems almost constant.
We don’t need to be meteorologists to be aware that our weather patterns are changing from those we have come to expect as part of the seasonal cycle.
My snowy January image above was taken 2 years ago. It would be most unusual for us to get through the month of January without seeing a good covering of snow for at least a day or two. We’ve not seen more than an odd flurry of snow yet this Winter. Over the Christmas and New Year holiday, we had some of that ‘unseasonal’ weather I mentioned earlier, mild and frost-free.
It’s not only humans noticing these weather changes – the natural world has noticed too. Last year, late February saw temperatures we associate with Summer. And only once since 1910 had March seen more rain.
Over at Nature’s Calendar https://naturescalendar.woodlandtrust.org.uk/analysis/seasonal-reports/, their records show that everything we associate with Spring happened earlier last year. All of the flowering plants such as blackthorn, hazel and lilac bloomed between 3 and 5 weeks earlier than expected. Frogspawn, butterflies, ladybirds were all spotted 2 to 3 weeks early. Birds were early building their nests.
These natural events have been recorded over so many years, the changes are noticeable.
For many people around the world, including here in the UK, we know climate change has created much bigger problems than finding we need to mow the lawn before the end of March. The heartbreaking wildfire scenes from Australia, flooding in Indonesia and here in the UK are just the next painful examples of the climate crisis we are living in.
Many of us are trying to do our bit for the planet: planting trees, avoiding plastic, eating less meat, walking or cycling rather than car travel … and a whole host of other things too.
I think individuals taking collective action really is important and shouldn’t be underestimated, but the speed with which we as a global society must act on the climate crisis means we must convince decision makers to act too.
At this year’s World Economic Forum this week at Davos the climate crisis is very much on the agenda. Finally. This annual meet-up of the world’s top brass in business, finance and politics is where the decisions determining what is important this year are discussed.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2020 acknowledges and highlights the climate crisis, extreme weather, and biodiversity loss as the most significant risks this year.
From the reports I have seen coming out of Davos, it could have gone better, but I do think there’s reason for hope.
Senior business executives are beginning to realise it can’t just be about shareholders profits any more. Business as usual is now being challenged not only by climate activists, but by hedge fund managers too.
Yes, of course we will need to keep banging the climate crisis drums – and ever louder. But I am beginning to feel that we are rolling the wave now and I believe the impetus is on the side of taking climate action.
I think of it as active optimism – the more people we have taking positive climate action, the more likely we are to be successful in our endeavours to save our planet and its biodiversity for the future.
This week I’ve chosen Dianthus for my Flowers for Friday, or Pinks as I usually call them.
I grew these flowers in my yard a couple of years ago. I remember it was a hot, dry summer and everything was looking parched and bedraggled. Daily rounds with the watering can were to no avail. But then after a week of August rain, all of my yard flowers produced another flourish of blooms just before Autumn.
I do love nature’s way of gifting us in our gardening endeavours, especially when we are beginning to feel that the efforts we have put in have been in vain.
Dahlias are one of my favourite flowers. I look forward to their colourful blooms in the garden throughout the summer, bursting out of their large button-like buds.
I love the way the sun lights up both the crimson dahlia behind and the sunburst dahlia in front. I also love the way the light creates a fascinating green speckled shadow from the old green bottle that I chose for these flowers.
This elevated view of Newcastle upon Tyne’s Central Station is one of several panoramas that can be enjoyed if you are sprightly enough to climb the many stone steps and spiral staircases to the rooftop of Newcastle’s medieval Castle Keep.
I’ve spent the morning browsing seed catalogues and seed merchants websites, dreaming again of sunny days and Summer flowers … To be fair, our weather hasn’t been too wintry so far this Winter, though the wind has been rather wild this weekend.
As I’m browsing, I am also thinking about my New Year’s Resolution … to do whatever I can for our beleaguered planet. In choosing the flowers I will grow for Summer 2020, I intend to consciously choose varieties that actively support garden wildlife. I’m looking at nectar-rich blooms to feed our VIPs (Very Important Pollinators) – bees and hoverflies, butterflies and moths. But I am also looking ahead to the end-of-season seedheads that will enrich the diet of birds visiting the garden for food as the Autumn and Winter draw on.
Usually in the vegetable patch I am looking to keep most animals out – especially rabbits.But one animal I would love to encourage into the garden is one of my very favourite creatures, the hedgehog. And I know I am not the only one. Here in the UK there are now a whole lot of hedgehog supporters … over 620,000 of us on Hugh Warwick’s petition to Help save Britain’s hedgehogs with ‘hedgehog highways’!
Hedgehog highways are a very simple idea, but hugely important for hedgehogs. One of the main reasons that hedgehogs have become so scarce in the UK is because we keep fencing off more and more bits of the landscape into smaller and smaller pieces.
The ‘hedgehog highways’ petition has been seeking to bring housing developers onboard to make sure that new housing is hedgehog-friendly. Of course, it is not only new housing that needs to be hedgehog-connected. The more of our gardens that are connected, the better for hedgehogs. Our hedgehogs only need a 13 cm hole in the bottom of a fence or garden wall that allows hedgehogs to move freely between gardens so they can find food or find a mate. (That’s about the size of a CD … if you remember those 😉 )
If you’d like to join the growing band of hedgehog supporters, doing your little bit for hedgehogs, you might like to take a stroll down Hedgehog Street to find more about Britain’s favourite animal. There’s an interactive map too, where you can log sightings of hedgehogs (now also available as a phone app, which is very handy).
Whether it’s bees, butterflies, birds, hedgehogs, or any of the other creatures with which we share our gardens, I’ll be looking to incorporate ideas on gardening for wildlife and there are plenty of ways of “Giving Nature a Home” over on the RSPB’s website too.
I love flowers. For me, flowers give so much, from the anticipation when sowing their tiny seeds to enjoying the beauty and scents of their full grown blooms. Then, there are some flowers that become so much a part of life, they are practically part of the family.
My fondness for the plant I know as the Christmas cactus spans several decades. From early Autumn, I begin watching out for the beginnings of tiny buds forming on its shiny dark green leaves. Gradually the buds fill out and then, usually just before Christmas, the bright fuschia pink flowers burst open.
I remember my very first Christmas cactus. It comprised of just two green leaves. I’d bought it from the plant stall at the church Christmas fair. I was an eight year old Brownie and the plant cost me 10 pence.
There were no flowers for a few years, but slowly, year by year, my two leaves grew into the fuschia flowering plant I now know so well.
My cactus plant has met a few mishaps along the way. Bits of it snapped off when it fell off the fridge in the first apartment my husband and I lived in. Bits of it “snapped off somehow” at the hands of our children too – it usually involved footballs or light sabers 😉
Many of these broken off pieces of cactus plant were then divided up into smaller cuttings and planted into potting compost in a small pot. Quite a few cuttings later is the plant you see in my photo.
I have several of these cactus plants, all grown from cuttings … that would have been taken from plants that themselves had started out as cuttings …
Some of my cuttings have developed into the most splendid specimens, about 2 feet across (that’s about 60cm), just like the original plant that fell off the fridge years ago.
Some plants are really so generous and can be so easily raised from cuttings from mature plants. For me, the Christmas cactus has always been one of those.
I’m riding in a bus on the way to my opticians appointment as I write this post on my phone. New Year resolutions whir in my head. Avoid single use plastic. Focus forwards and stay positive. Use time wisely. But how?
The planet is in crisis. We have only one childhood left to make a difference. Australia is already burning … Jakarta is flooded …
I’m so glad I am not the only one pondering on how we begin to look ahead into 2020 and beyond without being overwhelmed by the craziness of it all.
As the bus drove along, I spotted an email in my inbox from the RSPB’s Conservation Director, a new blog post entitled “2020: why we must remain conditional optimists”. Intrigued, I opened it. Martin Harper explains that he first encountered the idea a couple of years back when the phrase was originally used by Professor Paul Romer on Earth Day 2017 to help explain his ideas on how we might face the challenge of decarbonisation on a global scale.
Professor Romer contrasted the ideas of complacent optimism against conditional optimism. With complacent optimism, we just wait and hope – will we receive what we want? However, conditional optimism is much more dynamic and makes us actors in achieving the result we want – especially when we work together.
Earth Day 2020 on 22nd April will be the 50th anniversary of this worldwide collaboration and mobilisation of people who care about the future of our planet and all its inhabitants. The theme this year will surprise no-one: climate action. Literally billions of people across the world will be doing stuff for Earth Day 2020. I’m sure they will be taking climate action on many other days too.
“Earth Optimism“will be happening in Cambridge, in the UK, hosted by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, a public event with Sir David Attenborough. Earth Optimism is all about celebrating, sharing and replicating the successes in nature conservation across the world. Everyone knows there is still plenty of work to do, but taking action to achieve what we would hope for is certainly a very positive step in the right direction and I will look forward to hearing more Earth Optimism stories in due course.
As expected, my optician confirmed that my vision had changed slightly so it’s new glasses time for me. I might not any longer have 2020 vision but I at least I do now feel that my vision for 2020 is becoming somewhat clearer. I will continue caring for the Earth in whatever ways I can.
As I was leaving the opticians and heading back through town to the bus station, I passed by a Newcastle upon Tyne Christmas institution – Fenwick’s window. Fenwick’s is a large department store in Newcastle and every December its large shop windows host an animated tale, a world from storytime, to delight children and Christmas shoppers. This year we have a glimpse into Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with Quentin Blake’s illustrations beautifully rendered in animated models and tableaux.
So I will leave you with my image from Fenwick’s window – the scene where Charlie has entered the sweet shop to buy his famous chocolate bar. The Evening Gazette’s headline says it all …
The “Last Golden Ticket still to be found”!
I think that sums up nicely how I felt as I started this post – can we find the Golden Ticket that will save the planet? And whilst I can’t claim that I have quite found it, I do believe it will be found …
… because literally billions of us are looking for it.
Best wishes for 2020. I hope you too have also found your reasons to be hopeful this year.
P.S. The bridge photo I chose as the header to this post is called The Butterfly Bridge in Gateshead’s Derwent Valley. The bridge you see is the replacement for an older bridge that was washed away by floods on 6th September 2008.
Snowy views have inspired me for Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge this week. Black and white definitely feels cold in the view of the Victorian bridge. But I felt that the sepia tones really warmed up the snowy sunrise looking across our valley.