Looking after Wildlife
Bromley's biodiversity is important to people living and working in the Borough for many different reasons. Sometimes we take it for granted. Charles Darwin, who lived in the borough for forty years, didn't take it for granted; the biodiversity we appreciate was an inspiration to him and his insights into the natural world.
Since the 1950s, the overuse of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, changing agricultural practices, creeping urbanisation and pollution have led to massive habitat loss and fragmentation. This is compounded by the effects of climate change. Since the 1950s 97% of lowland hay meadows have been lost, 25-50% of hedgerows (RSPB & Woodland Trust) – approximating to 75,000 milesand according to the wildlife trusts, 1 million ponds. According to The State of Nature Report published in 2016, 56% of species native to the UK are in decline. One of the pieces of evidence for this which many people are likely to have seen for themselves is the fact that on long motorway journeys the need to stop to clean dead invertebrates from car windscreens and headlamps has significantly reduced.
Between 1989 and 2016 flying invertebrates in 63 German nature reserves declined by 75% (see Hallmann et al. 2017). A similar figure could almost certainly be put on UK invertebrate losses. Most flying invertebrates are adults which as juveniles are caterpillars, larvae and other grubs. Declines in the number and species of plants and therefore plant eating invertebrates has inevitably led to the loss of animals higher up the food chain including birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.
Get to know your site
Any park or green space can have potential for wildlife so don’t rush in to do things, research your site first. Ask a member of the Parks team with wildlife experience to meet you on site to discuss what can be done.
For further reading see both the Best Practice Guidelines for Friends Groups and Volunteers and the Best Practice Guidelines for Land Managers.
Are there any rare plants or animals living there? Look at the site history as well as what is growing there now. Is there woodland on the site? Is it very old (look at old maps and the woodland plants growing there)? Is it on Natural England’s Ancient Woodland Inventory?
If there is ancient woodland on site it is important to look after the small plants growing on the woodland floor because although the trees were regularly harvested for fuel, to make charcoal and for hedging, fencing, tools, building and furniture, the ground was relatively undisturbed, so these plants may be the oldest things in the wood.
Was some of the land farmed for crops? Was it pasture? Some meadow plants are typical of old grassland, others may have been encouraged or introduced long ago as fodder crops.
Ensure any planting is site suitable
It is always a good idea to look after the wild plants you have and manage the land to encourage native plants already there and in the seedbank. Native plants support more invertebrates and therefore more native animals such as birds and bats. If you have to buy in native plants make sure they are grown in the UK from UK stock and preferably from south-east England. Make sure they ‘belong’ in the site you wish to plant them in, i.e. don’t plant daffodils on an ancient woodland site and never plant garden varieties in ‘wild’ sites.
In addition to planting appropriate and native species, it’s always good to look out for plants that don’t belong on your site and remove them, for example, Spanish bluebells. Garden plants may hybridise with or out-compete native species, and are unsuitable for many native invertebrates and therefore reduce site biodiversity. They may have been planted in error or have established through green waste dumping.
Make sure any work you do is seasonally appropriate
- Scrub clearance - must only be done during the winter, approx Oct-March (observe weather and act accordingly) this will ensure that birds are not disturbed during the nesting season. Note: it is against the law to disturb nesting birds.
- Coppicing - when leaves have dropped – mid winter
- Tree planting approx Nov – Feb
- Pond/ditch work Sept and October are the best months; most amphibians will have left ponds by then and they will not have started hibernating. If you have rare species on site, e.g. Great Crested Newts, seek further advice.
- Fires on site Oct – March. Try not to have fires on site. If you have no alternative, re-use old fire sites whenever possible and remove the ash when cold.
- Hedge trimming Nov- Feb. It is not necessary to cut hedges every year. Natural England recommends that hedges are cut only twice over a six year period. Consider cutting sides of a hedge on rotation.
-Grass cutting Sept – Oct, leave till late summer to ensure the seed has set. Always try and remove any cuttings that you produce (you could either pile them up on site as a habitat pile or remove them off site and compost them)
As you can see from the above list – most habitat based work needs to be carried out during the winter (Oct –March), leaving you the summer months to concentrate on more site based tasks such as footpath clearance and maintenance, furniture repair and installation and survey work.
Consider adding value to the site through...
- Bat boxes / bird boxes etc – but discuss how you will check, clean and record what is using them.
- Leave some wild areas as insect refugia.
- Make log piles and/or stag beetle loggeries. Leave dead wood on site whenever it is safe to do so as it is important for invertebrates, fungi and creatures that eat them.
- Maintain main paths in good condition and discourage trampling elsewhere within your site as this will reduce biodiversity.
Gardeners can help improve things as well...
According to the Wildlife Trusts there are estimated to be over 10million acres of gardens in the UK so by managing these in a more wildlife friendly way gardeners have the power to make some difference to the enormous losses in biodiversity we are seeing today. Native invertebrate species are adapted to eat native plants so by planting more native species and encouraging and caring better for those in gardens, it is possible to make local improvements in biodiversity.
Although some pollinators will gather pollen and drink nectar from exotic flowers it is also worth noting the results of recent research carried out at the National Botanical Garden of Wales where the pollen in honey from 3 beehives was analysed and showed that in April and May, when 487 exotic species were flowering in the garden, the majority of pollen collected by the hive bees was from nearby hedgerows and woodland (De Vere et al. 2017).
By making some small changes in gardening- planting a few native shrubs (many are very pretty), leaving some long grass, having a log pile or putting in a pond it is possible to increase the numbers and variety of invertebrates and birds in the garden. If you are lucky you may see hedgehogs or, in the evening, foraging bats, so why not have a go at gardening for wildlife!
Here are some guides you can download to help you get started:
British Wild Flowers
Friends of the Earth
Orpington Field Club
The Wildlife Trusts
Help for Habitats: Grass with Wildflowers
Native Shrub & Tree
Purple Emperor Butterfly
Save our Swifts
White Admiral Butterfly
Bromley Biodiversity Plan
Priority Species List, England
Hedgehog Record Map
House Sparrow Records
Toad Record Map
Hedge Plants to Improve Biodiversity
Surveying for Reptiles
Slug & Snail Control
Non-Native Invasive Species
Rare & Declining Plants
Rare & Declining Birds
Rare & Declining Butterflies
Rare & Declining Fungi
European Protected Species Consultation Report