Animals, Claire Ryan, Current Issues, Flowers

bee

Yesterday a European commission vote passed a ban on neonicotinoid pesticide use. One of the major arguments against implementing this ban was farmers’ worries about a loss in income. British farmers have been spraying pesticide “insurance” treatments to prevent crop loss and damage, for over a decade. It is unlikely that treatment is necessary for all crop pests on such a regular basis.

Now that the EU has banned this class of harmful pesticides it is time for UK farmers to begin rethinking their approaches to pest management, and build new techniques in order to maintain healthy habitats for our wildlife.

There are plenty of options for farmers, include planting wildlife strips, using trap cropping, and choosing different crop varieties. Wildlife farming may play a key part in sustaining pollinators, keeping crops pest free while still keeping farmers and consumers happy.

The sowing of floral strips – mini wildlife strips that border a crop – can be extremely beneficial. When planted with native wildflower species the benefits are innumerable. Wildflowers maintain biological diversity by acting as a refuge for many wild species such as bees, hoverflies, and butterflies. Many of these are pollinators which provide economic benefits to the farmers’ crops. Floral strips are also home to the larvae of hoverflies, which play a part as natural pest control, as they feed on aphids.

Other options exist, such as trap cropping, for example using turnip rape which attract the pests away from the main crop to the companion crop. Reducing field plot sizes also improves biological control. Crop rotations can be diversified: a narrow rotation of wheat – wheat – oilseed rape can be replaced by rotations that include peas before oilseed rape, and growing sunflowers between wheat years. Farmers can also take advantage of the appropriate crop varieties, choosing those that are tolerant or resistant to diseases transferred by key pests.

More information can also be found in this fact sheet by the Pesticide Action Network UK.

Claire small Claire is a member the Primrose marketing team, working on online marketing.

She trained as a Botanist and has an MSc in Plant Diversity where she specialised in Plant and Bumblebee ecology.

She writes our ecology themed articles.

See all of Claire’s posts.

Animals, Guest Posts

There are many advantages to encouraging wildlife to thrive in your garden. Not only is it fascinating to witness nature up close (especially if you have children), but encouraging certain types of creatures to take up residence in your garden will act as a natural deterrent for many common pests.

Hedgehog Eating food in the garden
For example:

Birds make a valuable addition to any garden as they will eat most insects, with certain kinds of birds mercifully enjoying snacking on slugs and snails. Pest-eating birds include: robins, magpies, wrens, song thrushes, blackbirds and fieldfares.

While insects are amongst the pests you want to eradicate, there are some insects that are actually useful to have in your garden.

Ladybirds, lacewings, parasitic species of wasps, hoverflies and beetles are among the good kinds of insects who like to eat other pests common to UK gardens.

Other creatures to encourage are hedgehogs, frogs, toads, bats and newts, all of which enjoy eating the pests you hate as part of their daily diet.

So if you want to attract (the right kind of) wildlife to your garden, try incorporating some of these useful features:

Garden pond – Ponds are loved by many creatures, such as frogs, dragonflies and newts, which all need water to breed; birds which use them to drink and bathe, and water boatmen, which live on the bottom of ponds and consume algae and plant debris.

Compost heap – A compost heap provides a place for hedgehogs to hibernate and for slowworms to breed; it will also supply valuable compost that will naturally fertilise your garden’s soil.

Long grass and nettles – Long grassy areas will attract insects, provide shelter for animals, and food for predators.

Thick hedge – A hedge gives nesting areas and cover for birds, while berries provide food during the winter.

Logs – Logs provide an excellent hiding place for all sorts of amphibians, frogs and ground beetles.

Food for Wildlife

Providing food doesn’t have to just mean hanging a bird feeder or throwing out some nuts for the squirrels. In the autumn and winter months, berries and seeds are in plentiful supply, providing food for birds and many other insects.

The garden plant Pyracantha provides berries as well as shelter for birds and support for insects; it can also be trained against a wall.

Pyracantha plant provides tasty berries for garden wildlife
Pyracantha

Summer provides you with many options for food. Plants that are rich in nectar can encourage predators such as wasps and hoverflies. Fennel, Dill and Aster plants provide food for many insects, as well as flowers such as Candytuft, Aubrieta and Wallflower, and shrubs such as Viburnum and Buddleia. You should try and include at least one nectar-rich plant for bumblebees.

Shelter

For a wildlife friendly garden, shelter is vital to protect the creatures from predators, give a place to nest, and somewhere to hibernate. Trees and plants such as Evergreen provide all-year round cover.

Rose, Pyracantha and Mahonia shrubs are an excellent choice for nesting and provide berries and hips to eat. Climbers provide much needed protection, camouflage and nesting spots for birds. Bats and hedgehogs can be lured into the garden with a compost heap or piles of leaves, though if you’ve got the cash to spend you can buy a special box shaped house where hedgehogs can hibernate and bats can sleep.

Image Credits: Sids 1 and Muffet

This is a guest post written by Amy Fowler for Garden Topsoil Direct; specialists in compost delivery across the UK. Find out more on their Facebook page or find out more about Amy on Twitter.

Animals, Claire Ryan, Current Issues, Flowers

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Our Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is looking at the consequences of restricting the use of imadacloprid, the most widely used insecticide in the world. A series of publications appeared in 2012 bringing the severe impact of this insecticide to light. Over the past few weeks the media have latched on to this and discussion is building around the idea to ban this particular pesticide. The current debate centralises on the impacts for farmers and the chemical companies which profit from pesticide production.

What is imadacloprid?

Imadacloprid is a chemical insecticide known as a neonicitinoid. This toxin was selected for its purpose as it is more toxic to insects than to mammals. It irreversibly blocks insect nervous systems causing paralysis and death. It is applied and injected into plants and soil in many different ways, as a seed treatment, and in liquid or granular form. As it is systemic, once taken up by roots it can be transported to all parts of the plant. Thus any insect visitor can become poisoned via feeding on pollen or nectar. Imadacloprid builds up in the soil year on year, with many crops being treated multiple times a year.

Why should I care about bees?

As most people know pollinators such as bees are vital for food production. Bumblebees are our most efficient pollinator and for a range of reasons their populations have been falling. Starvation and habitat loss due to insufficient food sources are frequently cited as major factors, but pesticide misuse is clearly one of the biggest issues that need to be overcome if we want to bring back the sound of Summer.

What can I do?

There is a lot you can do in your own garden to help boost bumblebee numbers. By planting colourful pollinator-friendly plants throughout the Spring and Summer you can attract bees and butterflies. When buying plants check with your garden centre to find out if they’ve used neonicitinoids. We sell a selection of pollinator friendly plants in our plants section and as Spring draws near we will be letting you know more about what plants are best to help you create a wildlife garden.

You can also support Charities such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

It took ten years from the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring until DDT was banned in the US in 1972. DDT was a chemical pesticide used in large quantities regardless of a lack of a full understanding on its harmful impacts on ecology and human health, and was not banned in The UK until 1984. The toxicity of imadacloprid has resulted in both France and Germany banning the use of the toxin, and The UK is now under pressure to take action too.

Petition your MP to make your voice heard.

Claire small Claire is a member the Primrose marketing team, working on online marketing.

She trained as a Botanist and has an MSc in Plant Diversity where she specialised in Plant and Bumblebee ecology.

She writes our ecology themed articles.

Animals, Children in the garden, Guest Posts, Nicole

Bee on sunflower
Today we went on a wildlife hunt in our garden but the only luck we had was getting a snap of a bee on our sunflowers. Not to be discouraged with finding so little besides the bee and our usual feathered companions we took the search further even looking for those pesky slimy plant munching pests aka slugs and snails, the idea being that we could see who found the biggest but my boys soon lost interest.

Venturing beyond the garden we took a walk to our local loch, bread in hand in hope of seeing the pair of swans which frequent it alongside the ducks. After trekking up to it battling endless hills (my town is built on hills and I’m sure everywhere we seem to go is an uphill climb) then having a little break to play in the local park we finally arrived at the loch ready to see some wildlife at last but the swans weren’t there!
Moorhen on loch
Thoroughly disappointed we threw the bread in anyway. My boys looked as downcast and downtrodden as the photographer next to us who must’ve trekked all that way for a picture to leave empty handed. The reason for the swans’ absence is perhaps the amount of dog walkers around because our local swans aren’t too keen on dogs at all.
Young moorhen chicks
Not wanting to see my boys so unhappy I decided we were not leaving until they got to see something… anything! After carefully explaining to them to get comfy, stay still and stay quiet we all waited patiently. It wasn’t long before something started moving among the reeds then ventured out for a nose, my boys were delighted! It wasn’t the swans but a collection of wee birds (I think it could be a moorhen and maybe it’s young?) we watched them run along the water and were rewarded with one of them coming up for a close look at us.
Butterfly on flower
Finally my boys were happy and we set out for home managing to get a picture of a lovely butterfly on the way. Tired from our wildlife hunt we reached our gate and were just about heading upstairs to our house when my neighbour shouted us. Curious we followed her into her garden and my boys kneeled down to look where she was pointing. Lo and behold there was a wee toad! Needless to say it made their day and ended our adventure with me thinking that maybe we should’ve just asked our neighbour for a look round her garden instead!Wee toad in neighbour's garden

Nicole