Wildlife Warden Podcast Episode 3

In the latest Devon Wildlife Warden Podcast, Emily Marbaix brings you details about Churches Count for Nature Week (between 5th and 13th of June) and of a quiz she has put together to quantify how well you are managing your garden for wildlife. There is also:

  • An interview with Flavio, the Wildlife Warden Coordinator.
  • A summery of what Wildlife Wardens have been up to recently.
  • Details about the Wildlife Trust’s 30 days wild challenge.
  • Information about the Avon Valley project.
  • Information about some of the meadows you can visit through Open Meadows 2021.

Why Wildlife Wardens?

In December 2020 I signed up to become a wildlife warden for my parish, writes Emily Marbaix. It’s a scheme run by ACT aiming to help local wildlife survive and thrive. There’s a strong connection between wildlife loss and climate breakdown. They are both outcomes of our exploitation of the natural world and insatiable demand for more stuff.

Wildlife wardens on a training day in October 2020

Scientists often think of the natural world as a web of interconnected species, habitats and resources. Take one away and the rest become less stable. Take away lots and it’s like a Jenga tower teetering on the edge of collapse. Our natural ecosystems are now reaching this point and it’s for this reason that grassroots movements are springing up all over the place, attempting to protect what they can in their local areas. This is exactly what ACT and its wildlife wardens are attempting to do – help to look after their local area, and encourage others to do the same. 

So how and why did I get involved? Well, I went to university to study science and the media in the hope that I could tie together my love of the natural world with my passion for communication and performing. Back then, I had hopes of being the next Attenborough (hey – it doesn’t hurt to dream big!) However, with £20,000 of student loans hanging over my head and a desire to get on the property ladder, I turned instead to the corporate world and pursuit of the almighty pound after a brief stint in teaching. 

Fast forward 16 years and I’m in a more financially stable position, with my son at school and more time on my hands. So when I saw the advert on Facebook inviting people to apply to be wildlife wardens, I thought it was a great scheme to get involved with. I did some basic training via Zoom and started to think about what I could do that might make a difference in Abbotskerswell – the parish I’m attached to. 

We don’t have many publicly owned green spaces in Abbotskerswell, and our local tree warden, Amy, has already assessed these and initiated the planting of a community orchard, which I was thrilled to help with back in 2019. I’ve met with the Parish Council and agreed to help with an update to our biodiversity audit which will include some recommendations/actions with regard to how we can improve these areas for our local wildlife. But the spaces are small and as such are likely to have limited impact as far as mitigating climate change and species loss goes.

I therefore see my position as more of a communication based one. I want to encourage our local community to do more wildlife gardening and engage with conservation efforts in any way they can. This might involve simply signing a petition that will help to give greater protection to threatened species, or taking part in a citizen science project. There are things that we can all do, however big or small, and I see my role as an opportunity to help give people ideas.

I started off by writing a piece for the local parish magazine, which included a poem that outlined lots of different things villagers could do in their own gardens to support wildlife. But then I started to think bigger. What about a podcast? I’d always had a passion for performing and had hosted a radio show at university and loved it – so I decided to start “The Devon Wildlife Warden” podcast. In doing this, I could still create something relevant to our parish, but with the added bonus that it might also reach people from other areas – after all, we want the initiative to spread – and it already is, with people from other districts getting in touch and asking if they can get involved, too – great! 

Whether it’s challenging planning applications, enriching public spaces, helping with ecology fieldwork or simply putting a small dish of water out for thirsty bugs or mowing our lawns less often, we all can, and should do something big or small to help keep the Jenga tower from toppling.

Get in touch if you live in Teignbridge and would like to get involved with the ACT Wildlife Warden Scheme – it is in particular need of wardens for the Dartmoor side of the borough, but there is space for anyone and everyone in the area who would like to help. Visit the website or contact the scheme coordinator flavio@actionclimateteignbridge.org.

* ACT’s Wildlife Warden scheme would not be possible without the generous assistance of: Devon Environment Foundation; Teign Energy Communities’ Community Fund; Cllr Jackie Hook’s DCC Locality Fund; Dartmoor National Park Authority’ the Nineveh Trust; anonymous donors. Many thanks to all.

Wildlife Warden April Newsletter

A lot has happened this month, as we have finally been able to get outside and meet up in small groups, which has been really nice. It is not only us that have been busy; I have two nest boxes in my garden that are being used by house sparrows, with parents going back and forth constantly, and I am very excited to see them fledge over the next couple of weeks!

Aquatic invertebrate identification training
I was fortunate to attend one of these training sessions, which were led by the very knowledgeable Dave and Sue Smallshire. It is always a bonus when you see lots of wildlife you weren’t expecting to see. On the way to the training site, we had to walk around Stover Country Park’s main pond and were greeted by a kingfisher, and a basking terrapin! The water was very clear (because of the lack of rain), giving us a rare view into the underwater world. A couple of pikes were lurking in the shallows and lots of swan mussels could be seen. The invertebrates also didn’t disappoint. My favourite was a caddisfly larva, encased in a fascinating portable shelter, made from silk threads and pond debris.

Thank you, Dave and Sue, for running these sessions. I know I learnt a lot! Also, many thanks to Stover Country Park for providing the kit and allowing us to use the site.

Devon Reptile and Amphibian Group
The Devon Reptile and Amphibian Group (DRAG) provide training  in reptile and amphibian surveys. They also organise surveys and are involved in habitat management. Follow this link if you would like to sign up to DRAG or find out more about them. I recently helped Rob (the chair of DRAG) to put out reptile survey mats and was lucky enough to see a couple of common lizards basking in the sun!

Read the full newsletter

Choose peat free compost this spring

It’s spring, writes Lucy Oldroyd. The cold winds have passed. Surely, that is the last of the severe frosts. It is time to get planting! Trays of bright bedding at the supermarket, at the garden centre entice. Now for the compost. The bags are almost as bright as the bedding plants, but which one to choose? Which one is cheapest? Three bags for how much?

We are a clever species. We know the price of everything. But do we know the value of a bag of compost? A bag of dirt. It is trivial. Isn’t it?

How about the value of a peat bog? Less than one tenth of England’s lowland peat bogs remain. A scarce habitat home to unique animals, plants and insects. An important feeding and stopping-off point for native and migrating birds. A crucial factor in flood mitigation soaking up rainfall to release it back slowly. A huge store of trapped carbon, laid down over millennia. But as soon as the peat begins to drain, it begins to oxidise and emit that carbon back out again.

Our peatlands are the UK’s largest store of carbon, estimated at around 3.2 billion tonnes. That is more than all our forests. New licenses for harvesting peat are no longer issued by the UK government but extraction at existing sites will continue for years to come.

But we need peat to grow our plants don’t we? The Royal Horticultural Society disagrees and is working with exhibitors to transition towards no peat use at its shows by 2025. The RHS does not sell peat based composts and its nurseries and propagation areas are predominantly peat free. It is working with suppliers to replace peat-grown plants with peat-free ones in its gardens and to eradicate peat use in the plants it sells. 

Mark Gush, RHS head of environmental horticulture, estimates the RHS to be 98% peat free, the exception being some special collections. But do those of us without a national collection of pitcher plants or sundews really need peat? The RHS has lots of information on using peat free composts available on its website. 

The peat industry and the garden centres are wringing their hands. But this is so sudden, we need more time, they say. More people are gardening because of the pandemic so there is more demand. This is all eye-wash. Geoff Hamilton, of Gardeners’ World, began campaigning against peat in the 1990s. In 2011, the government set voluntary targets to end sales of peat-based compost for domestic use by 2020. It’s been a dismal failure. Craig Bennett, the chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, says: “Countless promises have been broken and targets missed, with the result that precious peatland habitats are still being unnecessarily destroyed in the name of gardening.”

We are a nation of gardeners (not shopkeepers as Napoleon famously jibed). What power can a nation of gardeners show? If we cannot move mountains we have the power in our wallets to save peat bogs. We can petition the UK government to rescind peat extraction licenses. But that is a minor source of the peat in those gaudy plastic bags at the garden centre. Most of the peat we buy comes from Ireland or Europe. Here is a chance for UK gardeners to show leadership. What a role model for the world if we boycott peat! Let’s send a clear message to leave it in the ground. This spring don’t buy compost with peat. If the bag does not clearly state ‘Peat Free’ then it contains peat. 

Jessie Stevens eloquently stated the case against peat in her recent column ‘Call to Change’ (1st April) in the Mid Devon Advertiser and called on gardeners to begin a new era of gardening. Let us follow her call and now act for change.

Your choice this spring. What will you value? What will you save? Will you save a few pennies for a few bright ephemeral primulas? For a few pence more you can help save a unique habitat, an ecosystem, an irreplaceable source of biodiversity, a carbon store. What will you choose this spring at the garden centre?

Please sign the petition ‘Ban the use of peat in horticulture and all growing media by 2023’.

Wildlife Warden February Newsletter

Thanks to all wardens for the hard work you have put into the scheme during these difficult times. The scheme is constantly growing and moving in the right direction. We have created a subdomain on the ACT website for the Wildlife Warden Scheme. It is still in development, but it already contains lots of useful information: 

The picture at the top is my most recent wildlife sighting – a barnacle-looking gall found on bramble. It may not be the most beautiful sighting, but I found it fascinating. I believe they were created by Diastrophus rubi, which is a small parasitoid wasp. A gall can contain up to 200 larvae, each in an individual cell.

We have been finding out a lot about seagrass (eelgrass) habitats. There are two species of seagrass (Zostera noltei and Z.marina), which provide an important habitat for a wide range of species, and help to stabilise the seabed, clean surrounding seawater and absorb vast quantities of CO2.

Unfortunately, seagrass is critically endangered. It is threatened by high nutrient levels (mainly from fertilisers and animal waste), damage from anchors and propellers, disease, and destructive fishing practices. There is anecdotal evidence that seagrass probably existed in the Teign Estuary prior to the 1990s, but it is no longer present. Seagrass in the Exe Estuary has expanded in recent years and can be found near Dawlish Warren, Exmouth and Lympstone.

Read more here

Saving our wildlife – Parish by Parish

Our Audrey Compton gives a talk about the benefits of local people becoming more actively involved in local conservation to care for wildlife at a Parish level.

In her talk, for Dartmoor National Park, Audrey describes her own journey in discovering and conserving the benefits nature brings to our lives, culminating in the establishment of the Wildlife Warden Scheme.

TDC debate Ecological Emergency

Teignbridge District council are to debate an Ecological Emergency declaration tomorrow Wednesday 30th September 2020 at 10:00am at the Full Council Meeting.

You can watch it live on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/user/TeignbridgeDC/videos. The video will be posted once the meeting starts.

You can read the full text of the motion here.