It's been good for wildlife, let’s keep it that way say AG experts
One of my strongest childhood holiday memories is of driving down a high-hedged lane in North Wales one warm, still evening and the air outside the car being thick with moths, dense as confetti.
This insect blizzard has stuck in my mind because if the experience was unusual then, some four decades ago, it is rarer than unicorn sightings today. The toxic combination of more traffic on the roads, more planes in the air, more people, more houses, and a greater agricultural reliance on noxious chemicals has done the natural world – and the planet as a whole – no favours.
However, the Coronavirus lockdown has impinged on everyone’s life in more ways than we could have ever imagined, but for wildlife and the environment, a lot of the changes have been for the good.
A survey carried out by Tristan Carlyle and Oliver Bulpitt, ecologists at consultants Ecology by Design (ecologybydesign.co.uk), shows that wildlife has been in the ascendancy while we have been shut indoors. Obvious signs have included wild goats ‘taking over’ Llandudno in North Wales, but there have been more subtle results as well.
With wildlife reserves closed to the public, birds and animals have been nesting earlier and ore securely and as the roads emptied, so the amount of roadkill has dropped.
Project Splatter, a citizen science group formed to log roadkill across the UK, has shows a decline in the number of dead animals recorded on the roads both since lockdown began and when compared to the same period last year.
Beneficiaries could include deer, badgers and foxes (the three highest casualties in 2017) as well as scarcer species that are vulnerable to road traffic, including hedgehogs, hares, owls and some amphibians.
There have also been reports of car windscreen being liberally splattered by flying insects – something that hasn’t happened for years due to the decline in so many species. Insects have also been helped by the cessation of roadside verge trimming, which has left many wild plants to grow naturally.
You can find out more about Project Splatter and add your own statistics at projectsplatter.co.uk
AG wildlife columnist Val Bourne and our organic expert Bob Flowerdew both say they have enjoyed the quieter days and hope for more to come.
Val says: “The lovely weather suited us and wildlife. It’s been the best year for orange tip butterflies I have ever known.
“We keep some Jack by the Hedge (Alliaria petiolata) in the wilder parts of the garden, because it’s one of their main food plants. The orange-tipped males appear first and then the duller black tipped females arrive two weeks later and this is pretty standard in the butterfly world.
“The men stake out the territories and flash their wings attractively and the females lurk in the deths and’s get on with egg laying. The sweet rocket ( Hesperis matronalis) , sea stock (Matthiola incana) and the long flowering wallflower ‘Bowles’s Mauve’, are their favourite flowers.”
She added: “We’ve also seen lots of bright-blue holly blue butterflies, probably males, a few brimstones, some small tortoiseshells and one small copper. The small copper is a favourite of ours and the numbers depend on how much sorrel is in the field beyond. Sometimes this gets heavily mowed again and again and this doesn’t help this butterfly. It’s our earliest sighting.”
Val also said she’s seen ravens tumbling in courtship flight, a sparrowhawk and a young roe deer.
Both she and Bob hope that once people get a taste for the ‘quieter life’ and appreciate the increase in wild life and wild plants, the clearer skies and emptier roads, they will consider greener ways of living and travelling, to the benefits of the natural world.
Bob said: “I’ve long been concerned about insect kill on roads, when a student I would buy ‘Bug clear’ to help clean the thickly splatted insects off my windscreen, now no need, seldom see many, as with hedgehogs!
“We killed both, not only by habitat change but by roadkill, because of the sheer numbers. Every windscreen on the millions of cars, trucks, buses and trains, splatted insects, over every mile of the countless thousands of millions travelled.
“Now there are few insects partly if not mainly because we took so many out of the breeding pool with decades of barely visible attrition. With less traffic we may hope for some recovery, especially as this has been occurring through their mating and breeding period.”
He continued: “The lack of aircraft and their con trails seems to have resulted in more clearer skies, sunnier and brighter, colder at night, better growing conditions for different plants than the overcast greyness of weather in many years, this may alter the wild life mix
Bob added: “What we do in the future depends on so many factors. However, once folk have got a taste for growing plants or even just appreciating a walk observing insects and birds they will naturally become more favourable to greener policies, and a shift in public opinion may entrain huge changes.”
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